His hands were elegant and bore well the weight of a man. His left hand he cupped into the shape of a crescent moon as he pinned the fish against the cutting board. His knife came down in smooth but firm strokes, through the fat with a slick squish, and the knocking sound of blade against wooden slab.
This is how Koichi Ishii decided to spend his days. In the company of his craft, with the faint smell of vinegar perfumed onto his skin. The quiet dignity of his blade an extension of his tongue, licking tenderly the raw flesh of a mackerel.
It was ten minutes to close and the last of the customers were gathering their things to leave. Koichi was cleaning his station when he heard the bell jingle.
Stewart Reed walked in, took a quick look around and sat at the bar.
“Irasshaimase!” Koichi bowed but his greeting lacked a touch of his usual enthusiasm. He was annoyed that this man had failed to acknowledge the hour; a respectful customer would have first asked permission to dine. But again and again, Koichi had to remind himself that he was the foreigner, the gai-jin. He would have to learn to adjust.
Stewart smiled. “Hi. How’s it goin’. Can I get a menu?”
The restaurant was empty and it was exactly what Stewart needed…he needed to be alone. He exhaled deeply as he scanned the menu. He knew, more or less, what he was going to order.
“I’ll have the yellow tail, unagi, and some red snapper. And a bottle of sake, please.”
Stewart checked his wristwatch. Fuck. Almost 11. Tammy and Lori would be asleep by now.
He shook his head and pursed his lips. Like last week, he went to Chandra’s to end things, and like last week he ended up staying too long. She was helpless without him and this in turn made him helpless for her.
The thought of his daughters shot pangs of guilt down his nerve endings, triggering an onslaught of self-recriminations. I’m a monster, he thought.
This would lead him to thoughts of his wife, her distant and worn-out eyes. They had fallen out of love years ago, not abruptly, but slowly and imperceptibly. Comfort was the harbinger of decay; she let herself go, became naggy, said mean-spirited things, wouldn’t go down on him, never laughed or smiled, and in becoming a mother, forgot how to be a wife. If he was a monster, there she was his maker.
This had become Stewart Reed’s routine: Every Thursday night for the last 3 and half months, a late dinner, repentance at the thought of his little girls, absolution at the thought of his wife.
He should probably give her a call.
“Honey? yeah…I’m grabbing a bite now. I’ll be home in about an hour…Kids asleep? Alright…yeah, yeah busy day…I’ll be home in a bit, don’t wait up. K, bye.”
The man was mindful of his wife. Koichi had been studying him while he was preparing the meal. Perhaps he had been too harsh in his judgment. A man in a business suit so late into the night was a man fully devoted to his family.
He plated the yellow tail.
Often, Koichi would look with longing at the couples and the families who dined at his restaurant. He hadn’t been with a woman since the days of the war; he could never forget the deadness in their eyes. It was only the delicacy and coolness of his hands, trademarks of any great sushi mastaa, that could coax the slightest of reactions, a shiver in the fog of their drug-induced stupor.
He plated the unagi.
It is the great deceit of war to consign a young soldier the badge of centrality. He will use it to fill his needs, first and foremost, pillaging villages to satiate his hunger, ravishing virgins with his delicate-angry hands. To lay down his life, he expects nothing less from the peasant girl, prepared for the sake of his comfort.
But the war had come and gone, Koichi lived on, and the broken veil was all that remained of his entitlement. And their dead eyes.
The red snapper was a beautiful piece and the smell of it filled his nostrils. The touch and feel of it against the ridges of his fingers was how Koichi filled the void of visceral pleasures. He stroked it now with trembling hands.
With his right hand he took his blade. He eyed the fatty portion and cupped it with his left hand, shaped into a crescent moon. With one smooth stroke, he sliced off a piece of his thumb.
Stewart let out a startled yelp.
“Sir, Oh my God. Are you ok? You need an ambulance. Let me call 911.”
Koichi watched as his blood mingled with the juices of the snapper. A taste of metal and flesh flitted the sharp point of his tongue.
“No, no thank you. I will be fine. Go home and be with your wife.”
For Raw and Uncut, Jessica J.