Sunday is the deadline for deciding the future of the blog on this site. I know it's an odd fit but will keep posting the thing if readers are interested. Since I can't figure out how to enlarge the window (below), short messages like "Continue, I enjoy reading it," or "This doesn't belong on asstr" are fine.
Back home, I was riding on the Metro when someone passed; two people in a hurry tried to hand me a card with a picture on it. That was a scam. They gave those to every passenger, it seemed, then returned to pick them up in exchange for payment- the nature of the ruse wasn't clear to me. I declined to accept the worn-out piece of stiff paper bearing an image- it might have been of flowers; I thought I saw a deep red, dull blue against the no longer white background. Obviously, the pair, woman distributing and her companion shadowing her, weren't doing legitimate business. This was a step away from panhandling.
But at the time I happened to have cash out, was counting it for a purchase I'd make- and at my rejection of the card offered the first woman reached forward and grabbed the bills I held- that surprised me but made sense- of course, money was their object. She wouldn't let go, but either would I. I stood up and followed her several paces through the Metro car, a tug of war in progress. I eventually prevailed..
On the street afterward, I felt glad to have preserved my hard-earned money. I hadn't ceded even a single dollar (receipt of which, come to think of it, might have convinced the scavenging team to leave me alone; dirt poor, they'd probably accept any scrap that came their way).
All of a sudden, it occurred to me to check my wallet. In the confusion, could they have taken that, the leader instigating the fight for the bills in my hand as a distraction while her accomplice went for my billfold? Skilled pickpockets employed such strategies. I patted my back pocket. It felt empty at first. I touched again and to my great relief discovered the wallet in place, after all. Apparently, the petty criminals weren't so sophisticated as I'd imagined. My anger at them yielded to some pity.
Later, I talked to John about the incident. He concurred that the team would probably have relieved me of anything of value they could get. We noted there were details to their behavior that resembled that of the Vietnamese bar girl he'd kept company with. As the two on the train had kept their faces averted while they passed and during the struggle that ensued, John's companion also hadn't let us see hers at the beginning. The subway schemers had meant to avoid identification while the paid companion's concealment was part of her shy come-on. John and I agreed the similarities went no further. She was an innocent young woman, not a hardened career criminal, likely had been thrust into prostitution rather than took it up by choice- she would, with luck, escape that life eventually- soon, we hoped.
When I met Midori, I noted that I sometimes took up with women who had a poetic, quiet beauty, only to later start noticing and wanting women who were out-and-out gorgeous. That longing would undermine the romance I was in. It struck me that Midori combined both types, was beautiful in a quietly poetic way as well as out-and-out gorgeous- a rare find!
I mentioned the effect she had on me, and after dismissing the compliment Midori said some men had impressed her similarly. Soon after arriving in the U.S. she had gone out for a while with a guy from her country who was extremely handsome- he had smooth, beautiful features popular among her compatriots (different from the rugged type Americans favored). Their first day together she'd joked she was sure some other woman would soon get him. He looked a little like Elvis Presley. She cited his olive skin, clear complexion and large liquid eyes, which resembled those of the rock star. He was uncommunicative, remote to the point of almost disappearing- really like an idol- kept his expression blank most of the time but in a way that conveyed emotional openness. Saying this, Midori arranged her own features similarly. After a moment, her eyes narrowed, sought mine to see if I comprehended. She continued trying to list his qualities, which she apparently found hard to grasp much less put into words. He was fragile but strong, she said, needy but confident; vulnerability played off coldness. She'd liked how his nostrils flared and constricted, often the only sign he felt something. He had a fine nose, she added, and a jutting jaw line that projected more than self-esteem- arrogance it might have been (Later, she concluded that was all deliberate, self-conscious, an act). With a laugh, she acknowledged she too had responded to his charisma- as he'd laughed off her presentiment there'd be rivals for his affection. Eventually, he got a job at a health club. Then she said he'd certainly be taken from her. His work place was full of woman who'd hunger for someone like him. Here he'd conceded her point.
It didn't escape my notice that the insecurity Midori described in relation to that boyfriend resembled mine toward her now. The difference was that their romance hadn't been serious- she spoke of a breakup with few repercussions- while my feelings were anything but casual and her recent events hit me like a hammer; I doubted I'd ever be able to smile about her departure as she just had about his.
Midori was returning to her country for stays of varying lengths, but I also took a trip on my own once, from out of the blue went to Vietnam with my friend John and another friend. Midori disapproved of the plan but kept her thoughts to herself, didn't want to question my judgment, impose her will (though it was strong).
When I really went, she was shocked, and so was I (until the last minute, the trip had seemed unlikely- thanks to John, the whim of a moment had gathered steam). One of the reasons Midori looked askance at the thing was John's involvement, leadership. He was an unstable friend. We knew each other from my job- where he sometimes worked freelance. I liked his irreverent attitude, which matched my own feelings toward the workplace- I sometimes could barely stand a day there; the presence of a free spirit was welcome. But he and I had hung out only a few times, and after we landed in Vietnam, set foot outside the airport, were really there, the thought of throwing in my lot with him day after day was a disorienting one. I wanted to return to Midori right away.
John, for his part, didn't look back, faced forward into the sunlight of adventure; carefree; he considered home wherever he happened to be, hippyish even to his physical bearing; loose-limbed, ready to grin at the slightest provocation- he seemed to look at life as one great joke with endless permutations, to be enjoyed for all its inherent sadness. Perhaps he'd been badly hurt in the past. Whatever- he sure looked happy enough now, his long, unbrushed wiry blond hair flashing in the afternoon light as we walked- wherever, destination was out there, we had to find one and would. He possessed full confidence in his every step, in the world that would support and ultimately swallow him and every other thing that lived for its given allotment of years. The imperative was to enjoy what you had now. Anyone who thought differently was a fool, in John's eyes. The fact that I missed Midori probably made me appear foolish to him. I tried to cover my feelings but guessed he could see through the act- he was sensitive and intelligent for all his clowning.
John's vagabond style extended to his clothing. He wore light yellow pajama-like pants, loose cotton with a faded paisley pattern. He bore some resemblance to the guy Midori and I had met in the desert who supplied directions to the bar one night, gregarious local who reminded us of the Australian movie actor popular for roles of boisterously funny outdoorsmen.
John didn't share my loss of bearings at being in a foreign country. "Hey," he said, "we've gotta live somewhere." This was as good as any place to lay the head, he meant. In fact, it was better than most. The ambiance seemed welcoming enough, if a little ramshackle. Despite development, everything remained countrified. Green sprouted in wild profusion even amid buildings. There were the tropics for you. The people proved friendly, funnier than the by-and-large serious, reserved populace of Midori's country.
John apparently had no serious girlfriend at home, no ties, but over time I saw that he wasn't without needs. We ended up at a restaurant. He conferred with the proprietress- obviously knew her; he'd been to Vietnam before. She asked him a question and he nodded "Yes," and she left, saying, "I've got someone for you."
"Is she going to get you a girlfriend?" I asked. Before John's answer came, the woman in question arrived. Just eighteen or nineteen she appeared. Taller than Midori, longer limbed, flatter across the board but healthfully attractive, full of the juice of youth- her skin glowed with it, a light golden tan. No doubt because of her age as much as her character, she smiled in spite of herself, aware of the attention she attracted and, if annoyed by it also amused, pleased. Emerging suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere, she crossed in front of us, passing diagonally just beyond the halfway line of the room, as if to ensure she remained out of arm's reach. A look but not touch message came through- flirtation that was practiced- obviously she worked as a companion. And look I did, along with John, despite my sympathy for her plight- unfair she had to entertain tourists- or anyone at all for that matter. Nineteen years old! (later confirmed). Her blue-black hair caught my eye. I noted she wore an outfit she thought suitably playful for the occasion, a blue vest-like thing around her torso; just lighter in color than denim but as rugged, it clung tight, pulled by crisscrossed white string in back, like a corset, showing off what curve she did have, her waist, hip shaped into a long hourglass. White threads hung like fringe from the lower edge of the stiff vest. Her midriff was bare and below she wore a short skirt of the same blue fabric; it seemed to constrict her walk some. All in all, the ensemble (costume home-made, likely; she couldn't afford to go out and buy one like that) appeared to be her attempt to approximate the fun, clubbing outfits of the West, in emulation of fashions outside the small world she inhabited. While it looked good, there was also an awkwardness. If anything, the odd two-piece denim simulacrum highlighted her lack of sophistication (in a way I found winning). She was so tall, her frame delicate but robust, her hobble-walk positively foal-like. Her head and feet at such a distance hardly seemed to know each other.
The woman picked out for John did a sort of humorous, dramatic entrance, then stood alone on the other side of the room. Waiting, she showed shyness, vulnerability but also a sure control of the situation, not without some pique, impatience, an irresistible combination of attitudes. Her head drooped. She wouldn't look our way nor let us see her fully. Hair in front blocked the overhead light and cast part of her face in shadow, which added to the coy appeal. She had softly succulent lips, generous features that matched her outsized physique. She could have been an athlete- more likely that than a dancer. There was about her a slight gawkiness. Her feet were big but charmingly so. You imagined them up around you in bed. I did, that is.
Someone asked me if I found her attractive. Looking more steadily, passing beyond the initial impression, I saw that her face took Vietnamese beauty to an extreme that became unattractive to me. "She's not my type," I answered, and was glad of the fact. I wouldn't have to envy John getting together with her after all.
John had gone to introduce himself. The barmaid put on her comedic act again, seemed to go into a routine of motion- bending and tilting from the waist, flexing her long legs, taking short steps while remaining in the same place before him. At first she didn't stop moving- nervously, I guessed, with a man twice her age and a foreigner. She also greeted John's approach with a series of facial expressions- smiles, grave looks, eye contact, aversion- and finally words. All that seemed rehearsed, but she appeared to genuinely enjoy it. She might be jaded but only in part. I thought I might as well photograph them doing their courtship dance but couldn't, as the memory card on my camera was already full from photos of Midori on our trip.
No question I was the more timid member of our traveling trio, warning that such and such terrain we walked might have landmines left from the war, places that almost certainly had been swept of ordnance long ago- otherwise, wouldn't there have been warning signs up?
Before I left, Midori had told me there was a snake under a rock. I looked and saw- it was a horrible creature, appeared to levitate on its own invisible toxicity, looked weightless, as if it might fly off, something that could exist only there, like a bad virus you had to tolerate, necessary for the balance of nature. Midori said to me, "There's a problem" and expected me to deal with it. I don't look for symbols or hidden meanings as a rule, but in Vietnam I couldn't help thinking Midori hadn't meant that snake specifically but was referring as well to men who were around who might visit her if I didn't step up.
After completing some minor repairs, I uploaded the page and found a problem. Some passages- the same ones- were pasted again and again throughout the blog, in fifteen, twenty different places. When too many demands are made of this creaky old software it begins acting strangely. The file is large. I went back and removed the unwanted additions but am still not sure what's left- or missing. Shows how fragile a piece of work like this is. It's just words. One wrong move- possibly one you weren't aware of making and don't understand the significance of even afterward- and the whole thing can disappear, like water from a glass inadvertently elbowed off a table.
In fact, Midori and I were a little lonely, disoriented on the trip. The impersonality of the lodgings sometimes got to us, though nature all around was a great comfort. I paid some bills for home in the cabin after breakfast the third morning. It felt strange dealing with goods and services we were cut off from: water, electric, telephone, credit card for purchases made before we left. As I filled in the numbers and Midori finished her coffee outside, I recalled for some reason a last conversation, on the street with a food vendor whose cart I sometimes frequented. Another guy and I were chatting with him when he revealed he would retire in two years.
"That's great." It struck me then that I had noticed something different in his attitude that afternoon. He seemed subdued. "You're still young," I added.
"But I don't think I'll make it." As the vendor spoke, his face stayed grim.
"Because I'm sick. Doctors say I have leukemia." Come to think of it, his complexion looked grey. But hadn't it always?
"Leukemia's serious." I put away my smile. "You can get a bone marrow transplant." That was the extent of my knowledge of the subject. "There's treatment." I tried to inspire some hope. Of course, he must already have been briefed on his options by a doctor. I sensed they weren't good. His expression remained grim, only angrier. He glared my way in silence, likely trying to forgive me but failing. What was I talking like an idiot for? The question oozed through his eyes as through gritted teeth.
Another customer had arrived and interrupted the three-way exchange. When he was making up his mind what to order, I approached the vendor, went around the side of his cart and on impulse hugged him. He pushed me away.
"That's right," I said. "You don't like being touched." Somehow I knew just from having observed him over time.
It was- no question- good even for a short time to get away from the city, where there were too many stories, people thrown together, each with their own, some tragic, some funny. At any moment, casual conversation might reveal news so dramatic to digest it you'd need all day, and then some.
Another piece of bad news I heard after the trip concerned an over-the-hill boxer who decided- foolishly, it turned out- to try reviving his fortunes with one last fight against the second-ranked contender- if he prevailed, he'd have a shot at the number one man and the championship. He lost though, and badly, for his trouble ended up hurt and burdened with sixty thousand dollars in debt, which he could pay off only with more fights, these against lesser-known opponents, contests which, even in the unlikely event he won, would scarcely improve his career outlook. He lost them all. What's more, in his aged, weakened state, he risked serious harm, including brain damage from the punishment at the hands of younger, more powerful punchers.
It seemed that after the trip most of the stories I heard were bad ones. I wondered if people who visited the social web site I kept would note changes in my outlook. And I found I myself had a problem, persistent minor pain in the gut. I went to doctors, and they said they could find nothing wrong. A last one I visited told me, "Okay, we'll take your appendix out." At first, I felt great. The source of the trouble had been identified and would be removed. Also, I'd win sympathy from friends- the minor operation required a hospital stay, didn't it? Maybe Midori would visit.
But when I went to the office to set up the appointment, it occurred to me to ask further questions. Was the doctor sure I had appendicitis? He hadn't done a thorough examination, mostly just listened to my complaint. Could he make a diagnosis without even touching? I thought, I'd rather avoid surgery that isn't strictly necessary. To my surprise, the physician confessed he wasn't certain. In the silence that followed, I noted that another doctor in the room- maybe an assistant, one of the white-coated group, involved in the conversation, standing near and attending but not speaking much- was missing a hand. Bandages covered the stump, suggesting the disfigurement was the result of a recent accident rather than congenital, but of course I couldn't be sure. Seeing it pushed me toward sympathy for the health care workers who had just admitted professional fallibility. The man in charge added by way of explanation that my appendix might be inflamed and removing it would do no harm in any case; sometime in the future it might have to go. I appreciated their frankness, but disappointment came on strong, as I found myself back at square one.
On our trip, Midori and I stopped to look at desert plants by the side of the road. We embraced and I ended up going down on her, with no announcement, didn't signal my intention or act on any sign from Midori that was what she wanted, just followed my gut. Midori seemed to like it. I used my tongue, then my whole mouth, then tongue again, alternating, working up and down her vagina, mostly up, where her clitoris was. Midori planted the balls of her hands at her pelvis, palms up to follow the motion of my head. Then our hands met out at the side of her hips. Her fingers hooked mine. The move seemed so natural I wondered if most women did it, couldn't recall if any of my other girlfriends had.
We were close to the road but even so had near privacy. The area was little traveled. Few cars passed through and they did quickly, careening around a curve over a near hill and continuing on a seemingly endless straightaway that spread below us. The surroundings were light: not just the sand but the road surface, concrete rather than blacktop. The sun was very strong, hot, but it felt good being in it.
Getting together outdoors was thrilling, and the light then made it a little surreal. Sun hit the desert from a low angle, raking the surface, held the landscape in mesmerizing suspension. From our perspective, that view was all that existed or ever had.
Afterward, we talked. Midori spoke of her teenage years. She'd gotten into an elite highschool but soon after starting decided she didn't want to continue; she'd prefer to study somewhere more comfortable, with smaller classes, a friendlier atmosphere. Of course her mother was upset- graduating from that competitive school guaranteed opportunities. Listening, I took her mother's point. But even at an early age Midori knew what she wanted, had focus (always, I have in the back of my mind the exhibit that included her work, the dim, nearly dark space that set off Midori's paintings on the wall). Her mother trusted her and supported her wishes, agreed to argue on her behalf with her father, if necessary.
I too had gone to a good highschool but hadn't taken advantage of opportunities, wasn't focused.
Midori was so wet from me that I wondered if she'd feel comfortable getting back into her clothes. She did. It was desert and things dried pretty quickly. And we had nowhere we had to be, were just keeping company with each other, got back in the car and drove. The wind picked up as the heat settled on us anew. Skin adhered to the upholstery in places, the car smell mixing in the air with ours.
Though the cabin we had would be ours for a few days, we learned some people just used theirs as a rest stop, place to sleep and move on, like a hut for mountain climbers. Two who arrived late the second evening, two very lean women, joined us for a dinner we'd made outside- we'd almost finished but welcomed them to what was left. They were traveling on foot, exhausted at the end of their day and didn't linger long. The next morning I saw them departing.
"Leaving already?" I voiced disappointment as I approached. "We were hoping to have dinner with you again."
The woman nearest me looked surprised by my interest, also a little impatient. That made sense. She and her friend wanted to be on their way. And they were lugging huge packs.
"Where are you heading next?" I asked.
"Somewhere else in the state," she answered. Her circumspection annoyed me some. Did she worry that if she revealed their destination I'd try to follow them?
That night Midori suggested we go out to a bar another guest, woman from Bakersfield she'd met, had recommended, within walking distance of the cabins.
I thought she was joking. It had been a long day. Didn't she want to just hang out? Midori shook her head at the suggestion, beamed- cheerful, energized. When traveling, this is the thing to do. Get to see the community.
"Too hot." Inside the cabin, she meant.
Members of said community guided us on our way to the watering hole, single such venue in the area. Seemed we weren't the only ones restless that night. The group having a party on their porch were already well into an evening of drinking and greeted us thirstily- we gave welcome distraction from the limited spectrum of companions in that rural locale, Midori pointed out to me afterward. (They're bored! Common sense. She grew up in the countryside. I didn't know). She showed her most intrepid, charming side, really dazzled one guy in particular during conversation she sustained when it seemed we were all about to run out of things to say. She and I agreed later that he looked like a popular actor, an Australian, physique was similar- lean and muscular; his tan arms showed from his sleeveless teeshirt- so was the outgoing character.
If he and his pals were surprised by Midori's intrepidity, so was I- delighted by it. What had led here? She claimed later that there was nothing new, gave me her poker face, her cat face.
"I'm like this all the time in my country." We were at the bar when she said so.
On the wavering walk home, Midori again mentioned the guy who'd helped us find our way to the bar, whose charisma had clicked with hers. Instead of speaking about him directly, she brought up another among the group on the porch, friend of his who had also shown generosity- managed climb out of his wicker armchair and totter to us; older, alcoholic, he didn't move with ease; on impulse, he'd given as a present a book, nature guide to the area, signed by the author. It was only after some minutes on the dark road that Midori returned to that dead ringer for the Australian movie actor known for action and comedy roles. She seemed both reluctant to talk about him, preferring to keep those thoughts to herself (the catlike look came again, special mood from earlier still in play) and at the same time inclined toward speech to relieve some pressure. No doubt if she'd been with a woman friend, she'd have shared her feelings openly, had fun. The fact that I was the man in her life complicated matters.
I wished I could see her expression, but the mountain road wasn't well lit; I could only imagine her eyes glistening as they did when she watched movies. She talked in a light voice about the man who'd leaned his elbow against the stone fence to make her acquaintance- in a comedic display mimicking courtly manners. He had his teeshirt rolled to the shoulder, showed arms he was rightly proud of, tanned to bronze and strengthened from outdoor work, not musclebound, which Midori didn't like, but sinewy. And even I could see that his outgoing character- he was a cut-up- made a perfect parry for her quiet, observant style. He put into clear words, with enthusiasm and no fear, what she only thought, was too reserved to say out loud (the challenge of English also stood in her way). I saw she admired his boldness, which made even her unusually outgoing behavior that night seem subdued. His humor reached her. He didn't show off, as she'd complained lots of men did. His habit of laughing at himself first allowed Midori to appreciate the gentle fun he poked at others, not excluding her and me. I heard her ringing laugh and saw her response to him had been serious, down to her toes. The tangle of blond curls the sun had rendered gold gave him the gallant, serious, mien of a Prince Charming. Midori liked that too. He was a type not found in her own race. She stirred to the exotic ideal he represented.
At least that's what crossed my mind as we stumbled down the hill in search of our cabin- finding it would take a search. I told myself neither the guy, stranger to us, was important nor Midori's reaction to him. Silence fell between her and me, and I recognized I was beginning to resent if not actively hate that conceited bastard we'd passed five minutes with two hours before. Ridiculous of me, I know. At the same time, I felt drawn to Midori, affectionate, protective (from what threat I didn't know, since we were alone together then). Conversation about him had stopped. All conversation did. Yet his presence lingered. I sensed mine had blocked Midori from a discovery she would otherwise have made.
The driveway downhill to the cabins was unpaved, terrain we'd traveled before only by car. We bumped each other. From darkness thick with the sound of crickets, she said he had a Chinese character tattoo on his biceps.
Really? I hadn't seen.
Yes. Midori had.
Though the sex on our hike in the afternoon had been one-way, I didn't think Midori would want more. She surprised me, was very ready after the bar, at my touch her pussy incredibly smooth and liquid. You on top, I suggested. She said no. Just regular way. She wanted straight-ahead fucking, me on top. Before we finished, she took my place there- she felt to me as big as the world. Though her body was small compared to mine, it seemed to spread all the way to the stars. In the cabin, out in nature, that was how it felt. I shouted as I came, caught up in the cosmic rhythm, our machinery. Midori's banging circuit that didn't stop till I was done, then kept the echo going. I knew she'd started coming, hoped she'd gone all the way.
Later, I asked her whether she'd ever imagined she was with someone else.
Enough time had passed. We both weren't sober. The question should have sounded casual.
No. Midori's face scrunched up. She seemed to be scrutinizing not me so much as complication in the air itself.
Good. The events earlier that evening weren't important, but I wondered if her excitement owed in part to them.
Have you? she asked.
No. I paused to reflect. In fact, I think I've never imagined someone else when I was with any woman." Including girlfriends before her, I meant. "If I wanted that, I would masturbate."
You really enjoyed sex tonight, I continued.
Midori murmured acknowledgment. I asked for more than that.
A little different, right?
Yes. Because different place. Different room. I knew she meant it and should have let the exchange end there.
And different guy you were thinking about, I joked instead.
Stupid. Midori laughed low, as she had on the road. Lights off, her eyes were even harder to read than then.
Anyone but me, right?
She let that go. Her silence spared my feelings, but I heard weariness in it, if such a thing is possible.
We should have just enjoyed the dark, our smells, warmth. The sheets were wet. That cabin, so well fortified against harsh winters it made summer nights hard to sleep through, felt good now. Sweat cooled us. Midori didn't like a lot of talk at such moments. Of course, what distracted from this one wasn't anything she said but my feelings.
Laughing great. Laughing great. Laughing great. Laughing great, Midori repeated in a near whisper just before we drifted off. She was being funny, but it sounded like a lament.
Almost as soon as I fell asleep, I had a dream about that imagined rival or someone just like him. This person was younger, a glib teenager really, but there was the same charm and cocksure attitude, relaxed confidence in his power to win over women. We- a group of us- were at a round white table in a restaurant. After initially flirting with Midori, using words but mostly speaking above and around, beyond them, sustaining bright, eye-flashing communication that excluded everyone else for instants I found painful, he seemed to shift his attention to the larger conversation. My hope that it wouldn't return to her proved unfounded. At a point he got up from the table- talk was lively then; his move went all but unnoticed- departed to a space behind a partition, dim area used by restaurant workers, visible if you happened to look. I wondered what he was up to. The answer came soon enough. He bent at the knees and smacked his open palm a few times against the back of his pants, grey jeans made of some material other than denim. He was looking Midori's way, grinning, inviting her to try, come over and whack his ass as he just had. She did. Next thing you knew they were standing facing each other, kissing, making the first tender, exploratory contact.
The scene cut- it was like a movie- here he was wiping her face, talking in a different voice.
"Did it get on your bra? I was wrong to do that." He ran his thumb up. "Did it get on your cheek? That was bad of me. Did some get on your eyebrow, and on this scar here?" (His finger traced a barely visible line left from a childhood accident). "I was wrong to do that."
He'd come on her face. It was clear then that his charming, boyish come-on before was just a ruse; all along he'd only meant to get his rocks off with her. I was angry, outraged- he'd been sly, gotten what he wanted; there he was grinning and Midori wet with his jism- yet watching the lurid scene I wondered in spite of myself if that made him a villain. He appeared just as winning, funny, friendly as before. And Midori seemed to like him no less. As she looked and listened- mostly looked- her expression remained open, interested, happy.
In another dream- a few followed in quick succession- I went to Midori's country and left after a day, couldn't take the tension of not understanding the language. Back home, I realized I had an appointment for a lesson with Midori. She was tutoring me in her language. I should call her and say I couldn't make it. Otherwise, she'd be waiting for me. I wouldn't suffer consequences for failing to appear- now there was no connection between us; we were on opposite sides of the earth- but she still existed. I should try to make contact. My love for her showed clearly then. It had grown. I cared how she felt- and not just about me.
A final dream was about my old girlfriend Thanh. I'd come to a Vietnamese restaurant I didn't know, and the waitress asked me if I wanted cha gio, that dish traditionally served on special occasions. I said yes, but what arrived wasn't that. Instead, she set before me steaks of some kind; they looked like dark, cooked tuna.
"This isn't cha gio," I said.
"Yes, it is."
I realized she thought me an American ignorant of her culture, who wouldn't know the difference, and in place of the dish I'd ordered brought whatever they had at the ready, likely something best gotten rid of. I complained. Someone (another customer who in the dream resembled Midori) sympathized with me. I felt foolish, unable to look out for my own interests.
When I woke, I embraced Midori hard. She'd been sleeping and laughed with wonder at my access of emotion.
to read other stories by M. Jespersen
When I was with Pam the first time, I didn't treat her well enough. I began to take our involvement for granted, met her less often. Once I hadn't seen Pam for weeks when I finally went to pay her a visit. Walking up the stairs to her apartment, I expected to find her alone and lonely. Instead, I came upon a group of visitors in her place. They were students at the college where she worked. Pam didn't take English courses because as a Filipina she knew the language, but she hung out with students who did; as a foreigner as well she felt comfortable with them. I arrived shortly after her guests had. They were exploring the environment, looking at pictures on the walls, colors Pam had chosen, decorative objects. From a culture they didn't know and older than any of them, Pam drew curiosity and admiration. She was in conversation when I came upon the scene; I couldn't talk to her immediately, so I wandered around the apartment, biding my time and, with the amused distance of someone not involved, idly took stock of her visitors. One was an Asian woman, and my eyes went to her sharply- my reaction so predictable it was almost stupid. But in truth she did look more interesting than the others- drew serious attention rather than amusement. Something about her face, less the features than the expression, dark of her eyes, composure of her mouth- apparently at ease with herself, she did not automatically put on a smile- suggested she'd lived a bit more than the others, might have things to say to a person my age. She seemed to be looking outward as well; not worrying about the impression she made left her free. This is not to deny the visceral attraction. Her sex appeal drew my eye as if I was thirsty and she was the only drink in the room, high proof refreshment I hadn't known how much I wanted until I saw it. Her hair was black like the proverbial hole in the canvas described by artists wary of the non-color. Other hues, the bright tan of her face- like tea drenched by sun- lit the space around her. I liked her shoulders, texture I could only imagine then that would incite me for years. She wore a thin, powder blue tank top, small one that clung softly and her body carried with dignity- nothing looked only cute on her. I learned she was a painting student named Midori.
When I got to Pam, a guy standing with her took her case against me, openly expressed criticism, even scorn.
Don't you think she judges you for bad comportment? He meant, of course, my neglect, letting our romance slide lately. It was my fault she'd needed to talk about that.
What do you mean by 'bad comportment'? I scoffed at his stilted word choice, tried to parry the attack by putting him on the defensive. As he paused to formulate his answer- I saw my tactic wouldn't work- rage rose in me, the rage of a person who knows his position is indefensible.
Come on, motherfucker. Say what you want to say or leave me the fuck alone! My body stiffened. I squared off, as if for a fist fight, though chances of one taking place were nil. It wasn't just that circumstance- I'd never met the guy; his opinion carried no weight- but the box of the romance with Pam I felt like punching my way out of.
Her advocate didn't flinch. Okay. That's exactly what I'll do.He accepted my demand and walked off, Pam at his side- did, from my point of view, the worst he could have- leaving me me to confront guilt feelings alone.
I didn't know that I'd be getting together with Midori, drop Pam, then go back to her when Midori left me!
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We went shopping with Midori's friend Kaori, also an artist, at a store that sold almost everything, even furniture, which Kaori would need to buy eventually, if not now. She ended up looking for a bra, later got into conversation with a man who had approached her. He turned out to be aggressive. A physical struggle ensued. He was, of course, stronger than her because a man. Kaori eventually got away.
Later, Midori and I talked about the incident.
Kaori has her period, Midori said, as if that somehow made the fight even more unfair.
Thanh had her period, I said. My friend Thanh hadn't escaped from her attacker. She was raped.
As Midori and I walked, I said, Guys like that make me so angry- just the thought. I could do real violence. Do you think I'm capable of violence? I was interested in Midori's impression, but it sounded like I was saying I myself had the makings of a rapist, which wasn't what I meant at all.
I went to a highschool reunion. The people I met weren't ones I'd been close to, but we embraced with genuine feeling, as if recapturing our own past. There were fewer in attendance than I'd have hoped. We talked about ourselves, what we'd been doing, then about friends who weren't there. Someone said one had become an English teacher. He's smart, they added. It occurred to me that though teaching highschool English wasn't a particularly esteemed profession, that former classmate was more learned than me. I couldn't do the job he did. I recalled a college literature course I took. During the first class a student asked the teacher, We're going to concentrate on novels, I know, but are we also going to talk about short stories? I like short stories.
I like short stories too, the professor answered, and yes, we are.
I realized that I knew next to nothing about literature, the craft of writing fiction, yet I had the temerity to try writing both short stories and novels.
My friend Thomas had joined me at a job I had. He would work temporarily during the holiday rush. I helped train him. The owners of the business were Orthodox Jews and on the first day the task was unpacking stock that had arrived. There was a special way of doing the work that Thomas and I didn't know, so we could only stand back and watch.
That would make a good photograph, I said. The men in their traditional clothing, long black coats, bunched together, was an interesting composition, but I realized the image brought the association of Jewish people crammed onto cattle cars for transport to concentration camps. I saw it wasn't a photo to take after all.
In the cabin I had photographed Midori in bed. The morning light on the curved lines of her body made for great pictures. I took a lot. We were about to get up and I said, Just a few more of your breasts The gorgeous light was too good to miss.
Just one or two, Midori laughed as she set a limit.
I shot the first of her nipple, close up in the radiant sun.
That's one, Midori said.
I took time composing the next, which would be the last. Each photograph was like delivering a determined kiss.
We had sex that morning, and it was gorgeous. I went down on Midori and she came to resonant, sonorous orgasm. When she went down on me, I thought the light rays would fall on her, but the window frame cut them off. The sun lit the shaft of my penis. Midori's mouth went up and down in shadow.
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I've realized- late in the day- that it isn't necessary to give a graphic description of each sexual encounter. Once established, what actually happens- the mechanics- are a given. The reader can supply details from memory.
I went to an exhibit that had multiple themes. One was Chinese. Various articles were available to examine by hand. I picked up a stamp, the kind engraved with a person's name character and used as official signature. To test it, for fun, I slammed the object hard on the table. The impact seemed to bring it nearly to the breaking point. A young Chinese woman overseeing the display didn't express disapproval. Instead, her face showed the patience reserved for ignorant foreigners. I said, I thought those things were meant to be wielded with force, to make a strong imprint. In the silence following my comment, I noticed that the stamp was an unusual color, between pink and orange and made of a substance like hard rubber or soft plastic, not the sturdy wood or metal one would expect. It dawned on me finally that the item was a replica, shown at the exhibit as an art object, not a real stamp.
I had sent a short story off to a well-known magazine, one with very high standards for fiction. A reply came. To my surprise, it wasn't an email or even a letter but a card, folding greeting-card style, complete with a picture on the cover. My first impression was that it might have been a Christmas card, though the season was wrong. I'd expected a one-sentence form rejection, but instead had received a hand-written message, and a long one.
An editor, probably a younger member of the staff, had taken it upon herself to respond to my short story personally. She wrote at first of the whole, the title and Whatever it is," signaled understanding that the pages I'd sent were part of something larger), acknowledging the difficulty of assigning the project a category. Neither fiction or memoir fit. The scale of the thing and loose form- I agreed with her choice of "amorphous" as adjective- seemed not to bother her from a literary standpoint, but she suggested it limited the commercial potential, pointed out that there might be few to no readers willing to stay with the work from beginning to end.You seem to think people have a lot of free time, she remarked. While frank in its criticisms, the letter sustained a friendly tone that gave me courage.
She listed the essentials for a successful narrative, then wrote of mine, As a _______ , _________ and ____________"(citing the very three qualities she'd identified as most important), "this fails. But it's an original work of art. The last part helped, of course, but at the same time I thought, She's telling me how to create a marketable product and I'm not sure that's what I'm after. I saw later that she hadn't advocated one approach over another, only recommended I make a clear choice eventually.
The editor went on to say that in lots of places the prose- dialogue especially- worked well, but some descriptive passages dragged (and the writing there wasn't so good").
I assumed from the message that my story would not appear in print. Its author never made the rejection explicit, figuring, no doubt, that there was no need, I'd understand from the context. But the absence of any reference at all to publication left me wondering if she even understood that was what I wanted. Maybe she thought advice alone would satisfy me. No question, I appreciated the response she gave, both positive and negative. It was generous- her script filled both inside pages of the card and part of the back- and helpful; she noted problems with the construction I had sensed but couldn't view objectively. The honesty was salutary. I wrote, she said, about characters I hadn't introduced properly, plowed into events without laying a groundwork. She recounted her experience as reader, providing a vantage point otherwise unavailable. "At first," she stated bluntly, "I thought I'd stop, but something drew me further."
Lines like that lifted my spirits, as you can imagine. The editor, from one of the most highly regarded literary forums in the country, in the English speaking world- was addressing me as an equal! I called Midori to share the news. She reacted most to the negative comments, and I pointed out that among people in the know any reaction at all from that elite publication was considered an occasion for celebration; the vast majority of aspiring writers got only a formulaic brush-off. I wasn't breaking out the champagne, though. While mild encouragement might mean a lot to someone in their twenties, I needed more. At my age, I could no longer wait through rejection after rejection, building on slivers of hope.
I tried to quote to Midori the sentence that ended, It's an original work of art but couldn't find it. I scanned the cursive handwriting without success. Was my hurry messing with my perception, or had I only dreamed I'd read that?
I had another look at the introduction, in which the editor established the personal tone. She said she was in Connecticut, headed for vacation when she read and critiqued my short story. I guessed she was wealthy, likely had graduated from an Ivy League school. I quashed my reflexive dislike of the privileged class she represented, noting it had to do with envy as much as concern for social injustice. She personally was no more responsible for the inequities of the world than for my own lack of accomplishment. We'd both had expensive educations, and she was to be congratulated for putting hers to good use. I felt genuine gratitude for the thought and time she'd given and wondered what to do about it. Write back to that unknown young woman, thank her? Would it be impolitic to go ahead and ask about the chances of seeing my work in the pages of the magazine where she worked? She had disregarded the protocol of the publishing world, but it didn't follow that I could.
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On the wall next to the bed in the cabin where we stayed on our trip was a dream catcher, device used in Native American spiritual practice, now just a trinket for tourists. It consisted of a small woven hoop supporting thread mesh, from which feathers dangled.
So stupid, Midori said.
The dream catcher?
Not the dream catcher. It's fine. That.
To the left of the native American decoration was another picture, framed black paper cut out to form the likeness of U.S. cavalry. Soldiers on horseback had come to rest atop a crest. Facing forward, aligned against the sky, they looked formidable. All held weapons aloft.
Stupid, Midori repeated. Guns. Rifles.
I agreed with her take on the depiction of men showing off symbols of masculine power.
I almost joked, What's wrong? That's the history of the country. I didn't, though. At the moment, beside me in bed, Midori was holding my masculine power, also pointed upward. She'd scoff at any notion of conquest in our romance, and rightly so; I had no bear pelt to throw on the wall, but did have my hand at her bush, wild mountain creek streaked by sunlight.
After the trip, when Midori had gone her separate way- it was clear we wouldn't get together again soon, might not ever- one night I looked on the web at photos of women from her part of the world giving fellatio. I scanned through a lot, seeking one who resembled Midori- or, chance in a million, actually was her. Invariably, I was interrupted from searches like this by the ringing telephone, someone at the door (not Midori). The large number of women from her country on the fellatio web site and others like it surprised me. That was a first world nation. Need for money had to be the reason they let their photos appear. I could only conjecture that individuals had financial problems they kept to themselves.
I didn't know then that Midori would soon go down on me; unexpected circumstances would come and go.
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Sometimes show became the theme with Midori and me.
In front of friends we did an imitation of affected speech some people in the city used. We hadn't rehearsed that, but we knew the subject so well from earlier conversations- and knew each other so well- that the routine went very smoothly. We might have been a professional comedy team. People were amazed. Even friends of Midori who disapproved of our romance conceded how good we were together.
Sometimes we performed for each other only. On our trip, we'd stayed in a cabin. I went to bed first to read while Midori remained at the kitchen table, by the light there looked at maps, considering our hiking the next day.
Are there any good things about the bed? she asked from across the single room divided into living and sleeping areas.
If so, there are also bad things. Why give the simple answer when you can mess things up a little, have some fun.
Midori looked at me quizzically, saw the game I'd started.
What do you mean by bad things? she asked.
What do you mean by good things?
We both laughed.
It's soft, I explained.
Most people like that, Midori said. Our bed is hard. Most people don't like that.
When she joined me, she conceded my point. Like a water bed.
A day shortly after our comedic give-and-take for friends, in online conversation with a guy the suggestion came up that I have sex with Midori and video it so he could watch- the whole thing as it happened. The idea surprised us both. He expressed enthusiasm. The thought intrigued me too. But it also seemed impractical. First of all, Midori might not agree to such a plan- especially given logistical problems. We wouldn't be able to stay in bed because the web camera wasn't facing that way, wasn't even in the bedroom. I thought instead I could send the online acquaintance an audio tape Midori and I had made of an encounter. It was vivid and also encompassed the whole event, beginning with conversation and ending with orgasm. But how would the guy know for sure the recording was us? On video that could easily be established; the images would leave no doubt the action was occurring in real time. With sound only we'd have to say something, use words to make clear time and place, authenticity.
Another performance happened inadvertently. We were in the livingroom one Saturday afternoon and began sex. The unusual place made us feel like we were doing it while traveling. First, Midori attended my cock. Then intercourse started, with surprisingly little lead-in. We were in the dining area of the apartment and Midori got up on the table, her back to me. Either she thought I wanted sex from behind or else she herself did. Ah, so this is the way it's going to be, I said. I wondered if her pussy would be ready. I hadn't even touched it yet. But when I did she was wet. I used the head of my penis to stir her further. When my cock slid home, it wasn't necessary to do much to bring waves of sensation between us. I had to get her to slow down so I didn't come from the initial excitement, let my cock get used to the new, charged environment in order for it to work there calmly without risk of suddenly spattering all over the place.
It turned out there were people having a party that afternoon in the garden outside the second floor living room. We were visible to them through the big window as they were to us. In front of me on all fours Midori faced them directly. She was in a fairly helpless position, accommodating my larger frame in back, my cock inside her. I reassured myself with the observation that the guests at the party were the kind of pretentious people Midori and I had lampooned for her friends. They were so full of themselves, wrapped up in their narcissistic conversations, they probably wouldn't notice us. But one by chance looked up. Then another did. Conformists, easily led, more followed in a chain reaction. Meanwhile, I had reached around front to hold Midori's breasts as we fucked. Why not, I thought. Those people will never see us again or won't know we're the ones they're seeing now. And Midori's breasts felt so smooth.
Sometimes the show came from others. The next day when I returned home an old man from Lebanon who lived in our building greeted me with a hug, a real embrace. We'd exchanged pleasantries before. I'd joked with him. He took me in his arms and pulled tight to show how much he appreciated my friendliness- as a foreigner, older, apparently he didn't get much- and my sense of humor. He smelled of tobacco and good food, wore a gray vest and a black skull cap I'd once knocked off- one of those times I'd kidded with him. In that neighbor's manly embrace on the stairs I noticed details of him I wouldn't have in an exchange of greetings from an ordinary distance.
The last performance of that weekend came from both me and someone else and had ominous overtones. There'd been a disaster in the city, one with many casualties. It was on the news, still under way. But Midori and I decided to keep to our plan, which was to go to the park for the afternoon- even though the location was near the accident site- we might see survivors who'd dispersed from the area. At the Metro station, approaching the platform from where the front of the train would arrive, Midori noted we shouldn't take the line we were most used to but another, which stopped at the same platform. It would let us off directly in the park, while the usual line would necessitate a walk of several blocks.
That's right, I acknowledged and joked about the line we would use that day, the one I rode seldom. I know the ZZZ Line. Mr. ZZZ is a good friend of mine. A passenger near us overheard and chuckled at my dull attempt at humor. The train came within moments. We didn't have to wait. As we walked from the front to the doors of the car, we passed the conductor, a young man with spiked, gelled black hair. His appearance had more in common with a skateboarding punk than a transit system employee. I couldn't help remarking on it as we passed. Looking good, I said.
The passenger who had just laughed with us took me to task as we three made our way to the train. He has his own style. She meant that as praise, defense of the worker I'd just ridiculed lightly, and I conceded her point.
That's a good thing. You're right, I said. I'm just not sure how comfortable I feel about having someone like him driving the train, having my life in his hands.
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Someone asked me, Who is that person who's acting like your mother? I realized they were talking about Pam, and saw that a stranger might take that impression from her behavior toward me. I also understood that she wasn't to blame. I must have done something to encourage it- two people share responsibility for how they treat each other.
We were on a bus, and Pam came to sit down with me, near the person who had asked about her. Another passenger was smoking marijuana and spread it around. We had some- and then no questions about the involvement with Pam troubled my mind any longer. All that concerned me was the possibility of our getting arrested for smoking weed in public; I didn't worry about the charges we'd face- misdemeanor or none at all- but the trip to the police station, processing- likely in no hurry- that could bollix the rest of the afternoon.
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The first night at the motel we had trouble with the lock to the room. Leaving right after putting our stuff inside, we found we couldn't lock it from outside. Midori tried, then I did, then she did again. No luck. Rather than going all the way back to the motel office to get help, I thought of asking one of the people in the rooms near ours. The problem was they looked a little rough- this was a motel, no bed and breakfast. The guy we did ask, big, alcoholic-faced, swollen, worker's hands, turned out to be friendly, gentle as could be, and talkative. He worked putting in a gas line in nearby mountains. He found Midori funny, cute. He too had difficulty locking our door at first (they were all different) but finally succeeded by slamming it shut. You just have to pull hard, he said, and demonstrated again. I felt then like a weak guy from the city, who thinks too much, is out of touch with nature. That night I found I wanted loud sex, so that Midori's voice reached outside to other rooms of the motel. I could see how she might get tired of someone like me.
The next day we met and chatted with other guests at the motel, including a guy who introduced himself as an orphan, said he'd grown up in an orphanage, special guy clearly proud of what he'd made of his life. He was in his thirties, seemed fine, but for all his talk about the joy of self-reliance you sensed loneliness, wondered about his future with no family, no one around for support.
As it happened, it was agreed he and Midori would take a walk together across the road to a store while I stayed in the room taking care of something- writing notes. As they departed, I said, She too doesn't have parents. I was referring to her circumstances living far from her country. They had that solitude in common. He looked at me, not understanding, and I pushed the joke further, so he'd get it. She also grew up in an orphanage. I added, My parents are dead too." But they were old, so it didn't matter.
When Midori returned, she confronted me, cried, but her tears were from anger. She felt I'd violated her privacy, been manipulative. I said, I just thought you two might get along.
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I'd been unfaithful too. I was with a woman from work. We were waiting for others to arrive. Boredom, awkwardness surfaced. I discovered the tension came from something else.
"Do you want to have a beer with me sometime?" She spoke bluntly, in a clear voice- quiet, but coming after the silence it sounded a bit sharp, almost as if she were annoyed, had grown impatient waiting for me to make the suggestion, realizing finally I wouldn't.
"Sure," I said, and after a pause, "When?"
Tension broke. She smiled, delayed reaction. Eyebrows rose. Humor returned. "I don't know." She readily let me take charge again, was glad her moment of initiative had passed and we were both active again.
"The weekend?" I said. That would be impossible or troubling. Midori was away and scheduled to return on the weekend, Saturday. Getting free or covering my tracks would be messy, impractical. I'm not good at that, being deceitful right in Midori's face.
Tina said, "Okay," pleased with the arrangement.
She was relaxed. Evidently she didn't have a boyfriend, wouldn't be cheating- or if she did wasn't troubled by the thought as I was. Oddly, I felt relaxed too. Warmth flowed, just that. This was a tough dilemma facing me, but it didn't feel tough, only good. I liked Tina, with her tight body, short hair, her intelligence, fine hair cut in bangs above her slightly round but adult face, attractive and full of personality all her own, lively character held in reserve. She was independent, even a little cold. She might have been smarter than Midori, I realized. Anyway, she was out in the world, had a job, whereas Midori just did her art work. I found Tina's company bracing, exciting, all kinds of possibilities opening from her invitation to have a beer together.
We sat at a table across from each other. The seldom used space, room between offices, seemed particularly empty now, absent the people who were supposed to join us there for a training session- another meeting had run long, delayed them. . Tina wore short cotton pants, the kind meant to suggest a safari. They fit snug at her thighs, which were strong, tan smooth. She was Korean. I wondered what Midori would think about me going out with a Korean.
I raised a second option, almost interrupting her response to my first. "Or tonight?"
I saw her eyebrows rise again, with the pleased humor of before. So, she might have thought, he's in a hurry after all. She'd have no way of knowing it was instead Midori's presence on the weekend that compelled me to suggest we get together so surprisingly soon. Tina said that idea also suited her. A current flowed between us. I felt my erection grow under the table.
Our conversation continued. I said, "Even though we have work tomorrow?" Date that night, I meant. "It's okay with me. Are you all right? Getting up early in the morning?"
"Yes." Tina showed that same amusement, joy in discovery, even through the reserve, her face both open and closed to me, bearing her own thoughts she didn't show. She apparently had no reason not to go into this full-bore. I did have complications, was involved, deeply, with another woman. It troubled me that the discovery Tina got in the end might be a bad one rather than only the delight she expected, we both wanted. Of course, it was possible Tina approached this lightly. She might not have minded I was with someone else and cheating- or even been surprised- I was older, after all (that detail would occupy my attention later- she was interested in me even despite my age. I'd note I was lucky- more importantly, still appealed to women). Tina might not care what else was going on in my life, but the fact that I did, felt bad about betraying Midori's trust, could make for ugliness all the same, spoil the fun. The obvious solution- to keep things simple and smooth- was alcohol or its equivalent, to blot out all thought and feeling beyond the moment, not just a beer.
I liked Tina's clear, light eyes. Details about her got my attention now that we would be mattering more to each other. I saw a glint of wet on her lips where her tongue had touched.
I explained that I'd already gotten work done in advance, so would have most of the next morning free. Tina showed surprise. She hadn't thought I went about my job so scrupulously. Her expression opened some more, as curiosity grew, it dawned on her there was much about me she didn't know.
Tina and I had left the building together earlier that day, around lunchtime. We were walking separately, but an event had brought on conversation that led to the one in the afternoon. On the way through the lobby, we heard a commotion behind us. It sounded like someone had fallen down the sandstone steps there, but the response, a lot of young people running, almost a stampede scene, dangerous because it happened on stairs, suggested something more, a terrorist incident or the like (though that was improbable). Lights were out. Power had briefly failed. Tina and I walked the opposite way, took the outdoors stairs right ahead that led to the light, open space, the city, sky spread full above us.
On the train that morning, I'd talked to a cop across the car about a tough-looking young guy sitting beside me. He and I had conversed before the policeman arrived and showed interest in the adolescent who had the appearance, attitude of a criminal. I took his side. He was being teenage- defiant but sensitive, intelligent, vulnerable but willful, yielding no ground as he described his present life, his fuck-ups and his prospects. I liked him but saw he could end up wreaking destruction.
"He's the kind of person," I said to the cop, "who wants to do something." I was trying to appeal to the kid's good side, clearly there, though the violence might submerge it.
"But he needs help," I went on. "If he doesn't get any, what can he do? He's the kind of person who wants to do something important. And if he can't find anything good to do, he might cause some real harm."
The kid listened politely, respecting me as an adult. I wished I really could have helped, but had to get off the train. What did all my fine words accomplish on his behalf? I felt I was abandoning him.
Tina and I had the rest of the day ahead of us before our date. The meeting happened. I ended up teaching a group of coworkers meditation. They sat in a circle, took my instructions. I stood, walked around.
"You have to breathe from your belly, whatever that means." I laughed at the pompous sound of it. "I don't know. That's just what they say. And it's important to sit up straight." I reassured the group that thinking was all right, "Just try not to get caught up in your thoughts." The circumstance- all of them with their eyes closed- left me pleasantly alone with mine. Before Midori took off, I actually enjoyed time on my own. Hard to imagine that now. She and I viewed the world very differently. It was true she didn't appreciate all the things that I loved, but none mattered more than her. After the breakup, solitude became an agony.
Even when I was back with my former girlfriend Pam, I couldn't forget Midori, not by a long shot. One evening while Pam was occupied with something in the other room, I found Midori on the web. It had taken some doing. She wasn't listed under her own name but a nickname it was nearly a miracle to find- I'd tried several before stumbling, sheerly by chance, on the right one. The posting was a video from a dance party. The image in the still frame was of Midori there, apparently dancing in a crowd. She wore a black (off-black- in fact, it was very dark dull grey) knit dress- almost net or gauze-like it appeared in the not very clear stilled video. The view was in near profile. There was the twist or her body, slimness of her waist and fullness of her hips, her hair a blur, some suggestion of her face, most of all her motion.
"What did you find?" Pam called from the other room. She must have known- by some sixth sense- that I was onto something that mattered.
"Midori," I said.
"Ah, a woman," Pam said after a pause, her tone amused, dismissive.
"Not a woman," I thought angrily. "Not just any woman. Midori." It occurred to me Pam wasn't being just insensitive as she'd sounded to me, but defending herself, naturally. She knew, of course, about my past with Midori, thought it was over, must have understood my feelings weren't.
I saw that the video posted was not just of Midori but of the whole dance party. She might appear in it one minute- or more- or less. And where would she be in the thing? The clip ran almost an hour. I didn't have time before Pam would join me. Midori might be at the very end or the very beginning or somewhere in the middle. Could I skim through without missing her?
Pam came into the room, surprising me. I'd thought she was going to go to the bathroom, get ready for bed. She may, in fact, have entered to check out what I was doing. Before she could see, I clicked close the window.
After Pam left, I had no idea how to find the video again. Midori's nickname had slipped my mind. I thought I'd remembered but I hadn't. She used that with new friends- with family too?- I was unlikely to get lucky again and happen upon it again.
There was another group training session at work. People revealed what they liked most. Though I was leading the meeting, two of the participants thought to turn the question back on me.
"What do I like most?" I thought for a moment, realized I couldn't answer forthrightly. "Forget it," I said.
"Come on. We had to tell. So do you."
I was thinking, of course, of a woman, not women in general, but of Midori.
"Forget it," I said. "It's stupid." I amended that. "Just too ordinary to be interesting."
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Sometimes the writing here changes. I go back and fix it. Some sentences come out stiff, wooden, the first time.
Sometimes it strikes me the character that comes through here may be unlikable. Does that make the story not sexy? Sexiness implies desire to be with a person. Reading about a character- described close-up as this one is- means getting pretty intimate. Since the writing is in first person, this is all a reflection of him, his world. If he's unappealing, will readers want to enter it?
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I went home from the reading in the bookstore full of ideas, thought: wouldn't it be good if there was software with which we could show our dreams or memories like movies (not so-called social media, but a kind for individual work), take, say, the account a grandfather had once given of his war experiences and copy and paste them, the whole thing as a unit, presenting a spectacle with a large cast that would otherwise have required an enormous amount of work to render detail by detail?
On a whim- these came to me since Midori left- I called my highschool friend John Arthur to tell him the idea. We'd spoken once in the past year when I asked his advice on a legal matter. John Arthur was a lawyer who also painted. He wanted to give himself to the art work but had so far been unable to curtail much less end his career as an attorney. He envied my free time and life with Midori, imagining happiness, love and creativity, unaware we'd parted ways- or nearly.
The same night I wrote to Carolina, my former girlfriend in Europe, who agreed to continue a correspondence despite having soured on me- I couldn't blame her; I'd broken off our romance way back when. Still, she answered my occasional letters- written in times of need. Hers were full of beauty, reflecting that of her personality, which she couldn't hold back. She was someone who gave everything of herself or nothing- and in my case the latter wasn't possible; she still had feelings for me. Carolina used a black ink fountain pen. We both wrote a lot, crowded words onto the pages, gave and received dense prose jungles- it was a habit left over from when we'd thought we might stay together, not a sign we meant to now. Carolina had insight and love of literature that showed in her letters- they were profound and moving. I'll make no attempt to paraphrase. She wrote, for example, about the effect of summer on the emotions, on the body, simple sentences almost embarrassingly direct and true. I couldn't match that, of course. I just admired her, felt something like love, but not enough to tie my future with hers. To state the case crudely, I preferred Midori's wet pussy. Though all I had now was its cool aftermath, I still hoped to get back with her. Writing Carolina the letter I did was selfish. To get through a lonely night I stoked in her feelings that I didn't intend to satisfy.
When Midori and I did talk, we acted as if we were still on our desert trek, none of the bad stuff had happened. During relatively short encounters at long intervals, it was possible to keep present reality at bay, even imagine good stuff in the future.
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I met a writer, novelist from Turkey- he spoke English, lived and taught in the United States- heard him speak about his work, which he compared to that of a physician. The novel he read aloud from, of which he'd just completed the first chapters, featured a man who'd suffered a grave injury. It depicted the spiritual recovery that accompanied the physical. The interesting element was the impossibility of knowing which, if either, took precedence. Did the events in the mind- dreams and daydreams- instigate changes for the better in the body or vice versa, or was there no such cause and effect, just simultaneous activity?
When he finished reading, we all applauded. I noted we were fully confident- he too- that the novel, a work in progress, would finish as strongly as it had begun. He was an accomplished author, with a record of success. I wanted to ask if he knew the ending already. It occurred to me that he might work more systematically than I did. I seldom saw in advance how one of my novels would conclude, took pleasure in the process of discovery, the spontaneity, found that one of the joys of writing, and at the same time recognized it as a probable cause of my failure to gain readers- I indulged myself and lost them. I would like to have heard how this celebrated artist approached his projects.
I'd brought along to the bookstore where the reading took place a journal written by my friend Thomas. He'd lent it to me to help through the interludes of waiting, of which that day had included many. Before the author spoke. I'd mentioned to someone that I had the journal with me and the asked to look. It wasn't especially private, contained Thomas' humorous essays. I passed the thing on to the bookstore patron but stressed the importance of his returning it. My policy is not to let people borrow books I cared about it. When the discussion of the Turkish writer's work ended, I couldn't find the man I'd made the exception for. Instead, I looked for Thomas' journal with my other gear, which I'd entrusted for safe-keeping on top of the shelf behind the coffee counter. I didn't t see the journal but held out hope it was there among my things. As a customer, I couldn't go behind the counter and look, so I asked an employee of the bookstore to help. Meanwhile, someone who overheard me remark that the diary my friend had entrusted to me might have gone missing expressed sympathy, noted with humor the potentially dire circumstance I faced. "Yeah, if you don't return that, he'll be angry for sure." The eavesdropper had misunderstood. I didn't bother explaining that the volume contained few intimate details of Thomas' life but a series of light pieces- he'd only let it out of his sight because there wasn't much he'd mind having people read.
The worker came to my aid reluctantly. Retrieving the black notebook full of unlined pages would require use of a ladder. If she went to the trouble, she said, she'd need her husband to take special care of her that night. I asked why, thought the height of that upper shelf might be the problem- maybe she had acrophobia. But she instead pointed to exertion as the aspect of the chore that bothered her. She made clear she didn't want to move, showed her pique openly, even seemed to be trying to stir up guilt feelings in me- as if I were asking a lot of her! She was young. The task wasn't a very hard one- and she worked in that store, after all. I stilled my rising anger, noting that from her point of view the words she spoke, actions she performed, made sense. Didn't it take me a while to understand even Midori's behavior sometimes? I thought, "You can never know what another person thinks or feels and should avoid snap judgments."
About then I had to go take a shit. I'd felt the need much of the day and decided this was the right time. The dark, pungent smell of my shit revved the senses- just a minute tincture penetrated, like elephant dung, powerful as a concentrated poison in the air- scent connected me to the forest, the earth. I was surprised in the public toilet by one of the bookstore visitors, who'd appeared around the blue wall of the stall I'd thought enclosed on all sides. He'd been watching me a few moments before I became aware of his presence. He laughed. I hadn't sat down yet, was wiping the toilet seat clean. He made clear he'd seen me at work and was amused. With a gesture, a turn of his arm in the air, he indicated that only a single swipe would suffice. My repeating the motion was overkill. I nodded. "I know. What can I say? Everybody has their thing. I just happen to like clean toilet seats." Just after speaking, I saw that what I'd been cleaning with the wadded toilet paper was the wrong surface, the porcelain below the wooden seat I would occupy. I'd have to lower that and start the wiping all over again. By the time I sat down to shit, others- people I knew- had come to use the bathroom. In their presence I found I couldn't relax enough to open my sphincter. Cognizant that my companions would notice my lack of activity, I said half-apologizing, "Yeah, I seem to be constipated"- as if an explanation were needed! Until then, I'd thought I ought to shit right away, but now concluded it would be best to wait until I got home. It had been that kind of day- rough- like most of late. In the romance with Midori, I'd felt buffered from the shocks outside it. I had that basic hormonal balance to return to, pleasure upon pleasure if not neutralizing pain rendering it insignificant. Now I was stripped bare, exposed to each bump and jostle along the way. Mind and body barely worked. Don't ask me how I got through a day at my job. Maybe those who saw the red-eyed bleariness thought I was drinking or using drugs. If only.
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Late in our trip to the desert, Midori announced, "I don't want you to take photographs of me every day anymore."
I was disappointed but understood her, knew better than to dispute the merits of her preference. Still, I argued some on behalf of mine. "Okay, but they're only to celebrate your beauty." I knew that wasn't entirely accurate. In the photos, I also cast her in roles that fit my fantasies. From the start, I'd felt a little in the wrong, but rationalized the picture-taking was okay so long as she didn't object (of course, the fact that she'd continued to indulge me proved nothing about how she felt). There was also my conviction that the quality of the photos justified their existence. They brought us closer, I maintained. Midori now begged to differ. She looked at me appealingly but with the full force of her will (which had in fact, mattered to the photographic work- she appeared strong throughout it, just not in the way she might have chosen).
"We have to talk," I said.
"About the future."
We had been avoiding one, living a fantasy. Did we even work as a couple? Have you ever had a time in your marriage or love affair when neither of you can look at the other? Is that from fear of what you'd see of yourself? Not in Midori's case, I'm convinced. She'd found who she was- apart from my photos of her.
Some recent set shots took mood so far Midori as she knew herself had all but disappeared, replaced by a character, heroine or villainess or some less definable entity, all bathed in sex. During the trip, we took pictures inspired by the landscape. She posed as if in a western saloon, on a bar stool. I deliberately used underexposure- shadows crowded, light had to work its way to the surface- so that each glint of highlight became powerful. I narrowed the aperture until the emulsion did justice to the velvety darkness of Midori's skin, exaggerated the succulence of her features, showed off not just beauty easily recognized, that is, but the unique, even weird notes I loved, the ones that lifted her above conventional attractiveness. There was a series with a distinctly sinister aspect; you couldn't tell if she was the victim of malign forces or their agent. Midori sat very upright, her torso long, legs crossed at the knee, looked in that pose- gazing directly back at the camera but appearing not to see it- both stunning and stunned, also slightly prim. You couldn't read her as a person, so you made up a fantasy.
The photos offered a lot. I say that to inform rather than to brag. You looked past the surface into layers, finding more the deeper you went. You began to believe you were nearing a core, but obviously there was none. Hard as the illusion, ink on paper, competed with the real world where Midori lived, it could never win, just as these words you're reading can't.
Still, she was right to draw a clear line.
She stood naked before me. We were in a room together, limited by time and space. What could be sexier than that bondage? A man and woman face off, two beasts capable of turning each other inside out but ultimately helpless. They could try to rush together or away but ultimately are only running in place. Wherever they go, they carry themselves. That may sound overblown, but it's how the moment felt.
The fantasy reigned free. As an actress, Midori knew how to let it, to recede, become an element of the composition, flattened like furniture the shadows connected in two dimensional space. Nothing was cool there- just the opposite; in the absence of identifiable emotions, all were present; one viewer's guess- or preference- as good as another's. After you abandoned the search for feeling, your attention inevitably returned to Midori's body- her impassive face deflected it. She modeled well all right. Feeling poured from the viewer with the light on the image, the real light of whatever room you were in looking.
She wore a violet wraparound skirt, print patterned from nature that read in black and white as a succession of deepening greys. None approached black, but in low contrast areas details became hard to pick out, sank into the surface of the image. Shapes and tones, overall patterns and spidering thin ones congealed, melded to one another. It didn't matter that the pitifully low light worked against the sharp focus, especially in the visual wilderness her clothing presented. What mattered was details that did emerge to clarity: Midori's face, hair at her neck where the dress opened, luster there, the front of the skirt parted by her lower leg- highlights- smooth skin stretching back from the bone to the firmness of her calf. I looked for her molten-looking tan flesh, lingerie, expanses of exposed skin, ripped lingerie, pictures in which just a little meant a lot. Midori had posed expertly, inexpressive, taking on the character the ambiance suggested, contributing by her presence to the staged surroundings, costumery- she was central, after all, subject of the photograph- at the same time as she let it wash over, imbue her, commenting neither by face or gesture- instead, relaxing or at least making do as object of commentary- in short, she acted as model.
Her open features told me no more than they had in the viewfinder or in prints, but emotion echoed stronger, after she finished her statement silently howled. Her dark face affected my whole body.
The light in all the shots was natural, by the way. It worked best, preserved what was essential, so that the image, though only a representation, kept faith with reality the eye recognized. Does that make sense? Colors (of those that had them) were true rather than artificial.
The black and white photos worked by means of neutral tones, all values muted near to the point of extinction- Midori showed through, the vital element in an otherwise inert zone, which it occurred to me might stand for the rest of my life, what I'd have without her. I wondered if she had stumbled onto the same thought.
Her question was, "Who am I?" Was I ignoring her real character to make her one I wanted? It wasn't fair.
Midori preferred indirect communication, considered putting feelings into words a vulgar expedient, did so only as a last resort. I guess she finally figured no other way worked; subtlety was lost on someone as thick as me.
Don't misunderstand. Things could have been worse. I knew they were for some people. A friend I worked with had confided a girlfriend dumped him, saying, "You think I'm going to pine away for want of your rinky-dink penis? They ought to tie a bell to it and parade you in the public square for laughs." I wasn't that badly off. Midori respected me and I her- and her regard extended to my cock; I knew from her eyes when she went down on me. I felt like a Rumanian gang member with a bar hostess in his hire. That wasn't one of the scenes photographed but might as well have been. Midori liked part of me that was thick (All joking aside, I think her love never would have wavered if I'd behaved less stupidly).
The rest of the trip didn't go well. There was no surface tension between us. What emerged was far worse: nothing. The trip continued but felt broken; a reason for staying in each other's company had been lost. Yet we were still together. Back in the apartment we'd been sharing, all was the same on the surface but underneath unrecognizable. We wandered blind with our eyes open, amid chaos full of sharp edges. I felt lost and sensed Midori was finding herself. It began to seem only a matter of time before we'd head our different ways. Midori had her friends and might just go to them. Was I only imagining a great emptiness opening and that I might be sucked into it? When Midori was out, I thought, "Well, if she leaves, I still have her photographs- all those I had shot already. I could, I thought, look at them and masturbate vindictively. Through those pictures, I'd have a hold on her even if she was gone. I recognized the idea as ridiculous, but it helped my feeling temporarily.
Before we came home, when we dropped off the car at the rental office, I saw how much gas was left in the tank but missed how many miles we'd driven). I noted we'd only used a single tank of gas- that was economical- I'd been lucky. I hadn't even stopped to check along the way whether the gauge was getting low. We might have run out of gas. I estimated we'd traveled one hundred miles.
I had an impulse to share those thoughts about the trip with Midori, as I would have at the beginning- we would have found that entertaining- but saw that to do so now made no sense. We were no longer thinking together.
I thought, "What if I ask to photograph her once a week, not every day?" Maybe she'd agree to that. It seemed unlikely. She'd made a statement I should respect. Even as the thought came and went, I decided to go have a look at shots of her I'd taken on the trip- I hadn't since we'd returned- it had been a few days since I'd seen them- and the images, sexy to begin with, would also have the power of the new, surprise, burn hot.
Midori was out. I saw I too should go meet friends; reluctant as I was, I'd better prepare for my life without her, couldn't replace time spent together with emptiness. I felt I'd lost Midori already, though we still lived in the same space for the time being. That morning we'd seen people we both knew; they'd brought along a friend from Italy.
It seemed to have struck Midori that she could also look outward now that she was no longer in the world of my photos. She decided it was okay, since we were moving apart, to talk with her friend Hiroko about someone she found- at least visually- interesting. I couldn't distinguish between her impulses and rights as an artist, as a person, as a woman, as mine.
"Eyes look like his." She had compared him to an actor they admired.
"Yeah? Let me look." To get a clear view, Hiroko took a step back and apart from the group talking.
"Do you understand?" Midori asked.
"Right. How they set in the skull."
"Not the eyes. How they fit."
She tried to say words she knew in his language.
"What?" He hadn't understood.
Midori felt embarrassed. She repeated "Uomo," saw he still didn't get her pronunciation, and reluctantly gave up, said in English the word she liked in Italian. "Man."
I'd overheard. A brief exchange I might once have just found funny now seemed dire in its implications, tied up with forces outside my control.
She spoke about the trip to the desert (He asked; Why didn't he talk instead to Hiroko?). She described the location as if using a map, began by tracing the cut-out region at the coast of the country- the gulf. Her word picture sounded to me- I was jealous- a little too anatomical, as if she were inviting the European to imagine how his body and hers might fit together.
He said, "I bet you want to go back."
"I want to go back?" This time it was Midori who appeared not to understand.
"I mean," he explained, "it's natural when people have been somewhere exciting and return to normal life they want to repeat the experience.
As he said that, I saw that, for all his casual cool that Midori and Hiroko remarked, he had about him something pedantic, unimaginative. The pose of rugged artist, outsider, rebel, was carefully constructed, from his jeans- vintage type, expensive, hanging slack but tight in just the right places- to his blue, pearl-buttoned workshirt, left open enough to show his dark chest hair- to the carefully trimmed three day growth of beard; he'd contrived all that to intrigue women- the worst part, of course, was that it did.
He also commented on how she looked, complimented. She wore a new white top, crepe, looked paper thin. He said it reminded him of a Vietnamese Ao Dai. In the simplicity, clean lines, I could see a resemblance to that traditional tunic, but it was a stretch. I saw that he'd say anything to flatter her, ramp up the communication.
Someone suggested going to a movie. There was a revival theater nearby. We walked, bought tickets. Twelve dollars. I paid for Midori and me. "It's a lot." I grumbled. Prices had gone up a lot in just the last few years.
"Actually, not so bad." Trying not to let spending the twenty-five bucks get me down, I reminded myself that other theaters cost more.
A kid next to us at the box office had overheard, made plain he agreed with my first take. "It is bad." We all laughed.
I said, "Well, you can on in, watch just fifteen minutes of the movie and resell the ticket for, say, nine dollars." Laughed again.
The film was Hitchcock's "North By Northwest." After it, we went to Hiroko's place. Antonio said he couldn't stay, would leave with the others, but he remained long enough for Hiroko to show him photos of a dancer in Midori's group also from Europe (but the east, Bulgaria or Hungary or somewhere- I missed it). There was a photo series, spread with an article in an art magazine spread. In most of the shots she was topless, and I found myself thinking, "What's she's really selling is sex." She was good-looking and a lot of the poses had an erotic charge. "That's how she got the magazine to feature her," I thought. I told myself not to be so critical. Eros might be part of the aesthetic- there was no reason it shouldn't I was stereotyping. She was from Eastern Europe, where people were poor, scrambled for a living. Would I have questioned her honesty if she'd instead been, say, Italian? What really troubled me was something else. I couldn't forget Antonio's compliments about Midori's shirt, praise, in effect, of her breasts.
At Hiroko's place, the TV was on in the background to more classic movie scenes, these comedy with Jerry Lewis. Midori seemed to miss most of the humor. I tried to show her the parts I thought funny; but she was busy with her friend. One involved a chimpanzee. You had to be paying attention all the way through to get the joke. The Italian guy had gone, but I remained troubled by how he and Midori had been together. I kept picturing the last scene from "North By Northwest," when Cary Grant rescues Eva Marie Saint, gripping her hand as she dangles from the side of Mount Rushmore. The next instant, in a smooth cut, he's pulling her into a sleeping berth on a romantic vacation for two (that was followed by a shot, the last before the closing credits, of the train entering a tunnel, symbolism so broad it made the critics laugh). I didn't want to see a jump cut from the present to that kind of future between Midori and Antonio.
Another scene on Hiroko's TV was of a lion that had captured two antelopes, was pushing them to its lair, casual in its manner but making sure neither could escape. The dust-covered road wound through a treeless landscape like the desert where Midori and I had walked. The lion could speak, commented on the process of eating its prey. "First, I tasted that strange brain soup."
"Strange brain soup?" said the surviving antelope.
Even parts of the Jerry Lewis film struck me as grotesque, as they will if you're in the wrong state when you watch.
That night Midori and I had sex- under the circumstances both a surprise and natural; we were still living together- and I wondered if during it she was thinking of him. She came on strong, brought to bear a ferocity nothing that had happened between us lately foreshadowed. Her hand went to my hard cock, and I reached around to her breast, felt its form. It was one of those moments when you become fully aware how fortunate you are to be with the person you desire. I meant to savor every instant, Midori's body diminutive but large in proportions. She had smoothly curved hips, long legs, full bust- her formidable character- nothing easy or dismissible about her. This was a woman to be reckoned with, I saw as I stared down her front, her nakedness large in the light, in my life. We kissed, and my fingers traveled the slope of her breast as a team, relaying to my brain continual messages about that smooth texture. Fingertips converged at the nipple, gripped, and lightly pulled outward at the same time as my arm flexed around her back, rocked us from side to side.
There was a wonderful smell of the sea, more specifically redolence like seaweed used in the cuisine of her country- I couldn't help wondering if that wetness was just for me.
She touched my chin. "Your beard."
"What?" I asked.
"The texture. It's grown."
"That happens." I hadn't shaved since the trip. Was she thinking of the Italian guy? He had that dark, planned growth of beard.
"Umm!" Midori touched the stubble again, groaned in pleasure.
I kissed her breast, jealous, rubbed the softness with the sandpaper surface. She felt it, as I wanted her to, but I felt she'd already gone.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed that. She sucked my cock. Everything seemed about denying my will and asserting the control she'd found. I wondered where she'd explore it next.
Mundane concerns crowded back. Some seemed beyond my capacity to cope with, reminded me of the monstrousness of the change if Midori left. The next day my computer hard drive died, event announced after the fact with a last message along the lines of, "The hard drive is the life of your computer, and now that it's no longer working you're not going to get help here. You'd better look elsewhere." I desperately tried to remember which of Midori's photos I'd saved and whether they included the latest ones, as if that made any difference in the big picture. I had some dental problems too.
Midori decided to study Italian, at least take a stab at it. The Italian guy, Antonio, reminded her that in learning her language she'd be brought in touch with classical culture, different from the case with American English. And then there was deep Italian coffee, Espresso, pastries soaked in Amaretto. She and Hiroko had begun sampling those. Midori thought Italian would be easy- so many of the words were similar to English- but she saw there were ones she couldn't make sense of, that in order to progress she's have to go deep into grammar, wasn't sure how to.
Midori said that when she spoke, read a sentence in the language, she was surprised at how her voice sounded; the musicality of Italian came through. Did that seem an affection, she wondered, considering she'd just begun learning.
She and Hiroko went to an art museum, acting on their new interest in Italian masters, Tintoretto, Donatello, Veronese. Midori all but swooned just saying the names. I stayed alone after they left but finally got sick of the apartment, how slow the time passed, and decided to head to the museum as well, look for them- though aware the chances of locating the pair among the crowd was small. I felt incredibly restless.
At the entry of the museum, Midori and Hiroko were nowhere to be seen. I wondered if I'd even gotten the time right- they'd told me when they meant to be there, but I hadn't listened, had been too intent on my own plans, broken now that Hiroko had taken Midori again- how was I going to get through the day? Maybe they'd already come and gone, I was an hour off.
The Italian coffee shop the two friends frequented was nearby, and I looked in it- noting that they could relax even on weekday afternoons. They weren't present there. I hung around, seeing no prospect of linking up with them but unwilling to abandon the search yet- what else would I do? I got in a conversation with a tourist family- well-off but friendly, approachable, who had been shopping in the area and were discussing their purchases- gifts- spread over the glass table top before which they sat on a light green- glowing- corduroy couch. Sunlight painted the happy group, made my eye feel good to look there.
During my two-block walk from the museum, I'd observed the opulence, luxuriousness of the neighborhood. The hushed ambiance of shop interiors did not invite casual browsing. The owners of those boutiques and galleries spared no expense catering to the tastes of their wealthy clientele. Construction materials were cool, with marble much in evidence- it looked veined with gold, shone in hard floors, polished columns that, frankly, brought to mind the Italian guy's cock I feared Midori wanted. Deep in my mind was the question of how the rest of her day with Hiroko would go, specifically where she'd go when she left her.
In the cafe- which I could afford; there was a limit to how much a cup of coffee cost- I talked to the tourists, Middle American but not unsophisticated; their clothes and how they spoke- even the teenage children used complete sentences- suggested education that cost money. Rather than a home on the range, you pictured one in a suburb for the privileged, maybe gated community- put aside any negative association; as I said, that bunch were nice, open as rural folk. You sensed the rough edge of class differences in the country hadn't reached them- and there was no reason it should; they were good people, not to blame for social inequity.
Welcoming small talk with a resident, who might provide tips about the city, the family told me where they'd been so far and about the presents just bought. One was a camera. I revealed my passion for photography and they responded eagerly, taken with the potential of the new instrument in their possession. The parents raised the importance of lighting- with Midwestern good manners, self-effacing, the father laughed at his own enthusiasm even as he spoke. "Hey, I'm sounding like the expert here!" Light was key, we all agreed. He suggested flash as a good option, noting it would give enough, show colors. Like their cheerful kids, the adults were likable (I'll say so again) but ignorant of the subject at hand. I spoke up against flash photography and the flat results it gave.
"No. Use natural light." The tourists listened with genuine interest at first. Not reluctant to invoke my own expertise, I touted the advantages of sun in a picture, pointed out the dazzling effect it was having at that moment, pouring from the cafe window just behind us. But eyes started to glaze. I probably spoke too long, more vehemently than necessary. I continued even while waving goodbye, moving toward the cafe door. By then, the group's interest had revived some. Curiosity and confusion played on their faces as I restated my conviction that even the highest quality artificial illumination could not match the power of natural light to summon lifelike color, substance, to the surface of a picture. They didn't get why it mattered.
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We were in the garden outside Hiroko's place, working on plantings, close to the ground. Like the rest of the sprawling home, the garden was elegant, evocative more of beachscape than of family farm. It had a touch of Zen that looked, frankly, out of place in the wealthy neighborhood- residents not known for asceticism. Though sober and reserved in company, Hiroko's father also hadn't chosen austerity. Like his privileged American counterparts, he liked to build big. We three- Midori, Hiroko and I- were just having fun, of course, tending his yard, yet I couldn't help thinking how real workers felt in the same spot- it was afternoon, cool now, but they earned their minimal wages when the sun beat hard.
Our worksite sat among the angles of zigzagging structures, just steps away from the dark glass-walled living room, with its slate floor, dark sofa, view to us if anybody had been sitting there and happened to turn around and look. Where even large families meet their needs in a single structure, a few bedrooms, some common areas, the living space for this pared-down one- Hiroko's mother not present and Hiroko, having started her own life, only an occasional visitor- was a compound; horizontals, clean lines, cool geometry made the setting resemble less a dwelling than a hyper-modern museum, maybe housing the private art collection of a billionaire. It gave off no feeling of simple happiness a habitation for people would. The aesthetic experience also fell short of success. Good taste, understatement were lost amid the ostentation. The grounds gave off the whiff of money, like fumes of chemical preservative that permeated a new home and wouldn't leave. Of course, the earth was real enough, cooling as the afternoon progressed. Midori took to it, showed no aversion to dirt. Raised in countryside, she was in her element, pressed palms against the soil and got on hands and knees to attend the seedlings that were our project.
I kept getting distracted by the earth that adhered to Midori's skin, her shins, upper arms, even daubing her face, giving a clownish look, by how well the natural locale, contrived as it was, became her. I had all kinds of thoughts of what she and I might do then on the land in the open air (even if pampered suburb rather than real countryside) instead of the make-believe gardening- but of course that place wasn't ours, and Midori's friend Hiroko was with us, so those had to remain only thoughts.
The family dog came along, a poodle-like animal I'd never much liked. It took my finger in its mouth and held on, just lay there with such a look of such contentment- intensity- that I softened, affection welled in me. Aware how happy I was making the creature- without doing much at all, I stayed put for it, let a little time pass before attempting to get free. When I did tug the finger some, the black, wiry-haired dog just clamped down harder, not to hurt but aggressively playful. It basked- were that a cat, there would have been purring- transported by the game, indifferent to the activity around us. The animal's eyes closed, as if dreaming or drunk. I was giving it something it needed. Did index finger in mouth remind the dog of suckling when it was a puppy? Because I was horny, I also thought about the feeling when Midori and I went down on each other, that tug of war with two winners.
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With a show of their art work in progress during the day time, Midori and her group booked a nearby club for a night. Each artist gave a presentation, not only elaborating on but supplementing their contribution to the gallery exhibit- the live talk became part of the art work. During Midori's solo turn on stage, she acted as entertainer more than as lecturer, might have been a stand-up comic or performance artist. She dressed for her show, to heighten the visual aspect wore on top what was effectively just a white satin bra.
People from her group, artists with work at the gallery and friends, filled the club, but of course it was open to outsiders as well; they probably comprised at least half the audience. Though not part of the circle, most showed respect if not interest, at least kept their voices down. But Midori had a heckler. Guy called out during a pause in a serious part of her talk.
"I like your tits!"
"Want to touch them?" Midori came right back, wouldn't be intimidated by the loudmouth, matched his bravado. She pulled the bra halfway down on one side, showing her nipple.
"I want to suck it!" the guy called out, drunkenly making his way to the stage. He was short in stature- probably compensating- but muscular, stocky, bullish, not someone easy to stop.
This happened amid cackling laughter from the assembled guests, surprised, entertained, uneasy- they didn't know what would follow. Some probably suspected the hubbub wasn't spontaneous but planned in advance, part of the show.
Midori was trying to keep the conversation between her and the whole audience, but the heckler was intent on limiting it to him and her.
When he reached the stage, he ignored Midori's proposal. She'd lowered only her left bra cup, just the top of her breast showed, nipple centered right above the fabric. Instead of going to that side, which Midori had prepared for a quick touch, maybe a quick kiss, he went for the right, where she didn't expect him, and pulled the bra there not halfway down like the other, but all the way off, to have at her whole breast, mouth more than the nipple. The view up to the stage showed the bottom half, mottled shape. Midori's bust wasn't huge but large for her proportions- the curved skin on the lower half looked tight, barely able to contain the amplitude it held; vital glandular activity, robust women's hormones connected Midori to all nature yet was also deeply, deeply personal. I couldn't stand the thought of another guy touching here there, the shadow of his hands on her. The scene shone in the light.
I visited with Midori Hiroko, a friend of hers whose father was a famous rock musician. They lived in a house designed by a renowned contemporary architect, sprawling one-floor place full of light and surprises. No expense had been spared to construct a home both pleasing to eye and mind, full of details fanciful and convenient. There was open space built to human needs. The moment you walked in, you felt your stress dissolve; you began to walk differently, to lounge. Hiroko foresaw for herself a career as a painter but was not as advanced in her work as Midori. When we arrived, she was preparing to make a poster for a concert and her father suggested she do it in the style from his heyday, go psychedelic. The comment incensed Hiroko. She meant to develop her own visual language. Her father, an agreeable sort, a stoner, said, "Fine, then. Go ahead," but in her anger Hiroko proceeded to create the design in the fashion he recommended from decades earlier. On a single page rather than the several she'd planned until then to use, she made a series of round-cornered vertical rectangles stacked at intervals, faintly resembling eggs, ova dark colors with glowing nuclei in deep oranges or dull reds. She was still angry when she finished. She wanted to grow as an artist but felt blocked by her father. I noted that for all his good will, the older man, used to public acclaim, having his work at the center of attention, was not able to deflate his ego enough to step back and let someone else flourish.
"I understand," I said to Hiroko, "but it's really beautiful." The painting she'd made using tempera, muddy forms bleeding into each other at the edges, did look good, but she wanted nothing to do with it. Until then, I'd met Hiroko with Midori only outside. She'd seemed fine then. Observing her at her home, I saw the wealthy family was troubled.
Later in the day I saw Midori talking to Hiroko as she swam in the pool that formed a sort of central oasis in the ecosystem of their fabulous home. Lights twinkled on dark water shaded by rubber trees and palm fronds. I viewed the landscaped interior setting through a reinforced and polarized (glare-eliminating) glass wall. Midori stood poolside looking down at Hiroko and apparently offering advice, friendly counsel. She was opposite me, faced my way but hadn't yet noticed my presence. I took that moment to look at her without distraction. I saw she wore no top- why should she? She was with a close friend, in a private house. I saw her breasts really were beautiful, as the guy in the club had said. She stood with shoulders back. Hiroko was in the center of the pool. Had she been at the edge, Midori would have bent down for their conversation; instead, she had to project her voice to reach her. The word "statuesque" came to mind not so much from Midori's body type itself- she wasn't tall though her prominent breasts met the definition- but because at that moment in the circling light reflected up to her from the water, she looked unreal, ideal.
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We went to Midori's country. A Westerner who'd lived there a long time gave us a nighttime tour of the capital. Confirming what I'd already observed, he told me it was a stylish city but added that as a foreigner you could never be accepted; you might feel at times that you were, but inevitably something would happen to remind you of your outsider status. That comment also didn't convey new information. I'd already heard about and experienced for myself the chilly welcome Midori's compatriots gave visitors from overseas, "the world" as they called it in their insular way. Concerned he might dim my enthusiasm by speaking too badly of the place, the veteran resident went on to assure me it wasn't just possible but easy for expatriates to live there and enjoy themselves. He pointed out a spot where he said I could probably get laid that night if I wanted- he identified a building to our left on the residential street we drove just outside a commercial area as a dormitory for foreign, mostly American, women. Our driver too seemed to recognize that bit of insider lore would signify less to me than to some other tourists. I was with Midori. He gave her in turn assurances- with a hurried, laughing apology- that he didn't mean I in particular would want to hook up; he was referring to some hypothetical guy, single in town and lonely.
In Midori's country, the small scale and exclusivity made an impression. Mine was generous and open, at times to the point of emptiness, meaninglessness; you could feel you related less to people than to infinity, the vanishing point. We went to a desert state. A tour guide there showed us a place that wasn't stylish at all but where you could fit in easily, like a native. The landscape was magnificent. Look over a rock and see a new vista, earth stretching endlessly, clear surface that appeared as untouched as the moon, texture distinct for such a distance it seemed there was no atmosphere. You felt vertigo even if you weren't at a height. The space, beauty compelled an emotional response that reached right to the gut, became physical. I learned the motto of the state, something like "Together in exile." I liked that and wanted to explain it to Midori. The idea seemed to be that a community of people gravitated to this place to get away from the dominant U.S. culture, live according to their own values- but I couldn't think of how to convey to her the meaning of the word "exile" without it sounding negative. That guide of ours didn't show us spots to get laid or a foreign quarter. This was bleakly exquisite wilderness, where each breath of oxygen felt like the first you'd ever had and the last you'd ever need. In that locale, you got only what you saw; the naked presence of the land made the individual seem insignificant. Yet Midori stood out, in her way matched the magnitude of the place, charged the moments with greater significance. The uniformed ranger's interest- glances he shot her shy but sharp- made sense. Her type seldom turned up there. He wasn't ready, blushed at simple questions she asked. I didn't blame him, understood the allure under the circumstances, hot sun that showed her off, the shock and surprise of her presence. The guy was well-meaning, not someone I could fault for responding to her heat, coil of her body- she wore khaki and it twisted as she turned. I sympathized, also admired her exoticism- could tell him a thing or two about whether that went only skin deep- and at the same time inwardly gloated that he couldn't have it.
After the vacation, country didn't matter. We made our own. I remember getting back to our newly painted apartment- fumes of enamel pigment still strong then burned in the eyes- and celebrating our space, our intimacy, for a while at least being nowhere but with each other.
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On a whim- I had time; a friend was visiting for a week and the schedule changed to accommodate his, left me with lulls in the day while I awaited him or Midori- I did an online search of the man who taught us gym in elementary school- had been there only a short time- a guy we laughed at because he was different. I found his name and discovered he'd written a novel- or a memoir, a document- about seducing a housewife who lived next door. The reader was invited to observe the whole process. There was a photo of the woman in question. She wasn't young- early to mid-forties- but attractive. She had mussed black hair- too much to do to take pains over her appearance- and a strong, natural beauty, a lot of character in her face; lines and wear showed the suffering and happiness that comes with living- and a body still in shape. The idea of the book was dark, perverse and irresistible. I borrowed a copy from the library and started reading.
As it happened, I was in the same library two days later waiting to meet Peter- he was our houseguest- and Midori. The library was in midtown and convenient for a quick reconnoiter, all I had time for then. To occupy myself until they arrived, I looked to see if the author had published anything else, but found only the same book. I considered borrowing that copy too, in case I didn't finish the one I had before the loan period ended- but saw there was no need- for one thing, I would read the book fast; the account of pushing into someone else's life to satisfy desire, curiosity, without concern for who got damaged, destruction of the family that might result, was fascinating, hard to put down, and if on the off-chance I was unable to get through the thing before the due day, the second copy would almost certainly still be available. I could look on the same shelf and find it gathering dust there in three weeks, probably even a year later. In the fiction section I happened on another book that looked interesting, novel by a French woman.
Peter turned up before Midori. I said to him, "You know that guy who used to give us gym classes? He was from somewhere in the Middle East. We used to make fun of him."
"Oh yeah. He was from a rich family- royalty or something."
"Oh yeah?" If I'd ever heard that, I'd forgotten. It seemed unimportant, beside the point.
"He used to say, 'Make like a star.' Remember?"
"Yeah," Peter recalled how we'd laughed at his English as he guided us through calisthenics.
"Well, it turns out he had a second life we didn't know about. He was a novelist."
I decided not to describe to Peter the book I'd borrowed.
Midori arrived. I started my job in the afternoon that day, felt only minutes had passed when I had to leave for it- I didn't want to. Freedom, the company of friends on a weekday, was rare and intoxicating. I finally walked a few steps away from Peter and Midori to look past a row of bookshelves at the clock on the muted green wall. Returning, I saw they were still chatting and felt vaguely annoyed. Midori laughed when I said I had to go, as if my concern about keeping my job was funny, she found it amusing I had one while she could talk at leisure, stress-free.
The commute from there wasn't short. A glance at my watch as I walked outside confirmed I would be late no matter what I did now. I couldn't push the clock back or hold it still to make space for my trip. There'd be trouble awaiting me at the office. Each passing minute would mean more anger from my boss. I braced, readied my explanation.
A bus seemed the best bet- at midday trains ran infrequently. The nearest stop was blocks away and I sprinted it, felt good, for a while could forget the circumstances, even enjoy a sense of freedom again. A bus appeared up ahead, idling across the street before a crowd waiting to board. I arrived with seconds to spare, only to learn that the vehicle was traveling in the wrong direction. "This is going uptown, buddy." The blunt answer to my question came from a man in front of me on the ambling line; gruffly amiable, tall, bony, light-skinned black guy, just younger than middle-age, he was the voice of reality, without malice telling how things were, like it or not, unchangeable. I needed the downtown bus, which left from the other side of the avenue. Before heading there I heard someone else among the passengers talk about buses herding. She said they grouped together; as many as five or six passed through in a space of minutes; waits were long.
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I went shopping for a new camera, a better type than I had. I meant to take art photographs rather than just the sexy ones of Midori I'd shot with the point and shoot- I knew I'd probably do more of those too. I looked for the cheapest model of the design for serious amateurs and professionals- SLR, single lens reflex- but had trouble finding a good one. The problem was money. Invariably, when I thought I'd finally located a camera that could produce sharp images and I could afford, further check would reveal weaknesses that disqualified the thing. That happened at the last minute in some cases, once while I was actually waiting on line to pay. With time to spare, I asked a passing salesman a question about the sensor size and learned it wasn't as big as I'd hoped. That least expensive in a line of SLRs would yield photos not appreciably better than snapshots from a lower grade instrument. The clerk shrugged as he saw my reaction- disappointment- said in effect "You get what you pay for." He spoke in a neutral if not friendly voice, looked at me steadily. A professional who'd no doubt seen all kinds on the job, he kept his thoughts to himself- neither word nor manner conveyed criticism- but I sensed from the glimmer in his eye he was thinking, "Cheap bastard." My research had to continue.
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I went to a party with Midori that Paul and his girlfriend Christina also attended. The apartment where it took place had an obstacle course, diversion in case conversation flagged, to sustain a sense of purpose. On my second or third time around- I was drunk- I ran into Paul and Christina, at rest, talking together on a sofa, modular piece of furniture consisting of two fabric-covered blocks, massive geometry apparently light enough to toss around. I'd chatted with the pair before, but as we exchanged friendly greetings this time (they laughed, admiring my exertions- the course posed challenges; you had to run over and under things), I realized I liked them, and in my alcohol-fueled ebullience said so.
"I really find you interesting. I'd like to know you more. You know, maybe start a friendship."
"Well, come on then." Paul voiced enthusiasm, all but shouted out the welcome, patted the thigh of his khakis inviting me closer. It seemed he, at least- his girlfriend certainly backing him- had had the same idea, also wanted to take our casual acquaintance further, have some real conversations, only hesitated to make the suggestion first, presume upon my good will. They said I wasn't interrupting them; they'd be glad if I stopped the obstacle course, stayed and talked. Paul placed the drink he'd been holding on the floor, and as if to launch our dialogue directly, not waste any more time, produced two books he was reading, welcomed my take on. I took them in my hands. One was a novel I didn't know and the other a slim volume with a grey, futuristic cover, titled "A Guide to Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged.'" I guessed Paul didn't like the views that author espoused, learned he hadn't wanted to bother reading the big work of fiction that illustrated them and fired up some ideologues; he just meant to see what all the fuss was about. It was, we agreed, a good thing to look at ideas you disagreed with. I hadn't read "Atlas Shrugged," and, as to the other book, contemporary novel Paul had handed me, I hadn't even heard of the author. Midori hadn't spoken a lot about her college painting teacher, but I knew her and could see she liked him, her feeling was special- the respect seemed at times a little too much, to border on awe, hero worship. She'd made some fun of the guy too, but affection came through. Any teacher able to inspire her to that extent had to be all right, I thought. Midori judges people by high standards (it remained a wonder she chose me). At the party, I saw Paul really was a person it would be worth my while to talk to more.
My friend Gene in the military visited. I had to commit to paper some notes for my writing, catch up on things I'd wanted to get to for a while before I forgot them. I was in the bedroom and Gene with Midori in the livingroom, awaiting my appearance. I forgot the time, then heard Gene's raised voice through the closed door.
"What's going on, man?"
I recognized I was taking a while. It wasn't polite to the guest. Gene didn't honor us with his presence often. But I had to continue. I also noted his good-humored complaint had to do not only with impatience to see me and start catching up. My absence placed him and Midori in a slightly awkward position. While waiting, they had to make conversation. The two got along fine but barely knew each other, after all. I was the link between them. I even began to feel concerned they'd get too well-acquainted. Since there was no choice but to communicate, they might hit it off. I wanted to finish writing the notes quickly, but there was no way to hurry them. Even the pen wasn't cooperating. The point developed a problem, began to brush rather than deliver the ink precisely enough to form legible sentences. I got another, reddish-purple, translucent plastic, weird one picked up somewhere.
At work I told friends I meant to visit a coworker from Eastern Europe, spend a week or so with him at his family home.
"I like Chris. He's quiet," I said as that reason for my good feeling for him solidified into thought. I added, "Of course, when I get there I'll probably find it's a madhouse." His extended family might be loud.
That plan was not one I meant to carry out soon. To do so would mean going through the hassle of the airport, the long lines, delays, clumsy unpacking and repacking bags for security. The prospect put me off.
Video of Midori from the back after a shower. Amazing how much you could film without showing her face. The lens passed across her, close up- water beaded on her skin, clear in the cool light; the film seemed to caress, make love to her, without ever touching. She sat on a stool, upright, with room around for the camera to move unobstructed. It gave a helicopter view, traveled the lines of her body, the sinuous forms, solid surfaces, the hard and soft places. Gradually shifting angles brought to the bright frame her breast, from her waist crossed her side- the slope of her breast swelled. The camera, with its fluid motion through space, veered near- the edge of her chin appeared- seemed on the verge of revealing her face but never did. Slow, horizontal tracking shot made her thigh look very long; watching, you wondered when it would end- it did at the shower, her knee disappearing behind the glazed glass of the door.
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"Paul." She appeared before him in the crowded shipping container exhibition, people circulating tight as at a party. She was close, her face right by his- there was no space to stay distant. Total, amazing coincidence. What surprised him was her openness after the time they'd spent apart, the breakup at his instigation. Her feeling for him looked as fresh as when they were together. He saw she really was a person overflowing with love, who didn't keep hard feelings- just as she'd said.
They'd had to part- he was with his girlfriend- but met again, had fifteen minutes alone in the empty trailer used as office for the container show. They'd lain down together. He reflected a moment on the near-miracle of their meeting then and there- the impact hit him- the event was about as likely as two birds colliding in flight- thought again of her openness- that brought shock and delight as great as the reunion itself. He thought of her calling his name, the joy they'd both felt.
He'd had to go- not only for his girlfriend; he worked that night. Midori understood, let him. Rain had started. They heard it before he opened the door, on the thin walls of the trailer. His shirt sleeves were rolled up. He wore a black vest, the silvery back visible as he walked away; any suggestion of a costume from an earlier era much less of religious garb was inadvertent. Midori thought she would lie still rather than see him out; not making an event of the separation would be easier for them both. But she called his name again.
She got up, joined him at the door he was about to leave from.
"I love you."
"The terrible thing is not knowing if this is the last time we're going to see each other." Whenever they met it was like that, she meant, but it sounded like, seemed, she meant this one really would be the last. She felt sorry she'd said so, allowed that interpretation. The words seemed to express a meaning already there, make it horribly, resonantly final.
"Always." She thumped her chest. "You're here."
Paul walked down the steps of the trailer, and the door closed behind him, leaving Midori alone but with the feeling he was inside her, and, importantly, that he knew it.
She'd sat before with him and his girlfriend, talking across the container before they left- there was a table covered with red felt to disguise the fact it was just an inverted box- he and his girlfriend on the inside, opposite her, against the wall, she on the outside, in the middle, the open, facing them.
He'd noted the smoothness of her neck. Her skin looked oiled. He compared her to his girlfriend. She was beautiful but Midori extraordinary; that hadn't been his imagination. He wondered if she knew. She had to. And what did his girlfriend think? Did she feel diminished in Midori's presence? It wasn't a question he dwelled on. No doubt she had feelings for him then, same as ever, but he had little to spare for her. His pulled instead toward Midori's color, her smooth flesh, suggestive of tropical fruit, agave, guava. How could he let her go?
His girlfriend had said, "What are the key points of Chinese beauty? There are supposed to be four or something, aren't there?" The comment registered even though Midori wasn't from the country she'd mentioned. The aesthetic roots were the same.
"I think one's the neck," he said.
"Yes, that must be." Her neck was long. He always pictured it so and now saw it was in fact. She and his girlfriend together in that room, that small space of the container, really clarified things. Midori's neck was strong also- he saw in profile- piping slender from straight on, thick from front to back, a needed, sturdy support for her head, muscled but not bullish, mannish.
Paul looked at Midori's face. "Another's probably the eyes. The mouth. Breasts. And another must be there." He laughed at his indirect reference to her pussy. "That should be cute or something."
He heard his girlfriend beside him laughing- bitterly?- he shouldn't have said that but couldn't keep it back.
He smiled, reached for his pen and paper he'd put on the table top. His hand brushed Midori's. His girlfriend must have seen the sliding touch. Midori took a cigarette. She was visibly uncomfortable, and that knowledge destroyed him. He wanted to reach and comfort her.
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We were on our way to friends I hadn't seen in a while. Midori and I talked about our first meeting. She reminded me in passing that a guy had followed her on her way to visit me that day. She'd mentioned the unwelcome adventure at the time, but hadn't made much of it, dismissed that kind of thing as minor, vaguely annoying, had even laughed, showed herself a good sport. Midori had visited Europe and said it- harassment on the street, guys tailing her, usually from a discreet distance, sometimes a long way- happened more often in Southern Europe than here. She regarded it, tried to at least, as a faintly quaint continental custom, if not exactly charming essentially harmless, except when it wasn't. That afternoon she looked a little European, wore a light stiff cotton overcoat, vaguely cape-like- think of a woman Sherlock Holmes.
We then recalled the day we married, trip to the court house. But Midori's comment about the guy following her stayed with me and I brought it up again. Midori said that happened fairly regularly.
"What?" She saw my surprise.
"Why did you never tell me?" I asked.
She showed surprise in turn and said she thought I knew. We- I- saw then the difference between how men saw- experienced- the world and woman did. Midori said it was usually no big deal if a guy shadowed her. You accept it as part of life, try not to be bothered. She laughed lightly and darkly, much as she had when she'd arrived a little flustered, red-faced, winded, her first visit to my home. I asked more and she went into detail, said if she extended her hand often there'd be a guy trying to touch it. I asked if that still happened now- she was no longer new to the city, wide-eyed, vulnerable-looking. She said yes. Though at the moment she didn't look especially vulnerable, I wanted to go home then and have sex, to give her an experience of intimacy with someone who cared for her, not a stranger- but that wasn't possible as we had plans outside the rest of the day.
Our destination was a gathering of my old friends, kind of a highschool reunion. Talk was about the old days and also what we'd done since. I worried some that I'd come off badly but it turned out my former classmates were all fairly accomplished, confident enough not to make comparisons. It seemed the only person who felt competitive was me.
Waiting for everyone to get ready to head off to the restaurant, Midori and I talked on the sidewalk with three women teamed up that afternoon as they had in highschool. They took an interest in Midori. Also with us was George, a guy who had been popular, star of the football team, and became career military. I said as the thought came to me, "No matter what his age, he has the eyes of a kid." No one looked impressed by my remark, which I thought insightful. I continued, "Not the eyes of a teenager either. I mean of a child, ten or maybe eight." I thought that added to his appeal to women, there already in his muscular physique. He was handsome, but his eyes made him vulnerable. Women saw an opening, wanted to care for him. Again, my idea made little impression, especially not with George, who was its subject.
At the restaurant I pounded the back of one of their chairs, an outlet of nervous energy, exuberance I felt at the situation. I didn't notice I was hitting the wooden upper part of the chair frame with the base of my hand again and again until the old classmate turned around and with a look asked me what I was doing.
With people I hadn't met in years, I was more alert than usual to the impression Midori made. Things she did looked wrong to me. She'd just received money from her mother from her two cousins in town for a visit and was openly enthused about the infusion of cash. At the restaurant we felt flush as we usually didn't. I had qualms about Midori's spending her mother's money so freely. I saw there was nothing wrong in it- she couldn't be expected to act abject, express gratitude for the help at every turn; why shouldn't she enjoy herself?- yet something about her attitude, lack of reflection raised my eyebrow. I imagined the view from other people there. Of course they couldn't see what I could. Only Midori and I- and her cousins and mother- knew the background. A dull cloud formed a bar across the horizon. The group at my table, including the team of three women and George, looked at me with curiosity, unable to account for my darkened expression since to them it was still a sunny day.
The restaurant we went to wasn't a good one and Midori noted immediately that mashed potatoes were instant. "Too liquid." I said, "Okay, but this is where we are, so let's enjoy eating."
We sat at different tables near each other. I saw Midori at hers conferring with the waiter. She'd ordered something and wanted to change it. A small seafood salad- a little food on a small circle of a saucer- was the point of contention. She'd already sampled something else on the plate that had sloshed it, so there was no possibility of the waiter returning the dish and giving it to another customer- as he might have if the thing had been untouched- the only option now was to throw it away. The waiter remained pleasant but must have been bothered. I took his side. "The dish is already on your plate," I said. Midori held firm. She acknowledged there was nothing wrong with the appetizer. She just didn't like it. Even though the waiter had brought what she'd ordered, she retained the right as customer to reject it. Again, she was right, but her attitude felt wrong. I sensed the same callousness that had shown when she talked loudly about her mother's contribution to the meal.
What she chose and the waiter brought as a replacement for the seafood salad was a much larger dish, shrimps sautéed with red pepper, shrimp scampi. All the food on Midori's plate now appeared too much for her to eat. The sauce covering the shrimps looked an unnatural orange, interacted strangely with the light overhead.
I finished my first drink quickly and it went to my head. I gave joking answers to the questions about my wife posed by the trio of women. They were curious at the choice of mates so different than any of them would have expected of me back in highschool. I spoke in metaphor. The three former classmates showed polite reticence at first- made clear they recognized limits, wouldn't ask about anything private, though of course that was what they wanted to know most of all- but as they saw my readiness to talk they sharpened the focus, got bold, tittering, all but covering their mouths in shock at their own forwardness. For moments those three Americans displayed mannerisms associated with women from Midori's country. They were all shyness and giggles. The drinks affected them as well as me. The whole scene did. Meeting friends from the past made us all giddy. I volunteered some indirectly disparaging comments about Midori, ending one with, "Yeah, she knows how to bring a man down." In the silence that preceded the shocked reaction, laughter at the realization I'd just implied Midori could turn a guy off sexually, quash an erection, I saw I'd gone too far, said, "No, she's not like that. Just the opposite."
I got drunk and by the end of the meal my good mood returned. I got up and went to take a piss in the bathroom off the larger dining room at the front of the restaurant. Passing through, I saw one of our party on the other side of the entrance door, looking annoyed. He hadn't taken part in the lunch but had come to give us a ride, had expected we'd be ready to leave by then. It appeared he'd been waiting a while. "Come on in," I gestured, but he didn't want to, scowled. Maybe he couldn't find parking.
I was too high, feeling too good, to find anything, even that man's justifiable impatience, other than funny. I meant to tell my friends about him, urge action, but the chore would wait until I'd acted on my exuberance. Returning to the part of the dining room our group occupied, I began dancing in an open space, the mauve carpet soft under my shoes, spinning like a ballerina, a dervish, as people in a circle watched me. I looked around. The feeling animating my dance seemed to come from the whole setting, the color of the carpet muting my footfall, the crowding of furniture, tables, chairs, lines going in all directions, glint of light on glasses, the people as well. The impulse to motion, cast off gravity emanated from them. I'd just followed it first. I wondered if Midori would join me. I continued until I realized what I was doing, my thoughts caught up with my body, and I felt embarrassed, stopped dancing.
The day seemed to break up into fragments. There was the man outside the front door, separated from us, the cube we occupied seeming to have nothing to do with him, angles, lines intersecting, cutting off. That events could happen simultaneously in different spaces- out of sight of each other yet connected- a concept underpinning daily life- became hard to accept. I felt as if I might be really stoned- maybe someone had put a tab in my drink, the kind of prank you heard about back in highschool- but it was just a special kind of drunkenness spurred by the occasion.
I talked to Midori, suggested we act out a scene from a play, "'Night of the Iguana' or maybe "A Streetcar Named Desire." I explained to her, "We have sleazy sex. You're wearing a dirty house dress. It's the South. Hot. We're sweating. You're into this an escape from your husband, who's boring, unimaginative, maybe an insurance salesman. Ha ha. He's out at the moment."
The rest of the group took up the idea of amateur theatrics, hatched a plan on the spot to produce a movie- digital technology made that easy as it hadn't been when we were together. The movie would be a celebration of our solidarity, hearken back to the wild spontaneous days of youth, before we were limited by adult responsibilities. They'd get drunk and film whatever antics they got up to. I listened to the discussion without commenting much, wasn't sure if I'd take part of not.
But the talk stirred my imagination. My earlier conversation with Midori, her talk of guys following her had also stayed with me. When we got home I told Midori the scenario I'd dreamed up as we walked I specified her role. "You'll be the woman who was raped." I didn't feel powerful in the larger world but I would with her. I spoke in her language and wasn't sure if I got it right. Had I said, "woman who was raped" or "raped woman" or the causative, "woman made to rape"? Probably it was some combination, but Midori got the meaning. She didn't object, but the conversation on the topic lapsed and I wondered if I would ever bring it up again. Didn't Midori's silence convey meaning?
A simpler explanation for our talk advancing no further then was that Midori was going out that night. It was her friend Kaori's birthday and she was having friends over for the weekend. The invitation included me, but I declined it. Kaori and I didn't like each other.
In Midori's absence, I had a strange dream, no doubt triggered by it. We were meeting after not just a weekend apart but a long separation. Our age difference stood out. This was our second time around as a couple. Oddly, the gap between us seemed more significant now than it had during the earlier romance the dream set as background for our reunion. According to this fiction, she and I had started seeing each other when we were just eighteen and thirty respectively. By all rights that disparity should have appeared large, yet it had instead felt natural, could be dismissed as simply "an older guy with a young woman," a match unusual enough to trigger a fixed response and occasion no further thought. Nothing confusing about that! In our dream meeting, though, the wide age difference was experienced as conspicuous to the point of painful embarrassment. Midori's parents reacted to my presence in their daughter's life with the same disdain as before, on this second time around exaggeratedly ignoring me to show their disapproval. They didn't have to use words. They'd made their feelings plain in the past, knew I knew. When Midori and I met friends- first a work acquaintance of mine- I felt compelled to explain the situation, elaborate. "We just got back together (by chance rather than choice, I implied, disavowing responsibility). She's a lot younger than me. When we went out before, that didn't seem to matter so much." My talking on and on did no good, of course, just made me look strange.
I wondered why we were with each other again. Midori seemed to as well. She appeared subdued, as if resigned to not finding any option for herself better than this involvement with me.
Midori did talk, though, about our breakup ten years earlier, what had led to it. She'd fallen out of love with me on a trip back to her country. She'd met a man on the plane and hung out with him during the visit, realized in his company that there were alternatives to someone like me- she could feel freer. I'd heard about the guy- she told me about their spending time together. I'd thought nothing of it. Now I felt my power in relation to her slipping away. I was glad to wake up and find it was only a dream.
Kaori had placed Midori to share sleeping space in her apartment with a guy she knew liked her. Kaori really didn't like me. Paul was her college art professor. Kaori thought they made a good couple, better than her and me. In his early thirties, Paul fit with their group as a friend, a teacher only secondarily. He was a painter like them. Kaori had seen Midori and Paul connect when they'd gone in a group to see an exhibit that included work by one of their circle, show in an unusual setting, shipping containers. They'd been there on a weekday afternoon. An artist, Midori had freedom that her husband didn't, and Paul worked odd hours at his part-time university position. Kaori had seen them separate from the group, talk as they looked at the pictures.
I also met friends that day, people from work. There was an unofficial outing. But I couldn't enjoy myself. On the train back, a coworker, big woman I'd spoken with only a few times on the job, seemed to notice my low spirits, made an effort to help, draw me into the conversation she was having with girlfriends seated beside us. I saw she was not just being kind but was interested in me. If she had great generosity, she also had great need. I'd seen her during the afternoon. There were moments when she looked upset- crushed, slumped against a doorway like a homeless person- but her cheerful, confident demeanor now made me wonder if she'd just been playing before. I recognized she'd be a good partner for some guy, but found her too much to take on.
We were nearing a hub station, above ground, and she asked her friends who was getting off. I said I was, and she quickly announced in turn, "Me too." I added that I was transferring there, and she said she was going the same way. We walked out together. She seemed eager for us to move apart from the others, have time to talk, but as soon as we stepped onto the platform I took the opportunity to mix with the crowd, stepped back onto the same train through a different door, one where neither she nor her friends would see me. Of course, reboarding would mean going a stop in the wrong direction and having to return, but I didn't care. In my mood, I wanted to think, needed time alone.
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One time Midori went missing for a few days. I tried to convince myself she'd just gone with friends and forgot to let me know, but I saw that was nearly impossible. Last time she'd stayed out overnight without telling me I'd given her a serious talking to she'd remember. She definitely would have called. I also noted we hadn't had sex in a while, for whatever reason- not that there was any connection. I saw as I waited for her return that I should worry not only on her behalf but about myself. In her absence, I'd stopped functioning, only stayed home, became paralyzed. I had to get out and meet people.
Midori did return. She didn't say much about her disappearance and I knew not to ask. If anything, she seemed angry at me.
While she was gone, I'd done laundry and helped a homeless person load his things into a machine. I felt good about myself. I was the author of a good deed, and the recipient had appreciated it. After Midori came back, she and I went to do laundry together. I hoped to see the homeless guy again, introduce Midori, show her what a fine person I was. I saw his laundry bag, a soft yellow one, worn nylon dulled to grey in places. Later I spotted the owner, but he was with a friend and barely acknowledged my hello. Well, I told myself, he's moody, probably mentally ill, manic-depressive. After all, why was he homeless?
The friend had a dog, who approached me where I knelt and wildly licked my face. In the exchange of greetings, the friend told us about a New Year's event that night at a church.
Midori and I left the laundromat just after the pair, saw them walking ahead, veering in the direction of a broken-down but trendy neighborhood, place with high rents.
"They don't look homeless," Midori said.
"Yeah. Maybe they're not." I might have misjudged the man's appearance the week before. He'd looked in much worse shape then. "Maybe they have more money than I do." The overcoat the friend wore was not in fact a collection of overlapping black rags, as my first impression had it, but a light, all-weather trench coat, stylish import.
Midori and I went to the New Year's event. (I asked my friend Thomas along, but he had other plans. During the phone conversation in which he declined my invitation, he also told me a story about finding a huge cockroach in his apartment). The setting for the festivities was a church in the business section of the city. The trip there ended with an escalator ride from street level. On the way up, Midori and I passed a woman descending, asked if we were in fact heading the right way. She said yes. She had just been at the celebration, would be returning. I took the opportunity to comment on the holiday, not my favorite.
"Tell me about it," she said with a laugh.
"How many more have we got?"
"That's the question," she said.
Continuing the ascent, beyond hearing range of the stranger, Midori took me to task. Why did I have to initiate an exchange like that, she said, always see the dark side? I should enjoy life while I could.
At the event I noted people liked, found Midori interesting as they didn't me. Standing with a guest we'd met, chunky guy in his thirties, serious but charming, who'd been talking to us, to Midori mostly, I looked at her standing facing him and me from a few yards away, took stock of what was special. Her voice, for one thing, had a low register, was pleasing, a little gruff and a surprise from someone small of frame. It differed from the high, feminine tones that seemed the norm for women from her country. Their speech sounded artificial to me. Midori was natural. Men found her refreshingly frank, straightforward. And then there were her shoulders, her slender figure that pleased the eye. She wore a black blouse that night, sheer on top. From the bodice, grey gauze rose to black elastic edging, a thin circle closing by her neck. I realized that her appeal to people that went beyond any I had- I could barely grasp her qualities- also put it beyond my power to guarantee we stayed together. There was little I could do to keep her. My hope that she'd stay with me rested on my luck, her decision.
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She said that people responded not to questions she asked by email but to comments she put on Facebook. The fact that there were seven thousand two hundred replies to the last meant she'd posed something pretty interesting.
I saw her when crossing the street. She was on the other side and nearly collided with someone. She didn't react with annoyance as I expected- the two had brushed hard. When she passed the person, was in the clear, she simply turned around and said, "What happened just then?" Genuinely curious.
I was with my friend Thomas. She talked to us about some well-known musician, a soul singer she counted as an acquaintance, referred to her by a nickname, spoke of troubles in the celebrity's personal life.
Thomas and I went to dinner at the apartment she shared with a roommate. Thomas was to cook, an ethnic dish he knew how to make; he guaranteed it as special. The invitation was for early evening. As we approached the building, I said to Thomas, "It's okay with me that you cook. I just don't want to end up in the role of observer, your sidekick." Midori and her roommate greeted us from the landing of their second floor apartment as Thomas and I climbed the brick-walled stairwell from the busy commercial street the building fronted. We escaped into that shaft from the bustle, shoppers hurrying, a produce store, butcher. Smoke smells from a Greek grill right next door and of oil, car exhaust, had followed us past the entrance.
The two women in the open doorway were excited, welcoming. It felt like a true double date. I only hoped not to wind up by default paired with the roommate, who was nice enough but didn't interest me. Play this wrong and I would finish the night even further from Midori than I'd started.
I showed Midori the fellatio video of her I'd posted. It looked really good, and I'd taken a lot of time editing to protect her privacy. She watched, amused, acknowledged it was sexy, all right. Then, with a laugh, she said, "That does look like me." I saw, as I'd been denying to myself, that her face did in fact show in parts, one sequence especially- how could it not?
"Really?" I said.
"Then we should take it down." I added after a pause, "That's too bad though. It's attracting a lot of visitors." Removing the video would mean a return to near zero.
Her face only showed for instants, not quite in profile, and her hair was shorter then, tilted light, a shade between red and straw- as it wasn't now. I could edit those out, but what would be left? Visitors weren't stupid and had no reason for loyalty. They'd move on.
Midori wasn't adamant. We agreed that anyone she knew who came to the site- a remote possibility- would be unlikely to make the connection between her as she appeared there and the person they knew.
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The novel is finished but needs work. That work often takes the form of more writing. A better approach would probably be to start reading the two hundred-odd pages from the beginning, make changes as needed on the way through. But I know from many past efforts that more writing would result from that work as well. It seems I'm less interested in the finished product than in putting into words the scenes in my head, moments that ring true. I approach fiction like a painter. There's this thing. You stand before it and regard meaning in concrete form, suspended. Your experience can last just an instant or much longer. So I always encourage readers to take each scene- or even each detail- in the book on its own terms. They all connect but not necessarily in a way that gives the satisfaction most novels do.
Apparently, readers aren't convinced. Some find my work disjointed, frustrating, repetitive.
Now and then, I go back and look at an earlier story I've written, pick one at random. Invariably, the beginning puts me off. Today the opening paragraphs described the aftermath of fellatio. The man has come in his wife's mouth (or his girlfriend's- their relationship isn't clear yet). The prose gets a little overwrought. I read and wonder: What? Was I just very horny when I wrote that? That's the beginning of a novel? Can you imagine showing it to an editor, submitting it for publication?
Yet just as predictably, as I continue, read beyond the disorienting beginning, my interest quickens. The story pulls me along. There's something here, after all. If I didn't feel that, I would try another medium, maybe paint. I write with confidence that the results justify, often to my surprise.
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comment= nice bit of memoir type writing. You had me wanting to read right through. Good luck.
Thanks. This isn't a memoir, though. It is a web log about short stories and novels in the works.
comment= liked it. thanks for sharing. I'd like to know if this is a piece of fiction or your own stream of consciousness
Maybe both, come to think of it.
I reached the end of the new novel yesterday and this morning worked some more on a late scene, detailed the reactions to a view between a window pane and screen keeping insects out. I like how the passage draws attention to a narrow, silent space, then to the minds of characters- man and woman on the bed looking through the window suddenly notice that foreground- and what's happening between them. The dialogue comes through very clearly.
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Hot day. Sweat dripping. Feels good, actually. Wouldn't have it any other way. Trickle of sweat from forehead down cheekbone, around to ear and on along the neck is almost as good to feel as it is to watch a pond in midsummer, burbling signs of life, water striders, green drifting under the surface, waves of algae, reflections and shadows of things in cooler regions, the trees, dark underside of branches protected from sun blaze, hop in the water, little flash you miss or only thought you saw, evidence of the world you can't see, fish, amphibians, shelled reptiles, growing, living, dying, egg and larva, decay, birth. The heat makes me woozy. Hard to be sure what I'm really seeing. The view reflects my choice. I direct my gaze downward and there are my hands on the keyboard doing their dance. The fingers are tan, the back of my hand faintly waterlogged. I took a long shower after an hour's basketball in the sun, then kept on sweating past the shower, through the glasses of ice cold water. My gray teeshirt- fresh one I just donned- sticks to my chest. Dark forms spread. I wonder how it is when you get older, when your heart stops working so well. How does a heart attack feel? Am I having one now? Is this the beginning? Strange silence in the ears- accompanying the thick heat of the day. This wouldn't be a bad way, a bad time to die.
But I'm hungry. Wouldn't a cool yogurt taste good now? And then there's dinner later, which will include wine, coffee. The weekend starts. Who'd want to miss that, the heat wave, the whole big mess. Sounds of a truck braking hard and long. You try to imagine the circumstances. Had someone suddenly walked out into traffic? Had a car, a van stopped short? There's no harm done. The truck driver's annoyed but he goes on with his day. The day, his and everyone else's, continues, in a vast slow wave of sludge, pulling all in its path in a widening arch, one of cosmic proportions. And here am I, and there are you. My heart's beating here. Bum-bum. Bum-bum. I think the dull hum I hear is that of air conditioners. My window's open. The sound comes through, dulls others in a way I like. Nothing seems to matter. Of course, it all does as much as ever- or maybe it never did. I don't care. It's great to be here at the keyboard, computer, no obligations for the rest of the day. The hours ahead appear as a series of transparent boxes, overlapping, infinite. One is many. They're uncountable. We predict how they will open, but the course of events isn't fixed in advance. What if I really did die of a heart attack right now- it's hot enough; these things happen. Then how many hours would the afternoon be?
It's funny- interesting, odd- to write a novel without really thinking. That's just happened, and not for the first time. I'd finished one- a thing I worked on pretty hard, looked toward as an accomplishment. The day after it was done I began another- because that's my habit- and before I knew it there were two hundred more pages- the amount considered novel length- written, in effect, unconsciously. And there's a chance, I think, that this novel is better than the last, the one to which I had devoted a lot of thought, effort. An older friend once warned me against trying to produce something "noteworthy." He was right. On the other hand, why produce at all? I write, keep writing, even though it's clear the novels will not be published or likely even read. I heard a talk this afternoon- plugged in my ear as I shot baskets on the baking asphalt- about obsessive compulsive disorder. People wash their hands over and over, carry out varied rituals they feel essential to their progress through the days. Can writing be a compulsion? Is mine? Is there such a thing as a useful compulsion? I mean, would I want to stop writing? More to the point, does it serve a function beyond enabling my progress through the day?
I wrote the last novel- the not quite finished one- like this: Something happens. Then something else happens. Then they have sex. Then something happens. Something else does. Then they have sex (Maybe the couple is different; This novel, like almost all of mine, is about a triangle). There are times when the story seems to bog down- but on rereading those often turn out to be the best parts. It's very hard to be objective about your writing. Losing objectivity is part of its pleasure.
A few months ago I decided to try selling my novels, cut one up into short stories to e-publish, charging a nominal fee. The thought was to earn by my efforts about thirty-seven thousand dollars a year. That would give me the free time to- I don't know, go stare at a pond somewhere, smell the organic matter, watch the burbling waterfall, the tadpoles wriggle, maybe enjoy creative ferment. I have written so much already it would be possible to e-publish a new chapter every day for a long while. But I stopped after sending up only a few. Nobody's buying them, and I'd feel foolish continuing to publish for a void.
Sweating has stopped. I see through the window pure white, a wall of a building taking the sun directly. It's almost too bright to look at- anyway, why would I want to? In my apartment, there are shadows. Bananas twine in a bowl directly before me. Paintings, photos, sketches hang on the walls; it's hard to see their detail in the atmosphere rendered dim by the blazing light outside. My wife will be back soon. She's out with a friend. I'm waiting for her call. In the meantime, yogurt. The choices are banana, blueberry and lemon. Lemon sounds good. That they all have too much sugar is something else that doesn't concern me. I'm still young enough not to have to exercise care at every turn. Come to think of it, my body probably needs a little charge about now. But wait. I ate the lemon yesterday. Am I becoming forgetful? Writing a novel requires a strong memory. You have to recall at page three hundred critical details from page sixteen. Otherwise, the thing can fall off a cliff, or drift into the void. People often ask authors (not me, famous ones) where their stories come from. A question I think deserves more attention is where they go. A novelist looks both backward and forward, bringing all her focus to bear in the present, aware anything beyond it is fiction. How many hours are left in my afternoon now, or yours? Why do you know when you were born but not when you will die? Who will tell your story afterward? Will they tell it well? Will it last? Do you care? Blame those overly dramatic-sounding questions- the rest too- on this heat wave I like so much.
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I don't think the job of writer- at least not the kind I've chosen- is to comment on life but to show it. My mind- the average individual mind- doesn't have much to say that's especially interesting, at least not in comparison with the magnitude of events themselves.
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I dreamed last night that I was going to undergo electroconvulsive therapy- shock treatment- for depression. I was in a wide room with other people on rows of beds who'd all get jolted at the same time. The procedure was led by a nurse who resembled Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. I knew shock therapy methods had been improved, were more humane, not the hell they'd been known as in the past. Still, I felt trepidation. The nearer it came, the worse I felt. My body, legs most noticeably, had begun shaking without any outside stimulus at all.
As the cheerful, efficient, kindly nurse explained the process, I found myself thinking, Wait. I'm not even clinically depressed. Sometimes I'm a little down, like anybody else. That's it. But I felt I couldn't leave. I'd be the only one to change my mind. All the others were staying. I'd look- and feel- like a coward. Was it worth enduring agony for the sake of appearances? Was my self-regard that low?
The nurse told the patients what to expect, said the shocks would be administered for five minutes. Not long, I reasoned. But five minutes of brain convulsing wasn't short either. The process did sound hellish- too long! No doubt those who'd designed the treatment meant to ensure it was applied for a sufficient duration to achieve results. According to the nurse, the anesthesia would block memory of the experience, but, I noted, those five minutes of suffering had to be endured, whether or not they were remembered afterward.
Would I be able to write afterward, I wondered? Would the therapy render me placid, remove the emotional turmoil that drove me? Did that matter? Was the writing doing any good or was it a compulsion, part of the illness shock treatment might help, at least for a short time?
The nurse was handing out pillows, big blue ones. Of course they had to be big. People getting electrocuted would be thrashing, need cushioning to avoid injury. Also, bed rolls- of sheets and blankets- were given to each person. I realized I had to urinate- the need was faint but I felt I should pay attention to it. When the nurse came to me (my place was at the end of the last row of beds), I told her maybe I should relieve myself before the treatment began- just minutes from then. The nurse said yes- and it stood to reason; someone with a full bladder would probably spray all over the place.
I got up and left to find a bathroom. A doorway and steps led to an adjoining restaurant (this was a dream) full of customers- the dinner hour?- I found the facilities, walls painted a light, festive red. The floor before the urinal had urine stains. I wasn't barefoot- I'd put on slippers- but tried to step around the wet spots. The hospital room I'd be returning to was, after all, space that should be sterile.
After pissing, I happened to look in the mirror and saw on the right side of my face a distortion. My cheek was swollen, as if under the skin was a slice of daikon radish, the big kind Midori sometimes serves boiled floating in soy sauce. If you're not familiar with the root vegetable, think of the size and shape of a pineapple slice. It couldn't be ignored. Something had gone wrong with my face. I was wondering how- whether- the problem would affect my immediate plans- with a serious infection or worse, was it safe to subject my body to seizures, or should I cancel or delay the treatment?- when someone else entered the bathroom; large guy in a dark suit carrying a portfolio started talking to me. In the middle of the exchange, he saw the lumpiness on the side of my face. I speculated out loud that there was an abscess caused by stress about the upcoming electroconvulsive therapy. The man said that might be true but another cause was more likely. He opened the portfolio and explained he had heard of a lot of cases of men falling without realizing they had (this was a dream; the idea seemed reasonable). He was preparing a class action lawsuit to win damage awards. He spoke with vehemence. A terrible wrong had been done to those men. He encouraged me to sign on.
I thanked him for the concern, but made clear I had to get back to the operating room. Others were waiting. I was late already. The lawyer- or con man- urged me to at least leave my name and phone number so he might reach me later as the litigation went forward. He was aggressive, determined. I agreed to give my contact information. As in dreams, the space I was instructed to write in was too small, squeezed on a page between names and numbers of other people. The pen I used had a thick point and the ink bled some. It wasn't certain the letters and digits would be legible.
When I reached the operating theater, the electric shocks still hadn't been administered. The nurse- a humane, democratic European who valued each individual- had waited for my return. She seemed annoyed, impatient, though. The delay had been long.
It seemed I did undergo the treatment. Afterward, I was not dulled in personality, as I'd expected- just the opposite. I'd become garrulous, talkative to a fault. I saw myself on a bridge, blabbing to strangers, in constant motion, staying abreast the passersby in the afternoon sunlight, all but dancing alongside them in my eagerness, need to be heard. Who is this guy, I wondered? Later it crossed my mind that the dream had to do with my writing.
When I woke I told Midori about it, not in detail- who wants to hear all about someone else's dream, even that of the person you sleep with? It turned out she'd been dozing, hadn't heard me the first time. I told her again.
I dreamed I was going to have electroshock therapy.
She laughed, showed interest. Lying in bed beside me, she raised her leg straight up and with her fingers worked her thigh muscles, stretching, massaging before starting the day.
I had woken horny, said, Difficult to wake up."
Mmm. Midori murmured acknowledgment.
I said, How about five more minutes?
Midori went to the bathroom, returning to bed said she'd woken with a stiff neck.
I said, I have some exercises for that.
I've been thinking about writing in the first person again (this blog raises the idea). It has problems. As narrator, I can tell stories about Midori and me exclusively. Ones about her and somebody else are possible only if I am around to observe. The first person extends my range but limits hers, and she's the more interesting character.
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Writing here feels free, feels like my free time. You wake up in the morning, go to work. The work demands a lot of you- and so does the writing, the serious stuff, if we can call it that. Today posed special challenges. I almost wasn't able to get to the part that would carry the novel- or whatever it is- forward. Usually I start the day with clear notes- the next pages will comprise this and this- later, when time allows. This morning I couldn't even scribble those notes down. For one thing, work required my attention. It was one of the rare work days that actually demanded thought. I had to save some brain power, couldn't expend a large quantity even before leaving home in the morning. What's more, there was revision, addition to be done on pages already written- that took precedence. I was working on a sex scene, not yet completed. The way I construct those is to first make a rough sketch, later return and work up the details I didn't have time to include in the first draft. Today there were a lot.
After work, a cup of coffee helped. Writing started soon enough. There was quiet, neutral light that makes afternoon feel endless. Good evening to look forward to helped. There's a basketball game to watch. I have started reading a book I can't wait to get my hands on- how to fit all that in? Good dinner as well. Ramen (noodles), well-spiced. Corn on the cob. Salad of radish, celery, lettuce, cucumber. Kabocha squash. Green beans with sesame sauce. Followed by watermelon, kiwi, a large glass of wine, then a scone and coffee. No, I'm not fat, do exercises, and if you think of it none of that is heavy, with the exception of the wine and the scone- hey, no matter; there'll be whiskey later as well.
So I got the sex part written- everything down, if not necessarily in the right place or worded as well as I might like. It was time to relax. But the notes on pages to follow in the novel, those I didn't have a chance to commit to paper this morning, the ones that provide a context, remained in my head, demanded attention- reached like tentacles. If I didn't write them today, two choices opened: either do it tomorrow or have the whole novel go to hell. You can't just say this or that section is expendable. If it belongs, it merits the same effort as other elements of the story. Everything matters or nothing does. To write, you have to be obsessive. It's a way of life with its satisfactions and hardships- especially when readers are few, financial reward absent, no certainty there's talent that warrants the hard work.
I wrote, six hundred some words beyond the successful sex scene. Now to begin the evening.
The story, with its forward progress, forms the context of the sex scenes, I just said. That seems to be the pattern my fiction follows. What would become of it if there were no sex, only the incident, dialogue- event and emotion- surrounding it? What, for that matter, would life be without sex? Livable, for sure. Sex isn't only the physical act, of course. Sometimes I think the most explicit scenes of my stories are the least erotic. So why write them? Why do we human beings continue to fuck though it leads through endless repetition? I once visited a reputed holy man from India in town to share his enlightenment. My circle of friends had heard about him and stopped by the site where he offered private consultations every day. I went too, on a lark- and because it was free. After looking at me, he asked a single question: "Why do birds sing?" I was all of twenty at the time, a fairly stupid kid still. I sensed- or imagined- his disappointment with the answer I gave. I'd just taken a college philosophy course and alluded to something I'd read (Aristotle? Lucretius) to the effect that desire was the source of motion in the universe, the driver of creativity. Real thing or fake, the man did not look impressed.
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The blog thing in conjunction with stories raises questions, problems, possibilities. Posting on the web, you're aware there's an audience. That makes it a performance. You're writing with the knowledge that the words are being read- at least the first sentence or two, till people fade out. The self-consciousness becomes a thrill. Readers react to sentences. They want to react, unleash their imagination, connect. The words give credence to fantasy, embody it. You and others are not alone out there. It's you and this medium, in a sense a real extension of thought, feeling, the body that spins beyond itself. And it's all too easy when making sentences in this context to get carried away by the sheer beauty of language, potential for it at least. Backlit on a monitor, even idiotic text looks great, gleams. There's an impulse to write more, let the hypnotic power of these light-struck characters override judgment.
But that's another story. The one under consideration here is how to shape a blog about stories tied, however loosely, to real life. Do the two forums overlap or stay separate? Where does one end and the other begin? Do they corrupt each other? I began this blog only days ago and already find that my approach to writing fiction has changed. Why channel things from reality into stories when they would fit just as well here? Instead of a commentary on fiction, would this blog become part of it? If a blog based on fact can undermine works of the imagination, can the destructive process play out in reverse?
I really don't like writing this way, ratiocinating. There's so much more interesting in the world to draw attention. I hear the squeak of the nozzle turning as the woman I live with- Midori the pseudonym we'll give to distinguish her from the character in the novels- starts her shower. That noise is compelling as these words aren't. It's the job of fiction, I think, to bring life to the page as the air carries sound waves through closed door and across the room to the ear. What's the job of a blog? What is not a story? Water beading on curved surface, upturned nipple toweled dry, skin providing its own warmth, strong color under too-even lighting, is the start of one.
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A good thing about a blog is that it's a fresh start every time. History goes behind you. No one's interested. We all live on the surface, in the moment. Once that was seen as an accomplishment to be sought by practitioners of Zen, folks seeking insight. Now it's facebook, airhead bliss. Give us reality television, a tattoo, three day growth of beard in the case of men and in that of woman a voice that rises a the end of each locution, leaving no room for real questions, and we're pleasant company. What? There are wars in progress? Hey, thank you for your service. Someone died? Hey, sorry for your loss. Sorry. Text message just arrived. LOL.
A blog about writing, about writing about sex, about pornography? I've had plenty of people assure me my fiction isn't that, or not only that. Does it matter? I think it doesn't. The reading experience is highly personal, goes far beyond any genre name we might attach. Otherwise, I'm not interested, couldn't give a good goddamn. The point of writing is to break through barriers. The best is naked, really naked, don't you think?
I've been thinking about the people who write pornography and the people who read it, also folks who get off on Internet sex play, the shy ones, timid souls- perhaps harboring some secret, harmless perversion (they might like women who humiliate them or enjoy pretending to be dominators). Online we use our pseudonyms. I'd like to do a book of case studies, interview a select few guys (they're men, mostly, I sense; I may be wrong) who have built alternate sex lives online. I'd ask about their real lives, work, marriages, also about their backgrounds. They could keep their anonymity- I'm not out to unmask anyone, spoil good fun. The mask can stay on. We'd just start Chapter One about a certain Mr. or Mrs. S, who works in public relations, is active in the church and politics (likely to the right) and in his free time enjoys masturbating over photographs of other guys' wives while they watch (the husbands, that is) or- whatever else (whatever, that's the great question). His spouse lost interest in sex early in their marriage- or maybe he did; in either case, both have grown obese and can attract neither each other nor new partners. S would give me his story in confidence. I'd write it up in a manner reflecting sensitivity to his situation- that of his wife as well, of course; no pandering sensationalism- as a chapter of a book we might title "Creeps!"or "Freaks!" Sound like a best seller? Someone should do it. There, I've given away my million dollar idea.
See, when it comes to making money, I'm just no good. Too high-minded, probably.
Truth is, I wouldn't really like to author the thing. I prefer continuing my fiction that draws just a few readers, but deeply. A book that's interesting doesn't seem worth the effort. I want to create something that will drive people crazy, reach the anonymous self, have it cry out in celebration.
But here I am sounding like exactly the kind of narcissist I was taking to task at the beginning of this post- and my cell phone is twitching! OMG.
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The idea here is complementing the writing by blogging. I've sent stories to Asstr (what I call either "the thousand person site" for the thousand daily visitors it guarantees or the "free sex site"; "asstr" itself doesn't convey much to the average person- the woman, for example, on whom the character in the stories is modeled (though she is far from ordinary). Her interest in erotic fiction extends only to wishing the best for me as author.
I've been writing these short and long works a while and very enjoyably. Some readers seem to share my enthusiasms (some readers and some enthusiasms), so it's likely there'll be an interest in an occasionally updated blog that offers insight, detail, on the inner workings of the fiction and the life outside it. Who is the writer and where do his stories come from? I'm sure there's less curiosity about another facet I give a lot of thought, how the narratives take shape. What happens between life and the keyboard. What lends shape to these pixels you are looking at?
Here's a photo, one those of you who've followed my fiction may be familiar with. I usually include it with stories, to draw attention to the page. From there, the words should take over. That's the assumption.
You can see that I've added a "drop shadow,", which lifts the picture off the page.
Who writes erotica? Why write erotica? Is it erotica?
I will avoid prose that bogs down. This page is for me only secondarily. It's not a diary, a journal, navel-gazing. The focus will be what happens every day. Fiction depends on verisimilitude. Details bring it to life. This blog is one more source of detail, also a detail in itself.
I've also been limiting the quantity of writing I send to the "thousand person group," not wanting to overload. Who has time to read? A blog gives people who do something new from this author every day- or almost; the frequency remains to be seen. When you start something new, who knows how it'll go, if it will at all.
One unusual aspect of my fiction is that almost all of it involves the same main characters. New people come but eventually go. They may leave an impression, but they won't stay. It is, in short, the story of a marriage, turbulent, tested, resilient.
I'm frankly excited about this nonfiction corollary, direct and open-ended.
The next entry won't come for a few days, as a busy weekend is starting.
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