Sumire used to pull out the photo album and gaze at the pictures. I assume she mostly did it when I was gone; the time I'd let her know I'd seen her, she'd closed it and pretended not to understand me when I asked. Curious, I'd looked for it the next time she was at the market; she'd hidden it well, beneath a floor mat in a hole that might have been there since the 30s. I leafed through it, feeling only slightly guilty, looking at stiff, posed black-and-white portraits and stopped at a woman in kimono and flowery hair-pins.
A real standout. I could see a resemblance to Sumire - a Sumire who had been well-cared for and happy, not this one - and wondered if it was her mother. There was another picture of her a couple of pages on, this time with a little girl. Was that Sumire? It might have been; I wasn't any good with little girls. All the women were in kimonos, all the men in suits or uniforms. I guess I should have figured that - she was Japanese, after all. Out in the yard the dog barked. I shut the album and put it away.
I had no idea how I should respond. The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere hadn't just been in China... and she wasn't that old, she couldn't have been more than three or four when it all started. But I'd spent a long time hating Japs, and seeing her family (I figured) in Jap uniforms... Nothing's changed. But I knew everything had. And not just because I knew her secrets now. Because I'd gone looking for them. Because I wouldn't let her have them. When she came back, I didn't let her even put away the food before I jumped her.
After her shower she threw on a bathrobe, grabbed two cold beers from the fridge, and handed one to me. Wrapping the robe around her as if the ratty terry was silk, she folded her legs and settled on the tatami mat and stared at me. It wasn't like I'd planned taking her back to New Hampshire when this was over, I told myself. Nothing's changed. Her flat black eyes cut away from mine. Secrets... We both had them, but I'd never felt them so strongly around us before. I drank beer and stared at the alien woman before me.
"Tell me," Sumire said, "have you ever felt confused about what you're doing, like it's not right?" I stared at her; how was I supposed to answer that? She sighed and looked away, pulling the robe around her as if we'd never been naked together. "No," she said. "You have not." No, I agreed, and pulled her close to me. Nothing was changed; I'd make it so. But the next evening she was gone, along with all of her few possessions, including the photo album. The door stood open, and the dog had eaten the food we'd never put away.
Which left me with nothing to eat. Screw it, I thought, pulling out another beer. Egyptians had beer instead of bread; maybe you couldn't live on beer alone, but you could sure get through a night. It wasn't like I'd planned taking her back to New Hampshire when this was over, I told myself again. In the morning I left and never went back. Two weeks later I got a letter from her, postmarked Italy. I read it waiting for the lieutenant to come in and talk to me about something - probably about reenlisting. I thought I would; why not?
Five pages of stationary, from the Rome Excelsior Hotel, crammed full of tiny writing in blue ink. All those little letters, drawn so precisely, like characters, amazingly hard to read: I'm sorry to leave without saying anything. But you go back to America soon, anyway, you won't miss me long, and you don't love me. You don't even like me, I think, and Pat married me... Five pages of that? I crumpled the letter and threw it away. I don't often wonder what she said, no more than a couple of times a month now. The lieutenant came in then.
"So I'm going to skip formalities and get right to the point, if you don't mind?" I'd missed the beginning, but I nodded and paid attention. He was nominating me for a commission. I've never looked back. And I've never let anyone get too close again - my secrets, their secrets, it all gets too complicated. Never. Until now. The kid's blond hair was catching the moonlight and I knew his face was still, guarding all the things he didn't want anyone to know. Things I knew some of. I took another drink and went on with the story.
"Finally, the Turks came in. That brigade had proved at Kunuri they knew how to fight, and Imjin was no different. I don't know if I'd have survived Imjin,,, Look, kid," I said after a minute. "All wars are different and all wars are the same. I owe the Turks, like you - we - owe those Kiwis... and those Aussies last year owe us." I handed him the whiskey. He held it in that elegant way he had that made everything he did look aristocratic, then took a drink. Soon enough, he slept. I looked out at the beach. It's nice.
It's a little out of the way, though, and very few people go there, particularly in the morning. That was fine. It was nice when there were nurses around, but today we didn't want anyone else. BA would come when he got off duty - he'd bring some food if I knew him - and that would be good. But no strangers, not today. I drank. There were still secrets, but the ones we shared would always be there between us, like photos in an album stashed away, their very existence another secret, binding us together. Binding us all together. Maybe forever.
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