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Ray Vukcevich

September 2009

Suddenly Speaking

No one can just suddenly be speaking Japanese. How are we supposed to believe you learned to speak Japanese? Watching cartoons? Ordering sushi? Reading novels on your cell phone? Ridiculous. Artwork found on  and used under a Creative Commons  license.
No one can just suddenly be speaking Japanese. How are we supposed to believe you learned to speak Japanese? Watching cartoons? Ordering sushi? Reading novels on your cell phone? Ridiculous.

Artwork found on Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.

It suddenly hits me that I speak Japanese. I turn off the subtitles, and I do perfectly well without them.

Nonsense, my gangster friends tell me. No one can just suddenly be speaking Japanese. How are we supposed to believe you learned to speak Japanese? Watching cartoons? Ordering sushi? Reading novels on your cell phone? Ridiculous.

I don’t argue because it isn’t smart to argue with your gangster friends, but they can see I would be making my case if I were talking to anyone else, and that makes them very angry.

Their heads get big, huge, like there might not be enough space in the room for their big heads. These scowling gangster heads might push us all up against the walls and spread us like strawberry jam.

Don’t you dare be going all secret smiles and faraway looks, they yell at me.

I offer them a thousand apologies in Japanese.

That pushes them completely over the edge, and they pull out their guns and squeeze off shots in all directions until bullets are zipping and banging like tiny billiard balls from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling, so fast and vindictive you can barely do the Euclidean geometry necessary to quickly step out of the way just in the nick of time.

There is an obvious explanation for my sudden and spontaneous ability to speak Japanese, I tell them.

You don’t speak Japanese! They snatch me up and plunge my feet into rubber boots and fill the boots with concrete.

It must be the case, I say, that my mind is reaching ahead into the future to a time when I, in fact, do speak Japanese. I suppose in the many years between now and then, I will have to actually sit down and learn Japanese.

Someone creeps up behind me and puts a plastic bag over my head and sings softly in a mean little whisky gurgle, am I blue, chuckles, says hey! when someone else jerks the bag off my head, and all the water and goldfish splash down the front of my shirt and pants. And then my softhearted gangster friends are all dancing around yelling and picking up fish and throwing them back in the bowl except for one who gets swallowed.

We can’t believe a gangster has just swallowed a goldfish.

Why did you do that?

Historical reasons? Like in the movies? The cat’s pajamas? Twenty-three skidoo?

We let it go.

It takes you back to a gentler time, a time when you could wear aerodynamic hats and get a coat made out of raccoons.

We said we already let it go!

My gangster friends are not prepared to overlook offensive tones. They suffer hurt feelings and turn on one another, and just like that out come the knives.

I decide to move one heavy foot after another toward the door.

Sayonara, I say, realizing too late I’ve said it in Japanese.

Hold it!

You talking to me?

We’ll put your ridiculous assertion to the test, they tell me. We will show it’s all faux Japanese.

How so?

An industrial laundry bag is dragged in and dumped, and out tumbles my friend Kasumi from the soup noodle factory in her cute Japanese schoolgirl costume, short skirt, big blue bow, black shoes. Her eyes are huge.

Relax, Dollface, my gangster friends tell her, we won’t hurt you.

Why should she believe them? She backs away, looking first at the window and then at the door, like she’s hoping ninjas will rush in and rescue her. But there will be no ninjas. She will have to be brave, perky and brave, and get herself out of this mess all on her own.

She can do it!

Well, frankly, she’ll probably need my help.

Miss Kasumi, my gangster friends mutter, Miss Kasumi, we want you to tell us if this person can speak Japanese. Go ahead, say something to him.

Kasumi speaks to me in Japanese.

So, what does she say, Einstein?

She says she comes from a powerful crime family in Japan, and if we hurt her, they will snick off our heads with swords.

They look at her. She looks at them. A moment later she cries, That’s right!

And what, my gangster friends turn to me, will be your response to that? They want me to step up to the challenge. You can’t just let some crime family from a foreign country come in and walk all over you.

Kasumi, I say in Japanese, let me take this opportunity to express my true feelings. I have watched you many times as I’ve passed by the soup noodle factory, but I have never had the courage to declare my boundless admiration until now. Please accept this box of chocolates.

She takes the chocolates. My gangster friends wait for her verdict.

He says, she says, that I am to take this box, she looks down at the box, of chocolates to my father as a sign of respect from your crime family to my crime family.

I see that Kasumi and I have managed to confuse my gangster friends. It is, after all, not a common practice among gangsters to offer candy to potential enemies. Before they can become suspicious again, I seize the moment and put out my hand to Kasumi.

So, I say in Japanese, would you like to go out for tea or something?

She steps forward and takes my hand.

She looks back over her shoulder at my gangster friends and tells them, he says we’ll be leaving now.

And so we do, me taking one ponderous step after another in my concrete galoshes and Kasumi pulling impatiently at my hand.

This is the start of something wonderful. Our destinies are entwined like vines. Our relationship is practically guaranteed to succeed. We will live happily ever after.

We do, after all, speak the same language.

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About the Author

Ray Vukcevich

The eyes of Ray Vukcevich

Ray Vukcevich’s fiction has appeared in many magazines including Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, SmokeLong Quarterly, Night Train, Polyphony, and Hobart, and has been collected in Meet Me in the Moon Room from Small Beer Press. His novel The Man of Maybe Half-a-Dozen Faces is a mystery from St. Martin’s. He also works as a programmer in a couple of brain labs at the University of Oregon. His fiction has been published twice in Flash Fiction Online: “Suddenly Speaking” in September 2009 and “Note From The Future” in December 2009. Read more about him at

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