by Liam Lund
Rina likes high perspectives. She feels home hoisted on her uncle’s shoulders. She grips his lightly thinning hair to keep her balance with one hand. The other holds a makeshift sign glued to cardboard. It drifts over Hank’s eyes – again, he tells her to hold it up.
It reads ‘Keiji-Ojisan’ in Latin characters. Below that is as close as the four-year-old could manage in kanji under Haha’s specific instructions. Haha is the Japanese word for ‘Mom’.
“What does he look like?” Rina asks.
“You’ve seen pictures of Uncle Keiji,” Hank says. He holds her ankles and tries not to let the purple crocs slide off her feet.
“I forgot,” Rina says.
“He’s Haha’s twin brother. He looks like Haha,” Hank explains. His brow tightens when he realizes it might not be true. Hank scans the face of everyone sliding into view from the terminal above. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for – he’s never met the man.
A man pulling a wheeled suitcase stops in front of them, having found a way down without using the moving stairs. He looks skeptically at the strange human totem bearing his name; A tall white man – with an impressive overly-kept beard that hides all trace of his neck – under a half-Japanese child wearing a backpack decorated with princesses. (She refuses to go anywhere without it.)
“Good afternoon,” he says.
“Keiji?” Hank asks. Keiji answers with a nod and a half smile. They shake hands. “I’m Hank. Maggie’s brother.”
Keiji is 32 years old. He wears his vacation clothes – professional, but casual. They look new because Keiji never vacations. He has a neatly trimmed mustache – grown to make him look older to his coworkers. His hair is recently cut. It is longer in the front to make his forehead less prominent; a tip from a former girlfriend that planted several seeds of self-consciousness.
“I’m sorry. My flight was… delayed,” Keiji says. His English is good, but slow from lack of practice. He often pauses to find the right word. “Where is Satomi?”
“She was called back to the pharmacy,” Hank says. He reaches up and lifts Rina from his shoulders. “She’s going to meet us at the party. Mags is still setting up, so she asked if I could get you.” He gently pushes the girl toward her other uncle. Rina is struck by a sudden shyness. “This little monster wasn’t going to let me go alone. Remember what Haha taught you to say?”
Rina makes lots of tiny turns to the left and right before blurting out:
Keiji kneels down to look at his niece. “Konichiwa Rina-chan,” he says. “But I think you mean to say ‘Oji-sama’. ‘Ojii-sama’ means grandfather.”
Rina looks confused and disappointed.
“I am not old enough to be grandfather.”
Keiji pulls a small package from a pocket of his luggage. It is shiny and green and covered with bombastic Japanese writing. He offers it to Rina. “This is candy for you.”
Rina reluctantly takes the package and eyes it with all the skepticism a four-year-old can muster.
“What is it?” Hank asks.
“Is nori,” Keiji says. “Made with… Uh… it is from seaweed.”
“What do you say, Rina?” Hank asks. “Remember?”
Rina says, “Arigato.”
In Japan, ‘you’re welcome’ is considered unhumble.
“Arigatoo gozaimasu,” Keiji replies; the equivalent of ‘No, thank you’.
Hank’s car chimes annoyance at its owner for leaving the door open while he makes sure Rina is properly secured in her seat. Keiji waits outside for Hank to tell him where to put his bag. They drive away from the Portland airport. Hank awkwardly asks questions. He tries to get Rina involved. She continues playing shy.
Keiji is a quiet man. He doesn’t like Hank. He finds his beard ridiculous, his clothing too relaxed, and his sleeve tattoos distracting. Hank is younger, 29, but carries himself with the kind of personal confidence that is found, in Keiji’s experience, in old men or drunks. Hank fills silences with questions and small talk. The trip into the parking garage gave them time to cover all of the clichés. The time difference. The flight. The connections. The little frustrations everyone endures in order to arrive on the other side of the world.
Keiji watches out the window. He travels often for work – conferences, mostly. He works for the city of Yokohama, investigating infrastructure and developing maintenance plans. When Hank comments that it sounds stressful, Keiji says nothing. He has his eyes on the buildings and the streets and the people and the overpasses and the bridges – none of them his responsibility, because he is not in Yokohama. One building catches his eye as they are stopped at a light.
“Is that a brewery?” Keiji asks.
Hank looks over his shoulder at the building. “Yeah. Are you a beer fan?”
“My hobby,” Keiji says.
“You’re in the right town,” Hank says. “I can recommend a few places.”
“I have a list,” Keiji says. He takes a small moleskin notebook from his pants pocket. He flips to a page kept by a ribbon.
Hank looks down the list, nodding at some items and squinting at others. “Not bad,” he says. “There’s like sixteen on that list. How long are you in town?”
Keiji says, “Monday.”
Hank counts the days forward in his head. “That’s a lot to fit into just a few days,” he says. “Especially after I add a few to that list.”
A pen appears in Keiji’s hand. “Oh yes?” he asks.
“Oh, yeah,” Hank says.
Rina’s high voice breaks in from the back seat. “I don’t like it!”
Hank looks into the rear-view mirror and finds the candy package open. She has a half-eaten green wafer in her hand and a horrified, disgusted look on her face. A barely chewed part of the candy is in her mouth.
Hank double-presses the horn before the car is even stopped. Keiji is surprised to find them on a non-residential street. They are alongside a warehouse. Maggie emerges from the building. She has wavy brown hair to her shoulders and is wearing a formal blue dress. Keiji steps out of the car and is swept up in a powerful hug. Maggie is famous for her hugs. When he first met her in Japan three years ago, he was shocked to be pulled into a stranger’s embrace. He didn’t know if he liked Maggie, but she made Satomi happy, and that was enough to convince himself he did. She welcomes Keiji and they have a brief and obligatory exchange about the flight.
Maggie snaps at her brother, “What took you? Some people have already arrived.” She pulls Rina out of the car and kisses the top of her head.
“It’s not my fault,” Hank complains from the driver’s seat. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
The doors shut and Hank drives away. Keiji mentions that his luggage is still in the trunk, but Maggie comforts him with knowledge that Hank will return to the party. He follows Maggie and Rina up a flight of stairs and down a short hallway.
Rina whispers, “Mom, I don’t like seaweed.”
They enter a large room with a high ceiling. It is set up for a party. A band is performing a sound-check. Keiji spots his sister talking to a couple. Her hair is different than he has seen it before, but he would recognize his twin from across a much larger room. She excuses herself and rushes across the room to embrace her brother. Maggie takes Rina and leaves them to catch up.
They converse in Japanese for a few minutes. Most of their correspondence over the last several years has been through e-mail, but they soon find themselves in a familiar rhythm. Keiji would never admit it to himself, but the first years after Satomi left Japan were hard. She was abroad finding herself while he was home, rebuilding himself.
Maggie returns. Keiji is finally able to say “Happy anniversary” to them together. He promises he has a gift for them in the trunk of Hank’s car.
Another couple approaches. They say “Happy anniversary.” Maggie and Satomi echo the words.
More people arrive. The ritual continues. Each couple is greeted with “Happy anniversary.”
Hank returns with a pair of beer kegs and taps them. The first person he brings a solo cup is Keiji, who tries it and gives his approval. They talk about beer for a while as more guests arrive. Satomi brings everyone to her brother to introduce. The names float into his head and then right back out, despite his honest attempt to remember. He has another beer. The band starts to play. After a while, and another beer, Keiji approaches Hank with a question. He shouts into his ear, against the music.
“They congratulate Satomi her anniversary. But she does the same,” he says. “Is this custom?”
“It’s all of their anniversary,” Hank says.
Keiji is confused. He thinks he’s translating it incorrectly. “You mean Satomi and Maggie?” he asks. “It is their anniversary.”
Hank suddenly realizes he has to think about what he says. The language barrier is one thing, but this is a genuine misunderstanding. “It is,” Hank says. “But it’s theirs too. May 19th. The day they overturned the Oregon law that said they couldn’t marry. These are all the people who came to the courthouse that day and demanded they be issued licenses. I’m sorry, Keiji, I thought you knew that.”
Keiji looks out at the crowd of people. They fill the room. They are dancing and eating and drinking and talking and laughing. They brought their children. They brought their parents. They brought their friends. He takes a sip of beer. It is cold and hoppy and bitter and delicious. He finishes his cup and sets it on the table, then walks away, leaving Hank with the empty.
Keiji finds his sister and Maggie. “Why am I here?” he demands. “This is not your anniversary.”
“It is one of them,” Satomi says.
“You know what I mean,” He says in Japanese. “You said it was important that I come. Why am I here?”
“I needed to see you,” Satomi says in English to keep her wife in the conversation. “I need to talk to you.”
“I am here,” Keiji says.
“You’re drunk,” Satomi says.
“Tell me,” Keiji insists.
Satomi sighs and says, “We want to have another baby.”
Keiji shakes his head and asks, “What? What is this to me?”
“I carried Rina,” Satomi says. “Maggie will carry the next.”
“We know this is a strange thing to ask,” Maggie says. “And you have every right to say no.”
“What are you talking about?” Keiji asks.
Satomi steps forward and puts her hands on her brother’s shoulders. “Our first choice would be to have the donors be family,” Satomi says in Japanese. “Rina’s father is from Maggie’s family.”
A realization falls over Keiji. He looks out across the hall and finds Hank toasting a few people. Droplets of beer drip down his beard. “He is Rina’s…”
“Donor,” Satomi says. “I didn’t want to bring it up like this. I wanted us to spend a few days. I want you to know our family.”
Keiji brushes her hands off him. “I would not…”
Satomi closes her eyes and says, “I know…”
Keiji follows Hank to the car and waits for his brother-in-law to open the trunk.
“Let me give you a ride to your hotel,” Hank says.
“I can get a taxi,” Keiji says.
“I insist,” Hank says. “Where are you staying?”
Keiji reluctantly gets in the car.
He isn’t taken to his hotel.
Instead, the car stops outside a building with big windows and dim lights inside. A brewpub. It is already closed for the evening. “Let me show you something,” Hank says, taking the keys out of the ignition. “This place has great beer, but an even better bartender.”
Keiji is angry with the tall, bearded man. He knows Hank has found a window to his curiosity.
The bartender, a woman with short brown hair and a tanktop, was cleaning and talking to one of the cooks as he finished his nightly beer. She comes to the door, turns the lock, and opens it.
“Hey, babe,” she says. She kisses Hank. “Did I miss the party? I was just finishing up.”
“We left early,” Hanks says. “This is Keiji, Satomi’s brother. This is my fiancée, Corey.”
She beckons the men toward the bar and reaches for two little stemmed goblets. She pours each of them to the top full of pitch black. The promise of a new beer has convinced Keiji to give Hank a few more minutes. Corey has a tattoo on her shoulder and a ring in her nose and Keiji would not like her if she wasn’t smiling and warm and handing him a glass that smells of licorice and hazelnut.
“You mind if I show him the brewery?” Hank asks.
“Go ahead,” Corey says. “You know where the lights are.”
Hank and Keiji take their glasses and step through a door. Inside is all dark.
Clunk clunk clunk clunk
A flicker turns into a steady light, revealing several great towers of sweating stainless steel. Hank stands by a switch against a steel support. Keiji walks, taking stock of the equipment, the hoses, and the many barrels stacked against the walls, the bubbling of fermentation, the smell.
Keiji takes a sip of the black. “Does she know?” he asks.
“About Rina? Of course. She comes with the package.”
“How does she feel?”
“It was a little weird after I told her, but Corey adores Rina,” Hank says. “She understands.”
“I don’t… understand.”
“Well, they can’t have a kid together, and you’re closest to Satomi genetically.”
“That, I understand,” Keiji says. “How you could let another raise your child?”
Hank savors a long sip. “I don’t think of it that way. I helped my sister create her family.”
“With your daughter.”
“Even if they did the spermbank thing, I’d still love that kid,” Hank says. “Satomi wanted her child to come from a part of Maggie. And Maggie wants her baby to be a part of Satomi. You are a part of Satomi.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Keiji says, looking into the spiral of foam at the top of his beer.
“You don’t have to,” Hank says. “You shouldn’t if you aren’t sure. I wasn’t for a while.”
Keiji asks, “What convinced you?”
“Satomi,” Hank says. “How much she loves my sister.” He adds, “And a lot of beer.”
“For me… it would take too much quantity of beer,” Keiji says.
“Well, you have a list. What time do you want to start tomorrow?”
Hank holds his glass up to toast.
Keiji looks at it, then back as his.