Today was a day that made Retsuko storm out of work and completely shirk her yoga class. She decided to be selfish for once and head straight to a bar and not talk to anybody.
She found one that was nice and in her price range, and went right up to the counter, ready for a night of drinking herself under the table.
Retsuko started off with a beer, and got it halfway down her throat before she noticed a very chipper feeling in the air. It was slightly irritating.
Retsuko looked out of the corner of her eye and saw a shih tzu sitting beside her. The dog was dressed in a gingham blouse and blue skirt, and she happily swung her legs to and fro as she presumably waited for her drink.
“Good day at work today?” Retsuko drawled, and it didn’t have nearly enough bite in it; too late she realized that she broke her rule of not talking to anyone.
“Oh, I’m in town visiting my sister,” was the reply. “My name is Isabelle! I’m from America.”
Images of movie stars, hamburgers, and big, loud cars popped into Retsuko’s mind and she took another swig of her beer.
“Wish I had a sister,” Retsuko muttered into the mug, “Then my mom wouldn’t break into my apartment…”
Isabelle tilted her head and Retsuko once again had the one second too late realization; this time was that she was beginning to spill her guts to a complete stranger.
“Not for bad reasons,” she tried to explain, “Wait, it might – she cleans up my home, wait, it’s – “
“What’s your name?” Isabelle asked when she got an opening for the question and Retsuko stopped her floundering explanation, grateful for the subject change.
“What a lovely name!” Isabelle exclaimed.
That was too much to handle so Retsuko drained the rest of her beer and asked for another one.
“So, what do you do?” Retsuko asked when another beer mug was in her hands.
“I’m a secretary to a mayor,” Isabelle said. “Actually, all my sisters are! Oh, but Shizue just got started. I was going to help her out. We’re scattered around the world, and I was the only one that had time to go help.”
She got her drink then, a concoction that was light at the bottom of the glass and slowly went upward to shades of blue. There was a cherry, hibiscus flower and lime stuck on top of the glass. Isabelle happily popped the cherry into her mouth and squeezed the lime into her drink.
“What do you do?” Isabelle asked when she finished eating her cherry.
“Something similar to you,” Retsuko replied. She had just gotten another drink, and drained it before she told her story. “My boss was yelling at me all day, and usually when I get really angry I – um, this time I decided to go drinking.”
“I understand,” Isabelle said cheerfully. “I got lucky, but some of my sisters, their mayors can be a handful! Hitting the townspeople with nets, planting pitfalls, letting paperwork pile up. We can all use vacation juice now and again.”
“What’s that drink like?” Retsuko began drinking her replenished beer as she waited for the answer.
“It’s sweet with a hint of sour from the lime,” Isabelle said. “It reminds me of a beach so I like to have it when the days get particularly long! Sometimes I let the mayor have a little glass of it.”
“You drink on the job?”
“Oh, this has no alcohol,” Isabelle explained as she lifted up her glass, “Vacation juice is like an orange juice, sweet with a hint of sour.”
It was said with no judgment, but it still made Retsuko stare forlornly into her beer mug. She took the moment to drink a bigger swig of the drink.
“We all have our methods of relaxation,” Isabelle continued, “My sisters especially! Canela likes to build model airplanes. Melinda knows all kinds of Yo-Yo tricks. Marie collects these glass figurines and sets up different themes around the town hall. And – “
Retsuko’s vision was started to sway. She vaguely thought that a good drink would steady her nerves and she drained the last remaining liquid in her mug.
“Don’t look so good,” Isabelle’s voice was hazy and clogged. Retsuko opened her mouth but it felt like her words were too slow.
Ultimately Isabelle led her out of the bar and into the open night air. It was cold enough to put some sense into Retsuko but not enough.
“You’re so nice,” she said, “Your mayor has a good boss!”
“Thank you,” Isabelle said, “Do you live close by?”
Retsuko blurrily said her address and Isabelle supported her as they walked.
“Night is a baby,” Retsuko said, “I know places, it’s karaoke!”
“I am in a band,” Isabelle replied, “But you need to go home.”
“But singing,” Retsuko said, “Relaxation, like how Marie sells glass, I’m a regular at kara, kararara.” She burst into a fit of giggles.
They dissipated quickly. Images of Resasuke and Tadano appeared in her mind. In the same place, her sanctuary where she spilled out her guts, she had to watch them leave her. She had to say good-bye because they all wanted different things or didn’t listen to each other.
Was that just going to keep happening?
A wail broke free from her throat, and soon her face was streaking with tears. It felt ugly, and her throat was already sore and her eyes puffy and she was sure her make-up was running down her face. Snot was falling out of her nose in a steady stream and that made it all worse.
“Oh, dear, oh, dear,” Isabelle fretted. She still held on to Retsuko as she dug into her pocket.
A handkerchief gently touched Retsuko’s face, wiping away her tears and liquid snot.
“Hush little puppies, don’t you cry,” Isabelle sang quietly as she patted the handkerchief against Retsuko’s nose. “You’ll get pancakes by and by.”
A new handkerchief appeared and Isabelle began the next verse. “And if those pancakes start to melt, I’ll give you bright fabric by the belt.”
It carefully wiped off Retsuko’s ruined make-up. “And if that fabric begins to shred I’ll give you lots of sweetened bread.”
There was a few seconds of silence before Isabelle said, “My mom used to sing that to my brother, sisters and I when we were puppies.”
Retsuko remembered the rest of the night in snippets. Where Isabelle got her home and got her a full glass of water to drink. Isabelle getting a long pillow to act as a barrier so that Retsuko wouldn’t roll onto her back in her sleep.
When Retsuko managed to say that she didn’t want to be alone before she fell into a dreamless sleep.
Retsuko was woken by the sunlight hitting her face. Her work clothes were crumpled badly, and the first thing she saw was Isabelle asleep against the wall.
Retsuko tried to speak but her throat was horribly dry. She reached out for the glass of water nearby. It helped soothe her throat and headache somewhat. She eased herself up and went to go wake up Isabelle.
“Isabelle,” she said, her voice still cracked.
“Oh!” Isabelle said, waking up immediately. “How are you feeling?”
“Hung-over, but you slept against the wall.”
“That’s fine,” Isabelle said, “Once, I fell asleep standing up while at work! The mayor made me take regular downtime after that.”
She got up then.
“Do you need anything?” Isabelle asked. “I have to go visit my sister now, but if – “
“You’ve already done more than I should’ve asked of you,” Retsuko said. “Thank you.”
“No worries,” Isabelle replied, brightly. “And I would like to go to karaoke with you! It’ll be fun.”
“I think so, too.”
Retsuko said good-bye to her at the apartment door. Isabelle still looked back and waved cheerfully as she walked to the stairs and even when she went down the stairs until she disappeared out of sight.
Despite the headache that pounded through her head Retsuko had to smile. When she needed it she wasn’t alone.