Gina in the Floating World: A Novel

Gina in the Floating World: A Novel

by Belle Brett
Gina in the Floating World: A Novel

Gina in the Floating World: A Novel

by Belle Brett


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A bank internship in Japan’s booming 1981 economy is supposed to be twenty-three-year-old Dorothy Falwell’s ticket into a prestigious international MBA program. But the internship is unpaid—so, to make ends meet, she accepts an evening job as a hostess in a rundown suburban bar, a far cry from the sensuous woodblock prints she’s seen of old Tokyo’s “floating world.”

Like her namesake, Dorothy hasn't planned on the detours she encounters in her own twisted version of Oz. Renamed Gina by her boss, she struggles with nightly indignities from customers and confusing advice from new friends. Then her internship crumbles and the suave but mysterious Mr. Tambuki offers help. How can she resist?

With patience and the utmost respect for her opinions, Mr. Tambuki lures her into his exotic world of unorthodox Zen instruction, erotic art, and high-octane sex. Soon, bizarre sexual escapades with monks, salarymen, and gangsters begin to feel normal until one of her clients goes too far, and Dorothy realizes she’s in over her head. But can she find her way back from this point of no return?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631524073
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Pages: 328
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Belle Brett is a graduate of Grub Street’s intensive Novel Incubator program. After a career in education as a teacher, career counselor, and evaluator of educational programs, she is now an artist and a writer, contributing to her own and others’ blogs and writing fiction that deals with coming of age across the life span. She holds a doctorate of education in human development and psychology from Harvard University. A lifelong traveler, in her twenties Belle served as a bar hostess in a working-class Tokyo suburb after a six-month trip across Asia. She now lives with her photographer husband in Somerville, Massachusetts. Gina in the Floating World is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt


"Ah, Miss Falwell, how could we at the American Bank of Tokyo justify paying you?" Mr. Yamaguchi focused on a pile of pristine manila folders on his sleek, Plexiglas desk. He swiveled the top folder ninety degrees and patted it. "You are here to be trained, yes?"

My throat tightened. The voice that came out was high-pitched, alien. "Yes, but the brochure from Wharton specifically said that internship stipends would cover living expenses."

"I am not familiar with this brochure," he said. "Perhaps you are not interested in continuing with us?" He glanced up at me, his bushy eyebrows arched.

Interested? Interest didn't begin to describe my feelings. This summer internship was only going to transform my sorry life. But without a stipend, I wouldn't last long. Even my crappy hostel cost a fortune. I pictured myself living on plain rice, begging in the streets, or cleaning out those ceramic holes in the floor they called toilets, my mother berating me, "Miss Dorothy Thinks-She's-Better-Than-Us, I'll bet Joliet looks pretty good right now."

I shuddered and stared out the picture window at the Tokyo skyline. Mist shrouded the tallest buildings, amputating their upper floors. Raindrops splattered on the glass. Stay calm, I told myself. Everything is going to be okay. "Of course I'm still interested," I blurted out. "I just got here." I felt wet spots form under the arms of my jacket.

"Good," Mr. Yamaguchi said, turning the folder on his desk back to its original position. "Tomorrow after you have gone through the papers I gave you, I will give you a company tour."

I thanked him and bowed slightly for at least the tenth time since 9:00 a.m. Later, when the offices opened, I'd call Wharton to sort it out. Surely it was all a big mistake. I ambled to my cubicle and attacked the stack of papers until the charts and graphs morphed into squiggly blobs.

At 7:00 p.m., I lurched onto the teeming sidewalk, dodging the maze of dark-suited people with umbrellas. Stupidly, in my excitement at starting my internship, I'd left mine at the hostel. But it was warm out, and I didn't care. Maybe a walk would clear my head, still fuzzy with jet lag. I ducked under a doorway and consulted my city map. If I kept walking straight, I wouldn't get lost.

I briefly thought about calling Mark, my Asian Commerce instructor and onetime lover, who'd hastily arranged my internship just a month ago with Mr. Yamaguchi, his old Wharton buddy. He paid for my round-trip plane ticket and then a week later dumped me so he could screw around with another one of his unsuspecting graduate students. I'd loved that man, and I thought he loved me. But at the end, all he said was, "You're smart. You're going to do just fine." My mother had been right about Mark being a jerk but for the wrong reasons. She thought he was putting big ideas in my head, like encouraging me to go east for an MBA. That was the best thing he did for me. But I wasn't going to get off the wait-list for Wharton's international business program if I didn't complete this internship. For once, I had to figure things out on my own. No parents breathing down my neck, no nuns guilt-tripping me at every turn, and no boyfriend telling me lies. I would show everyone how resourceful I could be without their help.

Energized by my new resolve, I walked vigorously until I began to feel faint. My stomach grumbled, and I realized the only things I'd eaten that day were some tiny tea sweets. It was getting dark now. The glare from the traffic was blinding. I shielded my eyes with my hand, and a cluster of chattering women almost knocked me down.

"Gomen nasai!" one of them said. They all giggled as they dashed in high heels and short dresses with no raincoats toward the glass door of a six-story building, its multiple signs winking. One sign said Kitty Kat Klub. Another, Honey Snack Bar, which sounded promising. I followed the women inside, where they waited for the elevator. Two of them looked Japanese, one was darker-skinned, and the fourth one was blond and a good six inches taller than the others. All had fluffy perms and wore heavy makeup.

Reflexively, I touched my long, mouse-brown hair, now damp and stringy. "Honey Snack Bar?" I asked, pointing up.

"Fourth floor," the blonde said.

Another growl from my tummy, this one even louder. One of the women muttered something, and all the women giggled again. They got off on the third floor at the Kitty Kat Klub. On the next floor, the door to the Honey Snack Bar was locked, but I could hear music and voices. I pushed a buzzer next to the door, which an elegant middle-aged Japanese woman in a kimono opened. Behind her was a dimly lit, smoke-filled room. I saw the silhouette of another woman in a long red gown pouring a drink.

"Member only," the kimono-clad woman said. She eyed my outfit and frowned.

"Oh." How odd. I wondered how many restaurants in Japan had membership requirements. The woman in the red dress lit a man's cigarette. He reached toward her breast, but she grasped his hand midair, whispered something in his ear, and smiled sweetly. Holy cow, I thought. At home that would have earned him a slap. Were customs that different here? Then a waiter brought them a steaming plate of plump pink shrimp. I salivated.

As I headed back to the elevator, I caught a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror and gasped. No wonder the woman in the kimono frowned at me, with my hair stuck to my cheeks, my striped Oxford shirt clinging to me like I'd just come from a wet T-shirt contest, and my pumps caked in dirt. Was that drool on my lips? Preoccupied with my hideous reflection, I almost bumped into two white guys in suits staggering off the elevator in the direction of the Honey Snack Bar.

"Hey, darlin', want to join us?" one of them asked in an American accent, his speech slurred. He wore a gold cross around his neck. He reminded me of my Uncle Guido, who, like the men in his family, enjoyed his booze. But he got me. He was the only member of my family who encouraged me in my career ambitions, who thought it was cool that I wanted to be a hotshot in business. That is, until I announced I was going to Japan. "How can you do this to your father, who lost his leg fighting that damn war in the Pacific?" he'd asked. I didn't have an answer for him. It's not like I purposely chose Japan. And it's not like Dad even cared what I did. He'd been in an alcoholic daze since I was five, when my older brother Robert died in a motorcycle accident at age eighteen, and that was pretty much most of my living memory.

I smiled weakly at the men.

"We're real lonely for a nice girl who speaks English," the other one said. Patches of red scaly scalp peeked through his rust-colored hair.

"And who has big boobs," the first guy said, glaring at my chest.

I crossed my hands over my breasts.

"And who fucks in English," the second one added. He slapped his thigh. "How much do you charge?"

My heart raced. "Excuse me?"

"Excuse me?" the drunk said in a squeaky voice and laughed. "She thinks she's too good for us," he said to his pal. "Well, fuck her." He blocked my path to the elevator. "Fuck you, you little whore." Then they headed toward the Honey Snack Bar.

I flew down the stairs and bolted for the nearest subway station.

I was still breathless after my encounter with the two American assholes. What nerve those guys had. I should have responded, "Too high for you," when they asked me how much I charged.

When the train arrived, people surged into the coach, sweeping me along. I couldn't reach a strap or a seat back to hold on to, but the force of the packed bodies kept me standing. A man in a pin-striped suit on my left was reading a comic book. In one panel, a horned beast with a giant penis appeared to be having sex with a yellow-haired woman, who struggled, her face contorted. Why would a grown man read such gross junk? Then I felt a sharp pinch on my backside. I hoped it was an accident, but it happened again a few seconds later. I tried elbowing the alien arm, but I couldn't locate it amidst the tangle of limbs and torsos. I edged closer to the comic book guy. I noted that the horned beast, his erect penis leading the way, was now chasing two women with bare breasts as big as beach balls. Something hard rubbed against me. A briefcase? Probably not. Yuck. Another pinch.

"Cut it out," I spluttered in English. I wished I knew some appropriate Japanese phrase, but all I'd learned so far was "please" and "thank you." This was no time for useless politeness. A few people glared at me as though I was the ill-behaved one, and I became scared that the crowd might suddenly turn against me. This trip was nothing like the Chicago El, the only other subway I knew. I felt trapped in the steamy, but silent, car.

A hand tapped my shoulder. Startled, I jumped and turned around as far as I could to see a cherubic face with almond-shaped eyes and a pudding bowl haircut grinning at me. Using his duffle bag like a battering ram, he wedged himself between me and any probable suspects.

"How nice to see you," he whispered.

How could he know who I was? Was this a teenage pickup line? My first instinct was to move away, but I had nowhere to go.

"Are you having nice day?" he asked, continuing to whisper.

Uneasy, I shifted from foot to foot and pulled my bag to my chest.

"Do not worry," he said. "It okay."

It took me a few more moments to catch on that I was being rescued. Did I seem that helpless? I looked up, forced a smile, and said in a loud voice, "Oh, hello. How are you?" Heads turned.

"You English?" he asked.

"American," I said, quietly this time.

Close up, his cheeks were chubby and smooth, with just a few whiskers sprouting from his chin.

"I like Americans. Yankee Doodle Dandy."

He stood close to me as the train hummed along the tracks. When our bodies brushed against each other, he would step back a little, as though respecting my space. We didn't talk anymore, but I liked having him nearby. He made me feel as though I could handle all this strangeness. I just had to be patient and open, and something good would occur. Isn't that what my mother always said? Of course, she was referring to nabbing a well-heeled Catholic guy and living the life she wished she'd had. My mother was convinced that all the bad things that had happened to her were God's way of punishing her for marrying a Lutheran.

After two stops, a seat opened up, and the young guy leaped in front of it to reserve it for me. I had no choice but to take it. He remained standing.

I decided to break the silence, to show that I was grateful. "Thank you for your help."

He leaned down. "Welcome you. You know judo?" His breath tickled my ear.

"No, I don't."

"I show you things. I like speak English. Good to practice."

"Are you a student?" I asked.

"Yes. Student at cram school. Prepare for test to go to Tokyo University. Very hard. Much study," he said, frowning. "You student, too?"

"Yes. A business student." A stretch, since Wharton hadn't officially accepted me.

"I will be business student, too. Maybe next year. I twenty years old."

Only three years younger than me. And I thought I looked young for my age.

"You in Japan long?" he asked.

"I'm here for four months — until late August."

"I be your guide. I good guide. Not cost anything."

"That's kind of you, but I won't have much time to be a tourist. I'm working." The concept of internship was too hard to explain.

"Must see things!" He reached into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out a business card. One side was in Japanese characters; the other, in the Roman alphabet.

"That my number. That my name. Hiro. You call anytime."

Ha. Hiro, my own superhero of sorts.

"You name?"

"Dee Dee," I heard myself saying. The way I pronounced my name when I first started to speak. Until Robert died, even my mother called me Dee Dee, but after that I was Dorothy again, named after the girl in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In fact, the only family trip we ever took was to Kansas. I think my mother was in search of the fairy-tale Dorothy, so she could replace me with her. Or maybe she was hoping we'd all be whisked away to Oz by a tornado, where we would find Robert, and life would be hunky-dory again.

"Dee Dee. Nice name. We maybe go for ice cream now?" he asked.

I was taken aback by his directness. "I have an appointment," I lied.

The train slowed, and I craned my neck to check the name of the station. Fortunately, the names were in Roman letters as well as Japanese characters. Just three more stops.

"Where you from?"

"Chicago." Chicago sounded worldlier than Joliet, the place I wanted to forget.

"Chicago. Gangsters," he said and made a mock gun with his thumb and forefinger.

I laughed. "You must have watched a lot of old movies."

He looked at me, puzzled. "We have gangster in Japan. Called yakuza. You know yakuza?"

I nodded. The word sounded familiar, and I didn't want to appear dumb.

"Name yakuza mean eight-nine-three. Very bad. How you say? Small toss game, with number?" Hiro cupped his hands together, shook them, and swung one arm as though he was throwing a bowling ball.

"Oh, dice. Roll of the dice." I felt like I was playing charades. "Eight-nine-three is a bad throw?"

"Yes, most bad. Yakuza bad. Very bad men." He raised his arm and made a sharp chopping motion with the side of his hand. "That what I do to yakuza."

I cringed. Did I have to worry about gangsters, too?

The train arrived at Ikebukuro, and I rose from my seat.

"Promise you phone," Hiro said.

I nodded, but it seemed unlikely. I had a career to jumpstart.

I welcomed the sight of my antiseptic youth hostel with its ungrammatical signs in English and several other languages on the otherwise bare cinder block walls. No flush after 11 p.m. Wear toilet slippers in toilet. Door lockings from 10 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. And my favorite: Be wary of personal bee-longs.

But the youth hostel allowed only a week's stay, and I was already on night three. The brochure, the one that Mr. Yamaguchi claimed not to know existed, stated that internship supervisors would help with housing. Fat chance of that happening. And what if they couldn't pay me? I had exactly two weeks' cash, if I were careful.

As I approached the reception desk, I heard the bark of the sandy-haired Danish sergeant major who manned it. "Ten o'clock curfew strictly enforced. No exceptions." He was talking to a guy, maybe a little older than me, signing his name in the giant ledger.

I checked my trusty watch with its large, glowing hands, a gift from Uncle Guido when I left my job at the medical supply plant he managed and where I'd worked since college. It was now 9:10 p.m. At home, it was fifteen hours earlier. Everyone would just be getting up.

"Relax, Leif, I know all about the rules. Don't you recognize me?" the guy said with an American accent. "It's Gabe." Gabe had a stocky build and was dressed neatly in khakis and a crisp blue shirt that bulged slightly over his round tummy. Thick, wavy brown hair framed a face with a little bit of stubble.

Leif patted his own clean-shaven cheeks. "You don't look like Jesus Christ anymore." As I walked by the desk, Leif glanced at me. "Hello, Dorothy." I was surprised he remembered my name.

Gabe turned around. He smiled, a sweet dimpled smile. "Hey. Lose your umbrella?"

I'd almost forgotten how wet I was. My skirt clung to my legs, and dirt dotted my panty hose. Somewhere my jacket button had popped off. I didn't want anyone else staring at my now transparent wet shirt. I waved and clambered up the metal steps that reverberated through the stairwell like cymbals clashing.

The girls' dorm was on the second floor — eight as yet unoccupied bunk beds in two rows on a yellowing linoleum floor. Lining one wall were the "toilet slippers," four incongruous pairs of pink flip-flops decorated with oversize plastic daisies. I kicked off my pumps, and, too exhausted to remove my wet clothes, fell down on my lower bunk, and shut my eyes. I awoke in the middle of the night, chilled and with the urgent need to pee. I wedged into the pink flip-flops and headed to the bathroom. While positioning my feet on the ceramic footprints on either side of what was a hole lined in ceramic, one of the flip-flops fell into the void. I panicked. It's not like I was going to stick my hand down there, so I stepped off the footprints and attempted to flush the shoe down. The water backed up, almost flowing over the top of the hole before receding. I thought I saw the slipper staring back at me. I walked back to the dorm barefoot and hoped that no one would discover my indiscretion.


Excerpted from "Gina in the Floating World"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Belle Brett.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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