Entering without knocking, Eve stood awkwardly for a moment, hair dripping on the tatami.
“Here, let me take that,” David said, motioning to the dress she clutched in a tight ball, “If I hang it outside, it should dry quickly enough.” He opened the sliding door and hung the dark cloth on a line between branches in the garden. Back in the room, David studied Eve carefully as she toweled her hair. Quadrants of pale sunlight crisscrossed her neck and shoulders through the rice paper shoji. David’s t-shirt hung loose against a not-quite slender frame, the only hitch to its drape a curve of breasts, imprint of areola. David blinked. The time had come when he could ask her something, anything––still, he hesitated. Finally he spoke, keeping it obvious, “You are not from Japan––“
Eve’s response when it came, was surprisingly level––as if the simple act of taking a shower had brought her back to human. “I came to Japan from Lithuania a year ago. I was an OEVA teacher, out in Saitama. I quit after a few months, moved to Tokyo.”
“You stayed at the gaijin house?”
“Yes––that is, my friend Maria let me stay here a few nights. She helped me get set up in Roppongi. After that I lost contact––I haven’t seen her for a few months––”
“Your English seems quite natural,” David said, not quite willing to voice doubts. Her accent, though slight, was distinct, and he hadn’t heard of many non-native English speakers teaching in Japan.
“It’s far from perfect, but… thanks. I have an aunt who lives in Toronto. I obtained a student visa and spent a few months in Canada, studying English. Last year OEVA took me on––they do most of their hiring in Canada, going for Americans accent without the attitude. Sorry, you are American?”
David gave her a smile and upraised eyebrow, relieved to find a flash of wit within the shell-shock blankness. “Yes.” Trying to keep the conversational ball going, “I just got back from a couple weeks in the Philippines and I know what you mean by the America thing.… the Europeans I met on the beach invariably asked me if I was from Canada. At first I took it as a compliment. It turns out that Canadian travelers get semi-offended when people confuse them for Americans. Blame it on Trump. Canada is always the safer bet.”
Eve gave what seemed to David her first genuine smile. “Anyway, OEVA arranged everything for me.”
David nodded. OEVA “Outstanding English Vocational Aspirations” was a chain of English schools that catered to English-language learners of all ages. Notorious for underpaying teachers and charging students a premium, it was responsible for giving a large percentage of foreign English teachers their start––taking care of work visas, accommodations, and the like.
“When you came to Tokyo did you continue as an English teacher?”
“No I… well, eventually a friend put me in touch with a place in Roppongi.” Her cheeks flushed slightly, “Not anything––”
“A hostess club?”
“Something like that, without any of the––”
“I think I follow you. A gentlemen’s club. Big tips and watered down whiskies. Without the usual pressures. Which still doesn’t explain....”
A flatness entered Eve’s eyes as the motion of towel through her hair slowed. “A week ago I met Ken––he was the opposite of a typical Roppongi salaryman. It wasn’t anything really, I felt... I let him get under my skin, I shouldn’t have––and now…” Eve stopped mid-motion, the towel dropping to the floor. David reached out and steadied her. Her body was tightly curved, a spring tensed inward and ready to explode. When the words came out there was an implicit violence. “Last night we went out after work, we went drinking and to a hotel––Ken was holding me, loving me, and when I woke––he was on top of me and I looked into his eyes and there was nothing and I was––he was staring at me motionless and I was––”
David’s hands tightened on Eve’s shoulders and he was holding her then, except that he wasn’t holding her––he was containing her like some crazy bent live-wire spring. Their eyes met and held, and not letting her withdraw David formed words into a strangely parched sentence. “Alive. You were alive.”