- My Father's Women
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When I drove my sisters back to town from the lawyer's three days after our father's death, it took a while for us to arrive at the subject of his women. The lawyer had given us a rundown on the will—no surprises, 20 percent to each of us, a little more to his final companion and a little less to his two stepdaughters from his second marriage. We knew that his estate, which included a parking lot in a commercial district in Tokyo as well as a summer house near Mount Fuji, was considerable. Yet none of us had any idea where the right documents were, and for some time our conversation shuttled from where to look for them to what kind of service to hold to how to clear the house of its clutter to when to see the body and how best to lay it to rest. [End Page 73]
At last we grew quiet. We were tired, still jolted from the call that had yanked us from our lives.
My older sister broke the silence. "Out of all those girlfriends and wives," she said, "out of all the women he had, who did he love the most?"
I glanced at her. Overcome by the shock, she had cried at the lawyer's, but she looked composed enough now.
My younger sister said Ellie, hands down. His second wife, the love of his middle age, his partner in bowling and church dinners. She reminded us of the episode he'd had after her death and the long hospitalization that had followed. "That was a bad one, even for him."
I shook my head. "That was just because her death was so unexpected. Don't you remember how they used to fight about God?"
Rousing herself, my older sister nodded. "He'd point out all the places the Bible contradicted itself."
"And all the ways God was a logical impossibility."
"She'd get so mad she couldn't speak."
"Besides," I said, "since when did any of his episodes occur for a reason?" It was obvious: he was happiest with Toshiko-san, his last companion. So what if she hadn't gone to college? Our father, Shoichi Yoshikawa, had been a Princeton University physicist and a world leader in fusion energy research. None of his women—a category that included us, Ivy League graduates all—had understood physics on his level; very few did. Toshiko-san had made him laugh, no mean feat, and they had had Japan, not to mention Japanese food and the Japanese language, in common.
"But if he loved her so much," my younger sister shot back, "why didn't he marry her?"
To which I had no answer.
It was November, 2010. We were in our late thirties and forties, and although we had taken our time about it, we were all finally settled or married, one sister with a nine-year-old, the other pregnant. We had grown up in Princeton and had left it as soon as we could, the two of them hightailing it to California. I had stayed in the northeast, but in the last two decades I had seen our father almost as seldom as they, my neglect rendered more glaring by my proximity and the fact that I, a childless novelist and professor, had more time to spare.
Systematically we went down the list of the women who'd passed through Shoichi's life: girlfriends whose names we could barely recall, drinking partners, one or two con women who were after his bank account or citizenship [End Page 74] papers or simply the cash in his wallet. But we dismissed those as infatuations. Of course none of us suggested his first wife, our mother.
My older sister had fallen silent, her eyes fastened on the landscape, at once familiar and strange, whipping by outside the window.
I pulled to a stop at a traffic light. "You okay?"
Her head still averted, she said, "Do you ever wonder—" Her voice was husky. Our father had been seventy-six...