Michiko pushed the grocery cart down the aisle, marveling at how it was so large you could put a dead body in it. She peered at the strange packages on the shelves, sounding out unfamiliar English words on the labels and trying to decide what she could choose that was both edible and would take up space in the cart. She lingered in front of Skip-py, wondering if the brown stuff in the jar was some kind of dog food and thinking of her little dog Poppy, who had nipped her for the very first time before she’d left Japan, and when she turned around her father was lying in the cart, dressed in his pajamas and robe, as he had been when she’d found him lying outside the door to the family bath. His English was excellent and he spoke to her in it now, from the dead, as it were, and this is what he said, or at least what she thought he said, as her own English was much poorer than his, an old rattling train compared to his bullet train express. He spoke fast. As she leaned over the cart to listen, she saw a child, being wheeled beside her by his mother, gaping at him with an open mouth and a tongue that hung out like a dog’s.
“Close your mouth,” the child’s mother said. “You’re going to catch a fly.”
“Michiko-chan,” her father said after he waved at the child, and the child waved back. “You didn’t give Watanabe a chance. How can you judge a man by his dislike of the food you cooked? Cook him something better!” Her father paused, and looking up at her from behind the spectacles that were always sliding down his nose but were not sliding now, he said, “Try making him an American meal. There’s food here. Shop, my child!”
Michiko hung her head down. Her father had arranged for her to meet Watanabe with the thought they’d make a good match, and Michiko had tried to like Watanabe. Tried hard. She told her father this but he only said, “Sh! People are listening! It’s not good to have a private conversation here,” and then he fell silent, and shut his eyes, and looked so dead that she feared he’d never come back to life. What’s worse, she had to put the jar of Skip-py in the cart, and where would she put it? On his chest? He fit perfectly into the cart, every part of him, like azuki bean sweets in a sweet box.
“Father!” Michiko cried out but he didn’t respond, and it was all Michiko could do not to shake him, as she’d done when she’d found him slumped outside the door to the bath, his spectacles on (he often read in the bath), his face flushed, as he’d liked his bath water scalding hot. She pushed his shoulder with one finger, as she’d seen a large American woman do to a package of meat, but he batted at her hand. Michiko was so disconcerted that she walked away from him, only stopping when something golden in a bin caught her eye. She ran back with it to the cart and tossed it in and when she dared to look, her father was holding a pineapple in his arms. He patted its bristly head and said, “Did you dislike Watanabe because he was going bald?”
“No!” Michiko said, though it was true, Watanabe had an unprepossessing appearance and a woman liked some dash in a man. She had not asked what Watanabe looked like when her father first informed her he was trying to arrange a match, fantasizing that Watanabe was a well-muscled man who would bestow passionate kisses on her lips, like the heroes in the Harlequin romances she read, which were translated into Japanese by a friend who had divorced her businessman husband after finding a note from a woman in his pants. But Watanabe had been short and balding, with a little pot belly. Due to either nerves or allergies, he sniffed a lot. They had gone to Aoyama cemetery at the peak of cherry blossom season, when the branches hung with plump pink blooms, but Watanabe, oblivious to their swollen beauty, had hurried her toward Aoyama fire station just outside the cemetery grounds, where he gazed admiringly at the shiny red fire engine parked outside. He loved motor vehicles. He talked about them a lot.