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Doc Hata is in the hospital, having suffered from smoke inhalation. Old acquaintances from the hospital come by to visit, including Renny Banerjee, the hospital purchasing manager who used to source supplies from Doc Hata’s store. Though he comes from an East Indian background, Doc Hata thinks of Renny as very American because of his barrel-chested appearance, joking demeanor, and forthrightness.
Doc Hata tells Renny that the damage to his house is minor and that Liv Crawford, who had pulled him out of the house, already has a team working to restore everything. Renny used to date Liv, and the two men joke about her ambition and forceful personality. Doc Hata enjoys talking with Renny, and though his laughter is mixed with coughing fits, he reflects that circumstances needn’t be ideal for him to feel good.
Renny asks Doc Hata about a woman he used to date, Mary Burns. Renny jokes about how he used to see the couple “cooing and nuzzling” in public. Doc Hata informs Renny that Mary died last year from liver cancer.
After Renny leaves, Doc Hata explains how he didn’t go to see Mary when she was in the hospital since he felt worried that he might upset her. He recalls how they first met when she approached him while he was working in his garden. At the time, Mary’s approach surprised him since the local standards of decorum involved keeping an appropriate social and physical distance.
He and Mary introduced themselves. Doc Hata explained that he was not a doctor despite the honorific that locals had bestowed on him, but Mary insisted that he nonetheless had “the movements and gestures” of a doctor. Later in their conversation, Mary touched Doc Hata’s arm, which surprised him. He invited her in for a tour of his garden and clipped a bouquet of lavender for her to take home. Upon leaving, she told him to invite her for a drink sometime.
Doc Hata reflects that he met Mary just when he was thinking he should seek out a mother figure for Sunny. He had inquired about suitable women back in Japan but had not had any success. Soon after their initial meeting, he and Mary began a relationship.
Mary made a great effort to befriend Sunny, and though Sunny always treated her with politeness, Mary felt sad about their inability to connect. Even so, she persisted with Sunny, believing it important that she have an adult woman in her life.
Mary’s struggle to connect with Sunny made it clear to Doc Hata that his adopted daughter hadn’t ever fully settled in Bedley Run. Mary and Sunny’s lack of connection also gradually impeded on Mary’s relationship with Doc Hata. Once, when Sunny was in high school, Mary had volunteered to chaperone a dance. Mary had invited Doc Hata to accompany her, but on the day of the dance, Sunny asked him to stay at home. He assented to Sunny’s wishes without consulting Mary, and Mary grew frustrated with his decision and criticized his tendency to let Sunny do whatever she wanted without offering any opposition.
When Doc Hata notes how much he enjoys his conversation with Renny in spite of the circumstances that brought them together, he indicates his overriding desire to subordinate the past to the present. But however much he tries to remain committed to the here and now, he cannot abolish the surge of memories that arise in the hospital. Already in the first two chapters of the novel, Doc Hata’s narration has slipped consistently from the present into the past. The majority of the memories he has recounted have emphasized challenging events in his life. Despite this resurgence of difficult recollections, the reader also senses that Doc Hata would prefer to keep those hard memories at bay. In Chapter 1, for instance, when he stood in the door to Sunny’s old room and recalled how hard he worked to patch over all the cracks in the walls, his action suggests that he restored the room out of a desire to erase all signs of Sunny. And yet, as he stood there, the very memories he had tried to paint over resurfaced. Despite Doc Hata’s desire to remain focused on the present, he cannot escape his past.
The circumstances of Doc Hata’s first encounter with Mary Burns shed light on his reluctance to take direct action. Doc Hata explains that in Bedley Run, neighbors silently agree to maintain an appropriate social distance. The kind of social distance Doc Hata discusses is at once abstractly and concretely spatial. On the one hand, social distance means being nice but not overly friendly. On the other hand, it involves literally giving others space and not getting too physically close. When Mary approached Doc Hata while he was working in his garden, she violated both forms of distance. The fact that her action startled and even shocked him indicates how fully Doc Hata had internalized the rules governing social distance and how reluctant he was to cross the space separating himself from others. Although Doc Hata eventually invited Mary for a tour of his garden, he neglected to invite her inside or offer her tea, and he left it to Mary to ask when they could meet again. Doc Hata’s reluctance in their first meeting foreshadows other examples of inaction on his part in their future relationship, including his failure to visit her in the hospital before she died.
Sunny’s inability to feel settled in Bedley Run after Doc Hata adopted her again raises the important issue of cultural assimilation. When Doc Hata immigrated to the United States, he did so by choice. He intentionally sought out a new life, and he approached the process of assimilation with meticulous devotion. Because he wanted to play an active role in the Bedley Run community, he readily adopted the values and behaviors of its other citizens. In fact, he assimilated so fully that he has since become the township’s unofficial “primary citizen.” Sunny, by contrast, did not come to the United States by choice. Furthermore, she was already seven years old when Doc Hata adopted her and was used to the norms of Japanese society and communication in the Japanese language. Everything in her world was turned upside down when she moved to Bedley Run. And though she clearly adapted to her new life and learned English fluently, she never fully assimilated to the values and behaviors of Bedley Run, which created conflict with her fully-assimilated father.