I crack open a can of Sapporo, take it out to the balcony, lean over the railing and look down at Nishki Market. There’s a vendor selling boiled baby octopuses with quail eggs stuffed inside their heads. I watch a young American couple buy one. They pose for a photo. Then pass it back and forth, daring each other to take a bite.
My wife comes out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her wet body. I walk back into the room, sit on the edge of the bed and ask, “Were you able to wash it out?”
“I tried.” She opens her suitcase. “But I don’t think it works like that.”
“I knew something wasn’t right. It felt…different, somehow.”
“If you knew something wasn’t right, why didn’t you pull out?”
“Please, let’s not raise our voices.” I go to the mini-fridge and get two more cans of Sapporo. I give one to her.
“We should be okay. I have an app.” She shows me her phone. “See, it tracks my cycle. This time of the month, there should be nothing to worry about.”
“I’ll tell you one thing, we are never having sex again. I mean it. Never.”
She drops her towel and steps into a tiny pair of yellow panties. I open my second beer and walk back out to the balcony. Below me, a vendor is mopping away fish guts.
“Kyoto would make a cute name for a baby.” She comes up behind me, wrapping her arms around my waist. “I think it would work for a boy or a girl.”
“Glad you can make jokes.” I step away from her.
“Or maybe Sapporo. Meet our son, Sapporo.” She tries to give me a kiss. The building begins to move. I lose my balance. She grabs hold of the railing.
At Kyoto Station, we take the escalator up to the fifteenth floor, where the restaurants are. We get a table at a place that specializes in sukiyaki, Japan’s version of a hot pot. We order two beers and a carafe of cold sake to share.
I pour the sake and say, “I know people who try for months to get pregnant. Look at my sister. It took her close to a year.”
“I’m going to the ladies room.” My wife stands up. “While I’m gone, will you please think of something else to talk about?” She walks away.
The waiter arrives with our food. First, he places a cast iron stand in the center of the table. He pulls a lighter out of his apron, lights a flame inside the stand, then sets a steaming pot of broth on top.
The hot pot comes with a plate of thinly sliced raw beef, a variety of uncooked vegetables and three dipping sauces. He lines everything up on the table. Then he cracks an egg into a bowl and leaves it beside the sauces.
I thank him. He gives me a full bow and walks away without turning his back to the table. I wait for my wife to return. Then place half of the beef and some mushrooms into the broth.
“Thank God the food is finally here. I’m starving,” she says.
While the beef is cooking, I say, “What about that earthquake? That was pretty scary.”
“It wasn’t so bad.” She shrugs.
“I don’t know how people live here with all the earthquakes.”
“Maybe they don’t know how you live in Florida with all the hurricanes.”
“At least with a hurricane there’s time to prepare. With an earthquake you get no warning.”
“Well, I like it here.” She takes a slice of beef out of the broth. The pot boils over.
“I’m not saying I don’t like it here.” I adjust the flame. “I just don’t think I could live here.”
“I could see myself moving here.” She pours herself another sake, ignoring my empty glass.
The waiter returns and asks, “How is everything?”
“Oishii,” I say with a smile.
“What’s this for?” My wife points to the raw egg.
“For dipping.” He holds his fingers over the pot, plucks out an imaginary slice of beef and mimes dipping it in the egg.
My wife waits for him to leave. Then leans in and says, “Raw egg? I don’t think I can do it.”
“I’m sure it’s fine.” With my chopsticks, I beat the egg until it’s scrambled. My wife holds her stomach and says, “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Michael Cuglietta's work has appeared in Queen Mobs Teahouse, NOON, The Gettysburg Review, Passages North and elsewhere. He is also the author of the forthcoming fiction collection, The Feast of Jupiter (Little Island Press, 2018).