Sputnik Sweetheart
and this time it was a smooth, congenial ride.
Being alert—
I think I was starting to get it. For the first time I saw how a woman reacts in the throes of passion.
    The next morning after we ate breakfast together, we went our separate ways. She continued her trip, and I continued mine. As she left she told me she was getting married in two months to a man from work. “He’s a very nice guy,” she said cheerily. “We’ve been going out for five years, and we’re finally going to make it official. Which means I probably won’t be making any trips by myself anymore. This is it.”
    I was still young, certain that this kind of thrilling event happened all the time. Later in life I realized how wrong I was.
    I told Sumire this story a long time ago. I can’t remember why it came up. It might have been when we were talking about sexual desire.
    “So what’s the point of your story?” Sumire asked me.
    “The part about being alert,” I replied. “Not prejudging things, listening to what’s going on, keeping your ears, heart, and mind open.”
    “Hmm,” Sumire replied. She seemed to be mulling over my paltry sexual affair, perhaps wondering whether she could incorporate it into one of her novels.
    “Anyhow, you certainly have a lot of experiences, don’t you?”
    “I wouldn’t say a
” I gently protested. “Things just

    She chewed lightly at her nail, lost in thought. “But how are you supposed to become attentive? The critical moment arrives, and you say ‘OK, I’m going to be alert and listen carefully,’ but you can’t just be good at those things in the snap of a finger, right? Can you be more specific? Give me a for instance?”
    “Well, first you have to relax. By . . . say, counting.”
    “What else?”
    “Think about a cucumber in a fridge on a summer afternoon. Just an example.”
    “Wait a second,” she said, then paused significantly. “Do you mean to tell me that when you’re having sex with a girl you imagine cucumbers in a fridge on a summer afternoon?”
    “Not all the time,” I said.
    “But sometimes.”
    “I guess.”
    Sumire frowned and shook her head a couple of times. “You’re a lot weirder than you look.”
    “Everybody’s got something weird about them,” I said.
    I n the restaurant, as Miu held my hand and gazed deep into my eyes, I thought about cucumbers,” Sumire said to me. “Gotta stay calm, gotta listen carefully, I told myself.”
    “Don’t you remember what you told me—about cucumbers in a fridge on a summer afternoon?”
    “Oh, yeah, I guess I did,” I recalled. “So did it help?”
    “A little,” Sumire said.
    “Glad to hear it,” I replied.
    Sumire steered the conversation back on track. “Miu’s apartment is just a short walk from the restaurant. Not a very big place but really lovely. A sunny veranda, houseplants, an Italian leather sofa, Bose speakers, a set of prints, a Jaguar in the parking lot. She lives there alone. The place she and her husband have is somewhere in Setagaya. She goes back there on the weekends. Most of the time she stays in her apartment in Aoyama. What do you think she showed me there?”
    “Mark Bolan’s favorite snakeskin sandals in a glass case,” I ventured. “One of the invaluable legacies without which the history of rock and roll cannot be told. Not a single scale missing, his autograph on the arch. The fans go nuts.”
    Sumire frowned and sighed. “If they invent a car that runs on stupid jokes, you could go far.”
    “Put it down to an impoverished intellect,” I said humbly.
    “OK, all joking aside, I want you to give it some serious thought. What do you think she showed me there? If you get it right, I’ll pick up the tab.”
    I cleared my throat. “She showed you the gorgeous clothes you have on. And told you to wear them to work.”
    “You win,” she said. “She has this rich friend with clothes to spare who’s just about the same size as me. Isn’t

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