portion of the artwork for Cathy Ulrich's story

A Small World
Cathy Ulrich

If I were a hikikomori in Japan, I would never leave my 12-tatami apartment. Sometimes I would look out the window. Sometimes I would do yoga. My world would be so very small.

My Japanese boyfriend would ride the train home from work to see me.

He’d say: Did you go anywhere today?

Where would I go? I’d say.

If I were a hikikomori in Japan, I would have dinner waiting for my boyfriend, like an American housewife. I’d wear an apron. It would say: Kiss the cook.

It’s just ordered in, I’d admit after my Japanese boyfriend kissed me like the apron directed.

He’d say: I know.

If I were a hikikomori in Japan, my Japanese boyfriend would be so understanding. He’d hold my hand during my panic attacks. He’d rub my back.

He’d say: Aishitemasu.

I’d say: I love you, too.

And when we fell asleep on the futon, he’d wrap round me like spoons and he’d say spoons in English because that was what I’d said the first time he did it and I would feel so safe that I could almost stand to go outside.

If I were a hikikomori in Japan, my Japanese boyfriend would feel the trembling of my body as he held me.

Your heart is beating so fast, he’d say, but he’d say it in Japanese, and it would sound much prettier.

If I were a hikikomori in Japan, I’d be part of an online chat group with other hikikomori. We’d talk about our favorite anime. Mine would be Cowboy Bebop.

Of course it is, they’d say. You’re such an American.

If I were a hikikomori in Japan, I would be happy for the others when they left the chat group. I would root for them to succeed.

Some would say: Sayonara—I’m ready to face the world.

Some wouldn’t say anything. They’d just be gone.

Takeshi, are you there? I’d say, and there would be no answer.

We other hikikomori would discuss Takeshi (and it would be all right that we called him that and not Tanigawa, because we were friends, we were like family), and how much we missed him and how he was probably better off now.

None of us would say that we thought he died.

None of us would say that.

If I were a hikikomori in Japan, my Japanese boyfriend would kiss me on the forehead before he left for work.

He’d say: Have a good day.

Once he left, I would look out the window. I’d watch until I saw him come out onto the street.

I’d admire the way he ran his fingers through his hair, I’d admire his posture.

I’d watch him until he was gone. He would be the only thing I would want to see.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 51 | Spring/Summer 2018