you all right?
She nods, still crying.
I can get the masseuse, says the woman.
No. No thank you.
She has helped me many times.
The woman nods uncertainly and returns to washing her calves. Across the room, the old woman masseuse is rubbing a woman’s back. Ayoshi watches the woman’s big, sturdy hands pull and tug at the woman. Warm water drips on Ayoshi’s toes. She feels soft now, after the tears, as soft as a new leaf. If someone touched her, her body would fold around the compression. Slowly something stirs inside, teetering and knitting itself tighter and tighter, growing thicker as the minutes tick by. It lurches to the right and she grips the edge of the bench. She knows what this is, though it has been a while since it felt so insistent and unyielding. Closing her eyes, she makes room in hersoftened, open body, shuttling her stomach up and back and cinching up her lungs. Her body feels heavy, bloated, and leaden. Sweat trickles down her sides and thighs.
The masseuse comes over and asks if she wants a massage.
No, she says. No, thank you.
The old woman touches her shoulder.
She flinches. Please. Not today.
The old woman looks at her curiously.
Please. Ayoshi wants to scream at her, push the crone to the other side of the room, repulsed at the idea of hands massaging, her mind crowded with days of her own hands pulling and grabbing his flesh. The woman shrugs and leaves. The image inside lurches, demanding that it be delivered.
S HE RUSHES TO THE studio and is about to open the door when she hears the whir of the potter’s wheel. Her heart is pounding. Where can she go? She must paint. She feels as if she might burst. She opens the door. Hayashi is deep into his work and doesn’t look up. She walks quickly to her desk and pulls out a sheet of blank paper. With efficient motions, she mixes her paints. The image is pressing up through her spine, spiraling down her arms. The wheel stops.
You smell wonderful, says Hayashi. Like fresh flowers. A garden of flowers.
I didn’t mean to disturb you.
He asks about her bath.
Fine, she says. She can’t stay here. Where is Sato?
I don’t know, he says wiping his hands on a towel, frowning.
I’ll go look for him, she says.
He stands and steps toward her. Lavender, he says.
No, she says. It was the usual bath. She backs away, shaken.
It’s been so long. His fingers trace her waist. I am sorry for that.
His touch feels like a betrayal. No, please don’t apologize. It’s no one’s fault.
Is everything all right? he asks.
I’m distracted. I’m sorry.
He steps awkwardly to his side of the studio. Sato is an interesting character, he says.
She feels him retreating, as if he touched a fingertip to a hot stove and now must cradle the injured hand to his chest. She doesn’t care. She must hurry. Yes, she says, reaching under her desk and grabbing some paper. In her pocket, she stuffs her brushes. She’s about to reach for her palette of fresh paints, but leaves it. She’ll start over.
Interesting fellow. Yes, quite interesting. You knew him as a girl?
Yes. A long time ago. Yes, she says. She excuses herself and scurries to the house. With rapid steps, she walks down the long hallway, listening to the fabric of her kimono brush against her thighs, and into the Western room.
The room is filled with blue smoke. She doesn’t see him at first, but when she steps farther into the room, there he is, stretched out on the plush, red velvet couch, a long pipe cupped in his hands.
She has seen men in town sunk into themselves, their bodies wrapped around their pipes. Sato, she says.
He sets the pipe down and picks up the koto and strums his fingernails through the strings, the room pulsing with haunting music.
I’ve been reading some of your husband’s Emerson. Your husband, by the way, is in love with Emerson. Listen to this. Every ship is a romantic object, except that we sail in. Embark, and the romance quits our vessel, and hangs on