Kirby Christianson’s Japanese lover, Mieko, calls from Japan to tell him that her visit to him, which was to take place in a few days, has been canceled. Her father has been diagnosed with lung cancer, and she must stay with the family. Kirby’s first reaction is a feeling of relief, because he has been unsure of what to do about Mieko and does not think she will fit in with his American family and associates. Feeling guilty about his feelings of relief, he affects sympathy. She breaks down on the telephone and weeps. Wanting to be there for her in an American sense, he holds on to the receiver and listens to her weeping, reflecting that he has never felt that deeply about anything. After she gains control of herself again, she makes it clear that he should not have listened but should have hung up, as a Japanese man would. She has exposed herself to him by her display of grief, and she feels deeply embarrassed. The connection is broken.
Kirby travels from Iowa to his brother Harold’s new home in Minnesota for their family Christmas reunion. While driving through a severe snowstorm, he fantasizes about being killed on the road and there being no one to tell Mieko about his death; it is evident that he has no intimate connections at all. Reflecting that no one would care more than Mieko about his death, and she probably would not even hear of it, he feels sorry for himself.
He arrives safely at his brother’s house and slips back into an...
(The entire section is 571 words.)