An American Breakfast
Copyright © by Hideo Asano


What is new, however, is always evil, being that which wants to conquer and overthrow the old boundary markers and the old pieties; and only what is old is good. The good men are in all ages those who dig the old thoughts, digging deep and getting them to bear fruit---the farmers of the spirit. But eventually all land is exploited, and the ploughshare of evil must come again and again.                                                                                        
                                                                                        
-- FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

 

“Dairy farming is far more dangerous than bullfighting.”

                                               -- my friend James Balu

One

The highway, taking Kenji Shimada across the country in the fire-engine-red Porsche 914-4 he was delivering to New York, had had now become a picture postcard. The amazingly flat landscape of Nebraska, as seen from the interstate throughway, resembled a football field, and was both alive and breathing. The breeze through the open windows carried the powerfully suggestive scent of sweet, growing corn, and nothing, thought Kenji, could be more alive and breathing than that.
     Then, without warning, he saw a geyser of black smoke billowing from the engine compartment behind his seat.
     “Chikusho!” he exclaimed, remembering the car delivery representative had warned him to check the oil frequently because the oil gauge didn’t work properly.
Then he heard a strange noise and quickly turned off the radio to listen closely to the sound of the engine. The noise grew and grew until finally the car began to slow down.
     Kenji waited a moment and then tried vainly to restart the engine. I may have blown it completely, he said to himself. A bit later he tried again, but to no avail.
He exited the car dejectedly. Then he opened the engine compartment from which smoke billowed. Kenji, praying the engine hadn’t been permanently damaged, pulled out the dipstick and was shocked to find the oil tank empty. He knew now that his well-planned schedule had been ruined. He closed the hood and angrily kicked the car’s tire. Delivering the high-priced sports car to New York seemed a good idea at the time, but the result was becoming disastrous.
     He had to reach the nearest town for help. He took his small duffel bag out of the car. Looking up and down the long straight highway, he decided to go east. He stood on the side of the road with his right thumb out, but no cars stopped for him. They all just drove by.
     He began walking along the highway. It was very hot, and he had to wipe the perspiration from his face. After walking for about an hour, he reached a small town.
     He stopped at a gas station called ‘Jack’s’ where he first rushed to a dust-covered soda machine and bought a 7-Up, which he drank thirstily. Next he approached a ginger-haired mechanic who was working on a car. He explained his problem.
     “First we’ll have to tow it. We charge for that.”
     “I have triple-A.” Taking his wallet out of his back pocket he showed the membership card to the mechanic after he put his bag on the hood of a nearby car.
     “Good.” Then the mechanic gave a second, younger mechanic the location of the broken-down car, and told him to tow it up to the station.
     “What’s the name of this town?” Kenji asked as he took out a big folded map of the U.S.A. from his bag.
     “Grand Island.”
     He spread the map out on the hood of the car.
     “We’re right here!” said the mechanic as he pointed with his greasy finger on the map, leaving a black smear. “In the middle of America!”
     “Is there a map of this town?”
     “Over there,” said the man, pointing to a glass window in the office.
     The young man walked over and took a look at the oil-stained map of the town and found himself at the point marked: “You are here!”
     “By the way, where are you from?”
     “Los Angeles.”
     “Originally, I mean.”
     “Japan.”
     Returning, he refolded his map, making sure the clean sides were on the outside, and put it back into his bag.
     ”Do you think I’ll be held responsible since this car broke down on the way of being delivered?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Do you think I’ll be reimbursed by the company when I get there?”
     “I don’t know. Why don’t you call them and find out?”
     “All right,” Kenji said. Again, taking the wallet out of his pocket, he walked to the phone booth and removed the contract paper and made the call.
     “They say it’s my responsibility,” he later explained despondently to the mechanic.
     “That’s life.”
 

Two

Thirty minutes later, the Porsche was towed into the station.
     “One hell of a beautiful car! What year is it?”
     “Seventy-four.”
     “Let me try to start it,” said theshorthaired mechanic. The engine was completely dead.
     The mechanic opened the engine compartment and examined the dipstick.
     “There’s no oil!” he said disgustedly.
     “No.”
     “When was the last time you checked it?”
     “In L.A.”
     “I hate to tell you this-----but you might have blown the engine.”
     “How much to fix it?” Kenji asked, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.
     “I can’t tell until I get a good look inside to see the extent of the damage.”
     “How long will it take?”
     “I’m sure it’ll take a least a week to get the parts alone, if I can get them at all.      Call me tomorrow afternoon. I’ll give you an answer then.”
     “All right.”
     With his bag in his hand, Kenji left the gas station and started meandering about town. Where should I stay? In any event, I’ll have to call my father in Japan to ask for some money.
     A middle-aged woman watering her lawn turned and stared at him as he walked by. A group of boys sitting on the steps of one of the houses stopped talking, nudged one another and stared at him as if they had never seen an Oriental before. Walking in the town he began to feel uncomfortable---even isolated. Nebraska is certainly different from California, he said to himself. Being Asian never drew any attention there.
     He went intoDenny’s. Inside, it was cool and clean. Several people, who were sitting at the tables, looked at him intently as he entered. He could feel the weight of their stares. He took a stool at the counter.
     “Hi,” said a very attractive waitress of about eighteen carrying a glass of ice water. She had a casually arranged up-sweep of dark brown hair in which the top fell softly forward, artfully undone.
     “May I have a large ice tea?”
     “Sure. With lemon?”
     “Yes.”
      With one gulp he did justice to it. It disappeared into him just as a drop of water in Nevada desert.
     Then he gazed at the clean nape of her neck as she walked away.  
     When she returned with the ice tea, she said, “New here?”
     “This town likes an oasis.”
     “You couldn’t be further from the truth.”
     “What’s the population of this town?”
     “The baker down the street can tell you that. We each buy a loaf of bread from him. I would say more or less-----”
     “He could feed the whole world.”
     “For sure, we have more grain fields and dairy farms than the high rises. Where are you from?”
     Kenji told her about him and about his car problem.
     “That’s really too bad. So what are you going to do?”
     “I don’t know. My girlfriend told me that I would get a better understanding of the country by driving across it.”
     “Is she Japanese?”
     “No, she is an American just like you. She is Swedish-American.”
     “What is her name?”
     “Inga Svenson.”
     “That’s definitely Swedish.”
     “I’m of German descent.”
     “What is your name?”
     “Lisa Snyder,” she said, putting out her hand.
     “Mine is Kenji Shimada. Nice to meet you.”
     “What are you studying?”
     “Computer Engineering.”
     “Great.”
     “But I would rather be a painter than an engineer.”
     “Then why are you studying computer engineering?”
     “To please my father. He wants me to be an engineer.”
     “Sounds like my boyfriend George’s father, Henry. He wants George to be a farmer which George doesn’t want to be.”
     “Is that right?”
     “He doesn’t even like his son going out withme. Hewants him to marry a farm girl.”
     “Just like my father. He doesn’t like Inga. He wants me to marry a Japanese girl.”
     “What does Inga do?”
     “She also studies computer engineering at our university.”
     “I wish you both good luck.”
     “Thanks.” With that, Kenji looked at his watch. It was now 5:30 a.m. in Japan.      “I have to make a call to my father in Japan to ask for some money. I hate to call to ask just for that.”
     “But you have no choice.”
     “You’re right.” He stood. “Where’s the phone?”
     “In the corner,” she pointed.
     He walked to the telephone and dialed the international operator.
     As he waited for the operator’s various interminable delays, he thought about the conversation he had just had with Lisa. Is it possible to have such friendly, spontaneous conversation with a stranger in Japan? Kenji appreciated that Lisa had been curious, open and concerned. Why isn’t this pleasant interaction typical in Japan?
     Finally, his father, Ichiro Shimada, accepted the call and Kenji was put through.
     “Dad, I’m calling from-----” explained Kenji his problem to his father.
     “How much do you need?”
     “I don’t know yet. I will know tomorrow.”
     “Is there a Sumitomo or Tokyo Bank?”
     “I’ll ask.” Kenji motioned Lisa over and asked her the question.
     “No, I don’t think so,” she replied. “There’s a First National Bank of Omaha nearby and a First National of Kearney down the street.”
Kenji told his father, “No, I don’t think there are any branches of those banks here.”
     Ichiro told his son to let him know the easiest and fastest way to send money to his son as soon as he settled down in an inexpensive accommodation.
     “So how is school going?”
     “Very well. I am in the top five per cent of my class.”
     “Excellent.”
     “I’ve also published some short stories in the college magazine.”
     “Good.”
     “Inga helped me editing.” I shouldn’t have brought that up, Kenji thought to himself, recalling his father’s distaste for interracial relationships.
     “Are you still tsukiatte iru with her?” asked Ichiro.
     “Yes,” replied Kenji and his father grew upset.
     “Dad, I am more interested in character than race.”
     “Think about it! If you marry this girl, what will happen to your family? Your children will be konkettsuji. Hazukashii. Kokusai-kekkon is an ugly thing! It doesn’t pleasant look at! Whenever I see baka no Hihon no onna-no-ko tach who marry white men, it disgusts me! Remember, wherever you are your blood belongs to the roots.”
     “Dad, you are narrow-minded.”
     “You are throwing your future away on an asonde ru kinpatsu-onna!”
     “She is not an asonde ru onna. She doesn’t play around with other men. She loves only me.”
     “I don’t care!”
     “She is an intelligent girl. You would like her if you’d meet her.”
     “No way! I don’t want to see her! You are coming back home after you finish school. Alone! I don’t want to hear another word about this-----that American-----that intelligent girl! 
     “Dad, you are being unreasonable.”
     “Unless you change your mind, I won’t send that money, plus don’t expect me to send any further tuition!” Ichiro hung up the phone.
     Kenji looked at the receiver and then slowly hung up. He was very disappointed and was fast becoming depressed. Because of Inga his father disowned him. Here he was, stuck in a small Nebraska town, for who knew how long. Where was he going to get the money to fix the Porsche, and get on with his trip to New York?
     He was uncertain what to do. He loved both Ingaand his family with the same intensity and he hated himself because he couldn’t think of an acceptable compromise that would please his adamant father. It could only be one of two extreme choices. One, keep Inga and lose his family, and two, drop Inga, go back to Japan, secure a job in a company and get on with life. This last choice would make him acompany man and he would always have to think like a company man. Next, he would have to marry a Japanese girl to please his father. He would then have to stay with the same company, the same woman he might not truly love until the day he dies.
     He said over and over to himself, I would have a company life, not my own life. I would be a part of a company machine. I know I would have to work until late at night almost every day as I have seen my father and my brother do. I wouldn’t ever have any time for myself or for my own family. My future would not hold even one small vacation.
     If I marry Inga, I would have my own life, not a company life. I’d be my own person. I would also be able to change jobs easily if I wanted. I would have more freedom in the United States. However, his father would never understand.
The more he thought about it, the more it tore at his ambivalent emotions. He wished that Inga were with him now. He picked up the phone again and made a call to Inga in L.A., but no one answered. Probably she is still working, he thought.
Without Kenji realizing it, his voice must have risen during the short conversation with his father. Once again, when he returned to the counter, Lisa moved toward him and said, “The expression on your face can only be called ‘bleak’. Bad news from home?”
     Kenji hesitated before he replied.
     “From all I can figure out,” he began, “I may have just adopted a new home…..Nebraska.”
     “What brought all that about?”
     Kenji had no choice but to explain what had just transpired.
     Lisa exclaimed, “I think that will be your loss and our gain!”
     “Yes, but please understand. I am not a visiting royalty. I am destitute. I must have a job of some sort just to stay alive while the car is being fixed..…not to mention being able to pay for the car if all else falls through.”
     “Maybe you could work on a farm in the meantime.”
     “Can I?”
     “We are in a breadbasket. Also it’sthe corn-growing season and farmers badly need any farmhand they can get.”
     “But I don’t have any experience.”
     “I can tell because you’re so skinny. If you’d been raised on a farm, you’d have a little more meat on you.”
     “Oh, really?”
     “If you want, I’ll call and ask George.”
     “Wonderful.”
     She went to the phone. For that moment Kenji felt good, because at least there was a possibility of having a place to stay and to work.
     Lisa returned with a big smile on her face and said, “He’ll be here in thirty minutes to pick you up.”
     “Great,” Kenji gratefully responded. “What kind of crops does George’s father grow?”
     “It’s a dairy farm but he grows corn too.”
     “Oh, really?”
     “He’s trying not to put all his eggs in one basket.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Last summer there was ahailstorm that hit his farm and everything was destroyed. That was his third blow in a row. Imagine! Three years in a row!”
     “Hail? You mean those tiny ice chunks like coming out of the sky?”
     “They’re as big as a golf-ball. Sometimes they’re as big as baseballs.”
     “In America everything is bigger. I guess even American baseballs are bigger than Japanese baseballs,” Kenji joked, overcoming his depression for the moment.
     “A few minutes of hailstorm can chop off all the cornstalks and leave nothing in the field. It can even kill cattle, too.”
     “Do you have many such hailstorms around here?” he asked curiously.
     “Well, we certainly get more than our fair share. My car is liberally decorated by hailstones.”
     Another customer called and Lisa had to attend to him.
     Kenji finally had a moment to relax and take a deep and thoughtful breath for the first time since the calamity had happened earlier. In his mind now there was nothing to do with the Porsche’s mechanical problems, nor his father’s predictable nationalistic attitude, nor even the depth of his longing for the forbidden Swedish girl, Inga. He was thinking of the mysterious openness of the locale in which he found himself. He was thinking of the exaggerated wide-open nothingness called Nebraska. Nothing in Japan had prepared him to witness such a thing with his own eyes and feel it with his own senses. It isn’t really nothingness since corn grows everywhere, he thought. It resembled the basic human concept of nothingness because it had no rolling hills, no forests, no fences, and no limits of any kind. This place (and he hadn’t even really seen it yet) is, truly, an agricultural ocean---with all the expanse and freedom that term implies.
     Kenji closed his eyes and let his mind fold in upon the wonders that assailed it.

                                  

Three

In the afternoon, a handsome young man, wearing a cowboy hat with the sides of the brim rolled up tight, a soiled white T-shirt and well-worn blue jeans came into the restaurant. He had a well-tanned face, blue eyes and long blond hair.
     “Hi, Lisa.”
     “Hi, George.”
     He kissed Lisa’s cheek.
     “This is Kenji.”
     “Nice to meet you.” George put out his large coarsehand.
     “Lisa said you might need a farm worker.”
     “Sure. We can always use one.” George sat beside Kenji.
     “Great.”
     “But my old man is a real slave-driver. You don’t mind hard work?”
     “No.”
     “How long you gonna stay?”
     “I can’t tell now. It all depends on how soon I can make enough money to repair the car.”
     “Don’t worry. Things can get better. Have you had lunch?”
     “Yeah. I’ve eaten.”
     “Hey, Lisa,” George called out, “I’ll have an order of fries!” Turning to Kenji, he asked, “Why don’t you have something?”
     “An ice cream … vanilla.”
     “An ice cream … vanilla!” George called out.
     While they waited, Kenji said to George, “Lisa said you don’t like farming.”
     “As soon as I find something better, I’m gone.”
     “What do you want to be?”
     “Anything except a farmer.”
     The order arrived.
     “Los Angeles is a very big place, isn’t it?” asked George while downing his French fries.
     “It’s a spread out big city.”
     “Must be a very exciting place.”
     “Lots of action, yes.”
     “I wish I could go there someday.”
     “Maybe you will.”
     After they finished, Kenji tried to pay, but George refused to let him.
     They left the restaurant and entered George’s electric-blue 1969 Chevy.
     On the country highway, George drove fast passing the cornfields on both sides of the road as heavy-metal rock music blared from the radio.
     “What do you think of Lisa?” he asked.
     “She’s beautiful.”
     “She has been entered in the Cornhuskers Beauty Pageant this month at G.I.”
     “What’s G.I.?”
     “Grand Island.”
     “Oh.”
     Both were talking about their girlfriends and about their problems with their own fathers.
     “What does Inga think about that?”
     “She loves me and she wants to marry me when we’ve both graduated.”
     “We have the same problem with our fathers, Kenji.”
     “They are of the same generation though different cultures.”
     “How about Inga’s parents? Do you get along with them?”
     “In the beginning things were rough, but now they are beginning to understand our-----”
     “Good. Do you plan to go back to Japan whether you finish school or not?”
     “I have two choices---either to drop Inga and go back to Japan after school or risk losing my family and start a new life with her here in America.”
     “That’s a tough choice.”
     “I know. But I have to make a decision.”
     Now George turned to the right and drove along the farm road, dirt blowing behind the car as the loud rock music continuously boomed from the radio. And now Kenji was excited. He could see a herd of grazing black-and-white cows corralled in a green pasture behind a series of barbed wire.
     “How many cows do you have?”
     “One hundred and twenty heads plus forty-two calves.”
     Turning left at a tall silver mailbox covered with American flag stickers, they drove up a twisting dirt driveway that led to a large, two-story farmhouse. The house was painted white, with a red chimney on a green-shingled roof. Several farm buildings and numerous trees surrounded it. Behind the house was a tall silo, which stood like a missile against the blue sky. On the right were cornfields that seemed to spread out infinitely.
     As Kenji exited the car, he heard the powerful sound of a motor approaching them. It was a green, muddy John Deere tractor that appeared stark and intruding with its steel-blue smoke streaming out of the rusty exhaust pipe that was sticking vertically out of the engine. The farmer was a large man. He wore a sun-bleached red baseball cap, cocked to one side, a soiled white T-shirt and blue jeans. Sitting on the right fender was a young boy dressed in a similar fashion, except his cap was green, also faded by the sun.
     The farmer, George’s father, peered down with intense eyes from the top of the tractor at Kenji as he brought the tractor to a halt near the car, terminating the deafening roar of the engine.
     “Are you the guy having trouble with your car?” asked Henry in a deep voice.
     “Yes, it’s me.”
     “How long can you work?”
     “For two or three weeks. Or maybe more.”
     “Are you strong enough to handle farm work?”
     “I will try my best.”
     “Come on, Dad,” said George, “you know we could use another hand. Any hand. It’s help.”
     “George, another peep out of you,” Henry scowled at his son, “and I’ll find enough chores to keep you away from your town girl permanently.”
     “Dad,” said the younger boy who was still sitting on the tractor, “I don’t like to cross you, but George is right. We’ve been in need ofa hired hand ever since Mike left. At least you could check him out.” Henry seemed to listen to the younger boy more than to George.
     “If I give you the job, I have the right to fire you without pay whenever I feel you aren’t doing the job. All right?”
     “Fine,” said Kenji. He smiled.
     Henry looked at the younger boy. “Remember that, son.”
     “Yeah,” added George, “take notes, Johnny boy. Otherwise, you’ll end up a dumb farmer like-----”
     “Shut up, George,” said the younger boy. “You’ve got a big mouth sometimes.”
     “Now, how much pay were you expecting?”
     “I was thinking of about one hundred and fifty dollars a week,” replied Kenji with a straight face.
     Henry’s eyes widened and he stopped breathing. Finally, he replied, “Has this sun made you crazy, boy?”
     “I hope not, sir.”
     “How about fifty dollars a week with room and board?”
     “That’s not even minimum wage.”
     “I don’t even get minimum wage as the owner of this place.”
     Kenji hesitated a moment, then replied. “One hundred dollars a week with one day off.”
     The farmer laughed at him with derision. “This is a dairy farm, boy. You want the cows to take a day off, too?”
     “I never thought about that, sir.”
     “You will know if you don’t drink milk. How about seventy dollars a week, with no days off?”
     “All right,” agreed Kenji.
     Henry climbed down from the tractor with the younger boy, and put out his hand. “My name is Henry Harris. You can call me Henry. What’s yours?”
     “Kenji. Kenji Shimada.” Kenji shook Henry’s large calloused hand. He smiled at the cornhusks, which looked like gold. Yet, somehow he still felt angry with himself for arguing with his father on the phone and frustrated about not being able to move on his schedule to deliver the car.
     “This is my son, John.”
     Kenji put out his hand to John. The hand was a miniature version of Henry’s.      He felt John’s iron hard fingertips.
     Introductions over, Henry said, “Kenji, I want you to do one thing for me.”      Together they stood under a cool, shading cottonwood. “My son George is a pretty wild kid. I just want you to agree that you won’t talk to George about California, no matter what. I don’t want him running off somewhere.”
     “All right, I won’t,” he agreed.
     “He’ll eventually come round to my way of thinking, but it’s gonna take awhile.      You understand?”
     “I understand.”
     The two boys were sitting on the front porch of the house when Henry and Kenji approached them.All the men were wearing worn-out muddy boots, except Kenji.
     “Is it a deal?” asked John excitedly.
     “Yep,” said Henry.
     At that moment, a slim woman appeared behind the screen door of the porch.
John turned around and motioned. “Hey, Mum, come on out and meet our newly hired farmhand.”
     Then she, whose deep reddish-brown hair was almost the same color as her deeply tanned cheeks, came out onto the porch.
     “Hi,” she said as she wiped her hands on her apron before shaking hands with Kenji. “My name is Mary. I’m Henry’s wife. What’s your name?”
Kenji introduced himself.
     “That’s an interesting name. What does it mean?”
     “Kenji---ken means health and ji means two, in direct translation. As for my last name, shima means island and da means farm field.”
     “Is that why you’re here?”
     “That’s interesting.”
     “Kenji, I’ll fatten you up while you’re here.”
     “I’m looking forward to your home cooking,” said Kenji.
     “Why don’t you get Kenji settled in and then have him come over to the milking barn?” called Henry as he and the boys left for the barn.
     Mary escorted Kenji into the house. As he stepped on the hard plastic mat that covered the entrance to the living room, he was surprised at how sparkling clean and new everything looked. As he stepped off the plastic mat and onto the fluffy white carpet, his foot felt as if it was sinking into a soft pillow. The furniture was overstuffed and it had a warm feeling to it. To the far left, he caught a glimpse of the kitchen. And on the right wall was a stone fireplace. A model of an old sailing ship sat in the center of the mantelpiece with photographs on both of its sides. A dozen photographs were displayed on the shelf above the mantelpiece and the end tables flanked the fireplace. Kenji recognized a picture of George in a cap and gown and another young man, who resembled Henry, also in same fashion. On the table was a picture of George in a purple tuxedo posing with Lisa, also in purple, with a large corsage of purple flowers on her wrist. On the other table was a picture of the young man who resembled Henry, standing next to a very longhairedpetite Asian woman who was holding a baby. Kenji was amazed at the many pictures crowding the fireplace. To him, it looked like some type of religious decoration, except that he recognized some of the people as still being alive.
As they were mounting up the stairs, she said, “Which part of Japan are you from, Kenji?”
     “Tokyo.”
     “It’s a big city, right?”
     “Yes, but it’s too crowded.”
     “I hope the quiet farm life wouldn’t crush your spirit.”
     She opened one of the doors of the rooms. The gloomy hallway suddenly became part of the streaking rays of the sun as if to bring some lost souls to life.
     As they stepped into the bedroom, Kenji’s eyes caught a sight of noble antlers on the right wall and beneath it were three single-loading hunting rifles on a gun-rack. The walls were a light pastel blue with a dark wooden trim on the baseboards and door.
     “This is where you’ll stay.”
     “It’s a nice room,” said Kenji, who then put his bag down on the brightly polished wooden floor.
     “This is my oldest son, Mike’s room. And you are the first one to stay in his room since he left.” She held up a big gold-framed color portrait that stood on the night table. “He’s in the navy now.” She handed it to Kenji. “This is Mike.”
Looking at the photograph of smiling Mike in his white navy uniform, Kenji recognized him from the picture he saw earlier. He bore a striking resemblance to Henry. “How old is he?”
     “Twenty-two.”
     “He is two years older thanme. I think his eyes are exactly like yours,” Kenji said. His eyes were a silver-gray color similar to Mary’s. “But his bone structure is exactly like Henry’s.”
     “Really?” She put the picture back as Kenji handed it back. “Nobody else has said that about Mike. You’re very observant. You remind me of him.”
Kenji could see that she was sad. Her eyes revealed her motherly love for her son. Kenji wanted to say something reassuring, but he just couldn’t.
     “I miss Mike a lot. But I’m glad you’re here.”
     “Maybe I’ll see him someday.”
     “He’ll be back soon.”
     “This summer?”          
     “No. He will be home this fall. He never misses the hunting season.”
     “I’ve never been hunting. I wouldn’t like killing animals.”
     “Neither would I,” said Mike’s mother.
     “Are those his?” Kenji asked, pointing to the hunting rifles on the wall.
     “Yes,” she said. “His father gave him one of them when he was twelve years old.”
     “Why was he given a gun at such a young age?”
     “Many farm boys have guns.”
     “In Japan, it is rare to find people with guns. They are illegal. Aren’t you afraid to give guns to children?”
     “No. Farm children are taught to be responsible with guns.”
     “I see.”
     “In Japan, what do your parents do?”
     “My father is an architect.  He works for a big company. My mother is a housewife.”
     “ Do you have a girlfriend?”
     “Well, I have a girlfriend in California. But my parents don’t approve. They think I should marry a Japanese girl.”
     “ Maybe they are similar to us. When you live in one place all your life, you get to think a certain way.”
     “My father has never been out of the country. But my uncle thinks differently because he travels overseas a lot, mainly in Asia. Does Mike travel much in the navy?”
     “Yeah, he does.”
     “Does he like the navy?”
     “He loves the navy. He likes ships. He’s crazy about them,” she said and smiled. “He carved a lot of ships from single blocks of wood. He also carved that ship.” She pointed to a ship painted in bright colorson the desk. “He made it all by hand.”
     Kenji was impressed. He counted eighteen cloth sails on three of the masts and many other smalltriangular sails in the front and back. Atop the central mast was a tiny plate-flag. He imagined that it must have taken long patient hours to carve out all of the wooden details, sew the sails and thread all of the riggings.
     “He must be very handy.”
     “He spent many winter days carving ships when the farm was slow.”
Kenji smiled. “Do you know where he is now?”
     “Somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean. He’s on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. It’s like a small island.”
     “Not like a Grand Island?” Kenji said jokingly.
     “No. There aren’t any farms on it. It is an Iron Island,” she returned.
     “Does he like farming?”
     “He hates it. But my husband would kill him if he left for good.”
     “I heard he believes in farming.”
     “Henry wants all his sons to be farmers. And Henry gets what he wants. He is as stubborn as a bull,” she laughed. “And my second son, George, is also as stubborn as his father. But I don’t think George will be here very much longer.      Henry wants George to be a farm woman’s husband.”
     “So Mike and John will work on the farm in the future?”
     “That’s what I’m thinking. Eventually Mike will be back to stay forever.  How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
     “Only one elder brother. He works for an electronics company.”
     “Does he travel a lot?”
     “No, he doesn’t have time for himself. He is a workaholic.”
     “That’s too bad. Kenji, if you have clothes to wash, I’ll wash them tomorrow morning.”
     “O.K. Thank you. May I use your telephone to make a collect call to Japan?”
     “Sure. Go ahead.”
     After Mary left, Kenji sat at the desk as he took out his pocketbook. He wanted to open it to look at the contract again, but took out a picture of asmiling Inga instead. He stared into her light-blue eyes. He missed her badly. He missed playing with her soft bobbed platinum-blonde hair. He remembered how soft her full lips felt. He looked at her face with tenderness. He felt happy knowing that she was so different from anyone he had ever known. But the two extreme choices facing him came to his mind again as he placed the picture down on the desk,burying his face in his hands.
     He then hurried downstairs, into the living room, and made a collect call to Japan.
     His mother, Kumiko, answered the phone.
     “Kenji, your father wants you return to Japan after finishing your education. He doesn’t like the idea of you being involved with an American girl.
     “The reason I called is to let you know that I’m all right. I’m working on a farm and staying with a family.”
     “How long have you known them?”
     “I just met them.”
     “Are you sure it’s safe?”
     “They are very nice.”
     “Shinyo shicha ikenai. Why don’t you stay in a hotel?”
      “I am working----- Don’t worry about me. I’ve been living in America-----”
     “I hear news-----shooting people-----”
     Kenji thought about the rifles in Mike’s room. For a moment he felt a little bit nervous, but he knew that his mother had a shinpai-sho.
    “I promise you, Mum, at the first signs of trouble, I’ll leave.”
    “Your father will be home after ten o’clock tonight. I want you to call as soon as you can. I will try to convince him to send-----” Kenji’s mother began crying, barely being able to continue. “Otherwise I won’t get any sleep.”
Kenji felt tears running down his cheeks. He wasn’t sure if it was because his mother wasn’t happy with him, or because for the moment he felt homesick. With a choked voice, he said, “I will call. And I will be careful.” Then he hung up the phone.
     Thinking about his breaking out of the tradition of his family, his heart was filled with anguish. He tried to put it all out of his mind as he left by the front door of the living room. He checked the knob after closing the door to be sure that it was locked. He noticed that the doorknob didn’t even have a lock on it.

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