The moment Linda left me alone with her father, my ears started ringing in the silence. What did she say? She was going to get the drinks? Or was it food? Her voice, I think, trembled. I was left sitting in an antique leather chair in an oak paneled study with a man I had barely introduced myself to. He was pacing back and forth like a tiger in a cage, occasionally stopping to look at me.
“So,” he said.
“So?” I thought.
He paced a little more.
“You want to marry my daughter.” He pronounced each word separately, like he was reading each word off of flash cards. I did not acknowledge or deny, although it was not a done deal. I had not yet bought the ring or popped the big question. We were seriously considering. We tended to talk about it, Linda and I, like a distant possibility. She had not entirely warned me what I was walking into this day. But she seemed anxious.
“You want to marry my daughter.” He repeated at the same pace.
I did not nod or respond.
“Do you like this house?” He gestured at his spacious study.
“Ever been in a house like this before?”
“No, I can’t say I have.”
“You speak good English. Where did you say you were from? Korea?”
“Oh. Tokyo? Kyoto?”
“Never heard of the place. Would you say, it’s a small town?”
“Yes. I would say that.”
“So you are from a small town, in Japan, and have never been in a house like this.”
He nodded, somehow disapprovingly.
“You will be marrying into a great deal, wouldn’t you?”
“I think marriage would be a major commitment regardless.”
“But you see, my boy… What did you say your name was?”
“Kenji. We are a big family in this country. We have been in this country since before the declaration of independence. We were business owners early on. One of my ancestors hired Benjamin Franklin as an apprentice. We can trace our family back three hundred years. I own five businesses. My brother owns seven. I have friends and relatives up and down the east coast in real estate, construction, retail, banking, and politics. This is not the only house I own.”
“Do you? The way I see it, a marriage is a kind of a deal. Both parties have to bring something to the table. It’s not a charity of some sort where one party gives and the other party takes. It has to be an equal partnership. Do you agree?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you really.” It was not a question.
He stood there looking at me.
“Would you like some whiskey?”
He walked over to an inlaid mahogany cabinet and poured a finger each into two tumblers out of an elegant cut glass bottle. I thanked him for the drink. It had a sweet, smokey aroma, a peaty bite, and a creamy aftertaste with a hint of a sherry cask.
“You might be more accustomed to sake, but I don’t keep any of those around.”
“This is fine.”
“You have no idea.”
I took another sip of the Scotch. My ears had kept ringing, but the alcohol helped.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, Mr Brooks. I love your daughter very much, but…” I looked at the remnant of the whiskey in the tumbler, tilting it to admire the color. “This isn’t going to work is it?”
“You mean this marriage.”
He seemed a little taken aback.
“Well, I have my concerns that it might not.”
“Sir, I hope you will not be offended when I say that I had concerns of my own.”
“My mother. It would have been a hard sell at best. I know it is an obsolete way of thinking, but she never would have accepted my marriage to what she considers, for lack of a better word, a barbarian.”
“You see, in Japan, any family worth even considering is twice as old as yours. My family, for example, can be traced twelve hundred years.”
There was a silence that felt even emptier than before.
Eventually, Mr. Brooks knocked back the last of the whiskey left in his glass and asked.
“What kind of a bride would your old fashioned mother approve of?”
“A Japanese one. But she is critical of anyone who cannot hold a decent tea ceremony.”
“And by decent, she means?”
“Her standards are quite high.”
“I see. Would you like another whiskey?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
We were quietly sipping our second round of whiskey when Linda and her mother came in with a tray of hors d’oeuvres.
“Well, are you boys playing nice?”
“Yes, in fact, I think we came to an agreement.”
I stayed for dinner, the most tense affair I had ever experienced. A month later, I officially broke up with Linda. She had since had three marriages to three white men. Her first husband, a very rich man from a celebrated family, turned out to be an abusive philanderer, and she remarried to a nicer man after a lucrative divorce settlement. But the nicer man lost his fortune and some of hers in a financial crash and shot himself. She then married a much older man in need of a trophy wife, a role she was just young enough to fill. She became a chain smoker with drinking problems and never had children.
I had problems of my own with my family and stayed in the States and remained single. I somehow kept in touch with Linda’s father, who became something like my mentor in business. We never talked about what might have happened if I went through with marrying his daughter. But one day he brought out a set of tumblers and an elegant cut glass bottle half filled with whiskey.
“Do you remember this glass?” he said.
“I had it stowed away for some reason. Chanced on it when I was looking for something else.”
He poured me a finger and and we sat on his porch enjoying the whiskey.
“Life is a strange thing,” he said. “You try to steer in the right direction, but you never know how things will turn out.”
I stayed for dinner that day. A silent one, like always.