KITSUNE • by Elizabeth Creith

Were you ever at Kitsune? You say it “Kit-SOO-neh”. A little Japanese-style place on Queen Street, tucked in between a bookstore and a donut shop, not a bar, exactly, although they mostly served drinks. Saki, but other things, too. It was classier than a bar. A very quiet place, little tables. Seated maybe twenty.

The waitresses all wore kimono, and acted like geisha. No, not like hookers. Like high-class entertainers. There was singing and stuff. You could even hire one to sit at your table and talk with you about whatever you liked, clean talk, you know. They all spoke good English, with this beautiful accent, and they could hold an intelligent conversation about damn near anything.

Men didn’t go to Kitsune to get drunk. They went to be fussed over, treated like they were important.

Kiku worked there. I got so I’d go on the nights when I knew she’d be in. I knew Kiku wasn’t her real name. She told me it meant “Chrysanthemum”, but she wouldn’t say what her real name was. She usually wore kimono in brown or red or yellow, always a little muted, and embroidered with chrysanthemums.

No, they don’t all look the same. I could pick Kiku out of a hundred Japanese girls, even a thousand, even now, all this time later. So what if they all have black hair? That doesn’t make them identical.

She had a sweet face, kind of like a kitten face; pointed chin, straight, small nose. Her nose was a bit pointed, too, and she had the biggest, darkest eyes, a little close-set. Thin, almost semicircular eyebrows that she could use to say almost anything. She had a wicked wit, even a little naughty at times. She could always make me laugh, and she’d laugh right along with me, but softly, you know?

She was such a tiny thing, you’d think she’d have this little childlike voice. But she didn’t. Her voice was low and full-sounding. Womanly. When she laughed it was like a ripple, but low in her throat, like an animal laughing, maybe. I don’t know. I just never heard a laugh like that. It charmed the hell out of me.

I know she liked me, maybe nearly as much as I liked her.

Well, we got to be friends, and more than friends, although it didn’t go beyond sitting and talking at Kitsune. I offered to give her a ride home after work once or twice, but she said it wasn’t allowed, to be that friendly with the patrons. That’s what they called their customers.

One evening she asked me to wait for her after work. It was late June. I’d been going to Kitsune for a little over a year.

Of course I did. I wonder sometimes what would have happened if I hadn’t.

I sat in my car in the parking lot until all the girls left and the lights were out. She came out last, and when I went over to her she took my hand and led me around the back of the building. There was a narrow little fire escape up to the second floor. When we got up there, she had a key to the door, and we went in. She took off her shoes and made me take mine off, too. When she turned on the lights I saw why.

It was a little apartment, the floor covered with matting. There was a tiny stove, and she made tea. And then she took me into the other room and helped me undress.

We didn’t sleep until just before sunrise. I wish I’d stayed awake. I don’t know if it would have made any difference, but I can’t help wondering.

When I woke up, it was just past sunrise, that light that’s all blue in the west still, and the pink just starting in the east. I was lying in a vacant lot, surrounded by tall grass. My clothes were beside me, neatly folded. I put them on in a hurry, wondering what the hell.

When I was dressed, I stood up, looking for Kiku. I called her, turning all around. And that’s when I saw my car, sitting in the middle of the lot. And the grass was moving beside it, like there was an animal there, or something.

All I could think was that she was there and hurt somehow. As I reached the car, the grass started moving like the animal was running away. I saw — something. Something reddish. Something small and fast. But no Kiku.

I filed a missing person report with the police. The problem was, I couldn’t tell them anything about that short time between when we fell asleep together and when I woke up alone. It was maybe an hour at most. They never found her. I never found her. It was like she’d vanished.

But that’s not the strangest thing. When I started looking around, I saw that all the buildings were the same as the ones around Kitsune. But Kitsune was gone. There was just this vacant lot, like there’d never been a building there.

I had strange dreams for a few nights, dreams of Kiku. I did some reading, and then I cashed in my bonds and bought the lot. For something in the city, it’s like a little bit of wilderness. There are rabbits there, and I’ve seen ‘coons going through. And there’s a fox. Not always, but sometimes. She used to have a cub with her, but he’s gone now.

So I sleep out there on warm nights. I’m safe, I think. Anyway, if Kiku wants me, she’ll know where to find me. She won’t have to rebuild Kitsune to lure me in again.

Elizabeth Creith draws on her familiarity with history, myth and folklore to write her fiction and poetry. For ten years she wrote humour and commentary for CBC radio. She has had stories published or accepted by New Myths, Chicken Soup for the Soul and THEMA, among others. Her flash “Companion Animal” placed twelfth in the Writers’ Union of Canada 2008 Postcard Fiction Contest, and her flash “Dark Chocolate” came in first in the Northwestern Ontario Writers’ Workshop 2010 writing contest. Elizabeth lives, writes and commits art in Wharncliffe, Northern Ontario, distracted occasionally by her husband, dog and two cats.

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