Where the Drowned Ride
Cathy Ulrich

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 fares.

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 Japanese.

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 cry.

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.

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