A Time For Love. Adult Fantasy Romance. An Immortal can't seem to win his gal.
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Nerves on edge, face pressed to an oval porthole, I watch from a window seat of a Douglas DC-3 as the aircraft circles a small island in the Marianas. It's February in the year 1953, less than ten years after the war. Another war is raging in Korea but I've managed to avoid that particular altercation. This cycle, I'm an 18 year old civilian.
With a "Screeching" of brakes, swerving a bit on hitting a corrugated metal military airstrip , the aircraft lands at the only airport on the island, one that shares space with civilian flights. There'll soon be another field but the other -- formerly Japanese -- is still damaged from WWII.

At a scarred desk sporting a placard saying "Customs", a uniformed guard, bare feet on the desk and reading a Japanese porno magazine, casually waves me past his post to another official. That one in American military uniform.

"You got any dirty pictures, explosives, or large amounts of American money on you?" the bored lieutenant asks by rote while glancing over my civilian passport. The island is under American Military Law as part of the reparations agreement with Japan.

Small as such islands go, with a population of 100,000 -- half American military -- the island is becoming crowded. There are two army bases, along with a small air force contingent at the airport. The first two times around I'd been an army sergeant stationed at one of the bases. It hadn't been bad duty, but I'm tired of the military bullshit.

Considerably smarter by my third life cycle, as a civilian, I made a point of memorizing certain facts, such as winning sports teams and lottery numbers, as well as stock market fluctuations. This time, my fourth life, I'm well set up, a millionaire at eighteen. Money is the least of my problems.

Somehow, for some godly reason, every time I reach my eightieth birthday, I wake in my own ten-year-old body. Over and over, endlessly. All I retain are my memories and, inexplicably, an old faded photograph taken on this island. Somehow, it eventually shows up after my transformation and is, of course, recognizable. The ways of the gods are strange.

The picture was taken literally hundreds of years ago in front of Grandma Yoshiko's small store in the village of Shansabaru. It's a group photo of most of the villagers and myself ... including Amiko. Dear Amiko.

All I care about is finding Amiko. All I've EVER cared about is Amiko. The very name gives me chills, brings back tender memories and stretches raw nerves. Maybe this time? I can only pray. God must have a purpose in this eternal torture.

Standing in unremitting heat, I take out the faded photo showing me with an arm around her in 1969, a long time ago in the future. No, not a mistake, 1969. Married to her then, it's the closest I've gotten to the girl in the last 180-plus years.

This is the earliest I've been here. I kind of wish I had a way to see the base, how it looks before I've been stationed here. Maybe later? I think.

After leaving through the front door of the administration building, I stand at the edge of a two-lane main drag into the nearest town. One lone taxi sits in harsh sunlight outside the building. A native driver clad in green shorts, no shirt, sits with legs up on the dashboard -- dozing in the tropical heat. The taxi is a beat-up Jeep painted bright orange.

Gratefully absorbing that same heat -- after the cold of Chicago -- I stand a moment in luxuriation. Not so savory is the smell of raw sewage intermixed with odors of oriental cooking coming from a town called Tinogawa off to the side of a tall chain-link fence.

I'm anxious to complete my mission, hoping this time for success. Please, God, I pray, let me win her love? Eyes tearing from unbidden memories, I wipe my face with a hankie and pick up my bags before walking over to wake the taxi driver.

"Take me to Shansabaru," I order him in Japanese as I throw both bags onto a sun-baked back seat.

"You don't want go there. Nothing to do in Shansabaru, sir. I take you to Blue Moon bar, maybe? Many girls an room to rent upstairs?" he answers in English.

"No. Shansabaru," I state emphatically. Obviously he thinks I'm in the military. Shrugging at losing a commission from the bar, he starts his Jeep and we leave for the village.

I look around, trying to keep my mind off Amiko. Even now, I imagine I can sense the girl's presence. Is it with mental radar, or as a dog in heat?

Shansabaru exists as a small village halfway up a volcanic mountain that dominates the island. Leaving the airport and its cool ocean breeze we pull onto the paved road, the start of a long uphill journey. At one point, I see road workers making repairs. They consist of not only men, but also women. As the female workers swing picks and dig with shovels, the children sleep peacefully, tied behind them with tiny legs hanging loose.

After a half mile, we turn onto a one-lane road, also paved. From there, we enter a dirt lane. Only four more miles, I think, as the tired-sounding Jeep struggles uphill over a winding path, forcing me to crouch down to avoid branches brushing around the windscreen.

The smells and ambiance of the jungle remind me of Amiko; everything reminds me of my lost love. Nearing the village on this all-too-familiar road, we pass a concrete block building former Jap artillery bunker -- that serves as a more than sturdy two-room schoolhouse.

I jerk my head forward, almost touching the startled driver as I peer between his hands and head. Maybe I can see her? But all the children are inside. A few minutes later, worn springs protesting loudly, we jerk to a stop in the center of a clearing, a store on one side, smaller homes circling the space. The path splits at that point, going off on two tangents, neither wide enough for the vehicle.

"You owe sixty-cent, American." The driver reaches out a hand. With a village that small, he doesn't bother to ask my final destination. After I pay him, he starts up again and backs until he finds a place between two bamboo-and-plank huts to turn around.

I watch the Jeep disappear downward, melding into the jungle. Looking around, I check the place out. It's both familiar and strange. Many of the homes look the same, except for being newer than I'm used to.

Seeing Grandma Yoshiko's store, the only one in the village, I pick up my bags and walk toward it. There's a woman, looking to be in her late twenties, behind the counter, shapely posterior raised as she bends to search under a shelf. When she stands and turns, it takes me a few seconds to recognize her as Grandma Yoshi, herself.

"Ello' GI.... What you want?"

I almost laugh at her hesitant English. Later, I would know her as a busybody and gossip who would never shut up, in Japanese or English.

"Do you know where I can find Matsu?" I ask in Japanese, eliciting a smile of relief.

"You know Matsu?" She gives me a cute nose-crunching frown, eyes fixated on my face as though something about me puzzles her.

"Well, in a way. We have met. Do you know where I can find him?"

"I think Matsu in his field ... Yo You go left for--"

"I know the field. Thank you, Miss...." I have to leave it at that. I never have known her surname.

I leave my bags in the dusty street alongside the store and turn left. There's no crime in Shansabaru.

It's a hundred yards up a winding narrow path to Matsu's cane field and vegetable gardens. As I walk closer, I can smell composted piles of human shit. Fermented with native leaves and garbage, it will be used as fertilizer.

I find Kenji Matsu kneeling in the stagnant water of his small taro patch, pulling weeds, when I approach. I have to remind myself we are once again strangers.

"Mr. Matsu? Could I talk to you a minute?"

He glances at me, straightens up, and stretches. He's wearing only a wet orange loincloth.

"Yes. I am Kenji Matsu."

"I would like to know if you have any houses to rent?"

Kenji owns half the village and rents or leases many of the homes. I also remember him telling me of hard times during and after the war. During the Japanese occupation, most of the natives left the island. It was either that or risk conscription into their army or forced labor.

Kenji ran a sake business before the war. That business saved him from forced labor building a military airfield. It had been a hard life since the Japanese paid little for the product but wouldn't let him quit making it. "Hey, it built up my muscles," he would brag, flexing them.

"I have houses, several, GI. But no inside water, no electric. Maybe not for you?"

Damn, I think. I haven't considered that point. The village hasn't gotten electricity yet, and won't for several years. Well, I have money. Maybe I can get power up here, expedite it? Anything to make Amiko comfortable.

"No matter, Mr. Matsu."

"You speak good Japanese for such a young American."

"I studied the language for a long time. Don't worry. I won't cause trouble."

I've known him long enough to almost read his mind. He will have visions of me making noise, having parties with other GIs and disturbing village life. "I'm a civilian, here to study your customs," I lie.

Kenji rents me the house I want. I'm surprised it's even there at this early date. The two-room building is constructed from bamboo and roughly-planed softwood planks. The thatch-roofed structure looked new when I owned it, a lifetime ago in the future. It stands between Amiko's parents' home and the school, where I can watch her on her way back and forth to classes.

I never have been close to her parents, having lived on the army base the first two times around. On the third swing, a civilian, I came with enough money to not only buy this house but make an ass of myself with drunken parties.

That time, between parties and coming to expect another swing back to yet another childhood, I'd made a point to study ongoing history. I memorized financial statistics and winning sports scores. It's that retained knowledge which makes me a millionaire this time around. Yes. I fondly recall this particular house....

***

"Johnnnnny." Amiko's lovely head turns, eyes taking in the close primitive quarters, sunlight flowing in easily through cracks between wall planks. "Why don' we live in town? Why here? I don' wan live always here. Please, Johnny." It was my first romance with her, our first two-room rented hut.

"Baby. I'm only a corporal," I explain once again, "and I'll lose that if my CO finds out. It's against army rules for lower enlisted men to 'shack up'. Sergeants can get away with it."

She shakes that lovely head, crinkling thick eyebrows and turning misty eyes toward mine. "You don' really love me." Then she turns away to look out a glassless window, the only one in the room.

I put my arms around Amiko from behind, absorbing odors of sweat, harsh lye soap used on her shirt ... and delicious nubile teenage girl flesh. "Darling. Course I do, more than you'll ever, ever, know." Her neck smells of tropical flowers and sweaty nights, a heavenly combination....

***

"Ohhh." Back to reality, I shake my head at the memory, unbidden tears misting my eyes.

Later, we'd fixed up these rooms into a love-nest with a combination of Japanese, native, and army PX purchases. To me, it was a slice of paradise. To Amiko, a prison. She'd yearned to live in a modern concrete building downtown, close to stores that featured "real" products, rather than the small selection at Grandma Yoshiko's store. While I lived for her love, she preferred status and the luxury a corporal couldn't give her.

It was at least partially my fault. I worked hard at the base and made sergeant. Looking back, and God knows I've had plenty of time for that, I've realized the lack of attention.

Much of it was necessary, since before making sergeant, which gave me more control of my life, I depended on three-hour and overnight passes to even see her, my Amiko. Daytime passes were simple, freely available between working hours and midnight, but overnight ones relatively rare. Most days I'd get to the village for only a couple hours before having to return for bedcheck. I can understand her being lonely at night with me gone.

Lonely except, that is, for Air Force Master Sergeant Davis ... the bastard. I hope he isn't stationed here yet. I even introduced them at one of my frequent drunken parties. He had both the money and freedom from those damned midnight bedchecks. I didn't, and eventually lost the girl. The son-a-bitch.

Well, that was one time out of three, the first.

Eventually, I finished my tour on the island, going back to the States to a life without Amiko. I couldn't forget her. Separation only increased strange urges ... increased my love. Three failed marriages later, I still loved her, couldn't forget those seemingly endless tropical nights literally under the stars. We'd lie behind the house on a tatami mat cushioned by crushed elephant grass, mountain breezes drying hot sweating bodies, sweaty from making love.

Then came the time, a few days past my 80th birthday, when while taking a nap I felt a monster sitting on my chest. Struggling did no good. The heart attack took me out of that existence.

You can't imagine my surprise to wake in a strange bed, in a strange room of an equally strange house. Also in a strange young body -- that of myself at the age of ten. Eventually, long dormant memories came to the fore, me recognizing bits of furniture though not the young lady working in the kitchen ... my mother.

That was the first time. It has happened thrice more, making this my fourth -- fourth lifetime.

What is stranger, much stranger, is that each time I've retained memories along with a special photo of myself and Amiko. Somehow, that photograph survived each death, eventually to be found after each awakening. An act of God? I have no idea, but it has.

Between those oddities, my love for lovely Amiko has not faded, rather gained momentum over the ages. Endless nights have been spent sobbing over her memory, endless days of regret. Now, I hope beyond expectation that this will be the last. That she'll finally be mine, all ... "Sob!" ... mine.

***

I sit at a window of the rented house, smelling the thatch on the roof and other odors of a rural jungle countryside. Small critters buzz around my head and scurry through the grass out front while I wait for my love to pass by. So far, there have only been three old men and a huge water buffalo led by a small child barely coming up to its knees. I've been waiting for only a couple of hours or seventy years.

Kenji dropped in earlier, insisting I have a few drinks of homemade sake before leaving me to my own devices, meaning an unaccustomed buzz in my head from his product. Knowing I'm an alcoholic, I rarely drink in this present life. So the alcohol hits me particularly hard, making me even more sentimental than otherwise.

As I've said, I once owned this house. It contains two rooms, each with two glassless windows to let in tropical mountain breezes. When the roof starts to leak -- and it will in another seventeen years -- you simply add another layer. Rats tunnel in the thatch, knocking shards down onto bed and furniture at night. Occasionally a rat will fall onto the bed or floor. I've learned to live with them, lizards and spiders. Yes. I well know this house, a paradise lost. Time is really subjective when you live the same period over and over again, ad infinitum.

Hearing the gong of a school bell, a sharp and distinctive sound in the distance, I jerk erect in a bamboo chair. SHE will be walking by on the dusty one-lane dirt road in a few minutes. My knees go into an uncontrollable spasm as sweating hands clasp the windowsill tightly, unconscious of splinters from fragrant un-planed softwood. I fight to control my emotions.

Not having seen my love for such a long time and her being so much younger than the last time, then middle-aged, I briefly wonder if I'll even recognize her. I have the old photograph propped up on the windowsill. Is this the reason I find it every time I cycle back to the past? For this specific moment? God's way of helping me on this crucial day? A sign of eventual success? It's a village shot taken in front of the little store, we two, a dozen children, a few villagers, and Grandma Yoshiko -- all smiling at the camera.

After an interminable wait, I see school children filtering down the dirt lane toward me. There are some in groups, playing grabass, and others walking by themselves. As they come closer, I search each face for recognizable features.

There! One of the girls, walking alone on the edge of the dusty path, inky-black hair shining in occasional darting rays of sunlight filtered through wide green leaves. As she approaches, I peer intensely, trying to see through a veil of tears.

Could it be my love? Wiping liquid from nervous tiring eyes ... I can't be certain.

When she's almost abreast of my open window, I recognize familiar features, the shape of her head, tilt of her ears. I can't miss the lovely nose that I so long to touch. It lies beneath beautiful, dark, slanted eyes and lips that have smiled at me both in the past and in endless dreams -- those lips I long to taste again.

This time around, since I chose to try early. She's only fourteen. My own body is eighteen with mind and memories those of a very old man, an ancient and frustrated old man.

The feeling is never all that bad at first, but at the onset of puberty those feelings become steadily stronger, and stronger yet as the years and decades roll by, influenced by both memory and anticipation.

My curse is that I have yet to win her love. Although I know her every nuance and thought through constant study and repetition, have even married her once, I cannot seem to earn that love. That one time, I believe she only married me for my money.

That was on my third cycle. During the second, in anticipation of a possible third, I'd inadvertently remembered enough statistics and changes in technology to become wealthy at the age of forty. After buying a small estate across the island, I'd gone looking for Amiko. Waiting wasn't easy, but after all that time I was used to it.

Inquiring, I found she'd left the village, was living somewhere in town. Eventually I found lovely Amiko selling sexual services as a bargirl....

***

From the entrance, the "Sunset Lounge" appeared typical for the island. A Formica-covered bar spread across one side of a 15' x 20' room. Behind it, in dim lighting, a girl dressed in a see-through blouse busily wiped beer glasses with a white rag.

The opposite wall held several small booths, with four round tables in the center of the room. There was barely space for a colorful jukebox playing a Johnny Cash song and two restroom doors along a third wall.

Although in her late thirties and a little chubby, I recognized Amiko sitting with a soldier. My own middle-aged heart beating fast, I had to sit down, so I took one of six stools at the bar itself.

When the bartender put down her rag and came over, I ordered a beer, then couldn't help swinging back to look at Amiko. When her eyes met mine, I damn near fainted -- though she showed no reaction. Why should she? At that point, she had yet to meet me. My smile did bring one in return, one I'd waited a long, long time to see again. Though older, with that nose and those eyes, it was my Amiko -- could be no other.

Later, after what seemed an eternity, the soldier left to go back to the barracks and his bedcheck. Amiko came over to hug me from behind. "You buy drinks today, soldier? I need man, gen'us man."

She wasn't the sweet young thing I'm looking at right now, but was still my love. Still my love.

I bought her glasses of cold tea touted as whiskey and drank beer for only an hour before it was she who suggested we leave for a "short time."

"Come, Johnny," she stated, not asked, "we go my place. Drink my whiskey. Bar close soon, Maybe make love? You have money?"

Instead, I drove her to my newly-purchased American-style home, much better than her small room. Her finding I was wealthy, we were soon married. I thought I had her, that time, but found I was wrong. Both of us being alcoholics, we fought constantly and she soon left with an army colonel. Again, as with the master-sergeant, I had introduced them at a party.

I did, through a local attorney, make certain she had all the money she needed for the rest of her life. It was the least, all, I could do. Realizing I hadn't earned her love, only rented her body, I sold the house and left for the States. After all, by that time I expected to die at eighty, and another chance....

***

This time around, I'm starting when she's younger and, hopefully, more impressionable. This time, having money and again being a civilian, I intend to back her father in his dream business -- one she's often mentioned. He labors on a fishing boat and has always dreamed of owning his own vessel. Hell, I can buy him a dozen.

I've tried many other methods, in the process learning the language and customs. Finally, in this life I've given up drinking except for a few occasions, such as with Kenji. Maybe that, along with an early start, will make a difference? I'll do anything to show my eternal devotion.

Now, I can only wipe tears as I watch that gorgeous eminently desirable young girl wearing a school uniform strolling unconcernedly down a narrow dirt lane. As I see her stop to pick a foot-long chunk of cut sugarcane from a pile in a nearby field, sucking the nectar as she passes my window, I wonder if I am in my own personal brand of hell? Am I doomed to reach out for her love, in vain, throughout eternity?

The next day, I have a talk with Miss Yoshiko at the store. For a few dollars, she agrees to introduce me to Mr. Akio Yoshiro, Amiko's father. The reason is for a possible business deal that may interest him.
***

"So, Mr. Yoshiro, sir," I explain while we sit on the edge of his porch. I can hear Amiko and her mother inside the house, arguing over something, "I came to the island to invest. I think this island has a great potential in the fishing industry." I lie like a pro. "I've paid for studies that show that since the war aquatic animals and fish are proliferating far offshore, gradually spreading nearer to this island. I'm here to check that matter out and think I might want to invest in a boat. One that can reach those far expanses.

"Because of current and projected International laws, along with limitations on foreign investment due to postwar agreements," blah, blah, blah, I continue, "the craft would be in your name, with me as a silent partner." I lay it on thick.

Of course, it's exactly what he wants to hear. "You don't have to pay me anything up front. You have only to repay me, along with slight interest of course, from your profits. As far as anyone else knows, you're the boss."

While he's considering the offer, one he can hardly refuse, I see lovely young Amiko peering from the window, dark eyes observing us. I force myself not to stare back. Sweating profusely, I look over and smile, secretly taking a mental snapshot for posterity.

"Whe ... When would ... will this begin, Mr. Adams?" he asks.

"Immediately," I answer. "You can quit your job right away, if you prefer. If you take my offer, I'll write you a check right now, today. You can start the ordering process tomorrow and pay when the check clears. I'd like a new and large vessel, but only if you think that best?"

Although he tries to hold to oriental inscrutability, it's a lost cause. I see in his face that he's picturing his fondest dreams coming true. We shake hands and I write him a check, huge by his standards but chicken feed from my point of view.

Of course, Mr. Yoshiro has to take me inside and introduce me to his family, Michiko his wife and, of course, the beautiful Amiko.

The four of us squat at a low polished-wood table and drink tea that Michiko brews. I have almost forgotten how delicious real Japanese green-tea tastes. In the US, we get a pale imitation.
Maybe I clasp Amiko's hand too long, I don't know, but she jerks it away. I can see some sort of emotion in her young eyes. After all, at fourteen, a tall good-looking boy of eighteen might well interest her. I sincerely hope so. God, how I hope so.

I'm happy -- hell, elated -- as I walk home at the dusky end of a good day.

***

Returning to the almost-empty rented house, I realize I have to go to town in the morning. I came here directly from the airport and Grandma -- excuse me -- Miss. Yoshiko's store carries very few items. No furniture at all.

The next morning, after sleeping on bare tatami mats, comforted by pleasant dreams, I step into the store.

"Mornin', Johnny." She hurries around the counter to greet me with a smile.

I have to shake my head slightly. A really nice-looking and friendly woman in her late twenties, she presents a pretty picture -- hardly a grandmotherly image as in the last cycle, when I was, myself, in my forties, her even older.

It doesn't take long for word to get around that a rich American lives here. The entire village will know by now. I imagine that when she first saw me she thought I was only another GI -- one that would purchase beer and snacks, then return to base.

I grin back. "Good morning, Miss. Yoshiko. Can you call me a taxi, please?" Hers was the only phone in the village.

"Course. You wish soda? I have Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola and Nehi?" she asks. "Your Japanese is good."

"Maybe a Coca Cola? Yoshi means luck."

"Yes, Mr. Adams. Much of the luck for the war. To live, you know? Better now, than then."

While I wait for the taxi, I do what shopping I can at the store. It's no doubt more expensive than in town but good public relations. Finally the taxi arrives, another rebuilt and painted Jeep.

"Thank you, Johnny. Don' worry for this," she says, pointing to my goods piled on a counter. "I take to your home."

While in the nearby and larger town of Tairabaru, I stop to buy my own vehicle, also a rebuilt Jeep. After purchasing necessities, such as a couple of sleeping futons, I drive myself home. On the way, I see Mr. Yoshiro in one of the open-fronted stores as I pass. He doesn't notice me, but looks to be very happy, gesturing and grinning at friends.

After parking among bushes behind the hut, I carry my purchases inside. It's much cooler there, with a breeze from open windows. On the floor in a corner of the bedroom, I see a vase I never noticed before. It contains three freshly-cut Higo Camellias in different colors: red, white, and blue. Very distinctive. During my second cycle, I had become enamored of them after Amiko had brought me the same combination, inspired by the colors of the American flag....

***

"Why, thanks, Darling," I told her, watching a smiling face as seen through colorful blossoms. "I'll always treasure the sight, along with their supplier, of course."

"Like fairy tale, uh? We fuck with flowers." Unexpected by myself, she jumped my bones, dropping both of us to the floor amid flying stems and flowery petals.

"Wait, hold it." I laughed while pretending to battle a raging banshee, one with six arms and an all-encompassing mouth.

"Wait, hell. Fuck now." She was all over me, tearing at my clothing.

After a bout of crazy violent love while lying amid crushed but gratifyingly fragrant blossoms, there was nothing much left of them. While Amiko fixed a meal, I walked over to Grandma Yoshi's to buy another bouquet...

***
.
That period was perhaps the happiest in my many lives. Although we drank often, we rarely argued. Since I was a lieutenant that second time, we eventually did move to town. After my tour on the island, I'd been sent to Germany, girlfriend Amiko choosing to wait on the island.

Once again a civilian, I'd married an American woman and never did make it back. Not from lack of trying, it just never happened that way. With a wife and children to support, then divorce and child support, I never accumulated enough money to return.

***

Now, after finding the flowers, I have to wonder? Was Amiko in my house while I was gone? It must be, since who else knows my favorites? But then, at the moment, how the hell does even she know? We've barely met in this lifetime.

Confused, mind spinning in circles, I store away my purchases, both from town and the small village store. Miss. Yoshiko kept her promise and left them in the front room. My furniture won't be delivered for days yet.

Desperately, I hope it was Amiko, and that she will return. The very thought keeps me awake most of the night, waiting. Nobody should know about that combination of flowering Higo Camellias. Nobody in this lifetime.

***

Having forgotten bread, I walk to the little store the next morning, finding the front door closed and locked. Something might be wrong, since Grandma ... Miss. Yoshiko is always open at this hour. I've never known her to fail. Even when sick, she'd be there. Maybe another clerk, but she'd be there to supervise.

Remembering that there has never been a lock on the back door, I stop my knocking and hurry around the building to make certain nothings wrong. The original owner, her father, only feared thieves from out of town and kept losing keys, so the only lock he installed was inside the front door. The un-lockable back door is common knowledge in the village.

I find Miss. Yoshiko slumped on a stool, head and upper-torso sprawled across the counter. An empty Suntory whiskey bottle balances on its side at the outer edge of the surface. As I raise a hand to check her pulse, the bottle overbalances, dropping to the wooden floor with a dull "clunk."
It's hard to find her heartbeat with my own beating so fast. Her face is now uncovered and turned to the side. Mixed odors of whiskey and perfume reach my nostrils, quickly replaced by a sour smell as foul fluids gush from her mouth, over my hand and the counter. Obviously, the woman is alive.

Looking around, I find a shallow pan for her to vomit in. Holding pan and head until she finishes, I wipe her face with one of a display of dish towels. To my practiced eye, she's obviously only drunk, I decide, having been in that condition often enough myself.

Since she can't sit up and I don't want to lay her on the nasty-looking floor or cluttered counter, I hold her upright with one hand while pulling another stool over. I then sit, holding the woman erect in my arms to keep her from choking.

I'm worried about her. It's the first time I've known her to drink, in all these years. Grandma Yoshi has always been a stabilizing influence to us all.

My face inches from the side of her head, she turns -- eyes glassy -- looks at me, and throws her arms around my neck, wiping tears and residual juices onto my cheek.

"Johnny! It is you, after all this time. You really are here again." She mumbles something else, incoherently, then kisses me full on the lips, forcing an alcoholic breath into my mouth.

As the words penetrate my mind, I go into shock. All this time? Really here AGAIN?

"What are you talking about? What do you mean?" I shake her, gently.

"I ... I ... I don't know, Johnny ... my Johnny. I died. I died, and came back, as a little girl," she tells me. "I don't understand. I ... I died. Always, I die."

I'm frozen, literally frozen between drunken sobs and both our flowing tears. I can't fully understand sudden feelings of fear, weariness, relief -- so damned many emotions and all together -- as she continues.

"I fell in love with you ... many years ... many times ago. But you only want the young girl, that damned Amiko. Never look at me. You won't look. You wouldn't look. Then I did. I die and come back, why? Why does God do this? This horrible thing.

"Now, take it easy, Yoshiko. I'm here. Take it easy. Please. I ... I must think. What is happening, what ... what to ... think." If anyone were watching, we would have been one hell of a sight.

"Why? I hate God. I hate Him, do this to me. Now how can He be so heartless. Now you back, still chase that same girl. Lemme have 'nother 'wisky. The ... the same girl, the SAME DAMNED GIRL."

Jerking forward, she pounds both fists on the counter, splashing vomit around the room. Head twisting, dark hair and tears flying as in a violent rainstorm, she stops abruptly and collapses into my arms -- asleep.

I hold her for hours as she nods and whimpers in drunken slumber. My mind is in a muddle, until, until that illusionary light-bulb flashes. I finally understand.

I now know why, though still not how. The ways of the Lord are strange and often beyond our understanding. I recall that she's also in the photo. For that matter, front and center.

A week later, I sign my share of the coming vessel over to Akio and, holding Amiko tightly for the last time, kiss the little girl on the forehead. Yoshiko and I have to hurry to catch a flight. She wants to be married in Japan. Maybe this will be the last time around for both of us? But then, that's up to the Supreme Being, not I.

The End.
Charlie