“How do you say ‘peanut butter’ in Japanese?” the woman asked. “Don’t be tongue-tied. I talk a lot, believe me, I know. I can even talk in the dentist’s chair with his instruments in my mouth.”
After Michiko’s father had died, after his ashes and bones were in the urn, after Poppy had been tranquilized and then revived with seemingly no interest in ever again sitting in Michiko’s lap, Michiko had done the boldest thing ever in her life. She called Watanabe. When he answered, she almost hung up out of shyness and fright but finally gasped out her name and asked if he might be so kind as to meet her if he had time. Watanabe sounded wary, and surprised, and at first she was sure he would refuse, as she had refused his invitations over the months, that he would even hang up. But in the end he’d said yes, and she’d soon found herself sitting across from him in Anna Miller’s pie shop in Aoyama, where he’d eaten two slices of banana cream pie and talked, to her surprise, rather easily to her about movies she liked. Afterward they’d strolled around looking into shop windows at the kimonos, the carved hair ornaments, the designer shoes that could not, Michiko was sure, fit any mortal’s feet. “I’m very sorry about your father,” he finally said as they were eyeing a row of cakes frosted with roses in a bakery window. She burst out crying. He’d sniffed as if about to cry too, then pressed a handkerchief in her hand.
“Larry said I could have been a ventriloquist,” the woman said. “He’s not my dentist, he’s my boyfriend.”
Michiko’s father appeared to be dozing. The pineapple rested against the side of his head, its bottom in the hollow of his neck.
“It’s hard for a man to be with a woman who’s taking care of her elderly mother. It’s not like we have much privacy, or time.”
“I … ” Michiko began, but the woman went on, “We only get away once a week, when the respite worker comes. We go shopping. But half the time Larry sits in the car reading Auto Racing magazine.”
“Her boyfriend likes cars,” Michiko’s father said sleepily.
“He isn’t my boyfriend.”
“You have a boyfriend?” the woman asked.
“Yes,” Michiko said. “I mean no.”
“I understand. It’s an on and off romance. Sometimes I get upset with Larry for staying in the car, but he says it’s boring for him in the store because I gab with every soul in sight. Wait until I tell him I met someone from Japan. He’ll be sorry he didn’t come with me inside.”
“I took care of my father,” Michiko said, but the woman interrupted again. “Can you say something in Japanese?”
Michiko’s face felt hot. She hated how her emotions flamed up, how embarrassed she got.
“I’d love to hear Japanese,” the woman urged her. “Don’t be shy.”
“Hattori-san dou omotte?” The line, from a movie, but which one? It had just sprung out of her mouth.
The woman’s face lit up. “Isn’t that something!” she said. Michiko could see the pretty girl this woman had once been shining from her fleshy face. She could see her hunger, her eagerness for life, and where had her own gone? She leaned over her father. “Who’s Margaret, Father? Tell me. I want to know.”
“You met her. You were 7. I took you to New York. You said Margaret was pretty. You held her hand.”
“No I did not.”
“I talk to myself all the time,” the woman said. “That’s why I keep busy filling up my grocery cart. I fill it with boxes of crackers and macaroni and cheese and Captain Crunch cereal, which I don’t even like that much. I hide the diapers for my mother under everything else.” She leaned over her cart and started moving things around.