Archive for August, 2013

EYES ch. 25

Illustrated by Max Currie

How helpless and pathetic Kumi had looked. How ridiculous, with clownish lipstick around her mouth and face. One part desperation and one part inspiration, Kent had begun to pick at the duct tape with his guitar-playing nails. Ozman turned on the video of Kent and Monique, the one Kumi had made viral—Kent at Monique from behind. Ozman circled Kumi in ritualistic hunker as the video played.

Where Ozman had once been composed by his anger, he’d come unhinged, his eyes vacant, lost in his own performance. The ceremony about to begin. He seemed to have forgotten Kent for his dance with Kumi. How does it feel to be ME! The nutso Australian comic drew his dialogue from a long list of dramatic crazies, his pokerfaced delivery seemingly sincere. For a distracted minute, as Ozman rifled through his bottomless bag of humiliating and painful acts, Kent became preoccupied by his game of trying to match Ozman’s cinematic sentences with actual movies, actual villains. James Cagney as Cody Jarrett. Robert Mitchum as Max Cady. Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth.

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Illustrated by Max Currie

Kent dumped the contents of his hockey bag onto the floor: three T-shirts, one dress shirt, too small, a pair of sweats, two pairs of jeans, shorts, underwear and socks, all mostly dirty; Rushdie’s tattered and swollen Midnight’s Children; torn copies of the celebrity magazine Shukan Gendai; his dressing room star; the bottle of limited edition Kame no O sake and a half-empty bottle of cheap whiskey; seven packs of cigarettes; a pack of matches; a copper hash pipe; a pink Hello Kitty Zippo he lifted from Midori’s car; two mushy, brown bananas split open and mashed against the bottom of the bag; and one urn. He turned the clothes inside out. He  rummaged through the bag’s contents on the floor. He shook the hockey bag. He shook it again and again, until there it was, the miracle he’d hoped for: a plastic mini-baggie he’d either forgotten or never realized existed winking at him through the banana mush. The mini-baggie held a fingernail of shabu, the crystallized rock flattened into an icy powder. Kent knew two things. One: he should toss the baggie into the grimy toilet. And two: he wouldn’t. He wiped banana pulp from the baggie and shook it before him. A couple of drags would displace all of his aches and pains, clear his head, help him find Midori and pick up where they’d left off. Forget Hideo and Chieko. He’d do anything to feel better.

Kent went to the kitchen for tinfoil then returned to Midori’s room, stepping just outside the back door where he’d imagined a woman crying. He rolled the sheet of tinfoil into a thin tube. On another piece, folded in the middle to create a conduit in which to burn the powdered shabu until it became liquid, he tried to light the crystallized rock holding the Hello Kitty lighter underneath. But the air was gusty. He stepped back inside to light it again, the shabu bubbling up at him as it heated. With his tinfoil straw he inhaled then repeated the procedure three times until the shabu was gone. Within minutes his head cleared, his need for food and sleep vanished, and he didn’t care.

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Illustrated by Max Currie

 

Now, how does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? Ozman said, as he applied lipstick to Kumi’s celebrated pouty lips. Her efforts at resistance only smeared the makeup across her cheeks and over her chin, until she looked like an inept clown. She laughed weakly. The defiance that had been there died, fear growing like the dark rose around Kent’s eye. Ozman gently lifted Kumi’s hair from her eyes, inspected his work, then stood and turned to include Kent, opening his arms. Now, for my final and most magnificent trick.

A ghostly Middle Eastern rhythm played on the stereo, its spell maintained by an electronic hum, hand slaps against a drum, and the drone of vaporous voices. Outside, the sun sank beneath dark scattered clouds, as if somewhere in Tokyo an oil fire burned. Sunlight reflected off the skyscrapers’ glass. A stormy autumn evening was on its way.

Your husband ruined my marriage. Do you understand that? My one and only. Something you people don’t seem to know anything about. Ozman pulled Kumi up by her arms to her knees and bent to kiss her, more a caricature of a kiss than anything. You think I didn’t love her, is that it? That it was just some made-for-TV thing? A part of the act? Ozman stared at Kumi. His eyes watered and he shook his head. I loved her, you stupid, stupid people.

Kent struggled harder against the duct tape but couldn’t free himself. Kumi had turned her head up to the ceiling, away from Kent’s. He was grateful; he had nothing to offer her but panic and regret. Ozman stepped away. He touched his hands to his lips, muttered as if in prayer and stared out at the darkening sky. He didn’t speak again for at least a minute. Kent thought Ozman might have changed his mind, seen the folly in his revenge scenario. He thought Ozman might forgive him if he asked.

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Illustration by Max Currie

Kent scanned Midori’s face for some hint of motivation. What drove this woman to want to know so much about him? To care when he was no one to care about? The concentration required all of his energy, the last of which was fading fast, motivation to move replaced by an odd euphoria. A Beatles song came to him. Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you— Kent had sung the song in a crooner’s tempo for an outdoor benefit, the host organization lost on him now. The Beatles song was upbeat but the producers didn’t think Kent could pull it off and asked him to slow it way down until it became a ballad. As did most of his live numbers, the song barely rose above karaoke. The producers had even dressed him in a satin blue jacket and black slacks, a white shirt with an open collar. Somewhere along the way Tony Bennett had subverted his association with John Lennon, but he didn’t care.

More than the details of his bizarre performance, Kent remembered the way he felt that evening under hot lights on an outdoor stage, rain falling over a festival audience. Nothing in his life compared with the moment he looked across a sea of swaying arms, some wrapped in parkas, others braving the steady drizzle that had fallen all afternoon leaving the sports field a muddy mess. Midway through the song, Kent felt the lyrics rising out of him mechanically, like his feet moving under him across the stage, and his arm wave to the crowd, acknowledging their cheers, their camera flashes and applause. Kent had never felt more like a hero. And he’d been straight for the performance, though afterwards he beelined for the green room and the bottles of whiskey lined up for the talent, the only thing he found that helped him contain his good feeling before it lifted and vanished. Kent watched the rest of the benefit from a corner just off stage, marveling at the life he’d come in to and happy to be alone in his bliss. He found he needed nothing more from the moment. He declined invitations to do drugs and skipped the after party, happy to head home where he hoped Kumi waited for him in bed, a book in her lap, the soft glow of lamplight warming the room. He felt that way again, with Midori, a blissful, painless satisfaction.

Kent had closed his eyes, for how long he didn’t  know, when Midori kissed him gently on the mouth. Her lips were warm and soft, so soft that Kent felt as if this was the first time they’d ever kissed, then remembered that it was.

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