This story is by Darrell Eugene McGuire and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sixteen years had gone by since the end of World War Two. While Japan was no longer considered an occupied country, the social consequences of previous years continued to take their toll in everyday Japanese and American relations.
In the late months of 1961, our squadron off loaded from our aircraft carrier for a four month temporary deployment at Atsugi Naval Air Station in Japan. Outside the gates of the base, the off duty hangouts for Sailors and Marines were the little towns of Sagami-Otsuka and Yamato. Sailors mostly frequented Sagami-Otsuka and the Marines stayed off to themselves in Yamato.
I was shop leader of one of the squadron’s two loosely related electronics shops. My mates from both shops mostly hung out for drinks and entertainment at the Alamo Bar in Sagami.
The hostesses in the bars earned their keep by enticing Sailors to buy them drinks. We realized the drinks were mostly colored water. These young women usually offered more than simple companionship. Intimacy was often involved.
My favorite hostess was Mariko. She was a petite young woman, quiet, intelligent, and mostly embarrassed about her position in life. Our relationship was strictly limited to conversation and friendship, as I didn’t care to participate in the other stuff. It saddened me to see these young women debase and demean themselves in that manner. Most of us let it go that it was their lot. Mariko often disparaged herself as a “skivvy girl”. I urged her to stop doing that, that she was earning her own way, and there was nothing wrong about that, at least nothing wrong about her. When she or others asked about my own reluctance to engage in more intimate relations, my reply was simply that I was seriously involved with a girl back home.
One evening she said to me, “Farrey-san need stay away from Rosy. Rosy not hostess. Rosy bartender. She has hoosban. Hoosban no rike Rosy be with Sairor man. Hoosban beat Rosy. You fix?”
We all knew that Mariko had been involved and had some bad relations with Petty Officer Second Class Farley, and she had demanded that he stay away from her. He had left behind him a reputation in some of the other bars in Sagami of being disrespectful and abusive to the women working in them. He seems to have had an affinity for those of them who were married. I knew this to be a continuation of his similar conduct back home.
I said, “I don’t know if I can fix it, but I’ll talk to Farley”, and walked to the end of the bar where Farley was holding onto Rosy’s hand and whispering in her ear. Rosy seemed uneasy, her eyes nervously darting back and forth. I suggested he not do that. “Rosy isn’t a bar girl, she’s the owner’s wife. The others don’t like your messing with her, and her husband doesn’t like it. He beats her for it.”
Farley rolled his eyes at me. “I like Rosy better than the others. I like her better because she isn’t just a bar girl. She loves me. Her husband is a jerk. He’s a Jap. So mind your own business, and I’ll tend to mine.” Farley was a medium sized, well muscled red-haired man with freckles and a winning smile. His face and ears turned red when he said, “I’ll say again: she loves me. That’s what is important.”
I let it go at that until the night my shipmates and I went into town and to the Alamo and found Rosy cowering down behind the bar. Her face was badly bruised and one eye was swollen shut. Farley pounded his fist on the bar, and shouted, “I’ll beat that jerk to a pulp! Where is he?”
Rosy’s husband, Miko, normally stayed in the back room away from the bar and its customers. Miko hated Americans. He’d grown up during the war, and he resented Americans for, in his estimation, having torn his country and life away from their past. He occasionally looked in to see what was happening, and to see if Rosy was socializing with customers. He was not present on this night. Farley’s rant was in vain.
A week after Farley’s rant, Mariko said to me again, “Rosy hoosban ver’ angry with her, want her stay away from Farrey. Farrey stinko drunk tonight, say Rosy should go away from hoosban and marry Farrey.”
I said, “Farley is already courting his best friend’s wife back in California and has asked her to divorce her husband and marry Farley. Rosy needs to stay away from Farley. He is a bad man.”
I found Farley sitting at a table in the back of the room. “Farley, you need to keep away from Rosy. Her husband thrashes her every night after you’ve been talking to her. You know that. You need to settle your problems back in Palo Alto. Why do you create more problems here?” I outranked Farley, and he took my intervention to be beyond my calling. We were ashore, and my control over him ended at the front gate.
“Again: mind your own business. I’ll do as I like. Rosy loves me. As I’ve told you before: that’s what is important.”
A couple of days later, when my buddies and I went into town, we found the Alamo Bar closed and locked up. Most of the other Americans were gathering at the Alabama Bar across the street. Mariko was sitting at the bar weeping. I asked, “What’s going on? Why is the Alamo closed, and why are you crying?”
“Rosy gone. Dead. Hoosban kill her with knife. Then he kill self. No more Aramo Bar.”
Stunned by the news, I tried to comfort Mariko, and managed to go in to the Alabama every night that week to see that she was all right.
At the end of a weekend, I found Mariko a bit inebriated.
When asked what was going on, she replied, “Farrey now going after Juniko. Juniko have hoosban too.” She looked at me, and her eyes teared up. “You fix?”
Indeed, Farley was sitting at a table in the far corner with Juniko. She seemed to me to be upset and disturbed over the attention he was giving her. I went to their table and said, “Farley, what are you doing?” It was all I could do to keep myself from reaching out and grabbing him by the shoulders. “Didn’t you learn anything from Rosy’s death? You’re doing it all over again.”
Farley looked at me and said, “Juni loves me. Don’t you get it? That’s all that is important. Her husband is a jerk. Now, buzz off!”
Others from the squadron ignored the fuss and looked the other way. It was none of their affair. Was I wrong in taking the situation so seriously? Perhaps Farley was right. It was really none of my business.
The squadron returned to the ship a few weeks later, and we were off to Hawaii and then home.
Ten years went by, and a business trip afforded me the opportunity to drive to Sagami-Otsuka to recapture some memories. The bars were all gone, as were most of the people I had known. I did find Juniko working in a little restaurant, and asked her about Mariko and some of the others. She replied that all of them had left for parts unknown. All except for Mariko.
The demons of shame and humiliation had festered inside Mariko until one morning she had taken a knife to her own belly and put an end to them.
My observation over the years has been that long after treaties have been signed and the swords and guns of war have been sheathed, the effects of that war continue to weigh on the lives of the conquered and occupied. And the conquerors and occupiers, as well. The monster that is War leaves a layer of smoke over the lives all of us who have lived in it though had no hand in making it.
Many years later, I learned that Farley had married his then divorced girlfriend in Palo Alto. They raised their family in a little town in Indiana.
When stateside, Farley was the most popular guy among his buddies wherever he went. In the Navy, his shipmates enjoyed the fun attitude, the pranks and jokes that he brought to their company. Nobody in his hometown at any time during his life would have described him as any kind of a monster. For that was not the face that he presented to the folks back home.
And that was true for the most part of the rest of us. Were we all monsters? Perhaps. Or perhaps we were simply living our lives in the best way we knew how. But we all change in time. Time does that to us.
So, then. You ask: was Farley a monster?
Farley was loved by everybody.
Isn’t that what is important?