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East Asian Fiction Contemporary

I first met Matsuoka in senior high.

We were in the same classes for all three years, though we didn’t particularly know each other.

We had gone to the same schools, shared the same room for all three years, listened to the same history teachers, breathed the same air—but that was it.

There was nothing else in common between us—well, besides gender.

It was true.

Back in school, we rarely ever talked to each other. And when we did, it was only when necessary.

Besides that, we were both walking down separate paths, occupying different worlds. His reality among twinkling eyes and crystal palaces. Mine among piles of books and stereo speakers pumping rock music. I had doubted he even remembered me, after school.

I’d always imagined he was too far removed from my own reality to see me. And he might’ve been too busy with all the flashing lights to even remember me ten years later.

But as it turns out, he did remember me. As utterly miraculous as that sounded.

“Do you want to hang out at my place?” Matsuoka asked, over the phone. “It’s fine if you’re busy.”

“I’m free.”

Matsuoka had called me one day, out of the blue. He said he’d gotten my number through an agent.

“Awesome. I’ll come over to your place at around eight. Where do you live?”

I told him. He repeated it to me and I said it was right. The click of a pen, a breath.

“Guess I’ll see you tonight, then?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool. It’s great talking to you again.”

With that, he hung up. And I was left staring at the screen trying to process what just happened.

“Weird,” I muttered to himself.

Matsuoka was an actor now, playing supporting roles in a popular drama airing on TV.

Throughout the years I had watched him grow—saw him on magazine covers, on the news. His career, blossoming and young, had been what convinced me he had forgotten all about me, and probably about the whole school in general. I heard about him dropping out of college, about the usual gossip made about all actors on their love affairs and whatnot, heard about his divorce. He was living a life so far removed from my own, a life that had nothing to do with me at all. A life of what people would call glory. A dream.

Here and then, I couldn’t help wondering how my life turned out the way it did.

Living with a cat that does nothing besides sleep, eat, and complain; in an apartment with a marvelous view of a brick wall; shoveling cultural snow as the letters piled up day after day in front of my front door.

Looking at his life only made my sighs heavier.

Matsuoka showed up in a huge affair of a car exactly on time. The low hum of his car filled the night air.

He opened the door from inside when I neared.

“Hey,” he said, eyes sparkling. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you!”

I got inside. “You look different.”

Matsuoka smiled. “And you look just the same.”

Great.

He shifted into gear and drove away, coming into the mass of traffic moving through the city.

“What car is it?”

“A Maserati Ghibli GranLusso 2018,” he said, his eyes on the road, lights crossing over his face. “The agency forced me to get this thing. Expenses. Image. All that stuff.”

“I see.” Noncommittal.

For a while, the two of us said nothing.

I stared out the window, watching the lights pass over us, gazing out at the buildings all around.

Matsuoka turned to me. “Mind if I play music?”

“Not at all,” I said, eyes out. “Play anything at all. I don’t mind.”

“Okie-dokie.”

Tapping on the interface, he chose a song to play. Lauv’s I’m so tired.

I looked at him. “American Pop?”

“Yeah,” he smiled, one hand on the wheel as we cruised. “I love pop. Been getting into foreign stuff, lately.”

“Mm.”

“I just can’t help but find this sense of awe every time I think about things like pop culture. Like, think about it, pop culture is kind of like this hallmark like some tower saying ‘We’re from the 2010’s!’ Imagine, when people look back, if they know our pop culture, they’ll understand who we were in daily life. At least, even if they don’t understand us, they’ll get a glimpse of how things were like.”

I simply listened. Not saying a word.

He shook his head in an awkward way. “Sorry, I kind of went on a tangent.”

The music continued playing. “Nah. It’s fine.”

“It’s just been something I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately,” he said. “Like some conflict.”

The chill music seemed to sound from the whole car, as if from the belly of some beast.

Waiting in the traffic, the song played on.

Hate it, taking a shot ‘cause I can’t take it,” he sang, in near-perfect English. “But I don’t think they make anything that strong, so I hold on…

For a moment, his eyes almost appeared glazed. And the life seemed to drain from his face. But when he looked back at me, he simply smiled at me as if it were nothing, as though it never happened.

He tapped his finger on the wheel to the beat. “I like this song. Lauv sure writes some good songs.”

“Guess so.”

When we reached his home, we came inside and had a beer together. He had a massive house, the interior designed from every ceiling fixture to the placement of his furniture; the presence or absence of something calculated and meticulous. The house seemed brand new, though there seemed a sense of emptiness about it for some reason.

Sitting on the couch, I looked around the place. “What a home you have here.”

“It’s meaningless,” he said, waving his hand as if to swat the idea from his face. “Too big. Too stylish. So much so it’s overwhelming. Give me some kind of apartment and I’ll do just fine. But no, they want me to keep up this ‘image.’ Whatever it means.”

He took a sip of his beer. “Its meaning is probably meaningless, as well.”

Then, he looked to the floor, and pressed his lips. “Sorry I’m just venting this out on you. It’s rare that I ever get to speak at all without being told one thing or another, without being ignored and stuff.”

“It’s fine, really,” I said. “Say whatever you want. Let it all out. Besides, I might as well catch up on the life you’ve been living.”

“Speaking about catch up, what about you? How is your life going?”

“Average. Working as a PR writer isn’t nearly as exciting as being an actor. All I do is write up these articles for certain companies, make some posters for them, write up crazy, bombastic statements for them, sometimes. I might as well be scratching people’s backs.”

“Scratching people’s backs,” Matsuoka repeated, in thought. “Just so you know, acting isn’t what the media makes it look like. Look, I might as well be scratching people’s backs as well. In fact, they will demand perfection and make you wear stupid clothes and drive stupid cars and live in stupid houses, too.”

He sighed and took another drink.

“It’s a dead-end job, I tell you,” he said. “Acting for all these people, acting out even the worst scenes the industry pushes onto you. Not saying they are bad people. Because they’re people, too. Besides, they’re just playing the game. Doing whatever they can and need to achieve whatever it is they are searching for.”

He crossed his legs and looked at me.

“But I tell you, it’s a dead-end job, even when it doesn’t look that way. You reach a certain level, and then you’re stuck playing certain roles, over and over again. You’re stuck with the same team. And if you are especially unlucky, you get stuck working with the worst in the industry who only make bad to just merely passable films and dramas. You get stuck all because you get the same bad scripts and bad stories. And when the story flops you’re bunched up with all the other people in the crew. You don’t get awards, don’t get any recognition, nothing. I’m lucky that I’m not that unlucky, but it feels like I’ve come up to a wall, if you get what I mean…”

He scratched his head and sighed, louder now.

“Damn it all.”

Afterward, Matsuoka pulled out his whole fridge of beer cans and we drank them in the living room.

The more he drank, the more talkative he became.

Slowly, a slight red began to tinge his face.

He was drinking at a much faster pace than me… When I finished one, he’d downed two.

Eventually, his brain soaked in drink, he laid back in his couch and stared at the ceiling. Over and over again, he opened and closed his eyes, holding his can of beer in his hand, swirling it around gently.

“You’ve heard of my divorce, right?”

I looked up at him. “Yeah. I’ve heard.”

He lowered his gaze and looked at me, eyes soft. “Guess the media never tells the truth, huh?”

I shrugged. “I doubt they ever do.”

He smiled, giggled a little.

“I was early in my career, and I just got my first big hit, too. So I was in such a good mood, then. Then Saki called. You remember Saki? Basically, she got hold of my number and she congratulated me and all. We became friendly, and eventually we started going out. I thought everything was going well in life, that everything was only up from here. So we got married and bought a house together. Our own home, not one the agency picked out. But slowly I realized that her love for me was, well, never real in the first place.”

He pressed his lips, moved them around. Sighed.

“It was a fantasy,” he said. “An illusion I couldn’t see through in the beginning. When she was praising me, saying all these nice things, hugging me, kissing me, I thought it was all real. But no—she played me for the money. Slowly, I realized how we just didn’t work. We couldn’t talk about anything, we couldn’t connect. We even stopped having sex. And it all just kept on getting worse until we both decided to file for divorce.”

He sighed. “She got the money, alright. Just what she wished for.”

Matsuoka took another sip, placed his forehead on his hand, and sighed again: slower, deeper.

I watched him. Then, slowly, I gained the courage to ask him, “Why did you invite me?”

When I asked, he looked up at me, his face all red, and blinked. Then, in a low voice, he asked, “Do you really want to know?”

I nodded.

He looked at me, still. Then looked away, averting his eyes. “Well, um, do you mind me being sincere?”

“Just tell me the truth.”

He pressed his lips and nodded. “I’m a lonely man, okay? I wanted someone to be with. I wanted to talk to somebody. But of course, I couldn’t. I don’t have any true friends anymore. I’ve lost all contact with everyone from school, and all the people I know in the industry don’t give a damn about me.”

He turned to me, and looked me in the eyes.

“Then I remembered you. That one kid that didn’t mind being alone. That would rather read a book at your seat than entertain everyone else. That was, well, ordinary. Sorry if that sounds insulting, but ‘ordinary’ sounds like a dream to me. ‘Cause I can’t simply be ‘ordinary’ here. In fact, I can’t even back then. I had parents’ expectations to live up to, got a reputation to keep, got relationships and friendships to maintain. I couldn’t rest. Not once could I ever stop wearing my mask. Not once.”

He finished another can and threw it aside.

“And so I told my agent to seek you out, and he came back to me with your number. So I called.”

Matsuoka sank back into his seat.

“Even a ‘superstar’ can be lonely,” he said, finally. “I’m been running around on my own, been looking for somewhere to go, for someone to be with. Fame isn’t anything but pain for me. Expectations, what the public says about me. Everything. People constantly thinking about you, maybe writing some hate-filled article or comment somewhere, gossiping. It’s tiring. Yet there’s no rest. When you’re famous, you’ve got nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Not even a person who wants to talk to you. Or even cares about you. They say ‘you’re a superstar!’ to me and say that I don’t even have a right to complain when I’m in a lucky spot someone else didn’t get. When I’m rich and have things other people can’t have. But what does it all mean? This stupid house, that damn car. I can have every material thing I want, yet I’m still not happy. I can have everything, except love and care.”

He sighed.

“I’m a human, too, damn it…”

For a long time, we didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say, and Matsuoka’s done with his long speech. Eventually, it was time to sleep.

And so I slept over.

The next morning, I found Matsuoka hanging in his room. Dead.

May 18, 2021 13:54

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