Wherever you are, dear John, you’re probably drinking away your sorrows.
If only I could do the same.
The day you ducked into Ura Mado in indescribable haste, I wasn’t expecting a customer to look me in the eye and say, “Hell of a crazy weather, huh?” Ghost street, ghost bar: I’d stock up shelves of whiskey only to stare at near-full bottles again, making me question who bought that one measly drink. When people arrived, they nestled into corners to talk amongst themselves, and I’d listen to their low voices with absent-minded wistfulness.
Then, the slow snowstorm of December 17th dragged you into my mellow days.
What exactly made me look away with every gaze of yours, I don’t know. With snow stuck to hair strands and caking your shoulders, you blinked at me before peeling off your soaking gloves. Blew on them. Pushed hair out of your eyes. Pointed to the shelves.
“Get me something that’ll keep me warm, hm?”
Low clanging echoed in an empty room. I was lonely, and you were trapped. Leaning on my elbows, I watched you empty your glass with detached fascination. There was a certain excitement within you that never died down, a frantic hurry that peeked out from distracted darting eyelashes and frenzied fingers. Someone whom you’d expect to jump up and dance with you. Someone whom you’d expect to run away with to beautiful corners of Earth —
Run away — you did run away. But not with me.
If there’s one thing life taught me, it’s this: escapism is for fools. So we both are fools, John, utter fools. I wanted to escape the haunting emptiness at home and instead, found more at Kabuki-chō. Papa wouldn’t be proud to know that his son was standing there waiting for someone to pass through the door: life is in our own hands, Krunal Katsumi, he used to say. You can’t wait for anything to fall into your lap. Go seek.
Life was in his hands, but death was not. It was funny. Funny how he still sought to live on his deathbed as a widower, struggling to breathe.
He groped blindly towards life.
I groped blindly towards love, John, and you left me with a massacred heart.
It was all a façade, was it not? It’s painful to now remember how we talked as if we were long-lost acquaintances trying to remember how we met. The way you looked at me when you said it was crazy weather, the way you leaned in and asked: “What’s your name?” with the slightest American-accented slur was all just a façade to run away from a lover.
“I’m Krunal.” I traced the edge of the counter as you gulped down a shot, blinking ferociously.
“Krunal. Doesn’t sound that Japanese.”
“Indian. Mom’s from there.”
“Has Tokyo ever been this cold?” you muttered.
“I only see this place, you know, for two months each year.” Your cup was empty again — I tipped the bottle and it trickled into stained glass. “Much livelier than Chicago.”
“If you’re always here, it’s not that lively anymore.” I shrugged and a low, shaky voice called out to me. Peeking behind the shelves, the bar manager, Hisato, whispered: Your shift, over.
“Damn, can’t let us talk in peace. Standin’ there for ten minutes.” You slammed the glass down and my life jumped to my mouth. “I’m stuck here in a damn storm.”
“Died down,” I said, and picked up my bag. Hisato was a nervous cheapskate who didn’t want to pay a penny more for working overtime, and I didn’t need that much money. I had just myself to feed.
And you had just me to accompany you in Kabuki-chō.
Two pairs of lonely footsteps in inches of snow. We huddled under an umbrella, forearms pressed together and knees colliding with every stumble before we fell into a steady pace. The neon lights, corners caked with ice, glistened with a soft glow and pencil-sketched buildings loomed over us. Strangely familiar streets — it was the opposite way to the road back home.
And at some point, your fingers were closed around my wrist and you tugged me along footpaths, craning your neck to whisper against the wind. A low, thrilling voice that rang with breathless ecstasy, the chocolate-brown eyes that reflected autumn leaves. It made me as sober as you were drunk, reveling in a reverie as we passed through streets that became more rowdy with the loud sounds of love-making. Love hotels dotted every other street we turned, and then –
Blood rush, giddy pleasures, and marks of an undoing across collarbones. That was how we got tangled together, John — a simple mess.
It is, after all, Kabuki-chō. People run away from sorrows here.
I didn’t think much about you, John, but you then made me. Here I am, nursing an unsent letter to a man who didn’t leave me with just a stray feeling that night. Here I am, pining for a man who stood at Ura Mado again with a smile that said: I’ve known you for too long to leave.
And here I am, writing to a man who then told me: You know me too little to stay.
You came like a fresh breeze and left like a typhoon. It all happened too fast to remember, John. Too fast. Three years and we’d been staring through screens only to embrace every December. You brought me home as a ‘friend’ for Christmas dinner, and at the bustling table, your Japanese aunt asked:
“How’s Ariana back there?” She patted your hand. “It’s been five years, John. Too long!”
I never filled my stomach. It made me sick. Your lips shut tight and you didn’t run after me, because you couldn’t.
I was a placeholder for love. A distraction every holiday season.
An infatuation that seeped into my pained heart as love.
Because John Watanabe, I don’t remember why I ever loved you.
Why we loved it: Dear John is proof that beauty lies in simplicity. Although initially a simple concept, the author manages to explore almost a lifetime of complex emotions in under 1k words, and does so through a discernible writing style that had me hooked from the first few words. The foreshadowing of the conflict paired with the gloomy descriptions create a forlorn mood that matches the prompt in the ideal way. Lastly, the transitions between scenes were seamless, contributing to the smooth flow the great wording had already set foundations for. Overall, an exceptional submission. – Shin
Winter in Tokyo was one of the prompts I chose and this was the only story that used it – so it’s safe to say I’m pretty chuffed that it won! This little story had me hooked from the very first sentence and the second-person perspective lent it a depth that’s hard to achieve in so few words. The characters’ layers unraveled beautifully throughout, immersing the reader in this whirlwind romance that tugs at our heartstrings. Krunal’s disappointment by the end is our disappointment, too, but the epistolary device grants us closure – if he’s taking the time to write this letter, then he’s on the verge of moving on and starting a new story. Well done! – Mari