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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another Long Week

It's been rather a busy one, with a lot of changes going on.  I am currently working on Chapter 5 of "Take Another Road," but don't know when it will be ready.  You always think it's great after going over it so many times; then you leave it alone for a bit and realize, you've changed, and now this must change as well.

There has been little to report as we roll into August.  Work is the same; I've finished a number of edits, and yet I have more to work on.  I keep finding things in my writings that must be better, and must be improved.

Now, I've made another step, and time will tell if the time, money and pain are gonna be worth it.  I quit smoking (yet again) on Friday, and joined LA Fitness.

Yep, I'm hitting the gym.  The aim will be to have me work out three days a week, and I'll meet once a month with a trainer to see how I'm doing.  It didn't take long for me to realize that my decision to improve my health came not a moment too soon.

I am a physical wreck.  At 45, I don't look or feel right.  Not overweight, underweight probably, but my body is just not what it should be. 

We did a 15-minute workout to start, and it was hell.  I barely made it; but the trainer was cool, and said I did better than some...he said he's seen guys actually say they needed to use the bathroom halfway through this simple workout, then run like hell out the back.

I told him I couldn't do that to him; that would be a shame I'd never live down.  But I was in bad shape...and am going to be for a while.

Most of my problems are not serious ones...just have too much body fat, though it's hard to tell on me, and I need to get my inner strength and flexibility back.  They're gonna work with me, I just hope my body is up to it.

You'd think I'd be all right with it; I don't drink, don't use drugs, I'm vegetarian...yeah, the smoking is bad, but I've resolved to quit, and I'll deal with that. 

Because of how tight I am physically, I went back today for a short workout, in which I just stretched those areas that really hurt like hell, and also got on a bike for a while.  Not the progress I want or need, but it's a beginning.

I do enjoy this, though; it does give you a good feeling, and I hope I can keep it up without getting hurt or losing my drive.  The overall feeling is the important thing; I'm not out to impress anyone or get anybody's attention.  I just have to do this for me, and remind myself it is for me.


That said:  I hope to have Chapter 5 of "TAR" up soon...I hope also to have a few other matters taken care of.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Take Another Road," Chapter 4

Here we go with Chapter 4 of "Take Another Road."  Hope you enjoy it...

Chapter 4--Minoru’s Ligeia

            “There is no point, among the many incomprehensible anomalies of the science of mind, more thrillingly exciting than the fact--never, I believe, noticed in the schools--that in our endeavors to recall to memory something long forgotten, we often find ourselves upon the very verge of remembrance, without being able, in the end, to remember.”

--“Ligeia,” Edgar Allan Poe

            A stringed arrangement played over Minoru’s stereo at a high volume as he stood in his bathroom.  Just out of the bath, a towel wrapped around his waist, Minoru used a second one to dry his hair.  Through the small window, now partially obscured by steam, he noticed night had begun to fall.  He would soon head over to Asuka’s, to play at the family’s dinner party.

            Minoru enjoyed performing, and it was one of those few things he realized that offered him release.  He carefully brushed out his hair, ensured the careless nature of his thick tresses, then stepped into the next room. 

            The apartment was small; Minoru’s creature comforts were not many, but they suited his needs:  the futon was well-built, but inexpensive, the wall-to-wall carpeting cheap and looked like it had been taken up from someone’s office.  The dresser was secondhand, as were the TV, stereo, and the lone easy chair.  He also had a small kitchen, though cooking was not something Minoru indulged in that often.

            Dressing in black jeans, a matching shirt and leather vest, Minoru cast his eyes on the silver picture frame to his right:  the photo was of a woman, perhaps in her early thirties.  She was not the most attractive of the Japanese lovelies; she had a plain, honest-looking face, but her warm smile more than made up for that.

            Minoru smiled back at her as adjusted his belt.  He was happy to have met the new people; even better was to see Aimi again, and meet her family.  Kaldera of course had been the catalyst for all of it, as he had been for Kaz.  I know that some people, Mother would not be pleased with my associations; but I am quite certain you would not disapprove, as you moved above your station, and did so with honor.  I only hope I can carry myself as you did.

            When I met Kaz, I knew I’d met a true friend right away.  He has become my sidekick, the unnamed narrator to my Dupin as it were, from Poe’s mysteries.  I certainly did not plan that, for I see him as my equal.  He is talented, and he is such an honest and decent fellow.  Two people of such different circumstances and backgrounds, in the same, strange city--that sounds foolish, but it isn’t.  It happens every day, and I am so pleased to know we get along.

            Kaldera is another; a gaijin, yes, but a man who’s been many places, seen many things and he continues to find his way, wherever he is in the world.  The music we make together is wondrous, and I hope for more.

            I also hope for Asuka--I was able to persuade her to let me bring her to Masuyo today; she too, needs to see more than what she has.  It’s not her doing, but I wish to help her, if I can.  I do love her dearly, as dearly as I loved you, Mother.  Wish me well on this quest, as you have all others.

            The CD player switched to a new track, a jarring blast of horns, drums and guitars.  A drum kick, and Minoru found himself moving quickly to its punk-like cadence as he checked for all he’d need tonight.

“These are the stories of Edgar Allen Poe

Not exactly the boy next door

He’ll tell you tales of horror, and he’ll play with your mind

If you haven’t heard of him, you must be dead or blind…”

            Minoru slid into his long, black coat, and slung his shamisen over his shoulder.  He checked his wallet and Metro pass, switched off the stereo and the lights, and was out the door, as the song still played in his mind.

“These are the stories of Edgar Allen Poe

Not exactly the boy next door!”

            The atmosphere at the Okuda home was a convivial one, as all crowded themselves around the living room table for dinner.  The meal was a simple one, augmented by a bottle of sake that Kaldera brought as his offering, plus a basket of daifuku, the rice cake pastry a homemade gift from Mei.

            Aimi looked around the crowded table as her family and the guests ate their fill.  It was a fun evening, with family and friends, Aimi thought; as her father often said, it didn’t take much to have a good time.  The topics of discussion flew fast, with school, exams, the trip no one seemed to be taking, and other matters talked of.  Before long, Kaldera and Kaz brought out their guitars, and the music went into the evening.

            Kaldera was pleased to learn that the Okudas would be at the club Saturday night.  Kaz indicated he would go, his parents not having said he couldn’t.  Aimi wondered if he had even seen his folks today. 

            Mei added, “Midori’s coming, and her folks, too.  They’re up for it.”  Midori’s adoptive parents were Japanese; they lived in a slightly more upscale neighborhood (something Mei didn’t seem to mind, in that case), and they were a young, outgoing couple that all knew from school meetings and events.

            “Mei, how about your mom?”  Kaz asked.  “Think she’ll be able to come out?”

            Mei shrugged.  “I dunno.  It’s day-to-day with her, but I’ll see.  Today was a rough one; she was in bed for most of it.  She did say I should go have some fun.”

            Aimi turned to Kaldera.  “So, tell us about this band.”

            Kaldera chuckled.  “Well, they’re all Japanese; younger people, and all in other groups.  This is a side project for them; I just like working in with others, and they have all picked up on what I do.  Most of the music is from other writers, people I’ve worked with over the years, but I do a few of my own songs, too.”

            “Such as?”  Kaz nudged Kaldera with his elbow, drawing laughter. 

            “Okay, I suppose that means I’m on.”  Moving to the couch, Kaldera took up his guitar and placed a capo on the fourth fret, while everyone took up the two chairs or spots on the floor.  Kaz sat beside him, and made a quick check to ensure his guitar was tuned. 

            “I play this guitar in D,” Kaldera explained, “mostly for a certain song.  But I move up for this one.”  Playing a quiet opening lick, he explained, “I wrote this one recently, and I may do it tomorrow.” 

            Kaldera began to fingerpick; the chords were simple, but to the others, he’d begun a journey, and all were rapt in attention.

“I’m feeling not myself

Outside of me

& I am not sure

What I’m to be

They say we are vessels

Some hold, or let out

Believe I’m the latter

For the things I’m about…”  

            Kaldera began to strum the chords, his voice taking on a low, ragged tone.  The words were introspective, and Aimi felt he was letting some of himself go before them.  It was a rare thing.

“Sail my vessel

Across the waves

Through space and time

& all my days

& I will find

That which is mine

& the place

They call the universe…”

            Everyone was nodding in appreciation; Aimi and the rest were caught up in the song, and all applauded its end.  Kaldera nodded his thanks, but looked at the floor, a strange expression on his face.  At length he spoke:  “That song says much about my life, the past, present and future.  I wrote it recently, and perhaps it has to do with my sailboat.  I find my work in getting it ready to go to sea is really just part of my mission.  I at this point in my life believe that my music, and what else I do to bring people together, is my vessel.  I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but we are all vessels.  This is just how I do it.”

            All seemed to understand, which Kaldera appreciated.  “Actually,” he said, “that’s another thing:  Kaz will back me up when I say that the boat is nearly ready to go; I was hoping some of you would be interested in a trip, perhaps to one of the islands.  It’d be good for me to be among friends, but it would be beneficial to all.”
            ‘Nuh-uh,” Mei said, holding up her hand, “but thanks.  I get seasick if I even set foot on a dock.”

            Everyone laughed.  “Understood,” Kaldera replied, “but you are always welcome, Mei.  I live above the boathouse where I’m moored.  It’s large enough to accommodate a crowd, and no one bothers me there.”

            Aimi voiced her agreement, and her parents were satisfied.  “I’ll have more details next week,” Kaldera said, “but I am aware you have exams.  I’ll make sure it’s done after all that.”

            He then removed the capo from his guitar.  “If you don’t mind,” he went on, “here’s one a friend of mine did.  I’ve always loved it, and I’ll do it Saturday.  You know this one, Kaz.” 

            Kaz knew right away what song Kaldera had in mind, and set his hands in place on his guitar.  A series of accented chords, and they were off.

“Nobody left unbroken

Nobody left unscarred

Nobody here is talking

That’s just the way things are…”

            There were just three chords in the song, and the lower tuning of Kaldera’s guitar made it sound very different.  Aimi could not contain her smile; Kaldera was letting himself go, and in such an unselfconscious way.

“Sister lost soul, brother lost soul

I need you…”

            Asuka stepped into her bedroom and turned up the faded lights.  The room, much like each in the Tanaka home was done with her mother’s eye, with alterations for Asuka’s preferences.  The walls were papered in dark burgundy and overlaid with Lotus Flower patterns, the carpet in white.  Her bed (not the traditional futon or platform style, but one fully off the floor) was queen sized, with tall brass frames and burgundy falls.  Her dressers were of fine, dark mahogany; in the corner beside them were a crossed pair of field hockey sticks, and above these a school team’s picture, a pair of trophies on either side.  A small television and stereo were placed against the wall to face the bed, and a door led to a private bathroom.

            She slid out of her heels and cocktail dress, the latter a short, one-shoulder affair in black with silver accents.  Walking to the closet near the window, she put the shoes away, and lay the dress aside over a nearby chair for cleaning. 

            Reaching into the closet, Asuka drew out a pale green silk robe.  Putting it on, she walked into the bathroom and switched on the lights.  To the left was a large sink and mirror; to the right was a large tub, and she turned on the silver spigots to draw a bath.

            Facing the mirror, Asuka removed her hair clips and tossed them next to the sink.  As Asuka washed her face to clear it of makeup (though her use of it was minimal), she thought about the evening, and its confusing ending.

            This was not exactly a dinner party, more a meeting of Keru and the two aforementioned colleagues that were involved in the family’s food distribution company.  These gentlemen were about the same age as her father; one Asuka knew was a sales manager, the other the head of marketing.  The talk at the large dining table that night was mostly about the international pipeline of goods, and what was to be done in the current economy.

            The two suited men sat beside Keru at his end of the table, their wives alongside.  Asuka was seated beside one of the ladies, and Nanae occupied the place next to her, opposite her husband.  The meal was excellent (Nanae’s cooking had, this night as on all others earned high praise), and was served by three of the uniformed kitchen staff.

            The whole affair however was a drag for Asuka; all the talk was of business and Keru did most of it.  For her part, Nanae made certain Asuka was included in the conversation; but Asuka realized that she never understood much of her father’s business, yet this was something she would need to, as she grew older.

            Minoru arrived after dinner, and entertained all in the living room on his shamisen.  Seated near the fireplace (a real one, this time), he played for the assembled, and as always he was quite good.  He mostly stuck to traditional pieces, including one that was requested.  Keru was quite pleased, and Asuka noted her father even smiled during the performance, as he and the male guests smoked his favored Altadis Corona cigars.  One of the few things she knew that made him do so was certain music--the shamisen was his favorite instrument (though he did not play himself), and Keru also admired certain classical composers. 

            Asuka watched and listened to Minoru as he played.  He was so focused when he played, yet his visage never changed; it remained calm, even through the most difficult of pieces.  He received a well-deserved round of applause afterwards.

            On the deck outside, things changed.  After packing his instrument away Minoru had stepped outside with Asuka.  The evening was cool but not chilly, and Asuka stood with him as they admired the night sky.

            After praising him for his performance, Asuka moved close to him and placed her arm around his waist.  This made Minoru smile and he asked, “Have I improved over the last time, Asuka?”

            Asuka smiled.  “Of course you have,” she replied.  “You get better each time I hear you, and Father seemed quite happy.”

            “Well, everyone did seem to enjoy it,” Minoru said, and he looked away again.  “I appreciate Keru’s interest in my music, in fact everyone’s.  I--” 

            He was about to continue when Asuka slid in front of him.  She leaned back against the ornate metal railing, and moved her hands up to Minoru’s face.  Before she could go further, Minoru took a step back.

            “What’s wrong?”  Asuka straightened up, and as she did Minoru placed his hands on her bare arms, more protective of himself than in affection towards her.

            “Wait.”  Minoru looked behind him slowly; there was no one in the hallway or the living room.  He then turned back. 

            “Asuka,” he began, “I’m sorry.  I don’t think this is the place for what you wish.  If your father should see, I think he would be angry.”

            Asuka shook her head.  “I don’t believe that,” she replied.  Actually, she thought Keru might be, but at this point she would accept anything her father might view.  “Minoru,” she began again, “I think you know how I feel for you.”

            “I do, and I’m honored by that, but…” Minoru could not finish, and Asuka saw an emotion she had never seen in him—fear.       

            “What is it?”  She asked.  “Minoru, what is wrong?”

            Minoru took Asuka in his arms, and looked into her eyes.  “Asuka, you are my dearest friend,” he said quietly, “and I do love you--but as a friend.  I am afraid--yes, I am afraid of ruining that friendship.  What we have--that means more than anything right now in my life.”

            Asuka nodded, but beyond Minoru’s words she was excite--by the feeling of his arms, his body so close to hers.  She tried to listen; but in looking at him, Asuka knew there was more that Minoru was not giving away. 

            “I understand,” she told him, “but nothing you could do would ever harm that.”

            “I suppose not.”  Minoru kissed her cheek, and added, “I just don’t think this is the right time or place, I’m really sorry.”  He turned to head back inside.  “I have to go.”

            The other guests were just getting into their coats to leave, and Asuka joined her parents in seeing all out and wishing them a good night.  This done, Asuka wished Keru and Nanae the same and went upstairs.

            The bath was ready, the tub nearly full, and Asuka shut off the water.  Before disrobing, she went back into the bedroom and stood at the window.  Peering through the curtains, she looked into the night and wondered about Minoru.  Something was wrong, and she wondered what it could be.
(Author's notes:
"Edgar Allan Poe" was written and recorded by Lou Reed, and appears on The Raven, 2003.
"Sail My Vessel" was written by me.  It has not been recorded.
"Sister Lost Soul" was written by Alejandro Escovedo and Chuck Prophet, and appears on A.E.'s Real Animal, 2008.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Take Another Road, Chapter 3

Here we go...Chapter 3 of the "Other Roads Club" is now ready for your reading enjoyment!  Thank you again for your taking time to read and comment.  I would love to hear how you like characters (or not), and how the story flows...

Chapter 3--“Do You Like Shakespeare?”

            The Thursday afternoon foot traffic through the Ameyoko marketplace was heavy, and Aimi watched it as she swept up the front entrance of her parent’s shop.  Bargain-hunting housewives, some with small children, teenagers, salary workers plus tourists of many nationalities jostled their way through the narrow paths beneath the signs and banners.

            Nearly anything one could want was to be found here:  food, clothing, electronics and other luxury items made Ameyoko the place to shop, at least for this part of Tokyo.    Aimi swept up dirt and some paper debris into a dustpan, then stood to take a closer look around her.

            Music blared from a shop across the street that boasted low prices on the latest stereo equipment, and there was a song she recognized from the radio.  As Aimi listened, she again thought about her new friends.  At least Aimi considered them friends; while Asuka had been “aloof,” as Kaldera mentioned, Aimi sensed a warm personality from the girl.  Minoru however, was the one that remained foremost in her thoughts.

            She stepped back inside through the brown paper curtain with Kanji characters, and Aimi deposited the refuse in a waste can.  Since the sarin attack on the Tokyo Metro in the nineties, public garbage cans were almost impossible to find.  Some Japanese, but especially the tourists tended to drop their trash wherever they felt like it, though this was certainly frowned upon.  This meant a bit more cleaning up around the outside of the shop, but Aimi didn’t mind.  It was a part of life, and a changing one at that.

            She wound her way through the interior of the small main room and passed some of the curiosities that brought the customers inside.  There were prints of pleasant Japanese landscapes for sale, plus originals painted by Madoka.  Aimi thought her mother’s work was exceptional; she would have thought that anyway, but Aimi felt they were quite special.  Madoka’s works were detailed and showed fine brushwork, something that was commented on by many who had browsed the place over the years.

            Her calligraphy painting was also quite good.  Off to the side of the main room, Madoka was now at her easel and crafting a custom painting for a young Japanese couple.  She explained the technique to the pair, and stressed how such a simple painting required a great deal of concentration. 

            Madoka then turned to the fine paper she favored, and began to paint.  The character formation was a popular one, but Aimi watched as her mother momentarily tuned out her customers, dipped her bamboo brush into a container of black paint, then deftly crafted the work.  The audience of two watched, and by the sounds they made, were clearly impressed; Madoka then took up a thin brush and signed her name in the bottom right corner.

            Aimi smiled as she continued to the back, and passed a rack of musical instruments.  This included four taiko drums of different sizes, two shamisen and a pair of acoustic guitars.  There was an empty space, marked by a bright orange “Sold” ticket, which hung in the hook that had once held a specific instrument.  Kaldera’s guitar had been there, an American brand that Aimi could not remember the name of.  The buyer had evidently come in during the school day.

            Goro was at the small counter near the back of the room and showing pieces of locally made jewelry to another couple, an older one.  Aimi thought by the sound of their voices they might be British, or possibly Australian.  Goro was conversing in English, something that a number of shopkeepers might not do with tourists. 

            English was a compulsory subject in all schools, and had been for some time.  Goro often said the Japanese loved any gaijin who at least attempted to learn the native language; if they were still not quite fluent enough in it, he’d gladly speak theirs. 

            Along with his “Business English,” Goro had picked up a working knowledge of Chinese, as well as a little French and German over the years, and he considered it a learning experience.  Add to it, Aimi gathered as she passed, these two were quite interested in making a purchase, something Goro would gladly help with. 

            After placing the broom and dustpan in a nearby closet, Aimi looked over the shop.  Everything seemed to be in order at this moment; her parents were occupied, so Aimi again headed to the front to greet any new customers that might chance by.  As she did, the curtain swept back, and Kaldera entered, with Minoru behind him.

            Aimi found herself smiling right away.  “Hello again,” she said, and bowed as they came in.  “Welcome.”

            “Hello again, indeed,” Kaldera responded, and Minoru made a similar response.  They stood to the side in the narrow aisle to let Goro’s customers pass (they had indeed made a buy), and Aimi’s father followed. 

            Taking Kaldera’s hand, Goro shook it as one would shake that of an old friend, and the two bowed.  “Wonderful to see you, Kaldera-san,” he greeted.  “I have your money.”

            Kaldera laughed, and he introduced Minoru.  “That’s good,” Kaldera then said, “less your cut, of course, Goro-san.”

            “Of course,” Goro said with a laugh, “but you know, one must make a living somehow.”

            The two men headed for the back office of the shop, still laughing.  Finding they’d been left alone, Aimi said, “It was nice to meet you today, Minoru.  Asuka as well; she seems a lovely person.”

            Minoru smiled.  “She is, both inside and out.  Oh, I’m sorry if Asuka came off as not herself today,” he added quickly.  “Asuka is naturally nervous around people she has never met before.  Really, she is most kind.”

            “I felt that,” Aimi replied.  “It is always uncomfortable in an unusual situation.”

            Minoru’s eyebrows rose slightly, but Aimi noted how quickly they returned to their normal field.  “You felt that?  Well,” he went on, “that is interesting.  You pick up on other’s feelings, then?”

            Aimi wasn’t sure what to say, and for some reason she found herself especially uncertain when talking to this boy.  Was it his eyes, or did he suddenly just look right inside her? 

            “I understand it’s called empathy,” she said, “but I don’t claim to know for sure.”

            “That’s okay.  I guess I sometimes have that happen with me, we all have that capability on a certain level,” Minoru replied as he adjusted his instrument case and the book under his arm. 

            Aimi looked down at the latter.  She at first thought the book was a bible, as it was black and leather bound, with gilt lettering across its face.  “Ah,” she remarked, “you’re reading Poe.”

            He smiled.  “Yes,” he explained as he displayed the book for Aimi, “I am quite an admirer of his work; my mother gave me this years ago.  She encouraged me to read from an early age, and I find his writings, though rather dark, very inspiring.”

            Aimi nodded.  “Kaz told me you read the classics.”

            Minoru laughed.  “I read a lot of things,” he admitted.  “Kaz says you are quite the reader, too.  What are you into now?”
            Aimi told him about Amy Tan’s book, which she had finished reading on the train ride over.  “I don’t think she’s quite in the same league as Edgar Allan Poe,” she said, “but it was a fine story.”

            “She is a good writer,” Minoru said, “I liked The Hundred Secret Senses best myself.  A little different from my usual tastes,” he added, “but a fine story, nonetheless.”

            Aimi could hear through the open door the music from across the street.  It was a song she had heard on occasion, a Japanese version of an American tune.  “Do you like Shakespeare?”  She suddenly asked.

            “Yes.”  Minoru smiled.  “What else do you like?”

            Aimi was about to reply, when the Japanese couple passed, their painting now dried and carefully stored in paper.  Madoka saw them off, and Aimi introduced Minoru to her mother.

            Minoru behaved once again with all deference and politeness, and Madoka said, “Aimi, you can head home if you wish.  I know you have studying to do.”  There was a wink that she gently passed on as well, and Aimi saw it.

            As her face reddened, Minoru could not stifle a chuckle.  “Your mother is a fine person,” he said, “in fact, both of your parents are.  Must be nice to have that.”

            The way Minoru made that comment had caught Aimi off guard.  “I’m sorry?”

            “Oh, you don’t know; my mother passed away about four years ago,” he explained.  “It was very sudden.”

            Minoru’s expression was not a sad one; it was matter of fact, from a person who had accepted such loss.  For Aimi however, hearing such news made her feel that way. 

            “I’m so sorry,” she said.  “No, I didn’t know.”

            “It’s okay; Mother’s passing was a terrible shock,” Minoru admitted, “but I’m okay, really I am.  I live with a relative; my father and mother were not together long after I was born.  He is out of the picture, but I am well, and I do appreciate your kindness.”  Minoru gave a slight, polite nod.  “Thank you.”

            He then smiled, and Aimi was able to again.  “You too are very kind,” she said.  “Asuka is a lucky girl, to have you.”

            His head turned downward, Minoru again laughed, but it was under his breath.  “Yes,” he agreed, “but I too consider myself much in that line; Asuka is an old and dear friend.  Her mother and mine were very close, and Asuka and her family have looked out for me.  You and your friends seem to do the same for one another; that’s an exceptional thing.”

            “It is.”  Aimi was about to say more when Kaldera returned to the room with Goro.  The former said as he approached the pair, “Well, that is settled.  I’ll give you a run back home, Minoru, if you want it.”

            “Actually,” Minoru said, “I will take the train.  I believe Aimi has been let go for the day.  If you wish,” he continued as he looked to Aimi, “I would gladly see you back toward your direction.”

            Goro smiled and kissed his daughter, and Madoka also came over to give her farewell to Aimi.  “It sounds like you have an escort,” Goro said to her.  “See you at home; thank you as well,” he added as he shook Minoru’s hand once more.

            “The pleasure is mine,” Minoru replied, and bowed to the Okudas.  “Very nice to meet you, and to see your place; I shall be back.”

            Aimi was barely aware of the short walk through the streets to the Metro’s Yamanote line.  She and Minoru spoke more of the show that Kaldera would do Saturday, and Aimi said she thought her parents might be up for a night out. 

            “That’s good,” Minoru said.  “I hope you can come; Kaldera is something to behold in concert.”

            The traffic into the station was building, as commuters queued for the afternoon rush.  Stopping in the main concourse, Aimi motioned to the escalator she would need to take to catch her line for home.  “Thank you again, Minoru,” she said.  “I appreciate your walking me down.”

            “No problem,” he replied, “and by the way, don’t worry about what Asuka, or anyone will say.  I consider you a friend, and I know she does as well.  We trust one another, so there will be no trouble.”

            “Oh, I didn’t think there would be.”  Aimi noted that Minoru seemed to take pains to explain this, and she wondered why.  “Thanks again,” she added, and she put out her hand.

            “Thank you.”  Minoru took her hand, then bent and kissed it.  “I consider it a fine day to have made so many new friends,” he added.  “Do take care.”  He then straightened, turned and walked across the tiles to disappear into the crowd.

            Aimi held the hand Minoru had kissed in her other, then turned to take the down escalator.  No one had ever done anything like that to her before; it was so romantic, but she thought, this must be just how Minoru is.  He is so polite to everyone.  I really like him, but it is clear that he belongs to Asuka.  That is a line I would never cross.

            She caught her train and found a seat.  Aimi then dug her iPod out of her school bag, plugged in her ear buds and cycled the unit to a certain song; guitars and drums slowly faded up to full volume, and an American woman’s voice sang:

“I saw you there, so beautiful

You stopped and stared, so magical

            Aimi nodded in time to the song; it was the same one she had heard from the shop across the street.  So ironic it played at that exact moment…

Then you asked me for my name

And we took an uptown train

Before you leave, get up to go, I wanna know…”

            Aimi smiled and closed her eyes.

“Do you like Shakespeare, Jeff Buckley,

Watchin’ movies on a Sunday,

Do you like kissin’ when it’s rainin’

Making faces in the station, do you like…”

            She mouthed the lyrics as the train streamed along, and the lights of the underground flashed by.

“I need to know

What do you like

Before you go…”

            The Jaguar pulled into the circular driveway before the large suburban home, and pulled into its space beside the flint-toned Mercedes-Benz.  Asuka alighted and slung her school bag over her shoulder.  The driver, in a dark suit and tie also got out and removed his shades.  

            “Thanks for picking me up, Daisuke,” Asuka said as they climbed the front steps together.

            “No problem.”  Daisuke Yamazaki smoothed back his longish, Western styled hair and adjusted his tie.  Opening the heavy, ornate door for Asuka, he asked, “Is Minoru coming to dinner tonight?”

            Asuka nodded.  “Yes.  I’ll be happy to see him here.”

            “Yeah,” Daisuke replied, “your father is having a couple of the sales crew over.  I’m sure it’ll be boring as hell, but that’s the business.  Fortunately for me,” he added with a grin, “I‘ve got the night off.”

            Asuka smiled, but said nothing as they passed through the foyer into a main hallway.  Unusually, the Japanese tradition of removing one’s shoes was not observed here.  Passing a grand staircase on their right, the two continued down the immaculately polished hardwood floor, and beneath a large crystal chandelier. 

            Daisuke excused himself from Asuka’s presence, and stepped through an open door to his right, into a large office.  Asuka looked in, but did not enter herself. 

            An Oriental rug covered most of the floor, and facing the hallway was a wide, mahogany desk, with two padded chairs before it.  Against the wall was a large, matching shelf, upon which were stored several books, ledgers, plus a number of plaques, civic awards and honors.  Asuka watched as Daisuke took one of the chairs before the man seated there.

            He was a large man, tall and broad in stature.  His slicked-back hair was black with streaks of gray, and his neatly trimmed beard confirmed the appearance of an individual severe in look and bearing.  A black, pinstriped suit jacket hung on a tall stand to the right of the desk; the man wore the rest of his three-piece suit and tie, even though it was warm in the house at this time of day.  His head remained down as he examined a series of papers.  He made no welcome to Daisuke, nor did he look at up at any time.

            Asuka turned and walked down the hall to the next door.  Her knock was answered; a woman’s voice called, “Come in.”

            Asuka stepped into a small drawing room.  The floor here too was covered with another, smaller Oriental.  A fireplace, which employed a gas jet flame rather than a wood fire was the central feature of this room, though it was not being used.  To her left was a finely carved table with two chairs, and a small antique lamp burned atop the former.

            The woman seated at the table rose and embraced Asuka.  “Welcome home, Asuka,” she greeted with a kiss.  “How was your day?”

            “It was good, Mom.”  Asuka returned both affections.  “And yours?”

            “Good.”  Nanae Tanaka was in her late thirties, and looked more like an older sister rather than Asuka’s mother.  Though a shorter woman, Nanae had handed down her lean build, long black hair and facial lines to her daughter.  The woman wore almost no makeup, and those who viewed her for the first time would have guessed Nanae had more than Japanese in her background, possibly a hint of Thai.  Her nails were long daggers, expertly manicured and painted silver.  She wore a silken blue dress with matching stiletto heels, and the ring on her fourth finger bore a large, almost gaudy diamond.

            The two seated themselves, and Asuka noted the cards that were placed before Nanae on the table.  “You are reading,” she noted.

            “Yes.”  Nanae smiled as she looked over the tarot cards.  These were of a Buddhist-inspired deck, arranged in a spread Asuka knew was called the Tree of Life.  Her mother noted one of the central cards, the Nine of Lotuses.  “This one here,” she said, “denotes sacrifice.  It seems to be the one that is at the core of the theme.”

            Nanae went on to explain what several of the other artfully composed cards meant, in the context of the full reading.  Asuka was interested, but had never fully understood tarot.  She did however know that her mother was deeply intuitive, and Nanae’s readings were popular amongst family friends.

            “There are several cards from the Lotuses,” Nanae went on, and she pointed these out.  “Pandara, the Sakti of Lotuses, denotes purity.  The ace card means a new beginning.”

            “What question did you ask?”  Asuka ventured.

            “I just did a general reading,” Nanae replied, “but tell me:  did you meet someone new today?”

            Asuka’s eyes widened.  “Why, yes I did.  Daisuke didn’t tell you, did he?”       

            Nanae laughed, and her daughter joined in.  “No, no!”  Nanae replied.  “I’ve learned nothing from anyone today!  Tell me of it.”

            Asuka related her meeting at the public school with Minoru’s friends.  “They seem to be nice people,” she said in summation, “though I gather Father would not think much of them.”

            Nanae sighed.  “Yes, well,” she replied, “I’m still working on Keru.  I would not worry about that.  As we know, your father is stubborn and resistant to change.  Afraid of it, I think:  he is in fact, here.”

            Nanae pointed to a card depicting what looked to Asuka like a Buddha, or a representation thereof.  “Aksobhya, the Buddha of Vajras,” she explained, “represents unshakable characteristics.  The other vajra cards here denote one in need of healing, and one of restraint.  But here,” she added, “are the two that are to me the most intriguing.”

            She motioned to a card that showed a man, possibly the Buddha, giving a sermon.  “This is Judgment, a major card,” Nanae said.  “This is the wakeup call; and here,” she motioned to a card of a half-naked woman playing what looked like a lute.  “The Dakini of Double Vajras:  she depicts a ‘skywalker.’”

            Asuka thought about these things.  “How interesting, Mom.  New beginnings for me,” she posed, “could be these new people I met.  I’m not sure about the judgment or the skywalker, though.”

            “Well, you must also remember,” Nanae said as she carefully gathered up the cards, “that the tarot does not predict anything, good or bad.  These are things that may have already happened, and we are not always conscious of them.  I think this reading has a little for each of us to consider.”

            Asuka rose as her mother gathered up the cards.  “Well, I have homework to do before the party,” she said.  “Minoru did say he would come over, at least to play.”

            “That’s good.”  Nanae placed the deck in a silken pouch, and then secured it with a long, black ribbon.  She then stood and again embraced her daughter.  “I enjoy talking to you,” Nanae said as she held Asuka to her, “and I appreciate your listening to me prattle on over such things.  Your father would never hear of it.”

            “I do enjoy it,” Asuka assured her.  “Any time I have with my mother, I cherish, and I mean it.”

            Nanae kissed Asuka.  “As always Asuka, you are a dear.  I must go get ready for tonight myself.  I’ll see you later.”

            In the hallway, Asuka watched her mother as they parted.  Nanae walked with such ease, and her heels made almost no sound on the floor.  Walking back toward the staircase, Asuka cast another glance into her father’s office.  Keru was still seated there, in close conversation with Daisuke.  Driving was the least of the younger man’s duties; Daisuke was also her father’s right hand.  Though Japanese, Daisuke had gone to America for his education and returned with a law degree.  He was Keru’s closest advisor on business, legal and other matters.

            Asuka climbed the stairs and walked down the carpeted hallway to her room at the end.  At the high, carved door Asuka paused; then she walked on, to the full-length window just past it.  She leaned against the wall and stared out at the neighborhood, the city skyline, and the setting sun.

(Author's Note:  "Shakespeare" is written by Susan Cagle and Jay Levine; appears on Cagle's album, The Subway Recordings, 2006)

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