I will say one thing about the sidewalks of Osaka: a man can run barefoot without worry of catching a piece of broken glass, jagged rock, or rusty metal shrapnel. This is good because the only light comes from distantly-spaced streetlamps, the headlights of oncoming cars, and open doorways full of jeering faces. They gleefully shout a phrase my jumbled brain translates as “she's going to kill you.” Only the men shout. An old woman looks up as my frost-numbed feet slap past her doorway. She screws her face, summoning all her wrinkles to aid in giving me a hairy eyeball. I have never met her before, but she is certain of my guilt. That makes one of us.
Sue screams a litany of curses behind me in Japanese, which is wholly unfair. The least she could do is curse in English. Or tell me what I did wrong. Or given me enough warning to put on shoes before chasing me out of our apartment. The only thing I understand for sure is the cleaver in her hand.
Americans don't fully appreciate cleavers anymore. Sometime after the war, we outsourced our cleaver lore to supermarket butchers, and the cleaver's smaller more agile cousin, the chef's knife, became the largest knife in the household. Today in America few bother to break down larger cuts of meat at home. For those that do, the experience is usually confined to chickens and the odd turkey. We have forgotten the simple brutality of a stout, straight blade, how it scarcely notices the flesh on its way through joint and bone. Its purpose is to turn large meat pieces into smaller ones, and we are all made of meat.
Sue keeps yelling at me as I turn the corner, a screech really. The same screech I hear on garbage day, laundry day, promised trips to the beach, five seconds before the TV is shut off, or meeting me at the door after bar time. Her tangerine-dyed hair is plastered against her face, cheeks mottled red with anger and exertion. She is like a blood orange of death. A woman places a hand on her child's shoulder as we run by. She glances at me then at Sue with no more concern than for passing traffic.
A truck comes out of an alley in front of me and I have to either stop, leap over the hood, or get off the sidewalk. I can't jump that high, and I sure can't wait with Sue just a few seconds behind me. I turn into the alley. There's no light, just shadows and reflected neon glow. My chest is burning, the rest of me is freezing. I hear the hum and rumble of a garage door, a beam of light in at the end of the alley promises sanctuary.
I pump my arms and trust to the patron saint of boyfriends with psycho girlfriends to give me strength. I feel a scrape against the pavement, and warmth as the bottom layer of my foot's skin sloughs off. There's no pain, but I don't dare look until I'm safe. The garage door is nearly closed, if I can only reach it...
I'm falling. My hands fly out in front of me and skid against the pavement, burning as I lose more skin to the alley's pavement. I see a glimpse of my palms turned into bloody hamburger just as the garage door seals and puts the alley back into shadows. I scramble up and run.
Walls squeeze in around me, locked doors mock me. Sue's shriek echoes down the alley. The alley's other side is blocked by a chain-link fence. I throw myself at it, crying against the fire in my hands and bloody foot as I make my way up.
Her footsteps patter louder. Tiny feet drumming against the pavement. The drumming stops and there's a whistling in the air. I feel a breeze pass just under my heel. I scramble up higher. There's razor wire at the top of the fence that I can't get over, but fortunately, Sue is under five feet, and can't reach me as I cling just under the barbs. The cleaver sings through the air under me as Sue swings with all her strength. The air robs me of my strength, my fingers are slipping.
I run though the list of things that could have set her off. I was home late from the bar. I forgot to feed the goldfish last week, all week. Then I accidentally set the fishbowl on the radiator and we found the fish churning belly over dorsal in a slow simmer. But that was last week, right? She couldn't still be mad at me for that. I said I was sorry. She might have smelled the cigarette I sneaked today at work. Maybe her girlfriend Mitzi caught me looking and called Sue about it. That's not my fault though, if Mitzi didn't want to be looked at, why dress that way? Besides, Mitzi texted me first.
All these things are reasons for the cleaver, but a guy would really like to know why.
image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at //commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DebaBocho.Cleaver.Japan.jpg under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.