Drinking With Her
by Court Merrigan
Drinking with her, long Tokyo nights descended into blissful haze, into shimmering pools of liquor-tinted light. Sometimes they drank until the sun rose and they were encircled by upturned chairs and bleary waiters. The days mushed into a warm mash that stuck to his ribs, stuck to his heart.She arrived at his one-room apartment in Sangenjaya with a bottle of vodka, three packs of cigarettes, six tallboy beers. The air solidified to silvery blue as they lolled on the floor, legs entangled under the low kotatsu table smoking, talking, drinking, kissing, drinking, talking. He told her how it was to be alone in the strange terrain of a foreign land. She told him how it was to be alone in the familiar terrain of home. He told her how he'd long planned to off himself, how he watched express trains blur by with a calculated interest. She told him about her abortion, how she woke up blurry-eyed and how the near-father smiled and stroked her hand and then looked at his watch.
The bottle nearly gone, he said that black-ass which had chased him across the ocean and his whole life evaporated to benign ether when he was with her. The bottle gone, she said he was like a whole new land to her, the future wide open.
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
At the saggy end of a smoky Okubo evening came confession: neither had been single when they met.
"I broke up with my ex two weeks after I met you," he said. "I didn't want to share around my time with anyone else."
"But you kept on sleeping with her, right?" she asked. "Until you dumped her, right?"
"Yes," he said.
More drinks ordered, more cigarettes fingered. Her eyes shone doe-like and she gripped her glass with both hands.
"What about you?" he asked. "When did you make your ex your ex?"
She said, "I haven't."
They launched into their first fight there in the bar, under the eyes of strangers. She swore it was only a matter of time, that the right moment simply had yet to present itself. That she hardly ever even saw him anymore. That they no longer slept together.
He didn't believe her. He wanted to shove the table away, storm out, never look back. She ordered drinks. He stayed put.
"I will do it soon," she said, clear round eyes unblinking. "Oh, but I love you."
He was suddenly quite certain he couldn't leave her, at this bar or anywhere or ever. She was promising, over and over, to tell him no more lies.
The next night, not knowing who was drinking with her, he succumbed to Madame K, English Conversation student and utterly unsubtle married hinter of many months standing. She picked him up in a Jaguar and he guzzled wine through the stilted gaps of conversation in Aoyama, saying nothing he meant. Abed in his apartment at the evening's climax, he couldn't concentrate and barely performed his duty and tried to keep Madame K's skin off him as much as possible afterwards.
The phone rang. She was on the way with drinks and news. He rousted Madame K.
"Time's up," he said.
"So this is how you treat me," said Madame K. "Now I see the kind of man you are. I have admired you for nothing."
He didn't walk Madame K to the Jaguar and didn't care. When she knocked the apartment sat just straightened and he stood just out of the shower. They held hands, fingertips cold from the cocktail glasses. He spotted a stray black hair on a pillow. When she got up for more ice he whisked it away.
As the room began to wobble her head toppled to his chest and she said it was all over with her ex, that she would forever and always be faithful only to him. He said the same, meaning it, in his mind sealing off the past, immediate and otherwise. Qualms washed down with a kiss of vodka, his head nudged her hands, nuzzled her breasts, nipped her thighs. He performed with great bravado, she in her own throes not seeming to notice the extra exertion.
They reeled to a bar in Kabuki-cho. Conversation flitted from invulnerable present to mendacious future, plans bigger than they deserved, grandiose, sweeping, final. They stumbled out to the flagstones of a steely dawn. He dropped to one knee, swayed and nearly fell as he gazed up at her triple visage. She placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. He asked her to marry him.
"Yes," she said.
He lurched to his feet. Tried to walk as though escorting his betrothed and discovered he had no idea how.
In the soupy afternoon they awoke to bloody sheets and dozens of little lacerations on their backs and elbows and thighs. Falling on each other they hadn't noticed the bottles breaking.
A long moment surveying the one-room wreckage ticked over, a last moment to take last night back. She didn't. Neither did he.
On the verandah of an Ichigaya bar the drinks turned into agitators and they talked on serrated edges. When she navigated to the bathroom he flipped through her cell phone, noting several unknown numbers and names. A fresh round materialized on the table and they had it and then another and he asked if she still talked to her ex.
"Sometimes," she said. "We're friends."
"Friends?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "We've known each other a long time. He's a wonderful person. I thought I would be with him forever. But then I met you."
For a sinuous moment, all was right again and he stroked her hand and they stopped talking and beyond the verandah the crooked rain stopped.
Riding a vodka riptide in Nishi-Azabu they fell into a knot of men she knew, standing in line at a greasy kabob truck. She failed to introduce him, released his hand. He stood waiting, unobtrusive, well outside their familiar circle, their spitfire slang beyond the ken of his Japanese. He noted a nervous clip to her voice, a tightening disquiet in her shoulders, her feet mincing on the stained sidewalk. When the group broke up, one of the men touched her on the cheek.
He didn't ask but she said he was an old school friend.
She arrived at his apartment late, empty-handed, drunk.
"The meeting ran over time," she said. "And I had to go for drinks with the boss after. Do you like my new perfume?"
"Not yet," he said. He tipped the bottle, took her hand. "Come on. Let's get to the bar. I need to get caught up with you."
"Oh, darling," she said. "Let me rest a moment."
She collapsed facedown on the bed and started to snore.
At the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Yuraku-cho, he had noontime drinks with a mutual friend. She was older, definitely more experienced, possibly wiser.
She asked, "Are you going to take her with you to America?"
"Yes," he said.
"You'd better," said the mutual friend. "And then what?"
"We'll be together," he said.
"Isn't that enough?"
"No," said their mutual friend. "Here in Tokyo she is going places, maybe big places. And you want to take her to America. For what? So she can be a waitress in a sushi bar?"
He didn't know for what. Later that night he endeavored all through the drinking to picture her at home, in Wyoming, in Denver, in San Francisco or Hawaii or Chicago or anywhere. Nothing doing. Stroking her naked shoulder at delicious dawn, he asked if she might ever like to go to America with him. She said a visit would be divine.
In an all-wooden bar in Shibuya, he started in halfway through the first drink, long before the evening was properly lubricated.
"Our problem is timing," he said. "If only I'd met you a year ago."
"So you are going home," she said.
"I think I should," he said. "You don't have to go with me. It will only be for a little while. Then I'll come back for good and always."
She assented with turned-away eyes. At dawn they tripped out of a taxi and in a tangled heap in bed he whispered sweet somethings of his imminent return as she shuddered and came. He didn't get the looked-for look into her eyes, screwed shut as they were.
When she fell asleep he careened to his desk in the morning murk. Tipped a bottle to keep from thinking. When that failed, he studied his return ticket by the light of a lighter. She stirred. He dropped the lighter and slid next to her.
At Narita Airport they found a beer and breakfast place. They pretended to eat between sips, shifting udon noodles through chopsticks, talking about where in Tokyo they would get an apartment upon his imminent return.
"I guess that's when you'll tell your family and everyone about the engagement," he said.
"Yes," she said. "When will you tell your family and everyone in America?"
"As soon as I get my return ticket," he said.
Drinking without her in Wyoming felt like taking bread from the mouth of their future. Everything glinted hangover-bright. On the phone her voice shifted and shook.
He didn't buy the return ticket the first week, nor the second. After a month her emails stopped coming every day and the tenor of love slipped from the ones that did. He called. She denied disengagement. He failed to remember what words he'd used to propose. He got a job.
Her letter came handwritten, on traditional paper. It had all been a beautiful dream, she wrote, but now with him gone so far away, she was awake once more.
A fire truck passed by outside. He slammed the window shut so hard the pane shattered. Picking up shards of glass, he tried to think about what to drink and not who was, now, drinking with her.
Court Merrigan's work has been published in decomP, Kyoto Review, Blackbird, Fried Chicken & Coffee, Evergreen Review, Numero Cinq, Identity Theory, The Summerset Review, and others. See them at http://courtmerrigan.wordpress.com/short-stories/. After a decade of the nomadic life in East Asia, he lives in Wyoming where he works at Eastern Wyoming College and is having an American adventure with his wife Nalinee and two children.