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Doc Hata describes his immaculately preserved two-story Tudor house as one of the most special properties in his neighborhood, and he explains that an ambitious local real estate agent named Liv Crawford frequently pesters him about selling now that he’s retired. Though he doesn’t feel ready to sell, Doc Hata admires Liv’s “wishful pluck” and “the joyous vibrancy of commerce” in her voice.
Doc Hata can’t imagine where he would go if he left his home, and he reflects that the typical retirement lifestyle doesn’t appeal to him. He’s only ever played golf on business trips, but even then, it was the camaraderie rather than the game that he felt drawn to. He recalls several business trips that he enjoyed. He also remembers one time at a conference in San Francisco when he met another Japanese gentleman. He notes that despite sharing a race and an occupation, the two men found little to talk about. Doc Hata wonders if this awkward interaction captures the reality of his business trips better than his other more positive memories.
Doc Hata confesses that, despite telling Liv he’s not ready to sell, he feels like the time will soon come for him to leave Bedley Run. The deep sense of belonging that he has cultivated in this town has begun to feel strangely disturbing, as if he has become so familiar to others that he is now transparent to them.
After speaking with Liv earlier in the day, Doc Hata went out to his pool to swim his usual morning laps. Doc Hata’s pool appears not to reflect light since he painted the bottom and sides a dark gray to match the surrounding flagstones. Imagining that he would be invisible in the dark water if seen from above, Doc Hata thinks of himself as “a secret swimmer who, if he could choose, might always go silent and unseen.”
Now, in the evening, Doc Hata starts a fire in the hearth and burns old insurance records from his store. He thinks about the photos from the box Anne found and recalls one image of Sunny at the piano. His mind reaches back to those early days, soon after he adopted the seven-year-old orphan. Doc Hata spent all of his spare time restoring every inch of the old house, which Sunny hated for its disarray.
Doc Hata recalls how Sunny used to practice Chopin nocturnes as he worked. Though Sunny played these pieces well enough at home, her performances for competition always included odd blunders. Sunny’s inability to reach perfection led to disenchantment with the piano. This, in turn, sparked arguments with her father and gradually created emotional distance between them.
When they eventually got back on speaking terms, Sunny wanted Doc Hata to get rid of the piano. She suspected him of keeping it around as a reminder of how she had failed both herself and her “good poppa, who’s loved and respected by all.” Doc Hata said he wanted her to keep playing for the sake of her own self-improvement.
The phone rings in the present time. Liv Crawford has called from her car phone, and she is outside with interested buyers. Doc Hata insists he’s not ready to sell, and Liv relents. Just then, a sputter from the fireplace ignites the carpet. Doc Hata tells Liv his family room is on fire and then tries to crawl toward the patio doors, feeling like he’s underwater.
The experience Doc Hata recounts about a Japanese man he met on a business trip reveals his discomfort with being reduced to his racial identity. When he moved to the United States, Doc Hata sought out a community that would welcome him. At the time Bedley Run needed as many citizens as it could get to boost the tax base, and because the different racial and ethnic populations were not strictly segregated, Doc Hata felt like his status as a Japanese immigrant faded from notice. But in Chapter 2, he tells a story about how on a business trip he met another Japanese immigrant. Although he expected to have an immediate connection with someone from a similar background and in the same line of work, both Doc Hata and the other man felt awkward because standing together made them more visible than usual. Each one reminded the other that their Japanese background made them different from the rest of the people around them. In other words, their similarities with each other made them fit in less with their surroundings. Though proud of his Japanese heritage, Doc Hata would rather not think about it too much in the present.
Through hard work and enduring commitment, Doc Hata has achieved the sense of belonging he sought when he first arrived in the United States, but he feels he has also faded as an individual. In his many years of living in the same place, he has proven so reliable that others in the community now take him for granted. And furthermore, he has placed so much emphasis on politeness and sociability that, even though he has earned the respect of many, he has no real close friends. The routines of his daily life have also become little more than a series of rote and unreflective actions into which his sense of self has disappeared. Doc Hata’s feeling that he has become invisible leads him to conjure an arresting vision of himself as transparent in his swimming pool. With the sides and bottom painted gray, his pool appears not to reflect light, and he imagines that someone looking down from above might not even see him. Thus, as a “secret swimmer,” Doc Hata literally fades from view in a parallel to how he has metaphorically faded from view in his community.
Doc Hata believes in the value of improvement, understood in terms of both economic value and personal development. As demonstrated by the years of labor he has invested in the restoration of his Tudor-style house as well as the careful landscaping of the grounds, Doc Hata has a driving commitment to the improvement of his home. His meticulous home-improvement efforts have added significant economic value to the property. Yet for Doc Hata, the material improvements also symbolize his own self-improvement. The work he has done on his house reflects directly on his character and reveal his industrious nature and class mobility aspirations. Doc Hata attempted to instill in Sunny a similar devotion to self-improvement, particularly in the form of practicing the piano. But to Sunny, her father’s obsession with the improvement of both house and self had a dark side. His incessant work on the house took his focus away from her, and she dislike the chaos of constant renovation. Furthermore, when she reached a plateau in her abilities on the piano, she felt her inability to improve reflected negatively on her worth as a person. Sunny’s rejection of the discourse of improvement reflected her rejection of Doc Hata and his most closely held values.