Issue #87

Summer 2023

I Keep Trying to Name the City I Often Dream of

by Valerie Fox

I'm not getting evicted, but it feels that way. I have a little clay animal in my pocket, a gift from the year of the pig.

My father, recently retired, turns up to help me move. This place I'm leaving is like the one I lived in for five years in Ikebukuro, back in my twenties, while I was teaching English at a junior college for women in Japan.

My father loads up my suitcases into his milk and bread delivery truck. He has milk and bread in there, maybe a few live animals, hopefully no poisonous snakes. I remember the truck from when I was a kid and used to go with him now and again on his deliveries during the summer. The shelving in there smells sour and yeasty.

As far as I know it's been twenty, thirty, forty years since my father has carried a passport, so it's unexpected that he manages to find himself here in this foreign-feeling place in order to help me with my move.

Not much of a letter writer, my father only ever wrote me once. His choppy left-handed handwriting resembled bird tracks. When I was in my third year of college, he wrote to tell me that he was proud.

My father drives off, leaving me by myself to make my way to an appointment with an old friend who is going to pay me some money to "pick my brain," to tell him "my life story." The amount of money he's going to pay me translates to about 10,000 dollars. This doesn't feel quite enough for a whole life story. But like Uncle Teddy used to say back on the deteriorating farm, when he was trying to get us to try his latest banana bread variation, you gotta eat.

Tripping along, I find myself blocked by many people clogging the train station entrance. I go up the steps and into the doors that look most familiar, but once inside it's unlike any place I have ever visited. Where there used to be a passenger waiting area there are now staircases and other exercise equipment. The clay pig in my pocket is supposed to bring me luck, so I touch it and jostle it a few times. I realize that I'm as likely to walk on water as arrive on time for my appointment to speak about my life and how, sequentially, I have lived it thus far.

So, since I'm now going to be late anyway, I duck into a quaint coffee shop and reach for my wallet in order to pay. I have all different kinds of money and one of them must work here.

It's only then that I notice someone has been tampering with my handbag. Someone has substituted a small reporter's notebook for my leatherette journal (with pockets). I hope it isn't anyone at the travel agency where I work.

Sure, lately I've been falling asleep at work or going into some other sleep-like trance, but I love my job and talking to people. I'm a people person. Perhaps lately I haven't been as productive or friendly and more prone to just going through the motions of greeting and filling our forms and all. Recently I found myself getting off on the wrong floor, the one with the law offices.

I find these words in the small notebook: Ennui. Tix to Bangkok. Track #3. Also, a childlike drawing of a grinning pig.

What with this being such a crowded city, it is commonplace for strangers to sit down alongside one another. I'm slurping my Americano, which ordinarily deters strangers from joining me. But today, I look up to notice that someone has seated himself right next to me. He's a dead ringer for Kaz, the man I intend to meet and tell my life story to.

"Excuse me..." he says.

He has a charming Australian accent, just like the friend I am on my quest to meet.

"...if I may be so bold, you have a lost and clouded look."

Author Bio


Valerie Fox has published prose in Juked, Cleaver, Reflex, Okay Donkey, Across the Margin, and other journals. Much interested in collaboration, she recently published The Real Sky (art/word collaboration), a limited edition, hand-made book, with artist Jacklynn Niemiec. This is the fifth time she has appeared in The Cafe Irreal, most recently her Two Stories appeared in Issue #79.