And then she was sitting there, in her red dress seductively falling at her knees, overdressed for the occasion of drinking beers while playing a card game down near the Sumida river, and I told her to stand a little farther to take a picture. As I saw her smiling through the viewfinder, mouth closed, perhaps attempting to appear reserved, I wondered why I had never truly noticed her effortless beauty, the magical, hazed resonance of her presence. The only time this had struck me before was when I saw her shadow swaying in the darkness of some jazz bar in Shimokitazawa, a tequila sunrise held in her hand, her black hair loosened, awash in multicolor strobe light, as if she were inhabited by another. I would be in a dark corner, watching her float around the room, tinsel stars glinting in her eyes. She was indifferent, a smug smile, always a bit absent, but she was there, staring through me as if I were light, as if the world was being forged in her eyes and I was right at its center.
We’d spend nights talking about the lovers she had had, that she hated, or perhaps still loved, and she’d make me laugh, and cry; she’d tear my heart apart and make it kick in my throat with life. She’d lay there on my bed, inert, yet hurried. Then in the morning she’d be gone. I’d wonder if she wasn’t but a dream. The only remnant of her presence was perhaps a Lou Reed record still turning by itself; the world would seem wearier.
Oh, I’m still missing my other half
Oh, it must be something I did in the past
Don’t it just make you wanna laugh
It’s a lonely Saturday night
Years went by. It’s a lonely Saturday night.
I had kept her most recent letter, carefully folded, received out of the blue, the black ink smudged, written in a hurried scribble.
I’m back in Japan. We could meet at Kamakura, that seaside town you’ve always adored, perhaps for Tanabata. I’ll be there, on that clear day.
I let the letter fall onto my knees. Tanabata, the legend of Orihime and Hikoboshi, the star-crossed lovers that could only meet on that clear July sky, once a year.
There was no address indicated.
A week later, I was in a train bound for Kamakura.
I stayed in Kamakura for a week, wandering, aimlessly. I’d spend my afternoons enveloped in a dreamlike opacity; I’d sit on the beach, the water licking my feet, watching the sailboats from afar, their hoisted sails seductively wrapping themselves around the wind, and then moving away towards the sea, their masts slowly disappearing into the horizon, away from my sight.
I was staying in a small inn outside of town, held by an old local. I would stay in the inn’s main room, furnished with Shōwa era furniture, with its yellowing seats, wooden floors that cracked with every step, and a surfboard lazily leaning against the wall. I was trying to think, but the only thing that I did was smoke cigarettes, fiddle with the lighter, my eyes dazed, watching the last level rays of day glimmer through an empty bottle of coca-cola sitting on the windowsill.
The old man would sometimes speak to me.
“Here for Tanabata?” he asked.
“On top of that mountain,” He pointed outside the window. “There is a small temple. You should go make a wish before tomorrow.”
That evening, the air was light with the perfumes of incense and sea salt air. As the setting sun’s light made the trees’ leaves glow in a reddish tint, I made my way to the temple, the path flanked by bamboo stalks, narrow strips of colored paper attached to them, wishes written on them. I read them, trying to see if one of them was written by her.
As I approached the temple, I noticed two statues at both of its sides: two guardians, warriors clothed in saturated red, staring straight into my eyes with a frown. I was compelled by their presence, the disapproving frown counterbalanced by a denuding, purifying lucidity in their stares. There was a strength in their presence, a rooted and fierce liveliness in their immortality.
On my way back, I took the wish that I had written back at the inn and attached it to a bamboo stalk: “I wish to see more clearly.”
Next to it, I noticed a wish, scribbled in black ink: “I wish to fade away”.
As I made my way back to the inn, the old man greeted me.
“Did you make a wish?”, he asked.
“Yes”, I quietly answered.
He smiled in approbation.
The next night was clear, starless.
I went back up the mountain, close to the temple. As I was walking, I noticed a clearing that I hadn’t noticed the day before: I could see Kamakura town from above, and the sea spreading itself out into the sky, the moon palely reflected in the sea.
And then, as I turned around, I saw her, from afar, almost hidden by the foliage, but it was her, dressed in a blue yukata, the fabric swaying in the breeze with a ghostlike lightness. She couldn’t see me. She was speaking to somebody.
In a few years, they’d be the one drinking their lemon peel rye, alone on a Saturday night, waiting for a letter signed by her.
“She can only exist as she is now: a shadow, hidden away, never truly real, but only a memory”, I thought.
And so I left, without looking back. I left Kamakura, taking the first train bound for Tokyo, probably never to come again.
And the record still plays.
Goodnight ladies, ladies goodnight
It’s time to say goodbye
And the sky is clearer than ever.
And the record still plays.