Eastern Iowa Review and PortYonder Press just produced an anthology called All Things Anne (of Green Gables). My short story Akage appears in its pages. The setting for Akage is Japan, not Prince Edward Island, but maybe you can guess what the title means.
Read it here: http://portyonderpress.com or BELOW:
The fertility doctor had told Midori that time was running out. In his opinion, she should try to conceive within a year. Certainly before next summer.
When she explained the facts to her husband, Masashi, he didn’t seem all that surprised.
“We married late,” he said, “It stands to reason that we are racing the clock.”
Masashi was a consulting engineer at Mitsubishi, known for his perfectly knotted tie and his devotion to the company. He was nearly forty, with slightly stooped posture from sitting too long at his desk. He assured his wife that he understood the parameters of the baby problem.
Midori, herself, after hearing the doctor’s opinion, got on the bus as soon as she finished her job tutoring at the Total Language School near Shinjuku. She went all the way to the Kokubunji Temple, where she stood in front of one of the smaller altars, and clapped her hands together and bowed her head.
“O, Kami-sama, I want a baby so bad. Please. This year. As soon as possible.”
She was a petite woman, with pale skin and beautiful black hair cut in a careful bob. Standing there at the altar, in her fashionable autumn coat the color of persimmons, she looked younger than her years. She would be thirty-eight in July.
Later, at the temple store, she bought a good-luck amulet for fertility.
She was not used to praying, so, after a few weeks, she wondered if the gods had turned a deaf ear because she had been so blunt. Perhaps she should have said “please” with a greater degree of politeness.
Masashi suggested she buy a thermometer.
She started to confide in a few friends about her dilemma. How she was now monitoring her body temperature. How she was obsessing over the calendar.
“I’m losing hope,” she said to one of her closer colleagues, an Australian woman named Jennifer.
““Why don’t you try a more relaxed approach?” suggested Jennifer.
She was smiling broadly, looking as if she were about to tell a joke. The gangly Australian teacher had two rows of large teeth, like a stallion, and a twinkle around her eyes. Midori grew very still.
The two colleagues were sitting in the lunchroom. The air smelled of rice balls, hand-soap, and felt-tipped markers. In the background they could hear the voices, in different languages, of other tutors still working with private students in the cubicles.
Jennifer’s face lost its smile. She stared at Midori and continued her advice.
“Don’t try so hard,” she said, “Chill out. Re-live your honeymoon.”
Midori looked surprised/.
“Our honeymoon? You mean return to Prince Edward Island? That would cost a fortune,” said Midori.
Five years ago, she and Masashi had taken a once-in-a-lifetime tour all the way from Tokyo to Toronto, then on to the Maritime Provinces, with their final destination being the home of Anne of Green Gables. Like so many Japanese, Midori admired the little orphan they all called Akage no Anne, the redheaded Anne.
“Oh, you don’t have to go to the same place,” said Jennifer. “Just re-create the atmosphere.”
But how could Midori and Masashi recreate the wind blowing along the bluffs of that magical spot? How could they recreate the Haunted Wood or the wildflowers blooming in August?
“Look,” said Jennifer, who spoke with an openness that Midori found both shocking and admirable. “You don’t need Prince Edward Island, you’ve got hundreds of charming islands right here in Japan. Pick one and go away for a weekend.”
Midori tried to explain. It wasn’t just that PEI was charming. It was imbued with Anne’s spirit. Both she and Masashi were able to feel it. It was in the air and in the grass and in the sky. It was in the little red-headed Anne actresses who replayed scenes from the books and stood outside the hotels. It was in the carriage rides offered to tourists. She and Masashi had felt so happy there. For those few days, it was as if Anne’s way of being was just another commodity in the world, available to everyone.
“Well, daydreaming about a storybook is not going to bring you a baby,” said Jennifer, and she picked up her bento box and excused herself.
On one level, Midori knew that Jennifer, with her quick remarks and her forthright opinions, was absolutely right.
Daydreaming didn’t help.
Maybe a quiet weekend with Masashi will do the trick, she said to herself, picking at her tamagoyaki, but not actually eating it.
A few days later, she brought up the idea of an island getaway with Masashi. He was reluctant at first, because he was in the middle of a big project at Mitsubishi. He didn’t want to travel too far from the office.
They ended up booking a ryokan on the island of Enoshima, just a short train ride from their apartment in Tokyo. The inn had crisp white sheets, a beautiful cedar bathtub, and a view of the Lighthouse. Sagami Bay was not the Lake of Shining Waters, but it was pretty enough.
They passed a perfectly pleasant weekend there, lingering over breakfast, visiting the caves, standing on the sandy beach until the sun set.
Unfortunately, in spite of Enoshima’s attractions, the little marker on the home pregnancy test kit stayed in the negative zone.
Then, one day, as Midori and Jennifer were again having lunch in the faculty room at Total Language, Jennifer casually brought up the idea of adoption.
“There are lots of babies in the world who need homes,” she said. “Or older children, even.”
Midori didn’t know any adoptees. Except those called Mukoyoushi, who were adults adopted by families to protect business interests. Adoption of children wasn’t at all a popular custom in Japan.
But the Australian friend persisted.
“Your little Anne, for example. Wasn’t she adopted?”
Midori sighed. Yes, that was true. The carrot-haired girl’s parents had died of typhoid. She had been in and out of orphanages, living with Mrs. Thomas and later with the Hammond family until the Cuthberts had taken her in.
But still, Midori wasn’t sure what Jennifer was suggesting. Midori sat and stared at the tamagoyaki on her plate, but didn’t make a move to eat it.
Jennifer said, “Ne?”, with her best Japanese intonation and then waited for some kind of acknowledgement from Midori.
“I don’t know,” said Midori.
“I mean,” said Jennifer, growing feistier, “ I think it must be a beautiful thing to open your arms to a baby who needs a home.”
Midori raised up her eyebrows and stared at Jennifer.
“Look how well your Anne turned out, right?” continued Jennifer.
“Well, my Anne, as you call her, wasn’t a baby when she arrived at Green Gables. She was eleven years old.”
Midori’s voice was shaking a bit.
“But she was still lovable, right?” said Jennifer.
The two women sat in silence for a while.
In her mind, Midori turned over the pages of her favorite book. She thought about how the saucy little Anne wasn’t so lovable in Marilla’s eyes. Not at first. Nor did she make a good impression on the neighbors. And yet, little by little, Anne Shirley won everyone her over to her side.
Midori thought, too, about the whole idea of disappointment. How Marilla and Mathew had asked the orphanage for a boy, not a girl. How sometimes life doesn’t bring us what we want, or expect, or think we need.
That night she slept poorly. At one point she even dreamed that Akage no Anne showed up at her door. The child was wearing a starched pinafore with purple jam stains all over it; her red tresses were flying away in six directions. Midori took a brush and said to the dreamy creature, “Here, let me fix your hair.” When she woke up, the sensation of smoothing down those long red locks remained on her fingertips.
Midori and Masashi went on one or two other relaxed weekends during the winter, but after a while, the idea seemed pointless and Masashi took to returning to his office on Saturday afternoons and staying late into the night.
Midori decided to put the home pregnancy kit in the back of the bathroom medicine cabinet. She had grown tired of checking it.
Every day she went to work, bought groceries, and came home. She never took the bus out to Kokubunji anymore.
At work, she and Jennifer talked about the weather in Tokyo, how rainy the spring was, how the cherry blossoms would be late. There was no mention of babies, adopted or otherwise.
In the quiet of the evening, with her husband still at the office, Midori would find herself staring off into space, comforting herself by watching a film, listening to music, or leafing through books, including her old battered copy of Anne of Green Gables.
One night, she got to thinking about all the happiness that had come to Marilla and Mathew with Anne’s arrival.
So many good things, thought Midori.
Her chin started to tremble, then she wept uncontrollably. When Masashi came home he found his wife curled up on the sofa. Her beautiful bobbed hair was stringy and tousled. There were dozens of balled-up paper tissues at her feet, a half-eaten bowl of soup on the low table, the television was illuminated, but silenced.
He took her in his arms, and they talked.
It was actually Masashi who took the first steps. He did thorough research, something he found easy to do. Then he called an agency and made an appointment for both of them to speak to one of the adoption counselors.
In his careful, precise way, Masashi double-checked every page of the complex application.
It was not legal to specify gender. And there was no box to request red hair.
But otherwise, things looked promising.