Monday, February 24, 2014


The world is a tunnel, a corkscrew slide with opaque walls where children slide and scream in delight as someone, anyone awaits their arrival at the bottom. Megumi leads me by the hand down narrow corridors stained with spit and ash and spilled beer. Every movement met with swaying protest, my equilibrium undone thanks to the tender directives of Suntory Holdings Limited. My lips take aim and try to clamp down on a Seven Stars cigarette floating clumsily in my left hand, but I fail and the stick splits in half and tobacco explodes over my lower lip.

We slump in two chairs facing a wall plastered with colorful pictures of men and women dressed in clothes I don't recognize. A woman brings me more Suntory, served up in a highball glass. The liquid is smooth and the color of melted amber and it moves in a hurry down my throat. Megumi touches my elbow as I swallow and the off-yellow mixture dribbles down my chin and onto the table we share. Her skin is yellow too under a spotlight, partially from her tan, partially from the whiskey that somehow defies gravity until my pupils are two fish in bowls of stinging putrescence.

The highball vanishes and so do we, down a stairway, around a corner, and into orange lights alongside the Sumida, which roils in blackness that mirrors the clear, starless night. Large and yellow, the dried-out moon hangs in defiance. I feel I should say something profound, but my breath is hot and tastes bad, so I keep my mouth shut and just listen to Megumi's long breaths like air being forced from a bellows and the scuffs of her boots on the concrete as she inches closer to me.

I try again with my Seven Stars, and this time I find success as the stick is forced between my lips. Megumi takes one for herself and lights both. The air is smoke and a mix of her perfume and lip gloss that muddles in my nose and comes up cotton candy and everything else in the world is still except for the gradual trail of smoke as it floats from ashen tips and from our lips. Then, movement. We fly across the river and into a crowded train where we rock back-and-forth against annoyed salarymen and wide-eyed tourists who think it's all such good fun.

Disembarking at Shinjuku, suddenly the stars return, a smear of bright lights, from gas giants to distant novas. I focus my telescope eyes as best I can, squinting and propping myself on Megumi as she props herself on a metal railing while other couples scuttle past, dodging us like we're a car stalled in traffic. We eventually get things restarted and putter to an udon stand. Megumi orders two egg-and-onion bowls and we slurp them down between ashen-suited men between bars or Pachinko parlors. When the food is gone I throw down a handful of money and we explode off on another adventure.

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