Alone we were alone in her bedroom, and I was trying very hard not to read into that.
Naomi was hot. Her black hair was shoulder length, with a subtle blue streak she’d dyed in for graduation. Though she didn’t show it off, it was impossible not to see she’d inherited her mother’s curves and flawless features.
Naomi was intelligent. She’d been accepted into an Ivy when we’d started dating, and her name was always on the short list for valedictorian.
Naomi was cool. She listened to cool bands, like The Pixies. She looked bad-ass, with unquestionably more fashion sense than the average Ohio suburban teenager. Not quite ‘grunge’, not quite ‘emo’... she could just could rock a leather jacket and eyeliner.
But more than anything right now, Naomi was upset.
“My mother’s awful! She never takes anything I do seriously.”
Naomi paced the room, eyes still a bit red. She’d stopped crying by the time I’d arrived, but a couple sniffles and the slight streak of makeup gave it away immediately.
“Well, that’s not true. She liked when I joined track, though she was pissed it wasn’t cheerleading.” There was a slight sneer in her voice.
It was difficult to picture Naomi with pom-poms, cheering at a pep rally. To be clear, she was in great shape and definitely had the body. With her ripped jeans and Not that I’d ever tell her, but her figure
“Did I ever tell you what my mother did the day of the SAT? She scheduled us a spa day! I had been talking about it all week, but first thing Saturday morning…”
She put a hand on her (not insignificant) hips, flipped her hair and puckered her lips. “Naomi, you no need to take this Es-Ay-Te.”
I winced a bit. Even if it was dead accurate, it still made me uncomfortable when Naomi imitated her mother’s heavy accent.
The first time I saw Naomi’s mother, it was actually at a cross country meet. Some random, impossibly fit woman, cheering and bouncing up and down in a tight blue dress. Who wears a dress like that to Bedford High School on weekend? Mrs. Junko Walcott, that’s who.
It wasn’t difficult to figure out who she was rooting for. Naomi was one of maybe six non-white students in our class. Even if the Asian MILF in the stands hadn’t been screaming her name, there was no way for Naomi to hide from the ridiculous woman.
I didn’t really know Naomi back then, and it was another year before the awkward blind-date at prom. When we made out on the couch and somehow, impossibly, started dating. I had no doubt it wasn’t going to last past the summer, just a post senior-year fling before we went to our respective schools in the fall.
“And now, even after I somehow made it into Brown, I’m going to lose my registration because she’s too busy to help me file the paperwork! She’s dropping Kat off at summer camp, then she’s at the gym...”
So we were alone in her bedroom, with no parent coming back for hours… I shifted slightly on her bed, trying to focus on the issue at hand. Trying not to think with my dick, which was ashamedly difficult to do.
“Ryan… I’m sorry, I didn’t want to drag you into this.” She flopped down next to me and gave me a hug. “My mother has always been a shitty mom, I shouldn’t let her get to me. I should know better.”
“No, it’s fucked up,” I assured her. “I can’t imagine my parents… anyone’s parents blowing off their kid like that. My dad threw a party when I got into State. State.”
She sighed. “I really don’t know how I can be so different from my mother. She’s such an airhead! Ugggh!”
“Forget her,” I said, trying to sound confident. “We can do this. I’ll help you.”
She looked up with the first smile I’d seen since I arrived. “Seriously? You’re ok with spending the day helping your girlfriend fill out forms? I don’t even know where half the stuff I need is...”
“It’s cool. I know someone really smart who can help,” I learned in and fake-whispered. “She got into Brown.”
Naomi laughed and kissed my cheek.
“Ever notice how attics are always creepy?” I mused, watching the dust motes float past the single skylight across the ceiling.
“I don’t think it’s creepy.” Naomi was squatting down in front of a locked filing cabinet, squinting in the dim light. Her father had left her the keys to his office, in case there was an emergency.
“Come on, it’s a bit creepy. It’s super quiet. Barely any windows. It’s….” I searched for the word, “Isolated. Really, creepily, isolated.”
“That’s how my dad likes it.” Naomi looked up and shrugged. “He’s barely home these days, setting up the international office or whatever. When he is home, he works up here. I kinda like it.”
“And why doesn’t your mom have a copy of the key?” I asked, flicking the lightswitch idly. The blub was burnt out, but it wasn’t surprising no one had changed it. There was a thin layer of dust over the whole room, it had been months since Mr. Clark Walcott had been home.
Naomi let out a snort at my question. “I’m surprised my dad trusts her to drive. He loves her, but I don’t think he’d ever call her ‘responsible’.”
“And it’s ok that you are rooting through his stuff?” I lightly tapped her leg with my toe.
She swatted my foot away and looked up with a raised eyebrow. “Why would he care?”
“I mean, he’s a guy…” I was beginning to regret the question. “He could have stuff. You know, private stuff.”
“You mean, porn?” she pointed at me with a smirk. “Are you seriously worried that we’ll find a bunch of Playboys? You’re turning red, you know that?”
I buried my head in my hand. “No, no. I just meant private stuff, ya know… Like…”
She fell back gently on the ground, sitting, looking at me with a bemused grin. “Go ok. Like what?”
“Like…” I shrugged sheepishly. “Like… porn?”
She shook her head and turned back to the cabinet.
“I think we’ll be ok. Not everyone’s a pervert, you know.”
“I’m never going to live this down, am I?” I asked softly.
“You know I always suspected you were a pervert. My mother always says ‘He such a nice boy!’ But I know the truth.”
Mercifully, her attention was broken with a click from the cabinet.
“Finally…” Naomi slid the heavy drawer out. “Ok mister privacy, what do we need?”
I cleared my throat and pulled out a checklist from my back pocket.
“One: immunization records.”
Naomi flipped through the files. “Got it.”
“Two: social security card.”
She dug around more, peeking through the dozens of manilla envelopes in the drawer. “Check.”
“Three: proof of health insurance.”
More digging. “Umm…” she bit her lip. “Crap. Don’t see it”
“Could it be up there?” I gestured to the top drawer.
“Good point.” Naomi stood up and brushed off the dust from her jeans. She untied the flannel around her waist the threw it on the office chair next to her. Watching her stretch, her breasts pushing out her grey tank... I couldn’t help but gape a bit.
“Hey, focus!” she teased, smiling. “See what I mean? Total pervert!”
I threw my hands up, plans out, in mock protest. “Totally focused!”
“Sure, sure...” she continued searching in the cabinet. “Damn, this just looks like my mom’s paperwork.” The folders she was pulling out definitely looked older, some starting to yellow a bit.
“Is there anyplace else it could be?” I leaned in, looking over her shoulder. “Wait, what was that big one?” I pointed to a larger file sticking out slightly. There was a bright red “CONFIDENTIAL” stamp on the top.
“Which one? I don’t see anything” Naomi ran her fingers down the rows of papers, skipping right past it.
“This one…” I reached past her, pulling at it. The was a brief catch as I realized it was stapled to a think manilla folder right behind it. It took two hands to get the whole thing out.
Holding it in front of Naomi, she squinted at it, almost right through it. She blinked and shook her head. “Huh, that was strange. I totally missed it. Kinda hard to spot, right?”
“I mean, not really. It’s got the big red mark on it…” I replied with a raised eyebrow.
She shrugged, taking it from me. The whole bundle was easily two inches thick. Whatever text had accompanied that warning stamp had long faded, with leaving just the slightest blue-grey discoloration on the off-white page.
Naomi didn’t hesitate to open it, sliding the contents gently onto the floor. We both looked down at the pile, only to see Naomi’s mother’s face staring back up at us from a newspaper clipping.
It wasn’t the picture itself that was so shocking, though it was strange to see Junko in a full business outfit, looking professional and confident. No, what made both of us stunned was the headline above:
Local Teen Wins National Honors
“Is that… is that real?” I said, genuinely confused.
“It can’t be.” Naomi gently lifted the paper, maybe just to confirm it wasn’t a hallucination. Below was another clipping, no picture but her mother’s name was highlighted. A story about a group called ‘The Young Business Women of America’.
Naomi scooped up the whole stack and began setting each layer aside.
“So many articles…” she muttered. I watched Naomi unfold her mother’s life in reverse. Articles, report cards, certificates, and...
“Your mother has a degree in English?!” I nearly shouted, gaping at the unfolded paperboard, the crease from being shoved in the envelope propping it up like a shallow tent above this surreal tapestry.
Naomi didn’t respond, instead, she started flicking through the papers faster and faster. They blurred in front of us, too much to take in at once.
At the last document, Naomi stopped. Staring at the last document from the stack.
“What the fuck…” she muttered. “Ryan… My mother… She’s....”
I leaned forward and looked over her shoulder. In her hands was a birth certificate for Madaline Junko Yamashita, born January 15th, 1964. In Portland, Washington.
“My mother’s from Japan,” she said it as a matter of fact. “And Junko is her first name, not Madaline. And… and… she never went to college.”
“Ryan…” Naomi turned to me wide-eyed. “This can’t be my mother, can it?”
After what seemed like hours of discussing possibilities, we finally started digging further back in the cabinet. The insurance records we were looking for were long forgotten, we needed answers.
That’s how we found the VHS tape.
It was sandwiched in the back, past old tax filings and business receipts. The label had faded, but the title was still clear and legible:
CLARK WALCOTT — PROGRAM 235 — SUBJECT M.J.Y.
I didn’t even ask Naomi if we should watch it. After arguing through everything from long-lost twin sisters to pod-people, I knew there was no way she wasn’t seeing what was on the tape.
Mr. Walcott had a small TV with a built-in VCR squeezed on a desk, half-behind an ancient word processor. I slid the keyboard aside, wiped the dust from the screen and slip the tape in.
Naomi was chewing her hair absentmindedly, which stuck me as out of character. But then, I’d never seen her this nervous before.
“Hey…” I said leaning in and putting an arm around her. “Maybe it’s just porn?”
She blinked, then cracked a pained smirk. “Oh god…” She was half laughing, half crying. “You’re the worst.” She leaned in and buried her head in my chest. I kissed the top of her head and pulled her close. This whole thing was surreal for me, I couldn’t imagine what was going through Naomi’s mind.
She looked up at me and started to say something when the TV blared out.
“The Perfect Wife Program!” a loud, movie-trailer styled voice read off the cheesy-80’s title that faded on screen. Generic background muzak faded in; the slight warble in the old tape’s tracking gave it an eerie sound.
The picture faded into a generic, windowless office, where a grey-suited man was sitting at a comically large oak desk.
“Welcome! We here at Perfect Wife Inc. are happy you’ve chosen to subscribe to our full Platinum Service. We’re confident this new program will bring our trusted brand into the future, with all the technology the 1980s will have to offer!”
Now the nameless suit was walking through a busy office, grinning and continuing his pitch.
“Our clients are realists, practical men who know times are changing. Women now have a more prominent role at work and at home.Why just take Susan here,” he gestured to a woman typing at a table behind him. She looked more like a porn-star than a secretary, with huge tits, heavy makeup and blown-out platinum hair. “Sharp as a tack and cute as a button!”
“I can do anything a man can do!” The blonde mugged to the camera, delivering her lines in a stilted, high pitched voice. “Why would I stay at home?”
“That’s right Suzzie!” The man patted her head lightly.
“Christ, where did they dig up that bimbo?” Naomi muttered. I didn’t say it, but I was starting to suspect we’d already seen how Perfect Wife Inc. recruited.
“But just because the world is changing, that doesn’t mean you can’t still have what every man wants.” The screen did a hacky, harp-scored dissolve to a generic 1950’s kitchen. The narrator and Suzzie appeared with a cartoon ‘pop.’
“With the new Perfect Wife program, you have all the tools you need to build the family of your dreams!” The narrator snapped his fingers and Suzzie was suddenly a retro, pin-up housewife; a technicolor model that would have looked right at home in any Nick-at-Nite rerun.
“But mister,” Suzzie cooed. “Won’t I get bored with this big brain?”
“Oh fuck…” Naomi sat upright, just putting together what I’d already feared.
“No worries missy. We’ll take care of that!” The narrator winked at the camera. “Now we’ve been keeping you at home waiting long enough. Be sure you’ve read all the included instructions. And, as always, our customer service team can assist you if any glitches arise!”
The narrator and Suzzie faded out, replaced with bold text on a black background:
“What did we just watch?” Naomi asked, “And what’s that awful tone?”
“What tone?” I looked over at her, expecting her to be in tears after all that, maybe even furious. Instead, she was staring blankly ahead at the screen, mouth slightly ajar. “Hey, Earth to Naomi. You doing ok?”
Then I heard the tone too. If I had to describe it, I’d say it was broadcast test pattern run through a wah-wah pedal. Whatever that sound was, it was piercing but just barely audible to my ears.
The hum from the TV got louder, and instantly Naomi’s shoulders went slack, her head bobbing to stay upright.
I was suddenly concerned something was seriously wrong with her. Was it possible to shock yourself into a seizure? Or maybe she’d gone catatonic?
I leaned forward to turn off the TV, to kill that maddening noise, when the picture switched. It took me a moment to make out what I was seeing: a warmly lit, out of focus close up of....
The tone was still blaring but there was a soft, strong voice talking over it now.
A woman. It was a woman talking at us.
“Listen to my voice. It feel good to listen to my voice.” It was a sultry, almost melodic intonation. But, it was somehow… off.
I leaned back, glanced over at my spaced-out girlfriend, and watched.
“You feel good.” The picture drifted into focus and zoomed out slowly. “You are good girl.”
The woman on screen was Asian, traditional looking but stunningly beautiful. She wore some kind of silk robe and sat kneeling, staring straight at the camera.
“You like being good girl,” the woman continued. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Naomi nod ever so slightly.
“You want be BEST girl.” It was the accent, that’s what was off. The pseudo-Geisha talking to us had the same accent as Junko.
“You need man to be best girl. All good girls have good man.” Again, I could see Naomi nod along with the instructor. “Good girl need good man. You say this.”
From her trance, Naomi whispered: “Good girl need good man.”
“You get good man by being loyal. You get good man by doing as asked.”
Naomi continued repeating, softly. I stared at her in awe. Some lizard part of my brain noticed her nipples were hard, visible through her shirt.
“You give him family. You fuck him for family.”
I jumped a little. Even after all this, I was struck by the word ‘fuck’ coming out of this proper lady’s mouth. Naomi didn’t seem phased.
“I fuck him for family.” She moaned, her eyes fluttered and her hips twitched slightly.
“You want to be good girl. Tell the good man this.” the woman purred.
Naomi turned to me, with some distant lucidity in her eyes and said in a voice I’ll never forget: “I want to be your good girl.”
All I could muster was a slight smile and nervous chuckle.
The picture on the TV faded to black, and the tone cut off. In big block letters, it said:
PART 1 COMPLETE. PAUSE HERE.
I snapped out of it and pressed eject on the tape.
Almost immediate Naomi, was back, shaking her head. “What… what did they do to my mother?”
I turned back, tape in hand. She looked up at me with a pained expression.
“Wh-what? I mean…” I stammered.
“Ryan, how did they change her? It doesn’t make any sense!” Naomi picked herself up and started looking over the papers strewn across the ground.
“Well...” I chose my next words very carefully. “Let’s go over what we saw. Did you notice anything… anything strange?”
Naomi threw her hands up in exasperation. “It’s all strange! But infomercial Ken and Barbie just trailed off there. Just ‘we make bimbo housewives through 80’s computer magic’ then what?”
She didn’t remember the tone or that woman instructing her.
I wish I could claim ignorance. That I didn’t know exactly what was happening. But I knew it was wrong, that Naomi was being hypnotized, or brainwashed, or… something bad.
But I couldn’t stop thinking of her heavy breathing. Of the pure obedience in her face when she told me she wanted to be my ‘good girl’.
So I stood next to my girlfriend and played dumb.
“Maybe there’s more on this tape. We could have missed something.” I said with a slight shrug.
Naomi sighed. “I suppose that’s our best lead.” She looked around the room and at the late afternoon sun. “We should clean up this stuff before my mom comes home. I… I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.”
“So you want to play dumb for now?” I said, setting down the tape and scooping up the papers on the floor.
“Not funny,” Naomi replied with some ice in her voice. “But yeah. I need to process this first.”
When we had gotten the attic office back into presentable shape, Naomi locked it back up and walked me down to the front door. I was expected back home for dinner, and I was doubtful I could keep my composure around Junko after everything we’d just seen.
“Are you sure you’re going to be ok tonight?” I asked Naomi while we were hugging goodbye.
“Yeah, I need some time to myself to process this anyway. Thanks for helping today, and for not freaking out over all this shit.” She looked up at me with an exhausted half-smile. “You know, my mom’s right about one thing. ‘You good man, Mister Ryan!’”
She kissed my cheek and gently pushed me out the door.
“And you’re a good girl,” I said, absentmindedly as I backed away.
I don’t know why I said it, but for a split second, Naomi shivered. Her eyes fluttered back with bliss.
“Thank you” she whispered, then bowed slightly and closed the door.