THE OKUDA SISTERS
by Josh Hancock
“I had a heart attack, Hisa,” my sister Misato said as we sat down at the revolving bar of the sushi restaurant next to my office. Misato and I had always been close, but our busy schedules prevented us from seeing each other more than once every few months. The sudden news of her heart attack stunned me. I placed my hand upon hers and tried to meet her eyes, which appeared fragile and ashamed.
“Misato,” I said gently, “why didn’t you call me?”
“I did not want to trouble you. I know how busy your office is,” Misato said.
“Are you”—my throat suddenly dry, I struggled to find the right words—“going to be alright?”
My sister nodded. “It was a small one, the doctor said, brought on by what he called ‘vital exhaustion.’”
“Did he put you on medication?”
Misato nodded again, clearly troubled by the question.
A young sushi chef with a flattened nose and damp forehead handed us cardboard menus from behind the oval-shaped bar. With his dark eyes he looked longingly at Misato, but this did not surprise me. My sister is quite beautiful; her delicate brown eyes, smooth skin, and shiny black hair made even the most handsome men pine for her.
“I’m in shock, Misato,” I said, glancing at the menu. “Why didn’t Jou call me, at least?”
“I asked him not to.” Then, in a much softer voice, Misato said, “I don’t want to be married to Jou anymore, Hisa.”
“Why? What happened?”
Misato paused as the young sushi chef placed two small bowls of salad and miso soup on the counter in front of us. Still keeping his dark eyes on Misato, he walked to the opposite end of the bar to speak in hushed tones with one of the waiters.
Misato looked at me with tears in her eyes.
“Jou tried to kill me,” she whispered.
I gasped. “That’s not funny, Misato.”
“I’m not making a joke. My husband tried to kill me.”
I took a sip of hot tea to steady my nerves. “What did he do?”
“It all started three weeks ago when Jou did not come home at his usual time from work. He had never been late before, so I began to feel sick inside. I tried his phone, but there was no answer. It got so that I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. At around midnight I swallowed two pills just so I could fall asleep. He finally did come home, a little past two in the morning, more drunk than I have ever seen him in my life.”
“How did you know it was a little past two in the morning?” I asked.
“I think half of my body was asleep,” Misato explained, “while the other half lay awake, one eye staring at the bedside clock.”
“Did you talk to Jou that night?”
Before Misato could respond, the young chef approached and asked for our order. As the chef wrote our items on a pad of paper, plates of brightly-colored sushi circulated around the revolving bar.
“He keeps looking at us strangely,” Misato said of the chef.
“He has a crush on my baby sister,” I laughed, forgetting for a moment the seriousness that had brought us together that afternoon. “I’m sorry for laughing. Go on.”
“I pretended that I was asleep,” Misato said. “But Jou tried to…he tried to do it to me anyway. He climbed on top of me and opened my robe and that was when I smelled it for the first time.”
“Perfume. Oakmoss and spice. I think it was Mitsouko, but I can’t be sure.”
I leaned in close to my sister, once again resting my hand on hers. “Did he…did he force himself on you?” I asked.
Misato nodded, her porcelain cheeks turning pink.
“Oh, Misato.” I put my arm around her, and she rested her head on my shoulder for a brief moment. Then the young chef delivered our food, setting our plates down with a mechanical deliberateness that unnerved me.
“Perhaps eating something will make you feel better,” I said to Misato once the young chef had left.
“Perhaps,” replied Misato, reaching for her chopsticks.
We ate quietly for several minutes, our movements nearly identical as we dined. As the lunch crowd began to pick up, more customers clamored for a seat at the revolving bar, and the restaurant grew noisy with office gossip.
“Jou’s awful behavior increased,” Misato continued. “Every night for a week, he would stumble home drunk and fling open my robe, each time more violent than the last. The smell of the perfume became a like a poison to me. After Jou would pass out, I would rush to the bathroom and wash myself at the sink. I would use an entire bar of soap in one night, but I could never rid myself entirely of the scent.”
“Was there any other evidence Jou was having an affair?” I asked.
Misato nodded. “At the start of the second week, he stopped coming home at all. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I heard creaking sounds from the other rooms, but no one was ever there. I almost called the police one night, believing there were burglars in the house. I was terrified to fall asleep. My chest began to hurt, and I was constantly breaking out in a cold sweat.”
“Did you see Jou at all during that second week?”
“No. But he left things for me to find in the house.”
“Misato, this is terrible. I am starting to feel sick.” I put down my chopsticks and tried to calm my stomach with deep breathing, but my curiosity overpowered my common sense. “What kinds of things?” I asked with some hesitation.
“Hotel receipts,” Misato said. “Dead flowers. An empty bottle of wine. And cherry stems. There were always cherry stems, scattered all over the floor.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“It was proof of his affair, I suppose. He was trying to hurt me. One morning I found a pair of women’s underpants waiting for me on the kitchen table.”
I shoved my plate away. “What could drive a man to do this?” I wondered aloud.
“You’re not married, Hisa,” Misato said quietly. “You don’t know what marriage can do to a man.”
“Don’t tell me you’re defending him!”
“No, of course not.”
Misato sipped her tea. I noticed that her fragile hands were trembling as she lifted the cup to her mouth. We were quiet for a long time then, eating lightly and watching the customers finish their meals and return to their offices.
“The nights were agony,” Misato said later. “The sickly smell of her perfume hung over me like a fog. I gathered all of the hotel receipts and dead flowers and set them on fire in a pot. I buried the cherry stems in the backyard, expecting…I don’t know what I was expecting. I hated Jou for torturing me, but I was raised to love and honor my husband. In bed I would often find myself opening my robe, waiting for Jou to come home and violate me. I…I fantasized about him forcing himself on me. I was no longer Misato Okuda. I was an animal, disgusted by my own desires.”
“I wish you had called,” I said, my eyes welling with tears. “You could have stayed with me.”
“I was too ashamed.”
“Too ashamed to tell me? Misato, I am your only sister. I would do anything for you.”
The young chef cleared our plates. His dark eyes fell upon Misato and admired her slender frame. He revolted me. Misato looked away.
“I couldn’t sleep anymore,” Misato said. “At the start of the third week I stopped going into work. I spent the day at home, pacing the house in my robe, listening for the sound of his car pulling up in the drive. I began to resemble a walking corpse. Food disgusted me. My hair turned brittle. I bathed with boiling hot water to wash her poisonous stink from my skin. My hands and arms erupted with horrible rashes and other irritations. I thought I was dying, Hisa. I could feel my heart waiting to explode.”
“Misato, I think we should talk about this somewhere else.” I motioned to the young chef, who promptly delivered our bill. The lunch crowd had thinned; most of the tables were empty and the bar was deserted.
“No. Let me finish. In the middle of the third week, I saw Jou again.”
I sighed. “What happened?”
“The only way I could sleep was to take as many pills as possible without becoming ill,” Misato said. “It was a Wednesday and I did not wake up until noon. I heard a muffled voice coming from the den, and I went to investigate. When I entered the den, I saw that the television was turned on.
“Jou was on the television screen. I thought it must have been a videotape playing in the recorder. There was a woman kneeling before him with her back to the camera. She was…performing on him and Jou was laughing, his head thrown back, his body drenched in sweat. Then he looked directly at the camera and said, ‘I hope you’re watching this, Misato.’ His opened his mouth and wagged his tongue like a lizard. There were long fingernail scratches on his chest. ‘You disgust me and you always have,’ he said.
“I stumbled out of the den and into the living room. I could feel my blood storming through my veins and my breath came in short gasps. There was an intense squeezing in my chest. Then I collapsed. I managed to crawl to the phone and call for help.”
“My god,” I said, reaching again for my sister’s hand.
“So, you see,” Misato said, “he tried to kill me.”
“Where have you been staying all this time?”
“At the Sofitel.” She opened her pocketbook and placed her credit card on top of the bill.
“No, Misato, let my office pay.”
She shook her head. “You’ve been so kind to listen to me. It’s the least I can do.”
The young chef collected the bill. As we waited for him to return, I watched the endless parade of sushi boats and bento boxes make their rounds. Misato was quiet, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes cast downward.
“Hisa,” Misato said after signing the bill and returning her credit card to her pocketbook, “I want you to know that I am honored to have you as my sister.”
“Misato, you don’t need to say anything—”
“I want to. My marriage to Jou prevented us from seeing each other, but that is over now. I have already contacted a lawyer about getting a divorce.” Misato paused, carefully brushing an eyelash from her cheek. “I want us to spend more time together from now on, Hisa.”
“I would like that.”
“Like when we were children, remember? Father always said how alike we were.”
I smiled as I recalled growing up with Misato and our parents in Okutama. As children, Misato and I shared much in common, from the way we dressed to the times of the year when we got sick.
“I love you, Misato,” I said, patting her hand.
Misato gave me a puzzled look as she stood up. She leaned into me and I felt the wisps of her silky hair brush against my cheek. I smelled her perfume for the first time that day, a modest blend of vanilla and sage.
“I know it was you,” she said.
Then she walked out of the empty restaurant.
It is impossible to describe how I felt at that moment, except to say that my mind went blank. My hands curled into fists. Misato, perfect Misato, perfect porcelain doll Misato; always besting me in one way or another. I looked up and saw the young sushi chef grinning at me, his flattened nose and oblong forehead gleaming with perspiration.
And then I saw Jou.
His head sat on one of the sushi plates circling the bar. As it rounded the corner toward me, I saw that the blood vessels in his eyes had exploded, the sockets darkened with red. The mouth was a gaping hole, the skin sallow and sunken like the face of a starved animal. It was Jou, my sister’s husband; Jou, the investment banker with perversions darker than my own; Jou, my revenge for years of jealousy and spite.
I screamed when his head floated past my chair.
The young chef threw his head back and laughed, and I knew right then that Misato had paid for more than our lunch. I felt a rush of breath escape me; my heart rose in my throat, and my entire body went slack.
The chair underneath me wobbled. I fell backward, crashing to the floor.
The young chef continued to laugh as I pawed at my chest.
Misato and I were sisters, after all, with much in common.