Eight Days with the Yakatori Sisters by Jennifer Juneau

I hated supermarkets and everything associated with them. Even the sight of the couponladen circular each week threw me into a tailspin. I stopped watching television because supermarket jingles made me break into a sweat. But no matter how abstruse the aversion grew I found myself in a supermarket in a suburb of Boston not far from my apartment. An old college roommate was in town and since I cooked the meals in our off-campus apartment, I wanted to reminisce with a dessert she loved. It required lychee nuts. Which is why I made a beeline to the fruit and vegetable section the minute I entered the store. I planned to go in and out under sixty-seconds flat. When I discovered that there weren’t many lychees left I attempted to scoop them all in one handful but in my haste one fell and when I bent to pick it up a small Japanese man emerged out of nowhere and stood in front of the crate for what seemed an eternity. I waited as he stood inspecting what was left of the lychees. I thought lychee nuts were something Chinese people used in cooking. He was Japanese. Then I remembered that I was buying lychees too and I was neither Chinese nor Japanese, but an idiot passing judgment on foreigners in the land of the free.

I wish I were magnanimous. I wish I were the type who concludes, Oh well, shit happens. But the ding-dong of the intercom followed by the grandiose voice announcing a two-for-one sale on chocolate pudding in aisle five pulverized my nerves and, didn’t I say Excuse me sir? Maybe. Maybe the plea was inaudible or the man didn’t understand English or he was a stickler because he didn’t budge, so I muscled up beside him and gave him a sharp nudge in the ribs. He didn’t flinch. I gave him another. Then he did. Then he bent forward to smell the lychees. He kissed them. He French kissed them and suddenly I was knocked aside by a lady, who I surmised was his wife, grabbing his shoulders, muttering something in his ear in an inexplicable tongue that got louder and louder and finally hysterical until I realized that the man was neither smelling nor kissing the lychees but having a seizure. His black rimmed eyeglasses fell to the floor and I picked them up. Then I yelled Help. I mean, I screamed it in a guilt-ridden I-am-a-good-person kind of way that said I would never bully any member of the human race who was blocking the food product I’d like to covet, especially if it turned out that he was an epileptic. Or had some other dormant disease that finally surfaced. A clever prepared-for-anything super mom with five kids in tow whipped out her cell phone and dialed nine-one-one. In the end, when the paramedics arrived and after the woman with the five children left, the wife approached me and thanked me for yelling Help. I handed her her husband’s glasses and told her it was nothing, because it wasn’t anything, and she said it was something and we went back and forth until I said, “If there’s anything else I could do.” Which there probably wasn’t because she jumped into the ambulance with her stretchered husband, but then she tossed me her car keys, described the Honda in the first spot in the parking lot and told me to meet her at the general hospital. I stood, keys in hand, mouth agape. “The name’s Yakatori,” she said. The ambulance door slammed shut, sirens and red lights ablaze, and they were on their way.

As if I had nothing better to do on the first Saturday in weeks that the sun proved it still existed. Besides, what about my car? Didn’t Mrs. Yakatori think of that? Even though I’d taken the tram shopping because I didn’t own a car. Still, she didn’t consider it. Then I considered this: this woman is frightened for her husband’s health and here I am, the accommodating American inquiring if there was anything I could do, which Americans sometimes ask rhetorically, and she called me on it by saying Yes.

Not having driven a stick shift in years I bucked the Yakatori’s Honda to the hospital through Boston traffic. When I arrived I found Mrs. Yakatori in the waiting room and Mr. Yakatori in a coma. “I don’t understand it,” she said, “he seemed healthy.”

“Surely he had an illness, no?” I said.

“That’s what the doctors are going to find out,” she said, “but nothing I am aware of.” I wanted to offer my well-wishes and take off like a hit-and-run but she handed me a slip of paper. “Here is my address,” she said. I must have turned ashen because she said, “You asked me what you could do.” She’s right. I did. I looked at the address. She lived in a posh neighborhood a few blocks from my apartment. “I won’t leave my husband’s side,” she said. Then it dawned on me: as when a neighbor is on vacation, I’d retrieve her mail. I’d water a plant.

“My name is Dora,” I said. “What would you like me to help you with?”

“Go to my house tonight, Dora, and cook my daughters supper.” I wondered how old her daughters were. Old enough to stay home alone but not old enough to cook their own supper. “I stay the night in hospital,” she said. “Is it no trouble?” “No trouble?”

I snickered. “Shall I pack you a suitcase too?”

“Yes,” she said. “And don’t forget my toothbrush.” A nurse approached Mrs. Yakatori and they became engrossed in conversation.

“Oh, Dora,” she called over the nurse’s shoulder as I was leaving, “I will phone my daughters to tell them you are coming.”

I gave up cooking years ago after college when I gave up supermarkets. Nevertheless, I went. I went to Mrs. Yakatori’s house in attempt to cook her daughters’ supper to absolve myself from the diabolical act of nudging a man in the ribs who prolonged my miserable existence in the fruit and vegetable section at a supermarket. Especially now that the poor guy was sick.

I drove until I reached the block where the Yakatoris lived. Each colonial-style home debased my lifestyle. I pulled in front of the second to last house on the left. It was more prominent than the others with a circular driveway and two white columns at the front door. The Yakatori house was made of brick. The front door was painted red with a gold knocker.

An overnight bag waited by a wooden replica of a birdhouse which was their mailbox. On the mailbox roof stood a red velvet bird with a note taped to its beak from the Yakatori girls asking me to bring the overnight bag to their mother. The girls had other arrangements for dinner, the note said, and for me to wait outside.

I waited and waited and waited for—what? I wasn’t sure. Maybe they were cooking me something splendid to take away for comforting their mother. Then a pizza delivery truck pulled up.

“Are you Dora?” the delivery boy said.

“Yes,” I said, “why?”

“That’ll be twenty dollars,” he said.

“I didn’t order a pizza,” I said.

“You’re Dora, right?” I nodded.

“It says on the delivery slip that Dora will be outside to pay for the pizza.” He showed me the slip. It said that Dora will be outside to pay for the pizza. I automatically gave him twenty dollars. I did as I was told since I was a kid. It was the only way I knew to survive. It just made life, I don’t know, easier.

I had nothing left for a tip, and while the boy took the pizza to the red door I fled back to the intensive care unit with Mrs. Yakatori’s overnight bag. She’d fallen asleep on a chair by Mr. Yakatori’s bedside and I left the bag with a nurse. My old roommate called to say she’d managed to get tickets to the Boston Ballet for her and her daughter. She couldn’t make it after all. I said I understood. Truth was, my head was still spinning with the Yakatori incident and I didn’t care. Besides, I never did buy the lychee nuts.

Day 1 Sunday

I phoned the hospital first thing the next day to check on Mr. Yakatori. “Critical but stable,” said the nurse. I rushed to the hospital to drop off their car.

When I entered the intensive care unit, I eyed Mrs. Yakatori and her daughters through a window. A rush of sadness washed over me.The two girls, about sixteen, held each one of their mother’s hands. Instinctively, Mrs. Yakatori turned and her face elapsed into a smile. The girls turned too and they came to greet me.

“How’s Mr. Yakatori?” I said to Mrs. Yakatori, handing her the car keys. “Did they find anything?”

“Not yet,” she said. “Oh, these are my twins, Maya and Winona.” I shook their hands. “How was the pizza?” Before one of them had a chance to answer Mrs. Yakatori chimed in, “I meant to thank you, Dora. How much do I owe you?”

“Twenty dollars,” I said. She went for her purse.

When she returned she didn’t hand me money she handed me a map. “There is something else I need you to do, Dora.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I cannot leave my husband,” she said. She gently placed the car keys in my palm. “Could you please pick my girls up tomorrow morning and take them to school?” I looked at the twins. They were so sweet in their matching floral sundresses! I thought, if I had twins I’d want them to be exactly like the Yakatori sisters. “Yes, of course!” I said. I was smitten. She added that if I could drive her daughters to school every day for as long as her husband would stay in the hospital, she would be grateful. The arrangement was this: she would hold vigil by Mr. Yakatori’s bedside. I’d pick up the girls from their house at seven a.m., drop off Winona at art school on the way to the city, then drive Maya several more miles to the music academy in the city. Since the girls started and ended school at different hours, they would each take a tram directly to the hospital after school to visit their father. At which point, their mother would eat dinner with them at the hospital, then the girls would take the tram back home and Mrs. Yakatori would remain at Mr. Yakatori’s bedside until the pattern started again the next day. I’d use their car. “OK,” I agreed, “no problem.” Compassion tugged at me. It was the least I could do.

“Any questions?” she said. I wondered why the girls couldn’t take a tram to school.

“I bet you wonder why the girls can’t take a tram to school,” she said.

“No, I don’t,” I said. “Honest.”

I was not a morning person. I was a penury-stricken graduate student whose father still paid my tuition and rent and I should have completed my graduate degree years ago. I spent my nights studying and surfing the net. Besides, how long could anyone be detained in a coma?

I drove to the girls’ house that evening to get to know them, at Mrs. Yakatori’s request. As I downed a bacon cheeseburger and a box of onion rings, I basked in the luxury of driving a car. As if taking respite from public transportation weren’t enough, there must be compensation for driving the girls to school. I daydreamed that the Yakatoris were royalty in disguise and if I remained at their side until Mr. Yakatori snapped out of it, they’d pay me back in riches. Forget earning a graduate degree to find a well-paying job! I’d live on the Yakatori fortune and go on an expensive vacation. I’d buy a car. I was spending the reward money fast: I was the maiden in Aesop’s fables who carried the eggs on her head while she daydreamed of fame and fortune. Only I wouldn’t slip.

The living room was decorated in antiques with pillows strewn about, plants and Persian rugs. Winona served herbal tea and both girls told me about themselves. They were thirteen. They looked older and were brilliant. They both studied at private institutions on scholarship. Maya attended a music academy in Boston and Winona studied visual arts at an acclaimed college on the outskirts. Both girls were academically advanced for their age and I learned that their education was the reason why the family came to America. I sat in the middle of the two, Winona showed me her artwork while Maya showed me photographs of their home in Tokyo. I inquired what their father did for a living. They said their mother was the breadwinner, she owned her own business. The mood was jovial and I didn’t want to leave—as I was a distraction from their father’s grim predicament—but it was getting late.

“Well girls,” I said, placing my tea cup on the coffee table, “I’ve got to go. You’ll be all right?”

They looked at each other and Winona nodded to Maya. Maya ran upstairs and Winona proceeded to show me out. “I’ll see you tomorrow at seven,” I said, “good night.”

“Wait!” Maya rushed to the front door with two canvas bags and handed them to me.

“What’s this?” I said.

“Our dirty laundry,” she said.

“Laundry?” I looked at one twin, then the other. “You want me to do your laundry?”

“Yes,” Maya said.

“Why can’t you do it?” I said.

“Because we’re thirteen,” Winona said.

“We have better things to do,” Maya said.

“Yeah,” Winona said, “we have a life.” “But—”

“We’re tired,” Maya said.

“We’re sad because our father is sick,” Winona said. “Good night.”

They shut me out. I had no time to think. I had laundry to do.

Day 2 Monday

The twins were fraternal, did I mention that? Which meant they didn’t have to look alike. Which meant it was easier to tell the difference between them than if they were identical. It was as if they weren’t twins at all! I’d be a moron if I mixed them up, which I must have been because I mixed them up once. OK, twice. Even though Maya the musician had jet black hair down to her hips and Winona the artist had short cropped hair with ferocious red stripes, I thought Maya was Winona and Winona was Maya the first morning I picked them up for school. They didn’t say hello. They must have been tired because they were talkative last evening at their house. Both girls stood on either side of the car.

“The doors are unlocked,” I said. They said nothing but waited until I opened the car doors for them. “One of you could sit up front with me.”

“No thanks,” they said. The car didn’t have a GPS.

“Why doesn’t your car have a GPS?” I asked either one of them.

“Our father scorns technology,” Winona said, “he’s set in his ways.”

“Besides,” Maya said, “nobody likes being told what to do.”

Both girls read books as we drove in silence until I dropped off Winona. Who I thought was Maya. Maybe I was the tired one. I was up all night doing laundry. First I was to drive to the spot on Mrs. Yakatori’s map illustrating the first drop off point with a circled number one which was the art college for Winona. Next, I was to drive to the spot with a circled number two, which was the music academy for Maya. I was making conversation with whichever girl remained when I elapsed into a self-deprecating spiel about my dabbling in art for a semester back in undergrad school and how I had flunked. That nobody ever failed art, subjective as it was, and that I was the first student ever, my professor said, to get an F. I told the presumed Winona, as I referred to her as Winona throughout the conversation, or in this case I was conversing with the dashboard, that, from artist to artist, she could identify. Creative as I was, my work wasn’t recognized—and—did she ever have a moment like that?

I glanced in my rearview mirror to capture the fake Winona’s reaction. There was a smirk on her face. Truth was, she was gloating as I humiliated myself. I mean, only an artist, a person studying visual arts, I stammered, could understand the trepidations of, well, failed art. When I dropped her off, I opened the door for her, as I did for her twin sister or else neither one would have gotten out. I gathered her belongings and handed them to her, said goodbye, and she said nothing except, “I’m not Winona.”

Late that evening, out of curiosity, I checked to see if the Yakatori sisters were on Facebook. Their profiles were public. Maya’s profile picture was a selfie. She had on a tight black dress to accentuate her stick thin figure and her face was heavily made up. Winona’s picture was simply a collage of her artwork. I viewed their photographs and read their timelines. Some posts were in Japanese, some in English (many boys flirted with them and used expletives) and I watched YouTube song posts of punk bands I never heard of, etc., etc., until I scrolled down on Maya’s timeline to discover a status update that read, If I ever become a garrulous middle-aged loser who knows squat about art, shoot me of which received fifty-five “Likes.” I was taken aback—was she referring to me? Number one, I wasn’t middle-aged and number two, I wasn’t garrulous. OK, I admit at times I am a walking run-on sentence. Still, I didn’t mean to be garrulous to her. It was meant for Winona.

Winona’s Facebook timeline wasn’t as offensive—she may have been the nicer twin, I may be wrong. I logged out before I’d have a chance to find out.

Day 3 Tuesday

I tried to get those girls to like me. I bought them croissants Tuesday morning. I scraped up change I found in jeans’ pockets (jeans belonging to them of which I extracted items like lip gloss and coins before throwing them in the washer.) What can I say? I made less than minimum wage. Less meant nothing so I had nothing. The twenty dollars I used to pay for the girls’ pizza was all the money I had until I received my father’s monthly check which should arrive any day. Which sucked. Which I could pay the rent and my tuition but barely eat.

When I handed them the bakery bag, they didn’t take it. Maya pronounced that dairy was nasal-clogging and the abundance of butter combined with carbohydrate would materialize into fat, and the mucus would quell her windpipes hindering her stellar ability to perform. Thus, no croissant.

“But you play the violin,” I said. “You don’t need windpipes.”

“No croissant,” she said and held her hand up.

“I’m a vegan,” Winona said. “I don’t eat animals or anything that comes out of their bodies. Livestock production leads to environmental disaster, deforestation, pollution.”

“Let’s just say breeding animals for food is a threat to the planet,” Maya interrupted.

“Both of you ate pizza Saturday night,” I said. “What about that?”

“It was cheeseless,” one of them said.

“With veggies,” the other one said.

That evening I received a text message from Maya saying that she needed her royal blue silk blouse for a violin solo she was performing in school at ten on Thursday morning. It had to be dry cleaned. (She must have missed the memo stating what dry cleaning chemicals did to the planet.) I hadn’t retrieved the last load of the girls’ laundry from the washer yet and when I did I found her blouse. It appeared smaller than I remembered. And crinkly. No problem, I thought. I’d bring it to the twenty-four hour dry cleaners in the morning at eight o’clock after drop off then pick it up at eight Thursday morning on the way home from driving the twins and run it back over to Maya’s school. She’d have it before ten. How easy it was to manage teenaged girls! You just had to think.

That night I poured myself a glass of cheap wine and logged onto Facebook to see what the twins were up to. Maya announced her impending violin performance and bragged how she was chosen for a solo out of twenty-four other students, which elicited eighty “Likes.” I drank another glass of wine then another. Winona’s status update revealed that her father was still in a coma and her mother remained a pillar of strength and that each night she and her sister read his unconscious being stories from his favorite book by lamplight. The status update reeled in sixty-four heartfelt comments. This propelled me to call Mrs. Yakatori.

“I’m awake,” she said. “Mr. Yakatori still sleeping in coma.”

“That must really suck,” I said, half drunk. She agreed. We hung up.

Day 4 Wednesday

Wednesday confused the hell out of me. This time we had to drop off Maya first, since she had an exam and wanted the extra time to study. Or practice. Or whatever she needed to do. Since we had to leave a half hour earlier, Winona’s school did not open their doors until a half hour after we would drop Maya off, therefore, I had to back track. I had to get to the dry cleaners with Maya’s blouse before ten so I could collect it before ten the next day in time for her violin solo.

We wove through rush hour traffic in Boston to get Maya to the music academy, then we got stuck in traffic due to construction on the way back to Winona’s art school. This is the second time I mixed them up.

When we arrived, I gathered Winona’s things and waited for her to get out of the car while she applied black lipstick to her lips. She took her books from me but she wouldn’t take the violin case. “Don’t forget your instrument,” I said, pushing it at her. She stared at me quizzically.

“It’s not mine,” she said.

“Whose is it?” I said.

“Duh,” she said.

Which meant I’d have to drive all the way back to the music academy through traffic and I still had to get to the dry cleaners before ten. I did. Drive back I mean, because Maya would fail her test without her instrument, but I didn’t make it to the dry cleaners before ten which meant Maya wouldn’t have her blouse for her violin solo.

The music academy took on the grandeur of a palace. It smelled of brass and ointment and students congregated in their coteries here and there speaking in cerebral tones. Now and then notes and chords flowed in the distance. I waltzed through the hallways and found Maya chatting up a colleague outside a classroom. How relieved she’ll be when she sees me! And when she saw me I heroically held up the violin case. I was sure to win points in exchange for the screw-up with the silk blouse she’d soon learn about.

“I don’t need my violin today,” she said, her arms folded across her chest.

“You—you don’t?” I said, “but—”

“I told you I have a test,” she said, “like, all day.”

“Won’t you need to play music for your test?”

“It’s a written test,” she said, “on music theory.” She snatched the violin and walked away with her friend.

Boiling over Maya’s attitude, I procrastinated on my way to the dry cleaners and arrived at ten-thirty. The woman, Mrs. Chang, ran her business with an iron fist. She told me to come back tomorrow at ten-thirty to pick up the blouse. I supposed rules could be tampered with.

“Can’t you make an exception?” I said. “I need it at eight.”

“See sign?” she said. “It say twenty-four hour cleaning, not twenty-two and a half.”

And that was that. Maya would have to wear a different blouse. I softened and vowed to go through my closet to find something I could lend her. Who was I kidding?

That afternoon my father’s check arrived in the mail. I cashed it and bought a Big Mac and a bottle of wine. I poured a full glass and took to Maya’s Facebook page as I ate. I noticed that she had a boyfriend named Doug who was older than she and about to graduate from the music academy. Their banter was cute and I felt a particular respect and affection for her until another post read, Hey sexy bitch, does that porker still drive you to school? I looked away from my laptop. Porker? Then returned to Maya’s reply, Lol!!! She reeks of hamburgers! So gross! I stopped chewing and put my wine glass down. Winona commented with, Oooooh that’s soooo mean!! She’s not that gross. I logged off and tossed my burger in the garbage and gulped my wine, poured more and drank until the bottle was gone.

I sent Maya a text message telling her that I forgot to tell her earlier that her blouse wouldn’t be ready for her solo. That would fix her, I thought. Teenage girls can be quirky over their clothes—that I knew. She didn’t text back.

Day 5 Thursday

I hated those girls. I kept in mind that when this was over, however it would end, Mrs. Yakatori would reward me. I pulled in the Yakatori’s circular driveway the next morning and honked the horn. My eyes were glued to the front door wondering what Maya was going to come out wearing, I mean, what blouse she considered second best to the blue one she could not have. She came sauntering out wearing her royal blue silk blouse. I was dumbstruck. As we drove I looked at her through the rearview mirror. “Maya,” I said, “where’d you get your blouse? I mean, how?”

“Neiman Marcus,” she said, “but you couldn’t afford it.”

“I meant that the cleaners wouldn’t have it ready until later.”

“That was my blouse you took to the cleaners,” Winona said.

“Yeah, that was Winona’s blouse. My blouse was in my closet the entire time,” Maya said, “lucky me.”

I wanted out. But Mrs. Yakatori was so goddamned sweet and after all, her husband was fighting for his life. I prayed every night for Mr. Yakatori to snap out of it. Or die. For a split-second I thought that perhaps he’d be better off dead than to deal with girls like this, but I chided myself. Nobody should have to suffer daughters that much to want to die. Besides, it was clear that they loved their father and treated him with respect. Their Facebook pages told me so. I’m sure he was proud of their achievements and loved them too. I saw how he delicately handled the lychee nuts in the supermarket, although he hogged them until I elbowed him in the ribs because he refused to share. He was a gentle man. Selfish, but gentle.

That evening, I had a date. I wore Winona’s freshly cleaned royal blue blouse. The guy’s name was Rufus and I met him in a postmodern literature seminar. I wasn’t attracted to him, but it was something to do to get my mind off the twins.

Rufus came over with The French Lieutenant’s Woman DVD that we had to view for class. He brought beer and a pizza.

“I don’t eat dairy,” I said while I inserted the disc.

“Why not?” he said. “Dairy’s nasal-clogging. It clogs the windpipes,” I said. “The abundance of cheese combined with carbohydrates materializes into fat and mucus.” I felt so superior. “You should have gotten cheeseless,” I said, “with veggies.”

“Whatever,” he said. “Do you drink beer?”

“Sure.”

He cracked a beer for me and my mouth watered as I watched him scarf down the hot pepperoni and mushroom pizza.

“I also play the violin,” I said. “Did I tell you that?” Two six packs of Molson later I murmured something strange as Rufus slobbered me with kisses and unzipped my jeans. I slurred about having to get up early. Something about having to pick up twins.

Day 6 Friday

Finally all the twins’ laundry was dry, ironed and folded. I stacked the piles neatly back into the canvas laundry bags. I was up since five a.m., hung over, my head pounded and I couldn’t sleep. I figured the faster I got things done, the faster I’d be rid of this stint.

A quarter to seven I was about to leave the house to pick up the twins when I noticed something sticking out from underneath the couch. It looked like a crumpled dinner napkin. Was it my underwear? Did it belong to Rufus? How far did I go? I realized it had doubled for a dinner napkin in some respect. It was Winona’s royal blue silk blouse. No, wait. It was Winona’s royal blue silk blouse turned pepperoni pizza stained disgusting shitty not worth crap blouse. Did I eat pizza? I don’t remember, as I tripped over an empty bottle of vodka, but Rufus did and I do recall wearing Rufus. In short, I ended up owing Winona three-hundred and seventy-five dollars.

I was ready to rip out my hair. I wanted Mr. Yakatori dead. I called Mrs. Yakatori to end our arrangement and when she answered the first thing she said was, “He squeezed my hand!” This was a good sign, she said, although he was not out of the woods. I couldn’t— wouldn’t—give up on her now, how could I? She had hope. It would be like Mr. Yakatori squeezing her hand. Then flatlining. I had to stick it out.

Day 7 Saturday

Finally a day off from chauffeuring the twins—until the phone woke me up at noon. It was Mrs. Yakatori. “Will you take the twins sailing today?” she said. Sailing? What else had I to do? Except finish writing my thesis which I’d been foot-dragging over. I imagined pushing one of the twins in the river.

“Why not?” I said, “I love sailing!” I never sailed in my life. In fact I hated water and couldn’t swim. My eyes weren’t open yet. “Just give me the details,” I said through a yawn.

She told me the twins were at the hospital now and since it was a lovely day she suggested a picnic by the Charles River then we’d rent a boat and go sailing. She told me to come get the girls as soon as I was ready. I had leftover cash from my father’s check and remembered to record the cost of the rental.

The twins picked on cucumber rolls and I, seeking to shed my burger chomping reputation, bought a salad at KFC. They drank sparkling water. I drank store-brand iced tea. The flavor was a phony lemon. It tasted like cat piss.

After lunch the twins stretched their ectomorphic bodies on the blanket to catch sunrays. I hoped they had forgotten about sailing.

“I thought we were going sailing,” Maya said.

“Don’t you need to rent a boat or something, Dora?” Winona said.

Only a quad kayak which held up to four adults was available. The rental cost was twenty-two dollars for one hour, or one-hundred and twenty dollars for the day, minimum one hour. Therefore, I would spend at least twenty-two dollars.

“Don’t you girls have money?” I said, fishing through my wallet.

“We’re thirteen,” Winona said.

“And we’re sad because our father is sick,” Maya said. I wasn’t sick but I was mad. I can’t even write this scene. Let’s just say we went kayaking. Let’s say someone fell into the river. Let’s say it wasn’t Winona and it wasn’t Maya who flailed for her life even though she wore a life vest while one of us lit a cigarette that she pulled from behind her ear and watched the bobbing moron. I don’t smoke. Neither does Maya.

I refused to log onto Facebook that night for fear I’d strangle one of them. I polished off a bottle of wine and dreamt I lived in a castle that looked like Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture. As I was sitting outside in my Japanese garden sipping herbal tea in a balmy breeze something came bellowing out of the sky resembling a two-headed bird monster and smashed my castle. Some sort of buzzer went off and it wouldn’t stop until I answered it.

Day 8 Sunday

Mr. Yakatori woke up! The nurse phoned me at eight a.m. to deliver the good news. Also, the Yakatoris would like to see me. I stumbled out of bed and threw on shorts and a T-shirt, slipped into flip-flops and was out the door.

When I arrived at the hospital the Yakatori women surrounded a cheerful Mr. Yakatori, who sat up in bed eating tapioca pudding. Mrs. Yakatori sensed my presence and waved for me to enter the room.

“Hi!” I said, “Mr. Yakatori, I’m glad you’re well!” Nobody spoke. The sun streamed through the window. It was a glorious day! I handed the car keys to Mrs. Yakatori. She stared at them, then looked at me. I was sure she was going say that I could keep their car as a reward for taking care of her daughters (at which point I was disappointed that they weren’t royalty after all.) I was humbled.

“Gee, Mrs. Yakatori,” I said, “I—”

“You want lychee?” she yelled. “You want lychee?”

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“I bet you are,” she said.

“Not,” Maya said.

“Whoa, take it easy,” I said.

“You’re pathetic,” Winona said.

“She flunked art in college, too,” Maya said to Winona.

“What kind of moron flunks art?” Winona said.

“I know, right?” Maya said. They surrounded me.

“W-t-f,” I said.

The doctor walked in. He looked like a Ken doll with a stethoscope.

“Are you Dora?” he said.

I swallowed hard. “I think so,” I said. What were the chances that I could not be Dora today?

“Here,” he said. “Fill out these forms please.” He handed me a clipboard with a pen attached to it.

“What for?”

“We’re billing you,” he said, “for Mr. Yakatori’s eight day stay. For nearly killing Mr. Yakatori.”

“All because of lychee nut,” Mrs. Yakatori said.

“I hope you have money,” Winona said, “lots of it. Or insurance.”

“I doubt it,” Maya said, looking me up and down.

I couldn’t believe this was happening.

“Your girls are a nightmare!” I snapped at Mrs. Yakatori. I pointed to Mr. Yakatori. “And your husband is a selfish man! And, and—” I couldn’t think of what else to say. My brain was a circuit of blown fuses and electric shorts.

“Leave the forms with the nurse, will you?” doctor Ken said, “I’ve got rounds to make.”

“My girls nightmare?” Mrs. Yakatori said. “They not nightmare, Dora. You nightmare.” Mr. Yakatori readjusted his glasses that had fallen down his nose and continued merrily tucking into his tapioca. I took one last look at them.

“I won’t pay for anything,” I said. “I’ve paid enough.” I threw the keys and the clipboard on the bed.

“Then we sue,” Mrs. Yakatori said.

“Then sue,” I said, “I’ve got nothing to lose.” Except, of course, everything I owned. And to think I was being sued by foreigners who were better off than I was in my own country. But that was that. I walked from the dismal medicated hallways of the hospital outside to a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and hopped on a tram to anyplace else (except the supermarket) without the Yakatori sisters. What was it about supermarkets that gave me anxiety anyway?

I wrote a story about one man’s near death experience because I became ensnared in consumer frenzy in front of a crate of lychee nuts, but I couldn’t write that man’s future and I couldn’t at that moment care. My story was not about him, as it would take the spotlight off the Yakatori sisters—heaven forbid.

In real life, I drive two sweet and polite Japanese girls to school every day, every other week, in a carpool arrangement. They are not anything like the Yakatori sisters.

 

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About the  Author

Jennifer Juneau been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for Fiction, The Million Writers Award, a Sundress Best of the Net award, and has been published in numerous journals such as the Cincinnati Review, Evergreen Review, Fairy Tale Review, Fox News Sports, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Pank, Passages North, Seattle Review, and elsewhere.