Where the Drowned Ride
If I were a cab driver in Japan, first of all, I'd speak better
Japanese. I'd be able to say more than good afternoon and I
don't eat fish. I'd have to, to have a reasonable conversation with my
Nice weather we're having, I'd say, desu ne?
I'd say that even if the weather hadn't been so nice.
If I were a cab driver in Japan, I'd be a cheerful one. My fares would
remember my smile, the nape of my neck.
Domo, they'd say. Domo, domo.
If I were a cab driver in Japan, it would be because I'd be in love with a
Japanese boy. He'd have thicker eyelashes than mine, and a sharper
collarbone. I'd kiss him in public because he'd expect me, as an
American, to flout convention.
He'd say my girlfriend flouts convention, only he'd say it in
If I were a cab driver in Japan, I'd have a coworker named Takeshi. He'd be
the one the newspapers would talk to, about the ghosts. The newspapers would
call him Tanigawa, and so would the other cab drivers. Only I would call him
Takeshi, because in America, everybody is on a first-name basis.
Hey, Takeshi, I'd say to him, except in Japanese, hey is oi,
so I'd actually say: Oi, Takeshi.
Oi, Takeshi, tell me about the ghosts.
Takeshi wouldn't need much prodding. Takeshi would like talking about his
ghost passengers, how quiet they were, how they asked to be driven to places
that had been destroyed by the tsunami. How one of them, a teenage girl,
asked him if she had drowned, and vanished before he could answer, leaving
her fare unpaid.
It's an honor, he'd say. Really.
If I were a cab driver in Japan, they wouldn't want to put me on the ghost
route. They would think I wouldn't respect the dead, or that I wouldn't want
to pay a dead man's fare out of my own pocket.
They'd say: Stay away from the ghost route.
I'd say: Hai.
But secretly I would go in my cab to the places where the drowned ride.
Secretly, I would seek them out.
If I were a cab driver in Japan, eventually I would have a ghost fare.
Quiet, pale, dripping phantom water.
Am I dead? Have I died?
If I were a cab driver in Japan, I would want to lie. I would want to say no,
you're fine. But I wouldn't be able to answer at all, and my fare
would gradually quiver and fade, and I would be alone in my cab, and I would
And when I got home that night to my Japanese boyfriend, I would embrace him
in the doorway of our twelve-tatami apartment. I would tell him: Today I
saw a ghost. I would know how to say that in Japanese: ghost.
I would cling to my Japanese boyfriend. He would feel so solid. He would
feel so warm.
Cathy Ulrich lives in Montana. She's had work in Split Lip, Paper Darts, Fiction Southeast
and others. A story of hers from Jellyfish Review was selected for the most
recent Wigleaf Top 50.
Read her postcard.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Markus Meier.
W i g l e a f