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Authors: Kathryn Lomer

The Spare Room

BOOK: The Spare Room
13.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Kathryn Lomer grew up on a farm in northwest Tasmania. She left school at fifteen and began the first of many and varied jobs in Tasmania and then overseas. She eventually went to university and became a teacher of English as a Second Language, which she taught for many years in Australia and Japan.

Kathryn has published two collections of poetry: the second,
Two Kinds of Silence,
won the 2008 NSW Premier's Kenneth Slessor Prize. Her collection of short fiction,
Camera Obscura,
was shortlisted in the 2008 Queensland Premier's Steele Rudd Award. Her most recent novel,
What Now, Tilda B?,
was published in 2010.

Other Books by Kathryn Lomer

Young Adult Fiction

What Now, Tilda B?

Adult Fiction

Camera Obscura
The God in the Ink


Extraction of Arrows
Two Kinds of Silence

For my students
who have taught me so much

Based on an original screenplay by Kathryn Lomer
developed with assistance from Screen Tasmania


Today started out as a pretty ordinary day. Well, I say ordinary, but I know that no day is ordinary really. You taught me that, Satoshi. Every day is unique. Never to be repeated. It's easy to forget when you get caught up in the wheels going round. What did the Australians call it? The ground? The grind? The grind, that's it. But even when I'm tired out from being on my feet all day and working so fast that when I look back on the night I can hardly remember what I've done — it's all a blur — I can end up so wide awake and wired at one in the morning that there's no choice but to stay up even longer and unwind for a while. That's when I get out my photos. It seems like years ago and light years away now, but it's only, let's see, ten months that I've been back. I close my eyes sometimes and imagine I can smell the eucalyptus from the gum trees along the back of my family's fence. My Australian family, I mean, not my Japanese family. Not my
family. Although I sometimes wonder which is
my real family. I sometimes wonder if the Moffats weren't just waiting for me.

As I began to say, today was an ordinary sort of day. For me. It was not usual for the majority of Japanese, who are up at dawn — sparrow's fart, Stolly used to call it — and off to work, usually on a long commute, squeezed like sardines into trains and buses and popped out at the other end. But when you're a cook, a chef, days begin late. I got up about ten. My mother made me fish soup for breakfast. Yes, I know, it is pathetic. Here I am almost twenty-one and my mother still gets my breakfast. But you see, my mother is a traditional mother; she's always been at home, doing home things, the cooking and cleaning and smoothing every little thing for the men in the family, the two men in this case, me and my father. My father, well, that's another matter, and I'll come to him in time, but needless to say he has never lifted a finger in the house; it would be beneath him, it would insult his dignity. If he could only see Alex at the sink washing up the dinner dishes or flipping through cookbooks for something appetising for dinner … But my father would look down his nose at Alex. He'd think Alex wasn't a real man. He'd think … But I said I'd come to my father later. And I'll get to Alex, too. My other father. But this morning … my fish soup. Mum makes it just the way I like it. Not too salty, not too sour. I still can't make fish soup like she can. For a while after I got back I tried to talk her out of it. I told her I'd be just as happy with toast and Vegemite. I brought some back with me. The jar's empty now, but I've still got it. It's full of stamps off the letters.

I hope I find the right way of telling this, writing it all down. I thought it would be easy, letting it just roll out, but now I can see that it keeps jumping backwards and forwards, like the story has a life of its own outside of me. I'm just the storyteller. I don't know if I'll be able to keep it on track.

But now I've got to the stamps and the letters I might as well go on from there. I'll skip telling you all about how my day went, the wonderful feeling of setting off to work when others have been there for hours already, going when the trains are half-empty and quite pleasant and dreamy as they rattle along. I often find myself daydreaming I'm back in my room in Hobart, then the train stops and I snap out of it. The gleam of the kitchen when I arrive. Putting on the white uniforms and starchy hats and bowing to each other before we begin. The sharpening of knives, decisions about the day's specials. All that. Working till late. Compliments to the chef. A beer after work. But then. Then. And this is what I've been working up to. Getting home and finding on my pillow … THE LETTER.

It's not the first letter I've had from Angie. I've had a few now. Six to be exact. I've written about twenty. No, twenty-one counting last week's. But I write to the family as a whole. I've had loads more letters from Daisy. She sends me drawings, funny drawings of things we did together and what life's like for her now at school and the new dog they've got. She even sends me leaves and things, which I don't think is really allowed. I wrote and told her so but she said she's afraid I'll forget Australia otherwise. As if I could.

Angie's letters are more careful. She tells me things about university and how she's doing. She tells me bits and pieces about Stolly, my mate there, and that's all I know because Stolly never writes. He always said he only liked doing things he did well and he couldn't really write well so he doesn't write. I had an email from him once though. I remember it word for word.
Akira mate, How the hell are you? Still expect to find you in the kitchen. Guess that means I miss you.
Pretty sloppy for Stolly. I know I'm a bit hurt by his silence though. I thought we were such good friends. He was my — what's that expression? — guiding angel. Yes, my guiding angel. Now he's the one who gets to see Angie all the time — now that they're both at uni. Stolly's doing a master's degree. He always said he wanted to be a perennial student — that there was so much to learn and all that. I think it was more so he could get up late.

But anyway, the letter, the letter. I noticed the stamp first. An Olympic Games one, so I knew straightaway it was from Australia. I get letters from some of my former classmates in Australia too — from Korea, even Switzerland — so I'm not always sure first off that it's from Australia. Or from Angie. But I always hope. I picked it up from my pillow and sniffed it. Isn't it amazing that an envelope can travel from an island about the size of Hokkaido, and as far south of the equator as Hokkaido is north, all the way to Tokyo on planes and buses and who knows what else and still hold the perfume of the person who sent it? The girl who sent it. The woman, I should say. Angie's nineteen now. Funny, isn't it. She's now the age I was when I went there. I know that perfume so well. Well, I should, shouldn't I. I bought it for her — although it wasn't quite that simple. And she wore it that night at the shack. The day we launched the dinghy. I just stood there smelling it for a while, letting the scent become part of me and drift me away. I'm always almost as scared about getting a letter from Angie as I am excited and happy. I don't know what news it is I'm scared of getting, but I know that there's this tight feeling in my stomach. So that was there when I started to open the letter. I fumbled it, tore it awkwardly, but then there it was and the perfume was even stronger.

Dear Akira. I love the way she writes. She makes all these extra little squiggles on the letters, like she's decorating them especially. Dear Akira. The tight feeling in my stomach stayed there as I read, but it was the usual stuff. Alex has started on another boat. Jess has got a new job. Daisy is turning into a young lady. But then right at the end she says she's got some big news which is … I read it once, twice, three times. I read it again. I couldn't believe it. She's coming to Japan. Angie's coming to Japan. It's unbelievable. She's got a scholarship for her second year of Japanese at Waseda University. She asks me if I know anything about the university and of course I do. Waseda's a prestigious university in Tokyo. Very prestigious. Angie is coming to Tokyo. Angie is coming to Tokyo. It seemed like an impossible dream come true but I wasn't even sure why. I mean, I knew Angie was doing Japanese at university. She says it's very popular and I remember meeting up with a lot of Australian students who were studying Japanese. Angie even popped a sentence written in hiragana into a letter once. But then I realised the reason it seemed so extraordinary was that the possibility had in fact been like a little dream in my mind all along, one I didn't even dare give voice to, like a pebble in my pocket that I would half-consciously rub again and again. And suddenly it was as if I'd been rubbing a magic lamp the whole time and the genie had popped out. I stopped reading and started daydreaming. But then I went back to the letter to check that it was really true. It was. It is. Angie's coming to Tokyo in December. It's now September. Three months. I hopped around my room with excitement and had to stick the knuckle of one finger in my mouth and bite on it to stop from whooping out loud. After all, it was two o'clock in the morning and my parents were asleep. If I was wide awake before the letter, I was even wider awake afterwards. I couldn't stay still. I didn't know what to do. For just an instant I thought, I'll ring Satoshi and tell you the news. Funny how that can still happen after all this time. I used to ring you at any hour and talk to you about things.

Tonight's would be a really long talk. I'd talk about how I'm feeling. And then I got to wondering exactly how I was feeling. About Angie, I mean. And I thought about that for so long that it started to get light outside and I still wasn't sure. Ours is a bit of a complicated relationship, I suppose, which is not surprising given its beginnings. And I decided that one way to try to sort out how I feel would be to go back over it all — my time in Australia, the things that happened between Angie and me. And the rest of the family for that matter. And I thought that writing it all down might help me get it straight. I thought it might be like ringing and talking to you. So that's why I've started, Satoshi, and why I'm writing it to you.

BOOK: The Spare Room
13.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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