The House of Nishime

Peach Blossom was a Japanese nightclub in London, just off Trafalgar Square. The nightclub was on the third floor of the ‘House of Nishime’; a business which included a kareoke bar in the basement and a restaurant on the second floor.

Mama-san and the night-club manager, Hiroshi, habitually stood at the entrance of Peach Blossom ready to welcome and bow in the customers - so, so pleased to see them and usher them into that warm, dark, labyrinthine cocoon. The nightclub’s decor most resembled a Disney-cartoon undersea world. The walls undulated like a coral reef creating pockets of darkness and privacy. In the pockets were semi-circular banquettes covered with fake, nubby furniture-velvet like barnacles. Turtles, eels and guppies slid and scuttled away from the illuminated dance-floor and low stage into the safety of the booths. The Korean waiter glided shark-like and angry through the room, but he was very efficient and pretended deference quite well.

After showing customers to a booth, Mama-san and Hiroshi would sit on the little cushioned stools in front and make polite inquiries (the length of which depended on the guests’ standing.) Then Mama-san would ask if the customers wanted girls and, although it was perfectly possible to sit in Peach Blossom without company, it was really not the point. The girls would come through the room, like a little string of Angel Fish - soft and luminescent, long hair waving. They would glance into the cracks and crannies of Peach Blossom, spying out what was lurking in there. Two lobsters waving their claws. They were regulars and all the girls would wave back.

When the girls arrived at the table, Mama-san would introduce them, pushing each one gently towards the man she would attend. The status of the girl - they were all placed in a neat hierarchy in Mama-san’s mind - mirrored the status of the man. Each girl had to wriggle into the banquette, behind the round table, over accommodating or belligerent legs, and sit next to the corresponding customer. The very lowest girl on the totem pole might have to sit on a stool if the party was large, or the banquette was one of the smaller ones.

One evening in late February, three men came stumbling up the stairs towards the shadowy nightclub. They were totally drunk. Nevertheless, they were all still wearing suits and their ties were tied tight. The third man had just vomited. Nevertheless, he was required to continue with the evening. Mama-san and Hiroshi showed them in as usual. In response to a swift signal the Korean waiter dispatched the dish-washer to clean up the vomit and brought the third man a hot towel to clean himself with. Then he brought a bottle of scotch for the table. All the customers drank scotch and the house kept the bottles and broke them out next time the company visited. All the businessmen came to Peach Blossom on the company. It was expensive to come to Peach Blossom.

Mama-san was brusque with these particular three men because they were not honored regulars, nor was their company important. She gave them one of the smallest, shallowest booths on a bend close to the dance floor. The three men were all thin and stringy, in their early thirties - empty boaster types. Mama-san assigned them Isabel, pretty but small (she was new but seemed to have even less idea of how to please a man than the others), Dorothy, fragile with blonde bubble curls (she dressed nicely in appropriately elegant and sexy cocktail dresses, but no-one could understand her because of her strong Scottish accent) and finally she put the lumpy Brazilian girl on a stool in front of them. The Brazilian girl looked particularly chunky and nervous on the stool. She hardly came down from the girls’ room to the Nightclub. She wound a handkerchief in her hands until Mama-san frowned at her. Mama-san drifted away exuding contempt very politely.

The girls were still in the throes of settling in, as the waiter slid up to the table silently impatient for their drink orders; a shark cannot breathe standing still. With a nominal whisper to their respective gentlemen, "Is it all right if I get some cigarettes?" they also ordered Rothmans, B & H, Dunhill. They all smoked, or at least pretended to so that they could bring cigarettes home to friends. Drinks and cigarettes were the perks of the Angel Fish.

Two of the three men tried to act as if they were at ease in a London nightclub - at a nightclub anywhere in the world for that matter. The third man, the vomiting man, the man next to Isabel, had completely passed out. The Brazilian girl’s man urged her to pull her stool closer. When he tried to pull it for her, she was too heavy. There was a little forced laughter. Then an awkward silence fell. Finally the conscious two men started to speak in Japanese and the girls all zoned out.

After a while Dorothy’s man announced in English, "I’m telling my friend a very funny story." All the girls looked at him and smiled in praise of him speaking English and including them. "I was in Bangkok," the man continued, "and I went to a house, you know, a whore house," His friend looked at the girls and nodded and laughed encouragingly. The girls did not look at each other but from the corners of their eyes could sense each other becoming wary. Dorothy’s man continued, "It was excellent, you could buy virgins." He laughed, "You know, young girls, very young girls."

Isabel felt herself suddenly in complete attunement with Dorothy as they folded their arms and froze with hate and contempt. The Brazilian girl hadn’t understood and was still smiling. Dorothy cut her eyes abruptly at her. The Japanese man laughed again and veins and sweat stood on his forehead. He wafted his hand indicating his pubic region and implicating everyone’s pubic region. "No hair," he smiled, "No hair."

The girls pulled iron shutters over their consciousness of these men and looked straight ahead out into the murky room - out into a starry sky - determinedly out, way out beyond this conversation. There was a timeless moment as the men absorbed the insult and decided to minimize and ignore it. They returned to their conversation in Japanese. After a few more stiff seconds the girls leaned forward to sip drinks, to take a cigarette, to exchange looks - hard from Dorothy, Isabel tried to look hard, the Brazilian girl had got the gist of the mood but looked puzzled.

The Scotch level in the two conscious men’s glasses fell until their teeth were clacking on the ice. The bottle of Scotch loomed ever larger in the middle of the table. It was the girls job to repour. The clients knew it was their job. Dorothy would not repour if you peeled all the flesh from her body - slowly.

Isabel had just spent two years in America - she was now the proud possessor of an MA in Women’s Studies - in the study of sex, class, race and power imbalances. Isabel was in part thrilled to be in the House of Nishime, such a nexus of the real thing. She was absurdly proud of Dorothy, who was Scottish and working class and sat in solidarity with her sisters in Bangkok so automatically and firmly. But she was also new to the job and she suspected that the Mama-san did not rate her so highly. So as the drink level fell, she began to get more and more nervous. She didn’t want to be a scab and repour and lower herself inexorably in Dorothy’s eyes, but what if Mama-san came by ....

Mama-san whisked around the corner and fixed the girls and the bottle with an undulating Basilisk stare. Dorothy was motionless. Isabel started to sweat, "Maybe because my customer’s glass is still full she won’t blame me...." Finally the Brazilian girl picked up the tongs and dropped ice-cubes into the glasses. When she uncorked the bottle, the cap went flying and there was an almost human moment as she and her customer both scrabbled on the floor for it.


Isabel was trying to deconstruct the rules of sex and race that existed at the House of Nishime. She was fascinated by what the club meant, transplanted to London as it was. Did it recreate the flavor of home for the Japanese business men who frequented it? Or maybe it was just an essential part of business as usual and so had had to be exported. Like most exports, the nightclub had not traveled entirely successfully. It seemed a little self-conscious here, in English, in England.

She was also trying very hard to fit in, and to figure out her role as a hostess. The others seem to get it by instinct, some feminine instinct? She watched the Mama-san. She realized that Mama-san didn’t think any of the girls got it. That was part of the reason the export had not survived intact. She could feel Mama-san thinking, "They are not good at the job. They do not know how to anticipate a man’s every, still-unborn thought."

Mama-san had learnt to do this in her father’s house. When he came in from work she watched for the signs that told her he wanted light conversation; he wanted to be drawn out and listened to; he wanted tea; he wanted silence; he wanted cosseting; he wanted beauty and harmony. Her father resented it when Mama-san was busy or away and her sister took her place. Mariko either could not, or would not, read the signs. She was very nervous. All she thought was I DON’T KNOW if he wants tea or saki, laughter or tears. All she felt was the coiling and uncoiling of her own intestine. She ran to the bathroom, flushing before using the toilet as they all did, and embarrassed by that over-sensitive custom too. She got very, very thin and quite neurotic. She said she hated not knowing what their father wanted. Or did she just hate serving? Mama-san had no patience for her. But after Mariko died in a car accident, escaping Japan and its invisible iron rules, Mama-san left too.

The English girls reminded her of her sister; woe or willfully blind to a man’s desires (except that they thought they could get away with it.) Despite this, Mama-san liked some of the girls; not the obvious blondes even though she admitted they were exotic. Her favorite was Christine, who had long, straight, dark brown hair, and a soft, soft voice burred with her North Country accent. Christine’s face was oval, with large and loving eyes. She was slim and beautiful yet exuded a maternal, almost bovine comfort. She had learnt a Japanese song and the electric organ player would play and she would stand on the little stage and sing in a way that made the words strange and utterly meaningless. Mama-san always booked the Japanese girl first, but given her choice she would bring Christine onto the floor next. She was definitely one of the best girls.

Isabel found it interesting to observe Peach Blossom’s hierarchies and rules, but it wasn’t easy to maintain a detached feminist analysis while working in the House of Nishime. Putting up with the more disgusting customers wasn’t really the problem, since they merely illustrated the worst of her preconceptions. What was difficult was her own competitiveness. Put quite simply she soon longed to shine at her job; to be one of the best girls. But with all her insights she couldn’t quite figure out how. While she labored leaden-footed to chat to a customer whose eyes glazed over with boredom, the other girls flipped from hard to girlish to insouciant to sexy and always seemed to come up right. Next to them she somehow appeared prissy. This made her very angry, because in reality she’d probably had a much more varied, predatory and adventurous sex-life than any of them - after all in America she had even become a Lesbian! She was traveled! She was seasoned! She was wrongly seasoned for Peach Blossom.

On the way home that night she walked down to Trafalgar square with Saffron and Sarah, who were best girls and knew it. She felt absurdly like their little sister. Both girls were 8 or 9 inches taller than her, and exuded a kind of teenage, heterosexual confidence, that she was sure she once had, but put on a back shelf thinking she’d never need again. Somehow it had been misplaced.

Saffron was a Londoner. She had a big nose and mouth, a tiny chin, laughed loudly and radiated sex. Sarah was tall, with regular, very pretty features, a long, elegant body, straight, thick blonde hair, golden skin. She came from an upper middle class family, and had met Saffron at art school. They worked at Peach Blossom so they had their days free to paint, but really (thought Isabel meanly) they did nothing beyond sleep late and go out with men. And that’s what they were always talking about, going out with men, going out on dates. Isabel never went out on dates even when she was heterosexual. It had always been so much more grungy and hippie than that, living together, drugs, sex, friendship and equality - never, ever dates. Somehow, she believed, that it was in that date nexus, in that heterosexual norm(?) that the secret to success in Peach Blossom lay.

The wind blew around them. Isabel had on a padded black anorak, warm but ugly. She was freezing. Saffron and Sarah, in layers and leather jackets, seemed warmer, wilder, and much more sexy. Isabel was too intimidated pull up her even uglier hood, even to make herself warmer.

They stood in Trafalgar Square, waiting for the night buses that left every hour. Isabel watched as Saffron and Sarah attracted looks from the foreign-student-straggler-types of a night-life London barely had. The statuesque pair ignored all these Dostoyefskyan nincompoops - turning leathered backs if anyone tried to sidle up on them. Often their backs seemed to get turned to Isabel as well. There were a few cooler looking London youth whose glances they did not repel, but these guys were much too cool to come over.

Saffron’s bus came first. Then finally the bus to Brixton arrived. Sarah and Isabel climbed in. They went upstairs and each stretched out on a seat. The bus traveled out of Trafalgar Square, down in front of the Houses of Parliament, out across the Lambeth Bridge, carrying the night-workers and poorer party-goers home, past a cold river side-lined with glowing globes, down through South London and finally to Brixton.


In the House of Nishime the stairs up as far as the Nightclub Peach Blossom were clean and wide and nicely carpeted. The staircase up to the next floor was cramped and dirty. The girl’s room was up there, nasty and sweet-smelling. The frosted glass windows were barred. A TV that sprouted odd wires and old antenna stood in front of the window. Around the walls were hard, upright chairs all facing the TV. There were a lot of cigarette burns in the carpet. The girls did not bother to keep the room nice.

The girls had to be there by 9:00. They got off at about 2:00. They were only paid when they were called onto the floor. It was a Thursday evening. No-one was getting booked. The girls shifted about on the hard chairs. As soon as Minder was over, the TV lost their attention and they started to bitch. Isabel had her book with her as usual, but when the girls started talking she liked to listen. A lot of the girls were from the North of England, Wales Scotland or Ireland. She liked the different sounds of their accents, but was still a bit shy to speak up herself. That was one of her favorite things about America - people heard that you had a foreign accent, English or Australian or something, but they couldn’t pin you down to region and class when you opened your mouth. Most of the girls at Peach Blossom were working class, and she felt her middle class accent stuck out. She didn’t understand how Sarah, whose accent was patently upper class, could speak out and get away with it.

"I just hate it when its like this," announced Sarah. "It’s just so stupid sitting here for hours and hours."

"Where the fuck is that Checked Jacket?" groaned Diana. Diana was a favorite with girls and customers alike. She was from up North, funny, kind, voluptuous, with tousled dark hair, high cheekbones and a full, pouting mouth.

Scottish Dorothy grizzled, "Oh shut up Diana, at least you can depend on him to get here. The rest of us are going to sit here like bloody lemons all bloody night. This place has gone to shite."

Diana nodded her head in sad agreement. "You’re right, but remember at the beginning? This place was great then. We’d get two or three bookings a night. Remember Christine? Cos I saw you and told you to get over here."

Christine remembered, "Yeah. I told them over at Japonica that I had to go back up North sudden like and then I come over ‘ere the next day. They tried to screw me out of me pay over that. I had to go over there and give them a talking to. Fucking cheeky bastards, they must be fucking joking if they think they’re going to get away with my money!" She shook her head, amazed at their temerity, and dismissing their attempt.

"Then everyone came over here, even that Marie," Diana giggled as the girls exchanged looks, "Who the fuck let on to her!"

Saffron -: "Why do you all always get so fucking weird when you talk about fucking Marie?"

Dorothy rolled her eyes, " Och, she was a lovely girl, Marie, bloody lovely."

"Do you remember when her brother used to come up here and wait for her?" Christine’s soft voice was full of intimations of immorality.

Saffron shrieked, "So if my fucking brother comes up here you’re going to go on like this!"

Dorothy, Christine and Diana shook their heads in serious unison like back seat window ornaments. "No, you had to see ‘em. It wasn’t normal, the way they were. When she saw him, she’d act like he’d been gone for bloody years. She’d kiss him and that and sit on his knee and talk this funny baby talk. - And that was every bloody day, mind."

Saffron -: "For fuck’s sake, they were probably just being affectionate." She paused and looked at all the girls, then narrowed her eyes as their insinuation dropped. "What? You don’t think she was doing it with him, do you?"


"Well? If that’s what they’re fucking saying..."

All the girls makes the most helpless eye gestures that mean, <<Well, it’s not for me to speak but you can’t help thinking...>>

"Whatever happened to her?" Asked Kim, Christine’s friend, who was plump, with long blonde hair and also from the north.

Diana -: "Social security got her for signing on and working here at the same time."

Everybody laughed, including Isabel. All the girls, including Isabel, who were not working days were signing on.

"How did they catch her?" Isabel asked and heard her own voice, booming, middle-class and nosy in the little warm room. There was a little silence indicating she might have overstepped her bounds. She had not been invited to partake in this conversation, had she? But then Diana laughed again.

"She was that stupid she used her own name."

"Well, you know what I heard." Dorothy’s voice held promise and everyone swiveled on her, "I heard one of her - special -" She looked from side to side significantly, "Customers shopped her."

Saffron, "So now you’re saying she was fucking the customers too?"

The eye gesture rolls around the room again.

Christine was forthright "Well she was doing something. She wasn’t one of the best girls and she always got booked. And on the floor she was a disaster. I’ve seen her so drunk she couldn’t stand, screaming and swearing at the customers."

Diana was serious, "Oh, she was definitely sleeping with them. That’s why she was fired"

"Mama-san doesn’t even fucking want us to go out with the customers."

"That’s because she’s not making any money unless we’re here."

The Spanish girl settled her dress, "Well, you know Mr. Yushi, he likes me to go out to dinner with him first and then we come on here. But we always come in separately because of Mama-san."

"It’s all right going out for a drink or dinner, but can you imagine fucking one of the buggers!"

All the girls shook their heads horrified at the idea.

"Well, I’ve had several Oriental guys." Said Saffron loftily. "They’re very good lovers."

The girls took in this information with interest but didn’t look convinced.

Levelheaded Diana said, "But that’s different, Saffron. Those were boyfriends and that. We’re talking customers. I’d never sleep with any of the bastards who come in here!"

"What about Checked Jacket then, Diana?"

All laughed.

Diana shuddered. "Don’t give me bad dreams!"

Christine asked Dorothy, " So what give you the idea that some-one shopped her then?"

Dorothy-: "Well, I ran into her on the street, didn’t I! And she told me so. She said she didn’t give a toss because another customer was paying her fine - so she must have been sleeping with him. She said the first one was jealous."

Some girls looked doubtful, others nodded.

"Well they do get funny ideas." said Diana, "You know Checked Jacket really believes he’s my boyfriend or something. They don’t realize it’s just a job to us."

Very suddenly Christine said, "You know what else ..?" And stopped.

"Well, what?"

"She was funny, that Marie."

"Yeah, we have established that Christine, do you have something to add?"

Christine bit her lip and giggled, "Well, I think she liked girls, I mean as well as blokes." She wriggled in excitement, horror and disassociation. "She told me once she liked to start off with a girl and finish with a bloke!"

As the girls laughed, Saffron screamed "Preferably her brother!" And hearing her they laughed more.

God the moment was over. What a crack. All felt a sense of accomplishment and almost triumph, except for Isabel who wished she could be like Saffron and loftily say, "I’ve slept with several women." And be accepted and respected. But she remained quiet.

The girls sighed and turned back to the TV.

"Christ," said Diana, "Where’s that fucking Checked Jacket? I really needed to make some money tonight."

On TV, the story began to get engrossing. The Intercom crackled - Mama-san’s voice - "Diana, please."

"Shit!" Said Diana.

Everyone laughed.

"I thought you wanted to go down!" said Dorothy. "I’ll go fer you! Give me a brown wig and some tits and he’ll never notice the difference."

"Ssh, Ssh!" Everyone had their eyes glued to the TV.

While she watched Diana pulled on her high heels and ruffled her hair. She got out lipstick, put it on with one eye on the screen and smudged it. "Shit."


Then the ads came on so everyone had a chance to look at Diana and laugh.

The intercom - "Diana, hurry please."

"I’m fucking coming you old bat." Diana finished her make-up, stood up, wriggled her dress around her hips and left. The girls shifted around, taking her empty seat. The TV show started up again.

The rest of the girls sat and waited and waited. It didn’t look as if anyone else was going to get booked. Even the most proper took off their shoes and relaxed. Christine lay down and fell asleep. She and Kim worked in offices during the day. They were saving up for a trip to India. They planned to stop off in Japan and work in a club there to make extra money to prolong their travels. Mama-san had promised to give them introductions. At 11:30 the intercom finally squawked again. "Christine, Saffron, Sarah -"

Saffron and Sarah smiled at each other, they were two of the best girls said the smile. Kim shoved Christine with her foot. Then the intercom buzzed again and, miracle of miracles, Mama-san continued the list. "Dorothy, Kim, Isabel.

Now everybody was pleased and tripping over each other and putting on lipstick. Christine, groggy with sleep, was crawling along, hair hanging so long her knees tripped on it, peering under the chairs. "Where’s me shoes, where’s me fucking shoes?"

Isabel was already anxiously at the door, not wanting to break solidarity by getting downstairs before the others, but feeling with each minute that Mama-san must be getting impatient. Finally the rest joined her and looked back at Christine who had found her shoes. "OK. I’m coming."

As the girls followed Mama-san across the room, they saw Diana sitting alone in Mr. Yamamoto’s booth (Checked Jacket’s name down here on the floor). Christine came last, hurrying, still pushing a comb into her hair. Diana leant forward, "It’s Park." She hissed. Christine mouthed a silent, orgasmic "Oh!" and then gave her a goofy grin. She hurried to the front of the line of girls. Mama-san wanted her.

"Allo, Mr. Park. It’s very good to see ya." She sat next to him.

Diana leant back in her booth blowing smoke. Mr. Yamamoto, a dapper man in his early fifties, slid in next to her. He looked across the room for a second disturbed by Park’s large, noisy table, then took her hand and kissed it. "So what do you say, Diana?"

Yamamoto was lonely in England. He missed his wife and children. He very much missed having a home - perhaps it was that sense of home more than his wife, that he wanted. It embittered him that his wife had made excuse after excuse to stay in Japan while he had always had to travel for his work. She had always insisted that the children needed the stability of a home in Japan and the benefits of a Japanese education, especially now they were getting older. But he had already been in England for two years and enough was enough.

On the plus side he was something of an Anglophile. He liked checks and little English caps and the beauty of at least some aspects of English life. He very much liked the books of Trollop, the poems of Robert Browning. He also liked Diana. Over the past months she had become very important to him. She was so warm and cheerful, and happy to be with him. He admired her ambition to be a singer and thought she had talent. Diana had become his family in England.

And when he realized that, suddenly he also wanted an English family life - something from Jane Austin, something from Charles Dickens, something with a hearth and crumpets and, and an English Rose. There was a poem by William Blake. He told it to Diana.

Oh Rose thou art sick/ The incredible worm/ That flies through the night through the howling storm/ Has found out thy bed of crimson joy/And his dark secret love does thy love destroy.

If it was a Japanese poem it would be lovely as well as terrible - perhaps it was in English.

"But what does it mean, Mr. Yamamoto?"

"It simply means, Diana, that I love you, that I want you as my rose."

"So that makes you the worm trying to destroy me, doesn’t it?"

"But that’s in the poem. Really it’s different. The love is strong and secret, but it’s more like soil, Diana, soil to nurture the rose."

"And what’s the worm part then, Mr. Yamamoto?"

They laughed and she tucked her hand under his arm.

"Sing me a song, Diana."

"What would you like me to sing?"

"Sing, "Can’t live, if living is without you."

At Mr. Park’s table everybody was having fun. Park liked the attention of the whole table on him, so each girl was not obliged to entertain the man next to her. Everyone focused on the stories Mr. Park told in a loud, aggressive voice.

In the background, Diana got up and sang. Her voice was throaty and tugged at the sad song. Park stood up and bellowed, "Sing a rock song, Diana!" She dimpled at him and waved. But Checked Jacket took the microphone next and growled out an impassioned, tuneless, love song.

As soon as Mr. Yamamoto stepped away, Mr. Park rushed the stage, bringing his whole party with him. He grabbed the mike like an MC and bellowed, "Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, I am your host tonight..." He hesitated for a second, patter and impresario impression faltering. Mr. Park was Korean. The room was full of Japanese men. There was tension between the two. Mr. Park was sensitive to the air of disdain and hostility that was wafting inexorably towards him - but he was also determined to ride rough shod over it. He would take this Japanese Night Club by force of will and show them how to really have fun. He shouted, "Now for some rock and roll!" And flung his arm towards the organ player who did not take the hint. After a few frantic seconds of exhortation and consultation the organ player finally broke into "Lets Go to the Rock." Park sang, improvising bravely. He grabbed Christine and Isabel up onto the stage to act as his backing singers. They danced wildly behind him. And the floor was dominated by the Koreans.

Isabel was enjoying herself, really enjoying herself. She could feel the slight strain of the Korean take-over and it had a rebellious air that went with the raucous song. She sensed that at least some of the Japanese customers were letting themselves be infected by the excitement. It was also exhibitionistic fun to be up on the stage dancing. She wondered about the other girls. She had inferred a rule from them - on the floor you were always pretending, it was always work. It was as if that protected you somehow. But she didn’t believe it was that simple.

Isabel saw the Korean waiter watching them, his eyes were smiling. It was nice to see him relaxing a little, away from his constant anger. She smiled back and they made eye contact for that significant mili-second too long. She was surprised and surprisingly pleased.

When they sat down again, Isabel talked to her Korean customer, who explained that the Japanese hated the Koreans. He told her that the Japanese had stolen everything, their cuisine, their culture, their alphabet, their technology from the Chinese, the Koreans or the West.

Isabel’s customer went to the men’s room and so she went to get a hot towel for him. The waiter was in the small kitchen. They smiled at each other again.

The waiter reminded Isabel of the way space-aliens are commonly depicted, with big, slanting eyes, a heart-shaped face and very high, wide cheek-bones. He was different because he had a full mouth that was always held as if in a pout while alien mouths are always represented by a thin line so they are not so beautiful. The waiter seemed fragile. To Isabel the waiter seemed very Alien.

"Park seems very nice." Said Isabel.

The waiter nodded. "He is Korean." he replied.

"I know. Do many Koreans come here?" Isabel knew the answer.

"No," said the waiter and grinned broadly changing the entire geometry of his face, "They don’t welcome Koreans here, but Mr. Park is very rich so..." He shrugged. His lips return to their inadvertent, pursed pout.

They stood side by side preparing the towels. Isabel was aware of coyly veiling her eyes with her eye-lashes.

The Koreans did not stay long. But before they took their rowdiness and cheeriness away, Mr. Park lined up the girls to give them each a twenty pound tip. This was the reason for Christine’s earlier ecstasy. Park tipped everyone, whereas it was not the Japanese custom to tip in the Nightclub. The girls returned upstairs very, very pleased.

Those girls who had been left behind - the Brazilian girl and a couple of others - were suitably impressed. The Park girls were giddy with the fun, dancing, money and tension.

"They really hate it when Park comes in."

"Did you see Mama-san’s face, trying to smile!"

"And Hiroshi - did you see him trying to refuse that tip. And Park stuffed it inside his shirt!"

They settled happily down. The Korean waiter came upstairs. Very carefully he and Isabel did not look at each other. Isabel felt happy and secret as if she was living inside West Side Story or Romeo and Juliet. The waiter was shy in the room full of girls. They treated him roughly, making fun of his halting English and telling him to speak up. He brought sandwiches for the girls that didn’t get booked and took a drink order for them. When he returned with the drinks, he and Isabel risked a look, short enough to merely ascertain that the other was looking.

Diana came bouncing in. "Damn, that fucking Checked Jacket, I was trying to get him to fuck off out of it, cos Mama-san said Park wanted me to go over and join you. How much did he give you?"

The girls pull out their 20 pound notes, stick them on their foreheads and dance.



When the girls came into work, they wore sweat pants, jeans, boots, oversized jackets, scragged out hair, faint traces of make-up. They hurtled up the three flights of stairs like young buffalo. There was a bathroom across the hall from the girl’s room.- you couldn’t use the stalls they were broken and evilly overflowing, but there was a large and dusty mirror. They crowded in shaking dresses out of their bags. On Friday Isabel modeled a shiny turquoise drop waist dress she had brought for two pounds.

She came in with her hair in a plait and slipped into her dress and cheap heels. She let her hair down and it fell in pretty, blonde waves. She put on make-up. Next to her in the gray and grainy mirror, all the girls were concentrating on their make-up. Most had big bags of it with brushes, blush, shadows. Isabel had very little. She tended to use lipstick as blusher and brown eye shadow to shadow cheekbones. She tried to do that when no-one was looking. She tended to be quick and slapdash, aiming at an approximation, a symbol of made-up beauty, just enough to fool drunk and fantasizing people in the dark lights downstairs. But mostly, the girls took this facial preparation very seriously. This was their work. They took account of lighting conditions. In such darkness you needed to exaggerate make-up as if on stage.

Everyone had left the bathroom except for Sarah and Isabel who was painting her nails when Saffron rushed in panting. "Christ, Mama-san almost fucking caught me. I couldn’t stand hearing, "Saffron, you must be prompt, prompt." one more fucking time. And I know she’d have tried to screw me into coming in tomorrow night. She caught a glimpse of me and was trying to get out of the nightclub, her head’s kinda shaking and she’s going, Diana? Saffron? Christine? I ran up those stairs and around the corner so fucking fast!"

Saffron was flushed and exuberant, her eyes sparkled happily. She pulled all her hair up on top of her head and intently examined a spot between her eyebrows. Then she noticed her hair looked good pulled up and tumbling around her face. She posed seductively and threw Sarah a side-long glance in the mirror.

Sarah wrinkled her forehead, "OK, spit it out Saffron. Getting by Mama-san isn’t what’s making you so fucking happy!"

Saffron jiggled and smiled. She lowered her voice. Isabel pretended to concentrate very hard on her nails, "I went over to see John this afternoon, you know he’d said to come over and see his work..." Saffron stretched and admired herself some more.


"And then Steve came over. So we were all just having fun, hanging out on John’s bed - it’s really big, and I was taking the piss out of him because he has these bachelor black sheets! And we were watching the telly, and smoking a little, and just being real friendly. And then... I fucked them both!"

Sarah laughed. Saffron was so high on her afternoon. "It was fucking amazing." She said.

The girl’s room was full that night. Every seat around the walls had been taken, and bags and coats were shoved underneath. The waiting began, but it wasn’t as torturous as usual because it was Friday night and they all expected to get something. Diana came pushing through the door, slumped inside a large, ribbed sweater. She looked around for a chair, then dropped herself in a theatrical heap in the middle of the floor.

"I’m so fucking knackered. I shouldn’t have fucking bothered to come. I was in the studio all fucking afternoon. Fucking Steven shouting at me cos I wasn’t singing the way he fucking wanted me too. I don’t think we got anything done, so we completely wasted our money, and I’m losing my fucking voice!"

"Did Mama-san see you come in?"

"Fuck Mama-san, " said Diana, "She fucking hates me, if it wasn’t for Checked Jacket I’d never get a booking out of that cow." She added, contradicting herself rather. "And he’s not going to be here tonight, thank fucking Christ!"

She sat gloomily in a pile of coats and bags all her usual bounce dissipated, black sweater, black boots, tousled beatnik hair, and big, blobby mittens.

The intercom scratched - "Akiko-san and Chinzia." The Japanese girl got up shyly and left. She was wearing a slightly dingy, yellow organza dress, dotted with little velveteen flowers. It made a flat triangle of her upper body, nipped in awkwardly at the waist and flared. As she stepped past Diana, Diana’s head swiveled, her face scrunching in overacted bemusement at this creation. Stifled titters accompanied the Japanese girl out the door. Chinzia, the Spanish girl followed, confident, composed, not resented.

Kim voiced the ritual litany, "She always books that fucking Japanese girl first."

Diana heaved herself into Akiko’s chair. "I’m so rotten. I shouldn’t laugh at her dress. You should see what I’ve got tonight!" She pulled out of her bag a monstrous wool-knit dress composed of pink and black horizontal stripes. She dragged off her sweater and pulled the dress over her head. She stood up wriggling out of her jeans and smoothing the dress down her body. On the shoulder was an entirely bizarre pink and black knitted flower. She flipped it with her finger and posed her body voluptuously. "My Chanel!" She quipped to her eager audience. "What does it matter, those fucking bastards down there have no idea what we’re meant to look like."

Everybody cracked up. Everybody had dragged dresses out of attics, out of jumble sales, off the backs of lorries, out of the remnants of some former life - only Dorothy wore a wardrobe even approximating Night Club wear, all her dresses accumulated in years of clubbing in Scotland.

Diana pulled on tights, carefully hiding where the holes were and began to put on make-up. She sighed and looked over at Christine and asked deadpan, "Does this lipstick go with this dress, Christine?"

"Oh yeah, Diana, it’s really lovely that. And that shade is really you." Christine was even more deadpan.

"I really don’t know why I’m bothering, I’m never going to get booked."

"So where’s Checked Jacket tonight?"

"He’s gone all weekend on business, which is a good thing really." Diana heaved a tremendous, breast-quaking sigh, "I don’t know, I think I’m going to have to do something about him." She bit her lip.

"What do you mean, Diana, what’s happened?"

"Well, he’s just, you know, he thinks we’re such pals - he thinks know."

"So what’s new? He’s always been like that."

"And well of course I like him, in a way... You know... We talk... I see him so fucking much. And he’s trying to be really sweet and help me with my singing and that."

"He’s just trying to shine you on so he can get in your knickers."

As the usual Checked Jacket story reeled out, some viewers return to the television.

"No, I really don’t think so, he’s sincere, he really is. He’s more romantic than sexual, he’s always wanting to tell me he loves me and that. And I try to stop him, I say "Come on Mr. Yamamoto, you don’t really know me, you just know me in here," but.... but ... Maybe I shouldn’t say..."

Heads swiveled back.


"Well, he’s asked me to come and live with him!"

A bombshell! No-one was quite sure how to react.

"Live with him?"

"Like be his wife, while he’s in England." Diana’s eyes were big and her face was anguished.

Dorothy -: "Well, you do like him, don’t you, Diana?"

Simultaneously, Christine’s laughter got around her trying-to-be-understanding face and exploded, "He’s wants you to be what!"

Diana shouted, "Well it’s not as if I want to, you daft shit. I just feel bad for him."

"I know, I know." Christine tried to smother her laughter, but her eyes gleamed.

Diana said, "He just wants a wife in England, he says going out to clubs all the time is bad for him."

She looked around. One by one the girls were catching Christine’s laughter, and as she strove to explain Checked Jacket’s plan, they all started to giggle.

"Come on," Diana’s seriousness was cracking now.

"His little English wifie!!!"

All the girls hooted and screamed, Diana too. Finally she calmed down, "But it’s awful really!" They all nodded in feigned concern, "It IS. He wants us to get a nice flat. And he says I shouldn’t work here any more. He’d pay for things and give me an allowance so I could concentrate on my singing, and he wants to try and be like a manager for me."

"So what does Steven say?"

Diana screamed, "I didn’t tell him, I’ve hardly said anything to him about Checked Jacket. Well he did ask if people come back and request you and that. So I told him it happens sometimes. But I could tell he didn’t like the idea. And today he was so fucking grumpy, I think he suspects something. Still he’s never fucking offered to let me stay home and concentrate on my singing."

"Well, there’s no contest. You’ll have to go with Checked Jacket then."

Diana groaned, "Oh, very fucking funny. So what can I tell him? How can I turn him down nicely. What if he doesn’t want to book me any more! Do you think he’d buy it if I told him it would have been a possibility but for Steven kinda being there first?"

"Oh yeah, Mama-san would love you telling the customers you have a boyfriend!"

"I know, but I don’t think he’d tell on me, do you?"

"Oh no, of course not, not when you’ve just told him to fuck off."

Now they were all quiet contemplating Diana’s very real dilemma.

The door crashed open and a little thin body in yellow organza hurtled through and crouched on the floor, clutching itself and sobbing. -


"What happened?" "What the fuck is going on?" "What’s wrong?"

The girls crowded round Akiko patting and pulling at her. Chinzia appeared in the doorway and they all looked to her to inform them. She held on to the side of the door.

"He kicked her."

"Who?" "Why?"

"Mr. Ishikawa, you know he’s fat, has hair around here, like this, old."

"Oh!" Recognition struck some of the girls, "Oh, he’s really nasty." And outrage, "The fucking moron." "I’d have fucking kicked him!" "Fucking nutted him." "Bloody wanker."

"Is she all right?" "Why did he do it?"

"He was trying to kiss her," Chinzia said.

The Intercom squawked - Mama-san’s voice was frigid, "Chinzia and Akiko come down please and say good-bye to the guests."

Chorally the girls told the one-way communication device to fuck off.

Diana looked at Chinzia, "They’re still down there?"

"We were just saying good-bye," said Chinzia.

The Japanese girl was holding her leg and sobbing, sobbing, sobbing.

The intercom, "Akiko and Chinzia please!"

"Fuck off!" "Don’t fucking move."

Again they looked at Chinzia who continued the story. "She was sitting with him, and as they go out he wants a kiss and she says to him "No," and he takes her head, her chin and tries to turn her. She keeps her face away. She just turn her face away so he can’t kiss. Then, quite suddenly, he step back and kick."

"Akiko and Chinzia."

Chinzia looked at the intercom and took a hesitant step out of the door. Saffron got up, "You’d better go and I’ll come with you and, ... whatever." They left.

Diana managed to make Akiko sit up on a chair. The girl’s body was limp from shame and hurt. Diana and Christine sat on either side of her hugging and stroking her. "Don’t you worry love. The next time you just kick him right back where it hurts."

"He’s a nasty piece of work that Ishikawa," said Dorothy darkly, "Have you ever sat with him?"

Some had, some hadn’t, some were not sure.

"Right away when you sit down he’s got his arm around you, and if you don’t sit down right quick his hand’ll go straight up you skirt." said Christine.

She demonstrated how you had to sit with your arms guarding both your tits and crotch while you simultaneously appeared casual. Dorothy laughed and stuck out her flat chest in her tight, black lurex, "He could try all day to find something to grab up here!"

"Oh, I think I know who he is." Said Diana, " You know when you first sit down how everyone talks together for a minute then you kinda sit back and just talk to your own customer. Well I was put with him, and as soon as we sat back, he started whispering dirty things in my ear! So what I did was just make the conversation general again. So he’d whisper, "Have you ever done it in a car," or something. Then I’d say across the table to the other girls, "Oh Mr. Ishikawa, was just asking if I’d ever done it in a car, have you done it in a car, Christine? And he’s going Ssh, Ssh."

As the laughing died down, Christine said, "That’s not Mr. Ishikawa, that’s Mr. Okigawa."

"Oh, yes, you’re right. He’s even fatter right?"

And so, like their Hunter-Gatherer fore-mothers the women told stories of the juicy berry and the poisoned berry in advise and warning to each other.

On the floor that night Isabel’s customer came into the category of groper. It was necessary to distract him. She grabbed one of the song books and spread it over both their knees, "Why don’t you sing, Mr. Nagumo?" Mr. Nagumo did not go for that lure, although she tempted him with "Moon River" "I believe" and "Yesterday." He grunted, looked briefly at the section with Japanese songs, then put the book firmly aside and turned his attention back to her. "Why don’t we dance?" she changed her tactics, and hauled him out of the sheltering booth.

Isabel danced with her breasts pushed up against the customer, because her arms were clasped behind her, hands entwining his hands. She had seen other girls dancing like this, and always thought it looked romantic and sophisticated. As she re-invented the technique she understood its defensive nature - it trapped both his hands. Of course it meant the entire front of her body was pressed against the man, but she was protected by the overhang of his stomach from too egregious thrusts of his lower body.

She saw the waiter sliding among the tables and then pausing, watching her. Mr. Nagumo was kissing her neck. He was so old he was almost babyish in his suckling and tickling. The waiter’s eyes were upon her and the scene opened out to her like a fantasy of lust, jealousy and intrigue. A shiver ran from her neck down her spine, startled by old lips and greedy young eyes. So sinful, so secret. In this place it was almost safe to act out such a fantasy - the adored mistress of the old, wrinkled man and the young servant who was her fiery, putative lover - as long as she didn’t let the other girls get wind of it.

It was harder to keep the fantasy intact back in the booth struggling with the lardy reality of her pushing and obnoxious customer. Isabel was glad when the party left rather abruptly and the girls returned upstairs. After a minute Christine came back up too, looking frazzled.

"Fuck, that was awful. After me first drink I didn’t feel so good, cos I was really plastered last night. So I have an orange juice and after about an hour I get really straight . And I can’t think of anything to say, and I just want to get out of there. And the bloke I’m sitting with gets really bored and annoyed and tells the other guy he wants to go. You just can’t do that, you can’t be straight on the floor. I hope they didn’t say anything to Mama-san!"

The other girls all nodded sagely - you needed to drink on the floor to keep up the required act of happy giddiness. Isabel who had recently stopped drinking began to suspect that this was something of a liability.

Isabel sat still for a while and then slipped out of her chair murmuring that she was going down to get herself some tea. To her disappointment the kitchen was empty. Slowly she put some water in the microwave. Quickly it boiled. She took out her water and added a tea bag. She swooshed it around and finally, as she was removing it, the waiter rushed in. He registered her as he hurried to assemble several snack bowls, throwing several glances her way as the corn and seaweed snacks escaped onto the Formica counter. She had no reason to stay in the kitchen and moved tentatively towards the door. He hurried to the other, swing door. Turning to back through it, his forehead wrinkling with concentration, he looked at her, "Wait here a minute." And whoosh he was gone - swing door, swing happily.

Isabel wandered around the kitchen and sipped her tea. She waited. She waited for a long time. She began to feel foolish - the tea was nearly gone. The girls would wonder why she was taking so long. Someone else might come in. He came back through the door differently, with a manly swagger instead of a waiter dash. He looked at her. She hoped the light in here wasn’t too harsh. He asked, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" It wasn’t quite the breath-takingly romantic line she’d been anticipating, but it was one of those establishing statements that always seemed to come up in conversations with foreigners. They chatted some more, then the waiter suggested they go and see a movie before work the next day and she agreed.

Isabel was pleased with her evening so far. It was an added bonus that she was called down to the floor again, especially so because she went with those creme de la creme girls, Christine and Sarah. They arrived and were swiftly introduced by Mama-san. The three young men who faced them didn’t speak English. They were polite but rapidly went back to their conversation in Japanese. They were good-looking, informally but expensively dressed and seemed to be friends rather than colleagues, students rather than business-men.

They were already quite drunk and whatever they were discussing called for great gesticulation. Then they began to re-arrange the items on the table to make their points. It seemed that they must be architecture students, designing an ultra-modern museum for downtown Tokyo. No, perhaps they were engineers and it was some kind of wind-resistant chassis. Then again, maybe they were musicians blocking out a symphony in space. The three girls watched in mock solemnity as the whiskey bottle, snack bowl, whisky glasses and finally their own drinks were co-opted into the planning of ... something.

It was Sarah the best girl (not used to being ignored), Sarah the artist (interested in spatial arrangements) that moved. She snatched the snack bowl out of the hands of the man next to her and firmly said, "My turn!" She took the three whisky glasses and arranged them in a triangle and balanced the snack bowl on top. Then she put the whiskey bottle way over at the edge of the table and clustered the girls drinks and ashtray around it. The men looked on with astonishment until she was finished. "Voila!" Then girls looked at the men and the men looked at the girls and they saw each other. Smiles, camaraderie and wordless understanding bloomed in the House of Nishime, place of ritual lies.

As the game developed each Japanese man or English woman added or subtracted pieces and found new configurations that were greeted with cheers or jeers according to a totally obscure and ever-evolving aesthetic. The game ebbed and flowed. A sort of sacred space developed in the middle and all the players played to it. Then, in a coup, it was displaced and another goal arose. Each person looked into the other players’ eyes in a parody of poker and, as the game continued, each was allowed one major alteration per turn, or two, if the whisky bottle was removed from the table first.

Isabel looked up from a particularly successful arrangement, involving the careful placement of lit cigarettes in each indentation of the ashtray, so the smoke rose wobbling into the room, to find Mama-san had been watching and had now arrived at the table. The young men ceremoniously invited her to play. She showed her confusion. They bowed and insisted. She picked up the bowl of snacks. Everyone froze and groaned. She quickly put it down and looked around at them for clues - poker faces revealed nothing. Then swiftly she moved the ashtray. Everyone shook there heads - it was a legal move, but dumb. The young men shrugged and apologized to her. Mama-san left grimacing faintly. With deft assurance Christine took the whisky bottle from the young Japanese man who was holding it and placed it just so, rebalancing the whole composition that Mama-san had violated. Great Cheers. Mama-san looked at them for a second, then turned her back very deliberately.


Tonight Isabel went on her date with the Korean waiter who’s name is Shin. They met at a small coffee bar close to Piccadilly Circus. They went to see a film. He paid for the tickets, and held her hand while it played. Afterwards they went to a Chinese place for food. He paid for the food. The conversation was labored, but Isabel was happy just to get a flavor of this thing called dating, without having to really commit herself. In her mind it was a cut-out facade of a date rather than anything with depth or meaning. And that’s what she wanted - to frolic in the shadows, not bog down in the substance. As they walked from the restaurant towards the House of Nishime, Shin stopped her in a dark alley and kissed her. To kiss and press bundled warmth against bundled warmth in a cold, dark, London alley felt very good.

Isabel didn’t want to go on to Peach Blossom, to be separated from her love, and finally they both called in sick, took the underground to Brixton and went to a club. He paid for them to go in, but he wouldn’t dance. She sat on his knee and watched the other dancers. Later they went back to Isabel’s home. Shin took out marihuana and speed and they toked and snorted and had an energetic kind of sex. Isabel had enjoyed the evening more up to this point, but she was quite clinically interested in his need to switch position incessantly - now like this, now like that - in and out from all angles possible.

Now in the soft gold and red light of the room, lying in the big brass bed Shin is relaxed for the first time. Post-orgasmic, a snort of speed, a joint in hand he leans back on the pillows. His chest is narrow, his legs and arms are slim, he has a halo of black hair, very full lips. Isabel looks at him and sees a woman, a gracious courtesan of the East reclining on her pillows.

English is loose on Shin’s tongue now. He talks all night long. He tells Isabel of his time in the navy. He had to do National Service. He remarks how beautiful it was to watch the sun set out at sea. He remarks that when Dolphins came close to the ship they used them for target practice.

He tells a long story about his girlfriend Soyon. One night he went out with her and her friend and another guy. He thought the other girl was very pretty - prettier than Soyon. During the drunkenness of the night, the motorcycle he was transporting all four of them on crashed. No-one was seriously hurt. The other guy got sulky because his jeans were ripped but Soyon just thought it was funny. She was laughing so hysterically she couldn’t stand. He remembers looking down at her as she crawled around in the dirt. Then he looked at her friend, who was taller, and slimmer, who was trying to make Soyon stand up.

They went to a hotel. Soyon was still so drunk she more or less passed out on the bed. The other guy went off to the other room, but the girl didn’t follow him. Shin went into the bathroom, took off his pants and started to wash his bleeding knee. The other girl came in to rinse out Soyon’s white trousers. In her presence Shin’s prick jutted up in his white, stretch-cotton Y fronts. At first he tried to hide it. Then he and the other girl began to kiss, he began to touch her. Soyon staggered into the bathroom. She pulled the other girl away and started hitting Shin. He just had to take it because she had caught him. The other girl ran out crying.

At that time Shin owned and ran a thread waxing business. His father and brothers had helped put him into this business when he came out of the navy. At first he did well. But it was tiring - all the time he had to go out and drink and drink with the customers to keep up all his contacts and look for new business. Pay for drinks, pay for girls, hear the whispered words of opportunity. Soyon had a clothing store - half western, half eastern - and she was doing very well. To an extent she had to socialize for her work too, but it was different for a woman. She never understood the pressure he was under. Also he had decided that he really liked her friend better.

So he invited the friend out. But Soyon saw her on the bus and somehow became suspicious. She asked her where she was going. The friend got frightened and went back home. She called Shin and said that it was impossible for them to meet. Soyon broke up with him pretty soon anyway. His family was angry. They liked Soyon and were expecting him to marry her. The two of them already had an apartment. But he didn’t care. He invited a guy from the navy to live with him. They spent their whole time dancing, drinking, and taking drugs. He spent less time at work, but managed to keep up the business contacts so the work came in.

Then he got an embroidery machine. He was tricked into buying it by a customer who had promised him a big order and told him the new machine would be a profitable asset. The embroidery machine took 6 people to operate. It looked impressive when it was delivered, but he discovered the machine was a dreadful liability. It had sharp moving knives to cut all the different colored threads, but if it wasn’t closely watched it would snag the expensive satins and drag them into its maw to be chopped up by the knives. That way yards and yards of material were lost. Debts started to pile up because of the new machine and Shin noticed that his hair was falling out.

During all this time Shin could not get Soyon’s friend out of his mind. One day he saw her and followed her. He asked her out again, explaining he was no longer with Soyon and she agreed to come. They went to a disco and he took her to a hotel room upstairs. When she wouldn’t let him make love to her, he forced her. She was a virgin and there was a lot of blood. But afterwards he knew she was his. He told her he would teach her how to make love and enjoy it.

Shin stops talking and seems lost in thought for a moment. Then he turns to Isabel and wants to kiss and caress her. Like a weirdly reversed Sheherezade, Isabel seizes a question to protect herself from the reality spilling out of this man. She has exchanged the emotional fantasy of their date for the cerebral fantasy of listening to the mysterious life of a stranger from a distant land. But she doesn’t want any of him on her.

"So what happened? Did you see her again?"

Shin settles for a little more speed, another joint and his unfolding memories.

They started to go out together. He planned to take her away to another city for the Cherry Blossom festival for a long weekend. There was a crisis at work and he couldn’t make it. When he finally called, she said she wouldn’t see him any longer. The next day her parents wouldn’t even let him talk to her on the telephone.

For weeks he tried to reach the girl but her parents said she had gone away to visit relatives. He was heartsick. Night after night he stayed up drinking. He could not stand his life. He could not stand the factory-office full of bills. He could not stand the phone calls from greedy clients who wanted him to take them out and treat them. But he was in debt, he needed to put out money to get new buyers. One day he walked onto the factory floor just as the embroidery machine went crazy - precious gold silk was ripped with a ghastly shriek by the sharp knives. He screamed at the workers and beat their lazy, stupid backs. Why weren’t they watching? How could they let this happen to him? They screamed back that he was a no-good drunk and the machine was impossible. He fired everyone and ran them out of the factory. He sat on the floor and cried.

Soyon came and found him. With his brothers she patched everything up - paid off the debts, sold the troublesome machine. She sent the navy friend packing and moved in with him. They talked about getting married again. Then he found out that her friend was engaged to an older man and he went crazy. He forced her to meet him. He demanded to know if she had slept with this man. She said, "No." "Then you’re still mine," he told her. And tearfully she agreed. He told her that they would run away together. She asked him to give her a little time to think. The next he heard, she had run off with the other man and married him.

He cried. Soyon left for ever. His debts mounted again because he didn’t care for his business. His hair was coming out in big chunks now. He was having a breakdown. His family shut the business. He stayed home with his mother. Then they sent him to England to learn English and get better. Now he lives in England, he works as a waiter, serving the kind of people he used to drink with.

On the bed Isabel listens to a serene man with the face of a courtesan tell his story - a story with no moral and no ending.

And as for sex, he says, he can’t get what he wants anymore so he takes what he can get.

These words shock Isabel. They implicate her as part of the story. They offend her. And as he reaches for her again, he rudely breaks the fourth wall even further. She recoils deftly. She does not want to have sex with a rapist. She does not want to hear his plans to do a degree in business, and maybe enroll in an American university like her. She refuses to let their two sets of fantasies and realities have anything to do with each other. She sends Shin out into the cold morning.


The following Monday, the girls reassembled at Peach Blossom.

"I can’t believe I wasted my fucking Saturday Night here." complained Sarah.

"What was it like Saturday?"

"No-one got booked. I mean NO-ONE." Sarah looked at Isabel, "I thought you were meant to be here Saturday."

"I was sick."

Some tittered. Sarah looked disgusted. Isabel smiled. She had bested the best girl.

The intercom crackled for Diana.

"Oh - no, It’s Checked Jacket. This is it girls."

The girls looked at Diana who pulled her hair into a pony-tail high on her head.

"It is right to tell him, isn’t it? Tell me I’m doing the right thing."

"Well you’ve got to say something - unless you’re ready to move into that luxury flat!"

"I wonder how he’ll take it. Wish me luck."

It was not much later when a whole group of them were booked. They trooped down, gathered in front of the booth of another fat fish with cold, cold eyes, and were distributed. Isabel was amazed to get onto the banquette, she was sure she’d draw a place on a stool. She was next to a sweet man with spectacles. He was boyish and shy. He didn’t seem to be judging or disdaining her in any way - his vibe was genuine. When they talked he was quiet but trying to be helpful. For the first time it struck her that these men were as at sea in this place as she was, and in fact wanted her to orchestrate their evening. She warmed to the man.

Christine got up and went to sing the Japanese song. Just as she began, there was an embarrassing disturbance. Checked Jacket ran out of the Night Club, his arm flung across his eyes. Diana followed looking alarmed.

"Do you know this song? " asked Isabel quickly to distract attention from the scandal.

"Of course, it’s very popular in Japan. It’s originally a German song."

Isabel was surprised. It was the song she most connected to Peach Blossom - it had always seemed so Japanese. She asked her customer what the words meant. And they went through it line by line. He speaking, she speaking, he translating. Patting at his jacket she asked if he had a pad, a pen. She wanted to write the words down and learn them. And they were so happy going about this task. It was as if they were a newly married couple, full of love, wrapped up in each other. And as the other girls sat lumpily around and unwillingly entertained their guests with badly feigned enthusiasm for their singing and dancing, Isabel and this man formed a little warm glow of love and happiness. And the number one man at the table zeroed in on it. He darted a look at Isabel so wrapped up in her man, and at Dorothy next to him who was smoking and bored, and looked at Isabel lifting a peachy face to hear the words of wisdom of her master. And abruptly, he told Isabel’s customer to go downstairs and wait at the door for the important man who was coming.

The customer and Isabel jumped up and smiled, so flushed to be tumbled out of their happy world, and Isabel looked out and saw the fish with cold eyes and smiled at him too. Because it had been so nice to touch and be touched by some-one gentle and nice - it had been real. And it was at this moment that Isabel understood the nature of her job. It was her job to entertain these men, yes, to lift their spirits, yes, to watch and to do for them, yes - but all this could be summed up in one word - love. It was her job, quite simply to love them, as a lover loves in the flush of new love, as the mother loves for-ever, to love them for money. And the love that had just sprung up, spread out willy-nilly and she smiled at the fish with cold eyes and her love lapped onto him.

"What’s you name?"

She shouted across to him, but in the noise he misheard and repeated, "Fifi?’

And the name Fifi rocketed back to Isabel. Fifi could love the unlovable, Fifi could love for ever, Fifi’s love was endless and she cried "Yes, my name’s Fifi." And all the girls laughed and cried out, "She’s Fifi." And Fifi was golden and the cold fish cried, "Come over here, Fifi," and she brought her love and sat it next to him. And very soon she had him out on the dance floor and all the other men and girls came too and the song was -:


And all the girls sang -: I HAVE ALL MY SISTERS WITH ME.

And their power and love energy filled that space and the men were their flower children.

They sat down again as Isabel’s original customer came back with the important man. Isabel was half flattered when the cold fish ceremoniously handed her over to this important man. But she also felt a little used and betrayed. The cold fish had decided that she was the best girl, but hadn’t wanted her for himself, but for business.

As the evening crawled by the light of Fifi gradually died and Isabel returned. And in truth - thought Isabel - as she smiled a smile now becoming wooden and walked with the other girls down all the stairs of the House of Nishime to bow and say good-bye to the customers at the street door - in truth, you need drugs or alcohol to sustain this level of emotional work.

And as she ran up all the flights of stairs behind the others, the waiter looked out of the nightclub and tried to stop her but she pretended not to see him. On her way out in her street clothes, he did stop her and prevailed on her to come into the kitchen to talk.

"When can we got out?" he asked.

"We can’t." said Isabel, "This was my last night. I’m leaving."

"But I can see you when you come to collect your money."

"No, I’m leaving. I’m going to visit my parents, then I’m going back to America. Mama-san’s already paid me."

He tried to kiss her, but she turned her cheek and pulled away. She ran down the stairs out of the nightclub. On the bus she took out the note-paper with the Japanese song on it and sang it softly to herself.