Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

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Southland

By:

Nina Revoyr brings us a compelling story of race, love, murder, and history against the backdrop of Los Angeles.

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Excerpt from Southland

CHAPTER ONE: 1994

Ten days after her grandfather died, Jackie Ishida pulled into the entrance of the Tara Estates, the apartment complex where he’d lived with her aunt and uncle. It was eleven a.m. on a Saturday, February, 1994. Normally at this time she’d be studying already—she was in her third year of law school at UCLA—but Lois had called the night before, voice rough with cigarettes and tears, and asked her to come over this morning. And since her aunt Lois was, hands down, her favorite person in the family, she’d decided that the library could wait. It was a beautiful day, she noticed, but Los Angeles always looked best in winter—free of smog, crisp and green, cradled by the mountains. She stared out the window at the snow-capped peaks and waited for the security guard to write her a guest pass, wondering, as always, why she had to complete this particular formality. The two shootings and numerous hold-ups that had scared the residents lately had all occurred within the Estates, not outside of them, so she didn’t see why the guards were so concerned with visitors. Jackie, who’d grown up on the quiet, tree-lined streets of Torrance, could never get used to this haphazard clump of dingy, tan, threatening buildings. Some clever developer had named the complex after Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation—which was, it turned out, not in Georgia at all, but instead had been built right there in Culver City, on the old RKO Studios lot just a mile away.

The security guard was a bulky young Latino man, and as he leaned down out of his parking hut, he stared at the pass he’d just filled out himself as if seeing for the first time what was written there.

“You’re visiting Miss Sakai?” he asked, sitting back up in his chair. “Lois Sakai in 3B—Frank’s daughter?”

“Yes,” Jackie answered, holding her arm out the window. “I’m actually her niece. And his granddaughter.”

“Aw, man,” the guard said, clutching the pass. “Mr. Frank . . . It’s just . . . See . . . Aw, man.”

And as she watched him, her hand still extended to receive the blue pass, she saw that he was struggling not to cry. His name tag read “Tony,” and he was about twenty-five—Jackie’s age—but suddenly he looked like a child. “Hey,” she said. “Hey, are you all right?”

He nodded, and then pulled himself together, finally giving Jackie her pass. “I’m sorry. I mean, you’re family. And Miss Sakai, too. I guess I have no right. But it was just a surprise is all, and Frank . . .” He trailed off.

“It’s OK,” she reassured him again. “He had a good long life, you know? And we were all really lucky to have him.”

Her words sounded empty and false to her, but they seemed to work for Tony. He nodded resolutely, gave his condolences, and then raised the gate so she could drive into the complex. And Jackie thought, not for the first time, that her ability to comfort people revealed a deficiency on her part, not a virtue. It is only those who aren’t totally shattered by a loss who can comfort the others, who are. Lois, who’d stopped a mugging the previous fall by telling the three young would-be thieves that they were shaming their families; who’d once pulled a dying child out from under the wheel of a bus and held him while his mother fainted, had completely fallen apart at the death of her father. She’d collapsed in on herself—she wouldn’t eat, would hardly talk, and she shivered no matter how warm it was. For the first time in her life, someone else—mostly Ted—had to watch after her and make sure she ate. All of this while Jackie made continual check-up phone calls, and while her mother Rose, Lois’s sister, took care of all the funeral logistics.

Tony was right—her grandfather’s death had been completely unexpected. At seventy-one, he’d still been in seemingly perfect health—he walked every day, ate lightly and well, and did repair jobs all over the neighborhood. With his tight, lean body, handsome grin, and just-graying hair, he’d looked twenty years younger than he was. The day he died, he walked a mile to an old widow’s house to cut her overgrown front lawn. It was she who placed the call to 911 an hour later when she found him, laid flat out behind the idling mower.

Jackie parked her Accord in a visitor’s spot, and then, sighing heavily, she walked up to her aunt’s apartment, the last place she’d seen her grandfather alive. They had been close once, when she was much younger and had needed watching because her parents were so busy—her father practicing medicine and teaching at Cedars-Sinai; her mother going to medical school and then vanishing completely into her internship and residency. He’d lived in Gardena then, with her grandmother and sometimes Lois too, and Jackie had spent whole weeks with them when her parents were especially swamped. But then Jackie had gotten older, and her soft-spoken grandfather had been no competition for the excitements of the social world at school. He’d tried to stay involved in her life, right up until the end—he’d sent her clippings about women lawyers; he’d called her twice a month and pretended not to notice how she rushed him off the phone; he’d even sent her frequent e-mails on the computer her parents had bought him. But more often than not, Jackie hadn’t answered, hadn’t thanked him, hadn’t noticed him much at all. By the time of his death she hardly knew him, and so her sense of loss now seemed shallow and unearned.

When Lois answered the door, she had the phone tucked between her shoulder and ear, and she was shaking out a section of the newspaper. She beckoned for Jackie to enter, which Jackie did, taking a seat on the couch. Lois held the paper in one hand now, and gestured as if whomever she was speaking to were standing right in front of her.

“You’re being silly, Cal,” she said. “If someone tells you she’s prepared to spend a whole lot of money, it’s not in your best interest to try and stop her.” She paced silently for a moment, listening. Then, “Listen, don’t mess with me. My dad just died, my cat has hyper-thyroid, and one of my students just got arrested for robbing a bank. If one more bad thing happens, I’m likely to snap. I’m a woman with nothing to lose.”

Jackie was glad to hear her talk like this, even if her aunt’s firm words were undercut by the fact that she was still in her blue plaid pajamas. Jackie had been worried about Lois these last ten days. Her aunt, a strong, brash, stout, stone lion of a woman, had been unusually subdued since Frank died. For the first time in years, she’d even taken time off from her job as head guidance counselor at Culver City High School. She’d lost weight, had to be forced to come to the phone, had been dazed and barely audible when she managed to speak at all. This return to her usual attitudinal self suggested that she was starting to recover.

“All right, then. Three o’clock.” She hung up the phone. “Ted?” she called out in the direction of the kitchen. “We’ve got a date. Cal said three o’clock.”

A vague sound of acknowledgment came from the kitchen. Ted was doing the dishes—Jackie heard the clinks of silver against stoneware, smelled the ghosts of burned eggs and onions—and she was sure he wasn’t happy about it. “What’s happening?” she asked, when her aunt turned toward her.

“We’re getting out of here,” Lois said. She pulled a cigarette out of a half-empty pack and lit it; she’d started smoking on the day of the funeral. “Ted and I are finally going to buy a house.”

Watching her aunt cough a few times, lower the cigarette, and then take another pained drag, Jackie thought that maybe she wasn’t improving after all. “A house?” she repeated, and then she noticed what her aunt had been holding—the real estate section, spotted with circles of red ink, question marks in blue, indecipherable notes in dark green. Lois had put the paper down on the coffee table and now her cat, Winston, jumped on top of it, circling and batting at the billowing corners.

“It’s actually a great time to buy,” Lois informed her, sitting in the armchair that was opposite the couch. “Prices have been plummeting because of the quake.”

Jackie nodded. Not quite a month before, the Northridge earthquake had struck the city, destroying or damaging thousands of buildings, killing fifty-seven people, and terrifying everyone. Since then the aftershocks had been appearing like unwelcome guests, brazenly and when you least expected them. Frank, Lois told her later, had been oddly unperturbed by the quake, by the frequent aftershocks, as if he knew he wouldn’t be taken by that catastrophe, but by one of a more personal variety. But Jackie wondered now if the heart attack hadn’t been some delayed reaction to the trauma of the quake. The week before he died—just after the buildings on campus had been declared safe and classes had started up again—she’d come home to find her floor soaked, her carp wide-eyed and lifeless at the bottom of the empty aquarium. The tank’s corner seam had been weakened by the quake; had finally given nine days after it. Maybe some seam in Frank’s heart had been weakened as well, some internal fault line which waited two weeks, until the panic had lessened, to write its own smaller disaster.

“But isn’t it kind of soon?” Jackie asked. She didn’t press her on the rest of what she wondered, which was why they were doing this now. For six years, Lois, Ted, and her grandfather had lived in this small, cramped apartment, in this increasingly dangerous complex. It had never seemed strange that Frank had stayed here—when her grandmother died, it was a given that her grandfather would move in with Lois and not with Rose, even though the Ishidas had a huge place up in Ojai now, a four-bedroom house on a lovely five-acre lot. Lois was closer to Frank, always had been, and Rose had been closer to their mother. Now, with Frank gone, she and Ted would have more space—yet Jackie understood immediately why they had to leave. It was strange and awful to sit in this apartment, even for just a few minutes. She kept expecting her grandfather to enter the room, grinning when he saw her.

“I’ve just got to get out of here,” Lois said, crushing out, to Jackie’s relief, her half-smoked cigarette. Then suddenly Jackie was afraid that Lois, too, would leave her, move someplace where they couldn’t see each other regularly. Her parents’ departure she hadn’t minded—they’d moved out of the house in Torrance and up to Ojai while she was going to school at Berkeley. And it was their absence, partly, that had made her spend more time with Lois when she moved back down to Los Angeles three years ago. That, and the fact that she liked her aunt—as opposed to how she felt about her parents, who were too much like herself. All of their major faults, all the things she’d spent her adolescence railing against‹their tension, their rigidity, their inability to deal with strong emotion—she’d inherited right along with her mother’s thin nose and hazel, light-for-a-Japanese-girl’s eyes; and to avoid the reflection, she saw them as little as possible. Lois, on the other hand, was easier to be around—more generous, more interesting, both more intense and also somehow more relaxed. And if Lois was going to leave now, she didn’t know what she’d do. There’d be no one in her corner, no relief.

Lois seemed to sense Jackie’s fear, and she reached out and patted her niece on the arm. “We’re sticking close by, don’t worry. Culver City or West L.A. I just don’t want to be here anymore—I’ll never get used to Dad not being around, and I don’t really want to. I mean, the day he died, all I could think was that I had to hurry home from the hospital so I could make him dinner in time for him and Ted to go out bowling. He told me that morning that he wanted black bean chili, and I took the cans down out of the cupboard before I went to school. They were still sitting there on the counter when we got home.” She began to tear up at this, and Jackie looked away. “And I keep missing the stupidest things,” Lois continued. “I mean, like the toilet flushing at two in the morning. Or the coffee grinder waking me up at five.”

“At five?”

“Every day, including Sunday. Drove me fucking crazy, to tell you the truth. But I think it was something left over from when he used to have the store. Even after all these years, he always lived like he had to be at work by six-thirty.”

The store. It was one of the many parts of her family’s past that Jackie’s mother had never discussed. Before Jackie, before marriage, before medical school, Rose and the rest of the family had lived in the Crenshaw district, where Frank owned and managed a little corner market. Jackie didn’t know very much about that era—just that they left sometime in the sixties, after the riots down in Watts. As for Crenshaw itself, Frank’s boyhood home, she’d only driven through it—by mistake mostly, and once or twice on purpose, when she was trying to avoid the traffic on the freeway. It was pretty much a black ghetto, as far as she could tell—an image that had only been confirmed by the funeral.

The service was held in Culver City at her grandparents’ church, which she hadn’t entered in six years, since her grandmother died. That funeral had been uneventful, attended mostly by family and a few long-time neighbors from Gardena. But when Jackie walked into the church for her grandfather’s service, she was surprised to see that half the people in attendance were black. She was even more startled, and then slightly embarrassed, when, during the service, the black mourners—who were mostly clumped together on the right side of the room—began to answer the pastor, to shout “Amen” after each of his supplications. Jackie had only been to this church once or twice, but she was sure this call-and-response wasn’t a usual part of the proceedings. She learned later that the one thing Lois had managed to do in the days after her father’s death was to put a notice in The Sentinel, the local black newspaper. Lois still seemed attached to the old neighborhood, unlike Jackie’s mother, who always grimaced when she spoke of it. And it was Lois, mostly, to whom the mourners expressed their condolences—although some of them smiled at Jackie, too, or spoke to her warmly, gestures of reflected sympathy she knew she didn’t deserve. One thing they made her realize, though, and she was seeing it more and more: Frank had had an existence outside of her, outside of the whole family. All the strangers at the church knew Frank Sakai not as an aging old grandfather, but as an individual with a story, as a man.

Jackie was about to ask her aunt why Frank had given up the store when Ted Kanda appeared, his booming voice filling the room. “Hey, gorgeous,” he said to Jackie. “What’s cooking?”

“Breakfast was, I guess,” Jackie replied. “Not that you saved me any.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, and sounded it. Ted was a big man, shaped exactly like Lois although a good foot taller, and it was funny to see his strong, wide shoulders fall into an exaggerated slump of remorse.

“You didn’t miss much, believe me,” Lois said. “He burned the omelet so badly I had to throw half of mine out.”

“I’m a good cook, usually,” he insisted to Jackie, who knew differently. “I’ve cooked for some very important people.”

Lois rolled her eyes. “He served some pasta to Jerry Brown once in the dining hall in college. To hear him tell it, he made a ten-course gourmet meal for heads of state.”

He turned toward Lois, his ponytail swinging. “You be quiet. Or next time I’ll slip some rat poison into the food.”

“Well, at least it would improve the taste.”

Again, Jackie thought her aunt was doing better; Lois almost smiled at this last exchange. But Ted could do that for her, only Ted. He wasn’t really Jackie’s uncle—he and Lois had never married—but they’d been together for almost twelve years now. And Jackie, after not knowing what to make of Ted at first, had grown to adore him, although her parents still regarded him with a kind of half-benign suspicion. Rose acted like he was a grunting, dirt-caked cowboy, swinging his lasso in their living room, endangering their lamps, and her father, Richard, was more friendly, but still bewildered. The fact that Ted was an engineer for TRW did nothing to improve their opinion of him. They were also displeased with Lois’s living situation, especially after Frank moved in (presumably he’d be offended by his daughter’s scandalous domestic arrangement), although Jackie couldn’t imagine that they’d like Ted much better if he and Lois ever got married.

Now he turned to Jackie and asked, “So did Lois tell you that we’re looking at houses?”

“Yes, she did. You have an appointment for today?”

“Yeah, you wanna come? It’s a three-bedroom place off of Braddock. We don’t know if we can afford it, though. I just bought a computer program that’s supposed to help us figure out what we can borrow and what kind of mortgage we should get. I have to install it later. Which reminds me.”

“Oh, right,” Lois said, pulling the scattered paper out from under the cat, and sounding somber again. “Jackie, can you cancel Dad’s online account? Ted couldn’t figure it out.”

“Sure,” she responded, shrugging. “I can try. But I don’t know if I can do any better.” It amused her that Ted, who understood the inner workings of engines and robots, could hardly find his way around a personal computer. Now, suddenly, she thought of a part of the past she did know about and remember. “If you’re looking for a house, what about Grandpa and Grandma’s old place? What ever happened to that?”

“I’m not crazy about Gardena,” Lois said. “Anyway, it’s gone—he sold it right after Mom died.”

“But the money from the sale . . .” Jackie didn’t want to ask what had happened to it, because it brought up, awkwardly, the question of the will, which was going to be read that coming Tuesday.

Lois clearly caught the drift, though. “I don’t think he left much, but we’ll find out on Tuesday.”

Now she and Ted exchanged a glance, which Jackie caught.

“What?”

“Actually,” Lois said, “the reason I wanted you to come over today has something to do with all that.”

Oh, God, Jackie thought. There’s going to be a problem. She and Rose disagree about something as usual, and it’s all going to explode over the will.

Lois stood and walked over to her desk, where she picked up a spiral notebook. Carefully, she pulled out a folded piece of paper, and then came back over and sat across from Jackie. “I’m wondering about the validity of a will,” she said, “written in 1964.”

“Whose?”

“Dad’s.”

“Is that what the lawyer’s going to read on Tuesday?”

“No,” Lois said. “This is a different one.”

Jackie wanted to ask her what exactly she meant, but Lois was acting so strange, looking at Ted again, that she decided to sit tight and wait.

“This one,” Lois continued, lifting the paper, “mentions things I’m sure the other one doesn’t. And I’m afraid there might be a conflict. Here—I think you should read it.” She handed it across the coffee table, and as Jackie took it, she watched the edges dip and rise. The paper was so thin that, even folded, she could make out the dark shapes of her fingers beneath it. The typed words were light, as if the ribbon had been running out of ink. She read:

September 22, 1964

I, Franklin Masayuki Sakai, being of sound mind and body, do bequeath the following items upon the event of my death:

1. My house and savings shall go to my wife, Mary Yukiko Sakai.

2. My car shall go to my wife.

3. All of my late father’s possessions, including his great-grandfather’s kimono and katana, shall go to my mother, Masako Sakai.

4. My books and photographs shall go to my daughters, Rose and Lois.

5. My baseball cards shall go to John Oyama, Jr.

6. My jazz record collection will go to Richard Iida.

7. My store, located at 3601 Bryant St., shall go to Curtis Martindale.

When she finished reading, she kept staring at the page. This will, this random list, was the kind of thing someone threw together in a panic and then forgot once the moment had passed. Lois, who was afraid of planes, made one every time she had to fly, earnestly telling everyone for days beforehand what she’d bequeathed them in the latest version.

“This stuff has already been dealt with, hasn’t it? I mean, I don’t know about the smaller things, but you just told me there’s no house. And I know that there isn’t a store.”

“Right,” Lois said. “He actually gave the cards to John years ago. And Richard Iida died, so Ted and I are going to keep the records.”

Ted, behind her, winked and gave a thumbs-up sign.

“You have any idea why he wrote this?” Jackie asked. “He wasn’t about to get on a plane, was he?”

But her teasing comment missed its mark entirely. “I just figured this out,” Lois said. “He was having an operation to get his appendix removed and, you know, he never trusted doctors after the way they handled his foot.” Jackie thought of the smooth, shortened end of her grandfather’s right foot; it looked as if the toes had been filed down. She remembered his slight limp, the hitch in his step, which might have passed for a jerky strut if he’d been younger.

“Well, I don’t think you have to do anything. Everything in the will is taken care of.”

“Not quite,” Lois said, and then she gestured in the direction of the bedrooms. “See, I found this will in a box of papers Dad kept in his closet. I was looking for the poem he read at Mom’s funeral, because I thought we might read it again. Anyway, there was a lot of stuff in it—old pictures and articles, even his war medals. I mean, all kinds of things I’d never seen before. And there was another box, too, which had ‘store’ written on it with a marker.” She looked at Ted, who turned and disappeared down the hallway. Jackie heard a door open and shut; then Ted reappeared, holding a stone-colored box which was big enough for a pair of boots or a hat. He set it down on the coffee table, and Lois nodded for her to open it. Which she did. And saw more money than she’d ever seen before, so much that her first impulse was to put the lid back on. But then she looked at it again, at all that green, all those Andrew Jacksons. “What the hell?” she finally said. “What’s this from?”

“The store, I guess, according to how he marked it.”

“How much is in here?”

“Almost $38,000.”

Excuse me?”

“Thirty-eight grand,” Ted repeated, shaking his head. “Can you believe it?”

“Just sitting in the closet?”

“Yeah.”

Jackie put the lid back on, stood up, and walked across the room. At the entrance to the kitchen, she turned around. “But Lois, I can’t believe he would have just hidden this money for, what, twenty-nine years? Are you sure it’s from the store?”

“I’m not sure, but it seems to be.”

“Do we know if it’s mentioned in the current will?”

“I don’t think so. Like I said, as far as I know, he didn’t have much to leave. And to answer your question from before, the money from the Gardena house is gone. He gave that and the redress money to Rose a few years back, in order to pay for your law school.” Jackie hadn’t been aware of this arrangement. And it was more evidence of what she had taken from Frank—his attention, his money, his time. He was always there to fix her heater, or to build her a set of shelves. She had given him so little in return.

“Well, this is great,” she said, trying to shake her guilt. “You want to buy a house, right? So here’s your down payment.”

“You’re missing the point,” Lois replied. “He left the store to someone else. And this looks like it’s the money from the store.”

“Wait. You think the money should go to—” She looked down at the paper again. “—Curtis Martindale? Who is Curtis Martindale, anyway?²

“I don’t know.” Lois leaned back against Ted, who was standing behind her, his big hands draped over her shoulders. “Someone from the neighborhood, I think. The name sounds vaguely familiar. I’m guessing he’s pretty young—or that he was pretty young back then. Dad got the store from someone in the neighborhood, you know, before he married Mom. Old Man Larabie practically gave it to him, almost as a gift. He was probably just trying to pass on the favor.” Ted began to rub her shoulders, and she closed her eyes and leaned back. And Jackie remembered how interested Frank always was in her friends and their lives; how good he was with all young people. She thought about mentioning Tony, the security guard, but decided against it; his strong response to Frank’s death made her muted one seem even less defensible.

“Anyway, there’s no Curtis Martindale in L.A. County,” Lois continued. “I checked information.”

“Does my mother know who he is?”

“I haven’t asked her. I didn’t tell her about this.”

Jackie nodded. Rose had always seemed a bit resentful of the store; one thing she had told Jackie was that Frank had spent most of his time there. Jackie knew her mother would want to invest the money or put it in the bank, and she, for once, would have to agree with her.

“Lois,” she said, “you could use this money. Why do you want to give it away?”

“Because he wanted to. And if he meant it for someone else, it’s not mine.”

Jackie shook her head; she couldn’t believe this.

“I’m wondering,” Lois said now, opening her eyes, “if you’d be willing to track this guy down.”

Jackie stared at her aunt. “Me? Why me?”

Lois frowned. “Because I’m a mess,” she answered in a measured voice, “and I don’t want to deal with this shit right now. There’s so much to do, with the legal will and all of Dad’s things, and the business with the house. Curtis Martindale is one loose end I don’t really have the time for.”

Jackie tried not to pout, or to remind her aunt that she herself was creating the business with the house. It was bad enough that Lois wanted to give away this money, which was sitting in her apartment, in her closet. But to ask Jackie to be a part of it? No thanks. Not that it would be difficult to make a few calls, to check some records. With this kind of money involved, she’d have Curtis Martindales coming out of the woodwork. It was just the principle of the thing, the idea of throwing away that kind of cash. “Well, if I did do this—which I’m not saying I will—do you have any ideas about where I would start?”

“Actually, yes,” Lois said. “A couple of people from the funeral. Especially that woman Loda, who caught us right when we came in. She grew up in Crenshaw and I think she still works there. Do you remember her? The older black lady in that dark green suit?”

Jackie did. The woman Lois referred to had been crying herself, she was so worked up about Frank. She was a tall, black-gloved woman with neat marcelled waves in her hair, and she’d hugged them both as they entered the church. She’d told them Frank had once found and sheltered her child when she’d run away from home; said it made sense the Lord had called Frank home when he was giving somebody a hand. She’d insisted repeatedly that they should get in touch with her if they needed anything.

“Yeah,” Jackie answered. “I think so.”

Lois reached into her purse, which was sitting on the floor, and pulled out a business card. It was one of many they’d both received that day, from people who wanted to document their presence, or to help. They’d also been deluged with koden, condolence money, in small white envelopes with black and silver ribbons, offered mostly by older Japanese. Over and over, the same routine—the checkbook-sized envelope held out with both hands; the offerer avoiding eye contact, bowing low, saying, “It’s nothing. I’m ashamed to give it to you.”

Jackie took the card reluctantly. It was white, the print black and gold, and it informed her that Loda Thomas was the Adult Literacy Coordinator at the Marcus Garvey Community Center. She dropped it on top of the shoebox as if it carried a disease. “I don’t know,” she said. Both Lois and Ted looked at her expectantly, and to escape their gaze, to avoid the question, she returned to an earlier topic. “So, do you want me to take care of Grandpa’s AOL account?”

Lois looked startled, and then disappointed. “Yeah,” she said, throwing her hands up. “Sure.”

Jackie fled down the hallway, glad to leave Lois and Ted and the box of money behind. The door to her grandfather’s room was closed. It had never been closed when she’d come over before, and she paused now, standing in front of it, fighting the urge to knock. The cat stood at the end of the hallway, swishing his tail, staring at her accusingly, as if he, too, was aware of how much she’d taken Frank for granted. She wanted to shut him out, along with the questions her aunt had raised and the project she’d been given, so she pushed the door open, stepped inside, and closed it again behind her.

It was strange to be in here, and she wasn’t sure that she could stay for very long. The room was small and, as always, impeccably neat. The single bed, pushed up under the window, was carefully made. There was a dresser against one wall and a desk against the other, on top of which sat the Macintosh computer. There were two pieces of art in the room—a large painting of a feudal Japanese home with a garden and carp pool in front of it, and a smaller, simpler painting of a single tree, its branches drooping gracefully like the arms of a tired dancer. Both paintings were the work of Frank’s grandmother, Jackie’s great-great grandmother, who had been a minor artist in Japan. Jackie’s eyes passed over these things without really seeing them, but then she noticed something hanging off the back of the desk chair. It was a blue Dodgers cap, well-worn, the lid bent slightly in the middle. Jackie remembered when he bought it—at a Dodgers game he took her to when she was seven. He’d bought her one, too, but she’d outgrown it; she had no idea now where it was. She walked over to the chair and took the cap off carefully, bringing it up to her nose. It smelled like him—soap and grass and Old Spice, with a touch of stale tobacco. Jackie felt a strange sensation in her chest and stomach—a combination of the warmth she got from a shot of whiskey and the pang she felt when she hadn’t eaten all day. What caused this, more than the smell of her grandfather, or even the cap itself, was the casual way it had been thrown on the back of the chair. Everything else in the room was neat and orderly. But the cap had simply been tossed there, as if her grandfather had just stepped out and would return at any moment.

She sat down in his desk chair, thinking again about the funeral—about all the mourners, like Loda Thomas, and her sense that the man they were paying respects to was different than the one she’d grown up with. Or maybe he wasn’t different with everyone else; maybe she’d just never bothered to know him. Not once had she asked him a meaningful question—about his thoughts or experiences, successes or failures, anything. And not once had she asked about the people in his life, so that the men and women she’d seen in the church that day, black and Japanese, had been totally new to her, as mysterious and undelineated as the acquaintances of a stranger. And yet they all knew him, and his family. She remembered sitting in the crematorium after the funeral, the strange intimacy between all the people there. It was the same room she and her family had waited in six years before, when her grandmother died. On that occasion, the staff had brought out a tray like a giant baking sheet full of still-hot ashes, dotted here and there with small charred bones, the perfect white kernels of teeth. Frank had started the ritual passing of bones, picking the larger fragments out with a pair of special chopsticks, passing them chopstick-to-chopstick to Rose, who passed them to Lois—spirit to body to dust. Once, years before in a restaurant, Rose had violently slapped the chopsticks out of Jackie’s hand when she’d used them to offer a piece of fish to her father. She never explained why, and when the connection finally hit Jackie, at Mary Sakai’s cremation, it was that more than the handling of her grandmother’s bones that made her hug herself and rock back and forth. This time, though, there had been no picking through the remains; her mother hadn’t wanted it, and Jackie was glad. She sat silently, staring at the wall as if she could see through it, and imagined the glasses melting, the gold wedding band, flames consuming flesh. Her eyes had settled on the odd old man across from her who’d sat through the entire service mumbling to himself, and then, when she and Lois approached him after it was over, had jumped to his feet instantly, spry as a spaniel, and offered a gorgeous, right-angled salute. She’d looked over at Burt Hara, the Buddhist priest from the Tara Estates who Frank sometimes played cards with; he’d just given Lois a thick wooden tablet with Chinese characters, the Buddhist name conferred to Frank upon his death. When the black-tied employee came out and handed Rose a simple bronze urn, Jackie wondered only what had happened to the bones and teeth. Rose handed the urn to Lois, who wrapped it in a purple furoshiki and set it down on the table. Burt Hara stood over it and said a few words in Japanese. And then everyone there, even, shockingly, both of Jackie’s parents, began to cry in earnest—everyone, that is, except for Jackie. The odd saluting man exploded with great gulping sobs; her mother just covered her face. She felt awful then—for not feeling more; for not sharing in their sorrow; for having been so distant from Frank, by the end, that she couldn’t even properly grieve.

But there was nothing, she thought, as she sat at his desk, that she could do about that failure. One tangible thing she could accomplish right now, however, was to grapple with America Online, and so she reached out and switched on the Mac. AOL, she knew, would keep billing her grandfather endlessly unless she canceled the account; her aunt was smart to want to cut them off now. She double-clicked on the AOL icon, double-clicked again. The dialogue box gave her the user’s screen name, “FSakai.” Now she needed the password. She paused for a moment. Baseball, his biggest love, was the obvious answer. She tried “Dodger,” then “Koufax,” then “Drysdale.” Who else had he admired? She tried “Dusty,” “Fernando,” and “homerun.” She thought about Japanese ballplayers—would he use a player from the Japanese leagues? She didn’t think so. Then she recalled a player that he’d mentioned as being half-Asian, whose name she remembered because she thought it so funny, and she typed “Darling” very quickly and hit “return.” The modem dialed, whirred, connected. Something flashed on and off the screen. She was in.

A tinny, cheerful voice welcomed her and informed her, “You’ve got mail!” She’d just intended to log on long enough to cancel his membership, but now she decided to read the new mail. It must have been written around the time he died, and she wondered who it was from. She felt vaguely invasive. Once, when she’d worked for an accountant in high school, she’d had to go through the checkbook of a woman who’d recently died. The barely dried ink there, the woman’s belief, in writing the checks, that she’d be around to cover them, had spooked and saddened her, as Frank’s mail did now. When she went to open it, though, she found that it was only something from the people at America Online. She was half-disappointed, half-relieved. Then, since she was there already, she decided to look at his file of outgoing mail. The results were boring—the most recent mail had all gone out to her. She felt another stab of guilt—she hadn’t answered his last few messages—so to counteract it, she did something worse. Curious about who her grandfather corresponded with, she opened up his address file—the only addresses there belonged to Jackie, Lois, Rose, and Ted. This couldn’t be, she thought; these were probably just the addresses he happened to keep on file. She closed that box and pulled up his older mail. The only messages were from her and her aunt and Ted. And there weren’t very many. Not, anyway, in comparison to the number of messages he’d sent to them—she opened his “sent mail” file again and saw that the list of outgoing messages was about four times as long. She couldn’t bear to look at this. She hadn’t returned his calls; had forgotten his last two birthdays; had only responded to a fraction of his e-mails. She hung her head for a moment and, looking back at the screen, finally began to sense the loneliness of the man who used to sit where she sat now.

Feeling something strong and definite for the first time since the funeral—shame—she thought that what her aunt wished her to do, while foolish, wasn’t really so hard. Maybe Frank had wanted all that money to go to the man in the will; who was she to say? Tracking him down was the least she could do—for everyone. And she could spend the day with her aunt, too, like Lois always wanted her to—she could blow off her schoolwork for once and go look at this house with them. Sighing, she turned off the computer and went back out to the living room, where Lois and Ted, red pens in hand, were circling more ads. The business card was still lying untouched on top of the box of money; Jackie picked it up and slipped it into her wallet.

“So I’ll give Loda Thomas a call on Monday,” she said, as nonchalantly as she could.

Lois smiled, and Jackie knew that she knew that something had happened in the bedroom. But she didn’t ask about it; she just said, “Thank you.”



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