Tanabe stared, as did every other person on the fifteenth floor in that office of the Tokugawa Building. It was not only the men who could not peel their eyeballs away from that striking creature at the entrance, but also the women found it difficult to avert their eyes from someone with so much poise and confidence. Only when the juices of jealousy were stirred to the point of bubbling did the women look away in shame.
For Tanabe it was more than just her beauty, but also a realization of who she was, causing an eruption to happen somewhere in his middle, making it feel like the breakfast he hadn't had was there and about to come up. Tanabe stood his ground but immediately was assaulted by the memory of his own voice making excuses for almost staying out all night.
"Kosugi wouldn't let me go, so that we ended up going from one place to another till nearly dawn."
His wife looked at him turning from her position at the stove and said nothing, maybe even gave a slight nod. His own mind was intent on looking sincere, and unsure that he could pull it off he began fiddling with the dressing for the salad sitting neatly in the corner of a rustic-looking place mat in front of him. He reached across the table pouring a liberal dose of dressing on his wife's salad first, and immediately regretted it. It wouldn't do, commencing with atypical behavior when whatever was at stake was at stake. But Chieri, his wife, remained with her back to him, still in her rumpled over-sized down-to-the-knees T-shirt, unaware of the shame enveloping him, till all he felt was like a whipped dog. He stood up abruptly from the table. As she came away from the kitchen stove with a plate of fried eggs, a bowl of rice, and miso soup, placed neatly on a tray, he was driven to the toilet in such a state that only mumbled apologies came from his mouth. If it was going to be like this, why did he do it? By the time Chieri inquired loudly from outside the bathroom door as to what the matter was, he had decided to skip breakfast all together, regardless of his growling stomach.
Now with Kosugi at his desk just two down the row, Tanabe's stomach growled as if in protest of the scene unfolding before him. At least Tanabe had been alone last night and Kosugi knew nothing of what went on. Kosugi turned his head and grinned mischievously. This did even more to unnerve Tanabe as he searched his mind, trying to remember if Kosugi might have reason to know something about last night.
The club they had been to was the usual cabaret that his section boss took them to for celebrations. The last occasion had been he and Kosugi's promotions to top brokers in their office. Successful business was always a cause for celebration here, and although this occasion wasn't due to any particular successes, it had the ambiance of just such a celebration. Last night had been a last night out-on-the-town before the new American CEO took over things at the top. That this gorgeous woman was the new CEO was enough of a sensation as it was for everybody in this office, but for Tanabe it was a disturbance more than he could bear. Anger at himself almost had him running to the toilet once again.
While washing his hands in the club's men's room he felt tired and ready to go home. He honestly didn't like these places. The women with their plastic smiles sat and let men like his section boss fondle them. Everybody laughed their fake laughs, the women pouring drinks till heads started to loll from intoxication. Taxis were called, and there was always an astronomical bill at the end of it. He didn't know which he loathed more, the women or the men who came. He only came because he had to. He was really above all this.
Tanabe had what he wanted in his wife. Just three years into their marriage, they were as yet childless. But he got along with his wife, loved her very much. She wasn't what his parents had wanted for him; not an apron-wearing, always-at-home housewife. On the contrary, she was foreign-educated and a free-lance interpreter, fluent in French, English and German. They had fallen in, what he considered as, deep love, where each one took what they needed from the other heedlessly, and where they protected each other. On the occasion when she had work and he had to take care of dinner, which was always on a weekend, he took immense pride in taking care of things at home. It made him feel a man of the ages, not bound to traditional roles. He wasn't a bad cook and he tried new dishes when he had the time. In return, no matter how late Chieri had been up, working or playing on the computer, she always got up to make his breakfast and even ate with him. It felt as though they had a well balanced life together, and although he secretly wanted children, he wouldn't force the issue with her, for she never failed in her wish to use birth control when they made love, which was quite often. He couldn't complain.
But emerging from the men's room he noticed two things; that he had been abandoned by his office colleagues, and that there was a beautiful foreign lady of the evening sitting at the bar of the club. The bill had been settled and the fact that he found he was on his own was pleasantly freeing. He could hold his liquor well and although he had had his share, he suddenly felt as sober as a monk at prayers. In Tanabe's mind the beautiful woman could be nothing more than a high-class prostitute. She was probably eastern European like so many of them were these days, but one that had earned a certain amount of success through her beauty and poise. He was suddenly excited and tantalized by her. She sat on a high bar stool, leggy enough that the slit stayed open no matter how she sat. The dress was simple but so elegant that it made Tanabe salivate. She had dark hair and clear skin that was a perfect creamy color. On closer observation, her race was indiscernible, which made her ever the more exotic. He found he was by her side without being aware of having moved.
Tanabe was what some women would say, exceptional with them. He had never had to delve into the women of the night, but had always had legitimate girlfriends who he would treat very well. He had had three American girlfriends, all of whom went on their merry ways after a certain amount of time, not wishing to commit any more to a foreigner who may want to take them back to his country.
"Hello" he placed his bottom gingerly on the high stool next to her.
She swiveled around to greet him. "You must be Mr. Suzuki."
Ah, a client, he thought, but she didn't sound eastern European. In the seconds that it took for him to respond, the president of his company, also a Suzuki, flashed through his head, an old balding man with a little mustache giving him a lecherous air. Such a beautiful woman would be utterly wasted on him. As she turned her head, he noticed that she was a perfect beauty reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn; a fairy princess, but not so fragile, with a touch of the Wonder Woman, although he could not for the life of him remember that actress's name. "No, in fact I am not."
If she was impressed with his English she didn't show it. But looked down and extended her lower lip just enough to look disappointed. "I am supposed to be meeting a Mr. Suzuki here."
Although he could bask in her beauty interminably, he really didn't know what he was doing there. Tanabe thought he would excuse himself then and there. He shook his head to clear it and would have gotten up but for the bartender. Just at that moment he gingerly slid a note across the bar to the beauty, smiling mysteriously. Tanabe watched with fascination, glued to his seat, as she picked it up, unfolded it and glanced at it, all so gracefully and with such dignity that her next actions were unsophisticated but guileless and endearing. Blowing out air from puffed out cheeks she slammed the note back down onto the bar and turned quickly to Tanabe as if to catch him before he left. "Wait!" He wasn't going anywhere, and with the surprised look he gave her she laughed. "I'm sorry, but could you read this for me? It's in Japanese, and I can't read it yet."
"Sure!" Her laughter was infectious and he smiled chuckling along with her. "No problem!" While flicking his wrist to re-open the folded note, they laughed and he told her that her Mr. Suzuki would not be showing, he was sorry, and would see her in the morning.
Now there was nothing to do but offer her a drink, especially after the genial moment they had just shared and she obliged wholeheartedly. Tanabe sheepishly retracted his earlier notion that she was a lady of the night. Her name was Kathy, such a plain name, and she was starting a new job in the morning. He listened to her earnestly, feeling silly, although there was really no way she would know what he had thought. She was a mid-western American girl, from an area he was familiar with! He told her with delight that he had gone to a university not far from there. They had both been business majors and hadn't they frequented the same places!
When Tanabe suggested going somewhere else, Kathy only paused for a moment. "Yeah, well, why not?"
From the time they met at around nine o'clock to the time they wobbled into a love motel together at around three, they had changed drinking establishments twice. Each one a little more unrefined than the last so that they made quite an entrance and caused quite a stir, sitting on wobbly stools next to mostly men who looked like they had just gotten off work at the construction site.
In the second drinking establishment Kathy talked of her childhood, painting a romantic picture of mid-western country life, something which Tanabe was thoroughly enthralled with. They sat huddled together secretly yearning to touch but only able to let it build. When they went to the next place it was Tanabe's turn and he wove the story of his childhood from a fishing village by the sea, tightening the threads of the cocoon they wove around themselves. Kathy listened while gazing into Tanabe's eyes so that he added little tidbits that he thought she would like, about children dancing at festival time and living so close to the ocean that he rode alongside it every morning on the way to school. When she asked about storms he told her about the pounding wind carrying sea foam all the way up the mountain while they huddled behind storm windows. Her eyes shined. But before he might have to talk about his mother's cancer or little brother's drowning he suggested they leave. He couldn't bear to see the light extinguished from her eyes.
By now they had built such a strong feeling of comradeship and mutual attraction between them that the only probable next step was to make the passionate love that they each beheld in the other. In fact, they spent very little time in the hotel, just an hour to be exact, and kissed each other passionately, as they deemed proper, outside under the bright gaudy flashing hotel neon sign in the damp coolness of a June early morning before they went their separate ways.
And there she was looking like she'd had her ten hours of sleep, sleek in her charcoal grey business suit, skin as smooth and as un-blotched as the night before, ready to take on the world. As she was introduced to everyone in the morning meeting, everyone murmured their enthusiastic greetings as she showered them with her countenance. When it was Tanabe's turn, their eyes met and her wide, pink mouth curved up in a slight smile of recognition. His mouth too turned up in a tight smile, before he bowed curtly to her.