The Traveler's Wife -- Episode Two

"You should go visit the Imperial Palace." I peeled open my eyes. You were sitting on the edge of the bed staring down at me. Suited, ready to go, perhaps a little worried.
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"You should go visit the Imperial Palace."

I peeled open my eyes. You were sitting on the edge of the bed staring down at me. Suited, ready to go, perhaps a little worried.

My eyes drifted closed. "Maybe," I said.

When I woke again it was eleven, and you were gone. I dragged myself from bed, four days in Tokyo and I was still consumed by jetlag. Dressed, showered, though I don't think it was in that order. I devoured a rice triangle from the stash I kept in the mini fridge--hunger seemed to strike me here ravenously and without warning--and then I still wasn't sure how to proceed.

Thankfully, the maids were persistent.

In my state, just leaving the hotel was cumbersome. At the end of an endless corridor was an elevator that dropped me from 36 down to 28, where, through a super sleek lobby, I passed a million smiles and bows. A second set of elevators dropped me down to a towering cylindrical glass entrance, where I slipped by more smiles and bows and out the sliding doors. Across a sprawling courtyard set amongst towering multinationals, I rode an escalator as if down a precipice to the mezzanine, where the masses began to grow. Men and women wearing dark, professional, sometimes stylish clothing, moving at a good clip through a vast network of underground tunnels and walkways, more and more of them, all funneling into the Shimbashi Train Station. Up some stairs, down some stairs, left around a bend, everything ablaze with stalls and shops, Japanese delicacies, a battery of ramen, tempura, sushi restaurants, the sounds of slurping and sucking, a singsong of dinging turn stalls, Starbucks. "Why walk above," you liked to say, "When you can walk below."

I often found myself following a stream of bodies up an escalator when my brain knew well to have gone down. The beginnings of a lost mind, I wondered. Or something else, for I found myself maneuvering through this sprawling and intricate transit system as if I were flying above it, floating, deftly landing myself down onto whatever platform had a train headed in my direction. When that silly happy music played as the train doors opened, my head bobbed invisibly to the tune, until the doors closed, and the world became subdued, and I stood holding the ceiling rail trying to make sense of the comfort I found on these trains, ensconced in throngs of calm, quiet, civilized people, no pushing or shoving, no babies crying, no drug addicts or homeless, no trash. No trash cans. Like you'd imagine the subways in heaven to be.

Mine was a vague destination, not a "site" per se, rather, an intersection in Shibuya called Hachiko Square. A hub of busy city streets, where, so I had read, when the light turned, traffic halted from all directions at once and pedestrians charged forward in one massive chaotic crisscrossing. So here I now stood, curbside along with a gazillion others, all our eyes glued to the traffic light, waiting for it to change, billboards screaming all around me, and yet when the light did change and I began to cross, it didn't feel chaotic at all, rather, it felt serene, in some massive way, as if, during the time it took me, and everyone around me, to get to our respective other sides, the sky had opened up and shined down upon us a great white light. His light. We, the show. Strutting and fretting our hour upon the stage. Etc. etc.

Not a temple per se, but spiritual nonetheless.

Afterwards, I sat in a nondescript bar and sipped an ice-cold Asahi beer and mulled over how even a simple peanut tasted better in this city. Outside, the bustling murmur. Mouths moving in silence. It didn't occur to me that they were speaking a different language. It didn't occur to me that I was in Tokyo, in a foreign country at all for that matter, something I'd told you about later, and that, strangely, I did not feel far away. In fact, I felt close. "To what?" you asked me, and I told you I didn't know.

Perhaps you'd been concerned, but the next day you took a break from work and met me back at the Shibuya Crossing. I could tell you felt idiotic, and it was rather idiotic, coming here for the sole purpose of crossing the intersection, but as we made our way across and that hole in the sky opened up, I could tell you felt it too, or felt something anyway. And then I made you cross it again so that I could film you doing it, which you hated.

We set a date for sushi later, but at six you texted me that you needed to go out to dinner with your CTO and a potential Japanese hire. Of course, I texted. Sorry, you texted. No worries, I texted. So went the drill for a traveler's wife. I grabbed rice triangles from the mini fridge, sake, and fell asleep at eight p.m. I woke again at nine, ten, at some point you were leaning over me, and, as if in a dream, I asked you if you'd been smoking. You stood up and stripped off your jacket. "It was a barbeque place," you said. I didn't say anything.

You changed into boxers and crawled into bed and we started watching an episode of the "The Affair" on your computer, but I could barely keep my eyes open. "Are you sleeping?" you kept looking at me and saying. In the morning I would not remember what happened on "The Affair," just the sound of your voice. Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping? Are you asleep? my legs all entangled up in yours, that smoky, bittersweet scent.

Jackie Townsend is the author of the novels, Imperfect Pairings and Reel Life. Her new novel, The Absence of Evelyn, will be available in April. Find out more about her books at

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