The first clue was her use of “chan” instead of “san” or even “sama” considering the circumstances. Japanese social etiquette demanded that “chan” was only used for small children, young girls, a younger sister, and for a very close female friend, not for your 87 year old former neighbor who was three years your senior.
Your neighbors had moved into a new house with their son’s family six months ago after living across the hallway for thirty years in apartment #402, a unit just as dilapidated as yours was.
A week before they moved she’d given you her old washing machine saying, “Oh, we won’t need it in my son’s new house. He has a brand new one. You can have it.” You had smiled and graciously accepted it. It was brown and ugly, but newer than the ancient Mitsubishi you had. It was slower and less powerful than than your old machine and you regretted accepting it a week later.
The day she left you had watched from your kitchen window as her rickety old hunch backed husband and her, with her newly dyed hair and a sun dress much too young for her frail and sunken frame got into a taxi and followed the moving truck to their new home just outside the city.
Then, out of the blue she had called you. “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience,” she said. “My son’s washing machine broke and my daughter in law wants to wait until the New Year’s sales to buy a new one, so I will need my old one back until then. I’m sure you understand.” You had said little, but made arrangements with her to have the washing machine removed from your apartment.
Two days later three rude young men in a ratty looking delivery truck arrived ten minutes earlier than the agreed time to take the washing machine. After they had left of course you called her and used slightly less than polite language to let her know the washing machine had been picked up and that you had indeed been inconvenienced.
Social protocol demanded that she make this right and she promised to visit you soon. You set a time and date for the meeting over the phone while slicing fugu for lunch, expertly removing the poisonous parts, of course.
You weren’t surprised at all when she canceled the day of the meeting using “chan” again as she said, “I’m terribly sorry, but my husband has a headache today and needs me here.” Social status established she happily agreed to visit you next week. You accepted with barely noticeable ice in your voice.
She arrived by taxi a week later ten minutes late. Upon entering your apartment she mentioned what a long drive it was here from her new house and how she forgotten how painful it was on her knees to walk up to the fourth floor of your apartment building.
Social formalities met, a cheap bag of crackers from her offered, you invited her into the living room near the one window that faced the street below. You offered her matcha and she accepted since your chanoyu skills were mildly famous in the area.
As you both sat sipping tea she prattled on and on about her new house, her son, and worthless daughter in law as if she hadn’t lived as the wife of a failed industrialist in these apartments for thirty years before moving out. Then she mentioned some family heirlooms indirectly indicating she was descended from samurai. A very minor branch of the Tokugawas you knew, as you had heard her brag about it a hundred times before.
“And where are your family from again?” she asked with barbed sweetness. You had chuckled and said, “Oh, we’re a bunch of nobodies from the country.”
Then much sooner than would have been expected she said she was feeling a bit tired and should return home. You saw her to her taxi and noted her less than respectful bow before she got into the taxi.
It wouldn’t have surprised you to know that she lay down in the back of the taxi half way to her house due to sudden fatigue. And it wouldn’t have surprised you, unlike the the mortified taxi driver, to find her stone dead body in the back seat of the taxi when it arrived at her house.
It had been child’s play for you to add just the right amount of Puffer Fish toxin to her matcha to stop that bitch’s heart. You had always told her you were a bunch of nobodies from the country side, but you never mentioned your clan was from the mountains of Iga where deception and assassination are a way of life.
About the Creator
Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.