fiction by Jason Edwards
A man walks into Moto Hiromata Sushi, his belly protruding just a bit over his belt, his striped shirt tucked in, his suit jacket not threadbare but well-worn, like one expects moderately expensive suits to wear well. He’s self-sure, cock-sure, self-insured, sells insurance, cock-eyed, call it arrogance, call it confidence, call it like you see it. He’s going bald, but not prematurely bald, because he’s 53. Maturely bald.
He ask the hostess a penetrating question. “Do you have spicy sushi?”
“Yes we do.” She is about five foot three, dressed in one of those tight silk blue Asian dresses, or it might be satin, and just for the record, don’t bother searching the internet for images of “tight Asian” because it will not result in pictures of dresses. She is standing next to a kind of podium, and she has a faux-leather-bound faux-menu, enormous, clutched to her chest with both hands. Like she’s cold, but she’s not.
“What do you call it?” asks the man, one eyebrow raised in an incredible arch, his head turned slightly to the side so that one eye can leer in anticipation of the answer.
“Calledenta,” says the hostess, with a slight bow to her head, her eyes closed, as if thanking him for asking her the question.
“Oh my god, that sounds awful,” the man says, his face a rictus of disgust, holding his head back so that it is somehow protected by the enormous expansive of his chest and protruding belly. His jacket comes open a bit, and he turns one hip a bit toward her, as if to also protect his genitals.
“Do you like spicy sushi?” asks the hostess, blinking large-lashed eyes innocently.
“I do. But I’ve never heard of calledenta,” says the man, his brow furrowed furiously.
“That’s just what we call it. It’s still the same spicy sushi,” says the hostess. She shrugs a diminutive Asian sushi-restaurant shrug, bats her eyelashes some more, and resigns herself to the kind of hell that’s reserved for diminutive Asian sushi-house hostesses who have to deal with maturely balding chubby 53-year old men.
“But still,” says the man with a slight dip and nod of his head, as if to concede a point but in doing so not conceding it at all, in fact, but staking claim to a righteous position unassailable by feckless fancy.
“Do you want me to get you a table?” says the hostess, changing the subject with a whip-crack speed that can only be achieved after an energizing big-chest lung-emptying sigh, which she does not do.
“Is it spicy?” queries the man, less of an ask and more an attempt at rooting into the sole determining factor that might establish the answer to this sort of question, his feet shoulder-length apart, his shoulders set, his well-blanketed abdominals engaged and ready to take a punch.
“Yes, like I said,” says the hostess, with a diminutive sideways gesture of her head, her hair black-to-blue, shiny, coifed, piled up on top of her, two chopsticks holding the mess in place, Chinese chopsticks, if you know the difference, if it’s something you’d notice, not that you would on her; the dress has a slit up the thigh that would kick your ass.
“No you did not!” shouts the man in a not-shouty voice, achieving through mere inflection a shoutiness unmatched by actual volume, his chest heaving, his face red, his countenance livid, a nice oxymoron given that “livid” in some contexts rhymes with “pallid.”
“I did say the sushi was spicy,” says the hostess, her brow furrowed, her head tilting the other way this time.
“No, I meant the table,” says the man, hands on hips, leaning forward, chin jutting, eyes blazing, eyebrows on fire if “fire” is defined as something made of eyebrow hair.
“No, of course it isn’t,” says the hostess, succumbing to an eye-roll, disheveling herself of anymore of this diminutive nonsense, this wilting Asian woman stereotype business.
“What do you call it?” says the man, returning to the one-eyebrow raised facial expression, forehead a sea of wrinkles, sea in the sense of what one sees on a stage when the set designers wants to suggest a sea, suggestively, his head turned a bit to the side to feature the raised eyebrow, his expression a kind of mantra, a tacit replacement for the prayer beads he never had, not being Catholic enough for them.
“The table?” she says, squinting, know full well he can’t possibly be asking her about the table.
“Yes,” he says, smiling like a small infant smiles even though most of them have no fucking clue what they’re smiling about.
“A table,” says the hostess, seeming to move not at all when she says it, devoid of any expression, as absolutely still as an indifferent photograph or unrealistic clay model of a shortish and kinda cutish Asian woman.
“I see. That’s clever. Yes then” says the man, whipping together three two-word sentences with such alacrity and momentum that no otherwise tedious narrative could possible withstand to do other than continue him to a table, achieve him sushi, watch him pay for it, allow him to leave, to disappear out the door and never exist again.
“For one?” says the hostess, surviving now on the kind of obvious question that comes out automatically and is answerable without anyone else participating in the conversation, but asked nevertheless because to not ask would be to make the kind of assumption that ends up making an ass out of, well, basically, pretty much anyone.
“For everyone, I should imagine. I’m no, what do you call ‘em…” says the man, holding his belly in a self-satisfied kind of way, nourished but not sated by his clever tongue.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” says the hostess, distracted momentarily by a fleeting memory of a father who failed to beat her and a mother who failed to drink too much and a brother who failed to get into gambling trouble and a sister who failed to get knocked up by some minor celebrity only to be abandoned to raise the ugly child on her own.
“Sure you do,” says the man with a leer and a grin and wink without actually winking, but nevertheless grinning, and achieving in the grin the leer which itself would have made the grin a foregone conclusion and in this way obfuscating entirely his beady eyes which themselves sense trouble and are not at all sure about where any of this is going.
“No, I am very sure I do not,” says the hostess, stating with a string of negative words an absolute positive, a Derridean hole from which the sum of her understanding is whole in its nothingness, a truth made pure by having no encumbrances from linked half-truths, gray areas, fuzzy logic, truly horrible non-fiction books written by Bart Kosko.
“But if I told you, you would know,” says the man, bowing only slightly, arms spread to hip-width, palms up, that ambiguous gesture that can imply both giving and taking, gimme and here ya go, you want some of this and whattaya got for me.
“Yes,” says the hostess, autopilot fully engaged, her replies coming rapid fire and sure like the product of a black-box function, inevitable, sound-bites to affirm the rhetorical nature of his queries.
“So there’s potential,” says the man, continuing ineffably, despite his not being in the least aware of the word ineffable, what it means, how to spell it, what its first usage was some time in the 15th century, probably by a poet, or the very least a priest, certainly not a man of this man’s girth to a woman of this woman’s lack of girth in the context of this context’s sushi-dining aspirations. And never mind that it is used incorrectly here.
“Yes,” says the hostess, autopilot still fully engaged, her replies still coming rapid fire and sure like the product of a black-box function, inevitable, sound-bites to still affirm the rhetorical nature of his queries.
“And if I told you, I bet you’d say oh,” says the man, carrying on with momentum and that sort of alacrity that the very stout sometimes possess, a nimbleness borne from enormous thighs grown agile from years of bearing enormous weight, or so clever authors like to tell you when they want you to get over how quickly the fat child chased down the skinny child in stories where children are chasing each other in that way.
“Oh?” says the hostess, re-entering the conversations in an ironic monosyllabic kind of way, which is not to forget that her last several utterances were not also monosyllabic, but that in repeating his final word to him and sharing with him the syllable at all, it shows she’s only very minimally willing to participate at this point, which is ironic because reluctance is being expressed as acquiescence, a couple of nice words for your SAT test.
“Not like that. Like this: Oh,” says the man, exactly opposite of the hostess, his inflection dropping in tone, a nice little reminder that many Asian languages are tonal, a marker that is supposed to be one way to differentiate them from the so-called Western languages, when in fact we have right here a sterling example of how mere tonality, which we call inflection, can change the meaning of a word from “really?” to “really.”
“Oh,” says the woman, the very fiber of her being, the fibers in her brain networked to such incredible complexity that she is absolutely unaware that her brain literally has two separate and distinct patterns for this use of the word formed by rounding the mouth, dropping the tongue, and pushing out the sounded consonant from a glottal stop, to indicate, in this case, realization, and another entirely different utterance of a word formed by rounding the mouth, dropping the tongue, and pushing out the sounded consonant from a glottal stop to indicate Japanese Opera. Of one this dialogue being not at all an example.
A table then?
I beg your pardon.
That’s the word, I am not one of those. An elitist.
Sir is perceptive. And here is your table.
Thank you. I already know what I’m having.
Your waitress will be here in a moment.
Interesting, irrelevant. I’d like a California roll. But here’s the catch. I want it to be called Calledente.
I’m afraid I don’t understand.
At Mata Hiromoto’s, they call their California rolls “Calledente.”
I do beg your pardon. I thought you’d said you’d never heard of Calledente before?
Not in the form of a spicy sushi! I have diverticulitis!
No. Very well then. One order of Calledente, I’ll tell your waitress.
What if it’s a man.
Sir, I do hope you’re talking about the waitress and not the California roll.
It is just that sir has had occasion to point out how the things I say can be recontextualized and therefore misinterpreted.
If I may be so bold, miscontextualized and reinterpreted.
Just as sir says.
Why sir, incidentally?
I was afraid that asking you for your name was not only very forward, but also had the potential to send us off on a terrible, terrific tangent.
That’s my name.
Mine as well.
But you are a woman!
Sir is observant, obtuse, and obstretic.
I don’t know what obstretic mean.
Neither do I. I made it up.
Indeed. Dwayne is my husband’s name, and so I took it.
Your last name?
I do hope so, unless he were to, say, choke to death on a misnamed California roll, and I was forced to marry the man who gave me succor on the occasion, an overweight 53-year-old insurance salesman going maturely bald.
But then you’d have my name, and that would be same as your present name, so your present would still be your past.
Sir makes assumptions. Sir assumes I am talking about sir. Sir assumes I am not a black widow, poisoning my patrons and future husbands with bad sushi. Sir assumes sir would not find some other way to shuffle this mortal coil, leaving me alone, easy prey for the next headstrong man, otherwise single, ready to marry a diminutive Asian.
But you’re hardly diminutive.
I’m five foot three.
That’s tall for an Asian woman.
I only meant diminutive in the sense of easy to marry. Which would make sense, and is true, for as a black widow, I would be very easy to marry.
Oh my god, you’re right.
No, I mean these terrible, terrific tangents.
“No, stop it. Look. My wife, she was very easy to marry, and that’s no exaggeration. I was at a frat party, walked up to a marginally attractive woman who I felt would become attractively dumpy when she hit her mid-forties, said to her, wanna get hitched, and a year later, I was never to have sex with any other woman again for the rest of my life unless you count a drunken encounter with a Thai whore on a business trip who, I have to be honest, may have been a man, so I don’t count it. My wife, she’s not diminutive in the least sense, played basketball for a few year after college in some sort of local intramural thing, not sure why, she wasn’t very good at it, but she seemed to like the t-shirts they gave out every season, so there you have it. She didn’t take my name, if you’re wondering, which always left me wondering if there’s something wrong with my name. People don’t seem to want to say it. They call me sir instead of Doctor Dwayne, and never mind that I’m not a doctor, that’s not the point, that’s just another tangent down the which I do not wish to go. You’re going to tell someone to fetch me a spicy sushi roll, you’re going to call it Calledente, and you’ve called that someone a waitress even though it could be a man, just as the spicy sushi roll might not even be spicy, and let’s face it, the term “sushi” so vague anyway, who knows what we mean when we say it. Tuna? Eel? Some kind of Mackerel? A California roll, now that’s easy, that’s cucumber, crab, and avocado, imitation crab if you’re the kind, and I’m not, and frankly, miss, I don’t think you are. I call you miss because although you’ve intimated that you might be a black widow, killing off husbands with your poison calladente, you also invented a word, obstretic, and admitted that you don’t even know what it means, which makes me doubt the veracity of your husbocide confession. So here we are. The table is not spicy, I am incredibly hungry, 53, maturely bald, and wondering what my life would have been like if instead of that fraternity and my MBA I had decided to be born Japanese and raised by the third best sushi chef in the world. I mean for crying out loud. How does one rank sushi chefs?”
The diminutive Asian hostess leans forward, her breath washing over him, a mixture of Aim, Scope, and pecans. Her eyes are seductive. Her lips are lush. Her teeth are gnashingly white, and her nose indicates, finally, a sneer. “Sir. If I may. This kind of middle-class bullshit? It makes me sick.”