Sayuri Yamada was born in Japan and is currently living in England. She finished studying Creative and Critical Writing in a postgraduate course with three distinctions at the University of Winchester in September, 2011. Sayuri has published her stories in nineteen magazines both in the UK and the US. One of them, ‘Killing Me Softly’, is published at Gray Sparrow, which won an award for the Best New Literary Journal of the Year from the Council of Editors of Learned Journal. Another one, ‘A Fat Mermaid’, is published at First Edition, sold at W.H. Smith.
You thought he liked you. You thought he liked you as a woman. Although you were a mediocre squash player, you always enjoyed watching good matches. That was how you first met him.
You were watching matches in the Men’s League, Premier Division.
The glass-backed court was at the bottom. The seats rose gradually on the both sides of the stairs to the top, which was connected to the gallery that let people see matches in other courts with wooden back walls downstairs.
The players in the matches were the best in the county; some of them were in the England rankings.
When you first saw good matches four months after you first started playing it, you could hardly breathe. You eyes, your face, you heart, your whole body, followed the players’ movement. Their legs, their arms, their rackets, the ball. They moved smoothly all over the court forever and ever. They made squash look so easy to play, although you knew it was very difficult; the ball bounces off the walls and changes direction, you can’t tell how. You had to stumble after the small black ball, panting with a red face. Those two players in the court never had red faces and never looked tired. They kept running as if their movements were choreographed beforehand.
The visiting team’s captain came into the court and started hitting the ball casually down the right wall over and over again. Then your club’s captain entered the court and they started hitting the ball together. Long smooth shots from the right court to the front wall to the left court, then the front wall to the right court. You could almost see the diagonal lines the ball took.
You didn’t get excited as much as when you were a beginner, still it was fascinating for you to watch good matches. One of the players spun his racket and they decided the visiting player would serve first. Each racket has different marks for choosing the first server. Your racket showed ‘W’ on the bottom. Before you spin it, you ask your opponent, ‘W or M?’ and if s/he says M and your racket shows M (the racket bottom will show M or W depending on which side is on the floor), s/he has a right to choose to serve or receive first. Your old racket had, ‘My serve’ on one side and nothing on the other. You didn’t have to ask your opponent to choose
then. Some players show their racket with smears on one side and ask up or down, which mean the smears will be on the up side or down side when it stops spinning and settles on the floor.
They started the match. Fluid running, long and hard drives to the back wall over and over again, and occasional short and soft drop shots to the front wall. Straight shots along the side walls and crosscourt shots. One love. Hand out. Hand out. Two love. Two one. Hand out. Two all. Two Three. It was a seesaw match. Only the server can score a point. If the receiver wins the rally, s/he becomes the server and has to win the next one to be able to score. Your mind was in the court. As if you were one of the players, both players.
It was a little dusty where you were sitting. The smell of sweat floated in the air.
‘Let please,’ your club captain called when he stopped hitting the ball on a back corner with his opponent near him. The marker said, ‘Yes let.’ They started replaying.
‘I think it was No Let.’ You heard a voice from right next to you. You looked. You hadn’t noticed him sitting next to you. He looked back at you and said, ‘I think he was too far. Bob could’ve hit the ball without hitting him. What do you think?’ He was one of the best club players. You sometimes watched his matches, but it was your first time to see him up close, let alone talking.
‘aren’t you playing today?’ you asked him, avoiding the question, since you didn’t know the answer.
‘Can’t,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a golf elbow. Maybe next time.’
‘A golf elbow?’
‘It’s just the other side of a tennis elbow.’ He showed his right arm to you. ‘You see, if you hurt this one, it’s called a tennis elbow. If you hut that one, it’s a golf elbow. It’s one those stupid things they call different names, but actually they are the same.’ His arm was well-tanned and well-muscled. Curly white-gold hair covered the light-brown skin. He closed and opened his hand a couple of times. The muscles under the light hair and darker skin moved. You forgot the matches.
‘It still hurts a bit. But I’ll be all right by the next league matches,’ he said, which made your eyes move from his arm to his eyes. Sky blue eyes. The colour of a deep autumn sky. His face. His very short hair, which was darker than his arm hair. He stroked it with his fingers a couple of times.
You forced yourself to peel your eyes off him and cast them to the direction of the court.
‘How did he do that?’ You exclaimed when the visiting player retrieved the ball at a tight back corner. ‘There isn’t room to swing a racket there. How could he hit the ball? How could he not hit the walls?’
‘Your swing has to be very compact, not like the tennis one. If you keep practising it, you’ll be able to do it one day. I sometimes see you doing it,’ he told you. ‘Just remember, don’t swing the racket wide. There’s no room for that in a squash court. And –‘
‘Hey! Come over here!’ one of the home club team members sitting by the court called him.
‘I’ve got to go. Keep it up.’ He ran down the stairs between the seats to his team. His legs in black jeans hopped on the stairs with ease, the same as when he was on a court. His white t-shirt rippled as he ran. He must have some coins in his pocket. They jingled as he bounded down the stairs.
‘Keep it up. Keep it up. Keep it up.’ His last words echoed in your head.
The two good players kept playing, making short squeaking sounds when they stopped running suddenly. The courts are well-lit courts and the descending seats are in the dim. Where the home team members were was right in front of the court. He was there among them, watching the matches, hooraying sometimes. The short dark-blond hair was next to the black ponytail of another player.
You half watched the match, half watched him. Thinking, wondering, ‘Why did he come and talk to me? I’m not a good player like him.’ Happily realising, ‘He’s noticed me practising.’ You had thought good players only looked at other good players. You hadn’t thought lesser players like you would exist in their world. You were thrilled to be wrong.
[He might fancy you. Don’t you think?
Why else did he sit next to you?
Why else did he talk to you?
Why else has he noticed you?]
The first game had finished. Both players came out of the court to have a short rest, to talk to their team members about the game, how they did and how they should do next. Which had won? You had no idea. Your first interest now was on him. The squash match had become the second.
Some spectators were talking, murmuring, probably about the game that had just finished, probably about their own affairs. The court seemed less bright without players running around desolated, abandoned.
A young girl sitting near the home team shrieked with laughter and hit her friend’s shoulder.
[He might ask you out after the matches.
What would you say to him then?]
When the matches had finished, people started sauntering out to the gallery. You stood up and stayed. The home team players were still down there by the court, talking. There was no reason for you to linger. You climbed the stairs and stopped at the top. The home team players were still down there. He was among them. He in the long black jeans among other players in shorts looked special: a coach or a special guest. You stepped into the gallery and went home.
[How could he have time to ask you out?
He had to be with his team members.
He might be a bit shy
About running up to you while all of his team mates were watching him.]
In the night, you had a dream. You and he were at an enormous furniture shop. You and he were sitting on one of the displays, a big light-grey corner sofa without a back, you on this side and he on that side. He leaned over to you and kissed your mouth deeply. He didn’t stop. There were people browsing around you. You didn’t know if you should stop him or keep kissing him. When you woke up next morning, you thought it could be a good omen. You relished his soft lips, his hands, his fingers.
When you were going into the squash club building, he came out with a big sports bag flung over his shoulder.
‘Hi. Practising hard?’ he said, walking past you.
‘Hi,’ you said. Your voice was so soft you could hardly hear it yourself. Looking at his retreating figure in shorts, you noticed he was a little shorter than you had thought. His excellent play must have made him look bigger. The bag on his shoulder bobbed up and down as he walked. His calf muscles moved above slender ankles.
You wondered what you should have said to him, what would have made him stop and talk to you. You wished he were a squash coach, then you could take his lessons, then you could see him every week, then you could talk to him every week, then you could spend forty minutes every week.
You thought it was possible he had a girlfriend or even a wife and children. It was possible. You hadn’t noticed if his left ring finger was free. You hadn’t thought about it much before. It was possible. But you brushed it aside, thinking you might worry about it later.
In bed at night, you tried to find what to talk to him about next time you saw him. It was hard. It should be something natural, something not obvious that your purpose was just to talk to him. Your open eyes saw the vague figure of the night table in the dark. A round alarm clock ticked. A lamp with a red shade stood behind it as if it were a guardian angel or a haunting ghost.
Before you had any ideas, you fell asleep.
When you were playing squash with Sarah, you happened to look up. Here he was up on the gallery.
[He has been looking at you.]
When he noticed you had noticed him, he put his thumb up and left.
[He might have talked to you if you were alone.]
You failed your serve. You failed to retrieve a ball. Your shot hit the tin. You didn’t play well after that and Sarah won. You were usually the better player, but not today. Still you were happy. You asked her to have some beer after the match and said, ‘It’s on me tonight.’ The bar was crowded without him. Still you were happy and drank too much.
With the reeling ceiling above your head in bed, you imagined you and he making love. He was passionate. ‘I’ve been dreaming about this for a long long time,’ he whispered into your ear. You kissed his lips as your answer. You kissed his cheeks. You kissed his nose. You kissed his forehead. You kissed his ears. You kissed his neck. You kissed all over his body. Your arms, his legs, your legs, his arms, tangled between the sheets.
Next morning when you woke up, the bright light was coming through the gap in the curtains. The birds’ singing was celebrating. The air in your bedroom was crisp. A smile was on your face.
[It could happen soon.]
For the next few weeks, every time you saw him, he nodded at you or smiled at you. You smiled and nodded back at him. There was no chance to talk to him. You still had no idea what to talk to him about. You were tongue tied like a teenage girl. So naive. So innocent. Your last relationship with a man was five years ago. You were a five-year virgin. At least you were happy, happy about your dream, about your imagination, your illusions.
While cross-stitching a dancing mouse, which you had been doing off and on for years, you thought about him, ignoring the radio play you usually enjoyed. Thread number 310. Your fingers found it among the others in a plastic bag and got two threads out of six and put them through the needle hole and started stitching X onto the cloth, looking at his face, at his running body in a court, at his smile, at his calf muscles, in your head. You smiled. Your mind was following him, watching him, being with him. You were with him.
A week later after you played with Naomi, who was better than you, you two went to the bar at the club. Tables with chairs were scattered here and there in the room. You wondered why they were always messy. They looked as if a giant had dropped them from high above. The windows opposite to the serving counter faced the small garden, which was just a gap between the bar and the squash courts. Very healthy weeds were growing on the tiny ground. Some people were sitting at their tables, talking, laughing, relaxing.
One of them was he. You saw him.
Naomi bought the first round, a pint of lager for her and a pint of bitter for you.
He saw you. He smiled at you.
You smiled back at him.
[He must be happy to see you.]
Your heart started beating faster. You felt as if you were already drunk.
‘Let’s go to that table.’ Naomi pulled your arm towards a free one by the window. Her slender lower body in tight jeans sat on a chair. Your slender but shorter lower body in baggy trousers sat opposite to her. You face was to him. There were a few people between you, but you could still see him. He was with two guys and one woman, who was the captain of the ladies’ first team. You wondered if she was his girlfriend. They were sitting next to each other. But she was also sitting next to another guy at the round table. The big TV screen behind him was showing golf. The bright green lawn cast a light onto the back of his head. As if he was in a spotlight. He was in the spotlight to you. He tipped his chair backwards dangerously far and laughed. Then he righted it and started talking with zeal, both his hands moving busily in the air.
‘But I didn’t know why she said such a thing. Really,’ Naomi was saying.
‘Yeah, she was sometimes a bit strange.’ It was a miracle that you could follow what she was talking about. Her big eyes without make-up looked at you. You looked back at her. You both burst out laughing. You two were good friends.
When you were back from the loo, he had gone. His group had gone. The empty table by the big TV was deserted. The room looked a little darker. The evening was getting darker.
[He had to leave with his friends.
But he might be waiting for you by the front gate.]
‘Naomi, I’ve got to go. I have to get up early tomorrow morning,’ you said and stood up.
‘All right. I’ll have an early night tonight as well,’ she picked up her sport bag.
You two went out the front door. There he was, waiting for you. You smiled at him. He smiled back at you.
And then he walked to Naomi and kissed her cheek.
He kissed her cheek.
‘What are you doing here? I thought you’d gone,’ she said.
‘I just remembered-’ He put his arm around her shoulders and said to you ‘see you later.’ ‘See you later,’ she said to you as well and they walked away, talking, looking at each other.
You were frozen.
‘Don’t be silly,’ Naomi said to him in his arms.
‘You wait and see,’ he said caressing her arm with his hand.
Their talk stabbed you. Their intimacy impaled your body.
The dark sky was descending. Your head was lead. The air was getting heavy. Your shoulders were steel. The building was crumbling. Your legs were welded to the ground. The evening was heading to a nightmare. Your skin was an old parchment.
At night at your flat, you were still dazed with no idea how you got back there. The air was black. The room was tight. The carpet was vicious.
Your mind screamed, ‘Why didn’t Naomi tell me? Why had that bitch kept it in her stingy mind? When did it start? Who started it? Why? Why that bitch?’ into your hollow flat.
[He looked at Naomi.
He talked to her.
His arm was on her shoulder.
He kissed her.]
You slept for a couple of hours sporadically.
The next time you saw him at the club, he smiled at you as usual. You managed to smile back at him and hurriedly walked away.
The corridor you were on was narrow. The wallpaper was peeling off here and there. The ceiling lights were dim. The window was dusty. The door to the squash courts was squeaky. The gaps between the tiles in the shower room were dirty. One of the showers was broken. Somebody had left the messy pile of her clothes and shoes and towels all over a bench in the changing room. The receptionist was grumpy. The ball you hit to the front wall broke. Your shoelace undid while you were playing.
The sky was dark, loaded with heavy clouds. A big black dog barked at you. A car shrieked its horn at you. A dead pigeon was under a stone bench. A dead branch was dangling from a living tree. A mother yelled at her small son.
Sill you kept playing squash with Naomi once a week as usual. You didn’t know why. You wanted to ask her about him. You didn’t want to hear anything about him from her. You kept playing with her.
[He kissed her the night before.
She kissed him back.
They made love.]
She bent forwards to pick up a ball, showing black pants between her legs under her short squash skirt.
[He loves her black pants.
He loves her black bra.
He loves her body.]
After the practice with her, after changing from shorts and a t-shirt, you saw her black stockings had a run.
[He is going to a small French restaurant with her tonight.]
When you and Naomi were walking by a big mirror near the reception, she looked at her reflection in the mirror.
[He loves her lips.
He loves her eyes.
He loves her nose.]
She smiled at you.
[He loves her smile.]
She talked about a film she saw last week.
[She saw it with him,
sharing a cup of popcorn,
licking each other’s fingers.]
She asked you to go to a pub with her and him on Friday.
[He will kiss her lips
right in front of you.]
You said you had to go back to your parents’ house then.
Back at your flat, you sat on your bed. It was night. No TV was on. No radio was on. It was dark outside. It was raining outside.
[He is in love with Naomi.
He is kissing her right now.
He is caressing her cheeks right now.
He is unhooking her bra right now.
She puts his hard erection into her mouth.
He enters her tight vagina.
He is moving in her,
back and forth
back and forth]
You quit. No more squash. No more Naomi.
No more him.
You had more time to spend. More blank time to kill.
To fill the extra time, you started eating. To occupy your empty mind.
You ate loaves of bread. You ate bags of crisps. You ate pork pies. You ate sausage rolls. You ate chicken drumsticks. You ate chocolate bars. You ate biscuits. And you drank cans of bitter.
Your thigh muscles had gone under extra fat. Your calf muscles, you arm muscles, your stomach muscles, started hiding under extra fat. Your cheeks had become round. Your fingers had grown chubby. You felt sluggish all day long, all week long, all month long. You didn’t want to do anything but eat.
[Why don’t you quit your job?
Your colleagues are watching your fattening body,
laughing at you.
If you quit your job,
you can keep eating in your room all day long
without going out
without meeting people.
Why don’t you quit your job?]
You gave a week’s notice at work.
You were so naive, so easy to control.
Now you could do what you wanted to in the comfort of your own room. You stopped cleaning your flat. Now fluffy grey dust floated around the edges of your room. Lights came through murky windows. Numerous dust motes danced in the sunbeams. Your table was full of food packages, piled up. Your floor was strewn with supermarket plastic bags, empty beer cans.
The half-cross-stitched dancing mouse had been long abandoned. You didn’t even remember where you had left it.
You closed a two-year fixed bank account to buy food.
Your breasts were sagging without a bra under a tracksuit top.
You hadn’t looked at yourself in a mirror for a long time.
You watched TV. You ate. You didn’t answer phone calls. You ate. You didn’t read text messages. You ate. You didn’t respond to knocks at the door. You ate. You slept and woke up. You ate. You ate.
[Why don’t you quit your life?
Where are you going in your life?
What’s the point of living?
He and Naomi are happy together.
Why don’t you stop all together?]
You dragged your heavy legs to a chemist and bought two packets of sleeping pills. At night, in bed, you looked at the pills. Looked at the bottle of whiskey you were going to wash
them down with. You looked at them both. You hesitated. Didn’t know what would happen after death. You thought it would be just sleeping without waking up. Just sleeping. Nothing else. Nothing to be afraid of. Peaceful sleep. Still you couldn’t take them.
[You are a coward.
Don’t you want to be at peace?
It won’t hurt you.
You’ll just fall asleep,
just like every night.]
You looked at your dirty fingernails. You climbed into bed. The pillow had the dent of your head shape. The duvet cover had yellowing hems where your face had been touching it. You looked at the dark-blue packet of the pills. Then you breathed in deeply and finally started swallowing the pills with the whiskey.
[Now you can’t stop.
If you do,
everything will be ruined.
Just keep taking them
until the end.]
You gulped some whiskey with the last pills and fell unconscious. You fat body was lying on the bed, your right arm on your big stomach, your left arm dangling from the bed, your legs open in an up-side-down V shape. The ceiling light was on. The TV was off. The radio was off. The grey dust stayed still in the room. It was quiet.
Two days later, you woke up, dizzy.
[You have survived.
With those sleeping pills,
You are still too healthy.
Do you know what?
that people give up when they fail to kill themselves once.
It’s so pathetic.
You aren’t one of them.
You used to play squash almost every day.
You used to want to be a better player so eagerly.
You’ve got the guts to accomplish what you try to do.
Do it again.
This time, make sure you succeed.
Do it again]
You switched on your notebook computer with your shaky fingers and searched how to commit suicide with your hazy head. You slouched like an old woman. Your hair was sticking up every which way. You looked like a zombie, a sad zombie, your mouth sagging, eyes teary, skin sallow. According the website you’d found, a shotgun to the head is 99% lethal and cyanide 97%. But you didn’t know how to get a gun or cyanide. Forget them. They were not practical to you. Explosive is 96.4%, still not practical. Overdose of non-prescription drugs, which was what you had done is only 6.0%. You had chosen an ineffective method.
[He will praise you when you have succeeded.
He will admire your guts.]
You trembling fingers wandered from this website to that. Your blurry eyes looked at this and that. Your drowsy brain went through this and that. Without really understanding anything. The chemicals in your system were fading. Your vision was clearing. Your body was getting lighter. It was no good. You might change your mind. You might chicken out like those who gave up after the failure of one attempt.
[How about combining some methods
to make sure to accomplish it?]
Your head nodded.
Next day, you did it. You had achieved your goal.
You stood on the top of a tall building, cut your both wrists, tied a plastic bag around your head, poured kerosene over your body and lit it, jumped off.
[Good for you.
You are a brave girl.
He will miss you.
He will love you.]