The Dog Walker

Liam Ring

2022
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Introduction

In Japan they do things differently. After all, this is a nation that invented the square watermelon. I suppose they got tired of squaring the circle with rectangular fridges. This is also the nation which invented toilets to tell you jokes—truly funny jokes– to help you pass more than mere time. Okay, I made that one up. But would we be surprised if it were true?

In Liam Ring’s story, oppressed Japanese housewife Izumi Satou is intrigued by a foreigner’s ad, addressed to dog owners, with a reasonably-priced offer to teach their dogs English. Not only does it sound strange, there are other nice things about it. For one thing, she would have an excuse to step out of the house for part of the day. It would help Izumi practice her own English. Izumi’s husband, Kenta, indulges the expense, perhaps because he considers pet ownership good practice for future motherhood.

This is the kind of story that is great fun to write. It is also easy to write it badly, because the situation lends itself to a farcical treatment. But Izumi’s oppression isn’t funny. Her conservative mother isn’t funny. Kenta’s cruelties aren’t funny. Liam Ring manages to weave together strangeness, sadness, curiosity and a gentle humor to take the story to a deeper and more interesting place than mere farce. The result is a story that is also great fun to read. Enjoy!

— Anil Menon
The Bombay Literary Magazine

The Dog Walker

Breathe in….. breathe out… breathe in… breathe out. Breathe in…

Izumi Satou peers at the advertisement, eyebrows furrowing. The rectangular piece of yellow unlined paper is fastened using a small plastic push-pin at each corner – red, white, blue, and green. Not the brass-tipped ones supplied by the store. Why bring your own pins? Why the need for four pins – different colored pins as well – when surely one or at most two would suffice?

STOP IT, IZUMI! STAY ON TRACK!

Breathe out.

The card is in very simplistic Japanese. He uses Boku instead of watashi, de instead of ni. But it isn’t like the walker’s offering to teach Japanese. That WOULD be crazy.

“Any dog can learn basic English – less than 100 words – in three months.”

A teacher in search of an unusual pupil: not a child or a teen, not a bored housewife seeking something to fill up her days between the supermarket, the laundry, and the vacuuming. Not even a salaryman with the earnest hope that a better TOEIC score will unlock promotion or overseas opportunities. This teacher’s pupil is a dog.

But any man, woman, or child should be able to teach rudimentary language to their pet themselves. Walk. Sit. Stay. Food. Lots of verbs. A scattering of nouns. Probably no adjectives. Pets don’t live in an adjective-cluttered world. Someone on NHK once said that dogs were color-blind. If that were true, they would need no reds, yellows, greens or blues. No way for them to tell one push-pin from the other.

She shakes her head and mutters a self-rebuke. That her mind flits to inconsequential things is one of the primary sources of contention at home – her different inner voices jostling for attention. “Stay on the topic,” Kenta chides her. “I’ve spent all day working. I’m too tired to follow your haphazard train of thought.”

Why would a dog need English? A mental image appears of a foreigner sitting in front of a dog with a textbook open. “I am fine. And you?” She lets out a snort of laughter and quickly covers her mouth. She shudders at the memories of verb conjugation chants, gap-fill exercises, vocabulary lists. She examines the advertisement again. This guy might speak a little Japanese. Or he uses one of those translation apps.

An English teacher for dogs. For Momo, maybe?

#

Kenta’s mouth hangs open, the noodles dangling from his chopsticks. Instead of answering, he slurps up the noodles, sucking disagreeably. He swallows and swirls the broth with his chopsticks. She can’t decide if his expression is one of irritation or concern. “Foreigners are weird, especially the loser English teachers. I had one once who spent ten minutes at the start of every class talking about what cheeses he liked. About the flavors, the colors, the textures. About what he’d eat with them – crackers, toasted bread, sometimes even the cheese would be melted like a fondue. I hated that class. I hate English.” He chuckles and scoops another clutch of noodles into his mouth,  a few drops of the soup speckling his blue and purple striped tie. She bows, focuses on her bowl. Plenty of noodles. Four pieces of chicken – just as she likes it.

Just like the four pins for each corner of the advertisement.

“Of course, owning a dog these days is often practice for motherhood. Some women might want lessons for their dogs, the way they’ll want lessons for their children.” Kenta munches carefully as he eyes Izumi across the table. He chews eight times. “It all sounds crazy, yet strangely that ‘gaijin’ might be onto something. It’s certainly ‘out-of-the-box thinking.’” He chuckles again at the English phrase they are always haranguing him with at work. Izumi nods slowly, steadying her breathing, trying to ignore the heat rising to her cheeks. Dogs pushed around in prams, decked out in miniature outfits, their noses poking out of custom-made bonnets. That would make some sense, even if – as Kenta mentioned – some might mock these women for how they spend their husband’s money. She chews a piece of chicken, hoping her expression remains blank, impenetrable.

A dog as preparation for having a child. Is that what Kenta thinks Momo is?

Kenta soon settles into the small alcove he’s set up as a temporary office, frowning over his precious MacBook Air and rows of sales figures. She washes up before settling onto the sofa, its cushions still fluffed, the new furniture smell still present. She scrolls down a magazine article about resorts in Hawaii and scrutinizes each entry: eight resorts, eighty-four sentences. Blah. Blah. Blah. She tuts over the hackneyed advertising lingo and imagines how she’d have done a better, more earnest job. Nobody pays for quality anymore. They just want the copy written.

Mother is sending messages again: “How are you settling in? Is the apartment the right size? Have you made any friends, Izumi?” She turns off her phone, eyes the far wall, checks that Kenta isn’t watching. She shifts the side table from her path, presses her back against the wall, and counts heel to toe the 21 footsteps needed to traverse the room. 21 steps at 23.5 centimetres per step. She does a quick mental calculation as she leans against the far wall: 493.5 centimetres wide.

“What on earth are you doing?”

“Nothing! Just measuring for a mat from an IKEA catalogue!” The lie leaps from her mouth, the hurried tone of her denial perhaps suspicious. Kenta shakes his head, warns her not to exhaust herself before returning to his screen. If he can be obsessed with figures, Izumi thinks, her facial muscles straining to keep the frown from her face, then why can’t I? He starts tapping at the keyboard. That’s definitely not about me.

In the corner, Momo growls softly as she burrows further into her bed. Even the dog’s mood is funny tonight.

#

The next day she surreptitiously snaps a photo of the advertisement. Later, she adds the mobile number to her contact list, labelling the number ‘Dog Walker’ in katakana. The foreignness of the katakana symbols – their straighter, more aggressive shapes – stands out among the hiragana and kanji ones. But writing Dog Walker in romaji would feel stranger still.

He’ll happily come to her apartment building or meet her at a nearby café. She chooses the latter, not wanting some foreigner skulking around her apartment building, pressing random apartment buttons, riling up her new neighbours. She doesn’t tell Kenta. She feels silly enough answering the advertisement without his scoldings. Or worse, laughing for wasting her time and his money.

She’s at the café next to Hoshino Park four minutes – 240 seconds – before the meeting time. Momo snuggles against her feet, the dog fleece keeping her warm against the creeping cold of a Nagoya December morning. She buys a coffee – 380 yen, seven coins – to avoid any awkwardness over buying Dog Walker a drink. Close by, a Pekingese growls from its pushchair before being shushed. Izumi and the owner exchange automatic smiles coached for carefully judged tolerance. She offers Momo a doggie treat and reconsiders Kenta’s words about a dog being a precursor to a child. If the dog has a pushchair for the daytime, does it sleep in a cot at night?

A baby’s shriek crumbles the next doggie treat in her hand. Like someone’s shoving a knitting needle through her ear canal and into her brain.

“Suimasen. Excuse me. Mrs Satou?”

The odd accent jolts her back to reality. This middle-aged man is a little chubby, perhaps 180 to 185 pounds; it would probably be rude to ask. Also, the thickness of the coat might be adding a few pounds. Light stubble; coffee-stained teeth; blond, receding hair. She stands and gives a quick bow.

“Watashi wa John-san desu. It’s nice to meet you. And this is Momo?”

“Hai.” Izumi stifles a grin. His Japanese is as halting as a three-year-old’s, the pronunciation stilted. He leans down to Momo who, after a quick sniff of inspection, licks his hand while offering an appreciative wagging tail. She likes him – that’s what counts.

The money is only a little extra than a regular dog-walking service. The 30 minutes Momo will spend with Dog Walker will give her some time to herself. Some browsing at the nearby shopping mall perhaps. Maybe she is thinking like a mother already. The foreigner even promises to use plastic bags to pick up any leavings.

#

Kenta isn’t amused.

“You’re turning into one of those lazy mothers who drop off their kid for forty minutes of English.”

“The price isn’t much more than a regular dog-walker, honey. I can do the grocery shopping without Momo tripping me up.”

“The dog could just stay at home while you shop. We paid all that extra money for a house-trained one, didn’t we?” Kenta’s incredulity simmers down to mild annoyance in less time than it takes her to serve his second bowl of stew. He has removed his paisley foulard tie.

“It isn’t even the money that bothers me. You get an allowance and it’s your choice how you spend it. I just don’t understand paying some ‘gaijin’ to speak English to the dog.” Kenta settles his spoon across his bowl as if he’s about to criticise her further, but then just laughs instead. “Did you hear that, Momo? You’re going to English class. It’ll be good preparation for your degree in International Studies.”

Momo’s attention flickers from master to mistress before dropping her head back onto her bedding.

“What’s this ‘teacher’ like anyway?”

“Maybe 175 or 177 centimetres tall.” She pauses, notes the worried glance from across the table. “A little fat. He’s losing his hair too.” She giggles. “His Japanese is so funny sometimes. Actually, in a way he looks a little like a dog himself. Like a Shiba Inu.

“I can’t wait to tell the guys at the company how my crazy wife’s wittering away my salary. They won’t want their wives meeting you now in case you pass on your funny ideas.” He chuckles as he returns to slurping the dashi-infused broth. Izumi attends to her own food.

Momo should have a little spruce up before tomorrow. For her first English lesson she should look her best.

#

“I think she’s done very well today. She’s quite a clever little girl, isn’t she?” Izumi notices how he struggles slightly over pronunciation of the adjective’s second syllable. “Ka-shi-ko-i.” Clever. Even though the basic pronunciation of Japanese is so much more logical than English. She smiles and offers a simple arigato of thanks. Slides the money – one note, five coins – across the table while keeping a wriggling Momo from escaping. The dog has certainly taken a shine to the slightly slovenly, potent-smelling stranger. Maybe Momo sees a kinship there. Maybe he too might drink out of a bowl if I asked the store owner to bring him one.

“Eigo dekimasuka?” Do you speak English?

Izumi smiles. Leans her face into Momo’s neck. Dog Walker offers an awkward bow and pockets the money. Mentions how much schools in Japan struggle with teaching the language. She gives him the blank expression she usually reserves for Christians and NHK TV license inspectors.

He’ll see them again in two days. She finds it funny how he includes the second person plural pronoun – anata-tachi – in his goodbyes. Bittersweet, too. Including Momo as if she’s Izumi’s friend instead of her only companion – and four-legged at that – which she has in Nagoya.

Sabishii. Loneliness.

She scratches Momo under the collar, leans in and whispers the word “Peaches,” her name in English. She scans the 17 people. Seven tables occupied. All speaking the same language but not a soul talks to her. But now, today, she finds this is something she doesn’t really mind so much.

#

The month passes with Momo’s lessons kept to twice a week. One evening she asks Kenta to keep an eye on the stove while she pops out to the 7-11 for some tofu and beer. She returns to him standing in the middle of the room, one of Momo’s treats pinched between his forefinger and thumb.

“The dog won’t come.”

Izumi murmurs consolations as she places the tofu and four Kirin cans on the counter. The message light on her phone’s blinking; mother checking that she’s okay again. “Momo’s tired after her lesson today. He took her for an extra fifteen minutes free of charge.’

“I’m being ignored in my own apartment by the damn dog. I called to it. Even offered the mutt a damn biscuit.”

“Peaches? Come here.” She stresses each foreign syllable equally, patting Kenta on the arm as she passes. Momo pricks up her ears and immediately trots from her dog bed. She can hear Kenta grumbling. “See Kenta, … she’s fine.”

“Do I have to learn English for the dog to understand me? Sit-u. Stay-u. Play dead-u.” Kenta makes no attempt to keep the irritation out of his voice, especially over the closing three commands in a mimicked katakana tone. “It’s bad enough that you’re talking to the dog in English. Now the dog won’t answer to Japanese.” Izumi hears the top of the beer pop open, hears Kenta gulp down a mouthful. She rubs the spot behind Momo’s ears, listening to the dog’s little growls of pleasure.

“I guess then the dog truly is yours. If it won’t even understand me, I don’t see why I should take it for its morning walks.”

“It’s just a bit of tiredness, Kenta. And you’re taking out the recycling anyway.” Kenta slings back another mouthful of beer instead of responding. She gives the dog one final scratch behind the ear before kissing her on the top of the head. Dinners don’t make themselves.

#

It’s pitch black. She can hear Kenta’s snores, feel his breath waft against her left ear. She lies there, wincing over the dream: pushchairs, cribs, feedings, nappies, the baby’s shit smearing everything. She cleans up as well as she can, half-sobbing at what gets onto her fingers and under her fingernails. “It’ll all wash off with soap.” Dream Izumi scrubs all over, grimacing as the hard-bristled brush scours against her skin, failing to make her clean. And there’ll still be so much work to do afterwards. The mess will never be cleaned.

She grimaces as the chilled air envelops her. Kenta lets out a grunt and rolls over. She doesn’t think he hears her open and close the door. Padding down the hall, she can hear a whimper from the dog bed. She treads over to Kenta’s laptop. She’s watched him enter the password often enough, and soon she’s scanning through his files, checking the rows of figures, even some documents that he’s carelessly left open. Nothing about me. More than once she thinks she hears movement from down the hall, but she knows she cannot stop looking. She is sure to be heard. But she can’t stop looking. Not yet.

Eventually she finds the files, the back and forth communications involving Kenta, her mother, and the lead doctor. Medications to try, the possibility of being re-committed if her symptoms returned. “Obsessive,” she reads. “Compulsive. A tendency to act out when frustrated.” I’m frustrated when I can’t trust those who claim to love me. She realises that she’s been grinding her teeth. Forces herself to take a few deep, steadying breaths. Worrying that Kenta will come out and find her snooping.

Three times she returns to the computer to check there’s no evidence of her search. There’s a potent smell on her fingers that she can’t seem to shift even with all that soap. She flicks the light on over the bathroom mirror and stares at herself.

Izumi Satou, formerly Izumi Nakamura. Voted most likely to succeed. What happened to her? To you?

She’s numb with the cold by the time she crawls back into bed. She does not know when exhaustion overtakes her, and she finally drifts back to an uneasy sleep.

#

Kenta drags himself out of bed. The days are shorter now, and the arrival of the long-threatened snow has made these early morning wake-ups even more of a burden. He pokes at the prone form next to him; Izumi’s indecipherable mumbles don’t improve his mood. He can soak in the bath while she fixes the miso, fish, and rice.

But first, he must walk the damn dog.

He grapples with his coat and scarf. Untangles the leash from the cupboard and lets out a sharp whistle which prompts a low growl. He wiggles the leash in his hand, frowning as the dog remains burrowed beneath its covers. It has grown lazier these past few weeks, but this is really all too much. It isn’t as if it can’t go back to bed once it’s done its business. “Dumb bitch.”

He’s never really considered gender before. Wonders if the dog was fixed before being purchased. He resolves to have Izumi double-check with the breeder. He doesn’t worry about puppies – the mutt never leaves the house unescorted – but he doesn’t need more moods in the morning either. “Get out,” he grumbles, reaching for the dog’s collar.

A primordial reflex pulls back his hand before much more than a tooth can graze his skin. “Bitch,” he splutters, rubbing the mark. From the bed, the dog stares at him unblinkingly, a growl rumbling in the back of its throat, the offending canine quite visible. He tosses the leash beside the bed. “You do something like that again and you’ll feel the toe of my shoe up your butt. And you’ll go to the dog pound.”

Another low growl. Budding English savant or not, Kenta thinks, the dog has understood THAT Japanese. He snatches that day’s recycling bag and stalks towards the front door. The dog can piss or shit indoors all it wants. It’s Izumi’s dog, and she’ll walk it and clean after it from now on. And he’ll check himself if the mutt was fixed before being bought. If it wasn’t, the vet can give it a little attitude adjustment.

Izumi winces as the door slams. Her mother has already messaged effusive updates on her younger sister’s healthy pregnancy and motherly-glow – with photos! – accompanied by more queries as to Izumi’s own well-being. 42 kanji accompanied by 14 hiragana. She’ll be asking about my and Kenta’s baby-making soon enough. Her finger hovers over the keypad for a second before she jabs out an answer – “WE AREN’T EVEN FUCKING!” – and presses send. That’ll shut her up.

She pads out into the corridor and down the hall. A quick rub of the head is acknowledged in the slight wag of her tail. “Good girl,” Izumo whispers. “Don’t you worry about the bad man.” Kenta will be back soon, full of chattered complaints and furied affront. By then, the bath water should be warming, the fish frying, the miso beginning to bubble.

I’ll take her for a walk before I shower. A pair of sweatpants and a coat won’t be regulation-wife wear but what does she care for bored, chattered judgements? She hears Kenta’s pointed gasps at the cold as he re-enters the apartment, kicking the tips of his shoes against the genkan edge. She might hear about the weather first. But it’ll be close between that and the attempted bite. Don’t worry little one. Mommy will take good care of you.

In fact, breakfast is suffered in near silence. Kenta directs occasional withering glances towards the dog bed, but otherwise spares her further comment. “I’m working late tonight,” he yells from the genkan as he wrestles with his shoes. “Don’t bother cooking. I’ll get something out.”

Izumi dawdles. The hours, minutes, seconds stretch ahead, with Momo’s lesson buttressed by a barrage of questions to both ask and answer. “What? Which? Where? When? How much? Would you like a bag for that? The bag will be four yen.” By the time the Dog Walker picks up Momo, Izumi’s thoughts have degenerated into rampant misery, not helped by the barrage of texts from her mother that she’s trying to ignore. Thirty minutes dash past and her mind continues to conjure its worst as she stares at her cooling coffee. All too soon, Momo is back to her. The fur lining of Dog Walker’s hood does nothing to reduce his likeness to a shiba inu that cavorts around its owner outside. Her coffee, 380 yen, paid for with seven coins, remains untouched.

“If you were happy, I hope you’ll consider recommending me to others.”

“Mochiron.” Of course. She can recommend him to all the people she meets every day. The butcher, the baker, and the cashiers at the supermarket and the dollar store. Those four people for sure. One of them must surely be or know a dog-mother in training.

His look wavers for a second, and at that moment she thinks Dog Walker really sees Izumi Satou. She trudges up and down the shopping street – 5,484 steps, passing 47 premises in total, three laps as she kills time. Her inspection of the different lines of fat on the meat she’ll buy for dinners. Her dithering over one-dollar purchases, now extra tiresome with the recently increased consumption tax throwing off her maths. Her thirties – one decade, ten years, 120 months, 5,259,492 minutes – spent with only ‘Peaches’ for real company. Her best years spent coaxing a brat to swallow its rice and finish its homework, Kenta parping over excel spreadsheets, work emails, missed promotions, middle-aged disappointments.

Away. Away. Away! Isn’t the present bad enough without the future weighing her down too? The fingernail marks lie deep red within each palm. She feels for her coin purse and kneads the flat of her thumb into the edges. 17 coins. One thousand, seven hundred…. One thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight yen. Yes, that’s it. She’s sure of it. WHY ARE YOU SHAKING, IZUMI? And what if she’s wrong? Will it be her mother, her sister, Kenta, her former boss or smirking, snide, gossipy colleagues to know and chastise her for this latest inaccuracy?! She’s slopped her coffee somehow, the cold brew dribbling across the table, onto the floor, onto the back of her hand, staining the sleeve of her jacket. Someone has got some napkins.

She starts talking and suddenly her words are a torrent. She is sure to be heard. She hopes that what prompts this foreigner’s sympathy isn’t too obvious to the others: 14 people today, 28 eyes to examine, 28 ears to eavesdrop, 14 mouths to gossip. All the better to judge you with, Izumi dear. Her stuttered words, discernible in either or any language, are desperate enough as she scrabbles to express her own deeper truth.

He listens, nods for a while. But later, as the words continue to gush, those signs of understanding falter. Wouldn’t they for anyone slipping somewhere between sympathy, complicity and concern for this near stranger delivering a plethora of half-decipherable woes in English, in Japanese, in broken sobs?

“I’m free if you need to talk again,” he says, nudging the tips of her fingers gently with his. When she pats his hand, she feels a little dart of relief. Maybe this odd man understands her. If even only a little.

#

It’s dark when she reaches home. The living room light advertises that Kenta didn’t work late after all. Peaches pads ahead, wagging her tail slightly. Her mother’s voice offers a murmur of welcome. A smell of meat wafts down the hall. Izumi’s off kitchen duties for tonight at least.

She removes her shoes and coat, dumping the shopping bags at the edge of the genkan. Kenta has a generous pouring of Cutty Sark in front of him. Her mother has stuck to tea.

“What are you doing here?”

“You’ve been working really hard, Izumi, and we haven’t been paying you enough attention.” Her mother darts a glance at sullen Kenta before continuing. “I felt when you moved here that I should’ve paid you a visit, but I was worried there wasn’t enough space. I apologise for not considering your health enough. I hope you can forgive me.” Her mother pats the sofa space next to her.

“Hmm…”. She doesn’t say anything further, doesn’t take the necessary steps – normally or even heel to toe – needed to reach the sofa. The ice cubes tinkle as Kenta raises the glass to his lips.

“I’ve made something special for us this evening. Why don’t you sit down? It’ll only take me a minute to serve.” Her mother’s smile is only slightly pained, her eyes only slightly tinged with worry. Izumi has seen THAT look before. Can already predict what will follow.

“I had a snack out because I thought Kenta was working late.” The curve of her mother’s lips tells her the lie is an obvious one. Mother always knows when you lie, Izumi. She’s known for years.

“You can eat as much or as little as you like. Don’t worry. It’ll still be good tomorrow.” Her mother rises. Kenta has draped his cornflower blue tie over the back of his chair. She walks to him unbeckoned, lifts the glass from his hand, and drains the contents, the cold of the ice cubes tapping against her upper lip. Winces at the heat of the Dutch courage burning her throat. Whiskey has never been her drink.

“We are doing this for your own good, Izumi,” he murmurs, blinking with surprise at how she’s commandeered his glass.

An image flashes through her mind of another Izumi, this one smashing the receptacle down on his lousy, lying, scheming head. The remnants of four ice cubes skittering across the floor, his blood splashing onto her clear white top. She’s gripping the glass, marveling that it doesn’t shatter in her hand. One note and one coin from IKEA. You still get some quality for one thousand five hundred yen these days, Izumi.

“What’s Momo doing, Izumi dear? I can hear her scratching.”

“It’s gone back to the door, I think. Maybe we should lock it into the bathroom?”

“Or put her on a leash and leave her on the balcony? It won’t be that cold yet. Though I might hear rain.”

“No!” The word chokes out of her, an image of Peaches out in the cold all alone, scratching at the glass. Perhaps even pushing through the bars of the balcony to dangle, choking by her neck. Neither her mother nor Kenta answer, letting the room’s leaden silence marinate the judgemental mood. She pads back to the front door where Peaches is eyeing her plaintively by the shopping bags, takes her in her arms, sways her back and forth. Mother is asking how many skewers Kenta wants. Whether he’s switching to beer or wants another whiskey. When he mentions needing a new glass, she realises she’s still gripping his.

“Oh, and Izumi,” her mother calls. “I insist you tell me about this nonsense involving English lessons for your dog. Even if such an idea wasn’t crazy, it isn’t as if you couldn’t do that yourself? It would be good to have a little project.”

Izumi steps out into the December cold, Peaches snuggled against her. Shuts the door on her mother’s pained laughter. It is fifteen steps to the elevator, each one a reminder that she hasn’t put on shoes. The cheerful recorded voice thanks her for waiting as the elevator rises, then announces she may enter. She thinks she hears the click of her apartment door opening as she stabs at the buttons, the sound creating a ball of tension in her throat, but now she is on her way down. Six floors, then five. By four she is certain that someone will stop the elevator and coax her out. By two she can sense Kenta’s grip around her wrist, dragging her back upstairs. He’ll be on the stairs – taking them two or three at a time.

She darts out into the night air and starts to her left. Izumi Satou would go right, she tells herself. But the new/old Izumi – Izumi Nakamura – won’t be so easy to predict. She’s smarter, wiser. The kind of woman she needs to be to take care of Peaches. If she is to escape.

Peaches whimpers. Maybe Izumi hears a voice shouting her name. Maybe her mother realised that she would bluff them, that Izumi Nakamura would go left. She tries to move a little faster, but needs to be careful not to slip as the rain batters the pavement. She remembers Dog Walker saying that he lived near the 7-11 two intersections down from here. I’ll go there, call his name. He can teach Peaches more English. I’ll even let him curl up at my feet if he wishes.

The raindrops dribble down her forehead, stinging her eyes. She leans into the downpour, her shoulders hunched against the elements. The splash from a car’s tyres adds to the drenching. A horn blares out. This time she’s sure someone yells her name. She tries to ignore all of it: the noises, the rain, her shivers, the dog’s growing whimpers. She’ll get to the convenience store and then she’ll call out. She is sure to be heard.

The souls of her bare feet ache against the asphalt. Each step feels slippier, each puddle she can’t avoid soaking her feet further. She wonders if she can hear running feet behind her, but dares not turn to look. She still has the glass as a weapon if needs be.

“We will get there,” she whispers, working to convince herself that those words sound that ring of truth. “We will get there.” Four simple words.

Contributor

Liam Ring

Liam Ring has been writing for a number of years part-time while teaching. His non-fiction work has appeared in lifestyle English language magazines in both Japan and South Korea as well as fiction for Close To The Bone, Bag of Bones Press, Wyrde Tales and Kaidankai. He has written four crime novels set in Seoul, South Korea and a fifth neo-noir novel set in the future which are available on Amazon. He presently lives in Ibaraki, Japan with his wife and a cat that’s around at mealtimes.

Acknowledgments

The banner image is based on Japanese artist Tomoko Konaike‘s mixed media installation Donning Animal Skins and Braided Grass. Please note the wolf has six legs. Source of original image is here.

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