FICTION: The Golden Mean by Mark Halpern

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…any kind of mixture that does not in some way or other possess measure of the nature of proportion will necessarily corrupt its ingredients and most of all itself.
– Plato, Phlb 64d. Attributed to Socrates.

Kimiko accepted meeting at fixed regular intervals. In return, I tolerated some rather unusual proposals. Foremost among these was the Aphrodite-Marilyn Perfect Proportion Contest, Saitama Prefecture Finals. Given my strong preference for orderliness, I cannot deny the intellectual appeal of surveying women categorised by age and physical attribute. Yet I am not, as some have claimed, merely a cold, rational machine. I felt stimulation, and it was not to my faculty of reason.

The invitation was, I interpreted, that we jointly inspect a parade of erotically-appealing women. Surely this indicated Kimiko was entertaining the concept of a sexual event involving her, me and another woman. Perhaps this was only Kimiko’s fantasy. But a juicy fantasy it was. And the invitation might signify a plan, or at least the intention to create a possibility. Regardless, the prospect of my first ‘threesome’ was enticing.

The contest’s sponsor, Aphrodite-Marilyn Healthful, Ltd., was also the corporate franchisor of the tiny ‘health salon’ Kimiko operated in the home wherein also resided Kimiko’s husband. Arriving at the contest venue, I was surprised to find that seated near us were several of the salon’s clients, some accompanied by their husbands. My presence, thus, seemed to threaten impropriety in the small community, two hours north of Tokyo, where Kimiko lived.

Perhaps she’d invited me, a presentable foreigner, just to embellish her status before these clients. Was I equivalent to a Gucci handbag? On the other hand, my presence could be a risk Kimiko was willing to take in order to realise a compelling sexual fantasy. Was her desire that strong?

Two possibilities. One disagreeable, one agreeable. I deferred judgement and aimed my attention towards the stage.

But there I saw only women in their fifties. Consulting the program I realised that Kimiko had timed my arrival so that I’d miss the younger categories.

I might right then have abandoned my expectations, but, upon reflection, did not deem that necessary. So I held my tongue. I commented only that the proportions of Kimiko, aged 49, were superior to anything onstage.

Casting my view instead toward the audience, I did find a suitable focal point. One who, I suggested out loud, deserved a special prize for classical voluptuousness. Kimiko vigourously concurred, identifying the woman in question as Matsusue-san, a fellow salon-operator. I was refortified.

Instantly, though, I was flung down. The stage was invaded by a parade of sexagenarian would-be Aphrodites/Marilyns who expelled Eros from the realm of my consciousness.

And then, most unexpectedly of all, I was transported into calmness. The instigator was the final contestant, an 82-year-old in black leotard. Extra time had apparently been set aside for her self-introduction, during which she described the Body Perfection Course as giving her life purpose anew after widowhood descended upon 57 years of happy marriage. She’d competed only against loneliness and the weight of time. A sympathetic vibration passed through the hall. Perhaps everyone present imagined this woman’s life, and thought about what marriage might mean to their own.

I felt part of a tensionless balance – that singular Japanese balance – between the individual and the numerous others who’d become group-mates. This was the same equilibrium – though achieved only from time to time – that for so many years has kept me in Japan. Of course, the country also maintains a pleasing coexistence of the time-honoured and the postmodern, undisturbed by political correctness. Here is a society that let’s me feel strong enough as a man to consistently govern my actions according to the predictable logic of self interest.

Prizes were now scattered about, ranging everywhere from slender 56-year-old ‘arms, shoulders and hands’ to an integrated 25-year-old body that triumphed in overall shapeliness. Formalities were executed with Japanese efficiency. And then came the musical celebration, taiko drumming.

Billed as ‘traditional,’ the performance was a manga parody come to life. Red and green coiffures offset glimmering mock-Edo-era workmen’s costumes redesigned to highlight the performers’ well-toned male bodies. Yet the latter radiated not masculinity, but feminine prettiness. It is testament to the human biomechanism’s adaptability to varying social environments that the opposite sex – in this case, the semi-opposite sex – may thus be attracted. I was appalled.

Yet there remained the drumming, forceful and raw.

Hypnotic rhythms. Muscle-driven movement. And among the overwhelmingly-female audience, a hormonal response. Certainly for Kimiko, whose arm brushed against mine. Also, I think, for Matsusue-san, who finally seemed cognizant of my existence.

Sounds blended into deep roundness, accented beats quickening into a sonic field that grew strong enough to overcome the blatant preposterousness of the drummers themselves. My attention fixed on Matsusue-san; Kimiko noticed and smiled. As the great drums pounded onwards to frenzy, she let her petite thigh press lightly against my upper shin for approximately seven seconds and whispered, using a formal honourific. ‘I hope Frank-sama is enjoying the performance.’

Good luck and bad luck net out to average. My professional successes have depended on a superior ability to respond to changed circumstances. Yet when sexual opportunity comes into view I am often unready. Not unready this time, I resolved.

Already I’d calculated that limitations in my worldly experience – specifically, in guiding women towards behaviour beyond established precedents – would delay achievement of my objective. Namely, simultaneous enjoyment of both Kimiko and either Matsusue-san or, alternatively, any contestant not within the ultimate age-tier and preferably not the penultimate. Today was for preliminary groundwork, but even that seemed hindered by the presence of clients and spouses.

When the performance ended I shepherded Kimiko to a nearby love hotel, allotting but 45 minutes for Stage One. This included hotel check-in, locating the room, undressing and showering, not to mention coitus etc. My task being to raise Kimiko’s level of satisfaction in our relationship, I focused on her requirements with all diligence. Success was confirmed in due course by certain of her characteristic vocalizations.

Only four minutes remained for Stage Two. This was planting the notion – if not drawing outward a self-implanted notion – that our next meeting should include Matsusue-san. Or an alternate.

First, I nestled up and held Kimiko gently for 90 seconds. Second, I murmured soothing phrases to the effect that the day’s variegated events had yielded profound contentment. Third, I described us ‘side by side’ watching alluring women and having ‘the sense that Kimiko-san too found them attractive, Matsusue-san particularly so,’ wondering aloud whether ‘we might get to know her more intimately.’

Before Kimiko could formulate a reply I reminded her she must hurry home to prepare dinner. My hope was that later, lying night after night beside her unresponsive husband, she’d mull over my words and reach the right conclusion.

Marriage is not a bad thing. For some time I’d been thinking that it could, if managed properly, increase domestic comfort without disproportionately restricting my freedom. And so, when first noticing Kimiko’s presence at a café, I’d delayed chatting her up until confirming the ringlessness of her left hand. She explained, much later, that weight loss had necessitated transposition of her wedding ring to her right hand. By then, however, my investment of time and effort was too substantial to casually write off.

Kimiko had now become just one among my several lady friends. But she’d rise to preeminence were she to fill the role of sexual triangulator.

Her next email came quickly, but, pointedly lacked mention of Matsusue-san. It did, however, request my attendance at a sales-motivation meeting for Aphrodite-Marilyn health products.

My reply was immediate – I could not restrain myself. ‘Would Matsusue-san be there?’

To this, Kimiko responded only indirectly, and only after much cut-and-pasted hyperbole about ‘boosting income through recruiting friends to try our amazing fat-dissolving herbal teas’ etc. In closing she mentioned that ‘attractive women often show up.’

Key subsequent events may be recounted quickly. Kimiko and I soon met for lunch, where I explained my lack of need or ambition to raise my income level. We retired to the nearest accessible hotel. We still meet bi-weekly.

For a while Kimiko continued mentioning herbal teas. This tapered off, as did my mentioning of other women. Before I’d stopped completely, she recounted her ‘most risqué’ experience. While in university she’d once shared a cramped hotel room with another girl who, thinking Kimiko asleep, invited in a boy. Erotic utterances were heard, whereupon Kimiko herself underwent arousal.

What am I to deduce from all this? That attractive women in combination with intense drumming stimulates the libido? A triviality. That relationships depend for stability on a one-to-one balance? Possibly. That I should avoid over-confidence when predicting women’s intentions. Probably. That I must give up all hope for a threesome with Kimiko? Definitely.

The Aphrodite-Marilyn contest’s National Finals were held some months later. I attended quietly and alone.


Mark Halpern

Mark Halpern has lived since 1993 in Tokyo, where he runs his own law firm and writes stories about foreigners in Japan. He was born in America, mostly grew up in Canada, and has spent long periods in the UK and France. As to Japan, Mark has, like some of his characters, found a way to be both an outsider and an insider.

If you enjoyed ‘The Golden Mean’  leave a comment and let Mark know.

You can read more of Mark’s fiction below:

Cool Japan

“The Selfish Gene”, UC Review, 2018. Print only.

“The Takarazuka Woman”, Spadina Literary Review, #26, August 2018.

“The Avenger”, Tigershark Magazine (#19, August 2018)

“My Irritating Neighbour”, BoomerLitMag (Vol. III, No. 3, August 2018).

“Life is Grand”, Lowestoft Chronicle, Issue 35, Sept. 2018.

“Romantic Canada”, Blank Spaces, September 2018. Print only.

“Fact and Fancy”, Gravel, October 2018.

“Takeda-sensei, the Enemy”, Evening Street Review (expected for Autumn 2019).

“Stepping Outside”, Crack the Spine (#246, December 2018).

“The Rising Sun Always Rises”, Grey Borders Magazine (April 2019). Print only.

“Submission”, Fleas on the Dog (#2, April 2019).

“How the Other Half Lives”, Event (expect for 48/1 or 48/2, 2019).

“Basil the Greek”, Adelaide Literary Magazine (expected for #26, July 2019).

“Kanemaru-san”, Palooka (expected for #11, 2019).

“Day of Rock”, Foreign Literary Journal (TBA).


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