Jun gave me a towel, with which I wrapped up my hair, and a yukata, one of his. Its sleeves hung well past my hands, but its hem did not drag the ground. I decided to go ahead and indulge. I’d had a difficult night. A little smear of grease on my back would do the trick. I worked as quickly as I could to remove the rest, but it still took me perhaps twenty or thirty minutes.
I emerged from the bathroom with a much-improved mood.
Jun lived in a modest flat, sparsely decorated in Japanese style: tatami flooring and rice-paper screens to separate (or not) a small bedroom from the tearoom. I liked it. He had put on a yukata as well and sat formally in the tearoom. I duly went to the first guest position and knelt.
“Do you have any citric acid?”
He blinked and asked, “Citric acid?” I had woken poor Jun from a sound sleep and it seemed he was still trying to gather his wits.
In my gentlest voice, I said, “Yes. I was unable to remove all of the grease from my skin. If I might further impose upon your hospitality, I would be grateful for your help with it. Citric acid, lemon juice if you have it, might break down the grease more readily than soap.”
He stood and walked toward his small kitchen. I turned my back to him and widened my stance to sit directly on the ground with my feet beside me, and I opened my yukata to drop it from my shoulders and expose my deliberate grease smear. Holding the yukata up with the crooks of my elbows, I crossed my arms over my chest and turned my head down. His steps halted when he saw me. His voice, when he spoke, bore more confidence than his approaching footfalls.
“I would be honored to provide you with whatever counsel I can, Itsumoto-san.”
“Thank you, Jun-san,” I said, “and please call me Yumi.”
“Will you tell me of the matter?”
I inhaled to fill the hollow in my chest and kept silent, tasting enjoyment in dabs of cold lemon juice against my back, softer than raindrops. I’d have all day to tell my tale before he finished, and part of me wanted to drag it out. The better part of me wanted to rip the band-aid off and be done with it.
“I was in the subway yesterday. There was a woman next to me. She was killed by a passing train. I believe I will be charged with her murder.”
“Why would you be charged?”
Another deep breath did nothing to fill my chest. It was hard enough admitting my mistake, a mistake made in the making of another mistake. I had to tell him the unconfessed secret of my heart. In a way, sitting half-naked in front of him made it easier to let go of my pride.
“I believe she was engaged to marry a man I previously dated—a past lover. I had gone to his home yesterday hoping I could reconcile myself to him. When I got there, someone, I believe it was this woman, was there with him. I left without announcing myself. It seems she left not long after I did and intended to catch the same train as me.
“After the incident, I ran. That was foolish. I was scared, shocked, and not thinking clearly. I have not been sleeping well. I had not slept for perhaps a week. This insomnia has affected my mental state. I did not intend to kill her, but I stood to benefit from her death. There were witnesses. I paid my PASMO with a credit card. The police will be able to determine who I am.”
Jun’s hands on my back remained timid, but his voice reassured. “Your situation may not be so dire as you believe it, Yumiko-san, but I can understand how it troubles you.”
The room filled with silence until I deemed it thick enough to call attention to my next statement.
“Jun,” I said, “when a woman takes off her clothes and kneels before you, it’s safe to assume you can drop the honorific.”
“I never assume facts not in evidence.”
I sighed and gave instructions. “I want you to call me Yumi. I want you to press hard against the stain on my back and scrub until I am clean.”
He did as I told him, taking my shoulder in one hand to steady me and grinding into the grease with his other. Sooner than I might have liked, a smear of cold water slid up my back, and the collar of my yukata patted me dry. I gave him further instructions.
“I also want you to fuck my brains out.”
His hands snapped back.
I waited him out, wandering my gaze along the weave of his tatami floor. Eventually he spoke.
“Will you not be needing them?”
I liked the innocence of his question, so I answered earnestly. “They have functioned poorly in recent times.” I waited again to hear his next quandary.
“I would think it a difficult thing to do to a woman of your considerable intellect.”
“Take your time.”
I waited while he tried to think through what was happening, seemingly as disturbed by his own unanticipated circumstances as I had been by mine the night before. Clammy fingertips, followed by their palm, touched down high on my back and slid haltingly up my shoulder and alongside my neck. I tilted my head up, yielding to the almost imperceptible push of his index finger under my jaw. He followed, and I continued until I craned my neck back as far as it would go.
When his fingertips drew gently against my throat, I went with them instead of letting them drag against my skin. I kept leaning, transferring my weight onto my toes, which pointed back along the floor by my sides.
Flipping over my toes to set my weight on my spine and straighten my knees from that position is always an awkward move. Jun was unprepared for how suddenly I fell backward when my weight transferred, but he caught me with a hand behind my neck before my head hit the floor. That was just as well because his abrupt catch knocked the towel free from my hair and just in time because I held my back still fully arched and would have driven my head hard into the mat.
I’d left my hands in my lap, straightening my elbows as he bent me backward, leaving my torso bare in front of him. My yukata, folded inward over my thighs, provided only a pretense of modesty. His eyes struggled not to wander while I stared up at him, so I closed mine to let his have their way. I’d told him to take his time, so I parted my lips and waited.
“Did you do it?”
My eyelids rocked open. “You ask your clients if they’re guilty?”
“I’m asking you.”
I closed my eyes again and rolled my spine downward, relaxing my back to the floor. “Nice dodge.”
“Likewise,” he volleyed. “Shall we play again?”
“I’d rather not.”
“Then answer my question.”
His hand behind my neck firmed and steadied and was soon joined by his other hand to cradle my head. Jun had no idea how to handle a woman, but he knew exactly what to do with a hostile witness.
I had to tell him, and he knew it. I was the one asking him for help. He could simply decline and be rid of me. Something inside him clamped down and turned to stone. He was awake now, and our little back-and-forth spanned the full width of his patience. It takes a hard man to set murderers free every day and still look at himself in the mirror.
I drew a slow breath to show him I would answer. I needed a hard man. I was a murderer.
A mathematician by training and computer programmer by trade, J. Whitney Williams lives and works under the X in Texas, thinking too much and speaking too little.