When I was in my late teens, I’d pick up movies about death at the video store. The higher the body count, the better, or at least the camera had to zero in on one particular death. My then girlfriend was adept at choosing such movies. So, in front of a shelf, I’d say, “I’ll leave it to my sommelier.”
Back then, the Shinjuku branch of Tsutaya was much larger than now, and a mannequin in an all-girls school uniform stood in the middle of the adult section on the top Floor.
“I don’t mind romance or family movies,” she sometimes said, but I vetoed her choice with stubborn doggedness. I’d watch anything where someone would die with no happy ending. That was the only requirement. It didn’t matter which country the movie was from. Her choice was better than any critic’s poll or magazine write-up.
“Oh, you poor girl,” she’d repeat as we watched the movie. I liked the way she said it. I hadn’t told anyone else why I’d changed high schools so often or why I’d chosen to attend a women’s college in Tokyo, let alone about my family. At that time, I thought I was chatty because this was the longest relationship I’d ever been in. Because we’d drink by ourselves often. Youthful, dreadful ignorance.
From the New Releases section, she picked up a Hungarian war movie, a Japanese movie about police scandals, and a tacky horror movie. Even now, I still have notes on these titles, but we ended up not watching those three. I only vaguely remember the plots of the ones we did watch. Only fragments like cutaway shots remain in my memory. Jews slaughtered in the shower, an Irish singer who is robbed of songs, a drug addict who bleeds from his mouth with a trumpet in one hand, and a yakuza who holds an ash-filled gun with his teeth. The Magnificent Seven is the only movie whose plot I still recall, especially the order of the characters’ deaths. Even today, I still believe that the secret stash of gold Brad Dexter talks about is buried somewhere.
“You okay with this selection?” She showed me the video jackets. It was Friday, and she had just gotten off work. She shook her head repeatedly with a fox fur around her neck. It was a birthday gift from a customer. She had applied lip gloss too many times. I guessed she’d had a few glasses of champagne. On her days off, she only wore fake furs, so I gave her an NR Rapisardi coat. I secretly rejoiced that I knew something her patron didn’t know. My desire to monopolize her was more important than her nobility.
“Someday, I’ll be a vegetarian,” she’d say often. “But I can’t right now, can I?” she asked me at least once a week. I would shake my head vaguely every time. It was difficult for her to maintain her alluring flesh that turned men on without eating meat.
Of course, vegetarianism was popular among those involved in Western art.
Nowadays, plant-based diets are more popular than ever. On several occasions, I was advised to go veggie. But I wasn’t persuaded to lead a life without animal products, even though I respected fair trade. At that time, I rebelled against what I perceived as her haughtiness. But now it’s just that I can’t be bothered to be conscientious about protein intake.
When we got home, she brushed her fur with great care and hung it on a hanger. She said, “Go to class Monday.”
“I’ll go if you quit your job,” I said as I popped open the Corona bottle I’d pulled from the fridge.
“OK, I’ll quit. If it makes you happy, I’ll get myself a part-time gig at Mickey D’s. We’ll have to move out of this apartment because I’ll be making one-tenth of what I make now. If you want us to live together, we’d have to go halves on the rent.”
“If all the male professors quit, then I’ll go. I chose a women’s college because I thought the security guards were all women too.”
I chugged down my beer. She would usually wear a smile and let out a soft sigh. But that day, she grabbed me by the wrist instead.
“I want you out of here in the morning,” she said. Then she took out an envelope from her purse and handed it to me. “You have 300,000 yen there. Get yourself an apartment. You can live for a month, can’t you?”
“What did you say?”
“You heard me. I want you out of here. If you’re still here when I get back, I’ll call the police.”
“What did you say?” I repeated in the same tone.
She spat out the same response. She didn’t take back her words.
“Suck cock until you die, you two-bit whore!” I yelled and snatched the envelope.
She said nothing back.
On my way out, I dropped the bottle from the fourth floor landing. It flipped several times before it landed, disturbing the quiet of the night only for a moment. In the crisp February air, a full moon cast its eerie golden beam on the pavement.
While spending the night at a cybercafe at the next station, I opened LINE and texted a girl I’d met at a club the previous week. She claimed to be a college student, but she wore a Maison dress. Perhaps her parents were well-off. Or she had a sugar daddy. I guessed the latter was the case, because her clothes didn’t suit her. And a girl who got mixed up with an old geezer tended to like a sexual escapade. “Just like someone I knew,” I thought to myself. The coed agreed to hook up after a couple of messages.
Then I perused Sailor Moon from the beginning in order to kill time. At dawn, I paid with my Suica card and left the place. I then entered the ATM cabin at Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ Bank in front of the station. When I emptied the contents of the envelope into the ATM, the screen showed that I’d actually deposited 500,000 yen. My ex had been even more generous than she’d let on. When I pressed the Cancel button, the machine spewed back fifty-one sheets of paper. One wasn’t a 10,000-yen bill but a letter from my girlfriend. I fed the banknotes into the narrow slit and read the letter. Then I tore it into pieces and tossed them into the bank’s trash can. I headed to the station where I was supposed to meet my hook-up. She and I lasted for three months. One-seventh of my relationship with my ex. Even now, I remember what my girlfriend said in her letter, because it was so banal.
“My wounds healed little by little as I spent my days with you. But I’m sad, terribly sad, because I can’t do the same for you. That’s why I’ve made this decision. I’ve decided to go back to my hometown on my next birthday. This isn’t much, but please make good use of it. I love you for your talent and kindness. Always stay as you are.”
In the end, she knew nothing about me. Then I kept a grudge for ten years. When I turned the same age as she was on the night we’d broken up, and in the next decade, I learned to forgive and let go of many things. Among them was her, one of the many remnants of my Life.
When I was thirty-five, I went back to Japan for a short visit. There I found my ex’s name in one corner of the news section of a local paper. I knew it was her right away because she had an uncommon name. She was among the dead in a large-scale fire in the downtown area in a city in Kyushu. She went up in smoke along with her home that doubled as a bar.
I turned off my tablet, grabbed a Perrier-Jouët bottle from the desk, and looked down from the window. Of course, no one was on the grounds. The dark sky threatened rain. I stuck the unopened bottle out of the window and let it go. The bottle with white anemone flowers printed on it hit the brick patio with a dull thud and shattered. In the unexpected quiet, it was the golden sound that lay dormant in my memory.
Yoshitaka Namboku is a Japanese writer originally from Osaka. In 2019, his short story “Tsuki to kaibutsu” generated a lot of interest among online readers and was later collected in the anthology Asterism ni hanataba wo. He is currently working on his first novel. Find him on Twitter.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His recent translations of Latin American literature include books by Claudia Apablaza, Carlos Bortoni, and Selfa Chew.