Snow White and the Seven Latin Lovers
Colette takes a place at the row of mirrors along the wall and looks at her reflection in the mirror: purple velvet dress, long black wig, the make-up on her face starting to wear off. Jesus Christ, she thinks. On her left, Cleopatra traces a line around her eyes with a charcoal pencil, and in the corner, the Little Mermaid adjusts her tail then attacks her hair with a curling iron. Gretchen, cloaked in her Little Red Riding Hood outfit, skips out of a change stall and lands at the mirror on Colette's right.
"Hello, princess," Gretchen says, smiling at Colette's reflection in the mirror. "Are you finishing work early? Aren't you supposed to get off at four?" Gretchen is here for the two o'clock shift; Colette has been here since ten.
"I can't take it anymore," Colette says, pouring make-up remover onto a small cotton pad. "My head is throbbing. I can't talk to people. I'm useless out there. I told Hayashi-san that I'm sick and need to go home."
"You always do that," says Gretchen, painting her eyelashes thick with mascara. "The last I saw of you last night, you were salsa dancing with that Spanish guy." The two women and some of their German Village co-workers had been at the Wonder World nightclub for staff appreciation night. Cheap highballs and free shots for theme park staff, no access for guests. Thursday nights at the club are the most genuinely international time at the theme park. "Is he the same guy you met last week?"
"No, that was Ferdinand. He was celebrating his last night in Japan. This guy--" Colette leans into the mirror, smearing the cotton pad across her face, removing the white powder, the shadow caked onto her eyes. "What was his name? Enrique? Eric? Something like that. He's Don Quixote in the Spanish park."
"Another red hot wild stallion Latin lover," Gretchen sighs.
"It was the way he said it: Key-ho-te. That's when I knew I'd sleep with him." Colette soaks another cotton pad and rubs it across her face, getting rid of the last traces of make-up. Her skin is blotchy and red; her eyes look squinty, as though she'd just woken up. She feels that way too. Everyday as she's getting off work, she feels like she's waking up from a dream. "I'm getting too old to be waking up in somebody else's bed. Or futon, as the case may be this morning. All I know is that I woke up next to a sleeping Spaniard in the staff accommodations on the other side of the theme park, threw on my clothes and came straight to work." This is the seventh time this has happened in the three months since she came to Japan.
"It must be some strange form of culture shock," offered Gretchen. "If it wasn't for Joachim, I'd be doing the same thing."
"Instead, you work out obsessively and have a huge long-distance phone bill." Colette pulls the wig off her head. Her long blonde hair is braided and wrapped around itself in a loose bun. She undoes the elastics and runs her fingers through her hair, combing out the braid. Colette turns around and opens the locker behind her. She grabs her jeans and sparkly tank top, which smell of smoke and liquor and male sweat. "God, Gretchen," she says, dropping them on the floor. "I can't wear this."
"I just came from the gym," says Gretchen. "You can borrow my work-out clothes." She pulls a tangle of fleece from a black Puma bag and gives it to Colette. They're similar in size, so the grey track pants and black hoodie with 'Superlovers' written in pink check across the back fit Colette fine.
"I guess this is better than my stinky slut clothes," says Colette. "But I can't believe I have to go out in public in track pants."
Colette works in the German Village, although she is not German. Her father is French, her mother is English, she grew up in Belgium. That seemed to be close enough and nobody has ever questioned her authenticity. After Johan broke up with her, she spent a week locked in her apartment in Antwerp, drinking cheap gin and scouring the Internet for jobs overseas. She wanted to be anywhere in the world, as far away as possible from her life, her teaching work, the city breathing memories of Johan. Colette considered nannying in the US and bartending on a cruise ship, but the theme park in Japan seemed to be what she needed. Something inside her called out to be something else, anything else, assume an alien identity. She needed to be in a foreign environment where nothing is familiar so she could recreate herself each day.
Usually she walks around inside the village, holding a basket of fake apples and smiling at children and old people. Today she walked around the front gate, handing out flyers for the wooden roller coaster as a string ensemble played Mozart. The German Village is loosely based on the Brothers Grimm stories. It's a replica of the village in Germany where the Brothers were born, and there's some other German stuff thrown in for good measure.
Colette actually didn't even know Snow White was German, or European for that matter. She has always associated Snow White with the image of the Disney character: short black hair, long dress with puffy sleeves. She didn't know, or had somehow forgotten, that Walt Disney's contrivance was based on a Brothers Grimm story.
After she gets dressed, Colette needs to go shopping. She starts to make her way to the station at the front entrance, a twenty-five minute walk away, to take the train two stops to the depato, department store. There's a sale at Hysteric Glamour right now, she thinks about the black vinyl pants she saw there on the weekend. Colette is making more money than she's ever made in her life, and she's discovered the joys of consuming. At home she only wore secondhand clothes, but since she's moved to Japan, she thinks nothing of spending hundreds of Euros on a shirt or pair of shoes.
On the walk to the station, the theme park feels as foreign as another planet. It's almost empty, with the occasional couple or family with small children strolling along the causeway, eating ice cream and deciding what country to go to next. There are no groups of school children. Colette had read in the monthly newsletter that the park is marketing itself to the schools as an opportunity for cross-cultural education. Public schools couldn't afford to travel to a foreign country, but a field trip to the gaikoku-mura is within their budgets.
On her way out of the European Village, Colette passes by only three people: a couple in designer clothes, a delivery person, and Johnny Ramone Guy, the shaggy-haired designer from the wax museum, holding a Styrofoam cup and onigiri in his hands. Even though he walked past her four times during her shift, taking a rollercoaster pamphlet each time, no glimmer of recognition registers in his face. She had read about Johnny Ramone Guy in the theme park newsletter, how his wax statues had been nominated for awards and his work is gaining international recognition.
Colette walks past the lake and the entrance to Treasure Island, set on a boat rather than an island. Some bored pirates hang around the ticket booth. The pirates are the wild children of the theme park's three hundred employees, known to start food fights in the staff cafeteria and steal things from other pavilions. When Colette walks past, they whistle and shout, "Hey baby!" She doesn't look at them, avoiding the guitarist from The Long John Silvers, the punk rock band that regularly plays at staff appreciation night, whom she hit on a few weeks ago.
As she follows the shape of the Great Wall of China, Colette thinks about her latest Latin lover. She can hardly remember what he looks like, and she's slightly dreading the possibility of seeing him around the theme park or at staff appreciation night next week. The further she gets from the European Village, the more comfortable she feels, somehow protected by the plaster bricks of the Great Wall stacked beside her. This replica is a quarter of the height of the real Great Wall, and it stretches only about 750 metres, representing one tiny part of the wall.
The Great Wall ends just before the entrance to the Far East. Outside of Turkey, Colette is beckoned by a woman sitting at a small table. On a purple velvet cloth splattered with silver stars sits an illuminated crystal ball and a card that says "Fortune" in gold lettering, with a cluster of kanji characters below.
"I tell your fortune," the woman says in English with a Japanese accent. This surprises Colette. Wonder World is full of fortunetellers, but this is the only one who has ever aggressively pursued Colette. Most of the theme park's clairvoyants sit demurely behind their little tables, filing their nails or discreetly dozing.
The sign reads seven thousand five hundred yen. "No thanks," says Colette.
"I can read your palms or cards," says the woman, batting her long glued on eyelashes, which make her look like she could actually be from some far eastern country.
"I don't have time," says Colette, turning away.
"You drink too much and you make sex with men you don't love." Colette stops. The woman points to a small folding chair and says gently, "Suwatte, kudasai." Colette sits down.
"My name is Kumiko. And you?"
"Colette." Saying her own name brings her back to the moment, makes her feel real, concrete.
"Co-ret-te. Where are you from?" She extends her palms, her long red nails inviting Colette's hands.
"Shouldn't you know that?" Kumiko only looks at her and rolls her eyes. "Belgium." Colette places her hands palms down in Kumiko's, feels warmth and a slight charge run across her skin.
"Why did you come to Japan?"
"To work here."
Kumiko runs her thumb across Colette's knuckles and Colette knows that this isn't just some woman in a fortuneteller costume.
"You leaving man in Be-lu-gi?"
"I didn't leave him, he ... Wait a minute."
Kumiko smiles, then closes her eyes and places the backs of Colette's hands on the purple velvet cloth. Her hands hover above Colette's and she mutters to herself in Japanese. Colette can understand only an exclamation of "Ii, na?" Isn't that good? Colette's hasn't studied Japanese at all since she started working at Wonder World, but she's picked up enough to identify the fortuneteller's strong Kansai accent. Her direct questions suggest she's from Osaka, rather than Kyoto or Kobe.
Kumiko wears a red, billowy shirt with flowing sleeves. Large silver hoops hang from her ears and big, jeweled rings adorn her fingers. Curls spring away from her head in all the right places, bouncing around when she moves. Most impressive about Kumiko is her exquisite make-up, which is perfectly flawless. Her lipstick is the exact red as her shirt and her skin is without lines or creases. It's difficult to tell her age, she seems old and young at the same time, well preserved, over thirty but younger than sixty.
"Your hands covered in man," Kumiko finally says.
"Man? One man?"
"No," Kumiko laughs. "Many man. Belugi man, many dark-haired man. And there is another man. You don't know him. He looks you."
She closes her eyes and Colette wonders what she is invoking, what she is communicating with. The crystal ball sits between the two women, smooth and silent. It has to be just a prop, nobody actually uses these things, Colette thinks. The ball looks dense and solid, and Colette tries to imagine a halo of soft smoke circling the clear globe, lights swirling inside and scenes of her life rising to the surface.
Finally Kumiko says, "You are not moving. You stay in one place."
"You are just going to circles. Around and around."
"What else do you see?"
"A donkey? What does that mean?"
Kumiko shrugs. "This is just what your hands say. I only translate."
"What else do they say?"
Again she closes her eyes and guides her fingernails across the soft white skin of Colette's palms. "Here you are alone." Her hands come to a stop and Colette doesn't say anything.
"Is this true?" Kumiko asks.
"I don't need this right now," Colette says, gripping the edge of the table with both hands and pushing her chair back. She stands up, turns around and starts walking away.
"Hey!" yells the fortuneteller. "Hey! Okane! Okane!"
Colette drops two thousand-yen bills on the ground and picks up her pace, galloping away from the purple velvet table.
She has no idea where she is. Nothing looks familiar. Colette doesn't know the structure of the theme park, the logic with which the attractions are laid out, how the continents and geography reflect the world. Colette walks east and sort of north, ending up in Roshia, or Russia. The controlled climate is a few degrees cooler than the rest of the theme park. The staff wears furry parkas, which look far too warm despite the cooler temperature.
Bloody fortuneteller, Colette says to herself. She looks at her betraying hands--the indecipherable codes across her palms, fingerprints containing a secret identity she can't unlock. Colette wonders what else her hands could tell her, if she was to bother asking; she curls her fingers into fists and walks faster, pushing deeper into Roshia.
In the middle of the cold vastness, Colette finds a carousel, lit up and shining like the North Star. The painted horses circle around and around, riding up and down the poles to a soundtrack of calliope music, a creepy carnivalesque "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Nobody rides any of the horses. Colette walks up to the attendant, who is reading a newspaper. He jumps when he sees her, stuffs the newspaper beside his chair. Colette flashes her Wonder World staff card, the attendant nods, and she pushes through the turnstile as the carousel pulls to a stop.
A black horse stops in front of Colette, red eyes flashing. The mane and tail look windswept, and the horse appears to be rearing. Colette puts her foot in the stirrup, climbs on, and the carousel starts to revolve again. The horses move in time to the music, up and down with the tempo. Colette looks at the horses around her, each one pink or yellow or baby blue with intricate illustrations on their hindquarters. She looks at the rump of the horse she sits on, and finds that it has no illustration. Just pure black, slight definition where there should be muscles.
The horse rides the pole, synchronized with the motion of the horses around it. When her horse is low, Colette can only see the sides of the horses around her, but after rising up the pole, she can see over their heads, out past the fence around the carousel. The horse passes replicas of Russian landmarks and architecture, and the attendant in his seat has resumed reading his newspaper.
In the distance she sees the Eiffel Tower, rising up from beside the German Village. She has no idea how to get there, or how she got where she is. The carousel continues its circles and Colette wonders how many times it will go around. She remembers when she got separated from her parents at the Space Mountain ride at Paris Disneyland when she was six years old. At the beginning of the line, her parents pushed through the turnstiles, smiling and waving at her as they stepped onto the ride. The turnstile came up to her eye level; she tried to slide under it, but her older sister held her hand and prevented her from following.
"Twinkle twinkle little star," Colette sings along with the music, which also picks up pace. "How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky." It's been a long time since she saw the stars, which are obscured by Japan's lit-up urban centres. The carousel starts to pick up speed; Colette reaches for the reins but there aren't any. She wraps her arms around the steed, slides her fingers across cold smoothness, and holds on to the horse with everything in her. The carousel feels like it's going to spin right off its axis, launch into space, the horses around her also gaining speed. She feels like she's gotten caught in a race, but nobody seems to be winning, they just keep spinning faster and faster, like a discus flying and spiraling.
The music accelerates and increases in pitch. Colette digs her feet into the stirrups and grips the horse's neck. The carousel whirs past the attendant reading his paper, past the Kremlin and the giant mammoth, the statue of Dostoyevsky. She imagines the carousel snapping off its axis and rocketing like a flashing marquis sign across the bright blue sky, soaring over entire continents. All she can do is keep herself from sliding off the horse's smooth fiberglass back and hold on for the ride.