Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

BYARM_24

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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baby_illustrations_3

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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kumi_eyes_cropped_color

Illustration by Max Currie

Kent felt a surge, as if his story, his whole path to this mountain retreat, made more sense now. Here before Chieko and Hideo, his audience of two, as if he were chasing the dragon again. “There were some busted up parts of my life I didn’t know how to fix, a whole other story I’m done with, that made me behave like an ass, I suppose.” He’d read an article in the weekly Asahi Geino about the actor Mickey Rourke. Rourke had been  popular in Japan and a regular in Japanese commercials, shilling for many of the same brands Kent had once represented: Suntory whiskey and Lark cigarettes. Rourke’s own impressive comeback was widely chronicled in magazines and on entertainment programs and seemed to get much more press in Shukan Gendai, on Star-Gazer.com, and other media outlets these days than Kent. So he borrowed the line about “busted up parts.” And a few others. Rourke was staging a comeback and the Japanese loved it. Kent thought a couple of moves from Rourke’s playbook might help. He’d risen from the bottom, from obscurity, poverty, and drug abuse to win awards and get meaty movie roles once again. “I didn’t know who I was when I got here and then I had this persona imposed on me. Hey, hey RI-CHU-MAN-SAN! Pretty stupid name.” Kent put his face up to the camera lens. “No offense to your Japanese sensibilities, but it’s a pretty stupid name.”

Hideo and Chieko both nodded. He shouldn’t be talking like this, he knew—Renzo would whip him good for such recklessness. But this night, this moment, left him carefree. He wanted to make an impression, tell the truth for a change.

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NEOGENESIS

Illustration by Max Currie

“Who are you?” Kent stood before a young woman in an elaborate costume with the help of an improvised cane, one of Oji-san’s cosplay accessories.

“I’m ‘Yoko,’ from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.” The young woman held up an imposing gun, assembled from fiberboard and PVC pipes spray-painted blue. “She’s a villain.” The gun stood taller than the young woman, up to Kent’s chin.

“Amazing costume.” “Yoko” seemed flattered, honored even by Kent’s curiosity and praise. In shiny black bikini top, belted hot pants, and long, fingerless gauntlet-style gloves, white go-go boots over thigh-high stockings and a bronze-colored wig, the young woman stood out, even among her cosplay friends. Oji-san’s friends had come in from neighboring towns to dress up like anime and manga characters, drink and talk costumes and characters. There were eighteen members in the group, which they called Masquerade. Of the eighteen, eleven had turned up for the party in the temple’s community center.

“Most of it—the bikini top and pants—are made of PVC vinyl. The gloves and boots—I had to buy and modify them—are leather. The gun is made of various elements.” She glanced at Kent’s cane, the eyepatch and Band-Aid, and his gold smoking jacket. “Anata dare?”

Kent didn’t know how to answer—who was he? Former celebrity, John Lennon look-a-like, homeless and out-of-work manga character, clown, hunted prey? “Yoko” didn’t seem to know who Kent Richman was at all.

“You look like a lord or a pirate, some sort of mercenary wizard, I’m not sure. Or maybe like Sherlock Holmes, but I don’t know this character. What’s he from?” She ran a finger along his jacket lapel. “Silk, nice.”

Kent considered lowering his glasses and offering A-re?, but moved on to the next player, not in the mood to play RI-CHU-MAN-SAN! or anybody else.

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BYARM_12

Illustration by Max Currie

“Richman, it’s Renzo—what the hell took you so long?”

“I was meditating,” Kent said, understanding how stupid it sounded before he finished his sentence.

Honto?”

“I can get deep,” Kent said. In fact, he’d been napping for the first time in days, blessedly so.

“I figured you might put on a good show for the cameras, but real meditation?”

“It’s a documentary. It’s supposed to be real.”

“You don’t want to show them the real Kent Richman. At least not what you keep showing on the internet. YouTube should pay you.”

“Now I’m responsible for every jerk with a cell phone?”

“I tell you to keep it low. And what’s the first thing you do? I saw at least two photos from Azuma alone. You were there two days? Then this craziness at a rest stop. Not cool, Richman, not cool.”

“Bad days, I know.” Renzo was right.

“So, do me a favor—do—not—fuck—up—any—more, and stay away from cameras, except for one. Just let this Hideo guy do the good work for you. Let him shape Kent Richman the way we want to show Kent Richman.”

“But he keeps talking about cinéma vérité—”

“Cinema what? Listen, directors are all a bunch of tyrants, you know that. The only way good movies and TV are made is to be a control-freak. Just nod and pretend you love it. Then, give them what we need.”

This was not what Kent had imagined, some graduate student telling him how to be himself, Renzo pulling strings behind the scenes. “And thanks for not telling me this whole charade is about Ozman. You knew all along—”

“Coincidence,” Renzo said.

“They’re just waiting for Ozman to show up and beat the hell out of me on camera, aren’t they?”

“What do you want me to say, Richman? I didn’t want you to freak out on me. You do have a habit. When the news about Ozman hit, the guy from Waseda called and it seemed like a good idea—”

“I wouldn’t have freaked out,” Kent said.

“Are you freaked out now?” Kent heard Renzo take a deep drag on his cigarette.

“No—” Kent sensed Renzo was about to counter his claim. “Can you blame me?”

Renzo exhaled noisily. “He’ll never find you up there. I’m not sure I could even find you right now. And when you look like he does, how far can you go in Japan?”

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