A Woman's Nails

Laying the Past to Rest, One Woman at a Time.





8. Reina


"If you're just having sex with me, I want you to stop it," she says, shoving me once her hands are free.

Her brown hair is matted against her face and neck. When I try to brush it away, she slaps at my hand.

Her wrists are red, with deep braided indentations in them, and on her tummy are drops of semen, scattered like a broken strand of pearls.

She turns away from me, and faces the wall. The sweat of our bodies has soaked through the sheets to the futon, forming an unnavigable body of perspiration between us.

It's not that I'm "just having sex" with her, but then it's not quite love that I am making, either.

So Peador, what are you doing still screwing her? I don't know. I really don't know. And I don't know what to say to calm her anger or reassure her. All I can do is try to make a gesture of affection, to kiss her tenderly on her back and pull her closer to me.

"But," she says, softening, "if you want something more . . . "

I kiss her on the lips, then maneuver above her, gently spreading her legs and easing inside her for the third time this morning . . .


© 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.



7. Mie

When I turn around and look towards the entrance I notice Mie standing on the sidewalk just outside the entrance of Mr. Donuts. She hasn't seen me yet, so I wait a moment before exiting. She is as beautiful as I've remembered her, painfully so, and every little thing I adored about her rushes back to me, that tsunami of memories washing over me again.

How on earth did I ever expect to move on, let alone fall in love with someone else, when that woman, that unforgettable woman standing there, was the one who had broken my heart?

I have to suppress the urge to run outside and hold onto her so tightly that she'll never be able to leave me again. Taking a deep breath, I take a step towards the automatic doors. As they open I softly call out her name, "Mie-chan," but she doesn't hear me. My heart is in my throat, pounding away madly, stifling any sound. I could almost cry. "Mie-chan."

She turns towards me and says, "Oh-chan."

It’s been months since anyone called me Oh-chan. Tears threaten to well up in my eyes. I take a step towards her, my hand extended. She takes it, the touch warm, familiar and comforting. It’s as if I had been holding it all this time.

"Hisashiburi ne," I say. Been a long time, hasn't it.

"Ne." She looks me as if to take an inventory of this former lover of hers. "You've lost weight, haven't you?"

"It's not the only thing I've lost, Mie-chan."

"You've gone and cut you're hair, too. It's so much nicer when it's longer, Oh-chan. It's so . . . "

"Messy, I know."

"No, no. It was curly . . . Adorable. I really liked it long." I want to hold her and kiss her and tell her how much love her, how much I've missed her, how much . . . But before I have the chance, she turns to beckon a young woman over. "I've, um, invited a friend along. Yuki-chan. We work together. I guess I should have told you, but, well, she wanted to meet you."

"Meet me?"

This Yuki-chan skips over to us, a bright smile on her pretty face.

"Hajimemashite," I say to her with a slight bow.

“Wow!" she says. “You’re Japanese is really good.”

After introducing us quickly, Mie says,"Ikimashôka," so we leave, following her down the street past the cute CABIN cigarette campaign girl, the warabi mochi vendor who's now standing behind his pick-up serving a customer, and an Israeli selling cheap jewelry on the sidewalk. The Israeli nods at me, and Mie's co-worker asks if he's my friend. I reply that I've never seen him before in my life, which the girl finds enormously entertaining. It keeps her tittering for a while just as it had done to Mie a year ago.

Mie leads us through a cracked tinted glass door into a well-known bar on the first floor of a run-down karaoke building called the Big Apple where the cheap beer and even cheaper women attract South American men and boys up from the Navy base in Sasebo like flies to warm shit.

We sit under a canopy of black lights and neon beer signs on precariously high stools around a narrow table that wobbles. Yuki is wide-eyed and bubbling over with childish excitement; she's never been to a gaijin bar, she tells me and asks if I come here a lot. This is precisely what I'd like to ask of Mie because the thought of her hanging out at grotty gaijin bars like this all these months since she dumped me is disturbing.

"No, I've never been here before," I reply. While it is a relief to learn that Mie, too, is a virgin of sorts, the unsettlingly vivid image of her hanging out here and flirting with men, particularly other foreign men, is now seared into my mind. I've never been the jealous type; this is a new emotion for me.

"It's just like America," Yuki says earnestly, compelling me to ask her whether she's been. "Me? No, never. I haven't even been to Tôkyô."

"Yuki wants to go to America," Mie informs me. "I told her she should go to Portland."

“I wanna go, wanna go, wanna go!" Yuki cries. The girl wants to go so badly she can barely contain herself.

Mie asks if I've been home since . . . since, well, you-know-when . . . since we last met.

"To Portland? Nah, not yet."

"No? I'm surprised to hear that."

Me, too. Time flies when you're having fun. "It's been over a year now. Thirteen months."

"Eh? Thirteen months? Aren't you homesick?" Yuki asks.

"Sometimes, yes . . . But, not right now."

"Ne, have you got a girlfriend,” Yuki says.

The question was bound to come up sooner or later, but now that it has I don't know how to reply with Mie sitting next to me. When I hesitate to answer, Mie tells her, "Oh-chan says he doesn't have a girlfriend, but I don't believe him."

"No way!” Yuki says.


Yuki, I'm now told, doesn't have a boyfriend, either, obliging me to register similar disbelief at the revelation. “Unbelievable! Yuki, you're much too cute to not have a boyfriend."

I do try to be polite.

Yuki then says something that surprises me: there aren't enough men in Fukuoka. And as if to refute any doubt she supports this dubious claim with statistics: "You know there is only one man for every eight women in this city? Maybe I should move to Tôkyô."

Hearing this from someone as adorable as this Yuki here ought to be like music to my ears, but to be honest, all I really care to listen to is that sweet old melody sung once more from Mie's soft lips that dear old Tetsu is no longer a leading character in her life pageant. Unfortunately, Mie seems to have lost her voice.

I take my box of Hope cigarettes and Mie's lighter out of my pocket, remove a cigarette and light up.

"Ah, I was wondering where that went," Mie says of the lighter.

"You left it behind," I say handing it to her.

"Is it really okay?”

"Of course, it is yours, after all."

"Yeah, I guess it is, isn't it. Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

Mie removes a pack of Mild Sevens from her handbag, lights up, and before the two of us can become pensive, Yuki bails us out of the sinking mood by suggesting we order something to drink. Mie says she'll get it and stands up leaving me alone with Yuki.

The girl is still somewhat gaijin struck, giggling like a teenager whenever I look at her. I don't know why it is, but some Japanese just can't help themselves when they meet foreigners. Given half a chance, they'll rattle off an arbitrarily arranged list of silly questions which form a hurdle you're obliged to clear before something resembling a true conversation can take place. And so while Mie is away fetching the drinks, Yuki asks whether I like sushi or those god-awful fermented soybeans called natto that smell of week old gym socks. She wants know whether I can use ohashi (chopsticks) or read the hiragana script, and so on until Mie rescues me with a Corona.

Mie shows Yuki what to do with the wedge of lime, then we clink the necks of the bottles together. "Kampai!"

"Natsukashii ne," Mie says, remembering the times we drank it at her apartment last summer.

"Ne," I say. Just looking at the slim clear bottle stirs up so many fond memories. The weekends spent with Mie in Fukuoka, the drives to the beach, the evenings drinking in her apartment, the wild drunken sex all night and the mornings nursing our hangover with Pocari Sweat only to do it all over again until Tuesday mornings when it was back to work in god-forsaken Kitakyushu. "Natsukashii ne."

Yuki asks me why I came to Japan, another standard question people here are always itching to put to me. The Japanese seem to like simple, predictable and preferably concise answers when engaging someone in small talk, communicating abstract ideas or revealing things too personal doesn't quite go down well, so I brush the question courteously aside, "It's a long story."

"I'd like to hear it," Yuki says. “Tell me, tell me, tell me!”

"Me, too," says Mie.

It occurs to me only now that Mie never knew why I came to or what I wanted to do once here in Japan. Oh, I'm sure I must have tried to explain, but a year ago my Japanese was an embarrassment. To her, I must have appeared little more than a shiftless, albeit romantic, wanderer. How different I must have been from her Tetsu who had become a policeman, because, well, his father and grandfather and, who knows, maybe even his great grandfather had also been policemen. If Tetsu’s father had jumped off a bridge, I wonder if he would have taken a swan dive off it, as well? When I had asked Mie, somewhat rudely I later regretted, why on earth she had ever been interested in marrying a cop, she replied matter-of-factly: for stability. Mie often did that to me, offered an answer that would just stop me in my tracks. What about love and romance, inspiration, or even fate, I protested. In this economy, she explained, those are luxuries a woman can't afford. Once, when I learned that Mie's mother had had her learn the piano and cello, I asked her if she would do the same with her own children. Of course, she would. For shitsuke, she added and started thumbing through a tattered Japanese-English dictionary.

For aesthetic pleasure, I wondered out loud, in order to develop a deep and long-lasting love of music? Nah, don't be so naïve, Peador. Finding the word in the dictionary, Mie handed it to me and pointed at the entry. Shitsuke, I discovered, meant "discipline." As much as I loved Mie, as painful as her absence has been, it's hard to continue denying what I had already realized but had difficulty accepting: the uncomfortable fact that I never really knew Mie and Mie knew even less about me.


So, I have to go into the long and tired tale of how Peador had wanted to be an architect and designer, but after finishing university, didn't have the means to continue onto a master's program thanks to a mountain of student loan debt accruing at ten percent and unsupportive parents who believed the school of hard knocks would make their son a stronger person despite his pleading that he it wasn't strong that he wanted to be, it was employable. The reason I came to Japan, I then tell my small but captivated audience, was two-fold, that is if you exclude the burning desire to escape from my family and America: to save money for graduate school and, if possible, learn more about Japanese design and architecture. "You know, niseki iccho," I say in conclusion.


"Niseki icchô," I say again and pantomime throwing an invisible rock at two imaginary birds until I realize that what I'm actually saying is "two rocks, one bird." Though this may be a far more accurate description of my experience in this country so far, isn't quite what I meant to convey, so I correct myself: "Isseki, nichô."

Yuki praises my Japanese, exclaiming how jôzu! it is, but, to be honest, I think she's just dickin’ with me. Mie says she had no idea.

"The problem is, though, my train kind of . . . derailed, if you will. I wasn't able to do any of the things I expected to do during my first year here."

"Ôen suru ken," they reply, telling me they'll be rooting for me, so I should "ganbatte!" I shouldn't give up. I assure them that I don't give up easily. I wouldn’t still be here today if I did.

After drinking the bar dry of Coronas the three of us switch to whiskey and waters. I know I'm going to regret it tomorrow morning, but I'm still hoping for a repeat performance of that first night ever with Mie, hoping that even if words fail me, then perhaps alcohol will succeed as it has in the past in loosening this ex-girlfriend of mine up.

It is unfortunately obvious, though, that Mie has her own ideas of how she'd like the evening to end. She never gets very personal, never lets on to what is happening in her life, whether she is still with Tetsu. Not once does she even drop a hint about our common past. Instead, Mie tries her best to sell me on this co-worker of hers, and even informs me that Yuki has an apartment of her own, a nice place not far from Tenjin, that I ought to visit.

Yuki seconds this. "Yes, yes. By all means, do come over anytime." She writes her phone number on the back of a business card, and after making me promise to call her, excuses herself to stagger off to the restroom. Mie and I are alone for the first time all evening.

"I think Yuki likes you."

"Humph, that's nice to know."

It's hard to hide my lack of enthusiasm. I mean, sweet as the girl is, she just isn't Mie. She can't even begin to compare; this ex-girlfriend of mine set the bar too goddamn high.

"She your type?"

"My type?" I'm almost drunk enough that I could smack Mie for asking. "I think you already have an idea what my type is like."

"She's a good person. I think she'd make a nice girlfriend for you."

"Do you now?"

"Yes, I do. I really do think you'd make a nice couple."

"You really believe that's why I wanted to see you tonight? So I could meet someone new?"

"It's just . . . You sounded so . . . I don't know . . . so sad and lonely over the phone."

"I was . . . I still am sad and lonely, Mie-chan. But dating someone like your Yuki isn't going to help me in that department."

"Why not?"

"Why not? What are you? Stupid?" I drink the rest of my whiskey quickly. Some of it trickles out of the corner of the glass, runs down my chin and neck. I grab her hand which she's done a fabulous job of keeping out of my reach and taking a deep breath to keep myself from exploding, begin, "I'm sorry, Mie. It's been a long, long, long fucking time since we last met. I don't know how you've spent the last six months, but, let me tell you, I've thought about you each and every day since you left me. And as sad and lonely as I've been, I've managed to carry this foolish hope in my heart that maybe, just maybe if I became a better person or if circumstances changed, if fortune deigned to smile rather than shit upon me for once, then you and I could be together again and everything would be alright. And here we are finally together again and you can't wait to pawn me off on someone else."

"That wasn't my intention."

"You know what your friend Yuki is?"

"No, what?"

"She's a consolation prize. She's a consolation prize when I want you, you, you and no one but you so badly I can barely look at another woman without being reminded of how much I miss you."

"I feel sorry for you."



© 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.



6. Reina


All day Sunday, my co-worker Reina helps me move out of the condo deep in the suburbs of Fukuoka and into the new apartment closer to work, an effort taking most of the day because of the size of her car necessitates two trips.

Reina drives a Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. When I ask her if she knows what Pajero means, she says she doesn't, that she loves the car so much she wouldn't care if it meant dust box. She means trash can, but after lugging things from the eighth floor condominium I don't really feel like correcting her English.

"I'm only going to tell you because you said it wouldn't affect the way you feel about your wonderful little car here, but Pajero meansmasturbate in Spanish."



"How embarrassing."

"I'm sorry to be the one to have told you. Why, of all the things, why  would they ever name a car that?"

"Maybe they liked the sound of it."

My new apartment is on the fourth and top floor of a medium-sized concrete-and-tile building. It's representative of the crap that was thrown up during the bubble economy. The real estate boom of the 1980’s had every knucklehead with a bit of cash burning a hole in his pocket building on any old plot of land they could get their hands on with the expectation that prices would keep going up and up.

The apartment building was apparently built on land that used to be the landlord's mother's garden. Her dilapidated wooden house remains, uninhabited and leaning, as if from fatigue and shortness of breath, against the building. Thanks to the apartment towers rising fifteen-stories high to the southeast, south and west, most the sunlight is blocked. The whole house languishes in a damp and perpetual shade with the exception of one northern wall that gets a flash of sun in the afternoon. The wall is covered with a thick coat of ivy that has invaded the slats of wood and worked its way to the clay beneath it. The tiled roof, black with slime, is slowly disintegrating, the shattered remains of tiles and mortar litter the ground below the eves in a narrow mossy ditch, like dandruff on an old man's boney shoulders.

Near the house and sharing the same sliver of noonday sun is a small Shinto shrine. A stray black and white cat with bobbed tail passes through the miniature red torii gate and crawls into a space under the shrine, disappearing into the darkness underneath.

The apartment itself is unremarkable. Shaped like an L, with a kitchen nook and an adjacent utility room and bathroom just off the long and narrow living room area, but is redeemed by an exceptionally large balcony that overlooks an oasis of green: the vast garden belonging to one of the few houses remaining in the neighborhood.

My new apartment, though not as comfortable as the condominium I've just given up, comes with enough amenities--a washer and dryer, a small fridge, an air conditioner and even a toilet equipped with a heated seat and bidet--that I don't feel as if I'm sliding back into the same kind of impoverished squalor I had to endure the year I lived in Kitakyushu City.

Even Reina thinks I was lucky to get it. She would say so: it was her, after all, who found the apartment for me.

Reina and I end up spending the whole day together, precisely what I hoped would happen when she first offered to help. At a time when loneliness has been suffocating, the half hour I spend alone with her at the end of each workday has been like pure oxygen.

My desire to be with Mie aside, I might even have asked Reina out if it weren't for the fact that I was standing at the very end of a discouragingly long queue, hands dug deep into my pockets and looking stupid just like all the other men who were infatuated with her.

Reina locks up her Mitsubishi Jerk-off as I carry the last of my things up the four flights of stairs. She follows behind me, pausing to check my mailbox. Once in the apartment, she hands me a pile of flyers.

I sit down on the hardwood floor, back against one of the sliding glass doors that open on to the balcony. She takes the place next to me, sitting close enough that our sweaty arms and legs touch.

There's menu from a pizza delivery company called, God only knows why, Pizza Pockets.

"I hope they don't actually carry the pizza their pockets," I say.

"Maybe they stay warmer that way."

"The pizza? Or the delivery boy?”

Reina laughs and her head comes to rest against my shoulder.

I ask her if you have to pay extra for the lint.

"The what?"

"Nothing, nothing,” I say. “You feeling hungry?"

She nods. I’d offer to cook for her if I'd had a scrap of food, let alone any pots or pans, in the apartment. She says I needn't bother, that it would be easier to eat out at a restaurant in the neighborhood or have something delivered.

I continue sifting through the junk mail for other restaurants that deliver and come across a small sheet of paper with some kind of list printed on both sides. At the top of the page is a starburst with the boldfaced message: 5 videos for only 10,000 yen!!! With all the Chinese characters, I can hardly read it. Still, I don’t need to tax my imagination to figure it out: it’s a list of porn titles.

"I think I'll keep this one," I say.

"Here's one you might like," Reina says, pointing at one of the titles. "Lolicon Delux. Six dô sukebe High School Girls."

"I know sukebe what means, but dô sukebe?"

"Very very sukebe."

"Six Very, Very Horny High School Girls. I see. And what about this one?" I ask pointing at a porn title written entirely in Chinese characters.

Reina tilts her head for a moment, then translates: "Sexually Frustrated, Explosion Breasts Step-Mother."

"Explosion Breast Step-Mother? Hmm, intriguing, but I think I'll pass. How about this?"

Midara-na Te OL. Hmmm. Lascivious Hand Office Ladies?"

"What on earth is the lascivious hand?"

"Onanî," she replies matter-of-factly.

I get the impression that I'm supposed to understand what onanî means and feel stupid that I don't. "Onanî?"

"Yes, onanî. That's English, right?"

"Does onanî sound like English to you?"

"No, now that you say so, it doesn't, but . . . I just assumed it was English because it's always written in katakana."

"What does it mean, anyways? Curious minds want to know!"


"Good Lord!” And then it comes to me like a flash of inspiration. “Oh, now I get it. Onanî means onanism!"

"I told you it was English."

"Yeah, but nobody says onanism. Masturbating Office Ladies. Very nice."

Among other things, there is a pamphlet for something called "Blue Juice," a nauseating concoction of herbs and wild grasses that is supposed to be good for you, a menu from an udon restaurant, and several full-colored flyers from a "Delivery Health" service advertising call girls.

Reina asks me if I know what the postcard-sized flyers are called.

I take a stab in the dark, "The Good News?"

"No, they're called pinku chirashi." Pink flyers.

"Why pink?"

Because, I’m told, the color pink has long been associated with pornography, prostitution, and such.

"Interesting,” I say. “In the US, the color blue is."

"They're called blue flyers in America?"

"No, no, no. Not the flyers, the industry. As far as I know, we don't have these in the States. You put something like this in the wrong person's mailbox and you're liable to get arrested or sued by some nutty Christian."

"Sued? Whatever for?"

"Because he'll claim he'd been emotionally traumatized just finding it in."

"Americans are stupid," Reina says.

One of the pinku chirashi features a dozen girls posing in a variety of lingerie or costumes, such as a stewardess and policewoman. Most of them have hidden their identity by covering their faces with their hands.

The vitals of each are given, including their "name," age, height, proportions and cup size, along with a short comment. 19 year old Momo here with the E-cups is "Very Good!!!" 172cm-tall Sumire is "Dynamite!" Aya is a "New Face!" Eighteen-year-old Nana might be a little needy in the chest department, but the flyer assures me that she is "Very, Very Popular!" And oh, yes, you "can AF" the 23-year-old Natsu, if you like! AF? Why anal fuck, of course. The girls will come to your home, hotel room, anywhere you like. But wait there’s more! All of the girls are "Amateurs."

Yeah, right.

I place the pinku chirashi on the "keep" pile, saying, "You never know when they might come in handy."

"Have you ever done it?" Reina asks.

"Done what?"

She points to the pinku chirashi.

"With a prostitute? No, never."

"Really? Why not? A friend of mine went after winning seventy thousand yen at the boat races. He spent it all at soapland."

"Seventy thousand yen! Just to get laid? What a waste!"

"Not to him. He said it was like he had died and gone to heaven."

I don't know about Reina, but with all this talk of soapland, “delivery health” and adult videos, I tempted to give into the “lascivious hand” myself.

"Your gas is switched on, isn't it?" Reina asks getting off the floor.

"Yeah, I think so. Why?"

"Well, I'm really sweaty and would like to take a shower. If you don't mind, that is."

"Mind? No, not at all. I was thinking of taking one myself."

My heart is racing like a hummingbird's, my head is light with the titillating possibilities suddenly arrayed before me. "W-w-why don't you go ahead and h-h-hop into the shower first. I'll get you a towel."

Reina disappears behind the half curtain in the entrance to the utility room where she starts to undress. As I open a box looking for my towels, I catch a glimpse of her jeans dropping to her ankles, then her panties. My heart is in my throat, pounding away mercilessly. My hands shake. After I hear her enter the bathroom and turn on the water, I enter the utility room, dizzy with excitement, and place the towels atop the washing machine. The shower door hasn't been completely shut offering me a long slice of her slim body. I can't help but look. I stare shamelessly at her right leg and soft right buttock, her narrow waist and back, the light brown curls that fall on her square shoulder. She suddenly turns around, sending me scrambling clumsily out of the utility room and knocking the curtain down.


I try to answer, but lust has made my mouth go dry.

The water is turned off, the shower door opens abruptly, and Reina pokes her head out of the utility room.

"Peador, there's no hot water."

She emerges from the utility room wrapped in a towel, and after hanging the curtain back up, walks into the kitchen, where a moment later exclaims, "Atta, atta! Here it is."

I'm moved by curiosity to follow her wet footprints into the kitchen where I find her crouched down and turning a valve under the sink. Her pale bottom peeks out from beneath the towel. Turning her head, she notices me gawking down at her, and says, "What you looking at?"


She closes the cabinet door, then stands and presses a button on the wall making a small green light come on. A second red light turns on when she lets water in the kitchen sink run.

"Yosh," she says, turning around. "You've got hot water now."

"So that's how you turn me . . . er, it on."

Reina’s maddeningly gorgeous, and I can barely keep myself from ripping the thin terrycloth towel off, and burying my face in her crotch.

The only thing stopping me, however, is tomorrow night's date with Mie.

Nevertheless, I’m like a volatile gas. All that is needed is one tiny spark--an inviting touch, or a half step that would bring our bodies closer-- then, I wouldn't have an excuse to keep from pulling her into my arms. I wouldn't have to hold back the kisses. All it would take is one small caress to ignite me. One kiss, and I'd burn this apartment building to the ground.

Reina takes that precious half step forward, her body just brushes mine and my erection is peering out of the front left pocket of my Levis like a periscope. But nothing happens. I'm frozen, unable to move. Paralyzed with indecision, all I manage to do is let a pathetic little gasp of air out as she passes.

I'm a buffoon, an impotent buffoon.

I should grab Reina’s arm, tug at the towel so it falls to the floor, and do exactly what I've had a mind to do all day. My hand rises. It's an involuntary reaction; my instincts, God love 'em, are finally kicking in! But just as my finger grazes her arm, I catch a glimpse of Mie's pajamas in the clear plastic container . . .



© 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.



5. Machiko


Moshi moshi?”

“Hello. Is Chris there?” asks a soft, barely audible voice.

“No, he isn’t,” I reply, turning the TV down.

“Is this Peador?”


“This is Machiko.” It’s Chris’s girlfriend.

“Oh, hi, Machiko.”

“Do you know where Chris is?” she asks timidly.


My roommate is an affable enough person, but seldom has much to say to me whenever we happen to find ourselves at the condominium at the same time.

She asks if I am alone, what I’m doing, what my plans are for the weekend. Why the sudden interest in old Peador, I wonder. Is this Machiko a player? Is the quiet demeanor just a ruse?

“Yes,” I reply.

“I don’t believe you,” she says.

“I really am alone, whether you believe it or not.”

“You have a lot of girlfriends, don’t you?”

I’ve been getting this a lot. I tell her I’m not seeing anyone in particular.

“Chris and I, we saw you Saturday evening with a girl. You were holding hands.”

Saturday night? Holding hands?

“Oh, them,” I say. “They’re just friends.”

Two former students of mine had come down from Kitakyushu to see me. Sweet girls, both of them, terribly kind, but hardly my cup of tea.

“We were drunk,” I offer as an explanation. I had completely forgotten about that.

“And I saw you with a high school girl near the park before that. You were holding her hand, too.”

Holding hands with Aya? Now that I definitely did not do, but there’s no use in protesting. Machiko has convinced herself.

“Chris tells me you’re a playboy, a real lady-killer. Are you? Are you a lady-killer?”

This gives me a nice and long overdue laugh, a ripe old belly laugh, punctuated poignantly by two loud farts.

“Please be nice to them,” she says.

“Okay, I promise. Cross my heart.”

“I mean it,” she insists and then I can hear the gravity in her soft voice. “Peador, please be nice to them.”

“I’ll try,” I say.

“Do you know when Chris will come home?”

“To tell you the truth, I have no idea,” I say, adding that he sometimes doesn’t come back at all. Oops!

The silence on the other end of the phone speaks volumes. It was a simple mistake; I was under the assumption that Chris had been spending the nights with Machiko. Now that I realize that hasn’t been the case, I whip up a nice and fluffy white lie.

“Chris is busy, as I’m sure he’s told you, Machiko. Lots of overtime. And he’s also helping a friend which . . .” I have to pull these fluffy white lies out of my arse because I don’t know Jack shit about Chris’s private life. “He told me he sometimes stayed at a co-worker’s place in town, a Tony-something, whenever he misses the last train . . .”

The last bit has the merit of being based on more than the threadbare fabric of my imagination: it stems from hearsay.

Machiko remains silent. I can’t tell whether she has bought any of it, or whether she was able to understand what I told her.

After a long, pain-filled sigh, she speaks up. “I want you to give him a message.”


“Tell him: ‘I love him . . . I miss him . . . “

I can hear her sniffing on the other end.

“I want to see him . . . “

Her voice grows ever more quiet, and with all the sniffing, it’s hard to catch what she’s saying. Even so, I know the message she wants me to convey.

“Tell him . . . I love him.”

I write the simple words down on the only piece of paper available, a mauve napkin with a picnic basket and squirrels in one corner, write her words verbatim with ellipsis indicating the pauses each time she’s too overcome by emotion to continue. When I look at what she has had me write, I realize they are the very same words Mie spoke to me.


Mie and I spent a languorous weekend together at her apartment in Fukuoka, rarely leaving her bed. We made love, rested, made love again, and then after taking a shower together, fell into each other’s arms and did it one more time before falling asleep.

When I had returned to Kitakyushu, I took a long walk by myself along the bank of the slow-moving Onga River, listening to a cassette Mie had made for me with some of her favorite songs. I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and felt vulnerable and weak because of it. I was lost in that painfully comfortable limbo, having fallen in love but distressed that the sentiment might not be mutual. That evening I walked up the hill to the cluster of mom-and-pop shops where the only public telephone in the neighborhood was to be found. The booth was alive with mosquitoes, moths, gnats and ticks, every kind of bug imaginable. Braving the insects, I dialed her number. That’s how badly I wanted to hear her voice, wanted to hear her say, “I love you . . . I miss you . . . I want to see you.”

“I miss you, too, Mie.” I told her, with my throat taunt. “I want to see you, too.”


“I’ll tell him,” I promise.



“Can I talk to you?”

“Of course.”

Machiko speaks for an hour, describing how she met Chris. She had been walking along a street in town a month ago when she noticed him. Just like that, she went right up to him and asked if he were American. He said, yes, and the two of them started talking. They ended up spending the afternoon together chatting in a coffee shop.

“I was so sad and lonely before I met Chris,” she says sniffing. “But, he’s made me so happy.”

I start to cry. Mie had made me happy, too, at a time when I was desperately homesick and missing all of my friends. I tell Machiko a little about Mie, only a little because to tell her the extent of what has been weighing on my heart all these months would be unbearable.

“Do you still love her?”

“Yes,” I answer, tears flowing down my face, my nose running.

“Then call her.”

“She’ll just hang up on me.”

“Try,” she encourages. “Give her one more chance.”


I stare at the phone for more than half an hour, before finally dialing Mie's number.

How many times did I try to call Mie? How many times did I linger by the phone, wanting to make this very call, but was held back by fear, the fear that the relationship was dead, the fear that Mie was gone and would never come back no matter what I did or said? How many times? I should have moved on and found someone else, anyone, if only to fuck away the memories, if only to mend my heart by breaking others’.

Machiko is right, I have nothing to lose by calling, so I dial Mie’s number.


"Moshi moshi?"

Mie's familiar deep voice breaks the silence that has enveloped me since Machiko hung up.


"Who is it?" she asks.

"It's me . . . "


"Yes," I say painfully, my throat was dry and taunt. "Yes, it's me, Peador."

Mie sounds genuinely happy to hear from me, which catches me off guard.

We exchange bland pleasantries like two old middle-aged women. She mentions the warm weather we've been having asks if I had a chance to drink under the sakurablossoms. I tell her I did, that I'm now working near West Park, one of the best places to see the cherry blossoms.

"I'm glad to hear that," she says. "Do you like the your new job?"

"It's not bad," I tell her. "A million times better than working for that idiot last year in Kitakyushu but then just about anything would be better than another year with him."

She speaks of her own hatred for the tiring and boring routine at the pachinko parlor, then brightens up when she tells me that she got a new puppy.

“He likes to drink beer,” she says.

Six months may have passed since we last spoke, but she is still the Mie I fell in love with and have been missing all these months.

Mie asks how I look, whether I've grown my hair out or have kept it short, and so on. Finally, she asks me if I have a girlfriend.

I tell her I don’t.





"I don't believe you."

I have no idea why everyone is finding this so hard to accept. Am I missing something here? Am I better looking, more charming than I believe myself to be?

"I don't have a girlfriend,” I say. “Haven't had one since you . . . "

"I'm sorry."

The tears begin to fall, betraying me again. Women will tell you that they want their men to express their emotions, but nothing turns a woman off faster than a man blubbering pathetically into the receiver of the phone and that's exactly what I begin to do. And I’ve never hated myself more than I do now.

"I'm so lonely, Mie . . . I miss you . . . I want to see you."


© 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.



4. Aya

Aya and I sit in the upper floor atrium in the IMS building, a giant golden dildo of a building in the center of Tenjin. Looking out over the city, which stretches with gray monotony from the bay just north of us to the point where suburban obscurity butts into a low range of mountains east and west of the city. A number of shallow rivers flow when the mood strikes them.

I used to stare out of Mie's eighth floor apartment in the eastern suburbs of the city and watch planes fly over that bleakly uniform cityscape wondering why there weren't any skyscrapers. I asked Mie, but she didn't know. I ask Aya now, and she says there are plenty of tall buildings in Tenjin, this golden phallus to name one. She doesn't call IMS that, of course. Only I do. I tell her that fifteen stories do not a skyscraper make, adding that there aren't any buildings over fifteen stories high in town. She says, really? I say, yes really. When she tells me she's never thought about it, I tell her, this is why I am here, Aya: to make you think about these kinds of things. She says, oh. I say, oh, indeed.

Aya is in high school, by the way. An American girl might hide her young age when talking to a man older than herself, but in Japan the girls seem to wear their youth like a badge of honor. I recently asked a group of high school girls I'd been teaching if they were happy to be graduating. A few were, but most weren't. Personally, I couldn't wait for the day I was finally paroled from that all male Catholic correctional institution of a high school I attended. So, it struck me as odd that anyone could be ambivalent about graduation. Their answer: we don't want to grow up. Who does? But if growing up was the price to pay for being done with high school, I could afford it.

Aya has just started her second year, making her fifteen, I guess.

"I'm sixteen," she corrects.

She doesn't look it. She's not only assertive for her age, but she's got a woman's body, as well. She tells me men always think she's older.


When I hear that she goes to the exclusive Catholic girls' school in town, I say she must be an ojô-san, that is, a girl from a good family.

She replies that she isn't, that it's just the image. Most of the girls going there, she tells me, are the daughters ofpachinko shop owners, Koreans, yakuza and other nouveau riche.

Aya's own father is a doctor, but only because her mother who runs a couple of hostess bars and a mahjong parlor happened to fuck a doctor the day she was ovulating. Aya has a younger sister, she says. The girl is the product of a lawyer who happened to squirt his sperm into her mother's birth canal, like a lawyer serving a subpoena. "She's ugly and stupid," Aya says of her younger sister. "She's an embarrassment to me."

I'm not particularly interested in this Aya. When you're twenty-six, high schoolers just aren't quite the turn-on I imagine they must be for middle-aged Japanese men. Salarymen are seemingly tortured with lust every time they see a girl sashay by in her sailor uniform. Still, this Aya is funny in a jaded kind of way, so we meet again a few days later during my afternoon break.

We walk through Maizuru Park to the castle ruins. The momoji trees have stretched out new leaves like the open hands of an infants waiting for the sunlight to pour over them. The ground below the sakura, which have lost all their blossoms to the wind and rain of the past weeks, is speckled with soft pink petals. Under the cool shade of centuries-old oaks, sculptured azaleas are starting to bloom.

Of the former castle grounds only the stone foundation and a few wooden gates remain. At the center and highest level where the Lord's residence had once been, a steel observation deck has been constructed offering a view of the city far more attractive than the view from the IMS building.

When I tell Aya that I come up here a lot, she asks me why on earth for. To think, to look at the sky, to make sketches, to write, even to study. She tells me that she can do all that in her bedroom. So, you can. So, you can. She calls me a romantic. I tell her that's just another way of saying someone's a hopeless fool. She says she knows that.

She's wearing her school uniform, a navy blue pinafore dress with the schools badge above her left breast, a white blouse with rounded collars under it, white socks with the school initial and black patent leather loafers. She hates it, she tells me, wishes she had a simple sailor uniform like the girls at the Buddhist girls high school have. I ask her why, and she says this uniform makes her look like a child. With those large breasts of hers pressed against the bib of the uniform, a child is the last thing Aya resembles.

Aya tells me a friend of hers met an American who then took her to a love hotel and had sex.


"I couldn't believe it."


"Because he was too old."

"How old?"

"In his thirties. And he was a college professor, too."

I can't help but laugh. What a country. I tell her he could be put in jail for that in America.


That evening after work, Reina says that she saw me walking near Ôhori Park with a high school girl. "She's not your girlfriend, is she?"

"No, no, no. That's just someone I know."

"That's hanzai, you know," she says with a playful smirk.

"What's that?"

"A crime."

"Is it?"

"No, I'm only kidding. It's not a crime, but this is a small town and people will talk . . . "

"Small town? The population's, what, over a million."

"It's a small town. Trust me. Everyone knows everyone in this town."


"You can do what you like, Peador. I don't care. Have sex with high school girls . . . "

"I haven't . . . "

"It doesn't matter what you do or don't do. What matters is how it looks."

"And how is that?"



"Loli-kon. Oh, what's the word in English. Loli . . . Loli . . . "

"Lolita complex?"

"So, so, so, so. Lolita complex."

"I don't . . . "

"Like I said, it doesn't matter. Just don't let our boss or Yumi find out about it."


Aya calls late Wednesday evening. When I ask if her mother minds her phoning me at such a time, she replies that her mother doesn't know what she does because the woman's never home. Despite my oppressively conservative up-bringing I've managed to emerge surprisingly liberal, and yet, I can't help but feel something's wrong with this picture and tell Aya that I'm sorry to hear about it.

"Don't be," she says. "I can't stand the bitch. The less I see of her, the better."

On Friday night while I am alone in the condominium, Aya phones again. She sounds impatient, and right off the bat asks what I think of her. I answer that I find her funny, but she isn't interested in what I think of her personality, she wants to know if I find her attractive.

To be honest, she's no knock-out. I know, of course, that I could do far, far worse than Aya. I need look no further than the past weekend to be reminded of that. What she lacks in appearance, though, she makes up with her youthfulness and a bust line that most women would envy. For the evangelical Christian, Jesus saves; Aya, however, is redeemed by those glorious tits. But then, this is the awesome power the breasts have over me. Your average girl sporting G cups will easily turn my head, but when she's as beautiful as she is stacked, she'll break my heart the way that Mie did. I tell Aya that she's a very pretty young woman. It's obvious that’s what she was hoping to hear and is lucky enough to have found me in an obliging mood.

Aya asks if I would mind her coming over on Sunday. Mind? Not at all. Do come, do come . . .


© 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.