Warm Hands

Story by Tyler McPeek

Artwork by Dean Christ


“Excuse me for being rude Oda-san, may I give you the report you wanted now?”  The lips of the young worker were pressed tightly together, and his eyes were fixed as he waited for Mr. Oda to respond.  Standing before Oda-sempai, a man some 25 years his senior, the young man’s frame was stiff, portraying a protocol and formality that made him appear tight and rigid beyond his years.

     “What?  Excuse me, what?”  Blurted Junichiro Oda.  Then, without pause, “Oh, that.  Right.  I’ll take that now.  Thanks.”  Oda wore a discerning face, but his mind was elsewhere as he feigned interest in the recently acquired finance report.  The report contained pages and pages of rhetoric and fluff, which accounted for vast stretches of logged hours by a group of younger associates in the company, sadly padding three pages of essential, yet depressing debt figures accrued by the agency during the last quarter.  Still, to present these figures in any other fashion would have been inappropriate, considering Oda’s superior position in the company’s corporate structure.

     It was nearing 7:30pm, and Oda desperately wanted to leave the office.  He knew of at least 3 of his underlings who would stay all night if necessary, but would never leave before him.  Still, certain procedures had to be observed, appearances had to be maintained, so Oda-san gazed at the report, slowly flipping through the first few pages.

     Through the glass partition that surrounded his cubicle-office-hybrid, he could see the majime associates busying themselves with the task of looking busy, but as soon as he looked away, he could feel their anxious eyes focusing on the curves of his meaty face, the sag in his tired composure, the blue reflection of the computer screen in the thick lenses of his bifocals.


     After a significant period of false deliberations had lapsed, he shuffled the papers noisily into a neat stack and rose to a standing position with a pronounced “Yoshhhh!”  Then, he conspicuously and systematically set about closing programs, switching off the computer, dropping the remainder of his salada sushi roll in the small trash bin next to his chair, and locking the top-center drawer of his desk.  He jingled his keys in his pockets; organized the items on his desktop, and closed the hinged screen of his laptop.  Everything was choreographed to a steady stream of verbal completionary grunts: “Yosh,” “yosh,” and “yoshhh.”

     “O-saki ni shitsureshimas, please excuse me for leaving before you.”  The ‘s’ at the end was drawn out like a snake, trailing off behind him as Oda dealt out curt 1/8 bows on his way out the office door.  His hissing exit was complimented by a chorus of “Otsukaresama deshita, job well done! ”  The standard response delivered with tremendous enthusiasm.

     A swift turn to the right as he exited the building and just like that, “Yosha!”  He was free.  Junichiro walked along at a steady clip, weaving through the suited bodies.  He glanced at his watch and gnawed on his lower lip as he mapped out a mental timetable.  At this time, his wife and daughter would be taking a bath at the local sento public bathhouse.  They would dine from 8, but dinner would be waiting for Junichiro anytime he returned home.  In order to deceive them ReaLsTiCAly by saying that he had merely been working late, without being forced to come up with a more elaborate excuse, he would have to return by 9:15 or so.  For, in truth, he had worked late, so little time remained to take advantage of his usual excuse.  It was better to save the more complex deceptions for special occasions.  It’s 7:40 now.  30 minutes or so on the train, that means catch the 8:30 express.  Not much time…the S― Station was out—too far, plus it was a little late to catch the crowd going home who lived near the city’s center.  Better to catch the after dinner crowd.  Plenty of school girls, still in uniform, going out to K― Garden to hang out with friends.  Or, a few straggling, majime/hard working, serious, shyer students on their way home from after school clubs.  Then of course there would be the nurses, waitresses, and clerks, hurrying to their nighttime jobs and part-time stints, in their stiff cotton, one-piece, pocketed uniforms.  Then still there would be the hostesses of the water-selling industry, dressed in evening wear, going to pre-work dohan dinner dates with hungry customers.  But they were bad bets—loud, crass, streetwise, and generally unpredictable.  Yes, he had better head for the red line.

     He pulled up his collar and quickened his pace, walking in the direction of the nearest subway inlet.  He got into character as he walked—a detached, impersonal, straightforward stare, his head slightly low on his shoulders, like a cautious turtle, ready to retreat if necessary.  It gave the effect of making him seem smaller, yet keeping a respectable composure.  He became more anonymous and invisible, entering the bumping throngs, seeking their tangled threads, a seemingly indiscriminant flow.  Only the slight spring in his gait remained, the sign of love-like giddiness—an inner enjoyment, that like a cough, cannot be hidden.

     Upon entering the station, he went to the nearest convenience store in the crowded underground concourse and purchased two hand warmers.  In front of the trashcan outside the door, he unwrapped them and deposited the plastic wrappers in the combustibles garbage bin.  He kneaded and squeezed the soft paper-fabric bags until the chemical sands inside began to generate heat, then he put one in each pocket of his gray wool overcoat and walked toward the Red Line entrance.

     There was a bite in the air and most of the women Junichiro passed were wearing tight fitting sweaters with high, doubled-over necks.  Over those, there was a coat here and there.  Short skirts with long boots were everywhere.  It was the combination to be seen in this winter, according to the women’s fashion magazines that Junichiro occasionally flipped through at the convenience stores.  On the platform, there were a few ogaru and para-para ganguro girls, with sparkly glitter makeup applied liberally about their pastel eyes and darkened faces.  Their unwashed hair was teased out, indistinguishable from the cylindrical extensions they had added.  Their bodies were young and hard; their clothes were more revealing than most.  But Junichiro had no taste for them.

     By the time the next train pulled in, a sizable crowd had gathered.  Junichiro was at the front, waiting when the doors opened.  However, he didn’t enter.  Instead, he pretended to think of something suddenly, and turned back against the crowd.    Regulating his breathing, he casually turned his head in the direction of the women who passed around him.  Sometimes a fleeting strand of hair brushed against his cheek.  Into his nose, he inhaled not only their perfumes and scented shampoos, but their hairsprays, clothing detergents.  He could discern the warm, animal smell of their hairless armpits and dried feminine sweat on their taught upper chest, between their small breasts.  He loved best when a woman, hair brushed aside at that exact perfect moment, seemingly invited him to take a sniff of her powdery, slender neck.  He looked forward to the coming New Year and various winter festivals, when he would smell their steaming breath, strong with the odors of shyouyusauce, tacoctopuss, and nihonshyuake.

     After the doors had closed, Junichiro sat down on the bench and waited.  His warm-up complete, he would ride the next train.  He would ride it at least as far as N― Station, a much better area to “make rounds.”  He slowly pulled his very basic model, silver Docomo ketai from his pocket and pressed a button to activate the light orange backlighting.  The orange backlighting was a bit of a rarity, as even the cheaper models had color screens these days.  The phone was on “manner mode” now, so it emitted no beep when activated and would only vibrate if he received a call.  He hated the way all the girls had phones, constantly blaring 7-toned versions of the latest popular songs from hidden purses and pockets.  When he saw them standing around in public places, bright plastic bars pressed to their ears, jabbering away, he was reminded about how much things had changed since his schooldays.

     His wife had insisted he get one.  When she called him on it during the day for some trivial matter, he often conspicuously called her back from his office phone 20 or 30 minutes later, apologizing for being busy at the time of the call.  She never caught the hint.  He only pulled it out now because he had taken his Seiko automatic off before leaving work.  The cold metal band was uncouth and ill-suited for his games, and he liked the feeling of being without a watch, which was impossible at work.

     It was now 7:52.  Not much time, thought Junichiro, as he watched the glow from the oncoming train grow larger and brighter in the far end of the tunnel.  The next throng had formed around him now.  This time he was to the rear and center of the group, so as to assure a good vantage point after entering the train (where it would be difficult and odd to move in the crowd).  The train was packed.  He stood near the door.  There were only 3 stops to his destination.  Two groups of young men surrounded him.  One was a loose group of 5 or 6 teenagers, in gaku学ran uniforms, stiff black collars framing their fleeting youth.  The other was a pair of friends in their early twenties, who stood close together, swaying silently to the rhythm of the tracks.  At the next stop, another small bulge of people pushed in, squeezing everyone still closer together.  Two stops to go and he would walk the platform at K― Station, then ride back to N― Station to catch his train home.

    He almost missed her when she entered at the next stop, short as she was.  But after the doors closed, he saw the profile of her face between the shoulders of the two older boys on his right.  Her face had strong, handsome lines, but wore the timid expression of a hesitant animal.  She was not in any way exceptional, at least not to the casual observer.  Junichiro guessed she was probably successful in her strive toward anonymity.  She was dressed like a university student, or perhaps a young office lady, dressed down after work and going to a nighttime class of some sort.  On her small frame she wore a closed, short coat and dark jeans with the bottoms rolled back up a good 8 centimeters, as was the current trend.  She cradled a small plastic case under her right arm.

    The frame was similar, but it was that strong, sculpted face that reminded him of his ‘Yuki’ from four and half years earlier, when it began.  Of course, he didn’t know the name of the real girl who had started it for him, but had called her ‘Yuki,’ after the girl he had had such a crush on back in junior high school.  Yes…the girl before him now was older, but very much like his Yuki.

    Before it had started, he had had nothing to do after work.  He had been far more irritable and short-tempered at the office and at home.  After, his management peers at the company had asked what his secret was.  He seemed to be so stress-free, compared to his earlier self.

    On that summer day, “Yuki” had been sitting in a new, empty train car in her blue and white sailor-style school uniform, with a red, ribbon-like necktie, her small bony fingers at rest in her lap.  She had worn her skirt long, not rolled short from the waist, like the schoolgirl floozies that were so common these days.  Her straight black hair fell forward on either side, shielding her face from all but a frontal view.  Only her nose and pursed lips were visible from the side when Junichiro had daringly changed his seat to the one next to hers.  She registered no reaction to this older man, so purposely close to her; just continued staring at her white sneakers, with her slender, pale thighs pressed tightly together.  Slowly, he moved his hand into the narrow space on the seat between them.  She showed no signs of noticing him, but yet he was right there, breathing down on her.

    Encouraged by her seeming ineptitude, he moved still closer, walking his extremity forward by centimeters with the butt of his hand and middle fingers, until the side of his down-turned palm made contact and rested on the dark blue fold of her coarse, wool skirt.

    Surely she would yell, scream, change seats at the least.  He braced himself.  He should be satisfied with this achievement, he thought.  But he wasn’t satisfied, or oddly enough even afraid.  He felt only a mild inhibition about looking directly at her face.  But from his periphery he could ascertain that her head was still bent downward.  He began to feel the excess folds of her skirt more closely, making it real, familiar to his fingertips and palm.  Fold by fold.  Then, he moved his hand, still palm down, even closer.  The side of his little finger pushed slightly against the featherweight of her small leg.  The silhouette of her head was as motionless as his own.  It was only his right hand that crept along in the shadows.  It was obvious now that she knew of his presence, the invisible twitching of her thigh muscle proclaimed it.  He ran his hand up her thigh over the skirt and rested it palm down on her stomach.  He could feel her meager, soft, un-worked girth beneath the thin layer of her white blouse.  Her tenseness was evident now, but she did not turn to look at him.  She did push upward with her ankles slightly, not to rise, but as if to indicate that intention—to test his resolve.  He firmed up his hand, and his resolve, and pushed her down slightly.  There was no going back now, he had passed the test, his intention was clear, she would say nothing.  He moved a bit quicker now, as the train slowed for the next stop.  He slipped his hand into her skirt, from the top.  Inside he could feel her smooth, warm thighs and the sharp curve of her protruding hip bones.  He pushed aside the ends of her tucked-in shirt tails, so he could touch the baby cotton of her panties.  He pressed slightly and could not feel the cushion that a Japanese woman’s long vaginal hair usually formed in the front of the panties.  He sensed a tiny bow stitched into the top of the fabric, near the skin of her mid-drift.  Her skin was so soft, like delicate tissue paper or mochi on the alter of a Shinto shrine, a forbidden gift, for the gods.

    The train was nearly stopped.  Yuki’s eyes darted towards the rumbling beneath her stiff, pleated skirt for the first time.  He plunged his hand into her panties.  There was no time for the slow, careful inspection that he would have liked to perpetrate.  He felt short and soft hairs close to the skin, like those that might be found on the arm of a young man, tickle his palm—as his middle finger probed the area below.  The slit of her vagina was amazingly contained.  It was like a thin cut.  Her pink insides had not yet begun to bubble out to the surface.  The doors were opening, as he plunged his finger inside her, into the beginnings of her tight canal.  It seemed to have a tight little heart beat of its own.  Her head started to turn towards the surge of people entering the train.  Without looking at her, Junichiro stood up, pulling his hand along as he went.  As he darted from the train, his right hand was the last to leave, cool now as the sucking air current evaporated the moistness from his finger.

    He had never gotten a good look at that first girl’s face, but in his mind she had become the real Yuki, his shy classmate with glasses from his junior high school days.  He had never so much as felt the real Yuki’s young skin, nor any virgin’s, in his life, until then, the day the game, and in many ways his life, began in earnest.  The world of fantasy had taken real shape and tangible context.  For the first time in his life, he had freed the Junichiro from the Oda.  Once again he was the playful Jun-chan of old, running along the riverbank on his way home from school, with the trademark bright yellow cap, dark blue shorts and coat, and hard-style, red leather backpack of elementary school students, the light, rapid pitter-patter of his footfalls announcing his carefree disposition as he skipped along—before the ugly, adolescent metamorphosis to unrequited sexual desires, awkwardness, and hidden pressure had began.  His gait was patterned on whims, stopping here and there to send a stone skipping into the water, with a kick from his shiny black shoes.

    Now, standing on the crowded train looking at today’s girl, the game still had its desired effect.  He was this reborn Jun-chan, this young boy just playing a game as he trotted through the river of people, searching for a well-rounded stone to send his heart skipping.  And there she was, very much like his Yuki, both of them.  He was approaching the station that would carry him back to reality.  Junichiro stuck his right hand in his pocket, warming the skin to a nearly uncomfortable temperature by gripping the hand warmer tightly.  His hand must feel as warm as her own skin when he touches her, not cold, foreign.  Junichiro was not like that, he was kin to her.

    When the train stopped, he waited till all had exited.  Then, just as the crowd was starting to enter, pushing his little Yuki backward, Junichiro squeezed through between the two boys.  His newly warmed hand dropped from his coat pocket to his side as he passed.  Turning his palm outward and his face toward the girl, he edged past sideways.  He timed his breathing and took her aroma in through his nose, as he brushed his hand against her bottom, feeling the soft meat of her tiny buttocks with one gentle, but prolonged grab.  Her hair smelled faintly of fruits.  Then, Oda-san emerged from the doors with the vacuum rush of cold air, leaving Jun-chan in the warm, fruity train, with his childhood friend.

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