A short story
The wind had already ripped the first cherry blossoms of the year off their fragile branches as a man silently walked up the hill toward Hanaokayama Park. It was his second time in Kumamoto, but not much had changed in the 15 years that had passed. Love hotels still squirmed the serpentine path, and the man particularly remembered one of them – Green Hill – as his soles accidentally squished a fallen pink petal.
The hotel stood as if unoccupied since that night 15 years ago, when a young tipsy couple had danced into its perimeters. He even remembered the room number – 208 – and the fat black cat guarding outside. Perhaps it was still there, patiently awaiting its master like a countryside version of Hachiko. The man checked his watch and hurried up the hill.
A few minutes later he had reached the park and the somewhat industrial cityscape of Kumamoto met his decrepit eyes. Indeed, not much had changed. Even the cherry trees looked the same, as did the white Buddhist temple crowning the hill. The man picked up a cigarette and a lighter from his pocket but quickly put them back down as he saw the familiar sun-lit hair strands reflected off and as easily recognizable as a cherry blossom.
It seemed as if she had not aged a day, and as she turned around, sensing that someone was near, the man got his assumption confirmed.
”Oh, Robbie. Is that you?”
Robbie did not know what to say, stunned by the beauty of his former lover while ashamed of his own all too obvious aging.
”It’s been a while…,” his somewhat shaky lips finally mustered.
”Yeah. You look different. How have you been?”
Robbie was affirmed by Yumiko’s warm smile, the same smile that always made him relax before (and especially after) his big exams at Kumamoto State College.
”Well, shall we sit down?”
Yumiko rested her arm softly against Robbie’s back and gently pushed him toward a bench at the front of the park – the same one they had sat down on moments before their first kiss. Robbie wondered whether her move was intentional or not.
Yumiko told him about her modeling, which had led to a brief acting stint for a minor talent agency in Osaka. She told him about her sister’s wedding in Europe and how she had fulfilled her dream of climbing the Eiffel tower in a night gown. How good the coffee really was in Vienna (they had once bet on it, Robbie claiming it was just a myth) and how real Belgian chocolate actually made one’s heart jump. She told him about Takuya Kimura and how his armpits had smelled when he hugged her.
Robbie told her about his aspiring directorial career, how his screenplays lay maculated in the offices of all major and minor production companies in Japan. He told her about his attempts of writing stories, and how he was once fired from a local information magazine for showing up late. He told her about his wife Mitsuki, their son Akio and the automobile accident that took his life. He told her about how Mitsuki had run away, filed a divorce and how the police later found her remnants in a river near her parents’ home in Saga. He told her about his drinking problems, and how a doctor had advised him to start studying again to regain some kind of happiness in life.
Yumiko listened, a tear almost discernible in her left eye. Or was it a drip of water fallen from a twig above her, disposed to a heaven just opening up?
”Let’s go,” Yumiko said.
She took his hand and produced an umbrella with the other, folding it up before handing it to Robbie.
”My pleasure,” he said as they walked down the slope escaping the rain. As they passed ”Green Hill,” Yumiko suddenly stopped.
”The rain is picking up. Let’s take cover in here.”
Following her lead, Robbie was dragged through the entrance and led outside room 208. He wondered if it was just a coincidence or if Yumiko still remembered. A fat black cat watched as the couple danced into the room and entangled on the bed under the mirrored roof.
Two hours later, the sun setting behind the eaves of the old glass window, Robbie found himself looking into the mirror. Yumiko, as he knew her, was gone and all he saw staring back at him was his own ailing body and its fifteen years younger shadow.
Copyright: Dan Asenlund, 2008.