It's not that they measure rooms in small numbers of not-quite-large-enough-to-lie-down-ins, but that the walls are -- sometimes literally -- paper-thin. I mean, the chick next door is a total babe when she's cleaned up and sober, but ... getting on your roomie's case about helping you keep your hair out of and puke in the toilet is a really shitty thing to do. I mean, I'm not interested; I'd thought it would be cool, when I was helping you and her lug that couch upstairs, but -- well, all I'd do is get hurt. I feel sorry for your roomie. She loves you a lot, and you've just been shitting on her for months. I hate having to wonder if I should call the cops. It's like domestic abuse. But I can't say anything, with the neighbors pretending not to hear anything. If the only body you're hurting is your own, it's none of my damn business. Almost wish it were; then at least I'd be doing something, or even just honestly mourning for you, rather than sitting here feeling bad about wanting to put on some headphones and crank the stereo.

Geez, lady, it can't be healthy to vent that much spleen, though I'm pretty sure you need it after drinking so much. I mean -- ahh, you've passed out. Silence. And now your roomie's crying again. Damn it, even I feel bad looking at her the next morning. What's wrong with you? And ... what's that "itai!"ing about?

I... I need an excuse.


I knock on her door. "Sumimasen! I just decided to make an all-nighter of it and go out and buy some caffeine. Can I get you anything?"

Her response sounds a little odd. Not surprising, really. "Gomen nasai! Nothing, thank you."

"She's not your fault!" Through a door is probably not the best way to be doing this. "I'll be passing a pharmacy on the way. It wouldn't be any trouble!"

Uncertainly: "Can I pay you when you get back?"

"Anytime."

"Ano... a bag of ice?"

"Sure thing."


I try not to speculate along the way -- it could only make things worse. But I helped move them in, and I can see the scene: a couch, a coffee table, a TV; girl's magazines scattered across the room, like glossy-printed trees downed by an emotional storm; a soggy mass of instant ramen slowly staining the carpet her favorite color, "Takiyaki's Finest" brown, cooling from the warmth of the roomie's reception to its bitchy rejection; a picture in a frame, once hung somewhere private but of honor, now lying exposed where it fell (it would seem dramatically appropriate, and therefore unlikely, for it to be the two of them happy together; perhaps, instead, a butsudan* icon?); her neglected hair, remembering faded highlights in porcelain refractions; a street sign, telling me I've walked right by the store. Sigh. Can't forget to buy sodas, too.

On the way back, I try to think of something to do. On American TV, something touchy-feely. I even sympathize with that. But the culture here prevents that. Sometimes, I think that's a shame. Others, I'm on the subway. I wonder if the roomie is alone in her head right now too? It's hard to get by here, otherwise; it may have more to do with the aging population than economics does. I know somebody who could tell. Maybe I'll ask.

Maybe I'll ask to come in, and just start cleaning up. It'd be strange, but maybe us foreign barbarian types can get away with it. Something like -- 'I want you to be awake and smiling when I leave for work tommorow. It's how I like to start my day.' Hm. Will true outweigh sappy? Will she even notice? I mean, aside from holding onto the excuse? She can't /want/ to clean up by herself all the time.


When I knock on the door again, I hear her trip on the way over. When she opens it, she's holding her nose shut, but there's already dried blood all over her blouse. This makes me mad, though I try not to show it. "What happened?"

She tries to fake a smile. "An accident."

I look around eloquently. The place is a disaster. "An accident?"

"She loves me, she really does. Even if she doesn't say so."

She loves her live-in maid, I think. But I can't say it. It would break the roomie's heart. "I'll chip some of this ice off and bag it for you. You should have someone look at that tommorow." I put the sodas down outside the door, so I won't forget them, and get to cleaning. What else can I do?

- _Quinn

*: A Buddhist altar, those little cabinets with pictures of dead people in them.

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