Short Stories

Sushi Stalker (Inspired by Caroline Kepnes’ character, Joe, from YOU and my obsession with sushi)


I look at my watch. Eleven thirty-seven. You’re late. This aggravates me. You’re always here. Every Tuesday at eleven thirty. Did you go somewhere else? Are you sick? Were you in an accident?

The bell above the door chimes and I lean to look to see if it’s you. It’s not. It’s some guy. I’ve never seen him. He’s not a regular like you. I chop cucumbers into tiny sticks. I roll the spicy tuna into the rice, seaweed and black sesame seed mixture.

I clean my knife.

The bell chimes again. I lean. There. You. Are. I inhale, in hopes I can smell your sweet sunflower scent. Not yet. I’ll try again when you sit in front of me. Third chair on the left. Every time. I remember that one Tuesday you came in and someone else was sitting there. You were so disappointed. You were frazzled. You ordered from the boring generic lunch menu instead of staring at our specialty menu for ten minutes, with your fingers touching your lips, trying to decide what adventure you wanted to take today. It’s such a tough decision when you can’t eat avocados. I always wonder if you are really allergic to avocados or if you just say you are because you don’t like them and you want to make sure that people take you seriously when you say “no avocado, please”.

“Please”. You are always so polite. You have a nice smile. You don’t smile while you read on your phone, or while you drink your water, or while you pick up your pieces of sushi with your sticks and pop them so skillfully into your mouth. Even when you try a new roll for the first time and you love it, you don’t smile. You lean back slightly, roll yours eyes and moan a little while you chew. Then you give me a satisfied nod. You probably don’t even realize that you do that ritual every time, but you do.

You reserve your smile just for me. When you talk to me. When you order and say please. You smile. Its a really great smile. I go to bed every Monday ecstatic and wake up every Tuesday giddy with the fact that I get to see your smile.

“Hi, Toki.” You say and smile. I love how you say my name. You don’t even pronounce it right, but I don’t care.

I bow and smile. “Konnichiwa.”

You grab a menu and an order slip and take a seat. Third chair on the left. You flip open the menu and flip to the second page. Good. No boring lunch menu today. Fingers to lips, you carefully review the description of each choice. Dragon Roll. Volcano Roll. Tunaki Roll. Lotus Roll. You look at each and every item on that page. And then you look again. I work on preparing the Spider Roll that Table 4 ordered. But I glance over to you often. I don’t want you to have to wait too long once you figure out what you want. You deserve the best service.

I clean my knife.

You look at me. You smile. With the tiny pencil, you write little check marks on your order sheet. You also write “No avocado please” next to your check marks. I often consider adding avocado to the roll anyway, but I know you’re too observant with each piece before you eat it to try that trick. You are not haphazard. Maybe you really are allergic.

You smile at me again and place the slip on top of the display window. I nod in acknowledgment. You nod back and say thank you.

Thank you. You are so polite.

I’ve never said anything to you in English. You probably don’t even know that I speak English. But I’ve been told my English is bad, so I nod and I point and I smile and say small Japanese phrases that most Americans who stroll into a sushi bar can understand. I don’t want to embarrass myself by attempting to speak bad English to you. Personally, I don’t think it sounds bad. But you might. I can’t risk that.

I look at your order slip. You’ve checked off two rolls and a cucumber salad. “No avocado please” is written by each roll.

I nod and smile. You nod and smile back. Then you turn your attention to your phone, illuminated with a white background and black text. Read, read, read. That’s all you ever do. Every Tuesday. You never bring anyone with you. You don’t play those stupid phone app games. You read. I wonder what you are reading. I would ask, but my English is bad. I bet you’re smart. I bet you have a big vocabulary. A big English vocabulary. I top your cucumber salad with sesame seeds and hand it to you over the display window. I nod and smile. You nod and smile.

I clean my knife.

You take the chop sticks out of their paper wrapper and break them apart. You don’t rub them together like so many other people do. Its an annoying act and I don’t know why people do it. But you don’t do it. You’re unique. Special. Smart.

You clutch the sticks in your left hand. You’re left handed. You open and close them a few times to make sure your grip is right. Then you turn your head back to your phone and continue reading. You pick up cucumber slices from the bowl and place them in your mouth without even looking. You are so talented. You have mastered the art of simultaneous chopstick eating and phone reading. I love that.

I finish your Lava Roll. I put a little extra hot sauce on top for you. I know you like the spice. You’ve told me before. I clean my knife and move on to the Tekisasu Roll. No avocado please. Don’t worry, I don’t forget. I take care of you.

You finish your salad and place the empty bowl on top of the display window. You place your chopsticks delicately onto a napkin. You notice your water glass has dripped a few drops onto the bar after you pick it up and sip from it. You use another napkin to wipe up the droplets. You are so considerate to clean up after yourself. Others generally make messes of water rings, rogue rice and soy sauce and never think to clean it up. They leave the hostess to do that when they leave. But not you. If something falls from your plate or glass onto the bar, you clean it up. You even consolidate your straw paper, chopsticks wrapper, and napkins onto your empty plate when you’re finished. No one else ever does that. They come in like a tornado and leave destruction. No manners. But not you. I wonder if you used to work in a restaurant and know how much of a pain in the ass customers can be. Whatever the reason, you are so considerate. And I appreciate that.

I take your empty salad bowl and hand you your plate of Lava and Tekisasu Rolls. I nod and smile. You nod and smile back. You say thank you.

You re-calibrate your sticks into your left hand, pick up a piece of Lava Roll and inspect it like I knew you would. After discovering no avocado, you place the piece into your mouth. You chew, close your eyes and moan. You’ve had this one before, but it’s one of your favorites. Your reaction tells me how much you’ve missed that Lava Roll since the last time you had it.

Three weeks ago.
I remember.

You look at me. You nod and you smile. I nod and smile back. I love that I can make something that you thoroughly enjoy. I look forward to that every Tuesday. Making you happy makes me happy.

You pick up a piece of the Tekisasu Roll, inspect it and eat it. You like to alternate. I have to say, you made an excellent choice this week. Spicy Lava Roll and a cool, sweet shrimp and cucumber Tekisasu Roll. You really know your sushi. And I appreciate that.

I complete other orders. I glance your way. Watch you eat and read. Eat and read. Drink your water. Clean up your mess. Eat and read.

I clean my knife.

After your last bite, you place your chopsticks neatly at the top of your square plate. You check to make sure there is nothing around your plate to clean. You take the straw paper, chopstick wrapper and the three napkins – the one you had your chopsticks on between courses, the one in your lap, and the one underneath your water glass – and you put them all onto your plate. Your setting is sufficiently tidied. You look at me as you stand. I nod and smile. You say, “Thank you. It was delicious as always.” And you smile. You take cash from your wallet and you stuff it into the tip jar I have sitting on the display window. You always tip so well. Sometimes as much as your bill. Sometimes more. I guess it all depends on how far I make your eyes roll into the back of your head with my succulent sushi.

“Arigato!” I say and raise my hand into a wave. I watch you as you walk to the hostess station to pay your check. I watch your silhouette as you gracefully pull out more cash and wait for change. Your blouses and skirts and shoes are always perfectly matched. And they always look perfect on you. Made just for you.

You don’t even smile at the hostess. She called you a bitch once. Did you know that? I bet you don’t even care.

I’m the only one who gets smiles. And I appreciate that.

You turn, and all too quickly you walk out the door and you are gone.

I miss you.

I clean my knife.

See you next Tuesday.

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