Mrs. Nakamura liked to look in my closets. She came in
without knocking and headed straight for the closet in the six
mat tatami room. She pulled aside the paper sliding door as
though opening the curtain to a play, and rifled through my
clothes in full view of my husband Sachio and me. "Gaijin no
fuku da," she exclaimed in a tone of wonder. "The clothes of
a foreigner." I gave Sachio a nudge to get his attention, and
tried, in vain, to put together the words for "get out of my
closet" in Japanese.
My husband politely greeted our neighbor, then went
back to reading his acupuncture book. There was a bell within
reach. Sachio rang it every morning at the small household
shrine where he prayed to his motherís spirit. I wanted to throw
it at Mrs. Nakamura, but my husband had instructed me to
cultivate and maintain good relations with our neighbors, of
whom Mrs. Nakamura was the ringleader and chief. She wore her
gray hair in a bun, and had a voice like a Kitchen Aid mixer.
She spoke what my husband called "rural Japanese." She would
surely understand the phrase "Dammit, get out of my closet," if
only I knew how to say it. It wasnít the kind of phrase I was
learning at the Asahi Japanese Language School in Shinjuku.
Mrs. Nakamura picked lint off my collars. She touched her
nose to a pleat. What was she going to take this time? I tried
not to think about it. I set down the bell with nary a tinkle
and walked two steps into my tiny kitchen. I threw a handful of
fish flakes into a pot of boiling water. I sniffed the fishy
aroma and wondered if Iíd be better able to tolerate Mrs.
Nakamuraís errant behavior if I were about to eat matzoh ball
soup for lunch instead of soup made from fish flakes and
fermented soybeans. That morning for breakfast we had eaten rice
balls belted with seaweed, salted mackeral and radish pickles. I
guessed at what I bought in the grocery store, because I
couldnít yet read the labels. Recently, I had purchased a box of
dried squid thinking it was a box of crackers. I had washed my
clothes in powder that turned out to be some kind of toilet
Mrs. Nakamura parted blouses on their hangers and stuck her
head into my closet. Sachio didnít notice. He turned a page of
his acupuncture book. He was always reading to me from his
acupuncture books. He brewed noxious Chinese herbs in our
kitchen and made me drink the resulting potions. He inserted
24-karat gold acupuncture needles alongside my nose when I was
sniffling, and nightly burned cones formed of dried mugwort
leaves on my feet. Besides, what did he have to worry about Mrs.
Nakamuraís forays? His clothes, scarce in number and neatly
folded, seemed to hold no allure for Mrs. Nakamura. Mine took up
most of the closet and probably smelled of Japanese toilet
cleaner. I wondered if Mrs. Nakamura would report this to the
I tried not to think about it. I gazed out the kitchen window
at the view of the water heater. The telephone rang. Without
thinking I picked up the receiver and said hello in English.
"Deborah?" a familiar voice said.
"You have to visit me in Cleveland," my grandmother said
without any preamble. "Iím going to die in less than a year.
Your mother says you donít have what to sleep on in Tokyo. Donít
the Japanese sleep?"
"Of course they sleep."
Mrs. Nakamura disappeared into my closet. Sachio had yet to
give me a satisfactory explanation for her behavior. Iíd
broached the subject diplomatically. Was it normal for Japanese
to enter without knocking, and why did Mrs. Nakamura always look
in my closet?
"Youíre her first foreign friend," Sachio had said, and then
added, with some pride, "She said your eyes are a beautiful
blue. She said you look like a doll."
"Theyíre brown," I said, "and I donít." I took off my
glasses. My husband stuck his face close to mine and blinked.
"Oh." He drew his head back. "Oh," he said again.
"You might have noticed. Weíve been married six months. She
might have noticed too."
"I see your inside beauty first."
"Yes, inner room."
"Theyíre like my great uncle Juleís eyes. Dark pools of
light. Thatís what my great aunt Stella used to call them."
"Dark poor what?" my husband said. There were significant
gaps when he listened to me, pauses when he lost words to dark
pools of unknown meanings. I had to pick and choose carefully
when I spoke to him, scale down my vocabulary, avoid fancy
metaphors. What it came down to was that I had to learn
Japanese. I was trying to learn Japanese. I went to Japanese
language school daily and sometimes to the public baths, where I
practiced my language skills in the buff with naked old ladies,
who added cold water to the tub when they saw me coming, and
peppered me with questions. Was the water still too hot, and
when was I going to get pregnant? Did I like raw egg over rice,
and did I always turn bright red when I was bathing?
"Even in Poland I had a bed," my grandmother said.
"I have a bed. Grandma, what time is it there?"
"Itís two forty-five. You should be asleep."
There were no signs of life from within my closet. What WAS
Mrs. Nakamura doing in there? Whatever she was doing, it was too
quiet to hear over the clatter in Cleveland. My grandmother
cooked and cleaned when upset, even at three in the morning, and
had recently been threatened with eviction from her Shaker
Heights apartment building for frequent nighttime vacuuming. I
hoped that she wasnít vacuuming.
"Youíre mother says youíre learning Japanese," my grandmother
said. "You never learned Hebrew. Come home. Learn Hebrew. Get
some decent sleep."
I jumped at the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and then
realized it was the phone, crackling with static. If I was
lucky, the satellite beaming messages between America and Japan
was about to fall into the ocean. I didnít want to return to
Cleveland, where the sky was gray from pollution. A cold wind
blew off Lake Erie, and the Cuyahoga River caught fire and
burned. Now every morning I took the rush hour train to the
heart of Tokyo, packed in among the Japanese businessmen. They
exhaled the fragrance of breakfast: rice, fish, and cigarettes.
They read sports newspapers containing pictures of naked women
but few of sportsmen. They never said a word.
"Grandma, are you vacuuming?" I said as soon as the crackling
had subsided. "You know youíre not supposed to be vacuuming at
three in the morning."
"Itís three oh-five. Who can vacuum? Your mother took away my
Hoover and gave me a dust roller. The neighbors are sleeping
like babies. Youíll sleep like a baby here too."
"I sleep fine in Tokyo."
"Without a bed? Says who?"
"I have a bed, itís just a different kind of bed. In the
morning we fold it up and put it in the closet. At night we lay
it down when we want to go to sleep."
"What kind of bed is that?"
"Itís a futon. Youíve heard of futons. Lots of people in
America have them."
"Phooey what? I donít know how you speak that rotten language
on no food and no sleep."
"Itís not a rotten language."
"You turned down your nose at Hebrew. I threw out my girdle
and Iím flying to Jerusalem to visit Sam and Gertie. Before I
go, Iíll freeze and wrap my challah. Iíll send it by
"Whoís Sam, and what did you do with your girdle?"
"I threw it away. My bra, too. I met Sam at the Cleveland
Clinic. Dr. Steinman gave me new heart pills, but what good
theyíll do, who can say? I may die on Samís sofa in Jerusalem. I
may die while Iím kneading this bread dough. Then you wonít in
your whole life eat another challah, and youíll be sorry
you didnít visit me in Cleveland!"
"Youíre not going to die. You always say youíre going to
"This time I have a feeling. Despite Steinman, this time I
"What are you doing going to Jerusalem, then? Stay home! Take
care of yourself. Youíre eighty years old."
"Eighty-one, with a bad heart. Why should I stay home? Did
I heard a thud and then nothing. "Grandma? Hello?" There was
no sound of breathing. No dial tone. Only silence. I pressed the
receiver to my ear and strained to hear the slap of bread dough
on the kitchen counter, the slurp of Grandma drinking her Sanka
and cream. "Grandma?" Sheíd had a heart attack. She was lying
stricken in her kitchen. In addition to throwing away her
undergarments, sheíd neglected to take her heart medicine. Sheíd
overexerted herself flirting at the Cleveland Clinic and cooking
and baking until three in the morning. Sheíd keeled over baking
bread dough topless.
I hung up the phone and dialed my parents. There was no
answer. Where were they, and could I call 911 all the way from
Tokyo? I turned off the stove. I rummaged in a desk drawer for
my passport, then headed for the closet to get my suitcase. I
had only gone two steps forward when the closet door slid open
with its customary rumble, and Mrs. Nakamura burst forth like a
projectile shot out of a cannon, narrowly missing Sachio, who
was still planted dead center, reading. In a white blur she flew
around the room as though forty years younger, finally slowing
enough to reveal that she was wearing my greatest treasure, a
gossamer white nightgown with billowy sleeves and a row of red
sequins stitched into the bodice (several of which modestly hid
my nipples), which had been purchased in the moment of weakness
that seizes every bride-to-be. Who knew whether or not Tokyo had
a Victoriaís Secrets? Nobody in Cleveland.
"Oh," my husband said, at last taking notice of something.
"She found your nightwear. I think she likes it."
I had never seen Mrs. Nakamura in anything but a housedress
and an apron. Now she floated beaming around the room within the
gossamer cloud of my nightgown. Sequins sparkled in the region
of her belly button. The hem of my nightgown fell below her
knees. I shut my eyes. I felt slightly dizzy.
"Gohan ga takemashita," the rice cooker said in a
"The rice is cooked," Sachio said. "Mrs. Nakamura looks
I ventured a peek at my half-naked neighbor. She appeared to
be wearing nothing underneath my Victoriaís Secrets.
"Gohan ga takemashita," the rice cooker repeated. It
would continue repeating itself, like a parrot, until someone
pressed a button on its panel. I hadnít wanted to buy a talking
rice cooker. I hadnít wanted to buy the head-cooling pillow that
Sachio plugged in on hot summer nights before we went to sleep.
It made me shiver, which was due, my husband said, to a weak
liver function and poor circulation in my extremities. Heíd
purchased me an electric blanket. Heíd bought, and then
installed, a special toilet seat which heated up to 83 degrees
Fahrenheit when you sat on it, then squirted water of a similar
temperature at your fanny when youíd finished your business. For
a grand finale, it shot out blasts of hot air and dried
everything. I hadnít want to purchase a special toilet seat. I
didnít like getting boiled alive in the public bath while naked
old ladies interrogated me with questions of a personal nature
and exclaimed that I was turning scarlet, and I didnít enjoy
getting stuck with acupuncture needles, even when made of
precious metals. I wanted Sachio to notice me, but he no longer
noticed me. Tokyo had transformed him from a romantic who
recited Japanese poetry into an oriental medicine fanatic, an
acupuncturist extraordinaire, and not even my Victoriaís Secrets
could distract him. While I read Jane Austen on our double
futon, clad in practically nothing but two red sequins, he
studied the color-coded chart of the acupuncture meridians which
folded out from the center of his textbook.
"What are you doing with my nightgown?" I asked Mrs. Nakamura
when she came to a halt in front of me. She only pinched the
silky-soft material of the nightgown between her fingers and
said, "Utskushi." Beautiful. She lifted the hem of the
nightgown until her thighs were showing. Her hips appeared.
"What the heck is Mrs. Nakamura doing?" I said to Sachio.
"Look at her. No, donít look. Sheís doing a striptease."
"Sheís playing dress-down."
"Yes, undressing. Sheís enjoying."
Mrs. Nakamura slid the nightgown up over her breasts. The
telephone rang. Mrs. Nakamura let go of my nightgown, and the
folds swirled back down around her. She picked up the receiver
and said brightly into it, "Oba-san?"
"My grandmother! Is that my grandmother?"
"I think it is," Sachio said. "How funny. Nakamura-san is
asking Grandma if she owns peek-a-seek nightwear. Does she?"
I snatched the telephone out of Mrs. Nakamuraís hand and held
the receiver to my ear. "Grandma?! Are you okay?"
"Why wouldnít I be?"
"I heard you fall. What happened?"
"I didn't fall. I dropped the bread dough. Eight loaves
worth. Such a sound it made. I woke up the neighbors, even old
Mrs. Landau. She was mad as a hatter. I shouted into her good
ear, "Edith, how much do you sleep at 85 anyway?" "Iím
seventy-five," she lied but you have to keep the peace with your
neighbors, so did I say anything to her? My lips were sealed.
Luckily my kitchen floor is clean enough to eat off of. With
this bread in your belly, youíll sleep like Rip Van Winkle. So
when are you coming to Cleveland?"
"Next week. As soon as I can get a ticket. Iím worried about
you. Baking bread at all hours of the morning. Throwing away
your bra. Flirting with some old guy at the Cleveland Clinic. At
"We donít flirt. We talk in Yiddish. We exchange recipes."
"Your boyfriend cooks?"
"Who, Sam? He eats. His wife cooks. You wouldnít know it.
Gertieís a bone with no meat on it, a stick off a tree, like
you. What are they feeding you in Japan and when did you say you
were coming to Cleveland?"
"You canít come. Your mother is taking me to the airport the
day after tomorrow. She's putting me on a plane to Israel and
then going to the post office to mail you challah. Two
loaves, frozen so theyíll keep."
"Why didnít you tell me you were going to Israel?"
"I told you. Youíre too tired to listen. You need a decent
bed and sleep."
"I have a bed."
"Even a dog has its doghouse. A mouse has its mousehole."
"I have a bed."
"A mousehole. The floor. I know."
"Grandma, why have you been pestering me to come to Cleveland
if you knew you were going to Jerusalem?"
"I didnít know you were coming next week. Youíve only been
married six months."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Itís too soon to leave your husband. When are you going to
have a baby? Iíll call you back in five minutes. Iím putting the
bread in the oven."
I heard the familiar sound of my grandmotherís oven door
creaking on its hinges, followed by a click and the dial tone. I
hung up the phone. I wasnít going to Cleveland.
"Gohan ga takemashita," the rice cooker said again.
Mrs. Nakamura walked over to it and pressed the blinking red
light on its panel. She lifted the lid and peered into the
cooker. Let her eat some. Maybe Iíd join her, because I wasnít
going to Cleveland. I didnít need to go because I had just been
there on my honeymoon six months ago. Nobody went to Cleveland
on their honeymoon, especially not the Japanese. They went to
Niagara Falls or Times Square or Disneyland. They rode to the
top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. If they were hard up for cash,
they went to a hot spring resort in Izu. They certainly didnít
go to Cleveland, but we had gone and I wanted to go again. I
wanted my grandmotherís bread, made by my grandmother, modestly
attired in her brassiere and apron. I didnít want to eat bread
frozen in a box and delivered by the Japanese postal service. It
would probably be stale. If it made it to Japanese borders, it
would be quarantined in Narita Airport by inspectors who
couldnít recognize a loaf of bread when they saw it. Theyíd ban
it as an unrecognizable foreign object. Nobody here ate bread.
They ate rice made by rice cookers that talked to them rudely.
They ate dried squid instead of crackers. They ate fish for
I took out my carry-on bag and unzipped it. I opened drawers
and tossed out socks and underwear. I put Pride and Prejudice
in my carry-on bag. I folded my Smoky Bear T-shirt. Donít Start
Forest Fires. I wanted to pack my nightgown, but how was I going
to get Mrs. Nakamura to relinquish it? My wayward neighbor was
now fluffing up the rice with the plastic ladle. This at least
was normal behavior, even if it wasnít the normal attire for
doing it in. Everyone in Japan fluffed up the rice as soon as it
finished cooking. Everyone said please and thank you at the same
time, and for the same reasons. Everyone always behaved as they
were supposed to, except for Mrs. Nakamura.
"Are you going somewhere?" Sachio asked.
"I'm going to Cleveland."
"We were just there."
"Iím going again. Somethingís wrong with my grandmother.
First she claimed she was dying and begged me to come to
Cleveland, and then when I said I was coming, she told me she
was jetting off to Jerusalem. She has heart problems. Sheís
elderly and shouldnít be going anywhere. Why is my mother
"Jerusalem is holy land. Maybe Grandma wants to turn inwards,
like a monk. She wants to be in a holy place. This is normal, at
"Normal is not throwing away your bra and flying halfway
across the world to visit strangers you met at your
"She threw away what?"
"Her bra and girdle. I donít know whatís gotten into her."
"A bra and girdle is not good in oriental medicine.
Constriction around the chest and abdomen is inadvisory."
"Yes, unwise. It compresses the internal organs."
"Sheís not thinking about her internal organs."
"Maybe she just wants to play dress down, like Mrs.
"Dress-up. I donít want her to play dress-up. I want her to
stay in Cleveland so I can eat bread in her kitchen."
"You can buy bread at the Sun Merry Bakery."
"Thatís not bread. Itís Styrofoam. Sawdust. Fluff. Cotton
wool. It turns to charcoal in the toaster oven. No wonder you
call it Ďpan.í Itís as inedible as a hunk of metal. Itís not
bread, and who can eat in our kitchen with nowhere to sit and
that rice cooker yapping at you? I donít like having to plug in
my pillow, either. What happened to plain old goose feathers?"
"You need that head-cooling pillow. Youíre hothead."
"It makes me shiver. I canít fall asleep when my body
temperature plunges below freezing."
"This is because of weak liver function and poor circulation
in your extremes."
"Yes, Iíll remedy this. Iíll give you acupuncture. Your heat
is all in your head because of too much thinking. You shouldnít
think so severely. You should just enjoy and play dress-down,
"Yes, undress. Donít be homesick. Be comfortable. This is
your home here in Hibarigaoka."
"Itís not my home, itís yours."
"Anywhere you are is home for me. Do you want to go to
Cleveland? Iíll go with you to Cleveland. I can live anywhere.
Iím like Ryokan. Famous Zen monk and poet. His name is the same
as a Japanese bean sweet." Sachio selected a book from his
bookshelf and flipped through the pages. He recited:
"If someone asks
the east edge of the Milky Way.
Like a drifting cloud,
bound by nothing,
I just let go
giving myself up
to the whim of the wind."
"Do you like it?"
"Iím not a cloud," I said. "Iím a human being, however dumb
in this language. I canít say anything. What has gotten into
Mrs. Nakamura? I canít ask her, because all I know how to say is
my name is Deborah and please and thank you and excuse me."
"Thatís important too."
"Itís not important."
"Mrs. Nakamura is just enjoying. She said she is boring until
you came from America. Me too."
"But you donít take any notice of me. You just study
acupuncture all the time and stick me with needles. Iím your
"Youíre nice wife. Good person. Kindly to everyone."
"Look where it's gotten me. Iím a spectacle for the
neighbors. They stare at me when I'm bathing, ask me nosy
questions, and rummage through my closets."
I watched Mrs. Nakamura open our kitchen cupboards, but I
didn't care, because I was going to Cleveland. Sachio said, "She
must be hungry. She looks very happy in your nightwear, donít
you think so?" I put my Smoky Bear T-shirt in my carry-on bag. I
didnít answer my husband. Mrs. Nakamura took a rice bowl out of
the cupboard and filled it with rice from the rice cooker, then
set a pair of chopsticks across the top of it and came smiling
towards me. The telephone rang. My grandmother. I picked up the
"Grandma, I can't talk long. I'm having a pajama party with
"Tabette kudasai," Mrs. Nakamura said. "Please
eat." She presented the rice bowl to me and then held an
imaginary cup of tea to her lips. She drank from it deeply,
although, with green tea, one was only supposed to sip. She
whispered "Ocha nomu?" Will you drink tea?
"Weíre having a pajama and tea party," I repeated to my
grandmother. "My neighbor makes Japanese sweets out of mashed
beans. Sheís inviting me over for some now. She always serves me
green tea and sweets made from mashed beans."
"Theyíre not mashed beans," Sachio said.
"Anyone with no bed would have mashed sleep," my grandmother
"Theyíre not mashed beans," Sachio said. "Theyíre azuki
beans. They go very well with green tea." He had been raised on
a green tea farm in Shizuoka. This made him a hit with our
neighbors, each of whom weíd presented with a tin of shin-cha,
or green tea made from the newest spring growth of tea leaves.
Mrs. Nakamura always invited me over to drink this tea after
raiding my closet. The last time she had seized my new menís
jacket, a reversible creation that was red on one side and green
on the other, and had plunged her hand delightedly in every
pocket and then down each sleeve.
"Go ahead," my husband said. "Be neighborly. Iíll talk to
Grandma. Drink tea and eat sweets."
"Anyone with no bed would have mashed sleep," my grandmother
said. "You tell your husband. Buy a bed. You need your sleep."
"Grandma, can you hold on a second? Please?" I put down the
rice bowl. I covered the receiver. I said to Sachio, "Tell Mrs.
Nakamura Iíd be happy to eat beans if sheíd stop stealing my
clothes. Why does she steal my clothes? Canít she just invite me
over for tea?"
"She doesnít steal. She returns. She returned your returnment
"Reversible jacket. But before she returned it, she made me
eat the mashed beans."
This wasnít strictly true. She had served me a slice of
Castella, the buttery pound cake introduced to the Japanese by
Dutch traders, who had been confined to a small area in Kyushu
because of their strange red hair, bushy beards, and religious
ideas. In those days Westerners had been called Ė and were still
sometimes called Ė butta kusai, "stinks of butter."
Presumably whatever buttery odor I emanated was tempered by my
intake of beans.
"Iíve figured out your modus operandus," I said to Mrs.
Nakamura. "You swipe an article of clothing, and then corral me
into going to your place to eat mashed beans. Go ahead. Ransack
my closet. Try on my lingerie. Feed me mashed beans."
Mrs. Nakamura smiled and nodded, as I smiled and nodded when
she spoke to me. She brought the cup of imaginary tea to her
lips and took a gulp. She pointed to the door, and waited for me
to nod that I would follow her. I nodded. How else was I going
to retrieve my nightgown? I said to my grandmother "Sachio wants
to talk to you," and handed him the telephone.
"Hello, Grandma? Itís Sachio. How are you?"
"Iím going to Cleveland," I said to Mrs. Nakamura in
Japanese. "To America."
"To Cleveland, thatís where," I repeated. "To my inaka,
my birthplace. Not to your house for tea."
Mrs. Nakamuraís smile faded. Her cheeks drooped. She looked
at me so sadly, I had to look away. I pretended to be looking at
something nice out the window, at a cloud or a flower, though
neither could be seen, only buildings and the heap of beer
bottles the guy in the apartment building next door always
tossed onto the tiny square of earth between our apartment
building and his. We couldnít get him to stop. Mrs. Nakamura was
still looking at me. I could hear the deep breath she took.
"Toshi o totta," she said. "Toshi o totta."
"Youíre going to Jerusalem?" Sachio said into the
telephone. "Thatís wonderful!"
"Toshi o totta," Mrs. Nakamura cried out. I didnít
know what it meant, but she sounded very unhappy. She walked
over to the full-length mirror next to our closet and somberly
inspected her reflection.
"Toshi o totta," she repeated. A torrent of words
followed. A tear rolled down her cheeks. I couldnít bear it. I
tugged at my husbandís sleeve. "Whatís she saying? What does
toshi o totta mean? She was so happy a minute ago."
"Grandma, can you hold on one second? My wife needs help
talking to our neighbor."
"Whatís she saying?"
"Be quiet so I can listen. Oh! She says she became old lady.
She says she looks like witch. No, like demon."
"She doesnít look like a witch. How can she say that? For a
sixty-five year old woman she looks pretty good in that
nightgown. Tell her."
"She says if you are going to America you have to take your
nightwear with you. She says she will turn from princess to
frog, like in American fairy tale she saw on TV. Grim fairy
tale. Now sheís saying sheís old lady who never went anywhere in
her whole life. She only stays in Tokyo."
"I thought she was born in Nigata. Doesnít she ever go
there?" I looked in my closet for a handkerchief. Sachio kept on
translating. "She says Nigata is country place of Japan. Just a
village. Doesnít count. She says she never went on trip, never
anywhere, because her husband is a hataraki mono."
"Man who is working hard. All the time working hard. Six
days, seven days a week. She is afraid he will die of
karoshi. He never takes trip with her. Never enjoys. Life is
boring until Miss America came. But now sheís going."
I couldnít find a handkerchief. I dabbed at my eyes with the
nearest thing I could grab, then noticed Iíd used Mrs.
Nakamuraís housedress. I stuffed it in a corner of the closet. I
balled up her apron. She was so dazzled by my nightgown sheíd
surely forgotten about her housedress and apron. But she no
longer seemed dazzled, and I wanted her to be dazzled. I found a
handkerchief and gave it to her, but she only stood holding it
by one corner, weeping. Her shoulders drooped within their
"Tell her Iím not going to America forever," I said to
Sachio. "Tell her."
"You said Amerika e kaerimasu to Mrs. Nakamura. That
means Iím returning to America. Forever. Sheís upsetting. Me
too. I asked you before, do you want to stay in America? But you
said no. You said you want to try Tokyo."
"I did. Do. I only meant that I was going to America, not
staying there forever."
"But you didnít say Amerika e ikimasu. You said
Amerika e kaerimasu."
"That was a mistake."
"You have to speak correct Japanese."
"Tell her Iím only going for a visit."
"You tell her. Iím not your marionette. I canít do all your
talking. Grandma? Sorry for waiting. Iím going to take the phone
away so I can talk to you."
My husband fled into our four mat tatami room and closed the
sliding door behind him. Mrs. Nakamura was still crying. I dove
into my closet and took out my favorite pair of bell-bottoms,
which Iíd purchased in the 70ís after listening to Eric Clapton
croon the Bell Bottom Blues on a friendís album. My bell-bottoms
were covered with a leopard skin pattern. I wore them with shiny
black shoes, though I hadnít worn them once in Tokyo. I held
them out to Mrs. Nakamura. Her eyes brightened. She wiped her
face with the handkerchief and reached for the bell-bottoms.
"Theyíre yours," I said. She stroked one leg, and then the
other. She lifted my Smoky Bear T-shirt out of my carry-on bag
and handed it to me.
"You," she said in English. "You."
I took off my shirt. I put on Smoky instead. Mrs. Nakamura
mimed putting on my bell-bottoms, and then gave them back to me.
"You," she said in English. "You."
I held the bell-bottoms up to my waist. I looked at myself in
the mirror. Leopard skin bell-bottoms would look odd with a
Smoky Bear T-shirt, but what the heck? This wasnít Cleveland. I
took off my jeans and slipped on the bell-bottoms. They felt
cool and smooth and strong, like wind or water. Mrs. Nakamura
stepped up beside me. We smiled like crazy at our reflections,
and then sailed out the door together.
Marian Pierceís stories have appeared in GQ,
STORY, Scribner's Best of the Fiction Workshops 1997,
Creative Writers' Handbook (3rd edition),
Confrontation and Puerto del Sol.