Introduction: Welcome to a new story by Charlie Chin, interpreter of the human heart and its passionate ups and down. The title may lead you to think this tale is about food and you would be partially correct. The ending is delicious but I’m not going to spoil it for you. Enjoy.
“Miyoko, there’s something we have to talk about.” Miyoko looked up from the meal she was preparing and smiled. “What is it Tony?” Tony had dreaded this moment for months, but he knew it had to be done.
“Where are you going? To the store? It’s almost dinner time.” Tony took some pains to be gentle.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean I’m going someplace. I mean that I’m leaving this relationship.” Miyoko put down the knife she was using to fillet the fish in front of her. She looked at Tony for a long minute and then wiped her hands on her apron.
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“If that’s a joke, it’s not funny Tony.” Miyoko walked over to the table and sat down. Tony hung his head down in a guilty manner.
“It’s not about you. I mean, we were happy. We used to be happy. I think the last fifteen years we have had have been great. But we’re different now. Things are a lot different now than when we first met.”
“Tony, I don’t understand. What are you saying?”
“I’ve met somebody else. We’re in love and we want to be together.” Miyoko looked at him in obvious disbelief. She looked around the room as if there might be somebody filming a stupid video that was going to be a horrible joke at her expense. She looked back at Tony, and he was grim faced. It seemed like the importance of what he was saying was sinking in.
“Tony, you want to leave me? Are you saying that our relationship is over, a joke? That you don’t love me? Our marriage has been a pretense?” A thought came to her and prompted the next question.
“Who is it? Somebody I know? Oh God! please don’t tell me it’s somebody I know. Not one of my friends.” Tony got up and began to pace back and forth on the other side of the dining table. A guilty look and a tone of regret colored his voice. He stumbled through a confession.
“It’s Judy.” Miyoko looked stunned. She gripped the table edge as if she hoped that she had heard incorrectly. She repeated the name in apparent disbelief.
“Judy? Judy Chow? That student intern? Tony Hendricks, you’re a forty-five-year-old man and you want to run away with a child? A girl more than twenty years younger than you? Are you mad? This is insane.” Not knowing what else to do, Miyoko got up and went back to preparing the evening meal. She glared at Tony as she sliced and chopped vegetables. Tony stopped walking back and forth and tried to offer an excuse.
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“We didn’t mean for it to happen. It just sort of happened.” Miyoko set the rice cooker on and wiped off the knife she was using and put it back in the drawer. She rinsed her hands in the sink and in a cool tone asked,
“When did all this begin?
“That weekend last summer when you went to the conference in Seattle. Judy and I were working together at the office and, well one thing led to another, and it sort of just happened. We both agreed that it was a mistake, but we felt an attraction that in time, we learned that it just wouldn’t go away. You must have noticed at some point.”
“I noticed that you two liked to work together, that you were always smiling at her. But I thought it was just a flirtation. But this, this is like a hack cliché. Are you some middle-aged man going through a bizarre mid-life crisis? Is that it? What are you two planning to do? Does she feel the same way? Never mind that last question. How could you do this to me? I gave up everything for you. “ Miyoko was trying to wipe away the tears that were coming.
“My father warned me. From the first time you showed up at our restaurant, making sheep eyes at me, and flirting. Daddy was right. He said you were just another White man looking for an Oriental girlfriend. He said that was the reason you were always at our restaurant. That summer you practically lived at the Kiyoto-Sukiyaki restaurant. I thought you meant the things that you said. What a fool I was. I even made special tempura shrimp Bentos just for you.”
“That was then Miyoko, there were those years when we were happy. I really did love, and care for you. And you must admit, we had fun, those camping trips, the kayaking.”
“You had fun. I went along because you liked it. I hate camping. All those bugs and no bathrooms.” Miyoko was fuming now.
“You cared for me? What a joke. I turned away from my family, stopped going to college to support you while you got your degree. And now you’re leaving me for another woman, a younger woman. And what’s worse, it’s another Asian woman. Is that what turns you on? Who was I? Some fetish you toyed with until you got tired of me? And what am I now? Another sad member of the “Asian woman with a jerk White guy “club?” she wiped away a tear.
“I loved you, Tony. I dreamed of us growing old together. I wanted a marriage of my own. I wanted children of my own, but you wanted to wait, so I waited, while my eggs got older every year.” She broke off and began to cry into the dishrag she was holding. Tony tried to look guilty.
“Honestly, I don’t mean to hurt you, Miyoko.” He reached for her hand across the table. She withdrew her hand and stood up. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she turned back to preparing dinner out of habit.
“Mi-chan, please let’s try and be civilized about this.” She spun around,
“Don’t call me that. Never call me that again you bastard.”
“Look, making a scene as if we’re in a cheap movie is not the answer. I will sleep someplace else tonight.” She interrupted him with a snarl,
“Where? With your little slut bitch? The one you were banging in the copy machine room. Or was it the broom closet?” His shoulders slumped.
“No, never mind, I’ll sleep over at Henry’s at work. He’ll let me crash on his couch. Tomorrow, I come back and pack my things.” As an afterthought he commented,
“Please don’t change the locks or anything stupid like that.” She glared at him as she set out plates on the counter. She looked at the ceiling, took a deep breath and then turned to face him again.
“So, this is it? You’ve decided? It’s done? What? I’m the last to know?’
“Let’s be decent about this. I never meant to hurt you in anyway.” Miyoko stared at him for a long minute, as if deciding something and then went to the rice cooker to put rice in two bowls. Out of habit she placed one in front of him.
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‘Well, you might as well eat your dinner. Everything is ready.” Tony was suspicious.
“You not going to throw anything at me?”
“Don’t worry that’s not my style.” She set out little Japanese soup bowls and ladled out some miso soup. Tony sat down hesitantly but relaxed when he tasted the soup. He smiled despite himself,
‘You’ve always been a great cook Miyoko.” She smiled weakly back at him.
“Can’t help it. Grew up in a Sushi restaurant. “
“I’m glad we can deal with this. You’re being very adult. I was afraid, well I was afraid.” Miyoko toyed with the edge of her napkin and patted it flat again.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’ve fallen in love with somebody else. It happens. My getting angry won’t change anything. We’re grownups Tony, I understand.” Miyoko went to the counter and brought back a plate of sashimi as an appetizer. He needed no encouragement to taste some of the delicate raw fish slices. Dipping each slice in a Ponzu sauce dip and enjoying the pieces of raw fish. They were expertly cut so thin they were almost transparent. He let delicate morsels slide down his throat with relish. He smiled and asked,
‘Is that Chicken Karaage I smell?” She wiped away another tear and nodded with a bittersweet smile.
‘I know it’s one of your favorites.” She served him tender chunks of chicken on a plate, the chicken pieces resting over a clean white folded paper. The paper had been folded in the origami shape of a flying crane. The chicken morsels were crisp on the outside and tender inside. Tony knew that Judy could never make food as good as this but like a typical man, he reasoned, I can always get takeout. He started to dig his chopsticks in to a third piece of fried chicken on the plate when something seemed to be stuck in his teeth. He reached up and tried to extract whatever it was but there was nothing wedged in between his teeth. Then he noticed that his lips felt numb. He turned to Miyoko,
“Is there something stuck in my front teeth?” He tried to open his mouth, but something was wrong. His chopsticks were becoming difficult to hold and dropped from his hands. It was confusing, he wanted to stand upright but his legs wouldn’t respond. He looked at Miyoko and she was staring at him intently from across the table and calmly chewing a piece of Chicken Karaage. He was just able to force the words out of his lips,
Photo from Christy at Home website.
‘What’s happening? Why is my mouth numb?” Miyoko stood up and turned to get some dessert from the frig. She put a plate of sweet mochi cakes on the table in front of Tony. They had been dusted with Matcha green sugar.
“Try one of these. My cousin made them. What’s a matter? Is it that you mouth is numb, and your arms are paralyzed? Well, that can happen when you eat Fugu sashimi.” She glanced at the wall clock and recounted in an even toned voice,
“You know Fugu is a great delicacy in Japan. But very tricky if not made properly. My father spent a lot of time showing me exactly what must be done to prepare it. The poison is mainly in the liver of the fish. One slip of the knife, and if the liver is nicked, the whole fish becomes deadly. It’s happened many times unintentionally. The toxins in Fugu fish take about 45 minutes to cause the heart to stop completely. In the meantime, you’ll just lose the ability to walk, talk, or cry out.” Tony was trying to breathe but I was getting more and more difficult. Miyoko took off her apron, folded it neatly and hung it on the back of her chair. She returned to watching him with mild interest. Slowly Tony keeled over in his sitting position and hit the floor. He wondered why the lights were getting dim. Miyoko glanced down at him and in a chatty tone she continued,
“Yes, mochi are the perfect end to a meal. My cousin Linda Tokugawa made these. I don’t think you’ve met her. She has a sweets shop down in San Jose Japan town. She does every well, and everybody loves her confections. Her customers just adore her, and they often stay for tea. She’s a real “chatty Kathy.” She hears all kinds of things. For instance, like last week when a young intern named Judy Chow was so very excited that she couldn’t contain herself. She stayed for an hour and over tea confided to Linda that she and her married boyfriend were planning to run off to Los Angeles this weekend.
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Author’s Bio: Charlie Chin is an author, singer/songwriter, and master storyteller. He served as the Community Education Director at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City and as Artist-in-Residence at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. He is the author of several children’s books, including China’s Bravest Girl (1992) and Clever Bird (1996).