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Marian Pierce

Mrs. Nakamura

 

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 cleaner.

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 neighbors.

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.

"Grandma?"

"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."

"Inner beauty."

"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 first-class mail."

"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 die."

"This time I have a feeling. Despite Steinman, this time I know."

"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 you?"

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 tinny voice.

"The rice is cooked," Sachio said. "Mrs. Nakamura looks pretty."

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. Sequins glittered.

"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."

"Dress-up."

"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 your age."

"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?"

"Next week."

"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 breakfast.

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 letting her?"

"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 her age."

"Normal is not throwing away your bra and flying halfway across the world to visit strangers you met at your cardiologistís office."

"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."

"Not advised."

"Yes, unwise. It compresses the internal organs."

"Sheís not thinking about her internal organs."

"Maybe she just wants to play dress down, like Mrs. Nakamura."

"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."

"Extremities."

"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, like Nakamura-san."

"Dress-up."

"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

my abode,

I reply:

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 human pincushion."

"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 receiver.

"Grandma, I can't talk long. I'm having a pajama party with my neighbor."

"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 said.

"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 jacket."

"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."

"Doko e?"

"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."
"A what?"

"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 gossamer curtain.

"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.  

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