Daniel has wanted to be a writer ever since he was in elementary school.He has published stories and articles in such magazines as Slipstream, Black Petals, Spindrift, Zygote in my Coffee, and Leading Edge Science Fiction. He has written four books: The Sage and the Scarecrow (a novel), the Lexical Funk (a short story collection), Reejecttion (short story/ essay collection), and The Ghosts of Nagasaki (a novel).
It’s a little after two in the afternoon and I’ve already had two martinis. Two martinis to ease the pain of a night of hard drinking. Two martinis to forget memories too painful to hang on to. Two martinis at two o’clock. There’s a nice symmetry to it. More importantly it explains some things. It explains my train of thinking, for one. Why I think the salaryman next to me seems a little too interested in my business. It also explains why I have the slightest bit of mayo on my tie. How long has it been there? Who knows? Since lunch at least. When did I leave for lunch? In my hermetically sealed world, all that exists are me, the Japanese salaryman sitting next to me, and my two empty martini glasses. I’m in a glass box, and in my mind, I’m already on the way down.
“Yesterday, about lunch time,” I say out loud to the Japanese man sitting next to me, answering the question he never asked in a language he might not understand. “I left for lunch the exact moment I found out my boss was fucking my cute Japanese girlfriend.”
Cute? That was the understatement of the century. Who was I kidding? I didn’t have any business going out with a girl that hot. It suddenly occurs to me that I’ve been out to lunch for about a day and a half now. This seems strange to me. It seems that at some point I should’ve gotten some sleep. Let’s see, I’d left my office about sixteen hours ago, and I’d been in some state of drunkenness since then, so a little more than a day is more like it. I find this funny, so I laugh a little.
I can tell that this makes the salaryman next to me a little nervous.
“But you can’t really call two martinis drunk,” I explain to him. “And I can’t even remember what I was drinking last night, anyway.”
He stares straight ahead and takes small bites of his club sandwich. We share seemingly the same suit and tie, except mine is an import and his is a cheaper knockoff made by a domestic company. On the surface, they look the same, but down deep our suits couldn’t be any different. I don’t hold it against the guy now anyway, because I’m a changed man.
“I’m a changed man,” I announce to the salaryman next to me. He turns my way and nods politely. I wonder how long this one is going to last. Another five minutes? How long did the last one last? How long had I really been here? How do I know that those two martini glasses aren’t the last in a much larger line of martini glasses?
I have larger problems: In my mind’s eye, I catch glimpses of my girlfriend straddling my boss in my own apartment.
“Shit,” I say. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” I turn to the salaryman sitting next to me, and because I can, I say it one more time. “Shit. Life is shit.” He just looks forward, pretending not to see me. The polite nod of a second ago seems light years away. And though he pretends not to make too much of it, I know that he’s deep into my train of thinking. He probably knows what I’m saying deeper and more profoundly than even I know it. That, or he’s seconds away from getting up and walking away.
Ten minutes. This guy has lasted ten minutes longer than the last, at least.
“Shit,” I say again, but he just sits there motionless. What do they call that face? The Japanese practice that shows no emotion, what the hell is that called? Aw, that’s right, the Nou mask. Well good for you, I think. I wish I had one of those masks right now. It would make this whole situation, well, more graceful.
I want to express my appreciation for his talent at wearing his mask of nonchalance in Japanese haiku. But even though I’ve been in Japan for nearly two years now, I’ve managed to pick up absolutely zilch of the language other than a few of the essentials, and even in English a haiku is a bit beyond my creative capabilities. That wasn’t what I was after anyway. I’ve always been of the pragmatist bent. All I really wanted was the imported suit and a cute Japanese girl to go with it. Man, did that have overreach written all over it. Yep, no doubt about it. I’m definitely on my way down.
It’s just this little dinky bar, but it’s located on the tenth floor across from one of Osaka’s most magnificent shopping malls, a real beauty. From where I sit, I can see the Ferris wheel that stands at least fifteen stories high, planted in the mall’s center. Past the bartender, I can see this Ferris wheel, rotating round and round, with all these little glass capsules rotating to match its motions. I should mention at this point that I still have that tiny speck of mayo on my tie. I down another martini, lick it off, and go back to staring at the Ferris wheel. All those little capsules. Some on the way up. Others on the way down.
I’m into martini number six now, and a new salaryman has come to take the place of the old. The fact that this one hasn’t fled in the face of my repeated onslaughts of nonsense and bad breath says that he’s probably cut from a finer cloth, though this one wears a domestic suit as well.
“Friend,” I say to him. “You, tomodachi, friend.”
This gets a smile from him and he just waves shyly at my comment.
I turn to the bartender and I order my new friend a martini.
The small Japanese man in the knockoff suit waves it away, but I insist with my various gestures and haiku-handicapped charm. Eventually, he accepts. No, no blank face like the other one. No nou mask. What does he have instead, a look of curiosity, embarrassment.
I get him to raise the martini I bought for him. “Here’s to you and me, friend. Yesterday, I had it all. I had a fine imported suit, a nice stable job with a bloated salary, and a girlfriend that was way cuter and nicer than I thought I ever deserved. I went through life thinking that maybe someday things would pan out if I kept an open mind. But I guess, in the end, we’re all just like those people on the Ferris wheel. We sit in our seats, trapped in our own little capsules, just along for the ride. We reach the top, only to start our way back down. And then, one day, the whole trip is over.”
The salaryman looks at me confused. I smile one more time and say, “You, tomadachi, friend.” He smiles, I smile, and I order us some more martinis. Across from us, in the Ferris wheel over Osaka, someone is getting a brief look from the top. The look is so brief, frightening, and wonderful the person doesn’t even realize that he’s already on his way down.