A Standing Ovation at The Kokukurou, a short story by Coleen van Staden at Spillwords.com
Coleen van Staden

A Standing Ovation at The Kokukurou

A Standing Ovation at The Kokukurou

(A Tachinomiya, stand only bar in Tokyo, Japan)

written by: Coleen van Staden



Wed 10 March 4:00 pm, A Meeting

Kota is glad that the American lady is meeting him at the Kokukurou. It’s close enough to the station so he’ll have just enough time to get to the theatre afterwards. He doesn’t really want to be here, but he speaks English, so the director has sent him. He hopes she’s on time. It takes up to three hours for makeup and costumes and if his performance is less than perfect, Haru is waiting in the wings to snake it from him. Haru will never take Princess Aika away from him. He’ll make sure of that.

Here she comes. He spots her rushing across the narrow lane, almost colliding with a food cart. She moves stiffly, and her entrance lacks grace. About as feminine as a Komodo dragon, he mutters to himself, why do women not know how to be women?

“Hi, I’m Rachel, nice to meet you, Ishida-San. I know you only have half an hour for me, so I’ve just got one question. Your director must have told you about my research on women in theatre? Anyway, here goes. Why are women still banned from performing in Kabuki theatre?” A brittle laugh, It’s like the Elizabethan age all over again.

He watches her, noticing the tension around her mouth, a clenched fist on the counter, her awkward stance, her feet. She is on edge, ready to break. He knows, he studies women.

“A glass of plum wine first?” Kota asks, his soft hand brushing the air between them as he gestures and calls for the drink. His voice is as sweet as honey.


Thurs 11 March 8.00 pm, Journal Entry

I’m exhausted. Too many hours at my laptop, and one too many drinks in this bar. Yesterday was a doozy. After Kota left – yes, I was calling him Kota in no time – I polished off three more glasses. Mike begged off yesterday and left me on my own again. Nice one! Probably better considering his foul mood lately. A hangover, so I am drinking water. Super excited about the show later. Kota gave me two tickets and said – this is my answer to your question – LOL. We’ll see about that.


Friday 12 March 1.00 am, A Conversation

Mike: Let’s get out of here. It’s noisy, this smoke is fucking ridiculous, and my beer is warm.

Rachel: God, it’s insane in there. Fresh air at last!

Mike: Let’s walk a bit.

Rachel: The show tonight! I am seriously rethinking my stance on this one. Those wigs and costumes are incredibly heavy! Those men! I mean, the vocal range, physicality, their femininity, the drama – I was blown away. Could a female actor really pull that off?

(No response)

Um…Earth to Mike?

Mike: Rachel, I’m sorry, I wanted to wait ‘til we got back, but I can’t do this anymore.

Rachel: Do What?

Mike: We spoke about this months ago. I shouldn’t have come. This trip didn’t ‘save us.’ I want the divorce.

(She stops, silent. Watches him walk away)


Fri 12 March 4.00 pm, Farewell

“Rachel,” Kota says as she is about to leave, “I will call you sister of the Kabuki now. There is no turning back.” She loved his performance and Princess Aika’s revenge. “Death by poison – how fascinating, how dramatic, how apt,” she said. He noticed the flush creeping up her neck.


Fri 12 March 5.00 pm, An Arrangement

His friend, Hiroshi, is on the bar tonight. This pleases him. Hiroshi owes him. An honour-bound favour since childhood. He touches the wad of American dollars in his bag. After tonight this bar will never see me again.


Fri 12 March 11.30 pm, Mike is Stood Up

This is their last night in Tokyo. Mike is irritated. Where the hell is she? The Kokukurou is heaving with bodies, music, and loud voices. For a moment he thinks he catches a glimpse of that Kabuki actor, but the crowd shifts and presses in. She’s got five more minutes, then I am out of here.

Kota sees Mike shift his weight. He can tell he is ready to leave. Kota calls across the bar. “Hey Mike, let me buy you a drink,” his soft hand brushing the air between them. “You must try Hiroshi’s new cocktail. He made it just for you.” His voice is as sweet as honey.

He slips away as the crowd swells and starts to push. At 11.45 pm, the bar runs a 2-for-1 special, and the drinkers move forward in anticipation, shoulder to shoulder, contracting and wedging Mike in.

The glass slips silently from his hand as the last raspy breath catches in his throat. He dribbles liquid. A karaoke tune plays and the crowd roars.
Mike, the American, propped up till dawn and dead on his feet, sways to the music.

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