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One Hundred and One Ways (Mako Yoshikawa)


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  Sometimes I can smell him, rain and salt and cigarettes and something else, curiously, like cucumber, when I step out of the shower. Out of a sense of delicacy, perhaps, he has never appeared to me in the bathroom, but whenever I smell him I dress myself slowly, making sure to hold in my stomach. I wring my hair and whip it back from my face, I clean the mirror of steam and stretch and strike a few casual poses in front of it. I lather lotion onto my body, first my legs, one foot up on the sink at a time, then my stomach, smoothing in the cream in small circles, and then my arms and last of all my breasts. I dress at a leisurely pace, pulling my underpants up and sliding into them with a swivel of the hips, snapping on a bra with all the strut and reluctance of a striptease. I may have spent most of my life in New Jersey, but the blood of a geisha courses through me yet.

When I first saw Phillip he was only a flicker in the corner of my eyes, gone even before I turned. Only gradually did he become bolder, moving out of the dusty corners to reveal his full form in quick flashes. Now he will stay in one place for hours. If I am reading I can look up at odd moments and he will be there, watching me. Often he will remain with me until I finish the book.

He is fond of small spaces. Lazy as ever and cured, apparently, of his wanderlust, he likes crouching in a fetal position under my desk, and he enjoys folding his long body into an improbably tiny package so he can fit into the fireplace, along with the violet moths. Less frequently he peeks out from behind the door or he stands picturesquely shrouded by the curtains; every once in a while he lies on his side with his head propped up by an elbow. One day as I was reading, I reached from my iced tea and saw him through the clear glass of the coffee table, his face pressed right up against it and his eyes peering out at me as if I were a goldfish in an upside-down bowl. He is always naked, he hardly ever moves, and his expression never changes. Even his eyes are still.

Although I cannot control the time or the frequency of his visits, I still like him like this, silent and anonymous as my left hand. Behind the cover of my book I rub my thumb against the tips of the other fingers, feeling the shell-like hardness. I spread my hand open and look at it, palm up. In public I keep my secret clenched inside and when I lie in Eric's arms at night, I am careful to hold my fist against my breasts so that I fall asleep hugging it to myself. But when I think of Phillip, I like to feel my hand and gloat over the smoothness where the fingertips used to be.

* * *

As Tokyo had changed, so, too, had Yukiko. No longer beset by poverty or the disquieting growth spurts of adolescence, freed from the onerous obligations of her geisha career, and finally secure in her right to Sekiguchi's full love and attention, she had bloomed, becoming the high-spirited woman that nature had intended her to be. In the countryside she played with her children, making a game out of catching the grasshoppers that they later fried and ate with a few precious grains of rice, and she laughed them out of their complaints about the meanness of the village children. On two memorable occasions, she hitched up the skirt of her kimono and shimmied up a tree, proving that beneath the exterior of a grand lady, she was still the tomboy who could outrun, outjump, and outclimb her brothers.

Yet only her children, her husband, and her servants saw this side of her. While her neighbors and the wives of Sekiguchi's friends in Tokyo were always painstakingly polite to her, in subtle ways they also made it clear that they despised her for her former career, and that they could not forgive her for usurping the place of Sekiguchi's young first wife, who had been universally loved for her sweetness. They had tried Yukiko for the crime of fawning her way into Sekiguchi's bed and home, and they had found her guilty; they believed she had married him as a calculated move, for his money and position. They scorned her for her love of luxury and her collection of kimonos, and for the care she took to enhance her beauty. There were rumors, even that Yukiko had had Eiko poisoned. Few were willing to countenance that she had actually killed Sekiguchi's child bride, but most were in agreement that the upstart geisha had contributed much in the way of heartache to her untimely death: on the day that she had spied on Eiko being borne high aloft a litter, Yukiko had been seen, not just by Eiko but by at least one other person of the town. The considerable lore surrounding Yukiko thus included the story that she had gone to flaunt her good health, her expensive kimono, and her pregnancy in Eiko's face.

There was yet one more reason that Tokyo's high society looked askance at her: she was envied and, therefore, disliked for the indulgence accorded to her by her husband. For even aside from its provenance, theirs was an unusual marriage.
 
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Excerpted from One Hundred and One Ways by Mako Yoshikawa. Copyright © 1999 by Mako Yoshikawa. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.