I showed my former visual art teacher Nelson photographs of Akemi in a strapless white satin bra. Its surface was so receptive it captured the light in the room, and if late in the day, the light changing to blue, it also turned blue.
Nelson voiced a general criticism of my photographic work (while maintaining an overall positive tone; he had been my teacher in college and was now my friend). He said that when you photograph places you travel to and don't stay long the result can be shallow because you haven't made a deep connection. "They can feel empty," he said.
"On the other hand," Nelson reflected, "if a photograph works, it takes on an independent life, becomes a thing in its own right, separate from the context. It has- what would the word be?- integrity. Yes. A successful photo can say 'to hell with the rest of the world.' That's true of any work of art, isn't it?"
He said that while looking at Akemi, her bra glimmering in low light of late afternoon, a glow in soft shadows, her tan-gold belly smooth.
Nelson knew of course that she painted. They had something in common there anyway.
When she and I first connected as lovers we spent a long weekend together at my place, mostly in bed. I don't know how many times we fucked. We'd do it and fall asleep and wake up and do it again. I lost count and felt a little sorry about that. I'd like to know for later. The weekend was memorable, moments worth noting for the future- as you can see, I'm writing about it now. I was amazed by Akemi's willingness to give three straight days to pleasure, indolence. She's a person who likes to be put her time to use; she's an artist, as you know. But she gave that weekend to me heart and soul, as they say. I also found astounding how resilient we were physically. We could fuck and fuck. I drove into Akemi hard as I could and she bounced right back. Her body thrived on it as mine did. She wanted more.
"Wait till you see her paintings," I said, and Nelson smiled the smile of an older man who knows more than me. He looked unnervingly confident, as if he already understood Akemi, they'd developed a rapport, without him even having met her yet.
After all, it was Nelson who advised, me, "Find an Asian woman. It would answer all the troubles in my love life, he said. I'd told him about my relationship with Andrea going nowhere. And boy was he right. It was the best advice I'd ever gotten. And I got more than I'd bargained for. Akemi was smaller than you and me and quiet when you first met her, but she was dynamic, a powerpack. If you could see how her breasts half spilled half sprang to me, how she sort of swam on top, the butterfly stroke, complex, dynamic fucking.
It wasn't only physical. Akemi talked about the spiritual life in the west as opposed to her own culture, said she'd heard that the aisle that ran through a church was meant to represent other passages in life but she wasn't sure which. I was as ignorant of the subject as she. I'm not a religious person. As a foreigner, she looked with respect on the traditions of my country, keeping an open mind relative to those she didn't understand. She speculated that the church aisle might symbolize, among other things, the path the infant takes to the world at birth. I said, "Maybe."
"That's also the aisle a couple walks at a wedding," Akemi added.
God, how delightful I found her! I wanted her again and again, both in and out of that strapless satin bra Nelson liked so much.
I had a dream last night, maybe prompted by a comment: "I think I'd like her best with no bra at all."
In the dream we were moving apartments, had left one and taken another, with the help of a friend bringing our stuff to it, furniture and other belongings.
The three of us went out one afternoon to get supplies for fixing the place- and maybe also for lunch, taking a break from the moving work. When we came back up the stairs to the new apartment, I opened the door to the right, dark green wooden door, rather than the main one straight ahead of us- the place had two entrances.
"There's nothing here," I said as we all looked in shock at the empty space, polished wood floor of the room the door opened to.
"But no surprise," I said. "We haven't put anything there. That's going to be the guest bedroom." I quickly recovered from the initial shock of finding nothing, remembered the reason for it.
But when I turned and opened the front door, we saw that the rest of the apartment as well was empty. The living room, with the same dark polished wood floors as the other- they looked almost black- and rooms beyond all had nothing at all in them.
"They've taken everything, cleaned us out," I said as Akemi, my friend and I entered the space that echoed with our footsteps.
Someone must have known we were moving and vulnerable to theft. Maybe one of the workmen, a mover or someone he'd told about the opportunity, had come and committed the crime.
Of course I took a quick inventory of our things. What was gone? Were we still in danger? Would the lock work? Were Akemi and I safe to stay there that night? The loss that bothered me most was the computer. It had lots of photos of Akemi that I wouldn't want anyone to see. Would the thief be able to get into the hard drive without the password, see all those nude shots of Akemi, images of us together? It seemed probably he would. I sometimes posted photos of her online, but if erotic never with her face or mine, protected our privacy. Was it lost now? What would happen?
The dream moved to a different scenario, another apartment, this one unknown to me, fully furnished yet empty feeling. Akemi was there with another guy; apparently she and he had just begun seeing each other, she was at his home for the first time. The interior had the empty feeling that comes when two people who don't know each other well find themselves alone together. The emptiness is a good thing as far as they're concern, is charged with feeling, possibility. Akemi was wearing a teeshirt and her nipples poked against the fabric, a comfortably tight fit. She and her friend came close in the empty space, stood face to face, and as they kissed he took hold of the cotton teeshirt, gripping it gently with his fingertips and with successive tugs inched it upward.
I woke from the dream excited, alarmed. Akemi must have felt my state, as she reached to me. She could see my cock was hard and brought her hand there, gently caressed the surface with one finger. My arm went around her, pulled her close. She was warm.
She took my cock in her fist and chugged it up and down, as if it were a carbonated drink she wanted to build up to an explosion.
I had work that morning but we ended up getting together. There was still time on the clock. Akemi climbed on top and rode, her hips locked on me but free, and everything felt right again, the world charged with feeling that meshed right, though suspense, danger played on in the distance.
This jumps around in time and between first person "I" and third person (Mitchell). If that isn't good for you, you might be better off not reading on. I write this way, difficult as it is for some readers (a few have let me know!) because it gets across the meaning of the story best.
There are two basic time periods, when we first met and now (our marriage). These are two short examples from each:
I was with some friends of Akemi, friends and acquaintances actually, some she didn't know well, all from her country. There was waiting around, biding time before a move somewhere- we were all heading off to the same destination. There was an event at an art gallery, collective in an old tenement building- an opening party, not my favorite way to spend time, but I'd go with Akemi, of course.
A guy standing by me seemed at a loss for conversation. Tall thin broad-shouldered Japanese guy with a shock of black hair he wore parted way over from one side. Naoki his name. We barely knew each other but he had been introduced to me as Akemi's husband.
He saw the book I was holding, one written in his language, a novel.
"You can read that?" he asked.
I explained that I could make out many of the characters but was at a loss to understand the meaning of sentences, paragraphs.
"I know a lot of words- a lot- but.."
"The grammar's important," Naoki said.
"And I doubt I'll ever grasp it."
All the same, he looked surprised, not to say confused. I got the sense he was having trouble processing the idea that a foreigner, an American, could make any headway at all in his language. Like many Japanese I'd met, Naoki seemed to look at citizens of other countries as outsiders, ineradicably different. I sensed he considered his culture and language as something sacrosanct, well beyond the reach of Westerners and other Asians alike. Japanese, probably by virtue of the standardized highly nationalized education they received, appeared to feel both surprised and more than a little threatened by foreigners who penetrated the enigma.
He had little to worry about from me on that count. I would never become fluent in Japanese, far from it. And the culture was too complex for me to contemplate understanding much less entering. What's more, I found much of it off-putting, though I liked the aesthetics, appreciation of beauty in nature. There's a rigidity, conformity, conservatism that puts me off.
But I had crossed the threshold with a woman from the guy's country. I'd entered- yes, penetrated- Akemi. Naoki and the rest of her circle seemed to accept our marriage, but I sometimes wondered what they really thought, said. Of course if I heard them converse about us, I wouldn't understand.
That example is from the present, our married life now, which is the focus of the story, a big part of it Akemi's involvement with an American guy other than me.
This second sample comes from the early days, back when I knew Akemi only distantly. I was in the library one late afternoon at the college where I work and she takes classes- we both do still- and saw her walk in. Soft early setting sun, a gentle violet hue filtered through the big round-topped windows. A little like a church, more like a chapel or vestry- quiet, intimate, though the space wasn't especially small. My vantage point was above Akemi and others on the ground floor. I stood on the balcony that circles the main reading room, looking for a book- not reading for pleasure but something to do with my job- I can't remember now- and I happened in a moment of abstraction, wanting a break, to look over the wrought iron decorative balustrade just as Akemi was walking in from the doorway directly beneath me- which I couldn't see.
She entered the center of the reading room, where people sat at long wooden tables, materials opened before them. They seemed not to notice her as she bisected the space- their attention was on their study, research or whatever- but she sure got my attention. Viewed from above, her figure was foreshortened. She looked very slim, almost sticklike (she's thin compared to Western women), yet she had a dynamic body, I saw.
She wore a light print dress and through it in back the form of her panties was faintly visible, a lighter color- white? The dress was pale blue with white pattern, flower or the like, small figures repeated across its length. Her shape wowed me. I looked intently, felt I had a faint glimpse of her private life, wondered: what kind of underwear? I tried to see. On what basis had she chosen it? Comfort? Style? She couldn't see the scrutiny I was giving her, wasn't even aware of my presence on the balcony overlooking. I felt kind of creepy ogling her- what kind of man was I?- yet I wanted to see more.
Akemi and I were already acquainted then and got together shortly thereafter. The story covers that period as well.
The anecdote goes on. I was with my girlfriend Andrea at the time (as those of you who've been reading this know). The same day I saw Akemi in the library and my heart swooned for her I met Andrea and went to bed with her- we still sometimes did- and during foreplay she reached down to my balls and gripped and sort of rolled them in her hand. I looked at her and she grinned at me and I felt awful. It was clear she felt proud of what she was doing- she'd never rolled my balls in her fingers that way before. She obviously thought I would share her enthusiasm for the trick but I didn't. It left me cold first of all because I wasn't very turned on any more by our physical relationship- the passion had ebbed by that time- but also because Andrea was clearly doing what she thought I'd like rather than acting out of her own desire. She guessed twirling my balls in her hand would excite me and she guessed wrong- which showed how little we understood each other in bed. From my point of view, there was nothing sexy about her calculation. Well-meaning, generous as the impulse was, it lacked passion. And of course that wasn't the first or only time she behaved and I responded that way. We'd been on a downward slide as lovers for a long time.
I thought, unkindly, if this is the best you can do, we have no further to go with each other. I was disappointed with myself for thinking that. What are you going to give me? It was anathema to love, but at this point so was the whole situation.
In fact Andrea's and my sex life had never been great. Our feelings didn't connect under the sheets- although we got along very well outside them. We loved each other as friends but weren't in love. You know. The old story. I felt like ending our lovemaking session then and there, but didn't in order to avoid hurting Andrea. Instead I thought about Akemi as I'd seen her in the library, in that pale blue and white print thin dress, and fucked the hell out of Andrea.
In a work of fiction, that would have been the last time, but it wasn't. Reality is clumsy.
One of the first things Akemi and I did as we got acquainted was go together to the airport to pick up her brother visiting from Japan. That brought us closer, as Akemi opened her life to me some. She found her brother first coming from the terminal, having gone through customs, gotten his passport stamped. She told me later when that he'd wanted to sing "The Star Spangled Banner." He'd thought they might have everyone sing our national anthem as they waited on the immigration line. He was that excited about visiting my country. She and I walked with him out of the airport all but holding hands with each other, connected by our knowledge of the city her brother was visiting for a few weeks. We strode together confidently into our future.
Shortly afterward, I returned the gesture and introduced Akemi to someone from my past. An old friend from college visited my apartment while she was there. I hadn't seen him in a while as she hadn't her brother.
I explained, "His father owned a well-known liquor store in the city" (still relatively new here, Akemi didn't know it). "He's very tall."
I wondered what he would think of my life now, how or if he'd judge success or failure on the basis of my apartment, which he hadn't seen before, and the woman who might be my new girlfriend. I felt a little tense about the visit, in fact. But that's another story.
The anecdotes end there. I provided them as examples of the two time periods the chronicle covers and to give a taste of the people and circumstances involved, basis on which you can decide whether to read on or not.
What follows is from our courtship, when things got rocky, and then moves to the present, our marriage now, which, as I said, is the real focus, where the action takes place- all the earlier stuff is to make its meaning clear.
The next episode has the fitting title "The Rat."