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Kerri Sakamoto

I had a boyfriend once. This was some time ago. I was little more than a girl.

I told everyone, strangers even. My boyfriend this, my boyfriend that. I loved the sound of it. As girls do at that age. He was blond, blue-eyed. Beautiful. Now I wish I had a picture of him, but then I could not bear it. The thought of him framed in this five by seven on my dresser, in my room, caged in our little bungalow. With my family trudging down the hall in their worn satin slippers, slurping up their noodles in the kitchen with splintered chopsticks. Barely stringing together two sentences and making crude body noises. Their hair in the bathroom poking out from the toilet rim, kinked and black on the floor, skiddling away from my broom.

Anyway he was too big to be in a picture — over six feet, legs straight and long, he’d bump his head up against the frame. He already was a picture. When he bent like a willow tree to kiss me, I couldn’t believe it: I held my breath forever as the space between us, between the skin of our lips, got halved and quartered, sliced and slivered. But I knew there’d be a space between forever and ever: it’s a law of physics, or something.

He brought me to his house once when no one was home. I slunk from room to room while he changed. I went down on my knees and saw golden arcs of hair on the burnished Oriental carpet and on the pastel kitchen tiles. He had an older brother and a younger sister displayed on the mantel, blond like him, beautiful too. In one of the bathrooms (there were so many), hairs splayed on the sink shimmered when I flicked on the light; one curled like ivy around a pink bar of soap. I held it to my nostrils and the hair tickled my cheek. It could have come from any of them, his mother or father, sister or brother, even him.

One day, he put his tongue inside my mouth. There was no space left. I couldn’t breathe. I sucked in his breath, what he’d kept inside his mouth under his tongue. I felt my cheeks caving in. I tried to pull away, to gently push, but he kept jabbing me, tugging at my tongue. I don’t know how or why but I kept it curled to the back of my throat like a jelly roll, a trick I learned in grade school. I felt his fingers pressing into my neck and my blood rushed to his fingertips, I couldn’t help it. The windows of his father’s Riviera steamed up so I couldn’t see ahead of us, though we weren’t moving.

What is it? he asked, rolling away without a hint of impatience in his voice. After all these years, I can still see his lovely blue eyes, all light pushing off from darkness like a boat from a dock. I was melting into the darkness that was me, that was mine; I was that dock in the night, my eyes swallowed up like minnows. My hair fell out of its clip, drowning my minnow eyes, strangling my face in seaweed.

I couldn’t answer. The last thing I saw was his blue eyes beaming an O clear through my darkness.

He didn’t call. My telephone nested mute on its pillow. For days I sat with the light out in my room watching my shadow in the mirror. It did not move. I studied my profile with my hand mirror and noticed how its outline was little more than a wall. I thought how much longer it must take for him to reach my face with his face than if he were kissing somebody else, whose face wasn’t flat. A boy could get impatient.

After that, I started to wear my hair combed forward into gates at the sides of my face, keeping me out of sight. I felt protected. I thought it improved my profile too.

I watched myself in windows, observed myself walking along in a crowd. I didn’t stand out, not particularly, especially in Chinatown. Years went by like that.

Then one day, I saw them in a department store, by the jewelry counter. It was holiday time. They were holding hands, pressed in the crowd, holding tight to stay linked, his blue eyes to hers. She was Chinese; I knew it right away. Her hair was the kind of silken black that wasn’t coarse like mine; that gleamed silver under intense light. They were smiling at one another and he was reaching for her across the long span of his arms. I held my breath waiting for them to kiss but they didn’t.

The moment after they’d gone was when I felt the O, not like blue light beaming clear through as before, but as something bearing down inside: sharp, gouging; tunneling through flesh.