Love In 2014
I know I said last time that I wouldn't write, not for a long time at least, but I see glimpses of you everywhere here. I'm talking to you all the time. It's a sham to pretend I'm not, and I know you hate it when I pretend. I might as well give you the chance to reply.
Hana calls it o-furo-no-yurei, the bath ghost. She was sticking yellow prayer papers on the windows last night, asking if I heard the voices in the bath room. I know I scared her at New Years, with all the fireworks exploding and me in a state, yelling at everyone to get down, get under cover, screaming at any Jap face that tried to get close - that's everyone in this neighbourhood. I probably did seem possessed. I couldn't get my head on straight til Hana got me home, and into the furo. I think that was the first time she heard o-furo-no-yurei. She didn't say anything then, but she tuts under her breath when she hears it now, saying it's not good to encourage ghosts. But you know? she never really tries to stop me.
The bathroom is the fourteenth room of the second floor of my building, just down the corridor from my apartment. A big old wooden furo takes up most the space, looming over a stool and a wall tap for soaping up and rinsing off. It's always hot, and dark, and steaming, and its where I come to find you.
Outside, the world so often presses on my nerves, bursting with noise and movement, rubble and destruction, uniforms and soldier's faces, rifles and snatches of memory - a frond, dripping, a severed hand.
Inside, Tokyo's ruined winter-bitten streets evaporate, gone in a humid breath. There's no sound but the water's echo. The faces of the homeless melt into the darkness. The water slips its arms around me. The steamy air presses its cheek into mine. And before know I'm talking to you. More often than not you'll reply, too.
"Remember?" I'll say, "the first time I came to the House?" You duck your face to hide your smile. Sometimes you're sitting beside the bath, head resting on your forearms. Sometimes you're perched on the edge. If I'm really lucky, you'll slip in beside me. "I didn't know anything, did I? I thought baths were for getting clean." Your smile widens into a chuckle, remembering those nights, the hot breath of the desert, the salt sigh of the sea.
I said I'd give you up til I was stronger. Well, one thing at a time I guess. I'll give up the drink before I give up you. And before that, the nurse says I have to deal with what happened in the jungle, in New Guinea. That might take some time.
How many thousands of soldiers fought in those same jungles, and just shut it all off and went home, back to their families, their jobs, their lives? You said the war never ended for me. I reckon you're probably right. I think that's why I agreed to come here. The nurse thinks it's crazy, me fighting the Japs and then thinking I can come over here and straighten them out, fix everything up again, me included. But it feels right to me. We're not fighting them anymore. We're both putting things right. It's good to be part of something that's building up, not tearing down. I think that's part of the healing. I wished my head healed as quick as my back did: everyday is a battle here and I still don't know who'll win. Whether I'll get sent back in a wheelchair and dumped in one of those veteran's homes, wrecked for good. Or if I'll walk off the boat on my own two feet, my bag on my shoulder, walk right up the street and across the front yard and knock on your door.
You're probably still mad at me for leaving. Just when it looked like the war was finally over, too. I saw it in your face, before it all closed over, that you thought I was abandoning you, that I had some kind of heart of stone. It's just the opposite. The Occupation Force won't be here for ever, and then the War really will be over, for good. I didn't want to bring any of that home, baby. Can you see that? I don't want any of that in our house. I'm probably getting a bit ahead of myself there - don't be shy to write back and tell me that. You never were shy before.
Anyway, Hana will be happy: I am going to get rid of the ghosts of the past, one at a time. All but one that is: I hope o-furo-no-yurei will talk to me forever. I'm going to take down the yellow papers on the windows now - not all of them: Hana would have a fit. Just one little corner, just to make sure you keep coming. Who knows, maybe one day I'll take all those papers down, let all the ghosts in. They always seem to find a way in anyway. Maybe that's when I'll finally be able to walk away, a free man. Maybe then the war will be done.
All my love,
and then we had time to love;
was it gratitude for food and warmth,
or was it something new?
Persistent knocks at the door with flowers...
More bangs and parcels,
the strategy of love
Is there an updated bit of the brain, that
mingles the lust of attraction with
the need of protection?
A nouveau love zone.
It's natural to sleep with conquerors;
and in fact in 2014 love is
an advanced survival technique,
just as it was when it started;
it doesn't always work, but
that's the gamble;
sometimes you put all your reserves
into catching that deer because you're
starving, and miss; eating grass is fine.
This morning was different though. I rolled out of bed and ambled downstairs to stop the incessant meowing emanating from my cat. As I tried to grab some final precious moments of sleep, she'd taken up her usual position on my chest and stared shouting in my face (In cat-speak of course). Her fishy breath was ten times as potent as I imagine smelling salts to be - do smelling salts actually exist outside of films? So began another day in paradise. I was due in the office at 9 and for once, I'd got up in time. Unusually, I also had some post. Real post too, seemingly from a real person.
My knees clicked with each step as I descended the stairs (I'm 29 going on 60) and after satiating my feline companion with the contents of a 'luxury' pouch of meat, I made for the porch. I needed tea very quickly to make the world seem hospitable and for that, I needed milk. I found myself back at the kettle with a pint of semi-skimmed and three (three!) envelopes. Two of the envelopes were white with those little plastic windows in them that make them difficult to recycle. They could wait. The other envelope though, was red.
I examined the front, which had one handwritten word on it - 'Ian'. After a second or two, my addled brain computed that this was, firstly, a name and secondly, it was my name. Weird. My priorities remained unaltered though and the kettle went on. God I needed a brew. When will I learn my lesson about mid-week drinking? As I waited for the water to boil, I tried to get my brain to warm up too. Was it my birthday? No, that was in November. Why on earth have I got an actual letter?
Steam rose from the kettle and the button on the side clicked just as I cracked the riddle.
'It's February 14th!' I said out loud for no reason. My cat paused her gorging and looked up at me confused. 'Valentine's day' I said, explaining my statement. This seemed to satisfy her as she moved to her water bowl and began to lap the liquid up enthusiastically. Surely, this couldn't be a valentine's card. For me. Surely not.
Having been awake for ten minutes, my brain started to get up to speed. Stimulated by with caffeine, sugar and fat, my brain had a brilliant idea - toast. In went the bread. After a couple of seconds, I realised that the fridge wasn't the toaster. Out came the bread. The real toaster was identified. In went the bread and minutes later I was sat on the sofa, eating burnt bread like a recently released hostage. As I munched, I stared at the red envelope on the table in front of me.
I tried to remember if I'd ever had a Valentine's day card before. I'd certainly sent them before when I was a child in school but had I got any back? Ah, yes, now it came back to me, I'd received a lovely Sonic the Hedgehog card in junior school from a girl called Claire. The only slight draw back was that I'd given her that card an hour before. She'd scrawled over my neatly written request for reciprocal love with a thick black marker pen, 'leave me alone' it read. I did.
This event rather set the pattern for the next couple of decades of my love life. Whenever I found a female that interested me, I would attempt to engage with them and be instantly rejected. I'm not an entirely unattractive person but I was clearly doing something wrong. After the third time that one of my Valentine's Day cards was returned to me, I decided to shut up shop. The pain incurred just wasn't worth the expense. Greetings cards are overpriced anyway.
So I'd decided to settle for the single life. I've got plenty of friends and a cat. What did I need love for? It's all a con anyway. Just a hormonal reaction that's probably developed as an evolutionary aide. Probably - I'm no scientist. Love was for suckers and Valentine's day? Well, that was just a way for greeting card companies to make some money in the middle of February.
Having entrenched myself in the camp of the embittered singleton, I looked at the mysterious card like it was some kind of trap. I felt scared to open it. It had to be a Valentine's card though - it had clearly been delivered by hand as there was no address, just my name. My name. Someone had written my name on a card. The least I could do would be to open it. I don't often get post.
With time running out before my train, I guzzled a second cup of tea and took a deep breath. I carefully opened the envelope as if it may contain some kind of explosive and took out the card inside. It was a fairly standard looking greeting card. The front of it had a big red heart on a white background. I was stunned 'It's a Valentine's card' I said dumbly to myself out loud. I tried not to get to excited as I opened the card up to see who it was from.
The neatly written message inside read as follows: 'To Ian, We all loathe you. Kind regards, All of the women in the world'. I read the message, closed the card and put it on the table. I turned to my cat sitting on the floor at my feet, 'hey puss! You'll never guess, I just got a real Valentine's Day Card!' and with a skip in my step, I left for work,