Connor had seen her only once, on the Nankai station platform in Nakamozu. He’d been waiting for the southbound local. It was late in the morning, still cool in the shade, the sunlight bright on the steel tracks. He glanced across the gap. Two sister missionaries were standing next to the kiosk under the Arrival/Departure sign. He didn’t recognize them. They didn’t attend the church in Abeno. Maybe they’d come up for a zone conference from one of the districts around Wakayama.
The one with the sandy blonde hair said something to her companion, the one with the dark mane falling down her back. She turned and looked over her shoulder at him. Their eyes met momentarily. She was Japanese, yet not quite Japanese. She was too tall to begin with, and her hair was a dark mahogany brown.
Then the northbound local arrived and they were gone.
She would have thought little or nothing of him. Another expat adrift in the Kansai. Besides, he hadn’t shaved since winter semester let out. Nothing about him said Returned Missionary or even Mormon. He didn’t give the brief encounter a second thought.
Except that he dreamed about her that night—about the Japanese-American girl on the Nakamozu Nankai.
Connor rarely dreamed and rarely remembered what he dreamt, which was fine with him. Most times the cigar was just a cigar. Yet he recalled this dream with a specificity that crossed the line between reality and imagination.
The dream began with the two of them walking along a quiet street in the early evening. Perhaps a town on the Nankai Kôya line, maybe Hashimoto. They entered a typical Japanese 1LDK apartment: a single bedroom and a combined living-dining room/kitchen.
The kitchen opened onto the bedroom through a pair of shôji sliding doors. The tatami-mat floor smelled faintly of cut bamboo. They got the futons out of the closet. He noticed she was wearing a track suit. The lettering over the left breast said, “Kôya Women’s Junior College.”
He went into the bathroom, filled the o-furo, replaced the covers, and turned on the water heater.
In the bedroom, the woman—she must be his wife—had changed into a short happi negligee. She bowed her head and lifted her hair from her shoulders the way women do. Then she looked up and smiled. She put her arms around his waist and raised her mouth to his.
He felt it, like nothing he’d felt before in his life. A kiss warm and soft and electric. They kissed again, sinking down onto the futons. Her velvet skin brushed against his lips. She buried her face against his shoulder, her body trembling in his arms.
It was too real. The smart stagecoach driver hugged the mountain wall. How many times had he heard that analogy? Connor didn’t skirt the edge. He never got close enough to fall. Keeping his distance was a hard habit to break.
He retreated into the netherworld of waking sleep. As he pulled away and the dream dissolved, a look came to her eyes. The eyes of the girl on the Nakamozu Nankai. Asking who he was and why he was leaving her now after what they’d done.
Connor sat up, fully awake, his heart beating madly. He felt the dampness in the sheets around his groin. He swore in Japanese: “Shimatta.” Wet dreams were such a bother. Great while the dream was real and reality was the illusion. But what a mess afterward.
That Sunday after church, Connor caught up with the missionaries at Abeno station. He said in an offhand manner as they waited for the subway, “I saw a couple of sister missionaries the other day at the Nankai station in Nakamozu.”
“Nakamozu?” said Chalmers Chôrô. “Nobody’s assigned to Nakamozu. The closest district is Kishiwada.”
“That’d be Packard and Gotô.”
Chalmers Chôrô corrected his companion. “Gotô’s not in Kishiwada. She got transferred to Nara last month. So it’d be Packard and Eliason.”
Connor was relieved. What would he say if they ever met?
He skipped his stop and rode the Midôsuji to the end of the line. At Nakamozu he transferred to the Nankai and continued south. Past Nakamozu the metropolis ended. Past Sayama the suburbs ended. The sleeper communities appeared farther and farther apart, tiny villages tucked into the corners of the terraced mountain valleys. If he ever moved back to Japan, this is where he would live. His dreams knew him well.
He got off at Hashimoto and hiked a klick into the hills above the town. He didn’t recognize the bend in the river he’d seen in his dream. Maybe it was a station along the Wakayama JR line. What was the name of the college on her sweat top? He stopped a pair of junior high school girls in matching tennis outfits and carrying matching tennis racquets. “Could you tell me where Kôya Women’s College is?” he asked in Japanese when they stopped tittering.
“Maybe Kudoyama?” one of them guessed. They didn’t know. So he spent a few more minutes impressing them with his Japanese while they practiced their terrible English.
Two nights later the dream came again. It wasn’t the same dream. But it was about her, the girl on the Nakamozu Nankai. And it ended with their making love with a passionate intensity that resonated deep within his soul. When he awoke the following morning and she was not there beside him he felt a profound sense of loss. The dreams had awakened a hidden part of him, revealed the existence of something whose absence he’d never missed until now.
Connor hypothesized that he was suffering a delayed Freudian hangover. His libido was simply doing a bit of postpubertal catching up. The problem was the amount of detail in the dreams. He knew he didn’t know what he seemed to know. Not about Kudoyama. Not about her (whoever she was). And certainly not about sex. Nothing in his personal experience—not even Billy Bragg’s embellished accounts of the backseat romps in his cherry-red Camaro—could have provided him with the substance of these dreams.
Connor was a virgin, not that unusual among Mormons his age.
Curiosity won out over guilt. He wished for the dreams to return and they did. Though he and the girl never spoke, their dreamworld counterparts were never at a loss for conversation. But after that moment of breathless ecstasy, he forced himself awake, forced himself away from her. And then lay on his futon and wondered—wondered who, wondered why, wondered if this was what an intimate, physical relationship was really like.
Two weeks before he left Japan the dreams faded. When he left Japan they ended.
He missed her more than he missed the dreams. Her warmth and presence. But ultimately he was relieved (or so he told himself) when the dreams did not return. He put it down to some sort of long-delayed returned missionary stress syndrome, and so becalmed the vexations of moral Calvinism stirring in his Mormon soul.
Connor began summer term at Brigham Young University comfortably settled into the BYU bachelor lifestyle. The girl he’d dated on-again, off-again his senior year had gotten engaged to somebody else during his absence. He was enormously relieved.
Even at the time, she’d been a good Mormon girl, he’d been a good Mormon boy, and they’d permitted themselves at most a spark of light petting. Bishops, Connor knew, possessed an olfactory sensitivity to pheromones. They could smell sex, and Connor rested assured he smelled like buffed linoleum.
“Dating anybody new?” The bishop asked the question lightly, meaning that Connor ought to be, but he wouldn’t hold it against him if he wasn’t.
Connor replied with a self-deprecating grin.
The bishop walked him to the door. “I don’t want you to think I’m getting on your case. Truth is, the best things often come when we’re not trying so hard to get them.”
Connor wasn’t trying at all. Not trying was easy too.
But the night after he renewed his temple recommend with the stake president, the night before summer term began, the dreams returned. He sat up in the darkness, dazed by an acuteness of sensation that was almost painful. Japan had never been like this.
He hadn’t mentioned the dreams in his interviews. He wasn’t into confession. Bringing up the dreams would only make things worse. What did you do? he’d be asked. Because every problem had a cause.
But Connor couldn’t explain what he didn’t understand himself. I looked at a girl on a station platform in Japan. That’s all. Swear to God. Still, he applied all the remedies prescribed in situations like this. Because every problem had a solution.
God, Connor was certain, would develop a guilty conscience reading The Miracle of Forgiveness. To be sure, he hadn’t broken any major commandments while under Billy Bragg’s tutelage (though he had thrown rocks at a few). But when the dreams came, they came no matter what. There wasn’t any way of keeping sin from the door when it had directions and the key.
Only after climaxing could he tear himself away. Panting, soaked with sweat, fiercely angry at losing her and equally at losing control. Yet grasping again for that wonderful unreality.
The scent of her hair, the salt in her sweat as he kissed her breasts, the traces on his skin where her body pressed against his—lingered like a gentle sunburn. Hours later, studying in the library under the frigid blast of the air conditioning vents, he’d have to go outside and stand in the hot Utah sun and seek an equilibrium of body heat.