The Second Bakery Attack

1986, Bungeishunju

Short Stories:

The Second Bakery Attack (translated by Jay Rubin in "The Elephant Vanishes")

The Elephant vanishes (translated by Jay Rubin in "The Elephant Vanishes")

Family Affair (translated by Jay Rubin in "The Elephant Vanishes")

The Twins and the Sunken Continent (translated by Christopher Allison)

The Fall of the Roman Empire, The 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler's Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of Raging Winds (translated by Alfred Birnbaum in "The Elephant Vanishes")

The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women (translated by Jay Rubin in "The Elephant Vanishes")


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THE ELEPHANT VANISHES

 by MURAKAMI Haruki

translated by Jay Rubin

 When the elephant disappeared from our townfs elephant house, I read about it in the newspaper. My alarm clock woke me that day, as always, at six-thirteen. I went to the kitchen, made coffee and toast, turned on the radio, spread the paper out on the kitchen table, and proceeded to munch and read. Ifm one of those people who read the paper from beginning to end, in order, so it took me a while to get to the article about the vanishing elephant. The front page was filled with stories on S.D.I. and the trade friction with America, after which I plowed through the national news, international politics, economics, letters to the editor, book reviews, real-estate ads, sports reports, and finally the regional news.

The elephant article was the lead story in the regional section. The unusually large headline caught my eye: gELEPHANT MISSING IN TOKYO SUBURB,h and, beneath that, in type one size smaller, gCITIZENSf FEARS MOUNT. SOME CALL FOR PROBE.h There was a photo of policemen inspecting the empty elephant house. Without the elephant, something about the place seemed wrong. It looked bigger than it needed to be, blank and empty like some huge, dehydrated beast from which the innards had been plucked.

Brushing away my toast crumbs, I studied every line of the article. The elephantfs absence had first been noticed at two ofclock on the afternoon of May 18th--the day before—when men from the school-lunch company delivered their usual truckload of food (the elephant mostly ate leftovers from the lunches of children in the local elementary school). On the ground, still locked, lay the steel shackle that had been fastened to the elephantfs hind leg, as though the elephant had slipped out of it. Nor was the elephant the only one missing. Also gone was its keeper, the man who had been in charge of the elephantfs care and feeding from the start.

According to the article, the elephant and keeper had last been seen sometime after five ofclock the previous day (May 17th) by a few pupils from the elementary school, who were visiting the elephant house, making crayon sketches. These pupils must have been the last to see the elephant, said the paper, since the keeper always closed the gate to the elephant enclosure when the six-ofclock siren blew.

There had been nothing unusual about either the elephant or its keeper at the time, according to the unanimous testimony of the pupils. The elephant had been standing where it always stood, in the middle of the enclosure, occasionally wagging its trunk from side to side or squinting its wrinkly eyes. It was such an awfully old elephant that its every move seemed a tremendous effort--so much so that people seeing it for the first time feared it might collapse at any moment and draw its final breath.

The elephantfs age had led to its adoption by our town a year earlier. When financial problems caused the little private zoo on the edge of town to close its doors, a wildlife dealer found places for the other animals in zoos throughout the country, But all the zoos had plenty of elephants, apparently, and not one of them was willing to take in a feeble old thing that looked as if it might die of a heart attack at any moment. And so, after its companions were gone, the elephant stayed alone in the decaying zoo for nearly four months with nothing to do--not that it had had anything to do before.

This caused a lot of difficulty, both for the zoo and for the town. The zoo had sold its land to a developer, who was planning to put up a high-rise condo building, and the town had already issued him a permit The longer the elephant problem remained unresolved, the more interest the developer had to pay for nothing. Still, simply killing the thing would have been out of the question. If it had been a spider monkey or a bat, they might have been able to get away with it, but the killing of an elephant would have been too hard to cover up, and if it ever came out afterward the repercussions would have been tremendous. And so the various parties had met to deliberate on the matter, and they formulated an agreement on the disposition of the old elephant:

(1) The town would take ownership of the elephant at no cost.

(2) The developer would, without compensation, provide land for housing the elephant.

(3) The zoofs former owners would be responsible for paying the keeperfs wages.

I had had my own private interest in the elephant problem from the very outset, and I kept a scrapbook with every clipping I could find an is I had even gone to hear the town councilfs debates on the matter, which is why I am able m give such a full and accurate account of the course of events. And whole my account may prove somewhat lengthy, I have chosen m sec it down here in case the handling of the elephant problem should bear directly upon the elephantfs disappearance.

When the mayor finished negotiating the agreement--with its provision that the town would take charge of the elephant--a movement opposing the measure boiled up from within the ranks of the opposition party (whose very existence I had never imagined until then). gWhy must the town take ownership of the elephant?h they demanded of the mayor, and they raised the following pointy (sorry for all these liars, but I use them to make things easier to understand):

(1) The elephant problem was a question for private enterprise--the zoo and the developer; there was no reason for the town to become involved.

(2) Care and feeding costs would be too high.

(3) What did the mayor intend to do about the security problem?

(4) What merit would there be in the townfs having its own elephant?

  gThe town has any number of responsibilities it should be taking care of before it gets into the business of keeping an elephant--sewer repair, the purchase of a new fire engine, etc,h the opposition group declared, and while they did not say it in so many words, they hinted at the possibility of some secret deal between the mayor and the developer.

In response, the mayor had this to say:

(1) If the town permitted the construction of high-rise condos, its tax revenues would increase so dramatically that the cost of keeping an elephant would be insignificant by comparison; thus it made sense for the town on the care of this elephant.

(2) The elephant so old that it neither ace nor was likely to pose a danger to anyone.

(3) When the elephant died, the town would take full possession of the land donated by the developer.

(4) The elephant could become the townfs symbol.

The long debate reached the conclusion that the town would take charge of the elephant after all. As an old, well-established residential suburb, the town boasted a relatively affluent citizenry, and its financial footing was sound. The adoption of a homeless elephant was a move that people could look upon favorably. People like old elephants better than sewers and fire engines.

I myself was all in favor of having the town care for the elephant. True, I was getting sick of high-rise condos, but I liked the idea of my townfs owning an elephant.

A wooded area was cleared, and the elementary schoolfs aging gym was moved there as an elephant house. The man who had served as the elephantfs keeper for many years would come to live in the house with the elephant. The childrenfs lunch scraps would serve as the elephantfs feed. Finally, the elephant itself was carted in a trailer to its new home, there to live pot its remaining years.

I joined the crowd at the elephant-house dedication ceremonies. Standing before the elephant, the mayor delivered a speech (on the townf s development and the enrichment of in cultural facilities); one elementary-school pupil, representing the student body, stood up to read a composition (gPlease live a long and healthy life, Mr. Elephanth); there was a sketch contest (sketching the elephant thereafter became an integral component of the pupilsf artistic education); and each of two young women in swaying dresses (neither of whom was especially good-looking) fed the elephant a bunch of bananas. The elephant endured these virtually meaningless (for the elephant, entirely meaningless) formalities with hardly a twitch, and it chomped on the bananas with a vacant score. When it finished eating the bananas, everyone applauded

On in right rear leg, the elephant wore a solid, heavy-looking sled cuff from which there stretched a thick chain perhaps thirty feet long, and this in turn was securely fastened to a concrete slab. Anyone could see what a sturdy anchor held the beast in place: the elephant mold have snuggled with all ha might for a hundred years and never broken the thing.

I couldnft tell if the elephant was bothered by in shackle. On the surface, at least, it seemed all but unconscious of the enormous chunk of metal wrapped wound in leg. It kept its blank gage fixed on some indeterminate point in space, its ears and the few white hairs on its body waving gently in the breeze.

The elephantfs keeper was a small, bony old man. It was hard to guess his age; he could have been in his early sixties or late seventies. He was one of those people whose appearance is no longer influenced by their age after they pass a certain point in life. His skin had the came darkly ruddy, sunburned look both summer and winter, his hair was stiff and short, his eyes were small. His face had no distinguishing characteristics, but his almost perfectly circular ears stuck out on either side with disturbing prominence.

He was not an unfriendly man. If someone spoke to him he would reply, and he expressed himself clearly. If he wanted to he mold he almost charming--though you always knew he was somewhat ill at ease. Generally, he remained a reticent, lonely-looking old man. He seemed to like the children who visited the elephant house, and he worked at being nice to them, but the children never really warmed to him.

The only one who did that was the elephant. The keeper lived in a small prefab room attached to the elephant house, and all day long he stayed with the elephant, attending its needs. They had been together for more than ten years, and you could sense their closeness in every gesture and look. Whenever the elephant was standing there blankly and the keeper wanted it to move, all he had to do was stand next to the elephant, tap it on a front leg, and whisper something in its ear. Then, swaying in huge bulk, the elephant would go exactly where the keeper had indicated, take up in new position, and continue staring at a point in space.

On weekends, I would drop by the elephant house and study these operations, but I could never figure out the principle on which the keeper-elephant communication was based. Maybe the elephant understood a few simple words (it had certainly been living long enough), or perhaps it received in information through variation in the taps on in leg. Or possibly it had some special power resembling mental telepathy and mold read the keeperfs mind. I once asked the keeper how he gave his orders to the elephant, but the old man just smiled and aid, gWefve been together a long time:f

 

And so a year went by. Then, without warning, the elephant vanished. One day it was there, and the next it had ceased to be.

I poured myself a second cup of coffee and read the story again from beginning to end. Actually, it was a pretty strange article—the kind that might excite Sherlock Holmes. gLook at this, Watson,h hefd say, tapping his pipe. gA very interesting article. Very interesting indeed.h

What gave the article its air of strangeness was the obvious confusion and bewilderment of the reporter. And this confusion and bewilderment clearly came from the absurdity of the situation itself. You could see how the reporter had struggled to find clever ways around the absurdity in order to write a gnormalh article. But the struggle had only driven his confusion and bewilderment to a hopeless extreme.

For example, the article used such expressions as gthe elephant escaped,h but if you looked at the entire piece it became obvious that the elephant had in no way gescaped.h It had vanished into thin air. The reporter revealed his own conflicted state of mind by saying tint a few gdetailsh remained gunclear,h but this was not a phenomenon that could be disposed of by using such ordinary terminology as gdetailsh or gunclear,h I felt.

First, there was the problem of the steel cuff that had been fastened to the elephantfs leg. This had been found still locked. The most reasonable explanation for this would be that the keeper had unlocked the ring, removed it from the elephantfs leg, locked the ring again, and run off with the elephant--a hypothesis to which the paper clung with desperate tenacity despite the fact that the keeper had no key! Only two keys existed, and they, for securityfs sake, were kept in locked safes, one in police headquarters and the other in the firehouse, both beyond the reach of the keeper—or of anyone  else who might attempt to steal them. And even if someone had succeeded in stealing a key, there was no need whatever for that person to make a point of returning the key after using it. Yet the following morning both keys were found in their respective safes at the police and fire stations. Which brings us to the conclusion that the elephant pulled its leg out of that solid steel ring without the aid of a key--an absolute impossibility unless someone had sawed the foot off.

The second problem was the route of escape. The elephant house and grounds were surrounded by a massive fence nearly ten feet high. The question of security had been hotly debated in the town council, and the town had settled upon a system that might be considered somewhat excessive for keeping one old elephant. Heavy iron bars had been anchored in a thick concrete foundation (the cost of the fence was borne by the real-estate company), and there was only a single entrance, which was found locked from the inside. There was no way the elephant could have escaped from this fortresslike enclosure.

The third problem was elephant tracks. Directly behind the elephant enclosure was a steep hill, which the animal could not possibly have climbed, so even if we suppose that the elephant somehow managed to pull its leg out of the steel ring and leap over the ten-foot-high fence, it would still have had to escape down the path to the front of the enclosure, and there was not a single mark anywhere in the soft earth of that path that could be seen as an elephantfs footprint.

Riddled as it was with such perplexities and labored circumlocutions, the newspaper article as a whole left but one possible conclusion: the elephant had not escaped. It had vanished.

Needless to say, however, neither the newspaper nor the police nor the mayor was willing to admit--openly, at least--that the elephant had vanished. The police were continuing to investigate, their spokesman saying only that the elephant either gwas taken or was allowed to escape in a clever, deliberately calculated move. Because of the difficulty involved in hiding an elephant, it is only a matter of time till we solve the case.h To this optimistic assessment he added that they were planning to search the woods in the area with the aid of local huntersf clubs and sharpshooters from the national Self-Defense Force.

The mayor had held a news conference, in which he apologized for the inadequacy of the townfs police resources. At the same time, he declared, gOur elephant-security system is in no way inferior to similar facilities in any zoo in the country. Indeed, it is far stronger and far more fail-safe than the standard cage.h He also observed, gThis is a dangerous and senseless anti-social act of the most malicious kind, and we cannot allow it to go unpunished.h

As they had the year before, the opposition-party members of the town council made accusations. gWe intend to look into the political responsibility of the mayor; he has colluded with private enterprise in order to sell the townspeople a bill of goods on the solution of the elephant problem.h

One gworried-lookingh mother, thirty-seven, was interviewed by the paper. gNow Ifm afraid to let my children out to play,h she said.

The coverage included a detailed summary of the steps leading to the townfs decision to adopt the elephant, an aerial sketch of the elephant house and grounds, and brief histories of both the elephant and the keeper who had vanished with it. The man, Noboru Watanabe, sixty-three, was from Tateyama, in Chiba Prefecture. He had worked for many years as a keeper in the mammalian section of the zoo,  and ghad the complete trust of the zoo authorities, both for his abundant knowledge of these animals and for his warm, sincere personality.h The elephant had been sent from East Africa twenty-two years earlier, but little was known about its exact age or its gpersonality.h The report concluded with a request from the police for citizens of the town to come forward with any information they might have regarding the elephant.

I thought about this request for a while as I drank my second cup of coffee, but I decided not to call the police--both because I preferred not to come into contact with them if I could help it and because I felt the police would not believe what I had  to tell them. What good would it do to talk to people like that, who would not even consider the possibility that the elephant had simply vanished?

I took my scrapbook down from the shelf, cut out the elephant article, and pasted it in. Then I washed the dishes and left for the office.

I watched the search on the seven-ofclock news. There were hunters carrying large-bore rifles loaded with tranquillizer darts, Self-Defense Force troops, policemen, and firemen combing every square inch of the woods and hills in the immediate area as helicopters hovered overhead. Of course, wefre talking about the kind of gwoodsh and ghillh you find in the suburbs outside Tokyo, so they didnft have an enormous area to cover. With that many people involved, a day should have been more than enough to do the job. And they werenft searching for some tiny homicidal maniac: they were after a huge African elephant. There was a limit to the number of places a thing like that could hide. But still they had not managed to find it.  The chief of police appeared on the screen, saying, gWe intend to continue the search.h And the anchorman concluded the report, gWho released the elephant, and how? Where have they hidden it? What was their motive? Everything remains shrouded in mystery.h

The search went on for several days, but the authorities were unable to discover a single clue to the elephantfs whereabouts. I studied the newspaper reports, clipped them all, and pasted them in my scrapbook--including editorial cartoons on the subject. The album filled up quickly, and I had to buy another. Despite their enormous volume, the clippings contained not one fact of the kind that I was looking for. The reports were either pointless or off the mark: gELEPHANT STILL MISSING,h gGLOOM THICK IN SEARCH HQ,h gMOB BEHIND DISAPPEARANCE?f And even articles like this became noticeably scarcer after a week had gone by, until there was virtually nothing. A few of the weekly magazines carried sensational stories—one even hired a psychic--but they had nothing to substantiate their wild headlines. It seemed that people were beginning to shove the elephant case into the large category of gunsolvable mysteries.h The disappearance of one old elephant and one old elephant keeper would have no impact on the course of society. The earth would continue its monotonous rotations, politicians would continue issuing unreliable proclamations, people would continue yawning on their way to the office, children would continue studying for their college-entrance exams. Amid the endless surge and ebb of everyday life, interest in a missing elephant could not last forever. And so a number of unremarkable months went by, like a tired army marching past a window.

Whenever I had a spare moment, I would visit the house where the elephant no longer lived. A thick chain had been wrapped round and round the bars of the yardfs iron gate, to keep people out. Peering inside, I could see that the elephant-house door had also been chained and locked, as though the police were tying to make up for having failed to find the elephant by multiplying the layers of security on the now empty elephant house. The area was deserted, the previous crowds having been replaced by a flock of pigeons resting on the roof. No one took care of the grounds any longer, and thick, green summer grass had sprung up there as if it had been waiting for this opportunity. The chain coiled around the door of the elephant house reminded me of a huge snake set to guard a ruined palace in a thick forest. A few short months without its elephant had given the place an air of doom and desolation that hung there like a huge, oppressive rain cloud.

 

I met her near the end of September. It had been raining that day from morning to night--the kind of soft, monotonous, misty rain that often falls at that time of year, washing away bit by bit the memories of summer burned into the earth. Coursing down the gutters, all those memories flowed into the sewers and rivers, to be carried to the deep, dark ocean.

We noticed each other at the party my company threw to launch its new advertising campaign. I work for the P.R. section of a major manufacturer of electrical appliances. and at the time I was in charge of publicity for a coordinated line of kitchen equipment, which was scheduled to go on the market in time for the autumn wedding and winter-bonus seasons. My job was to negotiate with several womenfs magazines for tie-in articles--not the kind of work that takes a great deal of intelligence, but I had to see to it that the articles they wrote didnft smack of advertising. When magazines gave us publicity, we rewarded them by placing ads in their pages. They scratched our backs, we scratched theirs.

As an editor of a magazine for young housewives, she had come to the party for material for one of these garticles.h I happened to be in charge of showing her around, pointing out the features of the colorful refrigerators and coffeemakers and microwave ovens and juicers that a famous Italian designer had done for us.

gThe most important point is unity,h I explained. gEven the most beautifully designed item dies if it is out of balance with its surroundings. Unity of design, unity of color, unity of function: this is what todayfs kit-chin needs above all else. Research tells us that a housewife spends the largest part of her day in the kit-chin. The kit-chin is her workplace, her study, her living room. Which is why she does all she can to make the kit-chin a pleasant place to be. It has nothing to do with size. Whether itfs large or small, one fundamental principle governs every successful kit-chin, and that principle is unity. This is the concept underlying the design of our new series. Look at this cooktop, for example....

She nodded and scribbled things in a small notebook, but it was obvious that she had little interest in the material, nor did I have any personal stake in our new cooktop. Both of us were doing our jobs.

gYou know a lot about kitchens,h she said when I was finished. She used the Japanese word, without picking up on gkit-chin.h

gThatfs what I do for a living,h I answered with a professional smile. gAside from that, though, I do like to cook. Nothing fancy, but I cook for myself every day.h

gStill, I wonder if unity is all that necessary for a kitchen.h

gWe say ekit-chin,f g I advised her. gNo big deal, but the company wants us to use the English.h

gOh. Sorry. But still, I wonder. Is unity so important for a kit-chin? What do you think?h

gMy personal opinion? That doesnft come out until I take my necktie off,h I said with a grin. gBut today Ifll make an exception. A kitchen probably does need a few things more than it needs unity. But those other elements are things you canft sell. And in this pragmatic world of ours, things you canft sell donft count for much.h

gIs the world such a pragmatic place?h

I took out a cigarette and lit it with my lighter.

gI donft know--the word just popped out,h I said. gBut it explains a lot. It makes work easier, too. You can play games with it, make up neat expressions: eessentially pragmatic,f or epragmatic in essence.f If you look at things that way, you avoid all kinds of complicated problems.h

eWhat an interesting view?f

gNot really. Itfs what everybody thinks. Oh, by the way, wefve got some pretty good champagne. Care to have some?h

gThanks. Ifd love to.h

As we chatted over champagne, we realized we had several mutual acquaintances. Since our part of the business world was not a very big pond, if you tossed in a few pebbles one or two were bound to hit a mutual acquaintance. In addition, she and my kid sister happened to have graduated from the same university. With markers like this to follow, our conversation went along smoothly.

She was unmarried, and so was I. She was twenty-six, and I was thirty-one. She wore contact lenses, and I wore glasses. She praised my necktie, and I praised her jacket. We compared rents and complained about our jobs and salaries. In other words, we were beginning to like each other. She was an attractive woman, and not at all pushy. I stood there talking with her for a hill twenty minutes, unable to discover a single reason not to think well of her.

As the party was breaking up, I invited her to join me in the hotelfs cocktail lounge, where we settled in to continue our conversation. A soundless rain went on falling outside the loungefs panoramic window, the lights of the city sending blurry messages through the mist. A damp hush held sway over the nearly empty cocktail lounge. She ordered a frozen Daiquiri and I had a Scotch-on-the-rocks.

Sipping our drinks, we carried on the kind of conversation that a man and woman have in a bar when they have just met and are beginning to like each other. We talked about our college days, our tastes in music, sports, our daily routines.

  Then I told her about the elephant. Exactly how this happened, I canft recall. Maybe we were talking about something having to do with animals, and that was the connection. Or maybe, unconsciously, I had been looking for someone--a good listener--to whom I could present my own, unique view on the elephantfs disappearance. Or, then again, it might have been the liquor that got me talking.

  In any case, the second the words left my mouth, I knew that I had brought up one of the least suitable topics I could have found for this occasion. No, I should never have mentioned the elephant. The topic was--what?--too complete, too closed.

  I tried to hurry on to something else, but, as luck would have it, she was more interested than most in the case of the vanishing elephant, and once I admitted that I had seen the elephant many times she showered me with questions--what kind of elephant was it, how did I think it had escaped, what did it eat, wasnft it a danger to the community, and so forth.

  I told her nothing more than what everybody knew from the news, but she seemed to sense constraint in my tone of voice. I had never been good at telling lies.

  As if she had not noticed anything strange about my behavior, she sipped her second Daiquiri and asked, gWerenft you shocked when the elephant disappeared? Itfs not the kind of thing that somebody could have predicted.h

gNo, probably not,h I said. I took a pretzel from the mound in the glass dish on our table, snapped it in two, and ate half. The waiter replaced our ashtray with an empty one.

She looked at me expectantly. I took out another cigarette and lit it I had quit smoking three years earlier but had begun again when the elephant disappeared.

  gWhy eprobably notf? You mean you could have predicted it?f

  gNo, of course I couldnft have predicted it,h I said with a smile. gFor an elephant to disappear all of a sudden one day--therefs no precedent, no need, for such a thing to happen. It doesnft make any logical sense.h

  gBut still, your answer was very strange. When I said, eItfs not the kind of thing that somebody could have predicted,f you said, eNo, probably not.f Most people would have said, eYoufre rightf or eYeah, itfs weird, or something. See what I mean?h

  I sent a vague nod in her direction and raised my hand to call the waiter. A kind of tentative silence took hold as I waited for him to bring me my next Scotch.

  gIfm finding this a little hard to grasp,h she said softly. gYou were carrying on a perfectly normal conversation with me until a couple of minutes ago—at least until the subject of the elephant came up. Then something funny happened. I canft understand you anymore. Somethingfs wrong. Is it the elephant? Or are my ears playing tricks on me?h

  gTherefs nothing wrong with your ears,f I said.

  gSo then itfs you. The problemfs with you.

  I stuck my finger in my glass and stirred the ice. I like the sound of ice in a whiskey glass.

  gI wouldnft call it a eproblem,f exactly. Itfs not that big a deal. Ifm not hiding anything. Ifm just not sure I can talk about it very well, so Ifm trying not to say anything at all. But youfre right--itfs very strange.h

  gWhat do you mean?f

  It was no use: Ifd have to tell her the story. I took one gulp of whiskey and started.

  gThe thing is, I was probably the last one to see the elephant before it disappeared. I saw it after seven ofclock on the evening of May 17th, and they noticed it was gone on the afternoon of the eighteenth. Nobody saw it in between, because they lock the elephant house at six.h

  gI donft get it. If they closed the house at six, how did you see it after seven?f

  gTherefs a kind of cliff behind the elephant house. A steep hill on private property, with no real roads. Therefs one spot, on the back of the hill, where you can see into the elephant house. Ifm probably the only one who knows about it.h

  I had found the spot purely by chance. Strolling through the area one Sunday afternoon, I had lost my way and come out at the top of the cliff. I found a little flat open patch, just big enough for a person to stretch out in, and when I looked down through the bushes there was the elephant-house roof. Below the edge of the roof was a fairly large vent opening, and through it I had a clear view of the inside of the elephant house.

  I made it a habit after that to visit the place every now and then to look at the elephant when it was inside the house. If anyone had asked me why I bothered doing such a thing I wouldnft have had a decent answer. I simply enjoyed watching the elephant during its private time. There was nothing more to it than that. I couldnft see the elephant when the house was dark inside, of course, but in the early hours of the evening the keeper would have the lights on the whole time he was taking care of the elephant, which enabled me to study the scene in detail.

  What struck me immediately when I saw the elephant and keeper alone together was the obvious liking they had for each other—something they never displayed when they were out before the public. Their affection was evident in every gesture. It almost seemed as if they stored away their emotions during the day, taking care not to let anyone notice them, and took them out at night when they could be alone. Which is not to say that they did anything different when they were themselves inside. The elephant just stood there, as blank as ever, and the keeper would perform those tasks one would normally expect him to do as a keeper: scrubbing down the elephant with a deck broom, picking up the elephantfs enormous droppings, cleaning up after the elephant ate. But there was no way to mistake the special warmth, the sense of trust between them. While the keeper swept the floor, the elephant would wave its trunk and pat the keeperfs back. I liked to watch the elephant doing that.

  gHave you always been fond of elephants?f she asked. gI mean, not just that particular elephant?f

  gHmm . . . come to think of it, I do like elephants,h I said. gTherefs something about them that excites me. I guess Ifve always liked them. I wonder why.h

  gAnd that day, too, after the sun went down, I suppose you were up on the hill by yourself, looking at the elephant. May—what day was it!h

  gThe seventeenth. May 17th at 7 P.M. The days were already very long by then, and the sky had a reddish glow, but the lights were on in the elephant house.h

  gAnd was there anything unusual about the elephant or the keeper?f

  gWell, there was and then wasnft. I canft say exactly. Itfs not as if they were standing right in front of me. Ifm probably not the most reliable witness.h

  gWhat did happen, exactly?f

  I took a swallow of my now somewhat watery Scotch. The rain outside the windows was still coming down, no stronger or weaker than before, a static element in a landscape that would never change.

  gNothing happened, really. The elephant and the keeper were doing what they always did—cleaning, eating, playing around with each other in that friendly way of theirs. It wasnft what they did that was different. Itfs the way they looked. Something about the balance between them.h

  gThe balance?h

  gIn size. Of their bodies. The elephantfs and the keeperfs. The balance seemed to have changed somewhat. I had the feeling that to some extent the difference between them had shrunk.h

  She kept her gaze fixed on her Daiquiri glass for a time. I could see that the ice had melted and the water was working its way through the cocktail like a tiny ocean current.

  gMeaning that the elephant had gotten smaller?h

  gOr the keeper had gotten bigger. Or both simultaneously.h

  gAnd you didnft tell this to the police?h

  gNo, of course not,h I said. gIfm sure they wouldnft have believed me. And if I had told them I was watching the elephant from the cliff at a time like that Ifd have ended up as their Number One suspect.h

gStill, are you certain that the balance between them had changed?h

gProbably. I can only say eprobably.f I donft have any proof, and, as I keep saying, I was looking at them through the air vent. But I had looked at them like that I donft know how many times before, so itfs hard for me to believe that I could make a mistake about something as basic as the relation of their sizes.h

In fact, I had wondered at the time whether my eyes were playing tricks on me. I had tried closing and opening them and shaking my head, but the elephantfs size remained the same. It definitely looked as if it had shrunk—so much so that at first I thought the town might have got hold of a new, smaller elephant. But I hadnft heard anything to that effect, and I would never have missed any news reports about elephants. If this was not a new elephant, the only possible conclusion was that the old elephant had, for one reason or another, shrunk. As I watched, it became obvious to me that this smaller elephant had all the same gestures as the old one. It would stamp happily on the ground with its right foot while it was being washed, and with its now somewhat narrower trunk it would pat the keeper on the back.

It was a mysterious sight. Looking through the vent, I had the feeling that a different, chilling kind of time was flowing through the elephant house--but nowhere else. And it seemed to me, too, that the elephant and the keeper were gladly giving themselves over to this new order that was trying to envelop them--or that had already partially succeeded in enveloping them.

Altogether, I was probably watching the scene in the elephant house for less than half an hour. The lights went out at seven-thirty--much earlier than usual--and, from that point on, everything was wrapped in darkness. I waited in my spot, hoping that the lights would go on again, but they never did. That was the last I saw of the elephant.

  gSo, then, you believe that the elephant kept shrinking until it was small enough to escape through the bars, or else that it simply dissolved into nothingness. Is that it?h

  gI donft know,h I said. gAll Ifm trying to do is recall what I saw with my own eyes, as accurately as possible. Ifm hardly thinking about what happened after that. The visual image I have is so strong that, to be honest, itfs practically impossible for me to go beyond it.h

  That was all I could say about the elephantfs disappearance. And, just as I had feared, the story of the elephant was too particular, too complete in itself to work as a topic of conversation between a young man and woman who had just met. A silence descended upon us after I had finished my tale. What subject could either of us bring up after a story about an elephant that had vanished--a story that offered virtually no openings for further discussion? She ran her finger around the edge of her cocktail glass, and I sat there reading and rereading the words stamped on my coaster. I never should have told her about the elephant. It was not the kind of story you could tell freely to anyone.

  gWhen I was a little girl, our cat disappeared,h she offered after a long silence. gBut still, for a cat to disappear and for an elephant to disappear--those are two different stories.h

gYeah, really. Therefs no comparison. Think of the size difference.h

  Thirty minutes later, we were saying goodbye outside the hotel. She suddenly remembered that she had left her umbrella in the cocktail lounge, so I went up in the elevator and brought it down to her. It was a brick-red umbrella with a large handle.

  gThanks,h she said.

  gGood night,h I said.

  That was the last time I saw her. We talked once on the phone after that, about some details in her tie-in article. While we spoke, I thought seriously about inviting her out for dinner, but I ended up not doing it. It just didnft seem to matter one way or the other.

  I felt like this a lot after my experience with the vanishing elephant. I would begin to think I wanted to do something, but then I would become incapable of distinguishing between the probable results of doing it and of not doing it. I often get the feeling that things around me have lost their proper balance, though it could be that my perceptions are playing tricks on me. Some kind of balance inside me has broken down since the elephant affair, and maybe that causes external phenomena to strike my eye in a strange way. Itfs probably something in me.

  The papers print almost nothing about the elephant anymore. People seem to have forgotten that their town once owned an elephant. The grass that took over the elephant enclosure has withered now, and the area has the feel of winter.

Page Top


The Twins and the Sunken Continent


By MURAKAMI Haruki

Translated by Christopher Allison


After the twins had been gone from my life for about a year and a half, I came across their picture in a photo magazine.

In that picture, they weren't wearing the cheap matching sweatshirts bearing the consecutive numbers '208' and '209' that they had worn the whole time we were living together. They had a much more chic appearance. One was wearing a knit one-piece, and the other was wearing a coarse cotton jacket type of thing. Their hair was much longer than before, and they both wore quite a bit of make-up around their eyes.

But I knew right away that it was the twins. Even though one was turned around to look behind her, and I could only make out the profile of the other, I knew it the very instant I opened to the page. I understood everything instantly, just like when you hear the first note of a record that you've listened to so many hundreds of times that it's been beaten into your skull. So: they're here.

The picture had been taken inside a discotheque that had just opened on the fringes of Roppongi. The magazine had put together a special six-page spread called "Tokyo's Hottest New Nightspots," and the picture of the twins appeared on the first page.

It had been taken with a wide-angle lens from quite high up, so as to capture the big club, and if there hadn't been any explanation, I'd have been more inclined to think it was a greenhouse or an aquarium than a discotheque. This was on account of everything was made of glass. If you looked from floor to ceiling, the tables and the walls and the fixtures were all made of glass. And huge decorative plants had been scattered all over the place.

People were holding cocktail glasses in the midst of an area that was cordoned off with a glass partitions, and in another area people were dancing. It seemed to me something like a precise, transparent model of humanity. Each part functioned perfectly according to its own rules.

At the far right edge of the picture, there was a huge glass table, where the twins were seated. There were two tropical drinks in over-sized glasses in front of them, and a couple of plates piled high with simple snacks. One of the twins had the back of a chair in her hands and was turned around to face behind her, gazing intently at the dance floor on the other side of the glass wall, while the other one was talking about something with a young guy seated next to her. If it hadn't been for the twins, it would have been a totally ordinary scene. Two guys and a girl are sitting at a table in a discotheque having drinks. The name of the discotheque was "The Glass Cage."

I had come upon this magazine totally by accident. I had some time to kill in this coffee shop where I was supposed to meet my business partner, so I had picked up a magazine off the magazine rack and started thumbing through it. If it hadn't been for that, I wouldn't have bothered myself to peruse a month-old copy of a photo magazine.

Beneath the color picture of the twins, there was a completely predictable story. The Glass Cage plays Tokyo's latest music and attracts the hippest people, the article explained. As the name suggests the inside of the place is surrounded by glass walls, which reminded me of a transparent maze. They serve specialty cocktails, and have paid special attention to acoustics. It's the kind of place where guests are checked at the door, and if they are not suitably chic, or if a group of unaccompanied men tries to get in, they are turned away.

I ordered a second cup of coffee from the waitress, and asked if I could rip the page out of the magazine and take it with me. She said that the person who took care of the magazines wasn't there, so she wasn't sure, but that she thought probably no one would even notice. So I used the edge of a plastic menu to make a neat tear, folded the page in four, and put it in my jacket pocket.

When I returned to the office, the door was standing open wide, but there was no one inside. The desk was covered with assorted documents, dirty dishes and glasses were piled in the sink, and the ashtray was overflowing with cigarette butts. Our office girl had been out sick for three days with a cold.

Well well, I thought to myself. Three days ago the office was so clean there wasn't a speck of dust in the place, and now it looks like the locker room of a boys" high school basketball team.

I boiled some water in the kettle and, after washing out a single mug, made instant coffee. I couldn't find a spoon, so I stirred it with a ballpoint pen that looked relatively clean. It didn't taste very good. I probably would have been better off just drinking the hot water.

Just as I sat down on the edge of the desk to drink my coffee alone, the girl who worked part-time as a receptionist at the dentist's office next door poked her head through the doorway. She was a short girl with long hair, and was quite good-looking. When I saw her for the first time, I thought she must be Jamaican or something on account of her complexion was so dark, but when I asked her where she was from, it turns out that her family are dairy farmers on Hokkaido. She didn't know why she was so dark herself. But whatever the case, her dark skin against her white uniform was pretty eye-popping. Like Albert Schweitzer's assistant or something.

Since she was the same age as the girl who worked in our office, she often came in when she wasn't busy just to hang out and the two of them would chat, and when our girl was out of the office, she would answer our phones and take memos for us. Whenever she heard our phone ring, she would come from next door and answer the phone and take messages for us. That's why we were always leaving the door to the office open when we were away. If a burglar ever came, he wouldn't find much to steal.

"Mr. Watanabe said he was going out to buy medicine," she said. Noboru Watanabe was the name of the guy with whom I owned the business. He and I had a small translation business at that time.

"Medicine?" I asked, a little surprised. "What medicine?"

"For his wife. She's got stomach trouble, and needs some kind of special Chinese remedy. So he went to the Gotanda Pharmacy. Since it's pretty far away, he said that he'd go straight home from there."

"Hmph," I said.

"And there are memos from the phone calls while you were out," she said, pointing a piece of white stationary weighted down by the phone.

"Thanks," I said. "You're a big help."

"My boss says you should get an answering machine."

"That's no good," I said. "They're too impersonal."

"Well, it's OK with me anyway. Running up and down the hall keeps me warm."

After she had disappeared, leaving behind only her Cheshire Cat-like smile, I picked up the memo and made several necessary phone calls. I set a time for the delivery from the printer, discussed specifics with a part-time translator who we subcontracted to, and called the lease company to arrange for the copier to be fixed.

Once those phone calls were taken care of, there wasn't anything left that I really needed to do, so I was reduced to washing all the dishes that were piled in the sink. Then I threw away the cigarette butts that were in the ashtray, reset the stopped clock, and ripped a bunch of pages off the page-a-day calendar. I put the pencils in the pen holder, arranged the documents according to their clauses, and put the nail clippers in the drawer. As a result of my efforts, the room eventually looked something like a place where normal people worked.

"Not bad," I said aloud, sitting down on the edge of the desk and looking around the room.

Outside the window, the dull, leaden sky of April 1974 stretched out. The clouds fit together in a seamless monotony, as if a grey lid covered the sky. The pale light of the approaching evening floated slowly like dust particles in water, and the undersea trenches of concrete and steel and glass didn't make a sound.

The sky and the town and the room, all were dyed with the same damp grey hue. No seam could be discerned anywhere.

I boiled water for another cup of coffee, but this time I was careful to use a spoon to stir it. I flipped the switch on the cassette deck and a Bach lute concerto flowed out of speakers near the ceiling. Noboru Watanabe had brought the speakers and the deck and the tape all from his house.

Not bad, I said again, this time silently. A Bach lute concerto fit this neither-warm-nor-cold cloudy April evening just fine.

Then I sat down in the chair and, taking the picture of the twins out my pocket, I lay it down on top of the desk. I stared at the picture distractedly for a long time, under the bright glare of a floor lamp, without thinking about anything. Finally, I remembered that there was a magnifying glass in the desk drawer for enlarging photographs, so I got it out of the drawer and carefully inspected each part of the picture individually. I didn't really think that doing that kind of thing would help in any way, but it wasn't like I had anything better to do.

The one of the twins that was saying something into the young guy's ear--I was eternally failing to tell the twins apart--had the slightest hint of a smile, so faint that it would not be difficult to carelessly overlook it, playing at the corner of her mouth. Her left arm was resting on top of the glass table. It was certainly that twins arm. You could tell that she wore neither watch nor rings.

In contrast to her, though, the guy she was talking to had an extremely dark expression. He was a tall, slender, handsome man, and he was wearing a stylish dark blue shirt, and a thin silver bracelet on his right arm. Both of his hands rested on the tabletop, and he was staring intently at the tall, thin glass in front of him. You got the feeling that the drink had some tremendous, life-changing significance, and that he now faced some kind of decision on its account. A whiff of white smoke that seemed to have been charmed into its shape rose from the ashtray that sat by the glass.

The twins looked a little thinner than they had been when they stayed at my apartment, but I couldn't tell for sure. Camera angle and lighting can sometimes have that kind of effect.

I downed the rest of my coffee in one gulp, took a cigarette from the drawer, and lit it with a match. And I wondered what in the world the twins were doing drinking in a discotheque in Roppongi. The twins I knew weren't the type to be going to snooty nightclubs and wearing make-up around their eyes. Where were they living now, and what were they doing? And who the hell was the guy?

But after poring over that picture while twirling the pen I had in my hand about 350 times, I reached the conclusion that the guy was probably their new benefactor. The twins had seized some chance and moved right into the midst of this guy's life, just as they had done previously with me. I could tell right away when I saw the smile that played on the lips of the twin that was talking to the guy. Her smile was so completely her own, like a gentle rain falling on a vast prairie. They had found a new place.

I could conjure vividly in my head the minutest details of the life the three of them shared. Just as before, the twins had likely adapted to their new life like flowing clouds. But I also knew that there were some special characteristics that existed with them that had definitely not changed. They certainly still nibbled at coffee cream biscuits, they certainly still took long walks, and they still did the laundry diligently on the bathroom floor. That was the twins.

As I was looking at that picture, though, strangely I didn't feel any jealousy. And not just jealousy: I didn't have any kind of interest at all. It was just the situation as it existed there. To me, it was nothing more than a fragmentary glimpse torn from a different world and a different epoch. I had already lost the twins, and no matter what I might think or what I might try to do, there was no way to restore things to their former state.

I was a little bit bothered by the terribly dark expression on the guy's face. What does he have to look so grim about? I thought. You have the twins and I don't. Someday you'll lose the twins too, just like before, and that thought probably hasn't even occurred to you yet. I think you're all mixed up, kid. I have a feeling you know that. What kind of person is always mixed up? But this confusion that you're savoring now isn't the fatal kind of confusion. And someday you'll realize that.

But no matter what I thought, I couldn't communicate anything to this guy. He was in a distant epoch, on a distant world. They were like a floating continent, and I was wandering nowhere in particular in the dark, unknown reaches of outer space.

At five o'clock, Noboru Watanabe still hadn't returned, so I left him a note to call me sometime and prepared to leave for the day. Just then, the receptionist at the dentist's office next door came by and asked if she could use the our bathroom.

"Feel free, anytime," I said.

"The fluorescent light in ours is burned out," she said, carrying a cosmetic bag with her into the bathroom. Standing in front of the mirror, she brushed her hair and then put on lipstick. Since she left the door standing open the whole time she was in the bathroom, I could watch her from behind without even trying, from where I sat on the edge of the desk. Without her white lab coat, she had beautiful legs. Beneath the hem of her short blue wool skirt, on the backside of her knee, you could see a small indentation.

"What are you looking at?" she asked to the mirror, fixing her lipstick with a piece of tissue paper.

"Legs," I said.

"Do you like 'em?"

"They're not bad," I replied frankly.

She laughed brightly, returned her lipstick to her back, and closed the door as she came out. Above her white blouse, she wore a light blue cardigan half-coat. The cardigan was so light, it seemed as if it had been made from the scraps of clouds. I sunk both of my hands into the pockets of my jacket, and then looked at the cardigan again.

"Hey, you're checking me out, aren't you? What are you thinking about?" she asked.

"I was thinking that that's a nice cardigan," I said.

"Yeah, it was pretty expensive," she said. "Except that it really wasn't so expensive. What I mean is, I bought it at this boutique I used to work at as a clerk before I worked here, so I got it pretty cheap with my employee discount."

"Why'd you quit the boutique and start working for the dentist?"

"The pay wasn't very good, and I was only buying western fashions. Working for the dentist is much better than that was. And of course he fills all my cavities for free.

"Huh," I said.

"But, ya know, your taste in clothes isn't too bad at all," she said.

"Me?" I said, looking over the clothes I was wearing. I didn't even remember deciding what kind of clothes to wear for the day that morning. I was wearing a pair of beige cotton pants I had bought when I was in college, a pair of blue sneakers that hadn't been washed in three months, and a grey tweed jacket over a white polo shirt. The polo shirt was new, but shape of the jacket's pockets had been fatally damaged by me constantly jamming my hands in them.

"This is a terrible look."

"But it suits you well."

"But even if it suits me, it doesn't qualify as a taste. It's just a product of my frustration," I laughed.

"If you bought a brand new suit, would you still jam your hands in the pockets like that? It's a terrible habit. Even if you had a really nice jacket, you'd ruin it."

"I'd ruin it," I echoed. "Say, if your work's done, you mind if I walk you to the station?"

"OK," she said.

I flipped the switch on the tape deck and the amp, turned out the lights, locked the door, and then we started down the long hill to the station. Since I don't customarily carry a bag, I had both hands thrust into my jacket pockets as usual. In accordance with her oft-repeated admonitions, I tried putting them in my pants pockets instead, but that didn't really work. With my hands in my pants pockets, it was impossible for me to maintain my repose.

She clutched the strap of her shoulder bag in her right hand, and it seemed to mark a rhythm as her left hand swung gently at her side. She kept her back very straight when she walked, and as a result looked taller than she actually was, and her walking tempo was much faster than mine.

There was no breeze at all, and the town was deathly still. The sound of the trucks backfiring as they passed by on the road, and the racket made by the buildings under construction too, all the sounds seemed to be dampened as if covered by heavy veils. Only the sound of her high heels clacking on the pavement stuck out, punching perfectly regular, smooth wedges out of the languid spring night air.

Not really thinking about anything, I was just walking along focusing on those sounds, so when a this elementary school kid came flying around the corner on his bicycle, I nearly ran into him. The girl grabbed my elbow with her left hand, and deftly pulled me out of the way. Otherwise I really would have creamed the kid.

"You better watch where you're going," she said, startled. "What were you thinking about?"

"I wasn't thinking about anything," I said after taking a deep breath. "I was just in a daze."

"What a jackass." How old are you, anyway?"

"Twenty-five," I said." I'd be 26 at the end of the year.

She finally let go of my elbow, and the two of us started down the hill again. After that I concentrated scrupulously on my walking.

"Hey, I still don't know your name," I said.

"I didn't tell you?"

"I didn't hear it, if you did."

"May," she said." "May Kasahara."

"May?" I repeated, a little surprised.

"May, like the fifth month."

"Were you born in May?"

"Huh-uh," she said, shaking her head. "I was born on August 21."

"Then what are you called 'May' for?"

"You really want to know?"

"Boy, do I."

"You won't laugh?"

"I don't think I'll laugh."

"Our family kept a goat."

"A goat?" I asked again out of surprise.

"You know what goats are?"

"Yeah."

"It was a really smart goat, so we loved like it was one of the family."

"May the Goat Girl," I said, as if reciting.

"That, and I was the youngest girl in a farm family with six daughters." They probably thought that it didn't matter much what they called me."

I nodded.

"But it's pretty easy to remember, huh? May the Goat Girl."

"Quite," I said.

When we reached the station, I asked May Kasahara if I could take her out to dinner as thanks for looking after our phone for us, but she said that she had a date with her fianc"

"Next time, then," I said.

"Yeah, that'd be fun," May Kasahara said.

And so we separated.

Her light blue cardigan disappeared as if it were swallowed up into the herd of people going home from work, and after I had waited long enough to be sure that she wasn't coming back again, I jammed my hands in my jacket pockets and headed off in the appropriate direction.

Once May Kasashara was gone, I felt like my body was once again veiled by the shadow of that flat, seamless grey cloud. When I looked high overhead, the cloud was still there. The indistinct grey blended with the blue of evening, so that if I looked closely, I couldn't tell whether the cloud was still there. But, like some giant blind beast hidden from view, it covered the sky and blocked out the moon and the stars.

Like walking on the bottom of the ocean, I thought. Front and back, left and right, everything looks exactly the same. My body just hadn't adjusted to the pressure and the breathing yet.

Now that I was alone, my appetite had disappeared completely. I didn't want to eat anything. I didn't want to go back to my apartment, but there wasn't anywhere else I needed to go either. So, not knowing what else to do with myself, I decided to walk around town until I came up with something.

From time to time, I'd come to a stop and stare at an advertisement for a Kung-Fu movie, or peep in the show window of a music store, but other than that I spent most of the time looking into the faces of the people passing by. Thousands of people appeared before my eyes and then vanished. I felt like they were moving from one distant realm of consciousness to another distant realm of consciousness.

The town was the same as ever, unchanged. The clamour of all those jumbled up people, who one by one had lost their original meaning; the brief fragments of music that would cut through the commotion to reach my ear, and then be gone; the traffic lights continually blinking off and on, off and on, and the sounds of the cars stopped in front of them; it all overflowed from the sky and, like an inexhaustible supply of ink, the night washed over the city. When I walk the streets of the city at night, all of the bustle and the light and the smell and the excitement doesn't really seem real to me at all. They are all just distant echoes from yesterday or the day before or last week or last month.

But I couldn't identify anything in that echo that I recognized. It was all too far away, too indistinct.

No matter how long I walked or what distance I covered, I still wouldn't understand. The only thing I knew was that I had passed by thousands of people. And I could guess that, after seventy or eighty years had elapsed, all of those thousands of people would, to a man, have vanished from the face of the earth. Seventy or eighty years isn't that long a time.

When I got tired of looking at all of the faces of the people passing by--I guess I was searching for the twins somewhere in that throng; otherwise I had no good reason for staring at all of those faces--I turned down a desolate, narrow side-street, almost without even knowing what I was doing, and went to this tiny bar where I sometimes go to drink alone. I sat at the counter and ordered a bourbon on the rocks, as always, and ate a cheese sandwich. There was hardly anybody in the place, and the atmosphere of long-aged wood and stucco was very familiar. A song by some piano trio that was hip dozens of years ago flowed from small speakers near the ceiling, and occasionally the sound of glasses clinking and ice being chipped mingled with it.

I've lost everything, I tried hard to convince myself. I've lost everything, and I deserve to keep on losing. And there's no one who can put things right again. That's why the Earth keeps going around the sun.

In the end, the thing I really need most of all is reality, I thought. The Earth goes around the Sun, the moon goes around the Earth; that kind of reality.

Supposing I ran into the twins somewhere, I hypothesized. Then what?

Try suggesting to them Hey, why don't we live together again?

I knew well that the idea was ridiculous. Ridiculous and impossible. They were already a part of my past.

And supposing the twins agreed to come back to me, I further hypothesized. It was impossible to even think about, but anyway that was my hypothesis. Then what?

I took a bite of the pickle that came with the sandwich, and sipped my whiskey.

It's meaningless, I thought. They would stay at my apartment for however many weeks, months, or years. And then one day they would disappear again. Just like before, with no preface or explanation, they would take off for somewhere like a rocket buffeted by the wind. Similar situations play themselves out in similar ways. It was meaningless.

That was the thing called 'reality.' I had to accept a world without the twins in it.

I wiped the condensation off the countertop with a napkin, took the twins" picture out of my inside jacket pocket and set it down. While I was drinking my second whiskey, I tried to imagine what in the world the twin who was talking to the young guy sitting next to her was saying. As I stared intently at the picture, it looked as if she was blowing air into his ear, or else some invisibly fine, ephemeral thing. I couldn't tell from the picture whether or not the guy was aware of this. But I speculated that he probably didn't realize a thing. Just like I hadn't realized a thing back then.

While this slightly shifting fragment of memory was unwinding in my mind--as is always the result of such behavior--I felt a stultifying torpor inside both my temples. It was as if a pair of something kept on file in my mind had been pulled out of there, and was twisting up my body.

I should probably just burn up the picture and throw it away, I thought to myself. But I couldn't burn it. If I only had the strength to destroy that picture, I never would have come down this blind alley in the first place.

When I was finished with my second whiskey, I got my address book and some change, went to stand in front of the pink telephone, and turned the dial. After it had rung 4 times though, I thought better of it and hung up, returning the receiver to the hook. I stood there with my address book in my hand glaring at the phone for a few seconds, and finding myself bereft of good ideas, I went back to the counter and ordered a third whiskey.

In the end, I couldn't think of anything. It wasn't as if I was thinking of things only to have them creep off somewhere; my brain was just momentarily vacant. I poured several glasses of whiskey into that vacuum. And I listened to the music flowing down from the speakers above my head. I wanted to be with a girl so bad I couldn't stand it, but I couldn't think of anyone who fit the bill. Just about anybody would have been OK, but I couldn't come up with any one single person that I could imagine as a sex partner. Anybody was fine, but somebody in particular was a problem. So, I thought to myself. If you took all of the girls I knew and brought them together and mixed them into one body, I probably could have made it with her, but I couldn't flip through my address book and find which page her phone number was on.

I heaved a sigh, took a sip of my nth whiskey on the rocks, paid the bill, and left. And standing in front of the traffic light, I asked myself "So, what do I do now?" I mean, really: five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes from now, what the hell should I be doing? Where should I go? What do I want to do? Where do I want to go? What'll happen if I do something? What'll happen if I go somewhere?

But I couldn't come up with a single answer to any of those questions.

2

"I always have the same dream," I said to her, my eyes still closed.

After lying there for a long time with my eyes closed, I had the feeling that I had achieved a delicate equilibrium while floating in unstable space. Perhaps it was because I was lying naked on a soft bed. Or maybe it was of the strong smell of the Eau de Cologne the girl was wearing. That scent infiltrated my darkness like some delicate winged insect, and my cells expanded and contracted.

"I always have the dream at about the same time: 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, just before sunrise. I wake up in the darkness, drenched in sweat. But it's not completely completely dark; it's that time of day. Of course, the dreams aren't completely identical. The details vary each time. But the basic pattern is the same. The characters are the same, the conclusion is the same. It's like a low-budget series movie."

"I sometimes have bad dreams, too," the girl said, lighting a cigarette. I heard the sound of the flint being struck and smelled the cigarette smoke. Then the sound of something being lightly brushed two or three times with the palm of a hand.

"In the dream I had this morning, there was a building made entirely of glass," I continued, not responding to what the girl had said. "It was a really big building. Like the ones at the western edge of Shinjuku. The walls were all made of glass. In the dream, I came across it by chance as I was walking down the road. But the building wasn't completely finished. Most of it was done, but it was still under construction. Inside the glass walls, people were busily working. The inside was partitioned, but it was almost completely empty."

The girl made a noise like wind blowing through a crack, smoke pouring out of her mouth. Then she coughed. "Uh, can I ask you a question?"

"I'd rather you didn't. Can I ask you just to listen for now?" I said.

"OK," the girl said.

"I didn't have anything in particular to do, so I stopped in front of that huge glass building and watched the worked going on inside. In the room I was looking at, a helmeted workman was stacking fancy decorative glass bricks. He had his back to me the whole time as he was doing his work, so I couldn't see his face, but judging from his build and his carriage, I could tell that he was a young guy. Tall and thin. He was alone in the room. There wasn't anybody else there.

"In the dream, the air was terribly hazy. It was like there was smoke from an open fire somewhere mixed up in it. Hazy, white turbidity, so I couldn't see very far. But as I strained my eyes, the air gradually became clearer. I don't know whether the air really got clearer, or whether my eyes just got used to murkiness. Whatever the case, I was able to see every nook and cranny of the room better than before. The young guy moved like a robot or something, laying each brick with exactly the same motions. Even though it was a pretty big room, he was extremely good at his work, and it seemed like he would be finished after an hour or two."

I paused there and, opening my eyes, drank some beer from the glass that had been left by the headboard. The girl peered into my eyes, in order to show that she'd been listening closely to what I was saying.

"Behind the bricks that the guy had been laying stood the original wall of the building. It was a typical concrete wall. So basically the guy was building a new ornamental wall in front of the original wall. You understand what I'm trying to say?"

"Yeah, I get it. He was building a double wall, right?"

"Right," I said. "He was building a double wall. If you looked at it closely, you could see that there was a gap of about a foot and a half between the old wall and the new wall. I didn't know why he had to leave that space. Doing that would make the room much smaller. So I strained my eyes to get a better look at the work, because I thought it was so strange. And when I did that, gradually I saw something like human forms. Like a photograph submerged in developer, the human figures slowly rose to the surface. Those shades were what was interposed between the old wall and the new wall.

"They were twins," I continued. "Twin girls. 19 or 20 or 21, somewhere around that age, anyway. They were wearing my clothes. One was wearing a tweed jacket, and the other was wearing a navy-blue windbreaker, both of them mine. It seemed as if they were imprisoned in that foot-and-a-half gap, but they themselves didn't seem to notice that they had been shut in, and the two of them were chattering away, merrily as ever. The workman didn't seem to notice that he was shutting them in either. He just silently piled up the bricks. It was like I was the only one who was paying attention."

"How did you know that the workman didn't notice the twins were there?" the girl asked.

"I just knew. There are some things in dreams that you just know. So I thought that I had to do something to stop the work. I boldly beat the glass will with both my fists. I pounded so hard that my arms went numb. But no matter how hard I pounded, it didn't make any sound at all. I don't know why, but the sound just died. So the workman didn't pay any attention to me. He laid each brick one-by-one, mechanically, with the same speed. He'd apply the plaster with his left hand and then set the brick on top with his right hand. The bricks were already up to the twins' knees."

"So I gave up pounding on the glass wall and decided to try to find a way in to the building, to stop the construction. But I couldn't find an entrance. Even though it was an enormous building, there didn't seem to be a doorway anywhere. I ran as fast as I could, circling the building repeatedly. But the result was the same. There wasn't any kind of entrance at all. Like a giant goldfish bowl."

I took another sip of beer, to slake my thirst. The girl was still gazing directly into my eyes. She shifted her body, so that her breasts pressed into my arm.

"So what did you do?" she asked.

"There was nothing to do," I replied.

"There was really nothing I could do. No matter how hard I looked, there still wasn't an entrance, and the sound died. I put both hands to the glass and just watched. The wall was gradually getting higher. It was waist-high, then chest-high, then shoulder-high, and then they were completely covered, and it reached the ceiling. It happened so fast. There was nothing I could do. The workman finished laying the last brick, and then he gathered up his things and disappeared somewhere. After that, only the glass wall and I were left. There was really nothing that I could have done."

The girl stretched out her hand and tussled my hair.

"It's always the same," I said, as if making an excuse. "The details are different, the settings different, the actors different--but the conclusion is always the same. There is always that glass wall, and I'm always helpless to tell anyone anything. It's always the same. When I wake up, the feeling of that cold glass always lingers on the palms of my hands. It stays on the palms of my hands for days and days."

After I'd finished talking she was still running her fingers through my hair.

"You must be tired," the girl said. "I'm that way. I always have bad dreams when I'm really tired. But they don't have any connection to real life. It's just that your body or your brain or whatever is tired."

I nodded.

Then she took my hand and guided it down to her genitals. Her vagina was warm and wet, but there was no activity on my end. I just had this kind of strange feeling.

Then I gave her a little extra money for listening to me talk about my dream.

"Listening to you talk is on the house," she said.

"I want to pay you," I said.

She nodded and took the money and put it in a black bag that closed with a pleasing click. I felt like my dream itself had been shut up in there.

The girl got out of bed, put on her underwear, her stockings, her skirt, blouse and sweater, and stood in front of the mirror brushing her hair. As she was standing in front of the mirror brushing her hair, the girl looked just like anyone else.

I lifted myself up off the bed and stared distractedly at the girl's back.

"Maybe it's just me, but I think it was only a dream," she said, getting ready to leave. Then she stopped to think for a second with the doorknob still in her hand.

"It doesn't have any special meaning that you should be worried about."

When I nodded, she left. The door rattled shut. After the girl had vanished from view, I lay back down on top of the bed and stared up at the ceiling for the longest time. It was the same cheap hotel as anywhere, with the same cheap ceiling.

Through a gap in the curtains, I could see the damp-hued lights of the town. From time to time, the strong November wind would whip the chill raindrops into the panes of the window. I stretched out my arm to get my wristwatch from beside the bed, but in the end it was more trouble than it was worth and I gave up. It didn't matter much what time it was. And anyway, I realized, I didn't have an umbrella.

As I was staring at the ceiling, I thought about the legendary ancient continent that sank into the sea. I don't have any idea why this occurred to me. Maybe it was because it was a November night with a cold rain falling and I didn't have an umbrella. Or maybe it was because I had embraced the body of some nameless girl--I couldn't even remember what her body was like--with hands still chill from the morning's dream. So I conceived of myself as that legendary continent, somewhere long ago and far away, sunk to the bottom of the sea. The pale light was blurred, the sounds muffled, the air heavy and damp.

How many goddamn years had passed since I had lost it?

But I couldn't remember the year that I had lost it. It was probably gone long before the twins ever went away. They just informed me of it. You can't know with any conviction when exactly it is that you lose the things that you lose; you can only know when it is that you notice they're gone.

Enough already. Let's start from there:

Three years.

A three-year stretch of time spirited me away from this rainy November night.

But I guess I gradually became familiar with this new world. It would probably take a long time but I would gradually conceal my muscle and bone in that dislocation of heavy, damp space. In the end, no matter what condition the person was in, the self would be absorbed. Whatever kind of vivid dreams may come, in the end they would be drunk into an indistinct reality, and be extinguished. And then someday I wouldn't even remember that such dreams had ever existed.

I turned out the light at the head of the bed and, closing my eyes, slowly stretched out my body on top of the bed. And my consciousness sank into a dreamless sleep. Rain battered the window; a dark ocean current washed a forgotten mountain range.

(Translated by Christopher Allison)

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