First person story about Benjamin, an American, living in Japan and dating Sumiko. Interspersed are bits of backstory about Benjamin and his dying sister, Daisy, and his parents who have not come to terms with her death. The themes, for me, are isolation, expectations and love. Benjamin has self-isolated himself, albeit unsuccessfully, from painful family memories. Sumiko, likewise, has isolated herself from her parents who have very particularly expectations of her. However, we only know this from her. She may be exaggerating even as she says, "'Resistance is futile in a country like this, because the thing you reject isn't just out there, it's in here.' She tapped her head. 'Obedience is encoded in us through two thousand years of inbreeding.'"
Also part of the story is writing about writing, science fiction and correspondence. Sumiko writes science fiction but throws away all of her notebooks after she gets a job as a kindergarten teacher.
Benjamin writes letters to his parents that he never mails. Sumiko gives him the idea to write the letters as though by an imaginary person. Benjamin tries to write a letter as though from one of his professors but he is unable because as soon as he tries to write about his sister, the words disappear. All in all, the best word I can think of to describe the story is tender.
"'Are you saying that you are genetically unable to stop yourself from becoming a kindergarten teacher?'"
"I walked beside them with a mixture of anxiety and hunger, waiting for a chance to use one of the phrases from my flash cards, waiting for the chance to be loved."
"We would pass the joint between us, a little star traveling from her hand to mine and back, and the house would seem to float beneath our weight like a ship on the water, traveling with the current, faster and faster into the darkness."
"The Right Imaginary Person" was first published in Tin House and then included in the 2014 issue of The O'Henry Prize Stories.
Robert Anthony Siegel's web page