At 3 in the morning the phone rang. I let the machine take the call and didn’t listen to the message until the next day. The call had been from a Japanese woman whom I had met at a crowded party more than two months before. She had told me then that she was an artist and that she had come to Montana to, “become famous.” Now she was calling me because she was in jail. She said to the machine, “This is Yuko. Please. I have no person now. I in the jail. I find your name in my pocket. I wait for you.” Nearly six feet tall with red-tinted, jaw-length black hair, I first noticed her because she was standing by herself with her back to the crowd, looking out a window. And then I noticed her hands, long and thin, her fingers stained with blue paint.
The people I worked with had brought me to the party, but I was weary from listening to technical talk and money stories. When I saw Yuko, I just wanted to stand next to her, next to someone I didn’t know. So I went over to the window next to her. She turned and looked at me for a moment and then returned her gaze to the darkness outside. It was the start of September, and outside it had just started raining. I tried to watch the rain through the darkness, instead, though, all I could see – all I was able to pay attention to – was Yuko’s reflection. Her eyes were large and dark in the paleness of her face, and she too seemed to be looking at my reflection, looking at me. So I spoke to her, speaking to her reflection. “You have paint on your hands,” I said, “what have you been making?” She didn’t answer. She didn’t move. My eyes relaxed, focusing past the window now and into the darkness further out. I was about to turn and leave the window and go back to the kitchen or another crowded room, but suddenly she looked directly at me, her face less than two feet from mine, and said, rapidly and with an awkward accent, “My boy friend, he student. He love me. I come to Montana for him. For him I paint. For him I artist. For him I be famous.”
So I ask her, “Is your boyfriend here?”
She shakes her head, a silent ‘No,’ and then she turns back to the window and says quietly, “No, no. He go. He go.”
“Who do you know here?” I asked.
She answered, “I come here to find my boyfriend, but he go now. He love me, but he forget me.”
I didn’t say anything, and she continued, “I paint all week for him. I finish this morning.” She nodded her face towards her hands, “and I bring painting to house this afternoon, but he no take it.”
“Your painting,” I ask, “what was it of?”
She looked at me quietly, and then asked, “You understand art?”
I nodded, yes.
“How you know art?” She asked. “You study it?”
“No, I do not paint,” I said, “but I think I understand making things, like why we try to show ourselves. But why wouldn’t your boyfriend take your painting?”
“You ask what I paint. I made myself.” and she put a hand up, pulling her hair above her head, “I paint my hair in colors of how I feel for him. I paint rainbow. I paint sad thing like storm. And he not take it. He say he will not look at it. He close door on me. He have other girl friend now. He break my heart.” She was looking out the window again, and continued speaking, but without looking at me, “I come here because this is house of person he work for. I knew party. I think maybe he come here. But he does not come.” And then she looked at me again, and said to me, “You understand art? So you understand why I trash painting?”
“Trash it?” I asked.
“Yes. Take knife, cut face. Throw painting in can by street.”
It had been too long since I had heard talk like this. I had been in the world of The Lie for the past few years, a place where no one is honest, and where no one shows weakness. In just these few sentences exchanged with Yuko, I knew that I didn’t want to be at the party anymore, didn’t want to talk with anyone else except her. And what I suddenly wanted was to try to save her “trashed” painting.
“Hey,” I said, “I don’t know you. You don’t know me. But will you let me keep that painting for you? Can we find it?”
She didn’t answer right away, and when she did she didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ instead she said, “You have car? You drive me home now? He not come here. I go home.”
And without saying anything else we left. She lived in an apartment building on Arthur Street, near the University, and when I parked next to it, she turned to me and said, “Thank you for drive home,” and then she added, “My name is Yuko. Painting in can behind building,” she pointed, “I no to see it again.”
She opened the car door and was about to close it, when I said, “Wait. Can I see you again? Can I talk with you sometime?”
“No,” she answered, “I have boyfriend. He no love me anymore, but I have boyfriend.”
“OK,” I said, “but if you do want to talk sometime, or if you want to show me paintings, here, call me.” I had taken scrap of paper and written down my name and phone number and now was handing it towards her. She took the paper, and without looking at it, shoved it in her coat pocket, closed the car door, and walked into the building.
I waited a few minutes, and then I got out of the car and went to the back of the building. In the alley there was a large dumpster with a hinged, metal cover which I lifted up and then I looked inside. In the light from the street lamps it was easy to see, and there, still on the top of the garbage, was an abstract portrait of Yuko. It was about three feet square, painted in blues and reds. Her hair was a sprawling rainbow, and her skin was white with highlights of silver. There were two diagonal cuts through the canvas. One went through an eye, and the other across her cheek and through her mouth. I pulled the painting from the dumpster, held it so that it’s surface was away from the falling rain, and then I took it to my car, and put it in the back seat. It was an oil painting, and some of the paint was still wet. As I drove back to my house, I shook my head and laughed a bit. There was now blue oil paint on my hands.
She didn’t know anything about me. She hadn’t asked. And because I was sick of The Lie, I had written my name and number rather than handing her a business card. I did not think she would call me, and I did not go near the campus or her apartment building, but I kept thinking about her. I had taken the painting and hung it on the wall in my bedroom. The two cuts had not ruined anything; rather, they gave an expression to the face that I had seen in Yuko’s. Some wildness with a hint of desperation.
So I am awake two months later, early November, at seven in the morning listening to the message she left. I boil water and make coffee. I check email and read some news on the computer. I let my two cats in. I listen to the message again. And again. She does not know English well, but she has given me enough words to understand what is happening with her. In the phone book I find the number for the county jail, and I call. Yes, they have a Japanese girl named Yuko. They tell me she is 23. They also tell me that her bail is set at fifteen thousand dollars, she is being held for committing four felonies – breaking and entry and three assaults – and that her scheduled court date is two months away. Over the phone they won’t tell me any details of the assaults. And when I ask for specifics about what bail means – having never bailed anyone out of jail before – they tell me to call a lawyer or a bail bondsman. In the background there is yelling and noise. The person on the other end of the phone abruptly hangs up. I drink my coffee for a while, and then page through the phone book.
These years in The Lie have made me hate lawyers. So I call up a bondsman, the first one listed in the yellow pages. I tell him what I know and he explains that I can go to the jail myself and hand over $15,000 in cash which I might get back if she shows up for her court hearing. Or I can give him $1,500 that I will not get back. I ask him why I might lose the $15,000 even if she makes her court hearing, and he explains the judges often use the posted bail as the fine – in addition to prison time – for people found guilty. “What did she do?” the bondsman asks. I tell him I have no idea, and he says, “A fella’ could hire a lawyer. Find out.” I thank him for the info and tell him I have to think over the options, and we end the call.
I go into work. I read and delete several messages. I spend a few hours on the phone. It is all politics about who gets to control things. O’neill comes into my office and complains about work done by the people in Seattle. He tells me that I should go to Seattle as soon as possible. In the last two weeks I have already been there four times. But I say, “OK”, and I get Suzzy to deal with the ticket and stuff, and I go home to take a shower and get some clothes. I catch the afternoon flight, get into the rental car, deal with the traffic, spend the night in the motel, and at six the next morning – in the dark – go to SLAM and talk with executives most of the day. There is no discussion of what is broken or impossible, instead everyone is worried about the auditors that their main investor, Gushin Merrill, has on site, and the talking revolves around how we will describe “person-hours” spent on “designated-projects.” It takes about eight hours to get to the point, and even then I am not sure what I have said nor what they have said. Then I catch the evening flight back to Montana, getting into my house near midnight.
All the concrete, the fractured motel sleep of the night before, the day in the glass-palace rooms with white-boards and assistants, the diagrams and convincing, the talk about money, then the furious freeway traffic in the winter dusk – too many trucks – nothing soft. Ugly machines. Too fast. The airport, the shuttles, into and out of the crowds, back into a jet. Back. Unlocking my door, seeing the blinking lights of the phone messages. It always feels like weeks. I turn around and walk back outside. In the dark, close by, are mountains. I breathe the cold air deep. To be stirring a dying fire someplace up high, counting stars… I go back into my house. There is no welcome home, which means it is no home.
The next morning. It is now a few days since Yuko left her message. I go to work and spend hours with O’neill explaining what went on in Seattle, and then I have to spend hours on the phone with the people in London, and then more phone time with people in Seattle, who asks me if I will come back there the next day. And now it is four in the afternoon and already getting dark. A nothing day. A day in The Lie. All of a sudden I want to know what she has done. I pick up the phone and call the bondsman. He remembers me. “We can do it right now,” he says, “Meet me at the jail in half an hour with fifteen hundred in cash,” and he gives me driving directions. I leave my office and go across the street to the bank and get the money, and then drive down Broadway to the jail. The bondsman is already there. He is dressed like a working cowboy, the boots, the long black coat, and the hat. When he shakes my hand I see a revolver under the coat, just like a cowboy. He asks me for the money. I give it to him, and he says, “Thanks, I like hundreds.” Then we go into a lobby where, behind thick glass and through a speaker, a cop asks, “Who is it today?” The bondsman explains, and then we sit and wait for half an hour. He tells me again that I don’t get my $1,500 back, and also gets me to sign some paper that says if she doesn’t show up for the court hearing I will have to pay the bondsman more than thirteen thousand dollars.
“You trust this gal of yours?” he asks me.
“I really don’t even know her,” I tell him.
He just stares at me. He seemed impressed when I handed him the $1,500, and from how I dress and what I drive I know he is thinking that I don’t have much money. Which is fine. But now he warns me, actually threatens me, “You just make sure she shows up for the hearing. I don’t want to be coming after you.” He is silent for a while, and then says, “usually I check a bit more to make sure a fella is good for all the cash, but what the hey, right?” But he laughs and slaps his knee. Like he does this sort of thing all the time. Like he hopes he will have to chase somebody for money.
There is a buzzing sound and a steel door opens and a jailer comes out holding Yuko’s elbow. She is wearing blue jeans and the coat she had on that night we met. On her feet she is wearing orange, paper slippers. Her pants and her coat are stained with dark and dried blood. She is looking at the floor, her head bowed, her face hidden by her hair. Both her hands have bandages on them. The right hand has a gauze bandage wrapped about her knuckles, and the left has a large bandage near the wrist. The bondsman has Yuko sign some paper too. Yuko does not say anything and does not look up at any of us. As we are going out, the jailer says to me, “She can keep those slippers. She wasn’t wearing any shoes the night she came in.”
Outside, the bondsman shakes my hand again, this time letting his coat swing open so I get a good look at the holster around his waist and the long-barreled pistol. In his free hand he is holding the papers that Yuko signed. I glance at them and ask if I can get a receipt for the cash I had given him earlier. He laughs, looks at Yuko, looks back at me, and says, “She’s your receipt. You keep your eye on her.”
It is dusk outside. The county jail is on the west side of town, down the street from a pork processing plant. The place smells like bacon, and the knapweed filled fields surrounding the jail are spotted with scraps of newspaper and other wind-blown trash. Yuko and I are standing next to each other, I am looking at her, but she is still looking at the ground. I turn away from the bondsman, I say to Yuko, “This is an ugly place. I’ll drive you home.”
Neither of us says anything as I make the ten-minute drive from the jail to the University district. When I get to her apartment I park and turn off the engine. She is still looking down, and I have not been able to see her face at all. “Here we are,” I say, “you’re home now.” But she doesn’t talk, and she doesn’t look up either. Then she says, quietly, “I wait three days for you. I do not know if you get my message.”
I don’t say something like, hey, I have almost no idea who you are, and no idea of what you have done, so why should I risk who-knows-what to get you out of jail. Instead I say, “It was a lot of money.”
“How much?” She asks. And I tell her, and I also say – and I am not sure why – that I don’t care about the fifteen hundred that I have given to the bondsman, but I do care that she makes it to the court hearing in two months. She nods, says, “I got it.” Then she opens the car door, stands there for a moment, and says to me, “Come inside.”
I get out and follow her in to her ground floor apartment. She takes a small wallet from her pocket and gets her key out, opens the door, turns on the light, and says, “Please, come.” The apartment is one room. There is a kitchen nook in one corner, a bed in the other. The center of the room has a small table with one wooden chair. Next to the table is a large painter’s easel. Leaning against the walls are dozens of paintings, most of the canvases the same size as the one I took from the dumpster. The place stinks bad, the smell of rotting food from the dishes in the sink, mixed with fumes from the paintings. She goes to the window and opens it, then says to me, “Please,” and gestures to the chair. I sit down and she takes out her wallet, asks me how to spell my name, and writes me a check for the money I have just given to the bondsman, and hands it to me. I take the check but then ask her, “Didn’t they tell you that you could have bailed yourself out? Didn’t they explain that if you had money – if this check is good – that you could have called a bondsman yourself?”
She is looking at me. There are dark circles under her eyes. Her lower lip is swollen and cut. Her straight hair is tangled, and wisps of it are curling into one side of her mouth. I look at her. I just look at her. She is crying. Slow, slow tears in the corners of both her eyes, slow, slow tears down her face. She says to me, “If no one want me out, then I do not want come out.”
“But you don’t know me,” I said, “We don’t know each other at all.”
She nods, and says, “You take my painting. In my culture we know without much word.”
I still had no idea of what she had done, or of who she was. But I said to her, “Listen, you need to wash up, change and get some sleep. Is there a shower here?” She nods ‘yes’, and points to a door that I hadn’t noticed. I ask, “Do you want me to leave?” She shakes her head fast, no. Stay, she tells me. She says, “Please, no leave me alone.”
She gets some clothing and a towel from a dresser and goes into her bathroom. I can’t stand the stink anymore so I drain the water from the sink, which gets rid of most of the smell right away. She comes out of the shower about the same time I am finishing with the dishes, and starts to tell me that I shouldn’t have cleaned, but I shrug. She sits down on her bed and I go back and sit on the chair. “What did you do?” I ask, “What happened?”
“I so sad,” she says, and then she lays down, pulling her blankets over herself. “I tell you in the morning.”
I get up to go, but she sits up and says, rapidly, “No, no, please stay.” I go back to the chair and sit down, and she smiles at me, the first time I have seen her smile, and pulls the blankets up to her face. She has changed the bandages on her hands, replacing the large gauze wraps with band-aids. She doesn’t look like a felon; she just looks like a skinny girl from Japan, living alone with her paintings. I don’t mind just staying there, so I say, “Ok,” and she closes her eyes, sighs several times, shudders, and then seems to be sleeping.
There is a lamp in the apartment’s far corner, near the window, and I turn that on and turn off the overhead light. I pace about the room, looking at the paintings, quietly pulling them from where they lean against each other, one at a time putting them under the lamplight. They aren’t like a student’s work, or from someone’s whose hands and eyes were just trying to play or kill time. There’s a style, a consistency between all the paintings, the same colors, the same mood. Faces with their eyes closed, and figures huddled against walls on the outside of row houses – house after house after house – with tall buildings behind and elevated railroad overhead. It’s Tokyo. The railroad edge of Tokyo, where school children commute four hours a day between their cramped homes and distant schools while their parents work. Same sort of stuff as the rusting oil barrel fringe of Montana and Wyoming towns, the emptiness past the sprawl, but in Tokyo it is a cell-phone, spotless and crowded loneliness.
I spend about two hours with the paintings, and forget about Yuko who is sleeping a few feet away. It’s about 8pm now, and I decide to leave, but when I am opening the door Yuko says, “Don’t go.” I close the door and go and sit down on the floor and lean against the bed.
“Did you sleep?” I ask.
“Yes. But I wake and watch you. You like my art?”
“Very much,” I say. She puts her hand on my shoulder.
“Sleep next to me,” she says, and then says again, “I so sad.”
Maybe because I have been desperate too… I lay down next to her, five hours earlier than I usually try to sleep, and we just hold each other, these two strangers, and our eyes close, and then I am asleep like I am drugged and drunk. Roaring trains turning to soft wind, her breathing on my neck, my mouth against the top of her head, dreamless and still.
I woke up alone in Yuko’s apartment. I put my shoes on, used the bathroom, and then waited. After about a half hour, I left a note asking Yuko to call me, and I left. Instead of going to work, I drove onto the interstate, and then just kept going for a while. I pulled off at the Fish Creek exit, fifty miles west of town, and then drove about ten miles until I started getting worried about getting stuck if it were to start snowing. I turned the car around and parked where the road was wide enough for someone to get by, and then I got out. I walked up a dry, south-facing slope until I was out of the dense lodge-pole and up to where the land was open and high. After an hour of walking I got to the ridgeline, and then I continued up hill for another hour. It was a brilliant autumn day, warm enough that I didn’t need gloves or a hat, and cool enough to be comfortable. I sat down and leaned against a large Ponderosa Pine, waited for my breathing to slow back to normal, and then took my phone out of my jacket pocket and turned it on. There was a clear view down into the Clark Fork valley, so the phone worked fine. I called the office.
“Where have you been?” Suzzy asked, “You’ve got a bunch of messages.”
“I’m having a slow day,” I said, “going to keep working here, from home. Just give me anything you think is important.”
Suzzy read through the messages, the normal stuff, but then she said, “and someone named Tsai called. He said you would know what it was about. He said you had his number.”
I thanked Suzzy, and told her that I would be in the next day, and then I turned the phone off. I sprawled out in the sun, lying on the deep layer of pine needles, the warm smell, like vanilla, making me feel good. It was silent. No breeze, and too early in the season for bugs or birds. I tried to sleep, but couldn’t, so I sat up again and took out a small notebook and pen from my coat pocket, and made a list of things I knew for sure about Yuko. I wrote, “Japanese, tall, artist, sad.” Then I made another list, next to the first, of questions. I wrote a “Get a lawyer? Call the court? Find out where her boyfriend is?” and, ending with, “Did she try to kill him?” Then I turned to a blank page, and at the top I wrote, “What I Know About Tsai,” and I tried to make another list on that page, but could not. Then I closed the notebook, turned the phone on again, and called Tsai. He answered by saying, “Yea, what?” and I could hear traffic noise.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Driving,” he said, “in Manhattan. It sucks.”
“Park,” I said.
“When was the last time you tried to find a parking space in New York at five? And where are you, you’re not in your office.”
I told him and then he said, “Last time we talked you were outside too. I don’t think you ever sit at a machine anymore.”
“Whatever,” I said, “So what’s up? You wanted me to call you.”
“You and I need to meet. You did a good job. I need to see you. Face to face. Like in person. Come to New York tomorrow. Pay for the ticket yourself.”
“I can’t make it,” I said. “You come here.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Personal stuff. I need to stay in town for a while. You just come to Montana tomorrow. Get out of that city.”
He was silent for a while, with just the sound of, slow, congested traffic, horns and wind.
“You driving with your window open, Tommy?” I asked, “Something wrong with you coming here?”
“Yea, the window is open. It’s actually nice here. And, yes, there is something wrong with me coming there. Like, maybe I have some other commitments. And like maybe I don’t want to do the carrying. But you, on the other hand, you have reasons to come to New York, all of which would stand up well under cross-examination. Listen; just meet me tomorrow night at eight. Meet me in that kosher deli we both like. The one where they don’t serve milk. You know the one.”
“Katz’s,” I say, and then ask, “And my personal situation? Do you even want to know why I think I should stay here?”
Tsai laughed, and said, “Bring your ‘situation’ with you, Sam. You are only going to be gone a day or two. You’ll be flying back with what we talked about, and it will be safer traveling with someone.” I was quiet, and then Tsai added, “Bring her with you.”
I realized then that one of the reasons that I liked Tsai was that he was able to guess right most of the time, just by how well he listened to people talk; how he seemed to pay attention to what wasn’t said. I decided then that it would be good to be in New York, and that I might as well try to bring Yuko, and it could help, it could make it easier for me to relax as I checked my bag. Also, Tsai and I were both breaking some serious laws and acting like it was just clean business, so it might be a bit of a reality touch to have someone sitting with us who was fresh out of jail. Maybe to act as a reminder of what we were risking. And so I laughed, told him yes, the personal situation was a girl, and I agreed to come to New York. Then I turned off the phone again and sat and listened to the nothingness of the late winter silence, waiting until dusk. Then I walked back to my car in the dark.
I drove straight to Yuko’s, parked, and went and knocked on her door. She asked who it was, and after I said, “Sam,” she opened the door, but only a few inches.
“Yes?” she asked, as if she didn’t know who I was or why I was there.
“I’m hungry,” I said, “I spent the day out side and haven’t eaten anything. Will you come and eat with me?”
“You funny,” she said. “You act like we friends. You should go away from me. Why should we eat food together?”
“Maybe because you are hungry, or maybe because you called me to get you out of jail. I don’t know, like, remember me? I was here with you last night?” And I laughed, and then asked, “Can I come in?”
Then she said, “OK, I go eat with you, you wait.” She closed the door, and in about a minute came out, carrying a jacket and a large sketchbook and wearing dark sunglasses, even though in the hallway there was almost no light. I didn’t say anything, I just walked out of the building and she followed me, and we got in the car and then she said, “I spend all my time in apartment. I should go out. You help me again, even though I tell you go away.”
I asked her what kind of food she wanted, and she told me it didn’t matter, and then I started the car and was about to drive south on Arthur, when Yuko touched my arm and said, “Please, not go this way. Jim house this way. Turn around. Go other way.”
I said “Sure,” and did a U turn, and then went west on University and then headed for the downtown, towards the restaurants. A day of walking in the hills and sitting in quiet had given me what it always does, some patience. I was in no hurry to ask her who Jim was, and really in no hurry to try to find out why she was in jail. Instead, I was just happy to be feeling hungry and tired but knowing that I would soon be eating good food and would be near this art girl, her with her dark glasses, her sketch book, her hands and her face. I was content to be quiet, but then she asked me, “What you do today?” We were just pulling into the parking lot of a restaurant, and I parked, turned off the engine, and turned and looked at Yuko. “I can’t see your eyes,” I said, and I reached over and slowly took off her glasses. She did not move, did not seem to even blink, and just stared at me. It was dark now, and the light was from the streetlights in the parking lot. “I left your apartment this morning,” I said, “and I drove out of town and up a dirt road and then I walked for a few hours, and thought about you.” I said this, speaking like I had been telling myself I must speak – just saying true things – but feeling, as I looked at her, foolish and thinking that she would start to laugh. But instead she said, “I have liked to go with you. I sit all day in apartment, like jail, and think about Jim and how he hate me, how he bad for me. I should go walk with you.” Then she reached and took the sunglasses from my hand, put them back on, and said, “I no want to see much. Come, we go inside,” and she got out of the car and carrying her sketchpad, walked into the restaurant. And I followed her.
I asked the waiter to just bring out whatever he and the cook thought were good, and then to keep bringing us food until we said to stop. Neither Yuko nor I had really had anything to eat all day, and we both ate a lot, and didn’t talk until we were no longer hungry. We were sitting in a booth, she on one side, I on the other, and she took her sketchpad and started drawing, looking only at the paper and not up at all. “Yuko,” I asked, “is Jim your boyfriend?”
She didn’t look up from her drawing, but she answered, “He was my boyfriend. Today I decided that I no have boyfriend anymore.”
“Where you in jail because of him?”
“Yes. Him and Elizabeth. And police. I attack all. I bite Jim. I hit police.” She kept drawing, wearing the dark glasses, not looking at me, and continued, “It raining. I run out of apartment. I forget shoes. I go to corner store. I call him. He hang up phone. I call and call. I run to his house. I run in rain.”
“Does he live close to you,” I asked, “When you did not want me to drive down Arthur, is his house near your apartment?”
“Yes,” she said, “It was house of ours. My apartment only for paint. It was my room. It was my bed. It was my window. I stood by window. I in back yard that was my backyard. I could see in window. My candle burning. My bed. My boyfriend. She not right in my bed. She wrong to be on my boyfriend.”
Yuko stopped talking, and concentrated on the drawing, her arm moving fast and smooth. I said, “You do not need to tell me anything. I don’t need to hear anything that you don’t want to say.” But she looked up at me, and said, “Here, you can just see,” and she turned the sketch towards me.
It was a pencil and ink sketch, all dark except for accents in red and blue ink, the fast lines of three blurred figures in motion. A naked woman being pulled by the hair across the floor by another, barefoot woman, whom I recognized as Yuko by the red in her hair. And there is a naked man waving his arms next to the two, his face outlined in blue. Behind them is a large, sliding glass door with the window shattered. Streaks of gray look like rain. Red marks on Yuko’s hands are blood. There is a lit candle next to the bed. There is a bottle of wine, colored blue, next to the candle. She lets me look at the drawing for maybe five seconds, and then yanks the sketch pad back to herself, rips the drawing out, crumples it, and starts on another.
“He was drunk,” she says, “and he call police when I break window.”
“When the police came,” I asked, “What happened?”
“Jim put hand on my face, he pull me. I bite his finger. Police put hand on my shoulder. I hit police. Here,” she touches her own nose, “Police push me. Put cuffs on me. Elizabeth say I say, ‘I kill Elizabeth’. She is liar. Jim drunk. He drink wine. He drunk. Elizabeth was on Jim. That wrong. Jim call police on me. That wrong. It was my window. I pay for big window. It was my big bed. I pay for big bed. I pull Elizabeth to make her leave. Pull out of bed. But she not understand Japanese way. She think I try to kill her. It my blood. It my blood on her hair. It my hand break window. It not her boyfriend. It not her blood. ”
She has told me all this between fast breaths, nearly in a whisper, but still I am left with a feeling that she has been yelling at me. Her English moves back and forth in tense and correctness, but I understand what she has said. I am suddenly afraid of her. Then she is quiet again, and draws in her sketchbook. The waiter comes to our table, and I ask him to bring some wine, whatever he thinks is right. I ask Yuko if she would like some too, and she looks up and asks the waiter, “Do you have Raspberry coolers?” The waiter says yes, they do have wine coolers. Yuko, wearing her dark glasses, says again, “Raspberry,” a word that is difficult for her to pronounce, and she smiles and looks for a moment like a high-school girl, absolutely innocent. The waiter asks her what she is drawing, and she says, “Here, see,” and turns the big sketchbook towards him. I am watching the waiter’s face, wanting to see his reaction to whatever chaos Yuko might be showing him, but he just says, “very nice,” and then goes back to the kitchen.
I ask her, “What are you drawing now?” and she lets me see. It is a sketch of a huge, half-full wine glass in a clearing in a forest. There is a crescent moon in the night sky that is reflected on the surface of the dark wine. Sitting on the base of the glass is a naked woman, her knees up under her chin, her arms wrapped about her legs, and her long hair hanging in front of her face. I am amazed by this drawing, amazed that she has drawn it in less than ten minutes using nothing except a pencil and a sheet of paper. But it is not her technical ability that touches me, instead it is the simple emotion of the drawing which makes me actually shiver for an instant, making me want to hug my own tired legs, the way the ghost-like woman in the sketch is doing. Emotion that comes from a hand, to paper, to my eyes, in a way that no one yet has figured out how to do over wires or through computers.
She rips the drawing from the sketch book, and I think she is going to crumple this one too, but instead she hands it to me and says, “For rescuing me again, this for you.” I take the drawing from her just as the waiter brings us our drinks. She sips from her cup, giggles, and says, “I like sweet purple drink. I like bars where they have pink drinks and cream that floats. I like straws and little hats. Have you been to Karaoke bar? In Tokyo, I sing American song.”
I hear all this, but I just look at the drawing she has given me. I am drinking rain that has fallen from Australian clouds, moved through the earth, up into a vine, and turned into fruit half a world away. I am drinking dark wine that has aged on a ship as it crossed oceans, and mysteriously, is still cheap but delicious. And I am sitting with a girl who has punched a Montana cop in the nose and who is now sipping her sweet purple drink that is spiked with industrial ethanol fermented and distilled from North Dakota corn, but who is also able to show her feelings simply by sketching onto paper. A girl who is able to make me frightened one moment, and foolish the next.
“Yuko,” I say to her, “I have to go to New York City tomorrow morning. Will you come with me?”
“Why you go New York? I never been there,” she says.
“It’s a good place,” I say. “We can stay in a hotel in the middle of the city. Up high, look at the lights at night. Lots of bars there with sweet drinks. I have a meeting with someone tomorrow evening. Work stuff. Then we can go to galleries.”
She takes off her dark glasses and looks at me, and asks, “You have job?”
I start to laugh. “Yes,” I say, “I have job.”
“What kind of job? You don’t dress like you have job. You look like student. You have old car.”
“Oh,” I say, still laughing, “You can’t tell what someone does by how they dress.”
“In Tokyo you have job, you wear tie.”
We look at each other for a while, not speaking. Then I say, “Just come with me to New York. I have money but this isn’t Japan, and I don’t care about the ties or cars. You just keep showing me your drawings. I want to keep seeing what you draw.”
“What do you do?” she asked me then, “Why you go New York?”
“Software,” I say, “Networks. But mostly I just listen and talk. Come to New York with me, talk with me.”
She has finished her wine cooler, and says, “I want another. This,” and she waves for the waiter, and he brings us more to drink. Then she says, “I don’t know computers. But I like talk. What will we talk?”
What do we tell, what stories do we use to show ourselves? Should I tell this girl about leaving home when I was very young? Should I tell this girl who goes to karaoke bars and who wants to be famous, about the Canadian plains at night, thunderheads in the far distance, the silent, flashing lightening? Should I tell her about being so hungry that, waking up, I would cry, no place to go, no one anywhere to talk with? I could tell her stories too about good things, about rivers and sun-warmed rocks, and the way I found Montana, the first summer, trout from the Yellowstone river, big fires at night, big stars in the sky. But I know she doesn’t want these things, so I say to her, “I will tell you stories about going up in buildings and finding stairways to the roof-tops of sky-scrapers, and getting up there where no one is allowed, and you will tell me stories about the buildings in Japan.”
She looks at me and asks, “In New York, we go to the roofs?”
I ask her, “Are you scared of heights?”
“Yes,” she says. “When I walk across the bridges I want to jump off, I am scared of myself much then.”
“Then we will not go to any roofs…”
“No, no, you do not understand. Take me to places. I will not jump when I am with you. In New York, I will buy you tie. You will look so nice.”
None of this makes sense. I am driving Yuko home. She is leaning against my shoulder. She has said, “I am drunk, but I not call police. Jim calls police. I not call police.”
At her apartment, I put her into her bed. “New York tomorrow,” she says, “roof tops of sky scrapers. Bars with sweet drinks,” and she giggles.
“Yes, New York tomorrow. I will be back here early. You sleep now. I have to go home and pack,” and I leave.
Back at my house I lean her sketch against the wall underneath the slashed painting. I then use the machine to buy two tickets to LaGuardia. As I am putting dirty socks into a large suitcase, I think about the cash that Tsai will be giving me, and I get scared, like I am the one needing someone to keep me from jumping.