by M. K. Hobson

She is too big for her apartment.

Six feet tall, she is always breaking things and bruising herself and ducking involuntarily. Japan, land of the small. Small island, small people, small apartments, small bathrooms. Her bathroom is four feet square, to be precise. She sits in the tepid bathtub, knees to chin. The tub is deeper than it is wide; it’s like bathing in a drinking glass.

“Tonight I will be at Brendan’s,” she thinks, closing her eyes. “He will get me ice cream.” The thought is almost unbearably pleasant.

She meets Brendan at a stand bar that’s the size of a Greyhound bus-station bathroom. She sits hunched over a plate-sized table to keep from knocking her head on a low-hanging Styrofoam lobster. Brendan is Welsh. He has a large head and a beaky nose, and he talks about football. She knows nothing about football. She lets him talk for the requisite hour, nodding. Then she touches his thigh with her knee and says the same thing she always does:

“Let’s go to your place.”

It’s a beautiful warm night, low and purple. She leads the way, like a dog pulling at a leash. He chuckles at her back.

“You’re always so eager,” he says, and pride at his assumed prowess brightens his tone. He doesn’t understand. He wouldn’t be flattered if he did.

Brendan’s apartment is on the top floor of a pre-war building built of red cedar and white pine. She squeezes past him, running up the narrow stairs, waiting for him on the landing, wiggling with anticipation. He unlocks the door and she kicks off her shoes. She hurries down the wood-panelled hall and slides the shoji screen to one side.

Six tatamis glow up at her. Twelve feet by nine feet of gleaming space, devoid of furniture, empty. The beauty of it makes her stomach twist.

She stretches herself out on the gleaming floor, extending her feet and hands as far as they can go. She closes her eyes and smooths the backs of her arms against the slippery woven grass.

Brendan stands in the doorway, looking down at her. He half-smiles as he unbuttons his shirt. The profundity of impending loss electrifies her.

“Ice cream,” she says.

He frowns.


“It’s a warm night, wouldn’t it be nice?”

He rolls his eyes, but he buttons his shirt back up.

She hears the clutter of keys and the shuffle of heavy feet down wooden steps. She closes her eyes. She breathes, in and out. It is a delicious effort, moving air through the great space around her.

In ten minutes he’s back. A pint of green tea ice cream bulges in a white plastic bag.

“Hard as a rock,” he said huskily, pleadingly. “Needs time to sit.”

She sighs. Fair is fair. She opens her arms to him. Holds her breath.

“Let it sit, then,” she says.

Grinning, he lowers himself over her, encloses her, enfolds her.

And again, the world is small.

Mary‘s stories have appeared in After Hours, Talus and Scree, Metropolis Monthly, and the Hiroshima Signpost. Her short story, “Daughter of the Monkey God” appeared on