D and Wu-fei sat across from each other in prickly silence. D sipped a cup of dragonwell tea as the radio on the windowsill chattered on.
“...a balmy 65 degrees, with partial cloud cover and humidity of 64%. The forecast…”
“I know it’s you,” Wu-fei said, gripping the fabric of his trousers so they wrinkled beneath his clawed fingers. “There’s no way to physically link it to you, but I know it’s you.”
“...another body has been found beneath a pedestrian bridge, male age 20-30, with severe bite marks. Authorities….”
“Taizu,” D chided, “you’re ruining your suit. Even a man as rich as you can see the value of such well-tailored clothes.”
He poured himself tea without looking at Wu-fei.
“...now here is Tachibana Eriko with her chart-topping hit: ‘Devotion.’’
D withdrew to his sofa and sipped his tea, bobbing his head lightly to the melody. Wu-fei gritted his teeth. Neither man spoke.
“I want a myna bird,” Nobu said, peering into the cages before him. “Eriko-chama has one, I saw it on Waking up with Eriko. She and I are in love, you know.”
D raised his eyebrows and tried to keep a straight face. “Are you, now?”
“Well, she doesn’t quite know it yet, but we’re soul mates.” The young man had been talking nearly nonstop since he’d entered the store. D’s eyes were beginning to glaze over. “I’ve known it since I first saw her on tv. She’s so pure and good, not like those other pop idols who turn to acting or start dating boys .” His tongue soured the word. “Eriko will remain pure and lovely for me. I know it.”
D gently maneuvered his hands away from the bars of the Spix Macaw’s cage. “I see. And you really feel you must get the same pet as her?”
“Oh, of course.” Nobu strummed the bars of a canary’s cage with his fingers, making the birds inside panic. D frowned microscopically.
“It’s just that myna are very intelligent birds. They require a significant investment in both time and effort. They are not the same as a hamster or a fish. They must be entertained, challenged, and above all, engaged.”
Nobu looked up from a zebra finch’s cage. D’s words had slid over his brain like rain on a leaf. “Hey, is this a myna bird?”
D’s self control only allowed him to throw a hand over his face once the young man’s back was turned.
“I am wondering if I couldn’t talk you into getting a different pet.”
“Why?” the young man’s smile was oddly vacant, as if it were aimed at a target that wasn’t in the room.
“Well, how many young men do you think rushed out to buy myna birds the second they saw Eriko owning one?”
Nobu wrinkled his brow. He looked like he was attempting to solve a complex mathematics problem.
D sighed. “Too many. How do you think Eriko would feel once she found out all those young men got a pet exactly like hers? Especially since I doubt all of them could give them the proper care they need?”
“Oh, but I’d be different. She’d see that. I’d take such good care of the bird it would be exactly like hers.”
D marveled at how the young man never really looked at you, even when his gaze was firmly in your direction. It was as if he was looking inside himself at all times, viewing a playback instead of the unfolding reality before him.
“But if you did something different, that would catch her attention, wouldn’t it?” he asked.
Nobu frowned. “I don’t…”
“Some other pet, so she could really see you’re not like all those copycat fans.”
Nobu’s smile grew like a fever-rash. “Yes! Something that really pays tribute to her beauty! How about that golden—”
“700,000 yen,” D said without missing a beat.
Nobu frowned again. “Wow. I'm a little low on cash right now. Could you give me a discount?”
D gave him a long, very pointed look before he realized it was probably wasted. He sighed.
“When I said unusual pet, I mean...not conventional.” D coughed. “Something more than your run-of-the-mill bird or fish.”
He shot the birds a look of apology as he guided the young man away from the cages. They walked to a stand of tanks and terrariums, where a thousand different things buzzed, chirped, and crawled.
“Something fragile, that shows your nurturing side. Something unusual, that shows you aren’t simply about looks.” D looked at the young man’s selectively deaf ears. “Something self-sufficient, so it won’t die a day after you get it home.”
Nobu nodded. “Great. How about that?”
“An axolotl? Do you have a tank set up at home?”
“Naw, but I've got an old goldfish bowl.”
D tamped down the sudden flush of horror and calmly said, “I actually have a buyer interested in that very animal. Could I interest you in another—”
“This, then.” Nobu tapped on the glass of a tank. The snake within flinched.
D’s eye twitched. “That particular snake has a jaw problem. You would have to feed it live rats, but you’d have to cut up each one by hand and feed them to him.”
“Gross. This frog—”
“Diabetic,” D said.
Nobu looked confused. He rested his hand on a tank labeled N. clavata and tapped his fingers as he stared at the ground. Within the tank, a spider with yellow-striped legs worked industriously on a web.
“I think perhaps the honored customer is still thinking in conventional terms,” D said carefully, watching the tank. “You must throw out your preconceived notions of domestic pets. Anything, truly, can be a pet. All it requires is a home, and your care..”
Between his spread fingers, Nobu peered down into the tank. The spider had been spinning an orb-shaped web. Now it continued to spin superfluous threads, stitching them to the preexisting web. The threads formed a mosaic that, if you squinted right, formed a picture.
It was Eriko’s face.
“I’ll take it,” Nobu said feverishly.
He nodded automatically through D’s instructions on its care, scrawled his signature without looking, and hauled the tank away.
D let the peace return to his petshop once more before he took a deep breath.
“Èr bǎi wŭ! ” he hissed with sudden fury. All animal chatter stopped for a second.
D calmly straightened his qipao, clapped once, and went about his business.
The spider did not look like much. Nobu set it on his table next to the pile of magazines with Eriko’s face on the cover, pictures of Eriko printed off the internet, the box of hair clips he’d bought because it contained one of the clips she’d worn in her video for “Luv u” and the dollfie he’d had customized to look like Eriko. Then he went out on his rounds.
There were three magazines that day that carried Eriko’s face. He’d already bought Pop , but he purchased it again. One copy he would read, the other would dwell in a plastic sleeve.
He went to a maid cafe to eat lunch. He ordered strawberry shortcake, Eriko’s favorite.
Then he went on reconnaissance with the guys who camped outside Eriko’s apartment building. Nobu would never do anything so crass, but he found their information useful.
“Yeah, I heard they busted her down to a lower-ranking group,” Hamada-kun was sneering as Nobu walked up. His voluminous tummy peeked out from the child-size Eriko shirt he had on. “Serves her right. No one wants leftover goods anyway.”
Nobu groaned in agreement with the rest of the men. Ishido Junko. She’d been caught out with a member of the male J-pop band Jump! on a date. Her star had fallen rapidly after her teary public apology. Nobu shook his head. He couldn’t believe he’d been interested in her before Eriko.
“Well, you should’ve seen it coming,” Yamada-kun said, “she was dying her hair red like a westerner. Girls only do that to get attention. No girl who wants attention is pure.”
Nobu agreed in his very soul. Eriko had a demure hime cut. It was one of the reasons he’d been drawn to her in the first place.
After the exchange of information (Eriko had stayed in that day, cooked noodles and ran on the treadmill) Nobu remembered he had agreed to dinner with his parents. He considered canceling it to re-watch the tape of Waking Up with Eriko , but in the end he went. He was running low on pocket money anyway.
“...her newest single is set to debut in hawaii,” Nobu was saying as he shoveled tofu and sea bream into his mouth, “she spent an entire week talking about fun things in hawaii, like pineapples and coconuts. She wore a pineapple hat, even!”
His parents ate in stiff silence. Nobu’s mother put small bites of rice into her mouth at a very slow pace. His father stared grimly at the table setting as he drank his beer. They still knelt at the table like old people. Nobu wished they had a tall parlor table, like Eriko ate at. Her chairs were so tall, her feet didn’t even touch the ground.
“The guys said she just stayed in again today. I think I might send her another letter soon, that should cheer her up,” Nobu finished breathlessly.
Nobu’s father set his empty glass down. He was achingly dignified, with his steel-gray hair and glasses, as he silently excused himself from the table. Nobu’s mother remained, though she stopped eating. Nobu shoveled some more fish into his mouth.
Nobu’s mother said quietly, “son, you know your father is retired now, don’t you? Our income is smaller than it once was. I’m afraid I can’t give you money like I have in the past.” she bowed, forehead resting on her folded hands. “I must beg you to get a job. If you go on spending like this on all your hobbies, you will starve to death.”
Nobu took a swig of tea and said, “Eriko is coming to Doma Vita in Shibuya in two months. I have to be there to show my support. You know, she once showed at Club Rush early in her career and the response…”
As Nobu prattled on, two tears made a glistening trail down his mother’s cheeks.
Back at home again, Nobu popped in the tape and settled down on the couch.
“Ohayo,” Eriko purred. She sprawled in the middle of her large western bed. Her hair was in twin pigtails like a young girl, her petite little breasts were hidden modestly in her pink cotton night dress. Her skin was flawless even without makeup. Nobu masturbated as Eriko went through her morning moisturizing regime, climaxing by the time she spoke about what fruit she enjoyed for breakfast.
Eriko was perfect. No one but him could really see that. It was as if she inhabited a separate world, a world that was all warm light and airy goodness.
Nobu wanted to live in that world. He drifted off, yearning for the bright colors of Eriko’s life.
Instead, he had a nightmare about school.
He woke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, gasping. A warm hand touched his cheek.
“Hush,” a gentle voice commanded.
Nobu clicked on the lamp.
Eriko knelt beside the couch, hand on his face. She smiled.