Glenn Kawamura grew up without snow, so the idea of a “snow day” with the mayor on TV telling people to stay home was odd. Still, he didn’t complain when his boss called him and said that the office would be closing at noon and it would be okay if he just didn’t come in at all. He drank his coffee slower and turned off the TV, preferring to listen to the nothing outside. At the kitchen sink, he looked out onto the park next to the house. The snow whipped like strange curtains, one coming left to right, the next right to left. There were dozens of curtains. He’d become so hypnotized that he felt like he was outside, lost in the snow, and had to startle himself awake.
Snow fascinated him, even living fourteen years in it. Snow was always novel and new, even today, in February when he was tired of being cold. He liked how the snow moved through the air and how that made him feel. He liked how the bare branches became full of cotton puff blossoms. He liked wearing his fleece and drinking hot coffee all day while staring out the window. Days like this, snow days, were the reason he didn’t miss the tropical home he fled after college. Snow made all the uncertain and uncomfortable years of living five thousand miles from his family bearable.
By mid-morning, the snow covered the park. Glenn heard his landlord downstairs shoveling the sidewalk. Spreading out the pain, he figured. The snow continued to fall, and its persistence surprised him. Across the street, the snow half-buried the wheel wells of the neighbors’ cars. Then the plow came through and buried them further. The cars looked like they floated in the snow like ships on the sea.
He was still in front of the window, eating a sandwich when she called. Grace had had to go to work, but by lunch her boss was sending them home. She was almost ready to go and wanted to know if he’d be around. She’d stop by on the way to her apartment, which was not far from his. “You’ll be home, right? No one else will be there?”
“No, no one’s here.” He had the place to himself, his roommate being on vacation up in the mountains. He wasn’t sure how he felt about her coming, breaking up his solitude, but found himself saying, “Okay,” in spite of himself.
He grunted into the pillow as her elbow dug into his back. Sometimes his muscles tighten so hard, they felt like pieces of metal digging into him. Over the months they’d been dating, her massages had changed from a light drizzle on his skin to a jackhammer pounding its way into his flesh. Her weight, as small as she was, dug into him. “Maybe a little softer,” he said into the pillow. It hurts, he thought to himself, but the spine feels better. She made little circles down his back with her elbow and then with the heel of her palm. She wasn't always precise, and he jerked every time she ran over a vertebrae. He wanted to relax, but he was nervous. Was it because it hurt or because he never got used to someone touching his skin? Who knows, he decided and concentrated on relaxing. “The palm feels better than the elbow,” he said.
He liked her weight on his hips, half-sitting on his behind, her calves next his hips. This was good contact. He was grateful she never made comments about the odd bruises on his arms and shoulders, the friction burns around his neck. Others had, suggested he try a less violent hobby than the martial arts. In the back of his mind, he wondered if she didn't feel comfortable about the subject or if she didn't care.
“Your skin feels better,” she said, “You’ve been drinking your water.”
He grunted into the pillow again, and she started rubbing his shoulders. He turned his head and opened his eyes. The room was getting darker, colder. The snow was steady earlier, but now it had all but stopped. Little white spots flecked the window. He felt lazy, and that was good.
“I used to think that maybe I’d like to be a massage therapist. That job appealed to my healer spirit,” she said, “but I didn’t want to deal with the stereotype.” She leaned over to get at a knot with her elbow, and her long hair fell over his head and shoulders. It was soft and thick and smelled nice. It felt comforting. She kissed his neck as she rolled off of him and onto her back with her head turned to face him. He rolled onto his side and asked, “What stereotype?”
“You know, the one about ‘happy endings.’”
“Oh,” he said. He hadn’t thought of that, and felt naive. He wanted to say the stereotype was crazy, but knew him saying that will sound even crazier. “I guess I had to know about it, but that never crossed my mind. Sounds too much like a bad 70’s porn movie.”
She laughed, looking at him with the same look she always did when he said something that she thought silly or naïve. She reached out and touched his cheek with the back of her hand. He was a silly man. Far too literal, far too trusting, just like his name. The Trusting Husband.
Her brother had called him a “painted banana” after he had met him. Glenn’s Japanese-ness was painted on, he said, like a coat of paint on a model airplane. His Japanese was stiff and accented. His culture was only thin academics. He did a martial art which was nothing more than a pseudo-art for those flailing at their ancestry like a drowning man watching the rescue ship sail away. But she wasn’t sure that was right. She agreed that he had covered himself in coloring, but the painted banana wasn’t it. He was more like an Easter egg with washed out yellow dye. He was okay with that. He liked that it was like a strange, obsolete Japanese aesthetic. Never perfect, but had a kind of weird naturalness to it.
Just before she met him, she had decided that she wanted to go out with an Asian American guy, if only to escape the stream of fetishists she had been getting. She had posted a few profiles on dating sites with an all-caps warning that she didn’t want non-Asians posing as Asians. She knew she would take some heat over it, but she had felt like a trophy with the last few guys she had been out with. An Asian guy, she figured, wouldn’t have an Asian fetish. Glenn thought that was strange. “Why couldn’t an Asian guy have a fetish about Asian women?” he asked her after she had shown him the ad.
“You can’t,” she said. “How can you? An Asian guy wouldn’t have the same stereotypes. You don’t see me as a ‘China Doll,’ right? You don’t look at Asian women without thinking about your mom or your aunt or someone, right? If anything, Asian guys would have a different stereotype of Asian women.”
He understood that. He had resisted going out with an Asian woman since he graduated from college because he had some stereotypes about Asian women. If anything, the women in his family dominated the men in loud and demanding voices. He didn’t think Asian women were bad, but he often felt the flavor of the traditional couple dynamic wasn’t for him. Still, he understood where she was coming from.
He hadn’t thought a lot about Asian stereotypes until he met her. She was more militant than he was, and that surprised him. Thinking about this sort of thing surprised him because he was an old stereotype too. The Asian guy who does martial arts. He looked over at his uniform hanging on the back on the bedroom door drying. “That’s a stupid stereotype too,” he thought, but the again, most of the Asian guys he knew here he met through martial arts and all his friends at home did them too.
Glenn, for his part, didn’t mind Grace’s bluntness. He liked her decisiveness, her wanting what she wanted and pushing that. What she wanted to eat, or what movie she wanted to watch. She’d always ask his opinion, but otherwise had no problem making a final decision. The decisions didn’t feel as heavy as his mother’s. He felt free, even if he had the same number of choices. Did Dad feel this way? Maybe it was a shortcut to thinking, but she made the decisions that he didn’t want to make. He felt free to think about the things he wanted to. He felt he could concentrate. But was this, he wondered as she pushed his hips a little to the right, a good thing?
Turning back to her, he reached out with his hand and brushed his fingers tips over her chest, the line where the swell of her breasts began. He moved his hand back and forth along that line, not wavering up or down. The motion was slow and his only made slight contact with his fingertips. His eyes followed the fingertips as they glided. He thought it was strange that he didn’t seem to have any sensation of touching her. He was only aware of the image of his hand moving back and forth on her chest.
“Kiss my neck,” she said and turned onto her side. He nestled up to her and wrapped one arm around her stomach as the other snaked under the pillow and below her neck. He kissed the part where her shoulder and neck met then worked back towards the center line, just below where her hair ended. He moved down , maybe only an inch, before he circled up back to where he had started. He pressed his hand on her stomach.
* * *
They had met at a party a friend of his threw in the waning days of autumn. He wasn’t too thrilled about the party, but he said he was going to go. Most of this friend’s parties were filled with people who loved Salsa dancing, which he just didn’t have the hips for. He resigned himself to an evening sitting in the corner of the dining room, encamped in front of the punch bowl. He worked on his fantasy football line-up for that week. So, much to his surprise, he found her leaning across the dining table laden with desserts asking what he was doing. For every answer he had, she had two questions. There were no easy answer to give her because she wanted everything explained in careful detail. He wondered, at one point, if this is what an interrogation would feel like. Because she was pretty, he didn’t mind, but as she kept asking questions, he felt a little overwhelmed. Maybe even attacked. After a while, she let up, gave him some slack. At the end of evening, they shared numbers, met later for a coffee date. A first for him, since he never thought of going for a coffee as being a “real date” but who was he to argue? Those were the terms of the agreement.
In the flow of things, they saw each other a couple of times a week. They tried new restaurants, went to a couple of movies, took walks when the weather permitted. He knew that they were moving along the day she called him at work to tell him to use hand lotion and lip balm before he met up with her that evening. After a quick dinner and movie, they went back to her apartment.
He liked that she lived in a real apartment building, and that heating was included. From her window, you could see the small Korean market and the little Greek place he liked across the street. It was close to the T. Her cat seemed to like him, and she jumped on his lap whenever he sat down. The vibrations of her purring made him think of her as a kind of electric blanket.
Grace was physical and aggressive, and this was new to him. He felt relieved. He felt no pressure trying to be intimate with her and had no questions about where her boundaries were. She liked certain things and didn’t like others, and all this she explained in clear detail as the first time she lay on top of him.
Towards the end of December, he visited his uncle in Los Angeles, California, like he did every year since moving East. He spent a couple of weeks away and came back right after New Year’s. She came over the day he returned, despite the snow storm. She stayed the night, the only time she stayed over, something she didn't want done at her apartment. Around midnight, he awoke alone and found her sitting on the couch in his bathrobe, eating the pizza they had had for dinner. In the morning, after a quick breakfast, she was gone.
Now, the room was dark. It was hard to see her. He worked up her neck and stopped below her ear and started to move back down the neck. She didn’t like the ear thing. Her skin was warm and soft. It was the softness that surprised him, and did every time. He wasn’t sure why it did, but it did.
“You’re getting excited again,” she says as she turns her head to kiss him.
“You know what would be a ‘happy ending’ for me?”
“Waking up to you in the morning,” he said and kissed her neck again.
“My cat will miss me,” she said. He kissed her neck one more time and then stopped. He pulled the covers over them and they lay there still, not talking any more. He knew how the afternoon would end. She will say it’s late and get dressed. Outside the tinted street lights would turn everything a yellow-orange hue. He’ll want to walk her home, but she will kiss him at the door. He'd walk away on the snow-covered sidewalk, wondering if there are ever happy endings.
Daryl Muranaka works primarily as a poet and his poems have appeared most recently in the Tulane Review and is forthcoming in Spry. His first poetry collection,Hanami, was recently published by Aldrich Press. His prose has appeared in Under the Sun, Ink Monkey Magazine, and The Rejected Writer. He lives in Boston.