White Bicycle
    Ryland Greene
September, Nara, Japan


It is unfortunate that this--this what?--apology?--comes as a letter. Yet no other form is sufficient to my message, if in fact I have any message at all; and, similarly, no other mode seems sufficient to my motives, which appear to evaporate even as I try to scan them.

I hope you will come to understand my situation, my condition, although simultaneously I hold that understanding is the fatal flaw of the West. For myself, I simply wish to submit to being, to withdraw from decisions, to exist as an enduring ephemeral.

As to writing a letter, well, it apparently permits me to be the sole voice. Yet, in reality, I am a mere clerk, a secretary for fate, poor draftsman of poetic mist that dissolves the world into itself. For me, there is neither the strength nor the will for dialog. Heaven forbid that I should hear you speak back! I am barely able to grasp the nature of my perceptions --is that possible?-- barely able to hold the vast external briefly in focus.

I have abandoned all effort to be instrumental. Although it is almost unforgivable to do so in this country, I have foregone the camera. I hardly ever watch TV. Still, images are all. Images, events, conditions engulf me. You will see.

Here, in this country, all things seem alien. The natives make a cult of that. It is their aesthetic. We are told of the evanescence of things --­sakura!-- and the need for artifice in a culture built over the pressure lines of global plates gnawing at each other and enlivened with volcanic petulance. Indeed, it is only as one grasps the thought that all is artifice, at least for a moment (but that at any moment anything can be meaningless or simply not be at all ) --it is the grasp, however tentative, of this petal-sense of being that yields the Gaijin's, the foreigner’s only hope of entering even the first vestibule of this culture.

So, an ugly alien addresses you with words digested by time and space, extruded as a bit of a mess there on your carpet by the sling chair where the sun skirts the drapes and pivots on the pile these papers will soon make as you drop them one by one beside you.

Yet giving voice to this is so difficult! The essence is that all things are alien and so one cultivates the alien until it becomes convention, an imitation of imitation carried to the ultimate point of refinement: as in the garden reconstituted without guilt, almost without season, beyond hope; nature reconstituted, age fixed, growth pruned, the bent pine static.

And so, about us, my dear, I hope you will accept that my affection for you continues unabated, fixed in its own special soil. That may prove small comfort to you as I elaborate on our --on my-- predicament...on the growing suspension of all. Then again, perhaps it will be news of no importance whatsoever. Perhaps you will be relieved. For, while my affection continues unabated, as I have said, matters are not now as they have once been where you are concerned. Did I say that correctly? Muzukashi, desu nee. It is difficult. I imagine you sitting there in the blue sling chair by your balcony door with its gauze of drapery --ah, but that is not so-- by the balcony door with its dense brocaded drapes, opened slightly to a view of the park and ugly Saint Christopher's church. You are irritated. I empathize with you even as I write the letter you will not read for a week at the very least. Let me try to explain.

Tonight I went for a walk. This is one of the few things I have done in the past that I continue to do. Walk. To leave, to go, and to return, moved by impulse without objective. This is about all I have left of action, my only semblance of will. Lately I have been moving to and around the lake --I have mentioned it before, the one with the bridge painted light blue, the bridge over which the bus travels on its way to and from the station, the eki, every day. Walking, I can stop and consider the scene. Around the irregular shape of the lake there is a wall about ten feet high which holds the slope. It is built of stones set in the diamond pattern that is preferred. No doubt a convention. Perhaps a practical matter. Such distinctions become irrelevant.

Here on the bridge I can watch the herons fly their zigzag bodies in curiously straight lines across the water. It was here, about a week ago, that I first noticed a white bicycle stationed at the bottom of the wall. It rested on the ledge, a lip caused, I suppose, by the footings that support the wall. At any rate, the bicycle was leaning against the wall almost without tilt, and resting in such a way that the tires seemed just to contact the water's surface. It was easy to notice because it was so much out of context, the riderless bike, motionless on the lake.

As I have observed this curiosity over the week it has changed in significance. At first it seemed a prank, a bicycle hidden from its owner who might come to within a few feet of it and not see it beneath their line of vision. Then I thought of a tragedy, its owner beaten or drowned, the bicycle an unintended marker of life or dream no longer extant. It changed several more times. But now I no longer interpret it. I acknowledge it. It has superseded fact. I sometimes feel, although it is silly to suggest, that it has taken command of me.

And somehow it has come to seem that the bicycle and I are rather like you and I. Or vise-versa. I have no idea why I want to say that. Looking for alignments perhaps. But, logically or not, it brings me to the point of telling you something that I should have told you before, but which seemed strangely unimportant where you and I are concerned. I have become married. Recently so, as a matter of fact, but not so recent as the last three or four letters to you.

My marriage seems to have nothing to do with the things we --you and I-- write to each other. It is as if this change in my status kept slipping my mind as I wrote, although I would remember, while walking or looking at charts in the office, that you should, as a matter of courtesy, be informed. So.

My wife, Midori, is quite a fine woman. Diminutive to the point of tiny, doll-like if you will, she is half my size or less, and half my age or less. Apparently marriage to a man of her country had escaped her, or she it (one cannot tell about these matters) and she emerged as my companion. Gradually, well, in fact rather rapidly, everyone assumed that marriage would occur, and so it did, or has, or whatever. I cannot quite recall the process. Something else must have preoccupied me at the time, because there are moments when I am uncertain that it really happened at all. Curious, but then no more so than all events these days. Everything that happens seems also not to happen. Dual realities, pseudo realities, non-realities, these conditions, often overlapping, reveal the charm and the curse which accompany a traveler.

As you will have deduced, my marriage changes the probability that I will return home to you in the near future. For me, there are many problems. Management at the office is not overjoyed with my change in status. Sukimoto-san is not a champion of Gaijin who marry the daughters of his culture, and, as you know, the company had planned to keep me here only another twelve or fourteen months for training before reassigning me to the States. Now they are worried that I will expect to stay as a permanent resident, and they really do not see an extended need for me in Kansai. And in this they are quite correct. They are very astute about extended conditions in this country. Frankly, this is a sensibility I study and aspire to in my own way.

At the same time I have to acknowledge that there have been intimations that I might be terminated. I suppose that if I am treated improperly here I might bring suit against a branch office back home, but that will produce little benefit. Besides, I no longer have that kind of will. Urgency evades me.

I was thinking of such conditions today at the lake. I had noticed the wind making a pattern of ripples on the surface, and I had observed to myself that it looked dimpled. No, tucked, pleated: Ah, I realized, quilted. The water looked quilted with an even pattern, a pattern that, although it actually moved, seemed after a while to be still, to be fixed, fluid but stopped. Hence, like a quilt. I suddenly thought of the Amish. They would have recognized the quality I was witness to, the regular, enduring image changing between parts but unchanged overall. It became profoundly comforting to me to see the water as having form and pattern without movement. And then I noticed that the bicycle was still there, as if waiting for a rider to take it across the lake. Seeing the still white bicycle there made the water move, and the quilt dissolved. The ripples moved toward me in shifting bands. But the power of the lake had entered the bicycle and stillness was now more intense and compressed than before. Stillness rode the bicycle. The water slipped under the bicycle which stood calm and superior and uninvolved with the colors, shrugs, shifts, lights and shadows around it.

Walking back from the lake I realized that I must write and tell you about Midori. I am sure this is as awkward for you as it is for me. It is always difficult when a design unravels, and while such dissolution may suggest new compositions, that is small comfort for loss.

As you can see, I am very conscious of design these days. Where design was unconsciousness, in a way, a few years ago, now it strives to occupy the mind. It comes in many forms. The way Midori sets a dinner tray, or organizes my slippers, or arranges flowers in the small vase on the shoe case in the entry hall, almost, I sometimes think, a shrine to what steps no further. But it is Midori herself as well. I have discovered an essential of oriental order: the long suspended curve. You will possibly remember the description of this which our friend Karin wrote in the catalog to the Oriental Painting show we saw in Washington some years ago. What Karin took from Rowlands or Campell or Graves or Mumford and illuminated through images in the exhibition, I possess. Let me try to set this out for you. There is a difference between the hung curve of the East and the classic curve of the West. The latter curve embodies its own resolution, every force or urge corrected by a counter force with a shifting distribution, as in contrapasto in a figure's stance. So too as in the slope of Venus' abdomen, which swells from the navel, then retreats downward, repeating in smaller proportions this same alignment of convex to concave to convex, and so on, as it moves over the mons. With Midori, the eastern curve takes life in suspended animation: that is, life of a kind. It exists. It goes no where. It is almost detachable, self-possessed. Thus the line of Midori's abdomen drops away. Any sense of counter curve, any semblance of mons lies hidden within if it exists at all. Her quite remarkable --more curious than enticing-­- ass cheeks do not swell out round and circular as your's do, but rather appear to run vertically, the line of division like a calligraphic stroke that, while it slants and shifts, never quite manages to turn and then turn back.

Actually, I found the shape of her buttocks maddening at first. Her torso appeared not to end. And this in the most miniature of normal adults. Labia appeared without introduction, incongruous lips surprisingly distinct, a nest of pink and mauve wrinkles in the larger nest of uncurled hair. I think that this is her single most distinctive feature, as if these volverian forms have been borrowed from a woodcut depicting some courtesan poised for service, at once vast and yet tiny, her sex a place of irregularities against the crisp folds of a yukatta or the extended ivory plane of a torso. So engaging. So remarkably unerotic.

I do not report these things to disturb you. There is no cause for jealousy, and if you feel even a tinge of that emotion set it aside. I do not lust for Midori. In fact, I am not clear as to how and when we consummate our relationship. There is much of existence that is difficult to, ah, what shall I say, monitor? Yes, monitor will do nicely.

So there you are. I imagine you in the sling chair, moving emotionally beyond anger, perhaps beyond scorn, into the tranquillity that should follow from our separation now heightened beyond space to include my marriage to another. The chair carries you as if it were an oriole's turquoise nest. Birds watch you from the balcony railing. You do not move. You are at a distance in my mind, but clearly so, a miniature, framed against sliding doors, a diptych of inner and outer views that I shall fold into one of the drawers in my mind, more precious than distance would ever let us admit. Distance is an invisible hand measuring transparent space. Conceits come easily in my current frame of mind. You understand.

But the white bicycle is not a conceit, not a fiction, not even a symbol. It is very real. I have come to count on it. I visit it daily. Already, a new level of motivation is rising in me. I think of getting up early tomorrow so that I can walk the first half of the way to the eki, pausing on the bridge for a visit, for assurance that all is well. The white bicycle seems to fix things in such an essential way. It corrects the wobbling world. It is gyroscopic, a counter fiction.

I am reminded of Midori, whom I hear --although she is nearly without sound-- drawing my bath. I will lower my great hulk into the tub, cross legged like some caricature of Buddha, and tiny Midori will enter and sit upon my lap. Her hair, wet from the steam, will make indecipherable kanji on her shoulders and back, her tiny, endless back. Her breasts, not much more than swollen nipples, do not disrupt her relatively long, pale trunk. Her breasts, one might say, are not exclamatory. And I will observe those coral lips I have already mentioned to you as she steps over the edge of the tub --almost, for her, an impossible reach-- and I lift her in.

While I lounge thus, an unwieldy amphibian, you will be there in the sea-blue scrotum of the sling chair. You have moved beyond anger, through brief self-pity to determination. You will lift yourself out of the sling like a matriarchal David and attack your situation, your aloneness, ­with such assertion that generals and armies would blanch. You will call an old lover or take a new one and draw yourself, with or without love, back into the vortex of existence. Your curve is dynamic again, balance in action.

I am here in hot water toying with a doll and meditating in my fashion on motionless things. As I have advised against jealousy, meaning that I do not seek to cause that emotion, so also I advise against imagining Midori and me in passion's grasp, laboring together in some dramatic intercourse. Set your mind at ease. Intercourse, should it occur, is but a brief deviation from the immutable norm I imagine. Sex wants resolution. I do not. I want to avoid resolution at all cost, or at least insofar as the level of my inertia will permit. The white bicycle has no place to go, no purpose beyond its being there. I would discover none other for it.

With deep affection, I remain:

Ryland Greene’s first published fiction (Weathered) appeared in Issue 8, Vol. 1 of In Posse. The story in this issue, White Bicycle, was first sketched out during his residence in the Kansai area of Japan where he lived for two years during the early 90s. It is the first of several tales from this period to be published. His work has also appeared in The Barcelona Review. Retired from producing and teaching in the visual arts, Ryland is now fully involved in writing fiction. He resides in the Lehigh Valley of Eastern Pennsylvania and at his wife’s family farm in Northeast Missouri


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