September 27, 1947
The train jolts to a stop in front of the station, jostling the passengers inside in a rough imitation of continued motion. Most of them sit staring blankly at one another, not speaking in acknowledgement of the late afternoon sun baking through the windows of the car. There are seven passengers witness to the stopping of the train, one dead asleep, seated next to the conductor. This man wears an unremarkable brown suit cut in a style several years old and at least two inches too short. His arms and leg jut from the suit as if he had been transplanted from a garish cartoon depicting one-legged businessmen who make it their sole mission in life to sleep on trains.
A single metal pole protrudes rudely from the right leg of the man's suit; sunlight occasionally glints off of the battered surface. The pole travels from the pant cuff into a loose sock and an approximation of an ankle. At least the shoes and socks match, one passenger silently observes.
"Hey." The conductor kicks at the good foot of the sleeping man. "Hey, you, you're here."
"Ah," Izumo glances around quickly as the last vestiges of the dream leave him momentarily disoriented. There had been a Dauntless in front of him moments ago, somewhere over Wake Island. "Excuse me."
"Sagamino, just past Hon-Atsugi, friend. Time for you to go," the conductor insists.
"Ah, yes." Struggling to his feet, the one-legged man finds the cane at his right, hand clenched around the head as if he was still in the cockpit. Mentally, he makes a hazy note not to fall asleep in this manner again. Proffering a folded bill from his suit pocket, he waves at the conductor, "thanks for getting me up."
"No problem." The conductor's hand quickly swallows the note and as it does the ink on the instantly recognizable green American currency briefly shines in the late afternoon sun. Helping him to the now opened door, the conductor bids goodbye to the one-legged man as the doors slide shut.
Watching the stick-like figure recede in the distance, the conductor clucks his tongue and shakes his head piteously at the man in an ill-fitting suit and missing a leg. In for a rude homecoming, that one, too many things have changed since 1945.
The kid sits heavily on the concrete wall at the foot of the stairs leading to the upper level platform of the train station. Japanese summers can be cruel at times, Izumo Chikamatsu has found himself winded after the effort of descending to the street level and has elected to rest beneath the shade of a convenient tree.
There is an insistent tugging at his left coat sleeve, now damp with the perspiration coming from effort required to descend from the train platform. Izumo could remember running up those stairs nearly a decade before. Summer afternoons spent running the five kilometers from the airfield, over the platform and back again with little more than ragged breathing to show for the effort. Things have changed in ten years.
"Hey," the boy pulls again at Izumo's sleeve, refusing to be ignored.
"What, kid?" Slowly, Izumo turns his head to look the boy in the face. Other than being quite tan from being in the sun on a regular basis, there is nothing remarkable about his face. "Whaddya want?"
"You only got one leg, mister." A passing woman's eyes travel to where the boy is pointing and then widen in response at the sight of the man with one leg. Picking up her pace, she hurries toward the platform stairs, obviously disturbed.
"I know. I lost it."
"Didya lose it in the war?" The boy inquires.
"Actually, it was in my suitcase, and I seem to have lost that too."
"Oh. Why'd ya lose your suitcase?" Persistence, it seems, is the watchword of the day for small children in front of the Sagamino Train Station.
"I don't know. Buzz off, will ya?"
"Okay," the boy says obligingly and hops off of his seat on the wall next to Izumo. After a short pause punctuated only by the boy kicking at a rock near his feet, asks, "You lost or something?"
"Eh?" Izumo, momentarily lost in memory, is jolted back to the present. Producing a piece of paper from his pocket, Izumo flashes it at the boy. "Know where that is?"
"Sure, right down the road." There is a pregnant pause while the boy works out what to say next. Something percolates toward the surface behind his eyes, Izumo can almost smell the proposition coming. "Say, my uncle drives a taxi, you want to take that to where you're going?"
"Your uncle drives a taxi?" Shaking his head, Izumo resigns himself to the inevitable. "How, convenient."
"Yeah, I keep telling Akira to tone it down with the people, but he does a good job. Wouldn't you agree?" This the driver of the taxi says over his shoulder as they begin to pull away from the station. There had been a moment of haggling over price and before an agreeable rate had been reached for a ride in the tiny black automobile. Fetid air at first trickles and then begins streaming into the car once they begin to pick up speed. Izumo finds this perfectly agreeable as it seems to lower the temperature inside the vehicle several degrees.
"He's good though. Cheap?"
"One yen a week. Are you Chikamatsu Izumo?" The cab driver speaks tentatively, understanding that he is perhaps treading on thin ice.
"Yes, I am." Puzzled, Izumo turns his head and squints out of the window as entirely new scenery moves past. He does not know whether or not he should be irritated, insulted, dishonored or honored that he is recognized. In the confusion he flashes briefly on each emotion and arrives at ambivalence. This vacuum of feeling leaves Izumo more confused than when he started analyzing the situation. "Why?"
"You know, you were in the paper." The taxi driver picks a folded newspaper from the passenger seat and gestures with it as if Izumo was totally unfamiliar with the object, nature and description of the noun: newspaper. Continuing on in a tone that manages to be simultaneously reticent and condescending, "Even had a little picture. Congratulations on getting through that Russian prison, you're a real hero for coming home with honor and all."
"Thanks. Good for me." Izumo says before lapsing into silence.
They drive through several new neighborhoods, turning down streets that Izumo does not recognize before coming to the agreed upon destination. After paying his fare, he waits for the cab to drive down the street and turn a corner before he attempts moving again.
The door to the house is as he remembers it, round and made of dark stained cherry that has seemed to defy the passage of time. Down the street bottles clink into the sidewalk as a pair of American Navy servicemen stagger out of a newly constructed bar, the sounds of their revelry beating back the hush forced on the street by the setting sun and high temperature.
Again staring at the door, Izumo finds himself suddenly cold and nearly shivering at the prospect of turning the knob and opening it once again. A small detail catches his attention and he realizes that the heavy brass knob is missing. In place of the knob is a well-worn peg of wood that seems to almost defile the careful construction of the door, a faint trace of where the decorative plate that once surrounded the knob all that suggests it ever existed. Before he can react, the peg suddenly rattles in the hole forcing Izumo backward on the sidewalk.
He has stepped too far too quickly, this he realizes as the muscles in his right leg fail to react because they simply are not there anymore. These two failures in turn cause Izumo to topple backward into a heap, losing his grasp on the cane as he falls. The object clatters noisily into the roadway some distance from his reach. The only thought Izumo can muster before collapsing completely onto the tarmac is that he will have to crawl over there to fetch the thing. Before he can react to the situation at hand, Izumo finds himself staring upwards into a vaguely recognizable face. The reaction on both parts is almost simultaneous.
"Nice trip, practice that often?" The voice is faint, but Izumo still recognizes it. Pushing back at the desire to respond, Izumo instead looks up at the woman in the doorway.
"Izumo?" The woman spits in a mixture of shock and disbelief.
"Hisae?" Izumo responds perplexedly.
"Hey, she's kind of cute. For a Japanese and all." The voice says, ringing through Izumo's head and thankfully nowhere else.
"What are you doing? Here? Lying in the street?" This suddenly reminds Izumo of his current position and in doing so opens a floodgate of embarrassment.
"Well, I was going to knock, but."
"Nevermind, just get up from there and come inside."
"I'd like to get up." Izumo glances longingly at his cane and then back at the post jutting from the cuff of his trousers. "But I have this small problem."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I'd forgotten with you coming home and all."
October 3, 1955
Izumo wakes in the pre-dawn hours amidst a fever dream that he could barely remember. What he could recall were fragmented images of a cockpit on fire, a jammed canopy, the earth and sky trading places at a sickening pace. Now nauseated, he blinks at the ceiling and notices a faint blue-green glow coming from the corner. Knowing that this could only mean one thing, Izumo groans and rolls over on the thin futon upon which he is sleeping. "Murdock. I know that's you, did you do that?"
"Izumo, nice to see you too. Do what now?" The man's voice comes as always, with the intensity of presence mixed with the harsh whisper of distance. It is as though the source is simultaneously many feet away and speaking directly into Izumo's ear. "You're the one that did it, you made me, you know."
"The dream, did you make the dream?" Izumo says, already tired of the familiar conversation.
"I don't know Izumo, if I recall you were the one that shot me down, right?"
"I remember. I don't think I'll ever forget. Now get off of there, that's an antique." As if the spectral presence would ever let it slip from memory. In response, Murdock hops off of the wooden chest on which he had been sitting.
"Kinda testy tonight, aren't you? I just came for a swell conversation with my buddy Izumo." Smiling, the figure coalesces from a vague form lit from within into a seemingly solid and real person. Dressed in a khaki flyer's coverall, a cloth helmet bearing a pair of headphones and goggles cap the head. A large yellow inflatable life preserver hangs limply around the neck of the figure, with a holstered 45-caliber pistol strapped at the waist. "Geez, cranky, aren't we? What a pain in the ass you are."
"Well, I was asleep you know. I've got to get up for work in the morning. Not like you obake, you just show up whenever and do whatever you please," Izumo says angrily.
"Flying again, too. Gee, I wonder how you managed that one, anyway?" Murdock grins broadly and reaches over to pat Izumo on the shoulder. "Must have been some kind of miracle to get you past that medical board."
"Or someone must have appeared in front of the doctor at two in the morning," the sarcastic tone in Izumo's voice is so strong as to almost make it caricature. "Really though, thank you for that."
"Oh no problem. After all, we've got that deal and all."
"Right, the deal."
"I'm serious about that, Izumo." Murdock says, uncharacteristically deadpan. "You hold up your end or you-know-what happens. You've got to remember."
"Where exactly did you learn to speak Japanese, anyway?"
"Picked it up here and there. You owe me, Izumo." Without warning, the figure bursts into flame. Smoke rolling off of the body begins to fill the room. Skin blisters, turns black, and begins to fall from the body in great shreds. The acrid stench of burning meat, hair, and plastic begins to fill the room. "Look Izumo, I'm on fire, just like the first time we met."
"Right." Rolling over to face away, Izumo buries his head in the pillow until the crackling sound of fire finally leaves the room. After some time passes, he cracks open an eye and notices everything as it was before the dream started. Save the faintest scent of ash and burning flesh, drifting on the slight draft coming through the room.
"Don't you forget Izumo, don't you dare forget."
October 2, 1965
"Look mac, I still don't understand what the heck you're trying to say here. Why don't you try it in English this time?" The San Francisco airport customs inspector shrugs his shoulders to emphasize each of the words, making sure that the volume is loud enough to kowtow the stupid Jap standing in front of him. Scott Corroose had been in the Navy during the war, so what if he had been an administrative clerk assigned permanently to Pearl Harbor? So what if he had only been in the Navy for two months prior to the end of the war? He was still a Veteran and deserved respect from the slants that the God Blessed United States of America kicked the ever-living crap out of. All they needed to do was kick the shit out of them Viet-nam-ese to prove who was top dog on the block. "So, how long you plan on invading, I mean staying?"
"I need go to," speaking in halting English, Izumo tries to avoid meeting the eyes of his fellow travelers as they stream past. A year of English classes and his job at the rework facility on the American Naval base have helped, but they are still not enough. The thick Japanese accent transforms his destination of Livermore, California into "Lih-berr-a-morru."
"What ya want out there, eh?" Inspector Corroose kicks the stinking Jap's suitcase for punctuation. The inspector makes it a point to turn his toe to one side, thereby leaving a long streak of polish on the leather surface. "Maybe you think you're goona plant a bomb or something? You one of them sneaky one's ain't you? I can tell, I was in the war, I know how you people operate."
Sighing, Izumo begins to try to explain the situation anew. Almost without warning, the Inspector seizes his chest, drops to his knees and begins gasping. Drawing a sharp breath, Izumo hisses in Japanese from a clenched jaw "Murdock, no. He is a racist and a piece of trash, but no more."
"He. He. Help." Pale and now sweating in the air-conditioned terminal, Corroose shakes violently for another moment before suddenly becoming still. Color floods back to his face as abruptly as it had departed, leaving the inspector confused and scared. Practically jumping to his feet, Corroose swiftly stamps the open passport on the desk to his left and then throws the document at Izumo. Bouncing off of his chest, it lands on the tiled floor with a mute plop. Pushing past Izumo to practically run down the terminal toward an exit, the man issues one last stream of obscenity "you get the fuck out of here. Fucking Japs, I fucking quit this job."
"C'mon. We need to get it in gear." Murdock's voice comes from all around Izumo and crashes through him like a wave.
"I wish you would stop doing that." Izumo whispers as he stoops to pick up his passport. "I really do."
Several minutes later they are pulling away from an airport in a massive yellow taxi. One of the first things that strikes Izumo about the United States is size. There seems to be an equal number of people as in Tokyo, but here they have far more room in which to spread out. Rolling down the window, Izumo pulls a pair of aviator sunglasses and a package of cigarettes from his pocket.
Glancing up, the cab driver notes the thin build of his most recent customer. The relaxed outward posture seems to hide an inner tension that makes him push slightly harder on the pedal. Livermore was at least a twenty-dollar fare, but there was something about this one that made him uncomfortable. Reaching beyond the fear to a block of knowledge he had not used in many years, the cabbie makes eye contact with the man in the back seat. Stumbling, the language is rusty but the driver manages "from Japan?"
"Eh?" Somewhat shocked at the sudden use of his native language after the scene in the airport, Izumo rolls the window up slightly. "Yes, how did you know?"
"Just a guess, I was there a few years ago."
"Were you stationed there after the war?" Izumo asks, quietly.
"No I was way too young, my father was in the Army and worked for SCAP. He was a translator, taught me to speak some Japanese." The words come in a bright jumble and with a heavy American accent, they are however correct for formal Japanese.
"I see," Izumo says before lapsing into silence. Glancing over to his left, he notes that Murdock is lost in the sights of his home country. No doubt much had changed since he was last here.
The spirit had assumed a presence visible to him for some months prior to their trip to the United States. Everywhere Izumo went Murdock followed several paces behind. They ate in the cafeteria together, Izumo with the boxed lunch of a single man and Murdock with the same smashed sandwich and can of juice pulled from the leg of his flight suit. Sitting far from the other workers, they would eat quickly, smoke a single cigarette, and return to work. They would occasionally linger there, Izumo apparently talking to himself for several minutes, laughing at words that only he could hear.
Twenty years had passed since the end of the war. It had taken ten for the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers to allow Izumo to travel outside of the country due to his status as a minor war criminal. Another decade had passed as he slowly saved enough money to purchase two round-trip tickets to the United States on an airplane. Murdock had insisted on the second ticket, he did not want to sit in the aisle and be unable to see out of the windows while they were flying.
Thankfully prices had come down and he had even managed to scrape enough together for a flight on a jet that had cut the travel time down significantly.
Murdock had initially been resistant to the idea of a jet flight, preferring to return to in a piston-powered propeller aircraft similar to the Douglass SBD-5 Dauntless in which he had departed. After several hours of debate, Izumo had finally convinced him that they were after all aviators, and it would be exciting to ride in the new planes.
Tapping Izumo on the shoulder, Murdock begins to excitedly point out landmarks that he can still recognize. The curving orange-red arc of the Golden Gate and Koit Tower just visible inside San Francisco, on the opposite side of the bay from the airport. Nodding knowingly, Izumo smiles and continues his conversation with the cab driver.
October 3, 1965
Izumo and Murdock are sitting on a bench across the street from a single story, ranch-style home several blocks from their hotel. As is their custom for that time of the day in Japan, Izumo is eating lunch. Instead of the usual boxed bento from the cafeteria, he is consuming a decidedly disgusting American cheeseburger from the local McDonald's.
"So what's it taste like?" Murdock asks, speaking from around a mouthful of sandwich and sipping from the ubiquitous metal juice can. "I mean the grape jelly sandwich is great for the millionth time, but hey."
"It's disgusting. I mean this is truly an abomination. It's like eating a solid block of grease." His face folding into one of revulsion, Izumo bundles the remaining half of the burger in the wrapper and drops it into the waste can at the end of the bench. Clearing his throat with a sip from the sickly sweet soda, he coughs and gestures toward the house. "So that's it?"
"Yeah." Murdock says with near deadly intensity.
"Hey, Murdock, what's wrong?" Izumo asks.
"Well, you know." Replying, Murdock gently folds the wax paper around his sandwich and replaces it in his flight suit leg pocket. The coverall looks the same as it has for the last twenty-two years, since the day Izumo had shot down Murdock and the rest of his crew over Wake Island. "Izumo, we've been together for a long time now."
"This is true."
"And you're going to go across that street, knock on the door, and we're done," Murdock says hesitantly.
"Tim." Speaking softly, Izumo glances over at the seated figure. The man's facial expression has become desperate; breath comes from the specter in deep draws. "This is the deal."
"Izumo, that's the first time in twenty-two years you've called me by my first name." Pulling a quick smile, the fear evaporates from the pilot's face. This lasts a short moment until it is replaced by a seriousness that Izumo was not used to seeing in him. "Are you going to miss me?"
"We've had some good times, yes." Izumo smiles as he remembers the day they had returned to the cockpit, Murdock had made little critiques about his technique the entire time. Test flying a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force flying boat one afternoon Izumo and his thoroughly real copilot had gotten lost in a thunderstorm. Murdock had become increasingly anxious as the fuel needles crept toward the bottom stops. Finally, they had popped out of the clouds within sight of the field and Murdock had let out such a yelp that Izumo thought he was going to scream himself. "That storm over Sagami-wan? That was a good one."
"Izumo, what if I said I wasn't ready?" Inquiring quietly, Murdock's body has become slightly translucent.
"You mean after all this time?" Now somewhat irritated, Izumo sighs heavily. "You've been talking about this for twenty years, Murdock. I take you to see your wife and son, you leave me alone and I can die in peace, or you keep doing whatever it is that you're doing to me to keep me alive and we go as we have been. Otherwise, you take me back to the Russian prisoner of war camp and I die there."
"Right. Izumo, look I've got an idea. Let's go back to the airport, get on a plane, and go back to Japan." The pilot snaps back into reality and shoots to his feet.
"And what, exactly, is that going to get me?" Izumo says, dropping his suddenly exhausted head into his hands. "I could, but why?"
"I like it here, I like seeing all this stuff. I get to fly, I mean I'm not really flying but we go together and all."
"Murdock, not why you want to stay, why would I want you to stay?"
"Well, see, that's the interesting part."
October 3, 2005
"Mr. Chikamatsu?" The face of his secretary comes over the intercom display, her polite tone issuing gently from the speaker. "The gentleman is here to see you."
"Yes, send him in, please." Rising from behind his desk, Izumo pulls the front of his suit jacket into place and checks his tie for proper alignment. Murdock rises as well, only dropping his goggles and sticking his tongue out to mock Izumo. "Tim, come on. I told you earlier this was a special visit."
"True. I'll behave." The pilot says and restores the goggles to the top of his head, only to pull the cloth helmet off and place it in a breast pocket. Stiffening as the door opens, an almost mirror image of Murdock enters the room. Dressed in an American enlisted sailor's uniform, the man looks out of place somehow in Izumo's expansive office.
"Good afternoon, my name is Chikamatsu Izumo," he says, gesturing toward a pair of chairs and a small table near one of the expansive office windows. Atop the table is an equal number of thin white teacups bearing a steaming liquid. The sides of the cups are thin enough that they are almost translucent, allowing light to wash through both them and the tea in a greenish-white haze.
From the second floor of the office building, Izumo has an expansive view of the Naval Air Facility Atsugi flight line. Almost as if on cue, a pair of F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters go to full power and begin speeding down the runway in a what would be a deafening roar outside the soundproofed office. "Please, sit down. Would you like some tea?"
"No sir." The sailor says brusquely while stiffly sitting in one of the two chairs. Izumo notes with some trepidation that Murdock is staring agape at the visitor to his office. "Nice windows. You can barely hear the jets."
"Thank you very much, and sir is not necessary. You may call me Izumo." Smiling, he reaches forward and gently lifts one of the teacups from the low table between them. After taking a sip, Izumo nods at Murdock slightly, now squatting between the window and the young American with his face locked in the deepest disbelief. "I suppose you wonder why you are here?"
"I was kinda wondering that. My first name's Tim, by the way." Coughing once, the sailor squints at a hazy reflection in the window. For some reason, he can almost make something out that looks like him and at the same time is not. Chalking it up to fatigue, he looks toward the elderly Japanese man in the other chair. "Not normal for you to get invited for tea with the head of the Atsugi rework facility."
"Your grandfather is, rather was someone I knew very well."
"Really? No kidding? My dad says he named me Timothy after him." The young man leans forward to pick one of the cups of tea from the table. Blowing gently across the surface of the tea, he asks "how did you know him?"
"You might say that I am haunted by his memory."
"Oh." Glancing again at the windows, he squints and tries to make out the hazy reflection. Still there, it seems to have slightly more substance, but uniform worn by that figure is some kind of old-school khaki flight suit versus a set of United States Navy Dress Blues. "You've got the weirdest windows, Mister Chikamatsu."
"Thank you. I'd like to think you might see something of yourself in them." Turning away from the young American, Izumo smiles at the figure near the window. "Tell me Tim, do you like sandwiches? Specifically, jelly and bread sandwiches?"
"Uh, yeah." He says, uncertain how to answer the question. "Why?"
"Would you like to join me in the cafeteria for lunch? Their sandwiches are quite good."
"No thanks, I need to get back soon." The younger Tim responds, flushing with sudden embarrassment. "I'm sorry, just we're flying tonight and I've got to get over there for the brief."
"Are you a pilot?"
"Nah, I mean no sir. Aviation Warfare Systems Operator, I ride in the back of the helicopter and look for submarines, jump out of the thing and save people, too."
"I think you're grandfather would be pleased." Izumo says, the faintest trace of a smile passing over his face. "Most pleased."
"Thank you sir. I'll just be going."
"Izumo, I'm going to go with him now. I'll, I'll come visit some time." Tim says, still in shock.
"Sure, sure. Take care of yourself." Speaking gently, he pats the young American on the back as they walk toward the door. "Do come back and visit."