In the foothills of Pasadena, Mas Arai is just another Japanese-American gardener, his lawnmower blades clean and sharp, his truck carefully tuned. But while Mas keeps lawns neatly trimmed, his own life has gone to seed. His wife is dead. And his livelihood is falling into the hands of the men he once hired by the day. For Mas, a life of sin is catching up to him. And now bachi-the spirit of retribution-is knocking on his door.
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December 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Summer of the Big Bachi by Naomi Hirahara
Tanaka ' s Lawnmower Shop was where it all started, at least this time around. Buried in a town called Altadena at the base of the purple San Gabriel Mountains, it was the closest thing to home for Mas Arai. When Mas was younger and his hair jet-black, he spent most of his nights after his gardening route in the shop ' s back room. They cleared the worktables of screws, pliers, and invoices and got out a case of plastic poker chips in red, yellow, blue, and green. Wishbone Tanaka would plunk down a new pack of playing cards, a sticker still keeping the virgin lid in place. Someone would toss in a bag of red-dyed pistachios; after a night of cards, everyone ' s fingertips would be pink and salty.
Even after he got married and his daughter, Mari, was born, Mas continued these late-night outings. Most of the guys were still single, or had wives who didn ' t care, but Chizuko called every night. When Mari was old enough to say ' Dad-dy, ' she was the one who was on the other side of the line. Then Chizuko was pregnant again, and Mas thought twice about gambling at Tanaka ' s. ' One day it ' s all going to catch up with you, ' Chizuko shrieked. ' You going to get big bachi. '
One late weekend night the bachi did come. Mari kept calling and calling. Mas refused to take the phone, because he didn ' t want his successful run to be ruined.
' I got me six hundred dolla, ' he announced, stumbling into the bedroom that night.
' I don ' t feel so good, Masao-san, ' Chizuko moaned.
Mas flipped on the light. Chizuko ' s permed hair was damp against her forehead. He turned over the flowered bedspread and cotton sheets to reveal Chizuko ' s plump belly extending over her tight panties. Next to her was a spot of blood, fresh and dark.
' I called you, Daddy. ' Mari, dressed in a flannel nightgown, stood in the doorway. ' I kept calling and calling. '
After Chizuko ' s miscarriage, Mas stopped playing cards. Chizuko kept her nagging, but it took on another tone. The words were the same, but all their power was gone. It continued like this for twenty more years, two decades filled with one bachi after another. In the end, he was the only one left in their three-bedroom house at the bottom of the San Gabriels, the purple peaks now barely visible due to the smog. Even their mutt dog was gone.
But it seemed to always work out this way for Mas. He was the ultimate survivor, whether he liked it or not. It was a distinction that Mas hated and lately had begun to test. He resumed hanging out at Tanaka ' s, first just once a month, then once a week. Within a year, his Ford truck was on automatic. After Mas finished his gardening route at noon, he headed for Fair Oaks Boulevard, which pushed up into tiny streets like the thin veins that traced his brown fingers. While the main town, Pasadena, was full of wide boulevards and fancy streetlights, Altadena, to the north, was scrawny like a chicken that didn ' t get enough feed. It had a slight wildness to it ' hardly any sidewalks ' as if the town weren ' t even worth taming. Mas liked it that way.