There’s always a space in the car park. Usually two side-by-side so I don’t have to be careful opening the door. I swing into it but leave the car running. Cool air-con blows against my face. The diesel engine rumbles softly.
The car belongs mainly to the bank. I wipe down the dash with the cloth in the glove box. I’ll probably do this for a few weeks, keep it immaculate, and then things will slide. It will look like a pigsty in here soon enough.
A check of the mirror. The sushi restaurant is open, sure enough. It’s been open for nine minutes. I’d arrive just as it opened and be standing outside, but that would be weird.
Check the phone — no new voicemails. No pressing emails. I can’t go in if there are any. They’d contaminate my thoughts.
Phone off. Bliss! It will stay off for a whole hour. From now. My hour just started.
But a minute has gone by and now I’ve only got fifty-nine left. Damn. Can I start the hour again?
Sighing, I hit the engine stop button and exit the car, walking behind it and across the carpark.
She smiles at me from behind the register. The waitress in black. Japanese. Gorgeous face. Friendly eyes.
Two guys with knives at the chef’s station look up in recognition. “Hey dude,” or something in Japanese. I never know. They’re friendly too.
K-pop on the screen, not too loud. BTS at the moment. Can’t have everything. My waitress outshines any girl bands, anyway.
I’m the only customer, as usual. It’s early. But this is my time. I don’t sit on a stool at the sushi train thing. I sit in a four-person booth. I’m allowed because it’s early. And probably because I’m me.
“Sapporo”? She asks, unnecessarily. I nod.
“Large?” I wonder how many Fridays it will be before she doesn’t need to ask? I smile stupidly.
She smiles back. Not stupidly.
She pours it perfectly and brings it back proudly. The glass is wide and tall, and cold. There’s an expert inch of white foam on the top above an amber glow that is beyond description. It’s not on a color chart anywhere. Its deep and gold and could contain the whole world. Beads of condensation slide down the outside of glass, like it’s sweating at the thought of being tasted.
The first few Fridays I would put my whole hand around it, ignoring the handle. Feeling the deep chill and wetness against my palm. It was good. I discovered since; the handle is warm for just a little while. From her small hand. I hold that first.
Her warmth soaks into my fingers.
She stands beside me and waits. I let go of the glass and grab the laminated menu. I point to the usual. She smiles. I wish I could slow this all down because it sends her away.
Alone in my booth. This is my hour.
Except it’s not. It’s forty-seven minutes.
The first taste of the beer is heaven. The glass is delightfully heavy as I lift it. Top lip through foam. Smells divine. This must be how Japan smells. Sure.
Crisp cold liquid against my tongue. Sweet maltiness spreads through my mouth. Velvety smooth on the way down.
First mouthful gone. Forever. The chill snakes down to my belly and becomes warmth. Goodness radiates outwards through my body.
The booth wraps around me. This is my place.
For at least forty-three more minutes, anyway.
No angry wife. No work calls. Nobody can get me here.
Come and try it.
Just me, the Sapporo, the waitress, the guys with the knives.
Relax already. For God’s sake. There’s not much time.
Second dose. The glass lighter, damn. Warmth spreads further, and longer. The doses will stack until the pleasant buzz descends.
I seek comfort in the knowledge I’ll have a second glass.
The usual challenge — always failed. How to capture this moment? This feeling? How to remember it during the coming days and seek solace and peace from it amidst the noise.
I never can. The feeling is always trapped within this hour. Within this place.
She comes back to me. Smiling. Of course.
The usual plate put gently in front of me. Soba chicken noodle something. I couldn’t care less. I picked it many Fridays ago. Its purpose isn’t nourishment. Its purpose is a conduit. A simple device to grant me admission into this escape capsule. For an hour.
Except it’s not an hour anymore. It’s more like thirty-eight minutes.
They give me way too much food. It tastes good. The Sapporo tastes better. The waitress would taste like heaven.
Would she smile while I tasted her?
Don’t make me laugh.
The first glass empties itself into me. I wanted it to last longer. But it couldn’t resist.
Friendly knife guy stops chopping the crap out of something and points the blade at my table, nodding at the waitress.
He needs his second, his look tells her.
The second arrives with the twentieth smile. All I can think is that my hour is more than half gone. But I relish the Sapporo’s taste. It’s so good, how can I possibly be allowed two of these things? They should be illegal.
I try again to capture the delight in my memory, for later.
It’s futile. Ruined by thoughts of how I have to return to the world. As usual.
God damn the beer tastes good. The buzz hits every sense, every extremity. It’s running through my veins, sending tingling morse code messages that translate to “It’s going to be okay.”
I love this place. This peace. This moment in time.
For another nineteen minutes.
Glass drained. Sorrowfully. How long can the taste linger? Mustn’t eat or drink anything this afternoon.
Still, there’s only six and a half days until I can escape and taste again. Chin up.
Tap credit card. She insists on stamping my rewards card. I’m not even sure what it does. But it adds precious seconds to the transaction, at least.
A goodbye smile. Of course.
Friendly shouts from the knife guys.
I want to reassure them I’ll be back next Friday. But they already know, and wouldn’t give a damn anyway, I’m sure.
So I tell myself. You’ll be back, it’s okay.
And I must leave. Cast myself out. Back to the bank’s car.
Can I exchange the car for a whole day in that booth?
Never mind. Less than a week to go.
Until next Friday. 11:39am