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Asian American


The war meant nothing to the diners that leaned into one another, shoulder to shoulder spilling their sake as they clinked their glasses together with great bravado. Inside the walls of my Otousan’s Tachinomiya the men worried not about war, rather they gorged on good food, drink, and loud company. The watercolor samurai toads and posters of carmine-apricot carp, wallpapered the walls around them, busying the space.


I think of the first time I saw the bright-eyed American crowded in the shadows of the bar. The crispness of his linen shirt hung without a wrinkle or stain. It had been humid and yet his skin didn’t hold a sheen of sweat like many of the other diners. I knew handsome and capable when I’d seen it as I’d been studying the covers of the magazines I hid underneath the mats I used for sleeping for months now. He was a well-mannered man that refrained from smacking his food like the other diners while enjoying chicken feet tossed in sweetened eel sauce.


Our communication consisted solely of stolen glances and hurried delivery of food orders to where he stood waiting for me to get closer. He captured my attention with his knowledge of the culture and the traditions of my people. The way he'd take a small bit of sea salt and throw it over his shoulder before entering the bar to ward off evil spirits made him less of an adversary in my eyes and more of a dreamy ally. 


The U.S. Army surveyed our land for the taking. Examining the terrain and the climate of my people, much like gardeners, they staked their claim. The American may have been following orders when he plotted the layout of the bar. His handsome swagger moved through the tight rows of the diners searching for what he might uproot and where he might propagate seeds. When the time was right, he would present himself to be a viable companion plant. It did not matter to him that he was an enemy fraternizing among the very people he often warred against, he was committed and I found it attractive even if it was potentially poisonous.


These soldiers were like allelopathic plants, here to inhibit the growth of the Japanese men and women, allowing their roots to chemically clash with the fundamental lives of those around them. The war was over and yet he remained here on my soil long after he was required to.


He was pole beans. Tall and towering over me, blocking out the sun that allowed its shine on my fair skin. I was mere garlic, rooted in the ground connected to the flavors and the earth in which I grew. I longed to move from Tokyo and ascend to a new life, and this foreigner, with his charming face and intentional gestures, called me in to serve him a beer, maybe something more.


Otousan tussled with raw slimy octopus tentacles still fragrant with the freshness of seawater behind the bar. He watched as the American pushed past people confidently toward the sleek bamboo railing of the chef’s counter. A giant smack hit the bar top snapping me to attention.


“You’re here to work, daughter, not to stare at the enemy.” 


Otousan chastised me as he rinsed the salty brine from his hands. The steam poured from his cook station causing the parchment paper menus with soft inky characters on them to flutter. The eyes of Maneki-Neko cat magnets darted back and forth at the same speed that my pulse galloped every time the American came to the bar. 


“I’ll serve the American.”


My eagerness had a way of showing itself and my Otousan was none the fool. 


Minu ga hana, the reality is never as good as your imagination my daughter. You see this man and you think he will bloom into a flower. I assure you, he is neither Kiku nor Sakura. He is a nightshade, a poisonous weed, and he will envenom your mind.”


When I looked at the American I didn’t see flowers, I saw the start of a new life. Of all the things I could imagine, planting myself in new soil was the only way I could grow. I thought that I could fill the G.I.'s belly with happiness and he would take me with him far away from war-torn Tokyo. The mere thought of the handsome adversary wooing me away made my cheeks bloom like cherry blossoms in the spring.


A few times I caught my father adding extra salt to the man’s appetizers. When I asked him why he did such a thing, he leaned in and whispered what I could only assume was a secret, “Salt can bring out the flavor in duck meat, and it can also poison a weed, my dear daughter."


My Otousan was not shy in his dislike of this man and announced it with a cross tone for the both of us to hear. 


“You’re the enemy soldier. Drink your beer and go.” 


The American tossed back the Kirin in one go and grinned in my direction with a bold blue-eyed wink. I added a healthy sense of self to the foreigner’s list of attributes. He taunted me with a smug smile as my father fried enoki mushrooms in blistering hot duck fat. 


Every Friday night the Americans would forget the war, and I would forget that we were on different sides of the fight. Otousan poured a flight of sake and turned his back to tend to the stove. But on this night I seized the opportunity to gift the American with charred sticks of duck, artfully piled surrounded by sliced radishes coiled into the shape of flowers. 


My head dipped in respect when he gripped my wrist close to his chest. I didn’t want him to see my affections for him too intently, I was by no means a woman and by bowing my head I could hide the girlishness of my features. The sharp jabbering of drunken diners drowned out his words to everyone but me. 


“What’s your name girl?”


“Rie. I should get back. My father… ” 


“I know guys like your father. They control their daughters.” 


Those royal blue eyes weren’t the only thing that tempted me, as his grip was possessive and declared that he wanted to weed me away from this place. The delicate duck meat disappeared behind his hotshot smile without dripping any sauce on his clothes.


 “I've watched you for months now, come with me.” 


My Otousan leered from behind like he was the burning hot sun, daring to scorch the pole bean in front of me. The American was brazen and didn’t flinch in Otousan's blaze.


Beaming at the savory sweetness of the food and back to my pinked cheeks he pressed, “You know, if you were with me you could pick a new name. Suzanne perhaps? Suzie for when we’re with my friends.”


I thought about carrying my head held high in America, laughing shyly the first time someone called me Suzie, no longer an enemy.


“As a bride? I don’t even know your name.”


To be honest, I didn’t care that he remained nameless to me, only that he showed me attention.


The raucous laughter around us cocooned our bodies until we were pressed chest to chest. The American’s cheeks reddened from the hot summer night and mine bloomed their way into blossoms of adoration. Love and war complicated the feelings swirling in my gut with the sweet and the sour of Subuta pork.


I’d give up onigiri cakes with fish for tuna casserole, and lychee over ice for jello salad if it meant I could have this tangled feeling forever. I’d embrace new traditions and apply eyeliner the way that American women did just for him. I would lay down roots in America and allow myself to grow taller than the other plants around me. 


A drunken customer collided with us, spilling sake across the perfect linen shirt that captured me weekly. The American didn't hesitate, playing on my naivete and clear want. 


 “You might be a war bride, but you’d be a bride all the same.”


In America, I could leave most of my traditions behind to build my own reality, full and blooming. In America, I’d continue to throw salt over my shoulder to ward off evil spirits. If necessary I’d use it to poison the weeds that presented themselves in linen shirts and blue-eyed smiles. Minu ga hana.


April 01, 2022 17:20

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21 comments

K. Antonio
01:38 Apr 02, 2022

I'm a vegetarian, but I just adored the food descriptions. Also (don't think I mentioned this the first time) but I love that this story focuses on something that not many people would think about. I've read a few books that have talked about WWII and the Vietnam War where women marrying men and immigrating out of their home countries was often mentioned. I'm glad to see that this story will be read by others!

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Shea West
02:14 Apr 02, 2022

I didn't know you were a vegetarian! I was one for about 2 years, and then my second pregnancy was like HAHAHAH just kidding. My past chef's life still lingers in my body so the food descriptions are my simple longings for really good food! I definitely went back and gave this story a lot more love, and words. This topic has always fascinated me and I'm tempted to write more about it! Thanks K!

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Daniel R. Hayes
22:06 Apr 13, 2022

This was amazing Shea!! You truly are a masterful storyteller, and I loved how you crafted this tale!! Great job as always, I loved it! :)

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Thom Brodkin
19:39 Apr 10, 2022

You are such a versatile writer. I love coming to your stories and wondering what direction they will take me in and what emotions they will stir. I think K may have said even better than I can but I concur that you once again masterfully attacked a subject not often explored. Great job, as always.

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Shea West
21:41 Apr 10, 2022

Hey thanks a ton Lee! I'm grateful for these prompts that take my brain to new places.

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Kelsey H
21:29 Apr 07, 2022

I really loved your descriptions here, you created such strong images of the bar, the food being served, the people in there. Great use of plant/flower imagery too. I like how you show her relationship between her father and the American man as they both try to influence her. Loved the bit where her father adds salt to his food though!

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Shea West
22:15 Apr 07, 2022

Kelsey~ Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. The dichotomy of the American and the father was so different and I really hoped that showed through in their style of influence.

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L.M. Lydon
19:44 Apr 07, 2022

Your use of plant imagery throughout adds a compelling vividness. I very much enjoyed the way you carefully set the story in history and brought tradition to life.

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Shea West
19:58 Apr 07, 2022

Hey thanks a ton L.M. I love using surroundings in a metaphorical way. Glad you liked that!

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Rachel Snider
18:56 Apr 07, 2022

Your story was a subtle and delicate weaving of gustatory imagery with cultural clashes. Even the last line was like that of a fortune cookie. What happened next doesn't matter as much as what has already happened.

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Shea West
19:09 Apr 07, 2022

Ohhh, I love these words. Thank you😍🙌

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Michał Przywara
20:46 Apr 04, 2022

What a great read! What strikes me most about it is how fantastically the setting fits the action. There's strong emotions, sure, that much is clear. But I think because you put it in a crowded, noisy bar, where things are constantly sizzling or steaming, it really stresses it. Our protagonist feels trapped, claustrophobic, restless, but also excited – very much a young person looking forward to her future. I really like the lines: To be honest, I didn’t care that he remained nameless to me, only that he showed me attention. To me, that p...

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Shea West
20:54 Apr 04, 2022

You're right, she doesn't care right now... And, her father taught her how to kill a poisonous weed with salt... So maybe she'll give him high BP with all the salt she adds to his casseroles. LOL. Thanks for reading and for your takeaways. I find that every time someone comments on something I've written I'm able to have a new perspective on my piece and that is probably my favorite thing. Thanks, Michal! (I'm obsessed with your story this week just fyi.)

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Kevin Broccoli
22:34 Apr 02, 2022

This story made me late for a dinner date because I couldn't stop reading. I was riveted the entire time. What incredible versatility you have. Bravo.

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Shea West
00:20 Apr 04, 2022

Not late for dinner! I'd never want to be the cause of such a thing. Thanks for being such an enthusiastic reader of my stories!

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Zack Powell
03:47 Apr 02, 2022

Japanese idioms in your title game? Instant click! Yes, ma'am, I'm sold. I'll preface this by saying that I'm in the US and have never been to Japan (or out of the country in general). But if I read this and didn't know better I'd either think: 1) You were a descendant of Japan or 2) You researched the HELL out of this stuff, because I had no doubts about your depth of knowledge. You clearly know what you're talking about, and that kind of stuff translates to the page, as is the case here. The food imagery? Lordy. The level of detail was s...

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Shea West
18:55 Apr 02, 2022

1.) I am sooooo white. A descendant of European countries at best lol. 2.) I actually did research on this... If you're not familiar with Globe Soup (great contest site), they do a 7 day story challenge a few times a year and also a surprise location short story contest. Where you're given a place/location and you write within any genre you'd like but it must be 800 words or less. The place was a Tachinamoya in Tokyo Japan. I had no idea wtf that was, so I had to really learn on the fly. I wanted to make sure that I was accurate in my knowle...

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Riel Rosehill
20:39 Apr 01, 2022

Hey Shea! This story of yours too is so well written... And I can't tell you how worried I was for the girl whilst reading it! Call me frigid I'm on the father's side (though, I understand her feelings) I learned Japanese in school and visited the country a couple times - so I couldn't help thinking she should not be so keen to give up that food and culture, I'd swap for it any time! (but, I know: different times!) You know what I hated though? Not in your writing, the american man! The first thing he suggested was that she should change he...

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Shea West
21:06 Apr 01, 2022

Riel, I'm also on the father's side because there's no way I'd ever give up that food for a basic white man!!!!!! Because this was just on the tail end of WWII, I think this sort of behavior was very common. Men taking what they liked. After learning more about the war bride schools, it came to my attention that the men only had to provide their birth certificate and ID in order to marry these women. The women on the other hand had to go through lengthy background checks to make sure they weren't communists and that no in their families wer...

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Riel Rosehill
21:13 Apr 01, 2022

Wow that is disgusting... But am I surprised? Unfortunately, no. That push back from her did come across nicely at the end and I really appreciated it! It was the right way to end this story I thin.

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Shea West
17:24 Apr 01, 2022

A new genre for me. I grew quite fascinated with the story of War Brides some weeks ago and how there were actual "schools" through the Red Cross that would teach Japanese women who were becoming wives to G.I.'s how to be American wives. How to make casseroles, apply eyeliner, how to walk in heels etc. You know, the important shit {Insert eyeroll}

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