Entries in A Woman's Nails (7)


Selling Snake Oil in Japan

After cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, a fifty-something-year-old American man, someone I have never seen around town, taps on a microphone a few times then jumps right into his presentation.

From the get-go, it stinks of some multilevel marketing scheme and, looking around the room, I can see that it’s the same old crew that has come together to push it: guys who were doing Amway, then NuSkin, then Noni. And now they’re gung-ho about something called Rexall Showcase: a new name to the old scheme of pushing overpriced supplements and dubious weight loss products on family and friends and kicking the profits up the pyramid.

“This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for, folks!” the speaker exclaims. “This is The Golden Opportunity! The chance to get into a business when it’s just getting off the ground. Amway, NuSkin, yes, they’re all good business models, excellent business models, in fact, but if you really want to make money with them, why, you should have gotten into the business twenty, thirty years ago. Folks, I’m tellin’ ya, Rexall Showcase is the opportunity you’ve all been dreaming about!”

As I listen to him, I must admit that what he is saying doesn’t completely lack merit. Imagine being able to have entered into a business like Amway when it was first taking off, before overeager fools irretrievably ruined its reputation. But today? Try to become a millionaire in Amway today and you’ll probably die trying. Your hair and skin will look fantastic, though. You might even feel fantastic, too, if you can manage to swallow their horse-pill sized megavitamins.

The American tells us he has been living in Japan for over thirty years, longer than anyone else in the room. “I’ve been here since Nixon was president!”


“And all these years, I have been running a business. Several businesses, in fact!”

He’s quite successful, he assures us, saying that he even supplies Fukuoka Airport with his products.

There are oohs and ahs.

“And, let me tell ya, folks, I know a good opportunity when it comes up from behind me and kicks me in the ass.”

More laughter.

The American talks like a snake oil salesman, but the others in the room eat it up; so eager they are to get their grubby little hands on cold hard cash that what he is saying must sound like the sweetest of music to their ears.

And then, he invites a long-haired douchebag by the name of Clive up to the front and says, “Clive has been blowing us away . . . Tell me again, how much did you earn last month?”

“Two million yen.”

There are whistles of astonishment and why wouldn’t there be? Two million yen for a month’s worth of work is a respectable amount of cash, twice what I am making, working what amounts to three jobs. But, why is this “very successful” guy dressed like someone who is only earning a tenth that amount? The Canadian, a former strip dancer at a “ladies’ club” that went bust years ago, is wearing ripped Levis, old cowboy boots, and a dowdy sports jacket. Any moment now I expect him to tear the jeans off and start jiggling his nuts.

“See, I told you it was fishy,” Akané whispers into my ear.

“Fishy doesn’t even begin to describe it. This is borderline fraud what they’re doing. Let’s get out of here.”


This is an excerpt from A Woman's Hand, a sequel of sorts to the novel A Woman's Nails. The novella was inspired by events which happened about fifteen years ago.


Pulling Teeth

   Teaching Reina’s classes has been an equally dismal experience. Most of her students have been so reluctant to speak up they've made me feel as if I am trying to rip the molars out of their jaws rather than merely chat them up. Some of the students refuse to even offer a nod, let alone a “yes” or a “no”, whenever I ask them even the simplest of questions.

    It was infuriating at first. With so much bad blood lingering between Reina and myself, I didn’t put it beyond her to have sabotaged the classes by telling the kids to give me a hard time.

    One of the “better” classes goes like this: after fifteen minutes of what can generously be called “free conversation” to loosen the buggers up, we move on to an exercise in the text that covers weekend activities. I set the text up before having them read it by drawing the kids' dissipating attention to the picture at the top of the page. I then ask them what they think is going on in the picture.

   They have no idea.

   I suggest that they make simple comments about what they see. Naturally, no one volunteers. I point to one of the boys in the classroom. He twists his head to the side, sucks air through his teeth, then tells me he doesn't understand. In Japanese, of course: “Sah, wakaran.”

   When that doesn’t work, I have them read through the conversation after which I ask them a few simple comprehension questions. The more general questions are met with blank, somewhat frightened looks, so I give up and ask safe “yes” and “no” questions. Finally, I round up the exercise by expanding the key phrases and so on. Once we’ve gotten through all that, I turn to a bone thin, calcium white seventeen-year-old.

   “So Eri, tell me everything you can about last weekend . . . What did you do? Where did you go? Who did you spend it with? Anything, tell me anything you like!” I'm hesitant to overload the poor girl with too many questions as it often causes the more timid of students to freeze up, to withdraw within themselves, like a doe awash in the glow of the headlights of an on-coming 18-wheeler.

   Eri looks up slowly from the table with those deep-set, nervous eyes of hers and, not quite stating, more like probing with a cane in the dark, replies, “I . . . I . . . didn't . . . do . . . anything?”

   “C'mon. You weren’t in a coma, were you? Ha-ha-ha.” The joke smacks flatly up against a cold wall of silence. “So tell me, Eri, when did you wake up? What did you eat for breakfast? What did you do after you ate it?”

   The machinery in her head creaks, rusting cogs ache into worn grooves, and with a slow jerking motion the wheels begin to inch forward: “I woke . . . up . . . at . . . nine-thirty . . . and . . . took a shower?”

   “Yes, yes, and then?”

   “I . . . ate . . . breakfast . . . I had rice and miso soup and rice for breakfast . . . then I studied?”

   “Finally progress!”


   “Ah, never mind that.”


   “Yeah, never mind that either. I was joking. Jokku.”

   “Don’ mindoh? Jokku?”

   “Yes, yes, jokku. I was joking.” Things can get out of hand if you let them get caught up on one thing. Best to keep moving: “So, what did you study? What did you study?”

   “I . . . studied . . . English . . . for two hours?” she continues with excruciating slowness. But, hey, she's burning up the minutes here, like a big Chevy Suburban lumbering along at 6 miles to the gallon. Atta go, girl!

   With all the effort I can muster I suppress a yawn, then turn to Tsuyoshi, a rather bright high school boy who speaks relatively good English, and ask, “And, what did you do?”

   “I woke up at two, ate lunch, slept again. Woke up again, had dinner, took a bath, then went to bed.”

   “That’s it?”


   Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the future of Japan.


© Aonghas Crowe, 2011. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Woman's Nails is now available on Amazon's Kindle.

Read more excerpts from A Woman's Nails here:



A Woman's Nails

   For a very limited time--offer expires on Sunday night--A Woman's Nails will be available for free at



   Tatami comes to my place with an apology and a present. She never fails to bring either.

   This time, as she is begging forgiveness for the impertinence of her unannounced visit, she pulls out some pastries and sweet rolls from an impractically frilly bag and places them on my coffee table. She also produces a bottle of mineral water, and some apple juice. Tatami's pedigree and upbringing ensured that no matter how physically unattractive a woman she may have become, she would still have the manners and grace to allow her to move among the most exclusive of Japanese social circles. In the presence of the bourgeoisie, I suspect, she is something of a curious anachronism, but among working class boors like myself, who have little use for the formalisms imposed by privilege, she seems to be adrift in the sea, weighed down by too much baggage.

   Tatami sits down next to me on the sofa and tries for the next hour to engage me in conversation, by which I mean, several minutes of niceties followed by anodyne chit-chat.

   There is something on her mind, something she seems to be eager to say, or something she wants me to do, but she won’t come out with it. It has always been that way with her: she expects me to read it in the subtle signals of her body language.

   Sweet as Tatami is, she can be annoying as hell, and so I feign illiteracy.


   When I’ve had my fill of her snacks and there is little left that her company can offer aside from irritation, I politely suggest that she leave.

   She stands reluctantly and straightens her dress. She picks the frilly bag up and moves with reluctant steps towards the door where she takes her time putting her shoes on. Suddenly, she pulls me into me into those bony pale arms of hers, presses her face into my chest, and sighs, "I don't want to leave."

   Oh dear!

   "Well, as a matter of fact I was rather busy when you ca..."

   "J-just let me sit for a moment."

   What can I do? I have little choice, but to say yes, just as I said yes when she had first asked me in the most pained and circumlocutory manner to sleep with her a week ago.

   That, I realize, like so many things in life—far, far too late—was a grave mistake. My friend Shinobu had been right: the poor girl was indeed a virgin. A thirty year old virgin. I didn't think there were any left. Much like devout Christians back in the States, girls from good Japanese families tended to keep their pants on until marriage.


   How Tatami had gone from insisting that, in spite of my intransigent lack of interest in her, she could never be my girlfriend to her insisting upon my popping that long neglected cherry of hers boggles the mind. I had merely been going with the flow, expecting and wanting nothing more than friendship, someone to talk to. How the devil did I end up becoming a debutante's boy-toy?

   There had been no forewarning. None so ever.

   Okay, so I had twice joked about taking her to a love hotel, but I had only been only joking, trying to get a bit of a rise out of the woman. I hadn't been serious about it at all, yet somehow those two jokes, mentioned off-handedly and soon forgotten by myself, had been crafty little seeds which would by and by germinate in her mind and grow into a verdant, lascivious fantasy. 

   On her thirty-first birthday, I took her to a Spanish restaurant where—surprise, surprise—I ended up having a bit too much to drink. It was then that Tatami asked me to have sex with her.

   Not that she put it so directly. She could never have said, "Peador, I want you to fuck my brains out right this minute!" No, all she could do was offer some vague hints and hope they would be concrete enough for me to catch them.

   “It’s my birthday, so I’d like you to do something special for me.”

   “Oh? And what would that be?”

   “I’ll give you two hints.”

   “This a game?”

   “Please listen,” she said. “The first hint: you said it when we were walking in Ôhori Park last month.”

   “Last month in Ôhori Park?”

   “Yes. We were near the Boat House and I asked you where you’d like to go and . . .”

   Gulp! And I said, How’s about we pop into the Love Hotel over there?

   The first hint was as concrete as the sidewalk leading all the way back to my place, as concrete as the steps we climbed to my fourth floor apartment, where for the third time in my life I spread the legs of a virgin, trembling with fear and excitement, and slowly violated her sanctity with the profanity of a semi-hard cock.

   Let me tell you, I'll never understand why some men desire virgins. As far as I'm concerned, they're not worth the trouble.


   Tatami manages to coax me back to the sofa, where she then pesters me until I embrace her. I put my arms around her and give her a cold, perfunctory hug. With my arms hanging loosely around her, she presses her cheek against my chest, and moves her thin fingers towards my crotch. Finding a half-enthusiastic bulge there, she grabs it softly. Then, ever so gingerly and cautiously, as if she was afraid of letting something feral out of its cage, she unzips my pants.

   I’m not really in the mood, and can't get too worked up about doing it with her of all people, but what can you do when you’ve got a defiant boner? It’s high treason! Mutiny, I say! And, Tatami gleefully commandeers it. She slips her hands into the front of my pants, fumbles around as if she is searching for a pen in her handbag--an exceptionally large pen I might add—and, finding it, clamps onto it tightly in case it changes it's fickle mind.

   Tatami then lets out a deep sigh. Is this what she has been after all along? Turning her face to mine and with her eyes closed, she parts her lips, inviting me to kiss her. As enthusiastic as my backstabbing little friend has become, I just can’t get fired up about kissing her. When I hesitate, she takes the initiative and starts kissing me. Big, sloppy, clumsy kisses. She puts her tongue down my throat and is now squeezing Lil' Paddy for all it’s worth. If she isn't going to pleasure the sperm out of me, then it appears that she is going to force it out of me the way you might get the last bits of toothpaste out of an old tube.


   Though the effort will prove futile, it is nevertheless amusing to watch a woman give head for the first time.

   Holding my cock in her thin, pale fingers, Tatami eyes it with caution and wonder. She lowers her head towards my erection, pauses for a moment as she deliberates whether or not to go through with it, and then, mustering all the courage her thin frame contains, gives Paddy a preliminary lick.

   It has been nearly month since someone last fellatiated me. Not long for most men, I suppose, but long enough to make Paddy stand at stiff attention, as if he’s been defibrillated back to life.

   Tatami flinches and jerks quickly away, worried, I can only guess, that overwhelmed with ecstasy I might ejaculate right then and there. She lowers her head again, my cock twitches. She hesitates. But once she is reassured that I won't spontaneously blow the contents of my viscera all over her face, she takes the head into her mouth and waits again. She hasn't yet figured out that fellatio is something to be performed, not something which is going to just happen all by itself. I guide her head down until she nearly chocks on it, and let her come up gasping. I shove my cock back into her mouth, then guide it in gradually. Only then does she begin to understand that some movement is required.

   She works at it for about thirty minutes, up and down, up and down, and yet never quite getting me to the station on time, always missing the train. After a while, I've had enough. I pull my cock out of her mouth, holster it, and zip up my pants.

   Tatami protests at first, insists on her wanting to make me “feel good”, but I just wave her off. All I want is for her to leave so that I can have some Q.T. with a girlie magazine and the “lascivious hand” and go to bed.

   She lies on the floor at my feet. Her blouse is half open, revealing an elaborate pink brassier. She raises her white, boney arms towards me and beckons me to join her. I’m not interested. When she raises her dress and spreads her legs invitingly, I turn and look out the window into the dark night.

   "Who is the most important person in your life?" she asks from the floor.

   "My sister."

   "And then?"

   I know what she is playing at, so I decide to have a bit of fun. "That's tough,” I say. “Maybe one of my closer friends—André, Dave, Brad, Geoff, Rowland. I don't know."

   "And then?" Disappointment rises in her voice.

   "My brother. Yeah, probably my brother . . ."

   "What about me?" she whines. “What about Tatami?

   From the depths of my generous heart, I reply: “Tatami, don't whine. It drives me up the feckin’ wall."

   "But what about me," she asks again.

   "Look, Tatami, I like you. Like you. I have always liked you, but I have never loved you."

   "Why not?"

   "Why not?" This tickles me up and it is all I can do to restrain myself, to keep from laughing at her.

   "I want to be your girlfriend!"


   "Why? Mie was your girlfriend. Why can't you love me?"

   That simple question threatens to dredge up a wealth of memories and emotions. I don’t really want to get into it. Not with Tatami. She wouldn't understand.

   "Why can't you love me?"

   Why can’t I? Why couldn't I love Yumi? Why couldn't I love Aya or even Reina for that matter? Why couldn't I love any of the women I’ve met over the past seven months? Is my heart no longer capable of love? Was my love only meant for one person, and now that she is gone I am no longer able to love anyone again? I don't want to believe it. I still have faith, however tarnished it may have become, that I will meet someone I can love, but as far as I can tell this woman who is half naked at my feet with her pale arms reaching out for me will never be the one. She will never be the more I have been searching for. She will never be the enough that Philip Roth wrote about in The Professor of Desire. She isn't anything to me but another regret at the end of a long string of regrets. And, all I want from her now is to watch the wiggling of her bony little arse as she pads out the door and down the steps.

   "Why can't you love me?" she asks for the third time.

   "I'm sorry, Tatami, but you're not my type."

   "Hidoi", she whimpers. "You're terrible!"

   A genuine tear collects at the base of her right eye, such a small tear, so cute, so her, that it makes me smile. Whenever Yumi cried, the Self Defense Forces were put on alert, ready with bulldozers to act in case any innocent bystanders got caught up in the relentless flow of gunk that would ran down those heavily concealed cheeks of hers. But Tatami's tear, that solitary tear clinging to the lower edge of her eyelid, grows slowly in size, then rolls like a drop of mercury down her soft white cheek.

   When the tear falls, I giggle at the novelty of it. I've never seen someone cry this way, so controlled. I laugh again, but not out of cruelty, for I don’t mean to be cruel. I laugh at the silliness of life. Sometimes that's all you can do is laugh to help you forget how much pain you’re in.

   Tatami reiterates her low opinion of me, but rather than decide that she is wasting her time, she chooses to try endearing herself to me by lunging for my cock. When that fails, she starts swinging at me, pitiful punches that fail to connect and serve only to frustrate her further. When I wonder aloud if she was taught these tactics at finishing school, she kicks me.

   It is just too much and I start roaring with laughter.

  With great difficulty, I finally manage to push her towards the front door. She kicks and screams, her arms flail about wildly, and then just when I’ve got her halfway out the door, she tells me that she is pregnant.

  "Yeah, right!" I scoff and give her a final push out of the door.

   As I am shutting the door on her, she threatens to quit the school and to tell everyone that I am the father of her child. She threatens to follow me to America.

   It is pathetic and ugly. It is opera, very, very bad opera.

   Realizing that her threats are having little impact, Tatami changes her tone and says, "What would you do if I died?" Tears are now steaming down her cheeks. "What would you do if I died?"

   "Well, for one, I'd probably get to bed sooner."

   "Hidoi!" she screams and runs down the stairs. I can hear her steps grow distant, followed by the angry slam of the gate downstairs.


   The above was edited out of a longer version of my second novel, A Woman's Nails, the first several chapters from which can be read for free here. I am debating whether or not to reintroduce the chapter into the novel. If you have read the novel in its entirety, your imput would be greatly appreciated. 


© Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Woman's Nails is now available on Amazon's Kindle.


Shita Amé

   The other night my wife used a word I hadn't heard before: shita amé (下雨). I tried looking it up but couldn't find it in any of my dictionaries. I did, however, learn that the two characters in reverse order (雨下) was pronounced uka and meant "rain" or "raining". I'd guessed that much: there had been a downpour outside at the time.

   Now, I'd never heard uka before, either, but, taking a second look at 下雨 (shita amé) with fresh eyes I remembered that it was the same as the Chinese word for "raining", namely xià yǔ.

   It's been years since I last studied Mandarin. Nevertheless, the word was still tucked away in that cluttered pantry in my head, waiting for me to take it out and dust it off. Almost makes me want to study the language again. Almost.

   So, shita amé meant "rain". Or so I thought. When I asked my wife about it a few days later, she gave a quizzical look and said she had no idea what I was talking about.

   "Maybe you misheard."

   "I did not mishear," I insisted. "You said, shita amé."

   After a moment's thought, she had a sudden inspiration: "Ashita amé!"


   I had indeed misheard, or more precisely had not heard the first syllable "a" of her sentence. She hadn't said, shita amé, but rather ashita amé. She was telling me it was going to rain tomorrow

   Anyways, now that the rainy season is just around the corner I am reminded of a passage from my second novel A Woman's Nails:



   In Japanese, Jimé jimé is that unpleasant, sticky feeling during the rainy season when humidity's got its clammy hands all over you; mushi mushi when it damn near smothers you.

   To the Japanese ear, potan is the sound of a drop of water plopping into, say, a bucket; pota pota, the tune a leaky faucet sings; and jah jah, water gushing out of a pipe.

   The Japanese will hear potsu potsu as raindrops start falling upon dry ground; shito shito, when it drizzles; and zah zah when it pours.

   Strong winds howl with a byoo byoo making the windows of your apartment rattle, gata gata. And, thunder, when woken by the pika pika of lightning, will grumble loudly with a goro goro.

   While nuru nuru describes the slimy feel every surface has when it’s been balmy for days on end, beta beta is how your sweaty skin feels on uncomfortably jimé jimé days.

   You're dripping with sweat if you're dara dara; drenched to the skin if you're bisho bisho.

   And, while niwaka amé, you may recall, means a sudden shower, a doshaburi is a downpour; and oh-amé, a torrential rain. Konuka amé means a light mist; and kiri samé, a drizzle.

   Confused already? This is not even a potan in the baketsu. There are 1190 rain related words and phrases in the Japanese language.

   One more! Though Yûdachi, which literally means evening stand, refers to a late afternoon summer shower, you shouldn't assume that asadachi, or morning stand, means an early morning shower. Far from it, an asadachi, my friend, is sure as shootin’ the Morning Woodie.


Excerpt from A Woman's Nails. To read more here.

 © Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Woman's Nails is now available at Amazon.



After a dessert of chilled amanatsu, jelly served in the half peel of the summer orange it was made from, Abazuré says she has to return to the office. Several others take the opening my boss has given them to say they, too, have to hurry home before their children come back from elementary school. So, I'm left alone with Shizuko and our hostess, Yoko. As Shizuko fills my choko with reishu sake, Yoko brings in a basket of cherries she says arrived from Yamagata just this morning.

"Did you try the sashimi, Peador?" Yoko asks placing a handful of cherries on my plate.

"Uh, no, I didn't."

"It's out of this world," she says. "Very fresh."

"I'm sure it is," I say.

"Where did you buy it, Shizuko?"

"I didn't. It was a gift from one of my husband's patients."

"You really must try it, Peador," Yoko insists, reaching for a fresh plate behind her.

"Please, I'm fine. I . . . I've really had quite a lot to eat already."

"Mottainai. What a waste. C'mon, just a little."

"It's, um . . . It's just that . . . " Should I tell her I'm allergic? That I am a vegetarian? No, that won't work; I've been eating meat all afternoon. On a Friday, no less. Religion? Nah, the only religious bone I have in my body is the asadachi (morning woody) I stroke reverently every morning. "I'm afraid I'm not that crazy about sashimi."

Yoko wags her finger at me. "Tsk, tsk. You'll never be able to marry a Japanese woman, Peador."

"Oh? And why's that?"

She takes a long sip from her wine glass leaving a dark red smudge on the rim before speaking. "I don't think two people can be truly happy together unless they grow up eating the same food. I know a couple. Oh, you know him, Shizuko, what's his name? The Canadian . . . " she says snapping her fingers as if to conjure him up.

"John," Shizuko says. "John Williams. Works at Kyûshû University."

"Yes, well, John married a Japanese girl," Yoko continues. "When he met the family for the first time, they served him sashimi. They asked, 'John-san, can you eat sashimi?' And of course he says, he loves sashimi, but actually he couldn't stand fish. Like you, Peador."

"I didn't say I . . . "

"So, the poor girl's parents think 'Yokatta, he's just like a Japanese!' After the marriage, though, this John won't eat a bite of fish and, yappari, now they're getting divorced." Keiko takes another long drink, leaving another red smudge on the rim of the glass. "No, if you don't eat the same food, you'll have all kinds of problems. And that's why foreigners and Japanese don't get along well. I mean, if they can't eat the same food, how do they expect to be able to do anything together, desho?"

She concludes her argument as she often does with a smug look and a broad sweep of her hand slicing through any disagreement.

After all I've eaten and drunk, I don't have the energy to argue. Besides, people like Yoko, who love dominating conversations, tend not to listen to anything but their own sweet voices.

"I really like these hashi oki," I say to myself. "I didn't know you could see fireflies around here."

"You know, international marriages are bound to fail because the cultures are so different," Shizuko says. "You know that JAL pilot, Barker-san, don't you?"

"Oh, yes," Yoko says putting her wine glass down. "I had him and his wife, the poor girl, over last week." You get the feeling Yoko's home is in a perpetual state of hospitality, inviting and feeding guests, then assuring them to come again. Once gone, however, they become the fodder for that red-lipsticked, tirelessly booming cannon of hers.

She picks up a cherry, removes the stem with her long bony fingers then sucks it into the venomous red hole in her gaunt face. "I didn't tell you, Shizuko, but while Barker-san and my husband were out getting a massage, I talked with his wife. The poor girl said she didn't know what to do with him. 'He always wants to do something on his day off . . . go out, jog or hike . . . All I want to do is stay home and rest.' And just as the poor girl was sighing, Barker-san and my husband came back. And Barker, he went right up to his wife, gave her a big hug and kiss and said, 'We're so happy together!'" Yoko fills my choko with more sake, and shakes her head. "I felt so sorry for her."

"So, the fireflies,” I say. “Know any good places I can see them around here?"

"The problem with young people today," Shizuko says with contempt, "is that they want to marry for love."

This surprises me enough to bring me back into the conversation, and I ask Shizuko if she loves her husband. The two women laugh at me, making me feel foolish for asking. I didn’t know the question was so silly.

"Love," Shizuko scoffs. "Tell me, Peador, why do half of all Americans get divorced?"

I could offer her a number of reasons. Many really. But, I'm really not in the mood to go head to head with these two half-drunk, half-bitter housewives.

"It's very important to know the person you're marrying," Shizuko warns. "Love confuses you."

"Do you want to marry a Japanese girl?" Yoko asks me.

"I haven't given it much thought, to be honest. Anyways, marriage isn't the object. It's the result. If I find someone I love, who also happens to be Japanese, who knows? Maybe I'll marry her."

"You'll never be able to marry one," Yoko says refilling my choko. "You have to eat miso and rice and soy sauce as a child."

Maybe I'm blind or a sentimental dolt, but, somehow, I just cannot accept the idea that what went wrong between Mie and myself was rooted in my dislike of sashimi.

"Everyone wants to marry someone funny and cheerful," Yoko continues, spilling a drop of wine onto her linen tablecloth. "Tsk, tsk . . . She's cheerful but she couldn't cook if her life depended upon it. She buys everything from the convenience store and puts it in the microwave. Ching! Boys want girls that are fun, but they don't understand that what they really need is a wife who can cook real food and take care of children. Young people these days!"

 It was almost as if she was speaking specifically about Mie. My Mie who woke early in one morning, and walked in her pajamas to the nearest convenience store to get something for our bento. She wasn't as hopeless as Yoko might contend; she fried the chicken herself, then packed our lunches and bags before I had even gotten out of bed. When I finally stopped knitting my nightly dream, put down my needles and woke up, everything for our day at the beach had been prepared.

"It's a shame what some of the mothers fix for their children at the International School. My daughter used to trade her tempura that I woke early to make because she felt sorry for her friends. They were eating sandwiches!"

It was an outrage.


When I woke, Mie was gently stroking my head. I pulled her into my arms and kissed her soft lips. She laid down upon me, legs to each side of me, then punched the remote to invite Vivaldi into bed with us. As the hot morning sun began to brighten up the room, we made love, made love throughout the Four Seasons.

Later that morning, we drove with the top of her car open, windows down and music blaring to Umi-no-Nakamichi, a long narrow strand of sand and pines that continued for several miles until it reached a small island forming the northern edge of the Hakata Bay. Pine, sand, and sea lay on either side of the derelict two-lane road. We arrived at a small inlet, which had been roped off to keep the jellyfish away and paid a few hundred yen to one of the old women running one of the umi-no-e beach houses. Passing through the makeshift hut with old tatami floors and low folding tables we walked out to the beach which was crowded with hundreds of others who had came to do the same.

By eleven the sun was burning down on us, burning indelible tans into the backs of children. The only refuge was either the crowded umi-n0-e hut or the sea, so Mie and I took a long swim, waded in each others' arms or floated on our backs in the warm, shallow water.

Although I'd eventually get such a severe sunburn that I'd lie awake at night trembling in agony, it was one of my happiest days in Japan. On the way back to Mie’s apartment with my lobster red hand resting between her tanned thighs, I sang along to the Chagé and Aska songs playing on her stereo, making her laugh the whole way.

"I love you," she'd tell me with a long kiss when we arrived back at her place.


"What men need," Yoko repeats, "is a woman who can cook and take care of the home. Someone like your Yu-chan in the office."

The absurdity of what Yoko has just said snaps me out of my daydream. Yu, grayest of gray, as cold and bitchy as they came, may make a suitable Eva Braun for an Al Hitler, but suggesting that she'd make a good wife for me, why, that was insulting.

Yoko, reading the disagreement in my face, says, "See, Yu-chan's gloomy and, well, she isn't much to look at, but she really would make a very good wife for you, Peador. You just don't know it yet."


Excerpt from A Woman's Nails. To read more here.

© Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Woman's Nails is now available on Amazon's Kindle.


Trimming Nails - 1

If novels had director's cuts, this chapter would be in it. 


I thought an evening at home for a change would do me some good. I'd cook myself some dinner, then settle down to write the pages which had remained unwritten for too long. They'd collected in the course of days and weeks, so much so, they'd become a growing nuissance, cluttering my mind. And so, a warm meal in my belly, I sat down at my table to the long neglected task of writing another chapter in a novel that seemed to constantly rewrite itself. Pages of digressions and tangents, of love and hope, hate and despair. I opened a bottle of cheap vodka and placed it within easy reach in case inspiration became elusive. I wrote as quickly as the words could be dragged unwillingly across the sheets of paper. When I'd come to the end of the bottle and the end of my thoughts, I stretched my aching back, uncurled my numb legs from beneath me and read what had flown out of me over the last few hours.

With a rare sense of satisfaction in my heart and beginning to lose myself in the fog of drink, I retired to my futon to reread what I had written and dream of things bigger than myself lying on that thin cotton pad. I thought about the friends I missed, the friends about whom I often dreamt, about the Saturday nights two, three years before when I'd scrape together what little money I could, buy something cheap to drink then head downtown where I'd soon be staggering on all fours on the dancefloor. I missed my old friends so badly that merely visiting them in my thoughts was painful. It was even worse on nights such as these when I'd wanted nothing more than to stay at home with my thoughts and compose. Little by little the confidence I'd so strongly held on to would slip through my fingers, and the itch to get out of the thoughts that clouded my head and into the night would be enough to drive me mad.

I finished the last of my vodka and walked into town. It was an unusually warm November night, so I took my time meandering the dark and narrow streets that I had trudged/treaded in various states of insobriety a hundred or more times before in the sad, concise history of my miserable life in this city of Fukuoka.

I followed my nose, my heal and toes, to The Big Apple, a bar I hated for all the memories I wanted to disown. How many months had I tried to avoid the place? Since my heart had been thoroughly and unequivocally broken by Mie? Oh, I'd been there since then, in times not so much of weakness, but for a lack of anywhere better to go. A group of gregarious Australians brought be back into the gaijin fold and there I was gravitating to the bar as natural as if I'd always been going there. From then on, I'd pass, stick my head in from time to time to see if I knew anyone, and stay if I did. Little by little over the course of several months going would become a kind of  habit, drinking with aquaintances because real friends were not to be had, drink until five a.m. only to walk home alone, again, sometimes with the burden of heartbreak lightened, sometimes feeling as if its weight would crush me.

By the time I arrived the vodka I'd drunk had befriended me enough to warm a smile on my face and soften the furrow in my brow. I entered through the tinted glass door, then squeezed through the press of black sailor trying to endear themselves to the young Japanese girls, back on through to toilet in the rear where I found Mario. 

He gave me a genuine smile when I greeted him. We talked about things that didn't matter, insignificant things, then I asked him whether he was really Italian. He admitted that he wasn't, that he was Iranian, something that neither the Japanese nor the Americans would easily accept. I sat down next to him on the step and talked to him about history and culture, the Japanese and ignorance. It was one of the best conversations I'd had with another foreigner, though we'd had it in Japanese, and when I stood up to go I felt as if I'd broken through the insufferably thick layer of ice that most foreigners protected themselves with.

Many foreigners maintain a distance between themselves and others, perhaps from arrogance, perhaps from the knowledge that most of us in Japan are only here for a short time and developing any friendships outside the usual circle is a waste of time and energy. I wasn't innocent, I'd been harboring similar sentiments and had been handicapped by a selectivity that had prevented me from investing myself in relationships often because of severely limited choices. Therein lay the root of my problems. Torn between a real and concrete loneliness and a paucity of acquaintances from which to develop friendships. 

When I went back into the mob of mutually exclusive groups, dancing couples and the occasional loner like myself, I found Brian, an American whom I'd met in my neighborhood only a few weeks earlier. I'd thought he'd left and told him so. "Nah, I can't leave until I've sold everything." By everything, he meant drugs. Hash, X, pot. The night we first met in my neighborhood, I invited him back to my apartment where he got me high for the first time in ages. He offered to treat me again. I couldn't refuse and followed him out of the Big Apple and across the street to a different building where we took the elevator to the top floor, ascended a short flight of stairs to the roof and smoked hash for the next half hour.

Despite his generosity, he was in a sour mood. He mentioned that Patrick, the Swede I had originally met him with, had ripped him off, but that really wasn't what was bothering him. In his line of business, he was used to people trying to rip him off. He'd never trusted the guy in the first place, and besides it was only money, something he seemed to have no shortage of. 

We talked about all sort of things, going off on tangeants to see where they'd take us, and suddenly in the middle of our discussion on biblical myths such as the virgin birth he said, "God, what am I doing with my life? I haven't been home in eight years. I'm a fucking drug-dealer. Sometimes I just wish the police would fucking arrest me . . . "

There was nothing I could say but suggest we go back to the bar and get another drink.

When we returned to the Big Apple, we found Patrick dancing with two foreign women. I suspect that someone as tall, blonde and gregarious as him had little trouble getting laid by the sexually frustrated foreign women you inevitably found in the gaijin bars. He could have them as far as I was concerned; I'd lost interest long ago.

Brian and I got our drinks and stood to the side of the dance area continuing the conversation we'd been having earlier. "Nothing interests me anymore . . . I've seen it, I've done it, I've been there already . . . Eighty countries, man. I've been to eighty countries in the last eight years, but I haven't been home . . . "

"Wooh!" Patrick was dancing with the two foreign girls, with bare arms raised above him twirling in the air. "Yeah!"

"Look at that idiot," Brian scoffed. "Thinks he's the reincarnation of Jim Morrison."

Patrick took turns kissing the two girls who clung on him. If the girls had been remotely attractive, I might have been envious of the tall Swede rather than merely disgusted. 

"Oh, Yeah!" he said and began clapping above his head. "Mmmm, yeah!"  I suppose he wanted us to clap along with him, but no one did. Even the others who'd been dancing stopped, turning away as if they were embarrassed by the spectacle he was making of himself. A lack of audience was no matter; he continued hamming it up all the same. 

"A true artist is never really appreciated," I said to Brian. 

"Especially, a con artist."

 Just then someone tapped my shoulder. When I turned around, I found Aya. I didn't think I'd ever see her again after I'd moved closer into town. Six months had passed since we last met when she had tried to communicate through a verse in the Book of Mormon that she was in love with me. 


"I lost your address when I moved," I said hugging her. "It's so good to see you again."

I bought her a drink, then sat down at the bar with her so we could talk about everything that had happened since that warm Sunday afternoon in April.

"I often thought about you," I said taking her hand. It wasn't entirely true, though. I couldn't say that I had really consciously thought of her. I wondered what she was doing or where she was. And it wasn't that often that curiosity would make me wonder about her. No, it was on only the rarest of occasions that she would visit my passing thoughts. Drunk as I was, it was tempting to even say that I'd missed her. But then the thin veil of credibility I was wearing would have been torn off.

Why hadn't I contacted her? Was it because of her age? She was only fifteen the first time we met, sixteen when I ejaculated all over her breasts six months ago. No, age never factored into the equation. Too young wasn't necessarily a minus. Not in Aya's case, at least. Had she been older, I might not have given her the time of day. No, Aya's age, and the breasts she'd been so generously endowed with were all that had ever interested me. But at the time my heart still carried the unhealed wound of Mie's departure from my life. Though the wound hadn't quite healed, time had allowed me to put her absence further and further from my mind. I'd grown used to the feeling nothing the way you can get used to the silence. I suppose I hadn't contacted Aya because I still wanted desperately to fall in love with someone again, but now all I wanted was to fuck like a dog.

"I had a birthday," she said.

"Oh, you did? Congratulations! So, you're now what? Twelve? Thirteen?" She punched me softly in the shoulder. Really, what did another birthday mean when you were so young? Only that you were still young. I turned twenty-seven since we had last met. A year closer to thirty. A year closer to death.

"You don't know how old I am, do you?" she asked.

I knew. How could I forget coming on the breasts of a sixteen year old? Coming on a girl ten years younger than myself. The thought had made me smile, had even warmed me on the odd cold night. She was seventeen now. "Yeah, I know," I replied. "You're seventeen."

 She asked me where I was living now. She asked me if I had a girlfriend, but didn't believe me when I said I didn't. I didn't believe myself, to tell the truth. It'd been more than a year since I'd had a proper one.

"I have a boyfriend," she confessed. "He's black."

I took Aya by the hand to the back of the bar, then through the fire escape to the exposed stairwell then led her up the ten flights to the roof where I tried to kiss her. 

"You just want to have sex with me," she said, pushing me away.

"What ever gave you that idea?" I asked. I turned away from her and looked across Oyafukô-dôri to the building where Brian and I had shared a spliff earlier. I could barely make out what looked like the ember of a joint rising, glowing brightly, then dimming and falling slightly. It looked like a firefly. 

Aya had accused me of just wanting to screw her. Of course, I wanted to have sex. Would I have been up on the roof catching a cold with the girl I didn't really care a whole hell about if I weren't interested in sex? No way! Wake up, Aya! Reality awaits you! 

"Aya, I don't want to have sex. I just want to be with you." I took her into my arms again and held her tightly. "I don't want to have sex," I said kissing her neck. "I don't want to have sex," I said biting her neck and feeling the weight of her breast in my hand.

I did want to have sex. But I wanted something more, too. Something that she would have never been able to give me. Aya would never know anything about that, of course. I wasn't about to open up a Pandoran box of emotions before the girl.


We descended the stairs and walked hand in hand back to the bar which was deserted all but for the staff who were starting to clean up. Looking at the clock I saw that it was almost five. Where the hell had the time gone? We couldn't have been on the roof for more than half an hour and I'd arrived at the bar around midnight so I had two, no three hours that I couldn't account for. Or could I? Had they merely drifted off into heaven with the smoke each time I took a hit off Brian's spliff? No, time had only been slightly compromised by the hash I had smoked, and been made completely forgetable by the drinks that Aya had been ordering and placing one after the other before me. A few weeks later Brian would say, "It's not often you see a chick trying so hard to get a guy drunk so she could fuck him." 

"Live and learn." I would reply.

Aya and I jumped into a taxi and headed back to my place where I lost no time in getting undressed, lying in bed and falling fast asleep.

A few hours later I was woken by Aya. 

"Wh-what the fu . . . ?"

"You're snoring and I can't sleep."

"Huh? Me? Snoring?"

"Yeah, you. You're really loud."

"Nah, not me."

"Yes, you."

"I don't snore."

"You do, too!" She imitated me. It sounded like a boar in the throes of death. She crawled above me and grabbed my neck. "I want to kill you."

"So kill me," I said slowly pulling her sweater up and over her head. 

Although her forhead and nose were just as tan as they'd been in April, her shoulders were milky white as if they had never once been kissed by the sun. Under the sweater her huge breasts were held in place by a simple cream colored bra. Some girls with smaller breasts were able to get by with a single clasp, others with more shapely figures reguired two. Aya's breasts, however, were precariously contained with three industrial sized clasps which groaned with stress fatigue. While I might have been able to undo a single clasp bra with a adroit snap of my thumb and index, undoing Aya's bra was a major undertaking requiring a foreman, joices, pullies and hard hats. When the last of the third clasp had given way, I could feel the weight of her generous bosom drop heavily onto my chest. 

It was amazing how firm they were, how small and pink her nipples were, but then she was only sixteen. Seventeen, that is. What was the age of consent in Japan? Who knew? Who cared? Why was I even asking questions? All I wanted was to fuck Aya, but not necessarily because I wanted her. No, I wanted to fuck so that I might forget, to fuck myself into a reprieve, to put yet another body between the memory of Mie and myself. And so we fucked, fucked for hours, fucked as the morning light was beginning to sneak into my room, as the sound of pidgeons and crows was beginning to break the silence of a Sunday morning, fucked until the odd car could be heard passing slowly by, fucked until the voices of children and their mothers reminded us of the time, fucked until I came again into the deep valley between those majestic peaks.

I rolled off of Aya and fell asleep. When I woke up, she was dressed and in the kitchenette doing my dishes. Great country, I thought. When she finished, she hung up the dish towel on its hook and sat down on the bed beside me. 

"You have gray hairs," she said running her fingers through my hair.

"Thank you!"

"I'm supposed to meet my boyfriend today, but I don't feel like it."

"So don't." I pulled her towards me and kissed her, then took her hand and bringing it under the covers, placed it on my cock. "Why don't you stay with me?"  She nodded her head slightly, then proceeded to remove her clothes.

I suppose it was her age. This poor girl had been blessed with a body that demanded and got your attention, yet lack of experience meant that she hadn't yet learned how to use the gifts the gods had given her. She straddled me, then waited for sex to happen. When it did, she never let go of her composure the way that Rika would. Rika was lost in epiphanies each time we had sex. One day, I thought as Aya whimpered softly above me, she'd be a great lover, but I didn't have the patience to teach her. The excitement you might feel screwing someone so much younger than yourself fades sooner than you'd think. I lay Aya down on her side and tried to evoke something more than the pathetic whimpering, but success was elusive so I gave up and consentrated on myself, instead, and before long my own pleasure produced a short strand of pearls on her back. 

We took a shower together to wash the smell of each other's sex off our skins. I shampooed her hair, then later dried her body with a towel. We returned to my bed where she cleaned my ears with a mimikaki. It was the first time since I'd dated Mie that anyone had done that for me. It was one less memory Mie could no longer monopolise. 


We spent the afternoon in Dazaifu, visiting the famous Tenmangû Shrine. I'd suggested going as I'd been wanting to see the Japanese maples at the nearby Komyoji temple. And with the Shichi Go San soon approaching, I knew there'd be many parents taking their dolled up children to the shrine to pray for their health and happiness. More than anything, I wanted to go to Dazaifu ostensibly to see these children and take their photos, but there was a deeper wish, too, a wound that hadn't yet healed. Looking at the little girls in their colorful kimono, with their black hair combed up in hoops and ornaments and flowers dangling out in every which way, their skin white with powder and small lips as red as pickled plums on a bowl of steamed rice. Looking at them when they were so adorable like this made me think of the children I could have had, but had so far chosen not to. The reasons for past decisions, though made with the best intentions, and often the only choices I could make at the time, could hardly comfort when I look into the bright eyes of these children.

"They're so cute," I said to Aya. Would she have understood how the regret stung when I looked into their precious faces? 

We sat down on a low bench that was covered with red carpeting and ordered umegamochi manjû and green tea. Aya ran her fingers through my gray hairs.

"Everytime you do that you make me feel old."

"I like older men."

"Yeah? Why's that?"

"I don't know. They're more interesting, I guess." She placed her hand on mine and rested her cheek on my shoulder. "I think you're interesting, too."

A three-year-old girl walked clumsily by in her platform zori. Her kimono was more decorative than the others I'd seen and there was a collar of white fur around her neck. She looked at me, turning her head as she passed, then paused and waved her short fingers before continuing awkwardly on her way.

When I told Aya that I wanted a child she replied, "You are a child." It was true and I knew it, knew it all too well, but coming from a high school girl ten years my junior made it all the more ironic. Hardly a day passed when I didn't ask myself if I would ever manage to grow up and do the things that I, myself, and so many others had been expecting me to do. But as often as I thought about it I could never quite come to choose between living life one day at a time without regard to the consequences of my actions and without concern for what others were expecting, and giving in to those pressures and leading a responsible, normal life. As lonely as I was, as keenly as I still felt the solitude of being so far from family, friends and love, I did not live entirely within a vaccuum isolated from the world and people around me. My breath fell upon others both near and remote, upon Aya next to me on my shoulder and Mie so far away, but still in my heart. My thoughts return to the fulcrum upon which my emotions are balanced. Love. Love found. Love lost. Love killed. Love desired. Love. Love. Love.


© Aonghas Crowe, 2011. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Woman's Nails is now available on Amazon's Kindle.

Read more excerpts from A Woman's Nails here: