Then one evening in the middle of May, Kei called to say that she was in the neighborhood and wanted to see you:
I tell Kei to come on up, but she insists on meeting outside.
Leaving my apartment, I clomp down the stairs and find her waiting for me at the entrance of the building.
She is in a colorful skirt with a light-blue floral pattern and a faded jean jacket, soft brown curls falling upon denim shoulders. A smile appears on her pretty face.
“Been a long time, hasn’t it,” I say.
“It has,” she replies with that coquettish smile of hers.
It’s hard to believe Kei and I haven’t so much as texted one another in almost two months. I tug gently on the collar of her jean jacket. If only I could pull her into my arms and give her seven weeks’ worth of kisses.
Why didn’t you?
Well, for one, the Japanese aren’t what you would call touchy-feely, and, two, I could sense from the way she, . . .
The way she drew back ever so slightly when I reached for the collar of her jacket . . .
“So,” I say, “where’d you like to go?”
“Anywhere, but your ho . . .”
I took Kei to a quiet “ethnic” restaurant a few blocks away.
One you had been meaning to take her to for months.
Yeah. It had soft lighting, more plants and trees than a rainforest, thick sofas you could melt into. There was also a balcony with a decent view of the city. But more than anything, it provided privacy. It was the kind of place where you could share your secrets or . . .
Be intimate if you liked. And that is what you wanted, right, Peadar?
Yes. But that night what I wanted first and foremost was an answer. I’d had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right and now that she was sitting next to me I said:
“Your husband didn’t suspect anything, did he?”
“No,” Kei replies with a nervous giggle.
“Did he ever?”
“I don’t think so.”
“And he’s gone now? He’s away, studying, right?”
“Has he been gone all this time?”
“Yes,” she says, taking a sip of her tea. “But he’s coming back next week.”
“Next week,” I repeat with a sigh.
Each admission is like a punch in the stomach. For six months I’ve been looking forward to her husband’s absence, eager to pick up where Kei and I left off last summer.
I slouch down in my seat, defeated.
“Don’t you think it was a clever idea,” she asks.
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“I thought for days and days about what to write to you . . .”
“I got that letter the day I came back from Portland.”
“I know and I’m sorry about that. I really am.”
“You’resorry.” I light a cigarette.
“Please don’t smoke.”
Ignoring her, I take a deep, slow drag; let the smoke drift from my mouth to my nostrils. “You’resorry.”
You told Kei how much you had worried about her, how you had gone by her apartment building to look for signs of normalcy, signs of life only to find none.
I hated myself for having been so selfish.
“I’ve always tried to tell you the truth, Kei. Always. Even when I knew that doing so might hurt my chances with you.” The words come out slowly, my heart clinging to each syllable, unwilling to let them go, unwilling to admit that this woman I believedI was in love with could inflict so much pain. “I was honest, so that you would understand me and love me for who I was and not for someone you thought I was or someone I wanted you to think I was. I opened myself to you, and in the end . . . you lied.”
I light a second cigarette. Smoke flows in a long, twisting trail from my lips.
“When you told me that you had a new girlfriend . . .,” she says.
“I never said Satomi was my ‘girlfriend’. We’ve been out on a few dates together. That’s all.”
“I was jealous all the same. I couldn’t sleep for days.”
Amazing how this woman has tried to possess me, yet at the same time has always kept me at a safe distance. It has been demoralizing at the best of times.
“I’m very possessive,” Kei continues. “I want things only for myself.”
“You’re an only child,” I say. “What do you expect?”
“So, when you told me that you had a new girlfriend . . .
“I never said . . .”
“When you started dating that doctor, I considered trying to make it difficult for you to meet her, to call you all the time, so that she would end up leaving you . . .”
“That, Kei, would have been a hell of a lot better than what you ended up doing.”
“I was also angry because you had told me that you weren’t interested in other women . . . You know, I was so happy when you told me that last summer.”
Was it true?
Even though you were having dalliances with other women?
Yes, even when I was screwing other girls, I still thought about, and wanted to be with, that stupid woman who was now sitting next to me at the restaurant.
“The reason I started seeing the doctor,” I try to explain, “was because the last time we made love, you worried so much about getting pregnant that you cut me off. Don’t you remember? You said that if you ever did get pregnant, you wouldn’t be able to see me again. It was just a matter of timing, is all. I wasn’t really searching for someone—I was happy with you, difficult as the arrangement had been—but, someone found me. I was still looking forward to this summer and being able to spend time with you like we did last summer. I was counting the days until my birthday when the two of us would travel to the countryside together . . .”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Kei says. “I thought about what to do and . . . and I decided that lying to you was the best way.”
“The best way? You’re joking, right?”
“I thought that not seeing you for a while would allow you to start a new relationship. I thought it was a good idea at the time, but I’m sorry if you were hurt by it.”
The impulse to jump off the balcony to the hard asphalt five floors below briefly clouds my thoughts. The possibility, though, that I would just end up in more pain rather than dead causes me to slouch deeper into the sofa and light another cigarette.
“And there’s another thing,” Kei says.
“How many weeks?” I ask.
“Twelve weeks. I’m due in December. It’ll be a Christmas baby.”
Did you wonder if it was yours?
I did at first, but quickly dismissed the possibility.
Thirty long minutes passed in silence as you smoked the very last of your cigarettes. You would never smoke again after that night.
I gave up cigarettes, and Kei, that night. Cold turkey.
“You haven’t looked at me,” Kei says at last. “You haven’t congratulated me either.”
“Congratulations,” I offer flatly, then leave for the restroom.
I stand before the vanity and stare at my weary face. I want to cry for the years of frustration that I have endured. But I can’t. I haven’t been able to cry for Lord knows how long.
When I have calmed down, I return to the sofa, and after a few more minutes I ask Kei if she wants to leave.
Reluctantly, Kei agrees to come back to my apartment where I give her the souvenir I bought for her while I was in Portland.
“Where’s the basket?”
“I asked you to buy me a basket,” she says.
“I didn’t have the space in my luggage, and besides there weren’t any good ones. Portland’s not really the place for that kind of . . .”
“Yes, but I can see you bought all sorts of things for yourself . . .”
“Goddamn it, Kei! You can be an insufferable bitch at times!”
And with those kind words, Kei bolts right out of my apartment. Running down the hallway after her in my sock feet, I catch her by the wrist as she is about to step into the elevator and pull her, kicking and slapping me, back to the apartment. Once inside, the two of us embrace, tears falling easily down our cheeks.
I look at her pretty face, those almond eyes, the upper lip that curled up whenever she laughed, and kiss her lovingly. Carrying her to the bedroom, I lay her gently down on the tatamifloor and lie down beside her.
We hold each other for an hour, knowing this is the very end of our affair.
“I really did love you,” she says after one final, salty kiss at the entrance to my apartment.
“I loved you, too.”
And then Kei leaves my life.
The first installment/chapter of A Woman's Hand can be found here.
A Woman's Hand and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.