Critique logo

Grasshoppers (Work in Progress)

Chapters 1 to 7

By Kendall Defoe Published 11 months ago 15 min read
Grasshoppers (Work in Progress)
Photo by Steven Diaz on Unsplash

Note: I started this a long time ago and left it in a desk drawer with a plan that remained unfinished. These are only the first seven chapters (I wrote about thirty-three pages), and I would like some feedback on this work. It is based on an actual trip I took with some friends while in Japan, but with a lot of my imagination thrown in. I just wonder if I can take this somewhere...

Please, be ungentle... -K.D.

*

1.

Everyone else slept on the bus. He wanted to see what the open road was like on the trip up into the mountains to the inn. It was a small place in Nagano and they had booked some rooms for two days. His Japanese was not that good, but he could read most of the characters in the heavy guide to the many spas and hot springs in the country. They were heading towards one which translated as “The Way of Light” and they would soon encounter not just a hot bath, but also the snow monkeys that he had only read about recently in another guide book. He had his camera ready. He knew his housemates were ready, too.

In the seat in front of him, Janet was sleeping on Myra’s shoulder; Hunt took the aisle seat next to them; the Russian girl who just moved in had two seats to herself across from him. He still did not know how he felt about her. Her name was Katia and she taught languages at one branch of the school that they were all working for: Sunrise. She was now “involved” with one of his best friends in the house, and he felt no jealously about this. Maybe that was why he was still confused about her. Daniel could enjoy what could be enjoyed with a woman who would not speak to anyone in the morning until she had a very large and very strong cup of coffee with six small spoons of sugar (he had been curious enough to count the dips into the private bowl she brought down to their shared kitchen and common room). Anyway, she was nice enough, and she did show an interest in coming on this trip. That came through Daniel, not her. Strange lady, he thought. She shifted in her seat as the bus turned a corner.

Myra would have been happy to hear about his indifference to the woman she called, no matter where Katia was in the building, “the KGB in high heels”. She was a woman who never developed any of the self-censoring he grew up with, or anyone with any sense learns to use. She would come on as strong as any of his brothers and uncles and she would also be the first one to let you down. “Trimming the fat” is what she called it. He wondered if she had thought about that one carefully. She was not trim at all, not like Katia. A large woman with a large attitude, she made her feelings about everyone in the house quite clear. For him, it was an unending siege against his body. All those “accidental” meetings in the hallway; the fingers checking his hair; the pinches and smacks awarded for a clever comment or simply entering a room. She even wanted to check his chest after seeing him jog home through the park. Too much motion, she said. He had been too exhausted to say much and he was now wondering how wise it was to be with her in close quarters for even a few days. There was no attraction towards her and she did not seem to care. He could not tell how deep into her sleep she was.

Janet was a safe bet. English and slightly cold toward everyone, she was a clear as a road sign announcing “No Touching at Any Time”. When she once made the mistake of telling him that she found it difficult to keep a boyfriend, he laughed and asked how she proceeded to hunt them. It was not the right thing to say to her in a shared room, even if their talk was low and private. Things remained cold there, but they both did have a common love: photography. This was the topic where they could speak to each other and call a truce as they debated the work of Avedon, Cartier-Bresson, Arbus, Steiglitz and many others that he pretended to know more about than necessary for their conversations. Not always in agreement – she hated Annie Leibovitz and he could not stand some of the obscure names she mentioned – their talks always ended with a tempered respect. Janet was someone he could talk to without sounding too ridiculous; too arty. And she knew that there was no one else in the house who had even heard of Steiglitz. He had his camera out and aimed it at the fall of her head (no real need for a photograph).

Hunt was the one he had known the longest. When he moved into the house, he took Hunt to the information centre for maps and guides to Japan and they somehow managed to meet a girl, so, he saw the new guy as a lucky charm. And he actually liked being with Hunt when they were both drunk, trying to get home either by foot or train when they finished work or their weekends overlapped. It was now their second year at the same office. He was still wondering if their friendship would continue beyond Japan. He could see him trying to stay in touch with him when he went back home, but Hunt was in a different country and did not seem the most reliable one to write back and share moments from their new home lives. How would that work? Also, Hunt spent most of his time now getting drunk with the head staff at izekayas and stand-up bars he had never visited whenever there was some social event they had arranged with their even higher bosses. Once, he did go with Hunt to one of those unventilated bars and that was all he needed to do to avoid ever going back for one of those meet-ups. Maybe it would have helped if he did go to more of those things. He did want to see more of the city than his usual 100-yen shops, pachinko parlours, web-like train systems and dull crowds. But still, there was a gap there, and Hunt made him think about it too often. What should they be doing with their time there? What are they in Japan for, just parties and youthful mistakes? Hunt, almost dangling in the aisle, was another question in his mind. He took no photos of his friends.

2.

It was a beautiful day. Leaving early that morning, still in darkness, they would arrive early in the day with the sun rising in the sharp blue sky just above the mountains. He never wondered why he was not tired. Everyone else gently took to sleep, lulled and rocked by the rhythm of the bus on the curves and dips of the road. He kept his headphones on and listened to some of the more aggressive music included in his collection. He watched Tokyo disappear into the dark after the bus escape from the pinball machine-like feel of the main shopping centres and office buildings in the different boroughs he could not name. On the highway, he could see the first dim views of the mountains. Only growing sunlight, small lamps and the beams of the bus’s headlights displayed the parade of homes and villages distant from their route. Some of the homes were based around the slopes and crags of small mountains. He felt that he would enjoy living away from the city if he had the chance to live in such places. There was a need to get away for awhile.

3.

“You stayed up the whole trip?”

Hunt did not believe him. Katia and Janet were indifferent. Myra was intrigued. They had arrived in Nagano and now found themselves in a small café owned by a train company. Hunt had a can of hot coffee and some yakitori in his hands as he proceeded to analyze his friend’s lack of rest.

“I went to bed early before the trip. Just wanted to stay up and see it all.”

“Hmm…”

“You sound unconvinced.”

“Hmm…mm.”

“Just don’t collapse on the train or in the taxi,” said Janet, checking her camera. “No one’s carrying you.”

“You see. That’s what you needed to hear. Discipline, discipline…” Hunt held an imaginary whip in his hand and cracked it. Myra made a slow roll with her eyes.

“She’s just being Janet.”

“She’s just being English.”

Janet, loading a roll of film and, keeping the camera in her hands, looked blankly at Myra. They had never really got along and he had known right away. It was not clear if Myra knew it. There was some self-deception in her decision to come to the mountains with them. She had to know that Janet could only take so much of her commentaries on ex-boyfriends, future (ex-)boyfriends, imagined celebrity pairings and Japanese men before saying something she would never regret (at least not easily). But, Myra was Myra.

Janet aimed her camera at the group.

“Such a great morning.” He could feel the green tea in his mouth going dry. Hunt grinned and finished his coffee. “They were right to have the Winter Olympics here.”

“Why?” Katia had spoken. She was now finished with her second can of hot, black, unsweetened coffee. He wondered why she spoke.

“The air, the mountains, the space… This place is dead in the morning. Perfect for peace.”

“Some truth there.” Hunt was eating a riceball now (tuna or salmon). Katia sniffed.

“I think we should try to get up there by noon. Train leaves soon.” Myra wrapped her neck in a thick burgundy-coloured scarf. Too cold for a girl from Australia, he wondered.

“I’ve got my film ready. Let’s go.” Janet put some rolls of film into her knapsack and carried her bag out of the café. Hunt followed. Katia, after considering whether or not she needed another can of coffee for the trip, stepped outside. Myra turned to him.

“I can’t stand that one.”

“Be specific.” He knew which one she had chosen.

“The KGB. Katia the queen. Like she’s keeping tabs on us.”

“You’re reading too much there.”

“Yeah, well…better than not reading anything at all.” She picked up her things, made it to the door, and quickly looked back.

“You know she likes you, right, brown eyes?”

He had his bag in his hands. “What?”

“The KGB.”

“That’s…wait. You don’t know…”

“No, I know. She told Shellie once and Shellie thought I did not hear them talking, but I got a confession.” There was a grin there. “She likes what you’ve got. We all do.”

“Maybe you’re the KGB.” They both stepped outside. The others stood near a taxi stand by the bottom of hill.

“Ha, ha…”

“She’s a wall.”

“You’ll have to climb it one day.”

“This is garbage. How…she doesn’t say anything to me. Not even a ‘Hello’ or ‘Get lost’ when I see her.”

“Quiet ones are the worst.”

“Right.” They both walked down the hill.

“They are always the most dangerous.”

“Of course.”

“Besides,” she gave him another expected pinch, “can you blame her?”

He was glad the others could not see her hands moving the way they often did in the house. There was a taxi waiting for their fare.

4.

The first thing he recognized on the ride up was how lonely the landscape seemed to be. There were no other large towns visible from the mountains and the roads that the driver chose. The area soon flattened out into rice paddies, farm lands and occasional hills, but he still notice how distant things felt from what he knew in Tokyo.

He had wanted to work here or at least in an area like this. He had missed a deadline for teaching positions in the smaller villages and towns that did not contain all of the delights of Tokyo and Kyoto. He could see himself as a local oddity that families would take into their homes; the odd conversations with villagers who admired his attempts at Japanese; the constant interest in him and his background, colour and even hair. That was the plan, but by missing the deadline, he only had Tokyo left as an option. And it was a not a situation he had hated. Tokyo was more than he could have imagined (his own private epigraph: “If you are bored in Tokyo, it is your own fault”); he had many friends in the house, cafes, bars, restaurants and shops; on the local streets and parks, he knew many faces and different lives that he enjoyed and loved. And all the amenities that anyone could want were within a short walk or a bike ride. But still, he had a vision of himself as a teacher surrounded only by Japanese, adapting to the language and customs without the influence of friends and relations from other places. It was living a life that no one at home would have guessed at or could imagine. This vision was always in his thoughts.

5.

“I couldn’t live here.” Hunt stared out the window. Katia, unsmiling, looked out the windshield while listening to something on her headset. Myra had her guidebook out. Janet checked her camera.

“What do you mean?”

“Too much space. Enough at home.”

“Farm boy.” Janet pointed her camera at Hunt and smiled. She had a can of coffee he had not noticed.

“You better believe it.”

“What time is it?”

“Almost 11:00, brown eyes.”

He knew how it worked. They would greet the owner before noon, and then they would head up into the mountains to look at the snow monkeys. He had seen exactly one photograph of them and he was intrigued. It was on a postcard that advertised a resort even further north (Hokkaido perhaps). Three people were seated in an outdoor tub. Only their heads were visible above the steam and bubbling water. They were joined by two monkeys whose fur was flecked with droplets of water, their faces stern and almost human. They even looked concerned about the intruders sharing what must have been their own private tub the rest of the year. He had read that if you stared at them for too long, even out of mild curiosity, they would attack you. The humans in the picture had been smiling with their eyes closed.

The taxi stopped. Janet looked up.

“Okay, this is it. From here we walk up to the inn.”

“How far up is it?” Hunt yawned and stretched as he stepped out of the vehicle. Myra paid the driver – why so generous? – and opened her door.

“Not a fuckin’ clue.”

On the curb, there were a few vendors open near a set of gates, but most of the metal screens in front of the shops were pulled down. He wondered if there was some sort of holiday he had missed, something local. There were ribbons tied to trees near some small shrines (not unusual – he had seen this at every temple he had visited in the country; trees were white with fortunes and predictions that many wished to forget or honour). He had kept one or two and had tried to translate the symbols. He had to be wary of any deal involving money (like this trip, he thought). One other slip of paper warned about the way love works and how it can ruin him: “Like water, love is either a gentle balm or a raging stream. Be sure you know which way it flows.”

“Looks like it is this way”

He led them through the gates.

6.

It was poetic enough; that was why he felt no urge to take a picture of the path. It echoed in his head whenever he thought of all the encounters he had had with Myra and her curious fingers. He had it in mind when certain students made his imagination work too hard on delights that he would not name. And it came back to him as they moved through the woods and observed the peace and silence. Hunt was in front; he found himself between Katia and Myra; Janet was at the end of their line taking photos. He felt the sweat growing down his back like a cool creature.

“Earthling or alien…?”

“Don’t…”

“Wake up.”

Hunt was heartless with his pace.

“You already slept on that bus.”

“Not that much.”

“Come on…alien.”

Janet clicked some shots and ran up.

“Don’t make me head up there.”

“And do what?” Hunt did not turn, but you could hear the smile.

Did Hunt have a thing for Janet? Did he? He thought that Hunt wasted too much energy on teasing her for it to just be friendly. And he, well, it was always about photographs with them. Not much else to talk about, right? Right? He kept walking up.

She laughed. Hunt laughed. Myra was very silent for once. Katia looked back at him and smirked. They arrived.

7.

The first snow monkey they encountered was sitting on a fence post, almost like a still-life portrait. It had very hard grey eyes which matched with the steel-grey fur that bristled with water from melting snow. It scratched its chin.

Myra was ahead of the group now and walked slowly around the animal. They all knew about the rule on making eye contact, but that did not help once they had to actually walk past one.

Myra was fine; Hunt walked past with just a wink and smile. Janet took a long-distance shot of the animal and another one once she was close to its position as a sentinel. She was the happiest one in line.

Katia was absolutely miserable. He was now last in line after looking for his camera and he watched her try to tiptoe past the animal. Now, the monkey became curious as to why this large pink creature was walking past it so slowly. Maybe she wanted to communicate. It turned to examine her.

“You’ve made a friend.”

“Don’t leave me with it!”

“Shhh. All you have to do is walk and not look…”

“Of course. Of course. Okay. Not look.”

The monkey hopped down from the post and touched Katia’s gym bag. He thought she was about to cry.

“Come on…”

“I really can’t move.”

He looked ahead, watching the others approach the low wooden building they would be staying in. There was an idea in his head that he wanted to try.

“Just watch.”

He tickled her and the monkey backed off, jumping back over the fence when it heard her short and unexpected laugh. And then she caught herself.

“Don’t do that!”

“Whatever works.”

She noticed that the monkey was now behind the fence, staring at both of them between the flaking planks of wood.

“Thank you. Thanks…”

“It was just a theory.”

“What was a theory?” She stared hard at his words.

“Your laugh. It’s pretty loud…when we get to hear it.”

She did not say anything. Her smile was wide and warm.

“We should hear it more often.”

Maybe it was the mountain air, the fresh snow or the blue sky. Maybe it was because the others had now entered the building and had not seen a thing. Or maybe she just wanted to do it. Whatever it was, he appreciated the kiss. Just a peck on his left cheek, but it was warm and friendly.

“Thank you. That was smart.”

And then she pinched him.

By Kevin Goodrich on Unsplash

*

Thank you for reading!

If you liked this, you can add your Insights, Comment, leave a Heart, Tip, Pledge, or Subscribe. I will appreciate any support you have shown for my work.

You can find more poems, stories, and articles by Kendall Defoe on my Vocal profile. I complain, argue, provoke and create...just like everybody else.

Give it a look...

SettingStructureRevisionPacingNovelFictionFeedback RequestedDraftCharacter Development

About the Creator

Kendall Defoe

Teacher, reader, writer, dreamer... I am a college instructor who cannot stop letting his thoughts end up on the page.

And I did this: Buy Me A Coffee... And I did this:

Blogger

Squawk Back

Quora

Reedsy

Instagram

Enjoyed the story?
Support the Creator.

Subscribe for free to receive all their stories in your feed. You could also pledge your support or give them a one-off tip, letting them know you appreciate their work.

Subscribe For FreePledge Your Support

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (2)

  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock11 months ago

    It's very good, quite interesting, I felt engaged (increasingly so) throughout. I wonder about so much exposition right up front, introducing each individual quite so thoroughly. It's not that I mind it, I just wonder if there would be a better way of doing it. Is there something there? Definitely. What it is or where it's going, I'm not quite sure, nor should I be at this point. I do like that it appears that Myra is correct about Katia's feelings. That kiss on the cheek & pinch were the perfect place to leave us at this point.

  • Mother Combs11 months ago

    Enjoyed the read

Kendall Defoe Written by Kendall Defoe

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.