The Missouri Review 27.3 (2004) 89-100
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We'd only been in Otsu two months when Greg stopped speaking English to me. Not cold turkey. A little less English here, a little more Japanese there—a little and a little, and little by little I realized that I never understood him, that instead of speaking he just made noises at me. I know one has to practice, and I know one has to work. We'd gone to Japan not knowing a single word between us and the first thing he said to me, after he learned it, was renshū—Let's practice. And I thought, that's sweet, because flying across the sea hadn't been his idea.
We'd gone over together as English teachers, really spur of the moment. No time to learn much Japanese.
The school district gave us our own house near the train station, and we would sit in our living room in the evenings and practice saying konnichiwa and ohaiyo gozaimasu to each other, working on our accents, flipping our tongues against the roofs of our mouths. When he called me, he would say Raiza instead of Liza. He started saying kurette kudasai when he wanted something, and it took me days to figure out what that meant—I didn't know where he'd learned it. I still don't know where he learned all of it, because I never did, not in our whole time there.
It was fine to practice. But his renshū, I hadn't known what it meant, what it would bring. I thought he wanted to learn to speak, but that wasn't it. That wasn't it at all.
Really, I think it was because of the baby. We were going to have this baby. I carried it—I think it could have been a boy—only for a month or so before a bad feeling came over me and I started waking up unable to breathe and I said to Greg, I can't have a child, I can't. But a month was enough, I guess, to stick the idea in our heads so that it wouldn't come out, so that it grabbed hold of us and festered and finally went bad.
Back then we were living above a nail salon in Alameda, in an apartment with linoleum floors, and all day fumes would waft up through the air-conditioning vents and burn our sinuses. We both worked at night—no way to avoid the fumes. I was waitressing at a twenty-four-hour diner, and Greg was a night watchman, and during the day we would fall asleep together and wake up to make breakfast at four in the [End Page 89] afternoon. Before the recession, when we'd both worked during the day, we'd talked to each other more, but by then we didn't talk so much.
Once, when the salon opened and the fumes started coming in, I told Greg that the smell probably would have killed our baby anyway. I waved my hand in front of my face for emphasis. This was when I still felt the void inside my guts, when I would have bad dreams about all the babies crying in Limbo and wake up and rub my stomach and weep.
He sat on the bed, looking away from me. It was ten in the morning and we were getting ready to go to sleep, and the long night tugged on me like a weight. I kept waving my hand and hoped he would say, That's right—someday we'll move and that's when we'll have our baby. Instead he said, The woman who owns that place is pregnant. She wears a mask. And then he curled up and covered his head.
So I told him we should go to Japan. Japan? Why not? We were spending our free nights wandering around the apartment, making separate meals and taking turns to watch TV. I saw an ad in the Guardian on the way home from...