This is an edited and improved version of the first story I ever submitted for publication. The original was rejected, and with good reason. Rejection sucks, but it forced me to take a closer look at the story, and I think it’s a much stronger piece now. Thanks for looking.
“Yeah, right. ‘I take your life,’ my ass,” I muttered to myself. Local good manners, it basically meant “Let’s eat!,” but literally the phrase gave thanks for the life that had become the meal. And the noisy group of businessmen, palms pressed together as if in prayer, were about to eat…noodles. Finishing my own ramen, I paid and headed to the station, mood sour.
Admit it, I thought, you’re just cranky because you’re lonely. I’d been in Japan for nearly a year now, and things weren’t turning out the way I’d expected. Japanese girls were supposed to be crazy for foreign guys, but I hadn’t found a girlfriend, or even a date, since leaving the States.
As I got on the train, I thought back to Amy. She’d been my first girlfriend, back when I was only fifteen. Her parents wouldn’t let her date, but one night, while they were out, she’d let me into her house. It was the first time for both of us, but despite my inexperience, she’d been pretty vocal. Nevertheless, I’d heard the car door and hurried footsteps outside and slipped out her bedroom window, her old man in the dark as to my identity. All these years later, the memory still made me smile.
It was near nine, the second rush hour, but the train, surprisingly, wasn’t very crowded. I even managed to get a seat, second to last in the car, but the empty seat beside me was soon occupied by a young Japanese woman in some sort of office uniform who gave me a shy smile and a brief bow as she sat down. Somehow she looked familiar. According to her name tag, she was E. Tanaka. I wondered what the “E” stood for. Eri?
I’d also been on a train the night I met my first college girlfriend, who had proceeded to wreck my only suit. We’d met on the “L” near Belmont when she’d plunked herself down, purple mohawk and all, into the seat directly next to mine, headphones blaring, the music pulling me into her rhythm. She’d smiled at that, then pulled me back to her apartment. Oddly enough, her name had been Amy too.
Etsuko? Didn’t look like an Etsuko. She sure smelled nice though. Alluring. I wondered what it would be like, with a Japanese girl. They were so small, you’d have to be extremely gentle. Cuddle; when I was younger, I hadn’t understood how important cuddling was to women.
I’d never cuddled with Punk Amy. The relationship hadn’t lasted long.
The next stop was a transfer point, and the carriage got a lot emptier. E. Tanaka stayed, however. From here, the line left the city, passing through mostly darkened suburbs.
Punk Amy had been a squirter. All over my suit. Ruined. She’d given me one of her bootlaces as an apology though. Strange girl.
I finally figured it out. “E” was for Emi. Had to be. She was another goddamn Amy. When she got off, a few stops later, I followed.
After Punk Amy, I’d stopped using a knife. I still had her bootlace; it was in my pocket, with a loop tied in either end, softened by time and the necks of the seven other Amys I’d dated since that night in Chicago.
Trailing behind her, not too close, I could see how tiny Japanese Amy really was. When she turned the corner, down into a darkened alley, I quickened my pace to catch up. My heart pounding with excitement, I pulled her bootlace out of my pocket and then, minding my manners, pressed my palms together briefly, as if in prayer.
copyright 2016 Iain Aschendale