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Low Water Mark

    Half an hour after work ended, Kei called to say that she was in the neighborhood. I told her to come on up, but she insisted that we meet outside. Whatever. I hung up the phone and clomped down the stairs where I found her at the entrance of my building. She was in a colorful skirt and jean jacket, her soft brown curls resting on denim shoulders. A warm smile appeared on her pretty face.

   "It's been a long time, hasn't it," I said.

   "Yes, it has," she replied with a quiet, girlish laugh.

   We hadn’t seen or mailed each other for almost a month and a half. The last I had heard from Kei was a short mail warning me not to contact her because her husband had become suspicious. And then two days ago she called and told me she wanted to meet.

   Kei asked me to take her to a restaurant I had mentioned several months earlier. When we arrived, however, the “restaurant”—no larger than my own living room—was full, so we went to another restaurant two blocks away.

   We took a corner table that faced the open doors of a fifth floor balcony, overlooking a desolate parking lot, the quiet Kokutai Avenue, and an ugly mishmash of condominiums and apartment buildings beyond. Not much of a view, but then I had really come to enjoy the scenery outside.

   Even before our conversation had begun, I could sense from her nonchalance that what she had written to me in the e-mail had been a lie.

   "Your husband never did suspect anything, did he?” I said after our drinks came.


   "And he's gone now? He's at the dorm studying?"


   Her husband was supposed to be sequestered in a dorm in the countryside to study for a promotion test. When Kei first told me half a year earlier that her husband would be out-of-town for two months, my mind filled with tantalizing possibilities.

   “He’s been gone all this time?”

   “Yes, but he comes back next week.”

   Each confession was like a soft punch. I had been looking forward to her husband’s absence for six months, eager to spend an entire night with Kei for the first time in our three-year-long affair.

   I slouched down in my seat, defeated. I never imagined that Kei could be so dishonest to me.

   "Don't you think it was a clever idea," she asked.

   "What on earth do you mean?"

   "I thought for days and days about what to write to you . . ."

   "You know, I got that mail while I was still in Thailand. I was having a damn good time until I read it. Ruined my fucking trip, it did. "

   "I'm sorry."

   "You're sorry," I replied lighting a cigarette.

   "Please don't smoke."

   Ignoring her, I took a deep, slow drag, let the smoke drift from my mouth to my nostrils.

   If only I had had some coke to smoke, instead.

   "You're sorry." I told her how much I had worried about her safety, how I had gone by her home to look for signs of life only to find none, and how I hated myself for having been so selfish. "I've always tried to tell you the truth, Kei. Always. Even when I knew that doing so might hurt my chances with you."

   The words came out slowly and painfully. My heart clung to each syllable unwilling to let them go, unwilling to let myself admit that this woman I had loved for so long could inflict so much agony.

   "I was honest, so that you would understand me and love me for who I was and not for someone you thought I was or someone I wanted you to think I was. I opened myself to you, and in the end you lied. I never thought that you could be so cruel."

   I lit a third cigarette. Smoke flowed in a long, twisting trail from my lips.

   "When you told me that you had a new girlfriend," Kei began to explain, "I was very jealous. I couldn't sleep for days."

   It amazed me how this woman could continue to try to possess me and yet at the same time keep me at a safe distance. It was unnerving at the best of times.

   "I'm very possessive," she continued. "I want things only for myself."

   I had heard this the previous summer when I told her that I had started seeing a doctor. Suddenly, Kei couldn’t see me enough. We were meeting sometimes twice a week, making love more often than ever before. And it had the desired effect: the doctor soon faded out of my life. But once Kei had me twisted nicely around her finger, she stomped on the breaks.

   "You're an only child," I replied. "What do you expect?"

   "So, when you told me that you had a new girlfriend I considered trying to make it difficult for you to meet her, to call you up at all times, so that she would end up leaving you . . ."

   "That, I have to admit, would have been a hell of a lot better that this."

   "I was also angry because you had told me that you weren't interested in other women . . . You know, I was so happy when you told me that last summer."

   It was still true. Even when having sex with Ryô, I still thought about and wanted to be with this stupid woman before me now.

   "The reason I started seeing Ryô,” I said, “was because the last time you and I made love, you worried so much about getting pregnant that you cut me off. Don't you remember? You said that if you ever did get pregnant, you wouldn't be able to see me again. It was just a matter of timing, is all. I wasn't really searching for someone—I was happy with you, difficult as this arrangement has been—but, someone found me. I was still looking forward to this summer and being able to spend time with you again like we did last summer. I was counting the days until my birthday when the two of us would travel to the countryside together . . . "

   "Yes, yes, yes,” she said. “I thought about what to do and decided that lying to you was the best way."

   "The best way? You're joking, right?"

   "I though that not seeing you for a while would allow you to start a new relationship. I thought it was a good idea at the time, but I'm sorry if you were hurt by it."

   The impulse to jump off the balcony to the hard asphalt five floors below clouded my thoughts. But knowing that I'd just end up in a lot of pain rather than dead caused me to slouch deeper in my chair and light another cigarette.

   "And there's another thing," she said hesitantly.


   "I'm pregnant."

   "How many weeks?"

   "Seven. I'm due in January."

   Seven weeks. We had had sex only ten or so weeks before. That the child might be mine was met with a tired indifference. I said nothing.

   An achingly long half an hour passed in silence as I drank and smoked the last of my cigarettes.

   "You haven't looked at me," she said. "You haven't congratulated me either."

   "Congratulations," I offered flatly, then left for the restroom.

   I stood before the vanity staring at my weary face and wanting to cry for the years of frustration and false hope that I had endured since meeting Kei. But I couldn't; I haven't been able to really cry for years. After regaining my composure, I returned to our table, to my drink, and after twenty minutes of awkward silence asked her if she wanted to go.

   She nodded.

   We went back to my apartment where I gave her the presents I had bought for her in Thailand.

   "Where's the basket?"


   "I asked you to buy me a basket," she said.

   "I didn't have the space, and besides there weren't any good ones. Bali's the place for that kind of thing, not Thailand."

   "Yes, but you bought all kinds of things for yourself..."

   "Of course, I did," I replied, irritation rising. "Christ, you can be incredibly selfish at times."

   With this Kei bolted out of my apartment. I chased after her barefoot down the hallway and drag her back as she kicked and slapped me. Once inside, we hugged, tears falling down our cheeks. I looked at her face, her soft almond shaped eyes and kissed her chapped lips. We dropped slowly to the tatami floor and held each other for a while, but I knew this was the end. We were writing the epilogue of a book that had already gone on far too long.

   With one final kiss and a long hug, she left.


   The next day, Saturday, was a busy day for me. Two lessons in the morning followed by a short break, then four more lessons in the afternoon. Saturday, which had once been my lightest day of work, one I could manage even after a long hard night of partying, was now no different from my other ball-busting workdays: lessons bumper-to-bumper for hours and hours on end. The only difference being that today the drudgery was broken up by a midday tryst with Ryô who came by, fucked me hard, letting me cum the very last drop of my strength in her mouth, then left.

   By evening, I was exhausted mentally and physically. But with my first Sunday free of work for the first time in weeks, I wanted to party, to go to some bar and find an easy lay to help alleviate the ache in my bones, but no one was out on the town tonight. Instead, I dug into my bag of tricks, pulled out a small Ziploc bag of psilocybin mushrooms, and watched videos until dawn.

   After a few hours of sleep, I woke, then left for a four-hour long exam in Japanese listening comprehension that ended up being much easier, and as a result more disappointing, than I had expected. (Despite nodding off in the middle of the test, I still managed to score in the ninetieth percentile.) Ryô met me in the evening for dinner, after which I tied her up and screwed her for an hour before conking out. When I woke the next morning, I was alone, the ropes I had tied her up with placed neatly at the head of my futon.

   The following Tuesday, Ryô and I went to a local amusement park for the day where she ended up blowing me on the Ferris wheel.

   If it weren’t for the distraction Ryô was providing me, I don’t know how I’d manage. Kei was right all along: the timing for us to finally part after so many frustrating years couldn’t have been better.


   Ryô called me a few days later.

   "Why were you born?" she asked.

   “Why was I born?”

   "Yes, why were you born?" she asked again.

   “I, uh, I . . .”

   "To love me of course."

   And to think I had always thought the reason I was born was to feel the pain of solitude.

   “So, I was. So, I was.”

   “I love you,” she said.

   “Thank you.”

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