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About the Author

Kerri Sakamoto

Books by this Author
One Hundred Million Hearts


During the war my father learned to shoot a rifle, lunge with his bayonet and march the perimeter of Okayama Second Middle School, knees high and arms swinging. He had been born in Vancouver but sent to Japan for schooling, then to a farther away place he called Manchukuo. I couldn’t find it on my map of the world. Manchuria, he said when I asked, but he never uttered it again. He never spoke Japanese except to count ichi ni to me, one two, when I woke up in the middle of night afraid, which rarely happens these days.

No one would look after me the way my father did. He laid me down when my breath twisted like a rope in my throat, or doubled me over when my heart pounded and raced and rattled my whole body. When the headaches came, he pressed his fingers into my left temple until I fell asleep. He rubbed my back, slapped my leg when the blood didn’t flow. Good blood, he’d say when it came back. He saved me, just as he might have saved others as a soldier in the Japanese army had he ever been sent into battle.

Every day he’d drive me to and from school, pulling up by the doors after the other children had gone in. He was still a young man in those days, a young man not much older than my thirty-two years; a young man with chances. His hair was very thick and very black; his limbs were strong as he carried me up the steps I couldn’t climb back then, my feet bouncing in thick-laced orthopedic shoes over the crook of his arm. He could have found someone, someone to keep him company, to take my mother’s place. I remember him pausing for a moment to catch his breath, eyeing the other children around me, sizing up the differences. He was a giant among the dwarfs seated at their miniature desks, elbows out, hands in cups and saucers as Miss Whitten instructed: little fists planted in open palms. I remember my father towering over them, I remember him handsome, the way people look in old pictures when they were young, their faces still an open road.

Setsuko first came knocking when I was seven. She was like him, a nisei, Canadian-born Japanese. She was younger than him, a tough woman who’d weathered the internment camp as an orphan. So many times he broke their bowling dates at the last minute when I needed prescriptions from the pharmacy, books from the library; a snowsuit when it suddenly grew cold. My father even bought me my first brassiere, my first sanitary pads, and later on tampons, when I wanted to be like the other girls, though we didn’t know if they’d work because of how my insides are shaped. A woman could have helped with those things but Setsuko had no feeling for me. One time my stomach started to ache just as she arrived, and he left her at the door to drive to the drugstore. I stood there staring up at her and she didn’t say a word; finally I went to my room until my father came back.

By the time I was eight she gave up, seeing how little was left for her. One night weeks later, when he put me to bed and went to close the door, I saw him in that lonely light from the hall, and felt sorry for him. I said the only words I could think to say: “Thank you, Daddy.”

“For what?” he shot back. It isn’t in him to say much; he flailed for words. “What?” He was angry at my feeling sorry for what he’d lost. “Who am I?” he stammered, poking his chest with his thumb. I shrank under the covers, ashamed. “I’m your father,” he said, almost shouting, “that’s what I do!” He slammed the door, muttering to himself.

* * * * *

At Wellington’s, where I copyedit legal documents, everyone seems bored, they want out; they have ambitions I overhear a cubicle away. I like the fact that my carefulness gets rewarded; that’s why I’ve stayed ever since high school. Somewhere out in the world things happen to other people, decisions get made and written and arrive on my desk. It’s a mystery. I have a window overlooking the parking lot in a valley amid blocks of steel that shimmer like knife blades but, like mountains, seem too big for people. In between, there are lawns vast as wilderness. Every so often, I see a man scamper out and squat with a cigarette, like the cooks I glimpsed in Chinatown alleys on drives to church with my father as a child. In the lot, people park their cars close together in the same spots every day, leaving it empty on one side.

One day my father doesn’t show up. He’s never late; he’s early, always. It’s past the usual five-thirty and I sit in my spot in the glass foyer watching for the green Chevrolet. Any minute now, I tell myself. People swing their briefcases, leave in twos and threes, then one by one, until I notice the music because it has stopped and, for the first time, I miss it. The lights dim to match the sky outside; my reflection melts away. I’d sit until morning if not for the guard, who taps me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he says in his slate-blue uniform, his face so fresh that I realize I’ve gotten older; ten years have gone by and my father has never not come.

I arrive home breathless from a careening taxi ride that has slid me from side to side on the cold cracked seat. In the driveway, the green Chevrolet is crushed on one side, one eye out. I find my father in the kitchen, a bandaged cut on his cheek. He’s studying his hands, holding them close, then far away. He barely glances up. “Daddy,” I start to say, then stop myself, harness my breath. I wonder how I’ll survive; if he goes away, leaves me, dies, I may too.

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The Electrical Field

I happened to be dusting the front window-ledge when I saw her running across the grassy strip of the electrical field. I stepped out onto the porch and called to her. I could tell she heard me because she slowed down a bit, hesitated before turning. I waved.

"Sachi!" I shouted. "What is it?"

She barely paused to check for cars before crossing the concession road in front of my yard; not that many passed since the new highway to the airport had been built. Shyly she edged up my porch steps to where I stood. She was out of breath, her eyes filled with an adult's burden. "I don't know," she said, panting. "Maybe it's nothing."

The sweat glistened on her, sweet, odourless water, and it struck me as odd, her sweating so much -- a girl and a nihonjin at that; we nihonjin, we Japanese, hardly perspire at all, and the late spring air was cool that day. I sat down to signal calm and patted the lawn chair beside me. She sat but kept jiggling one knee. Finally she stood up again. "Yano came and took -- ," she began.

"Mr. Yano," I broke in, though everyone called him Yano, even myself. "He took Tam out of class this morning. Kimi too."

"Tamio," I corrected her, as if I could tell her what to call the boy, her special friend. As if I could tell her anything. "A doctor's appointment, maybe?"

She shook her head as a child does, flinging her hair all about. Though at thirteen going on fourteen, she no longer was a child, I reminded myself.

"Yano looked crazy," she went on. "Like I've never seen him. His hands were like this." She clenched her fists and gritted her brace-clad teeth: a fierce little animal. "He hadn't taken a bath, not for a long time," she said, pinching her flat nose and grimacing. "Worse than usual. Everybody noticed."

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