a sample from Laughing Buddha

The Bath

The water in the deep, wooden tub was almost scalding, but I eased my body down into it—first the toes, then the feet, then the legs—until, finally, even my chin whiskers soaked. Millions of pinpricks made millions of skin cells sigh, “Ahhh!” Only my head, above water, missed out on the tingling. Then Junko, from behind, doused it with a ladle.

“There,” she cooed. “Does that please you?”

“Yes, Junko,” I muttered. “It pleases me much.”

Her fingers touched my neck, sending happy shivers down my spine. She began kneading my shoulders with the ruthless force of an expert masseuse.

“And this pleases you, too?” she asked huskily.

Oh yes, it pleased. But I couldn’t say so. The sake in my belly, the steaming hot water up to my bottom lip, and Junko’s relentless fingers had robbed me of speech. All I could manage was to nod and grunt.

The massage ended abruptly. “When you’re through with your bath, please, lie on that quilt over there,” she said. “I’ll dry you.”

She walked out of the room. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she had shed her kimono. Completely nude, her pale, curvaceous body might have been plagiarized from the pillow books that I had just been fantasizing about.

My jade peak demanded action. I clambered out of the tub and stretched belly down, dripping wet, on the thick, white quilt. I turned my head to one side and surrendered to gravity: the “corpse position” in yoga. Heart pounding, I awaited Junko’s return.

Then, soft footsteps.

“I have a present for you. Stay still,” she whispered in my ear.

I felt a tickle in that ear, then realized that she was pouring something into it, something cold and liquid. She’s a kinky one, I thought. I opened my eyes and attempted to turn over . . . but couldn’t. Couldn’t move a muscle. Couldn’t even close my eyes. I felt cold suddenly—cold as whatever she had just now filled my ear with . . . cold all over.

She laughed.

“The poison’s working, I see. In a minute, priest, you’ll be dead!”

Horror gripped the heart that beat slower and slower in the icebox of my chest. So cold, so cold, but I couldn’t shiver.

And then, gradually, the coldness went away. I felt nothing then, absolutely nothing . . . not even my own existence.

Junko was right.

A minute later, I was dead.