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If I were an alcoholic in Japan, I would be very good at hiding it. The way I would be very good at hiding everything: my panic attacks, my tattoos, my scars. No one would ever see me cry.
Let’s get some vodka, I’d say to my Japanese boyfriend, or we’d have Japanese whiskey in the cupboard of our twelve-tatami apartment, or a bottle of sake. We would drink the sake from the set I’d picked up at the market in Kamakura. My Japanese boyfriend would never notice I was pouring twice as much for me as for him, or he’d be too polite to say.
If I were an alcoholic in Japan, my Japanese boyfriend and I would be invited to a yozakura, nighttime cherry blossom viewing, by our neighbor Tanigawa-san.
I’ll save a place for you, okay, Tanigawa-san would say, his little wife nodding beside him. She would be small like an American child, and always wear cotton eyelet dresses, mouth perfect with lipstick.
If I were an alcoholic in Japan, I would be very intimidated by Tanigawa-san’s wife. She would be so small and so perfect. She would bow so gracefully.
It’s all right, my Japanese boyfriend would say after they had gone, and I would nod, pour myself some cognac, nod again.
It’s all right, my Japanese boyfriend would say, would say. You’re perfect the way you are.
If I were an alcoholic in Japan, my Japanese boyfriend would help me dress in my hibiscus-print yukata, tie the obi. His hands would be so gentle.
You’ve got it put on backwards, he would say. You look like you’re going to a funeral.
He would cross my yukata on the correct side, sweep my hair away from my face with the back of his hand.
Now you look like you’re going to a party.
If I were an alcoholic in Japan, my Japanese boyfriend would brush lipstick onto my mouth, his face close to mine. My hands would be shaking from having tried to get my yukata right; from bowing to Tanigawa-san’s perfect, tiny wife; from the cognac. I would never wear any makeup but lipstick. My Japanese boyfriend would run it over my lips, wipe his mistakes away with the tip of his finger.
We would kiss then. We would probably kiss, yes, ruin my lipstick, reapply it after, both of us laughing, laughing.
My Japanese boyfriend would notice I sometimes laughed more than others.
If I were an alcoholic in Japan, he would notice this.
My Japanese boyfriend and I would go together to the train station. We would hold hands. I would have a bag with bottles of sake in my free hand. They would clank as we walked, clank as we rode the train, shifting our weight from side to side.
If I were an alcoholic in Japan, there would be lanterns strung at Ueno Park when we arrived. Tanigawa-san’s perfect, small wife would be waiting for us at the gate. Her yukata would be sakura print, her eyelashes long. I would clutch my Japanese boyfriend’s hand when she greeted us.
Konbanwa, she’d say, this way, this way, lead us efficiently like the hostess at a restaurant.
In my bag, the sake bottles would clank again. I would wish I had thought to wrap them in towels.
Tanigawa-san would be waiting for us with some of the other neighbors. They would have already begun drinking, though no one would know I had too. We would pass the bottles of sake around and around.
If I were an alcoholic in Japan, someone would make a remark about bodies buried under the cherry trees. Like in the famous story, bodies beneath the cherry trees, and that is why the blossoms are so vibrant.
Kampai, we would toast. We would toast the cherry blossoms, the moon, the bodies beneath us. My Japanese boyfriend would let me rest my head on his shoulder. We would eat the dumplings Tanigawa-san’s wife had made, drink the sake from the bottle.I would laugh more and more.
Tanigawa-san’s wife would look, then Tanigawa-san too, the other neighbors, my loud American laugh.
She’s happy, my Japanese boyfriend would say. She’s just so very happy.
Cathy Ulrich has never been to Ueno Park when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Someday she would like to. Her work has been published in various journals, including Wigleaf, Frigg and New Flash Fiction Review.