Sport 28: Autumn 2002
R. Carl Shuker — Fugue
R. Carl Shuker
The three JETs stand lightly-clothed on the busy street corner in Shibuya on a Tuesday night. It's too hot and they're a little drunk. They've left a post-orientation dinner at a tiny pub in a place called Roppongi that's become rapidly far too claustrophobic, what with the sitting on the floor, the tiny tables, the low roof, the JET vets trading meaningless jokes involving Japanese words that could be names, could be places, or could be just dishes on the menu but mean just as little either way (and all using the letter J as either an adjective or a noun, they're never quite sure).
Two boys and a girl.
They've walked for twenty-some minutes now, alongside a seething black expressway into the hills of Shibuya, the couple trailing behind Drew and his map.
Drew says, ‘Let's get some vending machine beer, boys and girls. And drink it out on the bloody street. You know why? Because—’
‘Did you hear what that really really black guy whispered to me?’ says Sam. ‘Way back there?’
‘He said, Topless bar, topless bar. But he like, whispered it in my ear.’
‘No way, mate. No way I'm going in one of those places. They rip you off wholesale,’ Drew says. ‘Once you go in those places, they can take you for everything you've got. Even foreigners. There's no laws to stop them just saying your beer costs forty thousand yen. Tell them to fuck off and they'll break your arms. It's true. Wait till we're drunker.’
‘God it's hot,’ says Sam.
‘We've got eighteen hours, boys and girls,’ says Drew. ‘Of piss, and poontang.’
‘I want to go home,’ Brigit says.page 68
It's said the thing with being a JET is everything is all laid on.
That the thing with being a JET is you can come to Japan and not only do you get a shiny new visa, you get a very well-paid job, and a pretty decent apartment.
And also your plane tickets get organised for you, and you get maps, wads of informative unevenly-photocopied material on Japanese customs, food, geography and climate, a two-day orientation of sorts in Tokyo with JETs from participating countries (mostly Australians, English, North Americans, Canadians, and New Zealanders) that after the absurdly pompous contract signings is mostly hard and expensive drinking with wasted-looking older JET liaisons all referring to their chopsticks as hashi and trading jaded, incomprehensible witticisms in tiny Japanese pubs you soon find out are called izakayas, plus tickets to your posting, detailed instructions on which buses or trains to take and how to take them, detailed and vehement warnings about getting off the shinkansen in the fifteen seconds the doors stay open lest you overshoot your stop by two hours and between three and six hundred kilometres. And that you get a polite Japanese teacher to meet you at the station of your new town, an orientation in earnest broken English of your new town (‘I amu Mista Suzuki’, ‘zat isu shurine’, ‘zat isu yo locaru Sebun-Erebun conbeniencu’), a drive to your new apartment, often completely furnished with futons and TV and aircon and computer so you can either cry yourself to sleep or lie awake all night staring at your first Japanese cockroach on the wall in your new town in relative but alien comfort before you start work in a new job for which you'll soon find out doesn't matter a jot that you have no desire for or even experience, the very next day.
But on the other hand, ‘all laid on’ apparently also means your visa, your job and your apartment are inextricably linked. Quit or get fired from your job (really quite hard to do, unless you break your contract or the law in a fairly drastic way, like try and import Ecstasy or molest your students—simple laziness or incompetence usually doesn't quite qualify) and your visa automatically expires. Quit or get fired from your job and your accommodation ‘expires’ too.
And the other thing: your visa is valid for two days before you get to your job and your contract begins. Then it's valid for the year of page 69 your contract with the school. And then, unless you've signed on to JET for another year or negotiated a change in status and an extension via the immensely convoluted bureaucratic means you'd swear were designed to discourage you, your visa expires a couple of days after your contract.
And that's it. Should you decide not to make your flight out, you're an overstayer, and you better either stay out of sight or take your chances with amnesty.
So it's one way into Japan.
But unfortunately, and with that sinking feeling you get when you realise you might have really missed out on something just through your own lack of cojones, when you see Tokyo, and you see the freedom most foreigners enjoy in Tokyo in your first few days in the city, or more likely when you reflect on what you saw once your mind-numbing routine of ‘teaching’ ‘English’ to little kids by standing in the corner occasionally muttering, ‘No, pronounce is “Smith”’, to be greeted with complete bewilderment or embarrassed laughter (every day) starts to tell, you'll realise JET is not Japan. JET is JET. A well-padded cage that, should you decide it isn't for you, you've also decided to leave the country.
Sam is a University of Manitoba School of Journalism graduate who sometimes likes to exclaim in muddled German when he becomes excited in conversation, and his girlfriend Brigit is a week late and a Faculty of Fine Arts photography major who loves to photograph neon: abstractly, close-up. They have been living together for eighteen months, twelve in their last year at school, six largely unemployed and planning and waiting for JET's summer intake. Drew is a commerce graduate from Brisbane or really Toowoomba with a fledgling obsession for olive skin, narrow hips, shining black hair and shy averted eyes. He also has a credit card bill amounting to five thousand Australian dollars after a spring postgrad diploma in fledgling heroin addiction. He's big, but not as big as he once was, and clean, now.
Sam and Brigit made it very clear to their JET liaison at the Winnipeg information sessions—a smiling, immensely fat man their age, a JET vet of three years who pulled at the waistline of his shirt page 70 when he laughed, because when he laughs, he moves, and cotton touching the parts of you that move will always remind you that they're moving—they made it very clear that they were very much prepared to be posted in different high schools, and that separate apartments, even, were acceptable. The fat young man laughed and said, ‘Sure, fellas,’ and showed them how to write their preferences for place on their application forms, how to list under Questions 20 and 21 their commitment to each other, their love, their plans for their future in Japan together.
That night, after hours of hard silence, wrapped up together, but apart, in a huge feather comforter against the chill (‘Fahkink Vinterpeg,’ Sam shouts, first thing in the morning, in winter, in Winnipeg. It's something, the very-early-morning swearing, that Brigit had to get used to; she has learned to if not love, then at least see this as a sign of spirit), they at last made their decision, together. If they did get posted to different schools, if they were given separate apartments, the plan would be this: the money was good enough and the JET-subsidised rents cheap enough that they could leave one of the apartments mostly empty, and live together in the other. Without having to inform JET, or their respective schools, if it came to that. This would be their secret, in Japan. Which apartment, they would decide when they saw what was offered. The bigger one, of course. The nicest one, in the best location, with the best shops, handiest to the station with the most lines. If the two apartments were close enough, they could even use one as an office. ‘Or a darkroom,’ whispered Brigit. ‘It could be so cool.’ ‘Yes,’ said Sam. ‘Ve vill make it verk.’ ‘Jawohl,’ said Brigit, and they had hard and joyful sex, and were not scared, or worried, together.
The next day they signed their application forms and in a few weeks were interviewed and in a few more weeks informed they had been accepted—placement pending—for the August intake. They went about selling off old stuff, planning their packing, halfheartedly learning Japanese phrases (Brigit would haltingly order a drink with, ‘Ano, nama biiru hitotsu, onegai shimasu.’ Sam would growl in Deutsch delight, ‘Sehr gut, Fräulein!’), getting physicals and visa photos, opening fresh new email addresses to replace old spam-stuffed page 71 ones (where their JET predecessors’ warning emails sat unopened), moving into Bright's parents’ basement from their apartment (where their notifications of placement location arrived and lay on the chill hallway floor, unopened too), and saying goodbye to Winnipeg friends who had begun to make their choices between babies, careers or more (and more) school.
And they felt free.
This morning, their first day, in Tokyo Station, in June, in 35°C heat and 80 per cent humidity at 9 a.m. underground, surrounded by their hand luggage and the hand luggage of seemingly hundreds of other JETs, they learned from a strangely sweatless three-year JET veteran, a very thin woman with a clipboard and a permanent sneer that said the three years had been lonely, that Sam had been posted to a senior high school in Sapporo City in Hokkaido; and that Bright had been posted to a junior high school in Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture, Honshu.
Different apartments; different schools; different cities; different prefectures; different islands.
They are to leave and part tomorrow.
Drew and Bright both have cameras, but Brigit isn't taking photos.
It's late now, almost eleven, and in the streets of Shibuya the crowds are thinning out. All three of them have cans of Sapporo from a beer vending machine. They stare around themselves at the narrow shops, the swathes of neon, the stalls jammed in next to each other, some so narrow a person could lean against one wall and touch the other with an outstretched hand. Only a few shops are open at this time, so the chaos seems broken by the dead patches of corrugated garage doors, pitted and billed with peeling signs in kanji. They walk down a gently sloping street littered with cigarette butts, paper cups and burger wrappings, lined by shoestores, HMV, McDonald's, Wendy's, record stores, jewellery stores, ramen stores, Burger King, Yoshinoya, video game parlours six stories high, still howling and clinking, a few kids squatting outside smoking cigarettes, boys laughing shrilly, faces lit blue and orange by their keitais as they read their skymail. They've been drinking steadily for almost six hours and with the heat their page 72 faces are sheened with alcoholic sweat and the strange oil that the air and the humidity wring from pores.
When they look up, the sky is a black-grey pinprick static cushion, too dense, bulging and somehow particulate, or pixellate: millions of points of shades of grey. The sky looks plump, like fine, dark sand recently fluffed, or a dusty charcoal mould. It looks pregnant and appears to them in shapes delineated by the tall thin buildings: huge dusty ideograms as foreign as the kanji. Now they see an L of sky, but inverted. Now, as they pass a crossroads, a huge, monolithic K with an extra, broken arm dangling from the K's back. Now, on the street that slopes to Starbucks and the station, a long but flawed girder of an I sprouting extra stalks pruned close along its length; all studded with orange blooms of streetlights, like a gigantic rune relieved in ruins and overgrown with marigolds.
Everywhere they hear the far-off hum and rattle and wash of motors.
They keep drinking, buy three more cans apiece from another machine, and stash them in Drew's backpack. Alcohol vending machines close at eleven; another piece of advice from JET.
‘How would you describe this place,’ murmurs Sam.
‘America's deformed little cyberbaby,’ Brigit says. Sam looks up at the flatness of her voice.
‘It doesn't matter,’ Drew says. ‘What it can give you is what matters. What you want. What you can get.’
‘What time…’ Sam mutters. Then, ‘I forgot. When's your…train.’
‘My train,’ Brigit says. ‘It's not a train. It's a…bus.’
Drew looks at them both, then turns and wanders away, over towards a shop window.
‘I leave at ten in the morning. From…’He thinks. ‘Shunjuku.’
‘You're first then. I leave at twelve.’
‘We…have to …oh, man,’Sam says.
Brigit examines his shoulders, and his neck. She doesn't look at his face. ‘We have to simply go. That's all. There's no other choice.’
‘We… They tricked us. They…they all but lied, Bridge.’ His tone is accusing. ‘We could complain. We could go to the embassy.’page 73
‘How do we find the embassy? Who can we complain to. It's…not going to happen like that. We don't know enough. We have to do what's arranged. They could cancel the visas.’
‘We don't have enough money, Sam. We can't do anything now.’
‘Do you want to go away then? So it's okay then?’
‘What we want doesn't matter here and now.’
Sam turns and looks down the street. He watches Drew staring into a blackened shop window. Then straightening, peering down the hill at something. A few doors up from them a garage door rattles closed; another shop shutting up.
‘I don't care about anything then,’ Sam says. ‘None of it will be any good.’
‘We'll have holidays. We can travel and visit.’
‘We're on different islands. We'll have to take trains…and… ferries and things. Why are you being so…I don't know… so very pragmatic about this. No, it's … actually it's more like completely fatalistic, Bright.’
‘Sam.’She's staring away down the hill. ‘We're in a place we can't afford to be anything else.’
Sam looks up, to her face, surprised and hurt. But she's staring past him.
‘Drew's waving at us.’
Sam doesn't say anything.
She walks off down the hill and, in a moment, he follows.
At the foot of the hill the narrow street abruptly widens and meets a large intersection. Four other streets fan out from this hub, and opposite is Tobu Department Store and the Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station. Though on this particular street there are few people, the crowds gathered at the islands of sidewalk waiting to cross are dense and clogged. Floodlights throw ovals of light up the huge thighs of two GAP models on a billboard. The unmoving crowds seem to shift and blur in a pulsing, irregular light from something they can't see.
At the bottom of the street, Drew is standing in the gutter, leaning over a small cluttered desk with chrome legs, perched on the edge of page 74 the sidewalk. The desktop is sloped like a shrunken lectern. It has a small lamp and is slanted towards Drew. He is peering down at the lectern like an immensely tall lecturer examining his distant notes, the lamp lighting up his crotch like the floodlights do the GAP models. Opposite him, in shadow behind the lamp, a young Japanese boy with shoulder-length hair points, bored, at something on the desk. His hand becomes a white spot for a moment, then recedes.
Brigit walks down the hill and pauses behind Drew. Sam stands out in the street and stares across to Hachiko, at all the cut-and-pasted buildings like the stacked shoeboxes of an immense foster-family.
On the desk, pinned in neat rows, are more than fifty miniature plastic bags of shrivelled brownish objects.
Each bag is individually labelled. Drew is staring down, examining the labels closely.
‘What's this?’ Bright says.
‘LBMs,’ he mutters.
‘Little Brown Mushrooms. Legal little brown mushrooms.’
Brigit leans down beside him. Each bag is zip-lock, and small as a bag for a collectable coin. Inside, the mushrooms are more a fawn-grey than brown, and thoroughly desiccated. The texture is something like velvet worn to a near-shine. The tiny caps are elongated, puckered and pointed; the stems crooked and crushed-looking. They look unappetising, juiceless, and banal, like the dried corpses of the most childishly-drawn generic mushroom shape.
On each small white label a string of kanji, a weight in grams, and, on one in maybe every four, a biological name written in rude pencil.
‘They can sell them on the street?’
‘It certainly looks like it, doesn't it.’
Drew is absorbed. The Japanese boy opposite him is smoking, bored. He points down at one of the bags and mutters something noncommittal.
‘How much?’ Drew looks up. This is the most serious Brighit has seen him in the twelve hours they've been thrown together.
The boy thinks. Drags on his cigarette.page 75
Breathes out smoke, and, through the clouds, huskily says, ‘Sebunsowzanden.’
‘Seven?’ Drew says, incredulous.
‘Uhn.’ The boy nods with the sound, the nasal barely voiced; the Japanese assent.
Bright laughs and Sam looks over at them.
‘Uh. Won guramu,’, the boy nods. Brigit looks at the boy's long, clean hair, dyed brown with messy silver streaks. Black eyes in an unnaturally tan face, a nose-ring, yellow teeth. And a black T-shirt that reads HIP LOCK! IT'S CHEERFUL GIRL MONSTER!
There's something pleased on her face.
‘One gram. It's robbery. And they're bloody legal.’
‘I still feel kind of…criminal though.’
Sam stands beside her.
‘You're doing these tonight then, eh,’ he says.
‘Before you….The night…before we leave.’
‘May-be,’ Bright says. The may drawn out; the high be not a question but near a taunt.
‘What the hell is wrong with you Brigit?’
‘Nothing is wrong. This is Japan, Sam.’ She laughs. ‘Sam, Japan. Jap Sam. A man. Marzipan jam, Sam.’
He looks from her to the desk, then back to her. She leans down closer to the display. He looks out to the street and grits his teeth.
‘That's like a hundred and twenty bucks. Aussie,’ Drew says. ‘Fuck!’
It sounds harsh and ugly to Sam, like a deep squawk. Faahk.
‘We can't afford that, Brigit.’
‘One?’ Drew says to the boy, tapping his chest, then holding up a finger.
The boy nods, bored. Sense of too many fingers, too many times.
‘Uh. Won guramu, you.’
‘Don't do it, don't do it,’ a voice whispers faux-dramatically behind them.
It's a tall foreign boy with short black hair in a white singlet. Sam page 76 can't place the accent. It's placeless. Bright glances up, sees the black diagonal stripe of a bag strap across the singlet. That's a wifebeater, she thinks, the English name for a singlet.
Drew ignores the foreigner and points to a different bag.
‘Australian, Canadian, Canadian. He knows you're JET. He's screwing you.’ The boy steps up on the kerb, leans over and points at a bag and says something in Japanese.
The Japanese boy swats his finger away and hisses a rapid sentence.
The boy laughs and relents.
‘I'd walk away. He speaks English, you know.’
The Japanese boy steps out from behind the desk as if to push him.
‘Come on, Manabu, give them a break,’ he says, and smiles at the boy.
Drew and Brigit and Sam stare at the exchange.
The Japanese boy turns back to them, his bored mask gone, then to the new boy.
‘Everyone, go out,’ he snaps. ‘Closed. Closing.’
The boy laughs, and says, ‘Come with me. I'll hook you up.’
At the corner of an alleyway, Drew a little reluctant and a little suspicious but in massive debt, Sam hanging back and Brigit taking charge, the boy sells them three single-gram baggies of mushrooms he produces from his satchel, for one thousand yen each. His baggies are unmarked, the mushrooms as unassuming as the others.
‘They're very good. I know the guy who grows them. He's a genius,’ the boy says. ‘He's the Mao of shrooms.’
‘Right,’ Drew says. ‘Uh-huh.’
He gives Brigit a business card with no business on it.
‘Mao-shrooms,’ she says. ‘I get it. You have long fingers. Michael Edwards.’
‘Before I go,’ he says, ‘can I ask you some simple little questions? Tell me one thing you know about this place.’
‘It's hot,’ says Drew.
‘Why?’ Sam says.
‘Just for my own…research purposes,’ he says.page 77
‘We're here to learn about it,’ Brigit says. ‘You can't know a country unless you live there for a time.’
‘Experience is important.’
‘Who are you?’ Sam says.
‘It feels…it feels like a lonely place,’ Brigit says.
‘How it feels is important.’
‘One thing, then.’
‘Okay. It's…incredibly vast. And dense. But everything feels…used. Too looked-at.’
‘What about you,’ the boy says to Sam.
‘What research?’ Sam says. ‘Who are you?’
‘Come on. Just one thing. Indulge me.’
‘I don't indulge drug dealers. You're just trying to make fun of us.’
‘Sa-am,’ Brigit says.
‘Just tell him something,’ Drew says. ‘This is a good deal.’
‘All right then. I know there's a monument made by the family of a war criminal with Japanese clay and mud from China. It's of Kannon. The Buddhist god of compassion. It's at Atami, to commemorate the Sino-Japanese war dead.’
‘Lonely Planet, page 201. “Excursions.”’
The boy laughs. ‘I made that addition. It was…fiercely-resisted, I think the term would be. And heavily edited.’
‘Hey, no, I've got a real one,’ Drew says. ‘The Japanese make sashimi out of blowfish. Pufferfish. It's called fugu. And like two hundred people die every year from eating it. Some of it's poisonous. They're the only people in the world that eat it. I wanna try it man. I'm ready.’
‘They cook it, too. The u is sometimes almost silent, so it sounds a little like “foog”. Or “hoog”. There's a fugu store up there,’ the boy says, pointing up the street. ‘If you want to see.’
‘How did you know we were JETs? How did you know where we're from?’ Sam says.
The boy dabs his finger at each one of them in turn, as if he's page 78 counting. ‘It's written all over your faces.’
Before he turns and leaves, he says, ‘It's written all over your eyes.’
The three JETs stand at the end of the alleyway in Shibuya on their first night in Japan, examining the little baggies in their hands. It's grown even more humid, the air hot and close, wet as sticky milk. An odour rises up through manhole lids in the black, greasy, litter-strewn street: a yellow diarrhoeal smell like sulphur. All three of them are sweating heavily. Their faces glisten in the orange streetlights and soaking T-shirts hang taut and darkly on the slopes and bumps of young shoulders. Another rattle sounds close by; another shop shuts up. It's hard to draw breath. Drew smokes, but hasn't lit a cigarette since the airconditioned bar in Roppongi. To smoke in this air seems absurd.
‘I'm doing mine now,’ he says abruptly. ‘I'm gonna do the shrooms now. Fuck it.’
Brigit laughs. ‘Fuck it, maan,’ she says. ‘But my beer is flat.’
‘You guys are ridiculous,’ Sam says. ‘These could be dangerous. Poisonous. God knows.’
‘You're going to have a great time in Japan, mate,’ Drew says. ‘I can just tell.’ He reaches into his backpack and pulls out one, then, dramatically, two, then three cans of Sapporo.
‘But they're warm already,’ he says, and looks at Brigit.
She looks at him, then at Sam, then back to Drew, and a helpless grin takes shape, like an amused groan. Like she's remembering something left behind, and leaving it there.
Drew is nodding, grinning too. He throws a can to Sam.
He catches it. ‘Guys,’ he says, and breaks off, looking at their grins, starting to smile too. ‘No way.’
‘Way,’ Brigit says. ‘Oh, way.’
Drew whoops suddenly, punches the air with the baggie in his hand. ‘We're gonna get hi-igh,’ he shouts.
‘Let's do it,’ Brigit says.
They squat quickly down on the kerb at the corner of the alleyway. They open their beers, suck the froth that bursts out, wincing, making noises at the warmth. Drew is suddenly very businesslike. ‘Everything page 79 is legal,’ he mutters, fumbling with the baggie. ‘Street beer, mushies. There are no rules.’ Brigit watches Drew for clues, and imitating him, pours the contents of the little baggie into her palm. ‘There are no rules at all.’ In her hand are three whole shrivelled mushrooms, one cap and three stalks surrounded by dust and fragments. She picks through them, looks up at Drew. He puts a whole mushroom in his mouth, and staring first at her, then Sam, chews quickly, exaggeratedly, making sticky clicking noises.
Through a mouthful, trying to grin, he mumbles, ‘Remember to masticate the head hard and fast, Brigit,’ and snorts.
‘Jesus,’ Sam says, and delicately puts a piece of cap in his mouth. He blinks and puffs his cheeks. ‘They taste … they taste like dirt.’
Brigit imitates Drew, and squatting, facing each other, faces working, jaws clicking, teeth sometimes bared and sipping beer to chase the taste that's more like very lightly perfumed cardboard, the two eat their bagfuls quickly, finishing obsessively, holding the bags up to the streetlights, flicking them with their fingertips, licking their palms.
Sam is still eating. ‘Oh my god they're disgusting,’ he splutters.
‘Don't you dare spit it out, don't you dare,’ Drew shouts.
‘God, he's right,’ Brigit says, grimacing, shuddering at the aftertaste. ‘Ooh, God, Drew, they're really awful.’
‘No,’ Drew says. ‘They're beautiful. Say it with me. They taste beautiful.’
‘They taste beautiful.’
‘Jesus, God,’ Sam says.
‘It doesn't work.’
‘I can't eat these, I can't.’
‘Give them here then, mate,’ Drew says. ‘I'll eat them.’
‘I'll eat them, too,’ Brigit says.
‘Good on ya,’ Drew says. ‘Gimme.’
He snatches the bag from Sam.
‘Take them. They're foul.’
‘Me, me,’ Brigit says.
Drew pours the remains of the third baggie into his hand, divides the pile, hands her half. They both chew shuddering, laughing, drinking more beer, Sam shaking his head in disgust.page 80
When all the bags are empty, they leave them lying on the street by their empty cans like burst balloons.
And these streets where they weren't raised is where they walk, waiting for the drugs to come on. It's a different kind of tourism now: they seem to stare at the stores and the tall thin buildings with an expectant childlike energy, waiting for them to change. What was a weary trudge has become a light quick step, of a specific mission, a pleasant appointment. They turn corners without dissent or debate. They pass a line of immense, mirrored escalators, emptily turning—four down and four up—into a giant blue neon-lined chamber. It's ignored, or glanced sharply into then away. Their eyes are bright and alert.
Deeper into endless asphalt Shibuya hills; loomed over, darkened. Sam looks back only once, briefly.
Brigit says, ‘I need to find a convenience store. Some gum for the taste.’
Drew just nods. They continue up the hill.
‘Segafredo,’ he reads from a sign. ‘What about a drink. Will that do?’
‘I need gum.’
‘Chewing will help.’
Something has changed between them, even Sam. Like now they hold a shared secret; like now they hold three corners of a laden table.
Segafredo is a two-storeyed cafe, all red and black tile; plastic furniture outside. It's mostly filled with Japanese, but a lot of foreigners, too, especially later in the evenings. Upstairs is nonsmoking. They stop outside, in front of a table of four young foreigners, all different races.
Drew asks a dark, curly-haired girl.
‘Do you speak English?’
There's a young white girl with long black hair and a Chinese boy, and a tall pale boy with shaved hair.
It's him that answers. ‘Very well thank you, yes.’
‘Is there a convenience store round here?’
He turns in his seat and points up the hill. ‘Go, go, go,’ he says. ‘Then left, then left. Hill. Right. Comme ça.’
The Chinese boy laughs at him. ‘Oh “very well, thank you”. Asshole, Jacques.’page 81
Brigit's staring inside the café.
‘What,’ Sam says.
‘That looks like,’ she says, and laughs abruptly.
The four at the table look at her. ‘Don't,’ the Chinese boy says. ‘Don't say it.’
‘That's Steven Dorff,’ Brigit says, incredulous.
‘Holy shit,’ Drew says. ‘It is.’
He's sitting at a table just inside the doors of Segafredo with a Japanese girl.
‘Don't say anything,’ the dark girl says. ‘He gets pissed.’
‘It's not,’ Sam says. ‘Is it?’
‘Wow,’ Drew says, beginning to laugh. ‘Oh wow. Japan.’
At the table the Chinese boy is sneering at them.
‘Come on,’ Sam says. ‘It's not. Let's go.’
He takes Brigit by the arm and pulls her with him.
‘That's so cool,’ Drew says.
‘Assholes,’ the Chinese boy says loudly as they leave.
For Brigit, suddenly, out on the street, speaking suddenly and silently to herself at the onset of the low dosage, her own voice inside the feeling feeds her this:
what are you really doing here a tiny nauseaworm is asking, turning in its own heat and faeces. what do you really want now coiling around the fetus in her womb. do you think he's a strong boy shaking scales off in her arms. how pretty am I the worm is asking pretty enough to stay and stay alone forever ever in the oilyquiet heat?
‘Um,’ Brigit says.
‘Come on,’ Sam says. ‘Let's go. Come on, Brigit.’
‘Oh. I feel a little sick, Sam,’ she says. ‘I feel a little nauseous.’
‘Oh shit,’ Drew says, beside them, laughing. ‘Oh shit that's the first sign. You're gonna be tripping soon mate. Get ready.’
‘I need…something. I need gum.’
‘Are you okay?’ Sam says.
‘I feel funny, Sam,’ she says. ‘I feel funny.’
They walk up to the end of the street and turn left at the corner, page 82 Brigit following Drew, Sam beside her. The crowds are thick but thinning as the first night in Japan wears on.
Drew glances back past them down the hill, an amused and wearied grin as he sees Brigit's pale face, and then a little twist as a tiny Japanese girl shrieks with laughter right beside him, and quickly in a voice, recognisably his own but utterly accentless, as the shrooms start to come on, he finds himself telling himself:
the deserts near Toowoomba were rolling hills like these for you but why does that come to you now when the real question is do you want to eat them to make you wet or why? what's enough for you are you enough for one who knows you really any more that's the really simple little question with spines. watch the flanks of thighs go walking its you who are wet and silver inside and they are dry and you should know this feeling this bitter sticky sickness but at home it's a dry heat man a dry heat you know is what makes and made your world and it used to be the awful twilight lie down in awful twilight when the day dies there was nothing left and you wanted to be cool and warm at the same time but that can never be and everytime the thing can never be is really it was always money money money and so many days and ways of sadness and aloneness till you do it again with a hand on a thigh and a sigh and then wet and cool and warm and dry and a line of light is blackness bursting from a hole so familiar but and then like now always always always made you new and weak and that is all that is good
‘Ha!’ Drew says. ‘It's funny.’
He gets no answer.
‘They're different aren't they,’ he says to himself.
His voice is utterly sad.
‘That's the thing with shrooms. They're always, always quite different.’
Past the corner young Japanese girls in smocks are carrying in the boxes of Don Quixote products stacked outside the doors.
A jingle plays, a high girl chorus, ‘Don Don Don, Don Quix-o-te-e.’
Outside the big store is a circle of park benches round a grizzled page 83 black old tree. They pass it by; a biker astride a huge Yamaha spurs the engine, makes it howl and murmur.
Brigit jumps at the sound, looks back once toward it.
Sam quickens his step and walks up beside her.
‘Are you all right? Do you feel okay? Brigit?’
‘Yes,’ she says sharply, then softer, ‘Yeah. Yes. Hold my hand.’ She reaches for his hand and holds it tightly, and they walk along the crest of the hill together, behind Drew, who's rubbing the crook of his left arm absently, kneading the dip at the end of a bicep.
They walk the length of the block, then turn and follow Drew up a steep side street. Sam glances up to Brigit's face every few steps because she's frighteningly pale, her eyes wide and staring. Her right hand in his is very dry and is sporadically clutching hard, then soft, relaxed, then pumping his fingers together like she's fighting something painful. Drew is half the steep little block ahead of them and is pausing, checking across the street.
Sam sees the bright pink and yellow and blue of an AM/PM convenience store ahead, layered back into the ground floor of a squat concrete building like a cave. There are kids outside, mostly Japanese but also foreigners, and they form the ragged end of a queue to the club that's further up the hill. Another squat, lopsided-seeming building, the hill forming a violent angle with the last stair of a well that's crammed with people waiting.
‘Here we go, Bridge,’ Sam says gently. ‘We'll get some water here, too.’
‘I don't want to go in,’ Brigit says. ‘I can't go in, Sam.’
‘Don't worry,’ he says, and smiles. ‘I vill get evrysing ve need, Fräulein. Der Deutschemark matters not, ja?’
He's close, still holding her hand, speaking quietly, lightly. She's staring eyes wide up the hill, to the queue, and the store. When she turns her head to him and smiles quickly her eyes don't light on his at all.
‘Wait here,’ he says. ‘Don't move. I'll be back.’
He glances down the street and jogs across, through the loose clusters of kids.
Brigit sits shakily on the milky plastic cube of a PARKING sign. She looks for Drew up the street, but the queue is spreading like a page 84 spilled thickshake across the black little street and down the hill. He's lost in it, and the sound of the music from the club is a ferocious thumping.
‘Drew,’ she says quietly. And looks up at the sound of her own voice. ‘Sam?’
wormausea wind and lick and furl asks what is this ve haf here zen? mocking him no he's strong don't say that stronger than me because I falter now I don't know if it's better to go to fukuimiguchihonsho so cruel the words in this place and isn't this when you should be kind? there's decisions to be made and simple little questions have no place when there are decisions to be made don't you don't you mock him evrysing ve need he said the fucking idiot no don't you say that don't the worm turns the worm turns around the little thing that's purple and sad inside her little lie her little secret her stupid stupid little flight no no not sad inside her god no don't let it know and have wise and sad and violet eyes open inside her let it be cool and sleepy there for simple little questions have no answers here is it your heart? is it your heart? is it your heart?
Brigit gasps a little, and stands up unsteadily, one hand on the PARKING sign for balance. She breathes out sharply, strongly pale; her eyes are wide and her mouth is a violent frown. The look is like feigned or exaggerated confusion. Wild confusion; almost horror. As if she had seen something terrible. She stares up the street, across to the AM/PM. She can't see Sam inside. There are too many people to look through.
She staggers once on her way up the street and into the crowd.
At the crest of the hill that she begins to climb, the narrow street forks. In the tiny block formed by the splaying streets there is a building, which at its widest point is no wider than two people arms-outstretched, and at its narrowest—where it meets the forked roads directly: there are no sidewalks here—there is a small violent concrete slope. A driveway, going underground into the heart of the hill. A miniature basement garage—Drew had ducked down to look inside as he passed beside the building: at the level of his feet there was the page 85 inverted armadillo-shell of the garage-door opener attached to the garage's roof, just four feet away; he could almost reach inside and touch it—for a miniature-seeming office building that, when he dizzily raised his head, he found was more than twenty stories high.
The hills of Shibuya are mined and crusted; the buildings like a porcupine's spines with follicles diving deep beneath. All the surfaces are deceptions; every one is true.
Even deeper beneath, the subway thrums.
Over the crest of the hill, the right hand fork of the road soon meets a major highway. Taxi after taxi shines past; nearing midnight now, and the trains will be stopping soon. There are few other kinds of vehicle on the road. The median strip is a box hedge; the sidewalks cater for only two abreast. There are handrails for busy days. Lining the streets of this area are mostly business premises; anonymous stone and glass lobbies. From the street they're little more than alcoves poured with tile, elevator doors and ashtrays clinging to the walls. Gold kanji glittering in the streetlights hangs in the air, sprinkled on the windows; their dark distorted doubles lurk on the walls inside. Nothing stirs but dust and butts and coffee cups, dancing in sluggish eddies, clattering in the grained marble corners of entranceways. Inches away, inside the thick plate glass that's coated with the air's sediment until it's cleaned early tomorrow morning, huge paintings, Hirsts and Onicas and Savilles and Lyes, hang on the lobby walls under the shadow kanji, great darkened slabs of beautiful money.
Another taxi purrs past, coasting away down the hill towards the 109 Building and Hachiko. The winds that trouble the buildings' occupants in the day when the men head out for lunch—whipping trenchcoats so hard against legs they shuffle like girls in kimono; bursting umbrellas, puncturing them with an audible sound like a gunshot; tearing sunglasses right off—are made by the buildings themselves. In Shinjuku, the Yasuda Kasai-Kaijo Building flares from the fifteenth floor down to disrupt the power of these gusts as they funnel around the skyscrapers. In monsoon season, when the winds come, there is the salaryman with his ruined stalk of plastic and aluminium dangling, his suit sopping, hairpiece askew, shaking his fist at the new elements.page 86
But Shibuya isn't conducive to the new wind. The hills dip and trick the wind. The hills break it down into tiny frantic squads, quarrelling in corners, turning on one another, reduced to feeble little dervishes like these, scrapping over litter.
So it stays humid.
And in the deep and wet and humid air Drew is down the sidewalk standing outside a restaurant that's not open.
It's not open but the window is dimly lit. His soaked T-shirt and his awestruck face are lit to a silver sheen by a small light inside. The window is narrow, and only the height of Drew. It is blackened glossily from the sidewalk to his waist; an aquarium fills the rest. He's staring into it. The fugu store.
Above it all, the surge and tide and swell of emotion, is the overriding command he gives himself, a cry:
First there's the calm shock: fugu do not look like blowfish or pufferfish at all. They are quite reassuringly fishlike. They are bluegrey and silverspotted in the tank. Two hand-spans long. More like cartoonish snubnosed cod; not ominous, spiked or worrying. The outside of the tank is stained with a green and white sediment, blurred to streaks of smeared grey where a halfhearted dishcloth has lazily wiped. Once, twice. The floor of the tank is painted aqua with large darker blue spots; faux-deco ocean, on top of which the oxygen supply is a rusting metal box the size of a pencil case. It bubbles calmly from a corrugated pipe. The back of the tank is a faded poster of a white plate turned yellow with age, with bite-sized pieces of opaque, cooked fugu resting by a single sprig of parsley.
Before their future, the fugu float, lit from above by two miniature fluorescent tubes.
Drew stands, staring, stunned.
Beneath the lights one floats on its side; eyes like drops of mercury unblinking; it gasps at the surface. The eyes and lips have crimson linkings, raw-looking. It gasps in beats as regular as the bubbling of the oxygen. Open, shut, open shut, breathe, don't breathe, breathe.
Beneath it, four float free in the centre of the tank.
The fugu in the centre of the tank have fins that are torn and page 87 blistered, white and soft from lack of use, weeping ragged holes like pieces bitten out. They sweep slowly through the murky water, pass each other, bump, and push weakly. Their lips are red and tatters hang from them.
Another bumps its head softly in a glassed corner. There are sores around its eyes.
Through the middle of the tank two filaments of transparent material drift. Sometimes the fish float past them, cause them to trace lazy lines along their flanks. The fugu in the corner bumps its soft white snout against the glass and gasps. The lost soul at the surface floats on its side, near death.
Drew stands and stares, his T-shirt adhering moistly to his stomach, lit silverblue by the light of the tank.
The words and remonstrances have given way and he sees only floods.
‘Oh my God,’ he whispers, without a trace of an accent.
‘What's that smell?’ Sam says suddenly beside him in thick Canadian. Then, ‘Look at them. They think they're in some ancient sea. They're actually in a box.’
Drew flinches, slowly.
‘Makes me want to puke. Where's Brigit?’ Holding gum and a bottle of VOLVIC water.
‘I …’ Drew whispers. ‘Don't … know … you ….’
Later, they'd find her in a glassed doorway, crying, sobbing. Sam would go to Hokkaido alone and in two months move a Japanese secretary into his apartment. He would learn to speak slowly and clearly, and never fake a German accent. Brigit would bleed the next day and never go to Fukui. In Tokyo she would get a new visa and a new job through a friend of Michael Edwards, and move into an apartment with Drew, whose taste for heroin had gone with his Australian accent, and who found work and visa sponsorship writing for Tokyo Classified and who would also swear, once, in hushed, accentless tones to a nodding Michael and to Brigit, that the kitchenhand he glimpsed behind the tank was carrying a sword.