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A "life in Japan" on the "JET Program" book

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"Wishing For Another World" (Part Two)

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She rummaged in her bag. Did she still have it? She tipped the contents out onto the bed. Some of it spilled off the edge onto that ridiculous shag pile carpet. There it was. She picked it up. A tiny smooth pebble, bright green, plucked from a beach on the Sea of Japan. Why did she keep it? A memento? A reminder of happy times? For good luck? Maybe because deep down it was the only remnant of her time with Richard. She rubbed the stone between her fingers and felt its smoothness on her skin. Almost like a genie it conjured up memories of her time with Richard...

Even with her Masters degree under her arm there were no jobs for her in America. The next summer she and her many bags had arrived in a small Japanese town to teach English. Teaching jobs were regular there at the time, and very well paying. She missed home, even though by now she was becoming confused about exactly where 'home' was. The third day in town Takahashi came to her door. A local businessman with good English he offered to show her around and help her out with things. Apparently he had learnt his English from an old Australian who stayed in Japan after the war. After some more visits his intentions became clearer. She didn't mind sleeping with him, even though he was married. She was lonely in this strange place and appreciated the attention. She thought her fellow English teacher in town a hag, her district co-ordinator thoroughly pretentious.

In the autumn, she boarded a train and headed south to the annual English teachers conference in Kyoto. She hated conferences and large gatherings with a venom, but usually the social life was good. That night she spied a tall good looking stranger amongst the gaggle of drinkers crowded into the small hotel bar. He saw her looking, and without hesitation battled his way over. He thrust out his hand confidently,

"Hello, my name's Richard. I don't believe we've met."

He's English she thought. He sounds so refined. And look at those piercing blue eyes. The tanned complexion. Yes, he'll do quite nicely.

Richard was from London, educated in Oxford, along with a scholarship year spent in Massachusetts. His dark complexion was apparently not garnered on golden beaches, but bequeathed by the genes of a Spanish grandmother. He lived in a seaside village about two hours away from her via a rickety narrow gauge rail line over the mountains. He taught English but didn't particularly care for it. His love was philosophy, but like her was an economic refugee.

"No jobs for flosfee teachers in England dahlin'," he said, putting on a mock working class accent, "particularly not under the bleedin' Tory junta".

The fall was quick and sweet. Was this finally love?

He's a tall good looking Englishman with blue eyes and a nice smile, she remembers writing to Karen - and I'm not cradle snatching this time either.

He came to visit every weekend he could. They planned trips to Paris and the Greek Islands. They emptied bottles of cheap Japanese wine in front of imported videos. Email was corresponded back and forth at a frenetic pace. They made love several times a night. Sometimes they would not get out of bed for most of the day. With winter closing in they made plans to spend summer together on the beach.

The weekend of the first winter snows she made her only visit to his village, and in the late afternoon they walked along the beach together. He wore his big navy woollen coat with the collar turned up. She looked at his face, ruddy from the cold air, a slight hint of frost coming from his mouth. She loved his cheeky smile, and the cavalier English attitude that went with it. He held her hand in his pocket as they sat on a rock and stared out at the murky chopped seas. They hardly spoke, they didn't need to. Later he'd plucked the stone off the beach at random and given it to her. She had never felt happier with someone, and always wanted to remember that day.

That night when she got home Takahashi was waiting on her door as usual.

Richard knew about John, and a little about the others before him. He was realistic about things, and knew he had to tread carefully. He hoped for a future together, and was prepared to wait. He was not about to rush her, or himself, into anything. He'd been hurt badly before and didn't want to be hurt like that again.

He didn't know about Takahashi. Rather, he didn't know for sure. He knew that he was around her place a lot, and that she was becoming more distant. Her affection was stilted, lovemaking becoming non-existent, communication closed. Without warning she was rapidly drawing back into her shell. He wondered what had changed. He became a clinging vine, and she began to once again think of John. When she reluctantly spoke to Richard she blamed the problems on PMS, and then because her period was late.

It's nothing to worry about, I'll be fine soon. Everything's okay. I just feel under pressure at the moment.

The truth was that if indeed she was pregnant, whose baby was it?

And even if I'm not pregnant can I handle this relationship anyway?

Sure he has many fine qualities, but he also has his faults. At his age I shouldn't have to point them out to him. How can I talk about it? He's so like John. I only need to be left alone. I can't explain that. I've dropped some hints - now I wish he'd wake up to the fact.

Richard slipped out of bed and was sitting on the floor cross legged.

She realised he was no longer next to her. She sleepily murmured,

"What are you doing?".

"Nothing I can't sleep".

She didn't know that he was trying to pack his bag with the intention of finally getting the hell out of her life and never looking back. When she had woken he changed his mind. Two weeks later on the way home from a visit to Osaka he had decided to drop by unannounced.

She opened the door expecting Takahashi.

"Oh my God Richard, what are you doing here".

"Just wanted to surprise you. Don't I get a kiss?"

She kissed him quickly and without any conviction.

"I'm sorry, it's just that I'm busy and have to run off to a lesson, you won't be able to stay for long you know."

"I've just come five bloody hours on a packed train all the way from Osaka. Can't I at least stay till you come back?".

"No! I'm busy. I can't drop everything for you on the spur of the moment".

Richard knew then that it was indeed over. Nothing would win her back. His attempts to get her to talk were futile. Takahashi came to the door, but didn't come inside and quickly excused himself. Richard regretted not taking the mid-night option two weeks before. Two long hours later back in his apartment he checked his email,

Hi Richard,

After we parted ways I felt terrible. I'm sorry I made you feel bad today. You're showing up as a surprise was not anything for you to be sorry about. I don't know what is wrong with me. I guess I'm feeling somewhat overwhelmed, and unfortunately, my way of dealing with things is to withdraw from the people around me. I've always been this way, and some of my friends have really gotten upset with me about it. I just start feeling pressured by other people's needs, and this usually has little to do with the other people, it's just me. So, when you showed up today I didn't handle it very well. For some reason I felt kind of cornered. Again, this is a product of my own screwed up defence mechanisms. Anyway, I felt like a real jerk tonight. I have a lot on my mind. I know we spoke a little bit about our relationship a couple of weeks ago. Right now I'm feeling like I just can't deal with an intimate relationship, sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be able to. I don't want to push you away or hurt you or make you angry. I want to be honest about what I'm thinking and feeling, but the words don't come out very well. I think you are great. I just can't be in a serious relationship right now. I'm hoping that you will understand, and I don't want you to vanish from my life. Everything I write just comes out garbled, and writing this is making me feel like crap...

There was no baby. She still couldn't decide whether she loved him or not. He tried to stay friends, but she just kept pushing him away. Eventually he just gave up. He sent her a copy of 'Love Will Tear us Apart' by Joy Division, along with a scathing letter.

...pain is inevitable, but misery is're not solitary, you're selfish...and always remember it was your decision - not mine...I do still love you but I just can't have anything more to do with in itself is not lied to me, avoided me, you had no intention of being a are not worthy of my love, nor anyone else's...

He bore too much pain that she could not feel. He'd left Japan shortly afterwards, and she never saw or heard from him again. Last she heard of him he was living in the south of Spain somewhere with a local senoritá. Apparently there was kid or two. Still teaching English, which he still hated. Takahashi got his marching orders a couple of months later when she got another job and moved. She couldn't even handle casual sex. Besides it had become quite obvious to some townspeople what was happening...

A noise startled her. Outside she could hear loud voices raised in anger. Slamming doors. The scream of a female, "Go to hell!". Then a male voice, "Cheap slut!". Noises of a scuffle. Another disgruntled husband she thought. She had better stop here for a moment until everything quiets down. She lifted the blind a little and peeked out of the corner of the window. Outside there are two men pushing, shoving, yelling. One is only clad in boxers. Mmm, not bad at all. There's also a woman with a mauve bedspread around her screaming and yelling. She sat back on the bed, thankful that she's never had to be part of a scene like that. Not yet, anyway. A cold breeze blew in through the bathroom window.

"BRRR, it will be a long chilly winter"...

She remembered her little teachers apartment in Alaska. After finishing her time in Japan the job market in America was still decidedly thin, but she'd managed to snare a job in Alaska. She had no particular desire to go there. She had no particular desire to go anywhere. Wherever she went she had to deal with people she didn't really care for.

Her apartment was a tiny antiquated one room over the top of an Alaskan native arts and craft store, with a nice view of jagged mountains in the distance. She shared her bathroom and kitchen downstairs with the store. The store was only open for about four months of the year anyway, so that was no big deal. The landlord was a professor from California who came up in the summer months to oversee his fishing boat. It seemed more of a hobby to him than a fruitful investment. His wife Elsa ran the store, mainly as an alternative to boredom. The town generally saw it's population double over summer. Not that the population was anything much. But amongst the fishermen, government officials, and semi-abandoned spouses, there were always enough children to keep a small school in business.

Most nights she tucked herself up in bed with her books, and lived a pleasant isolated existence. There was not much else that she could do. Some nights during summer Elsa or the kids would come up with a meal or coffee and stop for awhile. On other very odd occasions she would frequent the local bar, but mostly this was at the urging of Elsa and the professor.

It was one of these nights that the professor introduced her to one of his fishermen. His name was Charles. It seemed an aristocratic name for a decidedly unaristocratic man. But he was nice enough, and not unpleasant to look at. He asked her out for a drink several times, but she refused, generally on the basis that she had work to do. Nice as he was, he wasn't her type at all. She prided herself on her independence. She needed no-one and didn't need to apologise for herself. No, she liked having people do things for her. She just didn't like the ties that sometimes bind. Nonetheless, she thought that she had coped well by herself all of her 33 years - and she wasn't about to take up with just anyone. One night in October the heating went out. She froze all night rather than call Charles. She knew he would want to stay and talk, and anything else, after he came.

By late October winter had truly set in. The professor and Elsa, along with their kids and half the population, had all left in September. The days became shorter and colder. She tried to kid herself that by gazing at the Northern Lights it would help her get through winter. But slowly she realised the little apartment was not the place she always wanted to be by herself. With the finish of the fishing season Charles had gone back to work on the oil wells of the North Slope. When his two weeks on, two weeks off schedule allowed he was happy to fill in the gaps in her life.

But she still divided her time mostly between school and her books, keeping Charles at arms length and in his right place. Just to make sure, she ignored his compliments and pledges of love. Then there was occasional comments like, "When I leave...", or "When we stop seeing each other...".

She liked him, yes, but not anything more than that. He had to see that.

The winter had been long, dreary and harsh. Even she had felt the solitude inflicted by this rugged untamed place. But now the snows were melting, the days were longer, and the sun felt good on her face. She hadn't felt that well for a couple of weeks now, and her period was worryingly late. Maybe she had better speak to Doctor Walters.

"Don't do it sweetheart. You know I love you. I'll marry you. I'd be good to you and the baby. We can get through this".

"No Charles. I won't commit to a prison sentence with either a baby or you. It's my body and my decision. And you should know too that I've given notice at the school. As soon as everything's done I'm leaving and heading south"...

Now here she was in Seattle, in this cheap motel room. She closed her eyes to the tacky decor. She especially didn't have the nerve to look under the sheets where she felt sure were the reminders of many years of illicit love. Jeff had just left behind his contribution for posterity with the others. She whispered quietly to herself,

"How did I end up here, in a sleazy Seattle motel, screwing a married man? I'm 35 years old for God's sake! Why can't I ever have some semblance of a normal love life?"

She battled with the emotions flowing through her. Had she met 'Mr. Right' and just not realised it? Was she frustrated? Was she lonely? Inside her biological clock was ticking away like a time bomb. She knew it, even if many others couldn't tell.

In between them all there had been several brief encounters. How many men had she slept with? Twelve? Thirteen? Not many for a woman of her age. Maybe it was too many. She wasn't that crazy about sex anyway. She considered it was much like going to store sales. Just lots of rushing, pushing, shoving, limbs flailing, with usually not too much pleasure or reward at the end of it. Most times she just allowed herself to be 'taken', rather than 'made love' to. Why did she keep doing it then? Maybe in the vain hope that she was missing something, and one day it might get better.

She didn't even know why men had proposed to her. How many times had the question been asked? Four.

"Four men" she muttered to herself, "four complete assholes".

She stopped herself in mid-thought, and almost immediately rejected that notion. No, only three of them were assholes. John was sweet, his end tragic. Could she ever forgive herself for that? God knows she's carried the guilt around for years. Maybe she will eventually.

Richard? He never proposed. He knew too much of her past to think about that. A brief image of him playing on a Spanish beach with an olive-skinned child crosses her mind. She leaned forward and pulled her long dark hair into a ponytail behind her. As she did so, without warning, a small tear ran down her cheek and splashed onto her bare leg.

She curses her introspective nature that made her do such stupid things. Too late now, no second chances. No use growing old and bitter. She had everything in her life but love. Maybe love would spoil everything. Maybe that is why she could not love. Perhaps foolishly she had even driven friends from her life.

"Call me when you learn respect for others...and some thoughtfulness", one had said. She thought that unfair.

Then instinctively she opined, "No, it must be fate".

First her mother, then her seer had told her that her life would be one of turmoil. Her mother said it was because she was born the day JFK was killed - November 22nd 1963. Her seer concluded it was because of the rising moon in Venus. Or was it the moon in Jupiter?

So now she would go back to her apartment, to her cat and stuffed toys, and escape into her novels. Jeff was obviously not coming back tonight. Next week he would once again empty his loins with her, and once again tell her about his unhappy marriage, but how he can never leave it. This is her world - she knows it, she controls it, she feels safe in it. But there are moments - those moments when she wishes for another world...

She now had her clothes on, and leaned over to the ringing telephone by the bed.

Yes, I'm leaving now. Sorry to take so long. Are there any taxi's waiting out the front? Okay, thanks. I'll bring the key past.

As she opens the door she sees two policemen in the car park trying to mediate in a still tense situation. The girl in the bed cover has disappeared somewhere. She turns back to look in the room and spies a small green pebble still lying on the bed. She pauses for moment. With a sigh she flicks the light switch off and closes the door. The taxi's waiting...


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