Sara and I lined up with the crowd for the Queen’s parade.
She is not, in fact, a queen. She is an actress in a palanquin and she descends with proper pomp for her pretend station, which I begin to question as I stand there watching her procession on this late winter afternoon. It is possible she’s not playing a queen at all, I realize. The character could be an important concubine, I suppose, or a geisha with a lot friends on an afternoon out. In any case, the actress is slender and pretty, her costume elaborate, her wig, however, a bit of a stretch on the imagination. It is old, I think, worn by many others playing this part.
The parade is part of a show Sara and I see the afternoon we are at Edo Wonderland, a theme park in the north of Japan. I can’t follow the story that unfolds around the parade as it’s in Japanese, but the actress addresses another person in Edo era costume, a skinny, servile looking man whom I guess is an advisor or lackey of some sort, or playing one, of course. I don’t know what he does when he is not here, to whom he goes home to at the end of a day in the park playing this role, where he wakes up. The actor wears heavy makeup and a wig, even more unrealistic than that of his coworker’s, to make him look half bald. It is the make up
I stare at, caked thick on his face, and the wig, made partially of an unconvincing dome of plastic. Underneath there is a man who can't be more than thirty five, a bit tired looking. Maybe handsome even.
As he speaks to the Queen who might not be a queen, the actor makes an exaggeratedly startled face and with that, the ninjas arrive, shouting and waving plastic swords.
“What’s going on?” I ask Sara.
“Hell if I know.”
She snaps a picture.
The Queen has thrown herself into the fray while we were talking, fighting back the ninjas on her own. Applause blossoms up in the crowd and we follow and clap as well, not knowing exactly what for, but approving of the woman taking matters into her own hands. The rest of the onlookers are Japanese and know better than we do the saga unfolding. Sara and I consult our pamphlets for specifics, no more illuminated than we were before but happy to be along for the ride.
The actor who played the Queen’s friend is nowhere to be seen when the battle ends and she disappears from the field of slain ninjas in her palanquin. I find myself worried about him and his character. Off stage, has he returned to the real world for a short break, perhaps with a cigarette, his wig off and his hair sweaty, texting a loved one before the next show begins?
Work is fine, he might say. Home by 7:00.
Maybe he gets a picture of his kid doing something cute like toddling around in a diaper. Maybe he has a fight or arranges to pick up bread on the way home. Maybe he has a good whinge about his day.
You won’t believe what Yoshimi said, he might write to his wife.
Again? Might come come the response.
I like to think someone sends him the equivalent of xs and os at some point, that they make him smile.
Once the procession has disappeared, Sara and I go to a snack stall for gyoza and continue walking the park.
Edo Wonderland has the feel of a permanent Renaissance fair, only Japanese. In all the shops where we look at jewelry and pottery, people are in costume. If my Japanese were better, I might be able to gauge if they speak in an old timey way, like how an actor playing Henry the Eighth might as he wanders around with an oversized turkey leg on the arm of a bored actress ready to be done being Anne Boleyn for the day, ready to be done with this sweaty costume worn by any number of other women chosen for their dark tresses, chosen because they can fit into the dress.
There is a funhouse, a crooked building full of mirrors.
Sara and I go in and we’re the only ones there. It’s nothing much but tilted floors and lights, the aforementioned mirrors on every surface. I am many sizes while in there, both lean and squat.
This the most quiet I have had all day, alone with my friend, searching for the end of the path, changing my shape with every turn.
Sara discovers, after we leave the funhouse, that we can catch a kabuki show if we hurry, so we do.
The Edo actors call their wares as we hustle to the other side of the park. I spot a crowd as we make our way to the theater, wonder if the Queen is at it again, wonder if she’s been rejoined by her friend.
I imagine him sending the final text of his break, sent while putting the terrible wig back on his head before the phone gets tucked into his pocket.
Miss you. Home soon.
About the Author: Heather Whited graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2006 with a BA in creative writing. She lived in Japan and Ireland before returning to her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee to get her graduate degree. She now lives in Portland Oregon. She has been published in the literary magazines Straylight, Lingerpost, The Timberline Review, A Door is Ajar, Allegro, Foliate Oak, Adelaide Literary Magazine, and Windmill; The Hofstra Journal of Art and Literature, Chantwood Literary Magazine, and soon Cricket, Storm Cellar, and Forge. In 2015 she was an honorable mention in Gemini Magazine's annual short story contest. She is a contributor to The Drunken Odyssey podcast and Secondhand Stories Podcast.