One Eye

by Elle Pryor

Tamaki Nakamura was just nineteen years old and lived in the Asakusa area of Tokyo. Since the age of ten she had been collecting china cats. They were arranged in swirls of matching color on the shelves above her Nintendo 64. The cartoon figures of Mario and Luigi grinned down at her from an old huge poster on her door inviting her in Japanese to buy the latest Super Mario game. She refused to update her console to a newer version because she liked to play with this happy, fat bellied man so much.

Some of the china cats on her shelves had round weighted bottoms and they rocked slightly in the surreptitious wind that blew in through her barely open window. These pastel cats nodded at her as she walked past. If you looked directly down from above at the rows of china you would see the sweeping pattern that Tamaki had carefully created by standing on a chair. Bands of sky blue, bright yellow, soft pink, red, white and black, lay adjacent to each other, creating waves of color and cat inspired eccentric shapes.

Tamaki had her own cat, One Eye. It was completely white with one blue eye and one orange. She was deaf in the ear next to the blue eye, however and maybe because of her hearing difficulties, she was far more vocal than other cats, mewing loudly and longer with unusual intensity. At night, One Eye would jump onto Tamaki's bed, crawl under the blankets and lie next to Tamaki, her paws resting on the pillow.

Often, Tamaki wished she were a cat like One Eye, so she could also sleep all day in the sun. She tried to communicate with One Eye by mewing and purring in different pitches. There was a certain series of purrs and mews that always caught her cat's attention. Tamaki did not know what she was saying in cat language but One Eye would stop what she was doing for a couple of seconds and point her good ear towards Tamaki and then just as suddenly continue with her scratching, licking or eating. Tamaki struggled daily to expand her cat vocabulary, often with very little success.

Tamaki's mother also loved cats and there were two other cats in the household. Her mother's favorite was Cloud, she was a white short-haired cat covered with black patches. She was far more aloof and well behaved than One Eye and would have been severely reprimanded if she had gone anywhere near Mr. and Mrs. Nakamura's bed. Cloud always thanked Mrs. Nakamura for any food or petting she might receive by slowly rubbing the side of her body on Mrs. Nakamura's legs. This was one of the reasons why Mrs. Nakamura liked the cat so much because it was polite and grateful. The third cat, Alpha was a wild, ginger cat and often absent for days. However, when she returned she would immediately take charge of the other two cats, they were wary in her company and became less affectionate towards Tamaki and her mother because Alpha wanted them all to herself.

Tamaki's mother collected kimonos. She would wear them in the evening when visiting friends, making an elegant appearance on the subway. She had a wardrobe completely full of them. Her finest silk kimonos were reserved for when she went to watch Kabuki-za at a theatre in Ginza. It sometimes annoyed Tamaki's mother that all the performers were men especially if they were particularly fat or ugly. Her husband said that their appearance was always hard on the eyes and that they looked ugly in their white face paint and thick black wigs which sat on top of their heads like helmets. To Mrs. Nakamura's practiced eye, their kimonos looked cheap and shiny, although she was willing to concede that the elaborate costume changes that took place during the performance whilst they were on stage made it difficult for them to choose more expensive fabrics.

Tamaki's father did not like the songs or their singing voices either and sometimes cringed at the sound of the instruments they played. He said their voices were too shaky and the notes jumped too often from high to low. Nevertheless, her parents went to the theatre almost every week, drawn by the beauty of the theatre, the spectacle on the stage and the gentleness of a tradition that was an escape from the irritations of their modern lives.

Despite being the daughter of an elegant woman, Tamaki preferred to wear very different clothes.  In her bedside drawers she had a collection of striped tights in different colors. A thick, horizontal stripe of color alternating with black was her favorite design. She had
a different color for every day of the week, including shocking pink and lime green. In each ear she had five piercings plus a stud at the top of her right ear. A bone earring poked through this hole on the other ear. Just above her mouth, underneath her nose, she wore a silver stud. The back fastened in her mouth and rested at the top of her gums. Her hair was dyed orange and she wore ankle-length burgundy Converse All Stars over her thick striped tights.

Tamaki was a face collector and one of the best. Already some of the older women
were taking an interest in her skills. Tamaki used tonal and vocal expression to create her faces and she had a subtle ear and changed the patterns of her voice to manipulate her victim’s faces. Certain facial reactions to a word, tone or vocal pattern could one day, sometimes even months after being found, reveal an important secret. One word and one face could be a key to a lifetime. It was this key that the older women sought. However, Tamaki was only interested in the face not the reason for its existence. For her, it was just fun and she picked mostly strangers that she and her best friend Keiko noticed rather than neighbors or enemies.

Their current hunting ground was the local temple where there were many tourists who did not speak Japanese. There was something magical about creating a reaction in somebody whose facial expression was the result of rhythm or mistaken word recognition. Afterwards, her friend Keiko would mimic the face in front of their victim making certain that they saw her. Often this would result in an even funnier reaction.

On Saturday, as usual, Tamaki and Keiko met next to the huge red lantern outside the entrance to the Sensoi temple. It was a prime spot to find tourists. Keiko had a new mobile phone with an inbuilt camera, she told Tamaki she intended to take photographs of their victim’s faces and Tamaki laughed excitedly. Keiko was wearing a similar outfit to Tamaki but instead of Converse boots she wore black Adidas trainers with three white stripes. While Tamaki's tights were striped purple, Keiko's were black and blue. Keiko's hair was dyed a deep black and she wore a black T-shirt with white skulls arranged in a triangle on the front. Her ears were also covered with multiple piercings and she had a stud in her tongue. Tamaki complimented her T-shirt and looked down in dismay at her own, a light blue one with a large yellow flower on the front. She wished that she had worn something that was less feminine.

Keiko nudged Tamaki when a group of tourists sauntered by, all with cameras and guidebooks in their hands.

“There are too many of them”, Tamaki said, “We won’t get their attention”. 

Keiko nodded in agreement and they waited for another ten minutes underneath the huge red and black lantern. Their patience was rewarded, a family approached, they all looked weary and slightly ill-tempered. The parents were talking in English and walked ahead of a girl of about eighteen and it seemed as if she was ignoring her parents. Her clothes were neat and conservative, very different to Tamaki’s and Keiko's. Over long beige shorts, she wore a pristine white T-shirt and her blonde hair was tied back into a ponytail. Around her waist she wore a bum bag. Tamaki nudged Keiko and pointed at it, dismay and pity on her face. Keiko shook her head in horror.

The two girls stared at the girl as she walked past.  She caught their stares and then quickly walked away, slightly alarmed. Tamaki grinned and Keiko ran ahead so that she was in front of the girl and could see her face.  Tamaki followed behind, a couple of people separated her from her victim but she was close enough to the girl to be heard. Tamaki took out her mobile phone and pretended to talk into the receiver; she then began to repeat a few phrases and words in Japanese that had caused a reaction with English speaking tourists before.

At first, they seemed to have no effect on the girl, so she began to talk more quickly, combining the words and phrases in different patterns and with varying intonation. Suddenly the girl turned around with a puzzled expression on her face and Tamaki knew that her voice had become a giant hook that had caught the girl's ear. She began to talk a bit louder. Rubbing her ears as if they had been slapped, the English tourist turned around again.

Tamaki scanned the crowd ahead to find Keiko; suddenly she appeared in front of the English tourist and began to imitate her face. Blinking rapidly she opened her mouth, closed it again and furrowed her brow. Tamaki started to giggle; Keiko was very funny when she imitated people, a natural clown. Keiko's face quickly changed to one of annoyance and anger as she pointed her mobile phone towards the tourist and pressed a button. As the tourist walked by Keiko she turned to stare at her as if she could hardly believe what had just happened. Keiko grinned and took another picture of her, capturing her disgust and disapproval.

Later they stopped at a coffee shop and they scrolled through the pictures together, laughing at each person. After the young English tourist they had found seven more victims. Keiko had even been shouted at by an American tourist, to whom she had replied in English,
“Me, English speak no”.

On the walk home they spoke together in very basic English, giggling as they did so. That evening they planned to go to Shibuya and visit a Rock club. First though they would return to their respective homes, change their clothes and eating some dinner. Tamaki also wanted to backcomb her hair. The two girls parted at the entrance to Tamaki's apartment block and they arranged to meet in three hours. Alpha greeted Tamaki as soon as she walked through her front door, weaving her way between Tamaki's ankles, purring loudly. The cat had been missing for three days, so Tamaki was pleased to see her and she picked her up and hugged her. Alpha dug her claws into her shoulder making Tamaki wince at the slight pain. Together, they walked to Tamaki's bedroom, Alpha cradled in her arms.

Lying in the sun streaming through Tamaki's closed window was One Eye. Alpha was deposited next to her and she mewed aggressively at One Eye who quickly jumped off her bed to give her even more room. Tamaki tutted and picked up One Eye, stroking her white fur, annoyed at her for being so timid when it was obvious that she considered her to be her own special cat in the household. She loved her different colored eyes and deafness, her loud purrs and insistent mews. Tamaki sat down on the bed, with One Eye on her knee, stroking the fur on her back.

Alpha began to become jealous and mewed at them and Tamaki felt One Eye tremble in her arms and fidget as if she wanted to jump onto the floor again but she did not let her go; she wanted her favorite cat to become less timid. Alpha arched her back and her fur began to stand up. One Eye became frantic and wriggled vigorously, slipping out of Tamaki's arms. Tamaki was not pleased; she frowned and turned to Alpha, wagging her finger at her, “Naughty Alpha”, she said, bending towards her slightly.

Quickly, without Tamaki being able to move away or defend herself, Alpha held up one paw, her claws extended, and swiped at Tamaki's eye. Leaping back she squealed with pain, holding her right eye with her hands. It began to water, tears fell down Tamaki's cheek, and then the other eye joined in, watering also, as if in sympathy. She thought to herself that in a few seconds the pain would end, the tears would stop and her eye would return to normal. Instead, the eye continued to water and was so sensitive to the light, that she was unable to open it. The surface burned underneath her eyelid and it felt as if she had a huge stone stuck to the front of her pupil.

At the hospital after, the doctor had pried her eye open, he was puzzled by what he saw and quickly told a nurse to fetch some more doctors. Eventually three doctors circled Tamaki, looking down at her as she sat in her chair, shaking their heads and holding their chins, but without actually uttering a sound. Tamaki could hardly see them through the sheet of tears that had been permanently stuck to her eyes since the incident on the bed, but the sight of the three puzzled doctors staring down at her as if she were an alien creature, made her want to laugh.

The doctors called her mother into the room and when she saw her daughter's open eye she gasped in dismay and her own eyes began to fill up with tears. Tamaki was intrigued rather then worried, but nobody had informed her of the problem.
“Can I have a mirror please”, she asked politely.

The doctors turned their backs on her and began to whisper together, then reluctantly, with a worried expression on their faces, one of the doctors handed Tamaki a mirror. Tamaki gasped at her reflection; her iris was no longer black, but completely red with a smaller black circle in the middle where her pupil had been.

One of the Doctors cleared his throat and said, “We think the cat has burst a blood vessel in your eye, causing the discoloration”. 

Tamaki ignored him staring into the mirror, at one black eye and one red eye.

“We think that it will eventually clear”, the doctor continued, revealing by his sympathetic tone of voice that he was still concerned for her.

“It will?” Tamaki asked quickly. 

She was disappointed because she loved her new eye, it was fantastic and completely original. It would shock and disgust people, she speculated on what her new nickname would be, maybe Red- Eye, the face catcher or Blood-eye, the face charmer, better still, Devil-Eye, the face curser and she sighed with contentment. Keiko would be thrilled; now they could frighten even more tourists and they would become legendary in their neighborhood.  People would cross the street when they saw them approaching, children would start to cry.

Tamaki could not go to Shibuya that evening, the doctor ordered her to rest and he had placed a thick pad over her right eye with some white tape. Her mother wanted to punish Alpha, saying “I have never liked Alpha, she always seems to cause trouble.”

Tamaki convinced her not to though, telling her mother a white lie that it was her fault because she had been teasing her.  Her mother was swift to reprimand her instead.

It still felt to Tamaki as if there was a stone stuck underneath her eyelid and it burned when she blinked. Her mother and father were supposed to be going to the theatre that evening; it was time for their weekly visit. Her mother decided not to go because of Tamaki's injury, even though the doctor had told her that there was nothing to worry about. Tamaki could tell that her father was pleased by the way he patted her hand affectionately and grinned at her. As soon as he heard the news, he turned on the baseball channel and sat down in the front of the TV with a can of Asahi lager. Her mother ordered Tamaki to go upstairs and try to get some rest while she made her something to eat.

When she got to her room, she was delighted to find Alpha there and she lay down next to her and put the cat on her stomach, stroking her and rubbing her under the chin.
“Thank you Alpha,” Tamaki whispered, “I love you."

Alpha purred deeply and rubbed her forehead against Tamaki's chin. Tamaki forgot all about One Eye.

Twenty minutes later, Tamaki's mother arrived with some dinner on a tray for her daughter and was angry when she found Alpha nestling on her sleeping daughter's
stomach. Quickly she picked the cat up and put it outside the room, closing the door before it could get back in. It continued to mew loudly outside the room scratching the door with its claws. Tamaki's mother left a plate of sushi and some tea by her daughter's bedside and looked down at her daughter with concern as she slept. The smell of the sushi began to make her hungry and her stomach began to grumble, until the grumbles merged into one long, continuous note like the purr of a giant cat.

© 2010 Elle Pryor.  All rights reserved. 

Elle Pryor is a new writer with forthcoming publications due in South Jersey Underground and Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal. She has been previously featured in Black Lantern Publishing, and lives in Pensacola, Florida where she is currently working on a novel.