by Mateo Pietez
Sue let her stare linger long, scanning the brown and pink line of caramel-haired women who stood in an undulating line above the curb for one face that hadn't been crisped by the tanning lamp to some shade between leather and apricot; grotesque colors on any human being, it seemed to her they found a particularly bizarre incarnation on Japanese faces. Fringes fell from suede elbows and glitter pocked the edges of their eyes. As Sue lumbered past, she marveled anew how whorelike the women looked, and how remarkably their tuxedoed escorts resembled pimps.
On her first visit to the Kokubuncho entertainment district, she'd been appalled -- she, appalled! The memory drew her grin -- that no matter which of the neighborhood's blocks she turned down, whores seemed to satellite the ramen shops and the parked cars, swarm outside the karaoke bars and moth under the moony lamps, posturing an elegant aloofness while screaming through knee-high boots and negligible skirts the nearness of negotiable flesh -- as ubiquitous and easily procured as the cigarettes, microwaved French fries, condoms, hot canned tea, soup, cameras, and jugs of beer prostituted in vending machines that weed-choked the streets.
It had been four days before Sue realized, seeing the women in supermarkets at 10 a.m. and in restaurants at noon, that they were ordinary young women in popular fashion. The ones hovering over the nighttime curb between besuited men were only lures for the karaoke bars in front of which they dangled. Women like that, Sue knew, were more concerned with affecting haughty inaccessibility than were tamer women, but they would strip in the studio for a fraction of the price.
Most karaoke bars in Sendai City's leisure quarter could only afford the images of easy girls, backlighting their photographs in signs set outside the door; and it was on one of these signs that Sue, turning her head for a final glance back at the brown and pink line, caught a corner of Julie's face. It was a group photo, black bikinis supporting strained smiles. On her second, full glance she wondered how she could have mistaken a Japanese woman for her daughter, but as she began to step away she realized that their poses were the same: standing on one leg, the other drawn up, hand on knee, one arm folded under breasts, head downbent to tumble a spout of hair past the face to the shoulders. The same pose. Sue felt hot.
People ebbed by, foreheads bobbing beneath her shoulders. A glut of alcohol thinning their tact, they were willing to gape at her more openly than in daytime sobriety: jaws slack in awe of the fat blond monster. Sue knew that if she chose to lift her foot high enough on the next step, she could flatten a crowd of gawking businessmen. This was her Godzilla fantasy. Neon banners cut wedges into Kokubuncho's air, clamoring ramen! drinks! karaoke! Imperturbable, on the other side of a cab-jammed intersection a single monolith -- a magnet, a conduit and disseminator of neon -- triumphed over the narrow street, inhaling and expelling smoke-browned men from its base in quick, emphysemic breaths. Three stories of yellow, green, pink, blue bands of brash pastel curled into an Arabian mural, a pyramid of gold and a camel and palm trees bathing in the brilliant words "Araddin Pachinko."
Crushing cabs under her taloned paws, swallowing passengers in a gulp, Sue pushed into the building. The sensory fusillade within comforted her. Pachinko was as immutable as a fault line. The echo of the black bikini photo on the street still stung her mind, and as she swallowed and slowly turned her head from left to right, inhaling, she let the room dribble into the Julie-shaped grooves on her brain. There was nothing in the world Sue had seen -- nothing in New Jersey or Ohio or Nevada, or in these recent Japan months -- that rivaled the symmetrical insanity of the pachinko parlor.
Hordes of smoking men sat in rows before the pachinko machines. Each device was the size of a slot machine, its face a budding collage of digital pictures and cute cartoon faces over which metal pegs were scattered like a frozen cloud of gnats. The men were smoking. Little silver balls rained down the faces, scampering over the pegs to slide down levers into bonus chutes, dropping through flashing boxes, popping off springboards to spin orange wheels and ricochet back over pegs, the avalanche terminating in three tiered plastic trays at the bottom. Men, smoking, were given the illusion of control by grimy knobs which determined how forcefully the silver balls spat from the collecting tray back up to the top, and they wedged coins into the knobs to keep them fixed at a winning trajectory. Silver balls were stacked in fluorescent green buckets next to the least unfortunate. Stray silver balls collected in depressions in the floor. Silver balls plugged men's ears, a paltry defense against the sonic assault thrown up by the clashing and tumbling of billions of silver balls; over that cacophony the pachinko parlor blasted techno music, a noise flush with the unrelenting fluorescence of the room, if ill-matched to the landscape of greying heads. Men smoked. It's loud, Sue thought, but it's not dirty. Making a living on this wouldn't be dirty the way gambling was dirty. Taking and selling pictures of sex had been a little dirty as well, she could admit, but it never would have been wrong, had the girl turned out uglier. No one could deny that the evolution of a girl with Sue's own genes into such a lovely creature signified a miracle; it was, however, a miracle that mocked Sue pellucidly: in the photo she carried in her purse, Julie's hair was wet, as it had been the last time Sue had seen her. Revelations left nothing to coincidence. Sue was certain of that.
On a Sunday morning, the day after the girl had gotten her driver's license, they'd screamed at each other through the shower curtain for twenty minutes before the water turned cold on Julie, driving her to bolt to the car in a towel. The girl was intent on peeling out before Sue's attempt to reconcile could sap the moment of its drama, and after putting it into forward instead of reverse she barreled into the back of the garage. Undaunted by the spilt can of paint thinner, sawdust, gardening gloves and sack of peat moss on the car's dented hood, Julie threw it right into reverse and rolled out of there. The fish-turned lower lip Sue had glimpsed as the car tore past was absent from the photograph she now carried, a demure smile in its place. But Sue could tell from the sneer threatening to break through that the girl was still defiant, on fire. She was in transit. That much beauty, from her big fat mother's womb, come all that way, she was not stopped in the photograph. Scratching a few figures on a pocket notepad, Sue turned to leave the parlor, when in a weak attempt to beckon her back a silver ball rolled beneath her feet. She bent down, arching her exo-spiked spine with a flick of her tail, and scooped the ball into her purse.
A thicket of crosswires tethering buildings to telephone poles hatched the black sky. In the street, faux whores milled around bar entrances, teetering atop shoes with solid six-inch soles. Sue peered down at the women over her snout. Godzilla has no need for stilts. Bone-legged, the women clung to their boyfriends for balance. The men, too, Sue looked down on, for nearly all had aspired to her radiant platinum, each of them privately, vainly hoping that bleach might render their pitch black hair a color purer than copper. Furthermore, they acted silly. Most were men whose models for coolness were either Hollywood heroes or Japanese film stars whose models for coolness were Hollywood heroes. The result was a unilateral embrace of the disaffected sneer during the disinterested lighting of a cigarette, to punctuate the dispassionate laugh. It is obvious, Sue thought, that coolness is handcuffed to concealment -- anyone afforded a glimpse of your personality will learn how shamefully you are plagued with humanity, and seek a shade nearer perfect platinum.
As she trudged a path of terror and immolation to Sunlise Richy's Bartime, Sue mused that a similar reverence for obscuring and the obscured had clothed and fed her these past decades. Concealment was at the root of the phenomenon that brought men to karaoke bars with fleshy signboards; the same phenomenon sold mesh stockings, quack aphrodisiacs, books on sexual technique as well as her porn; it made ten-year-olds memorize dirty words upon first hearing them, kept nipples off the pages of decent magazines, allowed 18th century men to believe a set of fanged jaws waited between a woman's legs, and made a confessor whisper sins of the body more hoarsely into consecrated space; it brought the most innocuous phrases the most vulgar meaning: what phrase could, in itself, be more vague and free of connotation than "doing it," yet in many languages the euphemistic meaning was the same, and was clear to any child of eight -- the same could be said for "his thing" or merely raising one's eyebrows with a grin. Young Sue, however, had never known exactly what was meant by the taboo phrases other kids tittered. As for the red words adults spoke with chins angled toward the ceiling, they were of another language entirely. The legacy of the stork, revered in her family, decreed that children ought never to hear of the enigmatic nastiness spelled with three letters more than peripherally. They should never speak of it, and they should certainly never understand it.
Soaking this in with appropriate gravity, young Sue dropped sex down a sewer whose bottom she was never able to plumb. In junior high school she scrutinized diagrams of seminal vesicles and fallopian tubes, copying the textbook charts into her school notes and again into her diary. But the body parts' explicit, sterile names only gave the illusion of an end to knowledge, or at least a point that could be reached, which her gut told her did not exist. Losing her virginity a hundred times and more helped little. She read books illuminating endless sexual possibilities, consumed pornography, but she could not eradicate the feeling that no human would ever be able to draw sex from its red shadow into plain light, the way we can read about a movie star's home life or illustrate centripetal force with a water-filled bucket. After taking miles of photos and film of the sex act, the romantic aspect of the mystery evaporated, and she did know a certain amount more than she had as a child. But nothing could illuminate the floor of the sewer.
Happily, strangers with disposable income shared her plight. The mysterious tantalizes; the tantalizing kept Sue in casino spending cash through a number of presidents -- until a Thursday came when, in the circular fashion she knew revelations prefer, the appearance of Julie's picture freed her to notice the grime that the photos and Gerry and the green felt tables had left on her fingers. It did stink.
A baggy-panted boy and his girlfriend risked their cool gaping unabashedly at her as she pushed through the door under Sunlise Richy's neon sign. "Irasshaimase!" Sue barely heard the welcome over frantic jazz. She held up one finger.
Settled into a booth where the customs guy would see her, she snatched notepad and pen from the depths of her purse and peered through the brown bar dimness. Gambling for cash prizes was illegal in Japan, so the pachinko halls paid the law a bit of lip service by rewarding large amounts of silver balls with merchandise, which could then be sold back in a shed adjacent -- but not connected -- to the pachinko parlor, for hard currency. About 3,000 balls to a green bucket, and one bucket won a prize which could be sold for about 75 bucks. So for every shipment she brought in, say of 500,000 balls, she could give the guy 500 bucks and still walk away with $12,000.
"Eeh-Hello." A man in his thirties with flecks of grey hair stood next to the table, awaiting permission to sit. Around the collar of his untucked light blue shirt hung a knit tie. Dirty khakis and sneakers. Maybe, Sue reflected, 500 bucks a crate was too much. "I am waited by the bar for you."
"Yes. Eh-I am Tuna." He held a scotch.
"Thank you bery much." Tuna gave an energetic handshake and drew a deep, confidence-building breath. Mild and meek, hardly a snack for Godzilla. "Mr. Izumi's friendo. I libbed in Canada for one year, but it's a long long ago, so my English bery bad."
"Okay," began Sue with deliberate speech. "You work in Sendai airport customs?"
"Mm. Yes. You know I am surprise, you bery big woman. Its a normal size, in your hometown?"
The twin barbs of Sue's tongue ran along the inside of her fangs, darting around each perfect point. The knowledge that she could have his head in one bite curled a growl of hunger up her throat. "You are very small and weak. Are you a woman?"
Tuna's eyes seemed to pop. Then he laughed and drank.
He is only Japanese, Sue reminded herself. And only a man. "Listen. I have a project that-"
"Ah, plan, so ka."
"My plan is to make enormous amounts -- uh, to make many many, to make many many many many pachinko balls in America and import them."
Tuna cocked his head. "What does it mean?"
Pinched between her two claws, the small silver ball caught an orange beam of light.
"I am going to make these at a metal factory. Uh, factory." Thumbing through her dictionary, she found "Koba. I will make pachinko balls at a koba, and it will be very very easy. Making dollars, or yen, is difficult. But pachinko balls will be easy. I have a koba already, it's my friend's."
Outrageous lies were the tools of Fortune 500 CEOs and world leaders, Sue reminded God. She would find a factory. "But I can't get pachinko balls through customs."
"You're damn right."
"I think understand."
"And nobody'll suspect it, because there's no crime in Japan. People don't steal things here."
Looking at his drink, Tuna inhaled sharply through his front teeth. "Yes, maybe it's the good plan. But-"
"But Mr. Izumi -- but uh, my friendo Mr. Izumi makes the sexy movie."
"I help him get many sexy movie, through customs. Mr. Izumi, you make the movie, say. No-uh. I mean, he say you make movie. Ne?"
"No, I told him I quit all that. I have a different idea."
"If it's the pachinko, you know, pachinko owna is yakuza."
"No, no. The Koreans run the pachinko parlors. Yakuza own love hotels, and places like bars and restaurants. Don't worry about yakuza."
"Jesus." Unwedging herself from the booth, Sue flattened a path to the bar and brought back two more drinks.
"Thank you bery much."
"If you help me, I will give you two hundred dollars for one box. Twenty thousand yen, one box."
"Eh, I have the idea. Mr. Izumi say you work the, in the taking sexy picture, so I have the idea."
"Ok? My idea is, ah, you know the tabloid, the newspaper in America with bery strange story? I think we should make the sexy tabloid. Write the sexy story for it and take the sexy picture. I hab some story idea now."
Ignorance of sarcasm brought Tuna the immunity he needed to continue gleefully. "Moscow Circus Bear Sex Jackie O For Caviar. Woman With Four Breast Buy Bra From Alien."
"It's going to be tough finding a photo for that one." Sue sought another moment's patience in a massive swallow of beer. "Why is your dirty English so much better?"
Tuna was giggling. "Clinton Penis Turn Into Cigar."
"Yeah, I get it."
"Scientist Say Eating Rice Make You Small Balls. Siamese Twin Lesbian Come Out of Double Closet."
Lurching forward, Sue grabbed his gesturing arm and pinned it to the table.
"Pachinko is safe, it is easy. Five crates in one shipment, I can give you one hundred thousand yen. All you do is stamp the box."
"It's a good idea, maybe. But pachinko is yakuza."
"Koreans!" A lick of fire breath began to creep up her windpipe. Tuna cringed.
"Korea, yes, ok. Maybe I can do it. It's good idea, if there's a chance. Okay?"
Breathing smoke back in the street, Sue fingered Tuna's business card. Decorative lamps hung over her head. They were pink and black and white. She creased the business card in half, as she had folded the man, and dropped it into her purse. All that rot in the guidebooks made her smirk -- pages on the Japanese style of negotiating, how to play the game of dancing around the topic and giving a concession with every request. Yes, the Japanese are afraid of directly approaching a subject, but Sue knew the only thing for it is to hack and slash the path you want, American-style. To think Godzilla was a Japanese creation. The creators must have drawn their inspiration from Rocky.
From what she understood, if one of these Japanese broke their word, the loss in honor would drive them to suicide. And she had Tuna's word. When she turned west in search of a celebratory drink, she passed two women in high school uniforms with skirts hiked high, chatting, presumably not with each other, on harmonica-sized cell phones. A snarl twisted her face. Here she had boarded that plane in April because nothing sounded farther away than Japan -- and perhaps partially because she'd heard silver balls were used to gamble -- and this was the kind of thing that met her at Narita airport: women in their twenties wearing high school uniforms to attract men. That scrap of a man and his tabloid idea. If he found anyone diseased enough to try it, he might be able to afford a decent tie. Reaping the enigma.
The indistinctness of an alley drew her in. Before one of its sliding doorways a whirring plastic model of a ramen bowl rotated, throwing up steam. Sue sunk her head, bent her knees and slipped through. Trenches birthing rivulets veined the owner's face, the harsh brand of experience; but when his eyes alit on Sue they widened like a child's. "Irasshaimase," he managed to say. The inevitable drunken businessmen swayed at a table in the corner of the small room. Sue sat at the counter and ordered a tall beer. Three stools over sat an old man with mussed hair in a three-piece suit. He slurped his noodles, exhaling robustly after each swallow.
Her great claws dug the postcard from the bottom of her purse and smoothed it against the counter. Days of languishing under garbage in the purse had drawn a few white creases across the photo of Mount Fuji. Telltale marks of airbrushing, minuscule hexagons filled the impossible purple sky and touched the immaculate orange underbelly of a cloud. The airbrush is a band-aid for the human condition, thought Sue. She ordered another tall one. Paintings can't open a window to perfection because they don't look anything like real life. But the airbrushed photograph harmonizes ethereal hues with precision found nowhere in nature; it gives divine flow to human contours, imposes unity and equilibrium on lop-sided reality, the resulting illusion more convincing than life and, as such, an unparalleled pleasure at affordable rates. She'd immediately noticed that Julie's photo was free of hexagons. Dear Julie, was already written at the top of the great white space. Sue held her pen.
"They have these books with barnyard animals doing it, for kids," she said to the man behind the counter. Clutching a strainer of steaming noodles, he ducked his head under the copper ladles that hung between them to raise his eyebrows at her.
"But I'm supposed to buy one of those? Who can read that to their kids?"
"Eh... I-ah, don't-o, speak-"
"She would've hated me, trying to embarrass her like that. Any kid would." She snorted. "Which leaves me what, biology textbooks? Vas deferens. Ovipositor."
Silence settled over the corner table as the businessmen and the owner exchanged glances.
"Beer, one more," Sue said.
"Hai!" Delighted to have caught a phrase, the owner plunked a bottle before her.
The tip of her pen jittered around the spot where the first word should go, dropping light blue marks. At length, she committed to: How are you? I'm in Japan. Have quit with the photography business.
"Whe-ah do you come from?" shot a voice from the corner, supported by smoke-throated giggles.
Have also quit gambling. About to describe her triumph that Thursday in April, dumping tubs of developer on Gerry's bed and nonchalantly strolling out, Sue realized that Julie'd never met him. This was fortunate, she decided, as Gerry had dismissed Julie without pausing to think of her as a person. A hot day for April, the ancient air conditioner stinking the studio blue, he'd grabbed Sue's shoulder and dropped the page from a competitor's magazine into her lap. "What do you think about them leaving that tattoo on? Sexier or just trashier?"
The response Sue's brain crafted -- that they left it on because they couldn't afford an airbrush artist -- was arrested in her mouth as the chair buckled under her, the floor and the walls fell away. It had been eight years. And there the girl smiled at her, standing on one leg, the other drawn up, hand on knee, one arm folded under breasts, head downbent to tumble a spout of hair past the face to the shoulders.
Beer's leathery flavor followed a belch over Sue's tongue. Writing legibly had become difficult. Starting a business venture over here. Could you afford a ticket? The words looked ridiculous. She added Ha, ha.
Sifting for words to infuse the next part with the practicality, the economy of water, Sue leaned back a moment. She would explain how the stork forbids parents to spell things out in the normal way, and she'd apologize that Julie'd had to lie to her friends about her mother's job -- but then if she got into that, she'd have to account for what happened with Dave, the girl's father.
No, there was only enough white space for Sue to the spell out the security her new enterprise could offer. Words persuasive enough to move the girl's body onto a plane existed, Sue was confident. Once she'd read a book that was full of them. It nettled her that the right side of the postcard bore the magazine's address, the cute name they'd given her daughter written at the top.
"Mo ippon?" Wrinkling a smile, the owner pushed fresh beer into her paw. Sue concluded, guzzling, that no bright child would want to make such a leap unless she had proof of a sure, clean thing. A dull ring protested the force with which she planted her beer on the counter. She foraged through her purse and drew out the folded business card. "Whereza phone?"
"Phone! Telephone!" Holding an invisible receiver to her ear, she punched frantic digits into the air.
"Ah, denwa! Soto ni arimasu yo. Muko." The proprietor pointed to the door. Drunkenness had enkindled the street, and hobbled the fat crowd buttered by Kokubuncho's neon, red paper lamps, backlit signs and white globes. As Sue towered, assessing the scene before attempting to plow a path to the phone on the other side, she saw something inexplicable -- it appeared that members of a group going in one direction would on a whim break off and latch onto a group going in any other direction, and so on up and down the entire street, so that no one was with anyone or headed anywhere, but concerned only with meeting the intricate demands of some frenetic jig. They looked like discrete herds of sharks trying to push through to separate feeding frenzies. She shook the dizziness out of her eyes, focused on the phone booth, and plied a course.
Tuna's cell phone number in front of her, Sue tore through her wallet in search of the card she needed to operate the phone. A maxed-out credit card, her Nevada driver's license, coupons for fabric softener, a Columbus Public Library card, and an unredeemed scratch-off lottery ticket for five bucks fluttered to the asphalt. When she found the phone card she crammed it into the slot and pounded the number, growling.
"Hi, this's Sue."
"Oh! Eeh toh-How ah you?"
People were shouting "Hello!" to her as, gliding from one group to another, they swept past the booth. "Listen, Tuna. You tell me now about this deal. Tell me when I can, can start shippin' crates over."
Laughter fuzzed her earpiece. "You drink tonight? Maybe a lot of beer for you, I think?"
An urge to flex seized her shoulders and backbone. Tightening her grip on the phone, she saw the skin on her arm pale to pure white. "You gimme a good -- gimme the date. No, no time to wait."
"Mmm-I think it's a difficult."
"You said you could do it."
"I say maybe. But difficult."
Her toenails began to grow. "You know you can do it. You already bring in all 'ose dirty videos for Izumi, stuff breaks Japan's porno laws."
"Hey, I have the new one -- Psychic Dildo Find G-Spot, No Help From You!"
"What's wrong with you, won't answer me?"
"Pachinko is bery dangerous, yakuza. Tabloid is many people buy, in USA many people buy tabloid ebery day. It's a, I make ideas, you write-"
Slamming the phone back onto the cradle, Sue backed out of the booth and swung toward the faces in the street. People suddenly stopped saying "Hello."
The inside of her head felt like a wet knot. The Enquirer sold more copies daily than any other paper in America. Porn had an audience as solid as bread. Her haste in fleeing New Jersey had been futile -- the filth had facilely preceded her, had stowed itself in her luggage. Worse, she realized, it was embedded in the things she packed.
Her hand was clutching a shiny piece of paper. The purse fell from her arms and cannonballed the pavement, spilling a silver ball under the dervishing feet of the drunk. It was clear to Sue, looking at Julie's photograph, that the fire in the girl's eyes was a smiting fire; the picture was retribution from God; Tuna, an angel of hell. Paling beyond white into a gentle green, the cells of her skin toughened and pronounced boundaries. The lengthening of her spine hunched her slightly forward, an awkward stance swiftly made comfortable by her stabilizing tail.
Turmoil in her belly railed for release, an agitated fireball. A direction was chosen for her by the lilting street and she wove between the gaggles of smiles, meandering until her predator's eye caught the glint of a beer vending machine far down a side alley. Her girth swerved toward the white and grey beacon, and as she slipped into the sidestreet the light pouring over the main street was eclipsed, bringing overhead stars into sharp focus. Suddenly Sue noticed lit puddles of nude skin on either side of her. A row of strip bars gleamed, their life-sized billboards throwing the alley's only light on scratched iron doors past which sparse people trickled with chins tucked down, ashamed not only of their presence, but of their sparseness. Finally, she thought, the urethra of Sendai City. She crashed into the vending machine and stuffed money down its gullet. Stars and flesh-colored light shone over the silver cylinder that popped out. Sue was tempted to take a bite out of its cold side.
A murmur reached her ears, and peering around the corner of the beer oasis she saw a crouching figure with dirty copper hair jabbering into a cell phone. Facing away from her, he was bathed in red light cast by a bulb over a nearby door. Nonsense gushed from his mouth, spilling past the phone onto his shadow and over its borders, contaminating the street. Sue was elevated to disgust by the color of his hair and the cigarette behind his ear, and the leering way he strung his words together without enunciation; her indignation compounded by the way he squatted in the gritty-
Abrupt bubbles in her stomach made Sue draw a deep breath, retarding her thought; a brief blank moment, adrift; then, looking at the boy cast in red light, she felt a sudden lick of sympathy. She straightened, taking a swig. This boy's plight -- captive to imported ideas of coolness, driven by bottled-up lust to sit outside a door of ill repute -- was only exacerbated by heartless reptiles like herself who dismissed him on impulse. Raised in a society where embarrassment creeps like an insidious fog, he'd tried every door and found it barred by repression. Every door but the red one. From the back, he looked roughly Julie's age. The gibbering noises he made began to sound rounded and clipped, like those of a toddler whose eagerness to speak exceeds the dexterity of his tongue. An urge to touch the back of his head heated her chest. Makers of magazines had peddled the filth before his nose while his parents denied him the comfort of knowledge, had themselves driven him to this pink and white street. She reached out a gentle paw, and stroked his hair once.
He leapt up and whirled, and the sight of Godzilla blew a terrified shout out of his lungs -- he threw a quick hand against the wall and took a moment to steady his balance, liquor-crippled. After a breath he stood straight. Ripping the red-lit door open, the boy disappeared. Sue blinked once, the shout loitering in her ear. She had to tell him, speaking the international language of -- what was it? gestures? love? money? -- she would tell him to flee from that street and never to stray from the neon perimeter of karaoke bars and pachinko halls. Or something, she had to say something. Awakened by sinister radiation experiments, Godzilla could nevertheless use her powers for good. She followed him inside. Some kind of small lobby rotated around her with cunning slowness, the motion stoking the fire deep in her gut. The light was even dimmer than outside, and it was a few moments before she could discern his figure before the elevator, not six feet from her.
"Wait," she said.
His finger assaulted the up button.
"Y'know," Sue slurred, "that's pretty flash style. Yer friends wearin' that?"
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.
"I tell you what, what you think is up -- yer not gonna find what you think is up there."
Spilling a curtain of brightness into the lobby, the elevator doors dinged open; they began to shut an instant after the young man stepped in.
"Wait," Sue repeated, and stuck an arm between the closing doors, depending on their sensors to touch her arm and reopen. Instead, like two stupid goats, the doors rammed into her arm, froze, backed up a couple of inches, and rammed again. Ram, back, ram.
"What the hell? The hell is this? World technology leaders, my ass." Between flashes of sliding iron Sue saw the boy's eyes. They would not engage her. "Help me out here, fer chrissake."
After a moment, a new notion -- that she could use the other paw as well -- waded through the layer of alcohol bathing her brain, and she wrenched the obstinate doors apart.
Light inside the tiny box was penetrating. After hitting the button for the top floor, the sixth, the youth turned to face the corner. The elevator mustered a skyward lurch. Compelled by the social law which demands from the sane an ostensible reason for any public action, in particular any action as bold as following someone into an elevator, Sue pressed the fourth floor button.
Flame stirred Sue's bowels; it drove heated air up her windpipe to collect in her head, swelling her temples. "You coulda least helped me with the door." In the searing frosty light she could see the determination with which the youth stretched impassivity across his face. Behind his black shape Sue saw a long poster, the directory of floors. Next to 6 was written "Love Heart House," clearly the brothel; underneath, in the popular English that managed to be cute without risking meaning, the slogan read, "Pink Calls Us Back to Nature. Get the Chance!"
"I tell you what, what's gonna happen is, is yer gonna wake up in thirty years with more beer in the fridge than vegetables, is what's gonna happen."
Sue held the back of her hand against her brow. The words had sounded maternal enough in her head. The temperature of the trembling box seemed to be dropping. "If you don' acknowledge me in some way, you know, jus' nod or tell me 's okay. Jus' nod. Nod for me. You little bastard. You too cool?"
What had happened to her beer? She belched.
At the fourth floor the lift jolted still. Grumbling open, the doors revealed darkness in whose reaches one remote light blipped. In a guillotine moment Godzilla knew it was time to spew a fireball: she leaned into the kid and let it rip.
"Buuah!" he screamed. "Nandaro? Nande sonna koto shita no?"
An acrid stench affronted Sue, knocking her back. "Whew-"
The boy rapidly struck the button that kept the doors from closing.
"Kitanai! Totto-to usero!" Facing her at last, he dug his fingers into her arms and shoved her out of the brightness. Down on her knees, Sue heard the pounding of his fist against the closing button, and turned to protest. Inside a narrowing band of light she saw him grimacing, limply holding his arms out like a rain-beaten scarecrow. A gluey yellow patch draped half his head and one shoulder. The doors closed.
Sinking into the floor over which trace grains of light crept, Sue was faintly touched by the sense that Godzilla may have stricken a blow for justice. She was comforted, rolling over to a slumbering position, to think her purse was probably just where she left it.
Mateo Pietez is a recent college graduate currently living in Japan whose poetry has been featured in Logodaedalus and Neologisms. His goal is to contaminate rank, ill-maintained airplanes and unicorn-postered waiting rooms around the planet with his words. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.