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Elizabeth McKenzie

Amazing True Stories

                 

         One spring evening in 1979, in the city of Los Angeles, California, where members of the Matsuyama, Yamazaki and Saito families came after the war, Mrs. S. Yamazaki was walking her Pomeranian down a street of well-appointed homes.  The air smelled of fresh grass, and sprinklers jetted out water in accordance with rationing over the beautifully manicured lawns.  Mrs. Yamazaki felt happy to be away from the house, out in the soft night air.
         Suddenly, as her old dog lingered over a bed of petunias, she heard rustling in the bushes behind her.  When she turned she saw a man standing in a purple raincoat.  Seconds later he pulled his raincoat open and exposed his naked body to her.  He did a lewd little dance, then turned and ran away.
         Goro began to bark furiously.  "Go get him!" she screamed.  Without considering the consequences, Mrs. Yamazaki let go of Goro's leash and let him chase the man down the street.  When the man rounded the corner, so did Goro.  Only then did Mrs. Yamazaki worry what might happen to her precious dog.
         She ran down the street in her comfortable pumps.  She had not run for years.  Her bladder shook and her breasts felt like they would tear.  Once she reached the corner there was no sign of Goro nor the man.  Mrs. Yamazaki sat on the curb and began to cry.
         A few minutes later she heard another rustling sound coming up behind her.  Here came old Goro, wheezing and trembling, dragging between his teeth the purple raincoat!
          And then something else struck her.  Though she hated to touch the garment that had touched the body of the naked man, she searched the front of the coat for a tiny burn mark.  It was there.  It was the same coat she had passed on to a charity several months before!

                                                                  ***

         One evening, late in the summer of 1968, in the Brentwood Glen area of Los Angeles, Susan Yamazaki was sitting on her front lawn gazing at a doll.  It was neither a name brand Barbie nor Liddle Kiddle, and she despised the generic doll with blocky features and thick neck.  Her mother always ignored her when she described the things she really wanted.  Like those white knee-high boots that all the popular girls at school wore.  Her mother's only response was "They're unhealthy.  Your feet can't breathe."  Why did feet need to breathe? 
         The little dog across the street barked and barked.  Suddenly the girl smelled the smoke of her mother's cigarette.  Mrs. S. Yamazaki appeared on the porch.  "No coming in until you finish," she said.  “You’re becoming a lazy girl.”
         Susan threw the generic doll into the scratchy juniper bushes and took up her rake.  Her father pretended that after a long week at the bank he enjoyed a little yard work, but he preferred to go to Las Vegas for the weekend to gamble and to see big shows.   Sometimes if Susan's mother complained enough, she went along too.  Then Kristin McKee the babysitter would show up from across the street and they’d watch television all weekend.
         That summer day in 1968, as Susan raked the lawn, she was suddenly startled by the sight of several police cars pulling up at her babysitter's house and kicking in the front door.  As they entered the house, out ran Gordo, Kristin’s tiny new Pomeranian.  Gordo ran straight across the street and dropped something at Susan's feet.  Though the object was splattered with blood, Susan recognized it immediately as an authentic Barbie.  Exactly what she had been dreaming of!  Not only that, but the doll was wearing knee-high white boots exactly the kind Susan wanted!

                                                                 ***

         One cold December night in 1978, Mrs. S. Yamazaki was walking her old dog Goro down a windy leaf-strewn street in West LA.  She enjoyed this weather as it was unusual in Los Angeles.  It gave her a chance to wear her handsome new purple raincoat, which she had found at Loehmann's for a third its regular price.  It was still a splurge, but coats lasted a long time.  She and her daughter had fought about another coat at Loehmann's, but seeing as her daughter would graduate in a year and go to college in San Diego, where it wasn't cold at all, Mrs. Yamazaki had decided not to buy it.  For some reason, this disagreement brought her daughter to tears, and Mrs. Yamazaki had been so angry about Susan causing a scene in Loehmann's she had slapped her face in the car.  But now, wearing her purple raincoat, Mrs. Yamazaki began to see another life, a life in which she and an amiable daughter strolled together with their dog, freely chatting and laughing.  Perhaps she and her mother would have been that kind.  Remorse began to grip at her and she chewed her lips.  She lit a cigarette, even though she had just finished one, and began to smoke it nervously.  She had to admit it, she had not done all she could for Susan.  A piece of the cigarette crumbled away and landed on her lapel.  She knocked it off, but it was too late.  The beautiful purple raincoat had a burn mark on it.
         Mrs. Yamazaki began to cry.  But it wasn’t too late. She jerked harshly at Goro's leash, tugging him through his routine walk in order to get home and talk to her daughter.
         To her great shock, Susan had left a note on the kitchen table saying she was leaving home forever, and would never be back--right after Mrs. Yamazaki had made this decision to be kinder to her!

                                                                 ***

         It happened years ago in the city of Los Angeles.  An entire family was murdered in their home on a quiet suburban street on the west side.  A drifter was picked up as suspect, a shell shocked veteran of the Liberty Ship John Muir during the Great Pacific War.  But it had been a bad year anyway for homicides in the city.  Some blamed it on the whipping Santa Ana winds, some blamed it on racial tensions, and some, on the ever widening pool of newcomers to the town that seemed to promise easy wealth.   Whatever the case, the family on the 14400 block of Cashmere Street were gone.  What agony for the neighbors on all sides of this family!  No one wanted the quaint old stucco house, as charming as it could be, after the slaughter there.
         A young Japanese family by the name of Yamazaki lived directly across the street from this empty house and bore witness to the accumulating emptiness of the residence.  More than once did the husband and wife argue over selling and moving, the wife full of grief seeing the house every day, the husband busy in Century City and out with clients at night.  He didn't even like to spend weekends at home. 
         Meanwhile, Susan's body began to change, and out of some deep need for privacy she failed to tell her mother, and thus began stealing sanitary napkins out of the bathroom cupboards at friends' houses, then throwing them over the fence into the abandoned yard when through with them.  One day another neighbor, Mrs. Eichhorne, came over and complained to Mrs. Yamazaki.  Mrs. Yamazaki, knowing nothing about it, shouted that her daughter would never do such a thing.  Now, all around the Yamazaki house, things were getting unpleasant. 
         The neighbors were an old, guilt-ridden German couple who had snuck out of the country after the war by way of Argentina.  They had previously been friendly to the Yamazakis on holidays, bringing trays of kuchen.  Susan thus began her ritual of visiting the abandoned house across the street on Cashmere, and burying her sanitary napkins in a pit in the backyard.  Until one afternoon, when Susan walked into the backyard with her paper sack and trowel, and Mrs. Eichhorne jumped out from behind the fat hairy base of an enormous palm tree that was known to contain rats.  "I knew it!"  she cried, snapping Susan's picture.  That evening the Eichhornes presented the Yamazakis with the evidence, suggesting that the families end their feud and that the Yamazakis seek psychological support for their daughter.  Shunichi was polite, but Mrs. Yamazaki fumed.  When the Eichhornes left, she cried, "I will not be tried and hung by my neighbors!"  She grabbed her car keys, and in a dramatic gesture not normally taken by her, left the house driving too fast, tires squealing.
         Shunichi was stumped.  If his daughter was doing this, they should speak to her and help her, shouldn't they?  His parents and sisters, Sanae’s too, had all died of radiation sickness when he was only three.  Neither of them had any idea what to say to Susan.
         And then something very strange happened.  As he sat there holding the incriminating polaroid of his daughter, he thought of the prostitute he had spent the weekend with in Las Vegas recently.  She was a voluptuous, beautiful woman.  He had been sorry to see her go.  He had taken a polaroid picture of her face, smiling gently at him after she had dressed.  Her warm expression was nothing like the frightened, surprised look on his daughter's face, seen in the backyard of the house across the street, clutching her secret bag full of sanitary napkins.  But something connected them.  What was it?  He had kept the photo of his Las Vegas woman in his briefcase, and now he scrambled through the house to find it.  Opening his briefcase, he reached into the top flap pocket and found the hard square picture with his finger tips, and pulled it out.  He looked at the woman's face, and felt a warm flush go through him.  He would have to have her again, there was no doubt about it, and if his wife didn't insist on tagging along next weekend, it would be that soon.  Now, what was it he was looking for?  He held up the picture of his daughter.  And then he realized--it was the name Susan.  Why hadn't he thought of it before?  The woman and his daughter were both named Susan!

                                                                 ***

         Never a cold winter there by world standards, but for Southern California it was a chilly one.  School children ran out of their classrooms more than once to watch large hailstones pelt the asphalt, woolen clothes were selling fast at the department stores, and several nights in a row it broke the freezing point and people actually reported slipping on ice on the way to their cars in the mornings.
         One woman experienced a Los Angeles winter the hard way.
         Mrs. S. Yamazaki had left her home with nothing one night, only the clothes on her back and her purse.  She was tired of her husband's lack of consideration, tired of trying to be a good wife.  She had her credit cards, and she planned to put herself up in the nicest place she could find and charge it to him, and see if that woke him up some.  She drove straight to Beverly Hills and found a grand old hotel where she had eaten lunch a few times with one of her women's clubs, and checked herself in.
         The room was beautiful.  Now she needed to go out and have some fun.  She would walk to a nice bar down the street and order a drink.  But it was so cold!  On her way, she passed a few elegant clothing shops, still open for business.  A new coat was in order; it had been years since she had bought herself a new coat.
         A man stood in the shop browsing, pulling out coats from the rack and examining them.  He looked familiar.  She was feeling adventurous and vengeful, so she said, "Excuse me, do I know you?"
         "I hope so," the man replied.  He smiled charmingly.  "I'm Alan," he said.  "Alan Jones.  And you're--"
         "Sanae Yamazaki," she replied.  She still wasn't sure why he looked so familiar. 
         "Looking for a coat?" he said.
         "I am."
         "What about this one?" 
         He held up an expensive raincoat with a wool lining.  Beige wasn't exactly her color but she said, "Yes, you have very good taste.  I'll try it on."
         Going along with this adventure, Mrs. Yamazaki tried on the coat.  It made her look pale--purple suited her better--but it was the kind of raincoat someone else would wear, maybe a reporter or an executive, and that was the kind of change she needed.
         "It looks wonderful on you," he commented.  "An expensive raincoat makes a woman look confident, ready for anything.  You should have it."
         "What are you looking for?" she asked.
         "A present for my sister," he replied.  "But she's not as elegant as you are.  She couldn't wear this kind of coat.  I'll have to think of something else."
         Mrs. Yamazaki promptly bought the coat.  She decided to wear it right then and there because it was cold outside, so she had the sales girl clip off the tags.  The man followed her out of the store.
         "I'm not usually so bold," he said, "but I can't let this chance slip away from me.  Would you like to go have a drink?"
         Mrs. Yamazaki was thrilled.  She would show Shunichi after all!  "I'd love to.  I'm staying at the hotel across the street.  Would you like to go over there?"
         The man said yes.
         Needless to say Mrs. S. Yamazaki and the man ended up going up to her room together, wherein Mrs. Yamazaki began to disrobe as the man kissed her throat and breasts.  It had been years since she had experienced any passion other than on soap operas.  She was extremely excited to be with Alan Jones and had completely disrobed when he began to remove his own clothes.  Only then, as he did a lewd little wiggle, did the strange feeling change to recognition, and suddenly Mrs. S. Yamazaki emitted a terrible scream.  She screamed so loudly that the hotel sent up security and beat down the door.  She was clutching a sheet around her body as the door splintered.  Alan Jones was the man who had exhibited his naked body to her years back, leading to the myocardial infarct that killed her favorite dog!

                                                                  ***

         Everyone knows that jumbo jets regularly fly back and forth between the US and Japan.  But how many people know about the strange visions experienced on that well-travelled route by one woman from Los Angeles?
         Mrs. S. Yamazaki was on her way to Nagasaki to take up residence with an old friend.  The Flight Attendant brought her a vodka and tonic, her usual on flights, and she settled back in her seat and closed her eyes.  It was nice to have the seat empty next to her.  She let out a long sigh.
         Suddenly, the thin, warm fur of her dog Goro pressed against her arm, the way he always used to curl up next to her.  Mrs. Yamazaki smiled.  But the strange thing was, Goro had been dead for years!  Mrs. Yamazaki's eyes flew open.  There, sitting on the seat next to her, was Goro.  She reached for him and he trotted into her lap.  His whiskers tickled her nose, and she could feel his tiny body.  He reached up and licked her face.  How could this be?
         "Thank god you finally decided to get out of that miserable hole," Goro said.  "Your friend is cold and damaged, but she'll watch after you.  And the city is thriving. I think this is going to be a good move for us," he said, in a surprisingly husky voice.
         Mrs. Yamazaki stared at her dog, who had never spoken to her even when he was alive, then across the aisle to see if anyone had noticed. Shortly the Flight Attendant came to collect her glass and she smiled at Mrs. Yamazaki as if there was absolutely nothing wrong with having a dog on board.  Mrs. Yamazaki was incredulous.  This must be the spirit of Goro, come back to her, visible to no one else!
         “Yes, I’ll show you everything.  We’ll walk again in the hills," he said happily, ruffling his coat.  "The port area has been built up with cafes and restaurants, and there’s a terrific new art museum.  You won’t know the place.  And you know what?  You’re going to stop smoking.”
         "I suppose I should!” Sanae replied.
         "Oh, one other thing.  Even though we just took off, it's important that you ask the pilot to make an emergency return to the mainland before a bomb that's loaded in the cargo hold explodes.  Just tell them you have a sixth sense about these things.  Then you'll be hailed a hero and we'll have a grand old time being celebrated wherever we go."
         Mrs. Yamazaki was horrified, but took his advice.  She pushed the button for the Flight Attendant and told the woman about her dreadful premonition.  The flight crew took her seriously and returned to Los Angeles promptly, whereupon a bomb squad indeed found an enormous pipe bomb wired to go off shortly before their scheduled arrival time in Tokyo.   Mrs. Yamazaki was completely cleared of any suspicious wrong-doing, and became known as a psychic extraordinaire.  She returned to Nagasaki and lived very happily with her rather cool friend and the ghost of her old Pomeranian.  No person ever compared to his company!


Elizabeth McKenzie

Elizabeth McKenzie's short fiction has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, the Pushcart Prize anthology, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Threepenny Review, and many other literary journals. Her story collection Stop That Girl was short-listed for The Story Prize, and was a Newsday and Library Journal top ten Book of the Year. Her novel MacGregor Tells the World was a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the year, a San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book, and a Library Journal Top Ten Book of the year. She was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts/Japan-US Friendship Commission Creative Artist Fellowship in 2010, and is the editor of an anthology of contemporary Japanese literature published in 2012 entitled My Postwar Life.

 

Spring 2012

Fiction
Elizabeth McKenzie
Paula Mahoney

Nonfiction
Sarah Albertson
Vinnie Hansen
Neal Hellman
Stephen Kessler

Poetry
Buzz Anderson
Anna Citrino
Arthur Streshly
Amber Coverdale Sumrall

Plays & Monologues
Wilma Marcus Chandler

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