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Speak No Evil

Everything is pink: plush toys, glitter flamingos, cherry blossom hair clips. Yuki picks a Hello Kitty cap from the bubblegum shelves and makes doe eyes at the suit. Like she needs more kawaii tat.

He secures it over her glossy plaits. Against her school getup, its raspberry bow pops.

‘Hold the wrapping,’ he tells the shop girl. ‘She’ll wear it home.’

They step into Akihabara foot traffic like this is filial, but nobody’s fooled. In the uniform – black pleats grazing her knicker line – she can pass for a joshi kosei, but it’s four years since she graduated high school. And her father? Not this man. Her drowning father stepped in front of a moving train at Shin Koiwa last year, landing the family a crippling fine. This man is helping to pay it.

It’s a standard lark; 12,000 yen for a walk-and-talk along neon-slicked footpaths. A week’s groceries, five times a night. Law school will wait; the family’s better fed while Yuki’s relieving randy salarymen of their hard-earned. In this neighbourhood, especially. When she spots the easy money, she knows where to go.

She tugs one earring and gives the suit a coy smile, eyeing a side street. ‘I’m hungry.’ His inner provider looks lively.

They duck through the fabric doorway of a modest izakaya. A small TV spills cheerful game show sounds from above. Sake for him, soda for show, a serve of ika tempura to share. Perched at the bar, their forearms touch. Not strictly allowed.

‘How does this end?’ He’s probing the grey area between expectation and the law. She traps a nervous giggle in her fingers.

‘I’ve got homework.’ Yuki clasps her plaits behind her neck, and her white shirt pulls taut.

‘Two heads are better than one.’ He taps the stiff peak of her cap.

Yuki catches the young barkeep’s eye; scarcely a nod.

‘I could read your fortune,’ she tells the suit. ‘That’s extra.’

His smile is Cheshire. He knows that JK shorthand. Fortune telling, massage, more.

‘There’s a place out the back here,’ she says, nibbling squid. He drains his glass.

She leads him back through the noren entrance, down the alley to an unmarked door. Inside, she takes the fat volume of horoscopes from the hall stand.

‘50,000 yen.’

Notes spill from his wallet. She steers him to a cubicle, where a rolled robe adorns a

massage table. ‘Get comfortable,’ she coos, tugging the curtain closed between them.

Her voice is impish as she flips the book’s pages. ‘Let me guess, Rooster? No, wait. Snake.’

Her most provocative giggle yet.

‘Dragon!’ he growls, tossing his suit to the floor. She corrals it from the gap beneath the curtain, hears the table creak under his weight. ‘And I’m ready.’

A plump silence.

‘I’m ready.’

Her exit is nimble. In the dark of the alleyway, the barkeep locks the door behind her. She hands him the bundle, and some cash.

‘That’s for Mum,’ she says. ‘The suit’s worth a bit. Give the pervert 20 minutes as usual. His shame will see him home. I left his wallet. And a Hello Kitty bathrobe.’

Her brother hoists his eyebrows. ‘Nice touch.’

On a train bound for Ikebukuro, Yuki rides the pink carriage – twenty sweet minutes with no male gaze. From the women, she fields pity and scorn. Skimpy uniform. Late hour. She shrugs; a couple more chumps tonight, and she can take tomorrow off. She pats the money at her hip and twirls her cap on one finger. Its cartoon kitten is a sage: eyes wide open, no mouth at all.

Speak No Evil won first place in the Peter Cowan short story competition, 2022.


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