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Saturday, Aug. 12, 2006


The ghost of a summer past

A catch of breath, a creak of wood and a shadow going thump in the night. . . . Fascination for the spooky and inexplicable perhaps bubbles more intensely in Japan than anywhere else, even in Amityville -- especially during Japanese ghost season, the hot month of August. Is what follows a "Flactured Fairy Tale"? Or just a Kanto urban legend, thinly disguised? Or is it some other fright, nestled deep within the bosoms of frail and distrustful relationships?

. . . She said she would marry him if he would buy her a house. A big house with rooms to catch the breeze and a yard with space to run. She said she could not live in the beehive cubicles of Tokyo or with the neighbors so close that their French windows could exchange kisses.

He said he would hunt, although he lacked money and had no means to generate more. Yet he feared losing her, so each day he traveled to different realtors, always farther and farther from the city and his workplace.

One realtor said yes, he knew such a house. Ten rooms, fireplace, patio, a yard for Frisbees and kites, and a cliff-side view of the sea. The realtor offered it for 6 million yen. A miracle price.

And only lived in once.

He said he couldn't believe it. He said there must be something wrong. He mulled it over and -- instinctively wary -- said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

"OK," the realtor said, "so how about 5 million yen?"

He said he would ask his girlfriend. And she said, why not have a look?

And then she said she loved it. She dashed through the rooms with her blond hair flying behind and the ocean surface glistening below. She said it was her dream house. She said she had to have it. Then they would marry and live happily ever after. He hesitated and said he would speak to the neighbor.

The neighbor said the two should not spend a single night in the tall house on the seaside hill. One night was all the first owners had stayed, may they rest in peace. And then the neighbor said no more.

She said, what malarkey! It was the 21st century, not the 12th! They should move in at once. "Or don't you love me?" she asked.

He said of course he loved her. He said he would do whatever she wanted. So they soon moved to the great house by the sea, a three-hour commute from his job.

She said, "See, everything is fine!" It was his first night to return from work and he was bone weary from the train and bus. He fell asleep at once, only to awake in the middle of the night with the sound of a man's sigh only footsteps from the bed -- a bed where he slept alone. He rose to find her standing by the window with her eyes agleam in the dark. She had heard nothing, she insisted, nothing at all. She was merely enjoying the manly beauty of the nighttime sea. She smiled.

In the morning she prepared the heartiest breakfast of his life. Rice, miso soup, eggs, pancakes, bacon -- a hot mix of both their cultures, fueled by energies that had stirred her spirit long before sunrise.

He said she should get some sleep. But she said, how could she sleep in a house so wondrously alive?

On the bus home that evening, a different neighbor said that there seemed to have been a party at his house that day -- music, laughter and, through the windows, the sight of a man and woman dancing. "Oh?" he said. "Oh?"

She said the neighbor must have been confused. She had grown sleepy and spent the entire day in bed. She looked radiant and fulfilled.

He said, why not get away for the weekend? She said absolutely not. She adored her new house. Then she said he should rest, for he had an early morning.

He again heard noises -- breathy whispers, a clink of glasses and a passionate kiss. He told her this in their dining room, where he had found her when once more the bed lay empty. She sat in her negligee and held a wine glass. He could swear he smelled perfume.

She said she couldn't sleep and he was acting strange. She said if he wanted to quarrel, then fine -- "Let's quarrel!" And so they did, all night long.

He said goodbye when he left for work, but did not take the bus. Instead he crept into the bushes and watched.

He thought he heard her say, "Come out!" He thought he heard an embrace. When he gripped the door, it was locked. He pounded upon it, shouted, and forced it open with his shoulder.

He thought he heard a voice say, "The house is mine, not yours!" He looked up to find her at the top of the stairway with her negligee askew and her eyes wide with fury. He thought he heard someone say . . . "And she is mine as well!"

He said they were getting out, and grabbed her. She scratched his face and screamed that he was mad, mad, mad! He dragged her to the door.

He thought he heard the voice say, "Never!" The door closed by itself. He carried her, with her legs kicking, to the side door and then to the back. The doors both slammed shut and would not open.

He said they would climb down the fire escape. And so, as she pummeled his face and shoulders, he carried her up the stairs to the balcony that overlooked the beautiful, manly sea -- where her struggles tilted his balance and, as they tipped over the railing, they both said, "Noooo!"

"How much?" said a man who came house-hunting from Tokyo many months later.

The realtor paused and said, "Well . . . how about 4 million yen?"

To contact Thomas Dillon, send e-mail to marriedtojapan@yahoo.com

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