Translated from the Japanese by Dan Bradley

 

Eight seats at the counter. Three tops. As soon as I opened the door I was able to calculate how many places there were and I knew I still had it. I broke into a smile. The bar was empty, but I heard a rustling from behind the black curtain that separated the counter from the kitchen.

‘Excuse me,’ I said in a small voice, drowned out by the noise that had grown even louder. Was someone shrink-wrapping oshibori hand towels and cramming them into a hot box? This image was immediately replaced by the completely naked body of a young man wrapped in plastic. Muscular body, dark skin. Maybe strangled. He wasn’t bleeding and his erect penis created a peak in the plastic wrap. The tip of his penis probably caked with dried semen.

I wanted to put my fingernail on the tip of the penis and scrape it off. I imagined sliding my fingernail across the tip of this corpse’s penis; the image was suddenly replaced with my clitoris, and I felt my lower half spasm with a pain that almost made me jump. But I had to call out to the person behind the curtain soon. If I stood there – lost in this strange association game – and missed my opportunity to call out, when the person inside the kitchen stuffing oshibori into the hot box (or wrapping a dead body in plastic) came out and saw me standing there silently in the entrance, they would definitely think I was crazy.

I crossed the floor towards the kitchen.

‘Hello?’ I called out.

The rustling stopped. A middle-aged man emerged in a T-shirt and jeans holding three towels in each hand, and I realised my first guess had been correct. He eyed me suspiciously, saying nothing, so I guessed I’d have to introduce myself.

‘Hello . . .’

‘We open at seven.’

‘Oh, I’m not a customer,’ I said, and this made him look sad. ‘I saw the sign in the window . . .’ I explained, and he frowned.

‘I’m only the manager. I’ll have to speak to my boss.’

‘Okay.’

‘But he’s not here. I’ll have to see if I can get a hold of him on the phone. Wait here a minute.’

He used the towels to wave me towards a seat at the counter. I sat down, and after a short while I could hear his voice from behind the curtain.

‘Yes, okay. Seems like she wants a part-time job. Yes, okay. Ah, really? Yes, okay. Huh? Yes, yes, okay.’

He spoke and repeated that ‘yes, okay’ in a completely flat, emotionless tone of voice.

I heard the phone receiver being put down. There was a moment of silence, and then he returned, minus the towels.

‘It looks like we’re hiring.’

‘Oh, really?’

‘The boss said as long as it’s a girl, you can hire her.’

‘That’s great. Thanks.’

‘Okay, give me your personal details and a brief work history.’

As I took the pad of paper and pen he’d passed me, I realised it was meant to be used for taking orders. I felt an impulse to write in a deliberately messy, illegible way, but in the middle of writing I felt self-conscious, and the fact that I’d even had the idea embarrassed me. I caught myself and managed to produce something brief and readable.

‘Do you have any experience?’

‘I’ve worked as a waitress.’

‘Right, I’ll have to show you how to work the bar, then.’

‘Okay.’

‘But I’m only going to show you once.’

‘Yes,’ I said, as I looked him up and down. His hair and beard were flecked with white hairs. Both hair and beard had been neatly groomed – so that he’d pass for normal, I guessed. His eyebrows were thin, untrimmed, while the hair on his knuckles was thick.

‘Oh, what’s your name?’ I said, as if I’d just remembered to ask.

He raised his head from looking down at my details and said, ‘It’s Kaizu,’ in that same flat tone.

‘You have crazy handwriting,’ Kaizu said, looking at what I had written.

‘People tell me that all the time,’ I replied, and he laughed like that made him happy. I noticed something in his beard so I looked more closely . . . there was a little white foam. He must have just finished a beer. Either that, or it was soap. Or he’d been having a fit and foaming at the mouth before I came in.

‘Do you have any identification?’

‘Will my health insurance card be okay?’

‘Show me,’ Kaizu said, holding out his hand. I took the card from my wallet and gave it to him.

Our hands brushed against each other and Kaizu’s skin was scalding hot. It was as if I’d been burned by a lit cigarette. I felt dizzy and my heart raced, but I suppressed the urge to jump backwards.

Huh. Yū Kanda,’ Kaizu mumbled, relishing my name as he read from the card. He must have spotted it. My name contained the first character of yūutsu: melancholy.

‘When can you start?’

‘Today, or tomorrow.’

‘Right, shall we start with your training?’

‘Yes.’

And this was how the fate of those next few hours came to be sealed.

‘Okay, I’m going to make a copy of this,’ Kaizu said, waving my insurance card, and once again disappeared behind the black curtain. I took a breath and looked around the bar.

I rested my elbow on the counter and everything that had happened that day flashed before my eyes. I tried to calm myself, pretending nothing was wrong, but it had just hit me what a bizarre situation I’d gotten into.

I’d decided when I woke up that afternoon: today I will go to the psychiatrist. For about a month since the start of June I had been overcome by depression for the first time in years, and could think of nothing but dying. Today I felt a little better when I woke up and thought, if I don’t take advantage of this, I will really, definitely die – tomorrow I’ll be dead. I drove myself forward by fixating on these thoughts, but took my time getting ready to go out, very carefully, like I was tiptoeing along a balance beam, so that I could keep my depression at bay. I managed to leave the apartment just after five that evening. But as I was heading to the clinic across from the train station, only a few minutes away, I saw the sign outside the bar saying ‘staff wanted’. As if possessed, I pushed the door open. What was it about that sign? And why was I being hired? My depression seemed to be returning and my stomach lurched.

The depression used to come with the change in seasons. But it had been buried deep inside for so long now, I’d made the mistake of thinking that I’d gotten better. I’d had regular insomnia treatment for years, and had only survived the past three with sleeping pills. But since the beginning of June I’d not been well enough to go and refill my prescription. About three years ago, that last, fitful depression came on, stronger than ever before, and when I got through it I guess I felt invincible. It was probably this sense of omnipotence that had helped me survive these past few years. What was certain was that I had always been depressed. My reality was depression.

I saw matchbooks on the counter ledge, and reached out for one. I took one and looked at the side it said: ‘Delira’. I realised, for the first time, that I had been hired without even knowing the name of the place. Delira; must be a female name. Lonely Delira keeps two dogs. Delira has an Afro. Her favourite pastime is killing the guys who call her ‘Delira-gorilla’, and one day she cut up a dead body and made a dog poop bag out of the intestines for her beloved pets. Now she carries it around proudly whenever she takes them for a walk. There are even rumours in town that you can see her marching around, flourishing it. A human poop bag used for a dog’s poop bag. What’s the difference? Delira thinks. At least until one fateful day—

The dim bar suddenly grew light and I looked up. The light from the kitchen had poured in from between the curtain when Kaizu returned to the counter. Thanks, he said, passing back my card. In his right hand was the beer mug he’d been drinking from when I first came in; he didn’t seem bothered to be seen with it any more.

‘You want one too?’ he asked, quickly pouring me a beer from the tap.

‘Cheers.’

We clinked glasses and I brought mine to my lips.

‘Congratulations,’ he said.

I was momentarily taken aback, not knowing what he meant, then I realised I’d found myself a job. But the thing I really wanted wasn’t just a job. I still had some money in the bank and could think of a few people I could still borrow from. Maybe all I really wanted was a place to go. A place to go . . .  no, a place where I had to go . . .  no, a place I must go . . .  no, a place where it was okay to go. I wanted a place that would let me be. A place where I could go, and no one would complain.

From where I sat on the bar stool I looked up at Kaizu, standing behind the counter.

‘Thank you so much,’ I said, and instantly felt uncomfortable. I raised the edges of my lips in a smile and worried he could see through my artificial expression. When our eyes met, I saw that his had not so much as a ray of light in them. He was working so hard for a living – and yet his eyes were still so hopeless. My own attempts to find a way to live suddenly seemed pointless and I felt the depression raising its head, casting me a flirtatious glance.

I downed half the contents of the glass in one go.

‘Where’s the bathroom?’ I asked.

Kaizu half-waved and muttered, ‘Over there, that way.’ I took my bag, entered the toilet and looked hard at my reflection in the mirror. The fluorescent bulb lit me from a strange angle. I adjusted the lamp and looked back into the mirror: my eyes were as wide as saucers, and the urge to vomit welled up inside me. I took a pill from my purse and, after checking the sink was dry, ground it up with the bottom of my lighter. I had to be quick here or it’d look suspicious. I tucked my fringe behind my ear and brought my nose close to the sink, snorting the powder with each nostril. The coarse grains of powder stuck to the top of my throat and inside my nose. I massaged my nostrils and helped them along with a sniff. My throat burned. It hurt so much I cried and felt snot dribbling from my nose. I wiped up whatever powder was left on the sink and felt a sudden wave of revulsion, like a mosquito had just squealed past my ear. I shuddered and left the bathroom.

‘That’s amazing,’ Kaizu said, pointing in my direction, acting as if he might suspect me of something.

‘Huh? What is?’

When he said ‘that’, was he talking about me? Kaizu had moved around to my side of the bar. ‘No, no,’ he said, pointing at his back. He was referring to the camisole I was wearing; the back was mesh and looked like a spider’s web.

‘It looks kind of S & M. Just my back, I mean, don’t you think?’ I said, sitting down next to Kaizu and showing him my back. I felt a heat across the mesh and I flinched again.

‘It’s nice, this.’

He had only touched my back for a second, but the place grew hot like I’d been scalded. Kaizu stared intently at my back, while I put my left elbow on the counter. As I took a sip of beer, my body still twisted, I looked at Kaizu over my shoulder. Our eyes met and he said, ‘Nice,’ once more, and then faced forward. I turned, too, but there was still that prickly sensation on my back. Did Kaizu have something on the end of his finger? I looked at him sideways, inspecting his hand, but his fingers were neither fat nor thin, long nor short, though they had thick hair on them.

There was nothing strange about them at all, just normal fingers.

‘I’ll show you the staff room,’ Kaizu said, standing up.

I followed him past the curtain into the brightly lit kitchen. The white tiled floor seemed hygienic up to a point but, with the fluorescent lights, all I could think of was a public toilet at night. We continued through the kitchen to an employee toilet and staffroom. Before we entered the staffroom, I pointed to a door at the end of the corridor.

‘Here?’

‘Oh yeah,’ Kaizu mumbled, and he swung the door open. The sudden blast of traffic almost knocked me over. Shut it now! I was terrified, like a frightened bird released from its cage and then faced with a vast, almost endless expanse of land. Lock me back inside!

‘This is the back entrance. I’ll show you the security code later,’ Kaizu said.

He shut the door. I followed him into the staffroom but as soon as I tried to cross the doorway my head started swimming. All the strength vanished from my neck and I could no longer hold my head up.

‘Are you okay?’

I nodded. I raised my right hand to my temple to steady myself so he wouldn’t get suspicious.

‘Sorry. It’s just an inner ear problem.’

Kaizu snorted with laughter at my obvious lie. We entered the staffroom. He handed me my uniform, a white blouse and black skirt, after I told him my size. As I changed in the fitting room, about the size of a toilet cubicle, I wondered whether I should wear the blouse by itself or wear my camisole underneath. In the end, I decided to wear the blouse on its own. The skirt was tight and too long, and the length wasn’t right for the blouse. I folded the skirt twice at the waist. Once I was satisfied with how short the skirt and blouse were, I left the changing room. Kaizu had also changed into a white shirt and black trousers. He’d been dressed so shabbily in his T-shirt before that I was struck by how much my impression of someone could change with their clothes.

‘How do I look?’ I asked, hoping he wouldn’t read all this on my face.

‘Good. Proper.’

‘The way I’m wearing the uniform, you mean?’

‘Yeah.’

I put my bag in the locker, and while Kaizu was in the toilet I carried on to the bar and found a man sitting at a table.

‘Oh . . .’

‘Hi. Who are you?’ he said.

‘I started today. My name is Yū Kanda.’

I realised I was now a Delira staff member.

‘Is that so? Well, I’m Utsui, I work in the kitchen and bar.’

Nice to meet you, I said, looking at him more closely. I guessed he was about my age. I was impressed by how handsome he was when he stood up. He was about six feet tall and had such a good body he could also have worked as a model. In his right hand, he held the same kind of beer mug we had just been drinking from. Kaizu, who had just arrived, glanced at Utsui’s mug and then looked away. My instincts told me Kaizu didn’t like him much.

‘Come on, let’s make a toast,’ Utsui beamed.

Utsui remained sitting at the counter while Kaizu took out some beer mugs. Whenever I had to look at a serious, single-minded boss I felt nauseous – in fact, looking at them often did make me vomit – but if a place isn’t run by a single-minded boss it gets destroyed by lazy people like these guys. Compared to my usual trains of thought, this was quite a normal and reasonable thing to think.

‘Cheers!’

We all clinked our glasses and I downed half of mine. As I was trying to catch my breath, I heard Utsui call, ‘You can really drink!’. It was like I couldn’t put the glass down, so I drank the rest in one go, and Kaizu silently poured me another.

‘So, Miss Kanda, are you a university student?’

‘No. I’m a permanent part-timer.’

Okay . . .’ he replied, as though his question had been loaded with meaning.

‘Why? Are you a student, Utsui?’

He put down his beer and looked quite pleased with himself.

‘My dream is to take over the world.’

I felt unbearably cut off from reality as I realised I wasn’t going to be able to communicate with this guy. I felt dizzy, and there was that heat again. From the corner of my eye, I could see Kaizu stroking the base of my back. Oblivious to the sexual harassment going on right across the counter, Utsui continued his fervent speech about world domination. But before I could begin to comprehend his rant had gone in one ear and out the other.

‘Miss Kanda, what would you do if you wanted to take over the world?’

‘ . . . I think, maybe, I’d use nuclear weapons . . . or bombs.’

‘Oh, so you’d go for weapons? I’d use mind control. And Mr Kaizu, you would use viruses, right? Yeah, that doesn’t sound bad. If we formed a three-person tag team, me playing god, imagine what we could do! Such power right here in this one bar, it’s close to a miracle. It’s incredible, don’t you think?’

Why was Utsui the one who became a god, and not me? Why couldn’t he entertain the possibility that maybe I could be a god? He had a staggering lack of imagination.

‘We’re going to open soon,’ Kaizu said flatly.

‘Right, I’m gonna get changed,’ Utsui replied. The moment Utsui stood up to leave, Kaizu dropped his hand from my back. Utsui crossed the counter to enter the kitchen, but I sensed him looking at me. I glanced around and there he was, staring at my hips. He snapped out of it and disappeared behind the curtain, but I couldn’t help thinking he had had some sort of meaningful expression on his face. I emptied the beer mug in one gulp.

‘He’s a weirdo,’ I said.

Did it sound sarcastic for me to tell a weirdo who had literally just been sexually harassing me that this other weirdo was a ‘weirdo’? I had to say something.

‘You’re a weirdo, too, Miss Kanda.’

This pissed me off. Why was I suddenly the target of the conversation? I had assumed Utsui was a weirdo, and I wanted some reassurance and support for my conclusion.

‘You think so?’

‘Take that skirt. Did you shorten it to get attention from men?’

‘Not really. Take it any way you like,’ I said.

But what I meant was, aren’t you just a sleazy boss hitting on his staff? Kaizu glared back at me.

‘I follow through on my urges,’ he said, sternly.

Kaizu’s words struck me dumb. My head churned with something like the atmospheric unrest before a fog rises. Somehow, I had to change the subject. I don’t know why, but I had broken into a cold sweat; I grasped for something else to talk about, and knew I had to make the conversation branch off and lead us somewhere far, far away, bring the exchange down to the ground, and finally build it up again like a new tree. It was uncomfortable that our wires had become so crossed in this conversation, but I sensed that trying to clear things up would create even more confusion, so I stayed silent. My head was spinning. I was so confused: for the first time in ages, yes, for the first time in a month, I’d gone outside, I’d then been hired after seeing a staff wanted sign and, less than a hour later, I was surrounded by these two weirdos. No. Maybe it was like Kaizu had said: I was the weirdo, and they were the normal ones. Why was it so hard to decide who was crazy? Because they were such borderline weirdos? Or because my own judgement and senses were warped? Yes, if I just look at what’s happening, I suppose it wasn’t all that bizarre: Mr Kaizu could just be a middle-aged pervert into sexually harassing the staff. Likewise, Utsui could just be a young oddball. It’s not as if an old guy who likes women or a young guy growing up with a feeling of omnipotence is rare enough to be worth mentioning. The confusion must all have been because I was overreacting. Maybe I needed to apologise to Kaizu for judging him so harshly. All I could feel was impatience – I had to do something about the gloomy atmosphere.

‘I’m sick of beer,’ Kaizu said, taking a glass from beneath the counter.

I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t know what to do, but I was also desperate to change the mood in the room.

‘If it’s just a simple cocktail, I can make one,’ I said, grasping at straws. This seemed to make Kaizu a little happier.

‘Well, can you make a gin and tonic?’

‘Maybe. I think so.’

I took out two glasses, put in some ice, squeezed in a lime I saw through the clear fridge door and filled a quarter of each drink with Bombay Sapphire. Kaizu took my hand, which still held the bottle, and made me pour more.

‘Put in a third of a glass.’

With his hand still on mine, Kaizu filled a third of each glass before finally letting my hand go.

The tonic wasn’t kept in a bottle but some sort of hose with a handle. I didn’t know how to use it and Kaizu gave me a bewildered look. Making eye contact with Kaizu was deeply unpleasant. He silently put his hand on top of mine, which was still holding the device, and his heat startled me. With his right hand on mine, the tonic gushed out while, at the same time, his left hand touched my lower back. He made my back hot. Kaizu’s face was suddenly close to mine and I heard a faint rustling in the hair around my ears.

‘I think you’ve just been snorting something,’ he whispered.

I pulled away from him. Kaizu dropped my hand and, unthinkingly, I released my grip on the dispenser. It fell into the sink with a thud. He covered my mouth with his hand. I thought he was trying to stifle my voice but his hand moved from my mouth and, as though he was searching for something, he pinched and stimulated my nose with his thumb and forefinger. The remaining grains of powder bit into the inside of my nostrils and it hurt so much my eyes watered. A bitter taste spread down my throat, and I coughed.

‘What do you need to play such a victim for?’ he scoffed in amazement. Kaizu’s reaction was somehow a relief. Perhaps it was reassuring to meet someone even weirder than I was. His beard touched my right shoulder and I felt his warmth, it was like coming close to a heater. He moved his left hand away from my hips and across my skirt towards my crotch. His finger drew heat on my skin like the slime trail of a slug.

‘Look, I’ve made the gin and tonic,’ I ventured.

Kaizu ignored me. His fingers fumbled for my crotch and rolled my skirt up, and, as they moved from the edge of my underwear and touched my pussy, I was startled to find the heat of his fingers and my pussy were exactly the same. I felt the heat move away from my shoulder and when I turned around I realised that Kaizu’s face had disappeared. He had knelt down. I raised the gin and tonic to my lips and took a sip. When I took the glass away I saw a piece of lime flesh stuck to the glass where I had put my mouth and I licked it off. As it passed my teeth it tickled my tongue with bitterness. I stood up and looked straight ahead while Kaizu’s tongue crawled over my underwear. My pubic hair rustled and his saliva made me wet. A shocking amount of saliva. As I thought about how long this soft, rustling sensation might go on, I was amazed by how much saliva there was and how quickly it soaked my pubes. I listened to the rustling of pubic hair and the wet sound of his saliva against my thin nylon underwear. His tongue stimulated my clitoris in time with the low thumping noise of the ice machine, and my body trembled. I was completely confused and continued to drink the gin and tonic, breathing heavily, and every now and again I touched Kaizu’s head, buried in my crotch, as though I were checking on the weirdness of the situation. He moved the gusset of my underwear aside and slid his tongue inside me. When he moved his tongue, I couldn’t tell whether it was my pubes or his beard tickling the inside of my thighs. Why was this happening? I could see a line cutting like a horizon across the top third of my field of vision, and everything below tilted a few degress. Then, another line entered the bottom third of my vision and the area below this tilted sideways, too. I tried to blink away this fractured perspective and return things to the way they were before. With every blink, little by little, my perspective clicked back to normal. I blinked my eyes as fast as possible, and it was as if reality was the frame by frame playback of a film. I sensed a light and looked sideways. The black curtain that separated the bar from the kitchen fluttered. Was it Utsui? I had a hunch it was him, but no one entered. Perhaps Utsui realised what was happening in here, and knew he couldn’t come back in. How could Kaizu do something like this when he knew Utsui was going to come back at any minute? I gasped; I was about to come. I had to let Kaizu know so I touched his ears. I let out another gasp. But light shone into the bar again, I lost my concentration and felt my orgasm slipping away. I noticed a faint light streaming in from the kitchen, and when I looked towards the curtain once more, I saw Utsui peeping through the small gap. He was trembling slightly and when I looked down I could see his penis through the narrow gap and his hand stroking it. Was I a part of Utsui’s imaginary world? Was he now a god, controlling everything?

Or maybe I was Utsui. I knew that what was happening was completely natural. I felt my nose running and raised my hand to touch it. I put my index finger to my nostril and it came away covered in a clear snot. With a dull wooden thud, the stale air in the bar transformed. Fresh air poured in through the opened door and revealed a rectangular cut-out of the outside. The sound of people talking blended with the cacophony of the street.

I steadied my trembling legs and yelled, ‘Welcome to Delira!’

Had my voice been too shrill with excitement? Kaizu’s tongue was once more tinged with heat. A pair dressed in suits approached the bar and asked, ‘Can we sit here?’ They sat right in front of me. I had an odd feeling and looked away from the two customers, glancing back at the kitchen. A splash of semen flew through the gap in the curtain. I checked to see where it had landed and an image popped into my head: I step in it, I slip and I fall.

‘I’d like a gin and tonic . . .’

‘And a Budweiser for me, thanks.’

The two orders caught me completely off guard. I was coming.

‘Was that a . . . gin and tonic and Budweiser?’ I sputtered. My pussy shuddered uncontrollably. I took out two glasses as the orgasm washed over me. I squeezed the lime between my fingers, let the juice drip into the glass, and it occurred to me; depression is ecstasy. And I am ridiculous. I have to say, this was certainly one way to wrap up a June. This time round, the gin and tonic was flawless.

 

Photo © Eka Shoniya, Artplay 2013, 2013

‘Delira’ was originally published in Yūutsu tachi by Bungeishunju Ltd, 2009.

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