A Fine Day for Kangarooing

1983, Heibonsha

Revised on December 13, 2004

Short Stories:

A Fine Day for Kangarooing (translated by Christopher Allison)
A Perfect Day for Kangaroos (translated by Theodore W. Goossen in Soho Square III (1990), edited by Alberto Manguel.

On Meeting My 100 Percent Woman on April Morning (translated by Kevin Flanagan and Tamotsu Omi in New Japanese Voices: The Best Contemporary Fiction From Japan, edited by Helen Mitsios (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991)
On seeing the 100% Perfect Girl one Beautiful April Morning (translated by Jay Rubin in The Elephant Vanishes)

Sleepy (translated by Christopher Allison)

The Vampire Cabbie (translated by Kiki)

Her Town, Her Sheep (translated by Kiki)

The Sea Lion Festival (translated by Kiki)

Mirror (translated by Christopher Allison)

The Girl from Ipanema, 1963/1982 (translated by brian wilson)

A Window / (Former: Do you like Burt Bacarack?) (translated by Jay Rubin in The Elephant Vanishes)
A Window / Do you like Burt Bacarack? (translated by Kiki)

A Coastline in May

Collasped Kingdom

Daytripper of 32 Years Old (translated by brian wilson)

The Rise and Fall of the Tongariyaki (translated by Michael Ward)

My Poverty like Cheese Cake

The Year of Spaghetti (translated by Kiki)

Dabchick (translated by Jay Rubin)

Southbay Strut

Library Mystery


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A Fine Day for Kangarooing


by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Christopher Allison

Inside the fence, there were four kangaroos: one male, two females, and one baby that had just been born.
In front of the fence, there was no one but her and I. It wasn' t the most popular zoo around under any circumstances, but to make matters worse, it was Monday morning. Animals outnumbered visitors by a fair margin.
Our objective was, of course, the kangaroo baby. It didn't occur to us that we should look at anything else.
We had read in the local section of the newspaper that a kangaroo baby had been born about a month before. So, for one month we had continued to await a morning suitable for going to see the new kangaroo. One morning, it rained. The next morning, naturally, it continued to rain. Then, the next day after that, the ground was too muddy, and for a couple more days an annoying wind was blowing. Then, she had a painful cavity, and I had pressing business at the ward office.
A month had passed in such fashion.

Somehow, I had lost an entire month. When I tried to think of what had happened to it, I couldn't remember a thing. I felt like I'd done a lot of things, but I also felt like I'd done nothing at all. Until the guy had come around collecting for the newspaper at the end of the month, I didn't realize that a whole month had gone by.

But at last a good kangaroo-viewing morning arrived. We got up at six, opened the curtains, and confirmed in an instant that it was a fine day for kangarooing. We washed our faces, finished breakfast, fed the cat, did a little laundry and, putting on our sun visors, we went out.
Hey, I wonder if the kangaroo baby is still alive, she asked me while we were on the train.
Yeah, I think so. If it had died, there would have been a newspaper story or something.
I bet it' s sick and they took it to a hospital somewhere.
That would have been in the newspaper, too.
Maybe it's afflicted with neurosis.
The baby?
Of course not. The mother. They probably have her locked up inside some dark room with her baby.
I' m always quite impressed by the range of possibilities that occurs to girls.
I just have this feeling that if I let this chance escape, I won't be able to see a baby kangaroo ever again.
You really think so?
Well, what about you? Have you ever seen a kangaroo baby before? No.
Up to now, did you ever believe that you would see one?
I don' t know. It had never really occurred to me.
That's why I'm worried.
But wait a minute, I protested. While everything you've said is true, I've never seen a giraffe being born either, or a whale swimming in the ocean. Why is it that now only the baby kangaroo is a problem?
Because it's a baby kangaroo, she said. I gave up, and glanced through the newspaper. I have yet to win a single discussion with a girl.
The kangaroo baby was, of course, still alive. He (or she) had grown much bigger than in the pictures in the newspaper, and was hopping around energetically in the kangaroo enclosure. He wasn't so much a baby anymore as a small kangaroo. This fact seemed to disappoint her a little.
It's like it's not a baby anymore.
It still looks like a baby, I reassured her.
We should have come sooner.

I went to a small shop and bought chocolate ice cream, and when I came back she was still leaning on the fence staring at the kangaroo.
It' s not a baby anymore, she repeated.
Really? I said, handing her an ice cream cone.
If it was a baby, it would be in it's mother's pouch.
Nodding in acquiescence, I licked my ice cream.
But it' s not.
We spent a moment trying to discern which was the mother kangaroo. The father kangaroo we identified immediately. He was by far the biggest and quietest kangaroo there. He had a talent for staring at the green leaves in the feed box with an expression like a washed-up composer. The other two were females and had almost the same build, were almost the same color, had almost the same expression. Which one was the mother was no laughing matter.
So, one of them is the mother, and one of them is not, I said.
Right.
That being the case, which one is not the mother?
I don' t know, she said.
At any rate, the child of that inhospitable kangaroo was running all over the place, senselessly digging holes in the ground here and there with it's front legs. He/she seemed to have a life that knew no boredom. He ran around and around his father, gnawed on a little roughage, dug holes in the ground, reproved the two female kangaroos, lay down on the ground, and then got up again and ran around some more.
Why do kangaroos hop so quickly, she asked.
To escape from their enemies.
Enemies? What kind of enemies?
Humans, I said. Humans kill kangaroos with boomerangs and eat their meat.
Why do baby kangaroos get in their mothers? pouches?
So they can run away together. Babies can't run that fast.

It's for protection?

Yeah, I said. Everybody protects their young.
How long are they protected for?
>I should have gotten all my information concerning kangaroos from an animal picture book. Then I would have known everything from the start.
Probably somewhere around one or two months.
OK, so that one's still only one month old, she said, pointing at the baby kangaroo. It must still get in its mother's pouch.
Yeah, I said. Probably so.

Wow. Wouldn't it be great to get in that pouch?
Yeah, I guess so.
I bet it would be just like returning to the womb.
I wonder.
Of course it is.
The sun had gotten really hot. You could hear the cheers of the kids playing in the nearby pool. Billowy clouds floated in the summer sky.
You want something to eat? I asked her.
A hotdog, she said. And a Coke.
The hotdog vendor was a young college-age girl, and she had brought a boom box along with her inside the wagon. I listened to songs by Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel while I waited for our hotdogs to cook.
When I returned to the kangaroo pen, she said Look! pointing at one of the female kangaroos.
Look, it got in her pouch.
Sure enough, the baby was tucked away in its mother's pouch. The stomach pouch was pretty swollen, and just its little pointy ears and the tip of its tail poked out from the top.
I wonder if he's heavy.
Kangaroos are strong.
Really?
Which is why they've been able to survive this long.
The mother kangaroo, standing in that blistering sunlight didn't have a single drop of sweat on her. She reminded me of a mother going to pick up the groceries at a supermarket on Aoyama-dori, and then stopping by the coffee shop for a quick break.
Because they look after their young?
Yeah.
I wonder if he's sleeping.
Maybe.
We ate our hotdogs, drank our Cokes, and hung out in front of the kangaroo cage. When it came time to leave, the father kangaroo was still searching around in the feed box for a lost note. The mother kangaroo and the baby rested their bodies together as one, and that mysterious other female kangaroo hopped around in the center of the cage as if she was testing the condition of her tail.
It was the hottest day we had had in a long time. Hey, you wanna go drink beer? she said.
Great, I said.

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A Perfect Day for Kangaroos

by MURAKAMI Haruki

translated by Theodore W. Goossen

Inside the pen were four kangaroos: one male, two females, and finally a new-born baby.
In front of the kangaroos' pen were just the two of us. The zoo wasn't popular to begin with, and it was Monday morning to boot. The animals far outnumbered the visitors.
The object of our visit was, of course, the baby kangaroo. To my mind, it was the zoo's one and only attraction.
The baby kangaroo's birth had been announced in the 'local news' page of our daily paper. Since then, we had been waiting for just the right sort of morning to go see it. Yet that perfect morning never seemed to arrive. The first morning it was raining. The following morning it rained again. The morning after the ground was all muddy, and then there were two days of nasty wind. The next morning a rotten tooth was bothering her, and the morning after that I had to pay a visit to our local ward office.
A whole month passed in this fashion.
A month can do that, too, can't it, just fly past before you know it. And, for the life of me, I can't recall a single thing I did during that whole time. It feels like I did a whole lot, and it feels like I did nothing at all. Indeed, I had no idea a month had gone by until someone came on the last day to collect the newspaper money.
At any rate, the morning for viewing kangaroos finally arrived. We woke up at six, drew back the curtains, and ascertained at once that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, this was indeed perfect weather for kangaroos. We washed our faces, finished breakfast, did the laundry, pat on hats to ward off the sun, and headed out.
'Honey,' she said on the train, 'the baby kangaroo – do you think it', still alive?'
'Yes, I guess so. There's been nothing about its death in the papers. '
'Well, maybe it's sick and in hospital somewhere.'
'They'd still report it.'
'Maybe it's turned neurotic and gone into seclusion.'
'Who, the baby?'
'Don't be silly. The mother, of course. Maybe she's holed up with the baby in that dark room they have at the back.'
Girls sure can dream up all kinds of possibilities, I thought admiringly.
'I can't help feeling this is our last chance to see a baby kangaroo,' she continued.
'Why do you say that?'
'Well, have you ever seen a baby kangaroo up to now?'
'No, I guess not.'
'And can you be confident you'll get another chance?'
'I don't know.'
'That's exactly why I'm worried.'
'Look,' I said. 'Even if you're right, I've never seen a whale swim either, or a giraffe give birth. So why make such a big deal about a baby kangaroo?'
'Because it's a baby kangaroo,' she said. 'That's why.'
I gave up and went back to reading my newspaper. I have yet to argue with a girl and win.


The baby kangaroo was, of course, still alive. He (or she) was much bigger than the newspaper photo had shown, and was energetically hopping about on the ground. It was not really a baby but a miniature kangaroo. She was a bit disappointed.
'It doesn't look like a baby any more.'
'It could still be called a baby,' I consoled her.
'We should have come here sooner.'
I went to the concession stand and bought two chocolate ice-creams. When I returned, she was still pressed against the fence gazing intently at the kangaroos.
'It's not a baby any more,' she repeated.
'Really?' I replied, passing her the ice-cream.
'A baby would still be in its mother's pouch.'
I nodded and licked my ice-cream.
'And this one's not.'
At any rate, we looked around for the mother. The father was easy to pick out. He was the biggest and most serene of the hunch. He was perusing the green leaves in his feed box with the air of a composer whose creativity had long since dried ap. The other two were both females, identical in build, colour, and expression. Either could plausibly be the mother.
'Still,' I said, 'one is the mother and the other isn't.'
'Uh-huh.'
'So where does the one that isn't fit in?'
She said she didn't know.
Untouched by such concerns, the baby kangaroo hopped about, pausing here and there to dig meaningless holes in the ground with its front paws. It seemed to be a creature who didn't know what boredom was. It hopped around and around its father, stopped to nibble some grass, pawed at the earth, teased the two female kangaroos, sprawled out on tile ground, and then got up and started racing around again.
'Why do kangaroos hop so fast?' she asked.
'To escape from their enemies.
'Enemies? What enemies?'
'Human beings,' I said. 'Human beings kill them with boomerangs and eat their meat.'
'Why do the babies go in the pouch?'
'So that they can escape together. Babies can't run very fast.'
'So that means they're being protected, right?'
Yes,' I said. 'Every child is well looked after.'
'Up until what age?'
I kicked myself for not having checked my illustratad encyclopaedia of animal beforehand. I should have known this was bound to happen.
'Until one or two months, I guess.'
'Well, this one's a month old,' she said, pointing at the baby kangaroo, 'which mean, it should still ride in the pouch.'
'Uh-huh,' I said. 'I guess so.'
'Boy, don't you think it would be great to curl up in a pouch like that?'
'Yes, I suppose so.'
'I wonder about Doraemon's pocket,' she said, mentioning the cartoon cat whose pocket held an endless supply of marvellous inventions. 'Do you suppose it's a kind of return to the womb?'
'I don't know.'
'I bet it is.'
The sun was really up now. Children's excited voices came drifting across from a nearby swimming pool. Summer clouds, with their distinct shapes, floated through the sky.
'Feel like something to eat?' I asked her.
'A hot-dog,' she said. 'And a Coke.'
The hot-dog stand was shaped like a wagon, and the young student running it had brought his big radio-cassette player. So while I waited for my hot-dogs, I was treated to songs by Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel.
When I returned to the kangaroos' pen, she shouted and pointed to one of the female kangaroos.
'Look! The baby's in the pouch!'
Sure enough, the baby had slipped into its mother's pouch, which was now immensely swollen. All that was poking out were two pointed ears and the tip of a tail.
'Wouldn't it be awfully heavy?'
'Kangaroos are very strong.
'Really?'
'That's how they've survived up to now.
Although she was standing in the blazing sun, the mother showed no trace of sweat She looked as if she were taking a break in one of Aoyama Boulevard's fancy coffee-shops after finishing her midday shopping.
'So the baby is still being looked after, isn't it?'
'Uh-huh.'
'Do you suppose it's sleeping?'
'Probably.'


We ate our hot-dogs, drank our Cokes, and bade farewell to the kangaroos' pen.
When we left, the father kangaroo was still searching in his feed box for his lost score. Fused together, the baby kangaroo and its mother were being borne along by the flow of time, while the mysterious female was hopping about as if running a test on her tail.
It promised to be the first real scorcher in a long while.
'Honey,' she said. 'Wouldn't a beer be nice?'
'Sure would,' I said.


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On Meeting My 100 Percent Woman One Fine April Morning

by MURAKAMI Haruki

translated by Kevin Flanagan and Tamotsu Omi


Haruki Murakami

BORN IN KOBE IN 19'49, HARUKI MURAKAMI STUDIED AT WASEDA UNIVERSITY, THEN MANAGED A JAZZ BAR IN TOKYO FROM 1974 TO 1981. HE RECEIVED THE NOMA LITERARY AWARD FOR NEW WRITERS FOR HIS NOVEL A WILD SHEEP CHASE. THE END OF THE WORLD AND THE HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND WERE AWARDED THE TANIZAKI PRIZE. His NORWEGIAN WOOD SOLD MORE THAN FOUR MILLION COPIES, AND DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, HIS MOST RECENT NOVEL, HAS SOLD MORE THAN A MILLION COPIES TO DATE.

One fine April morning, I passed my 100 percent woman on a Harajuku back street.

She wasn't an especially pretty woman. It wasn't that she was wearing fine clothes, either. In the back, her hair still showed how she'd slept on it; and her age must already have been close to thirty. Nonetheless, even from fifty meters away, I knew it: she is the 100 percent woman for me. From the moment her figure caught my eye, my chest shook wildly; my mouth was parched dry as a desert.

Maybe you have a type of woman that you like. For example, you think, women with slender ankles are good; or, all in all, it's women with big eyes; or it's definitely women with pretty fingers; or, I don't understand it, but I'm attracted to women who take a lot of time to eat a meal-something like that. Of course, I have that kind of preference. I've even been distracted, eating at a restaurant, by the shape of a woman's nose at the next table.

But no one can typify the 100 percent woman at all.

I absolutely cannot even remember what her nose looked like-not even whether she had a nose or not, only that she wasn't especially beautiful. How bizarre!

I tell someone, Yesterday I passed my one hundred percent woman on the street.

Hmm, he replies, was she a beauty?

No, it wasn't that.

Oh, she was the type you like?

That I don't remember. What shape her eyes were or whether her breasts were big or small, I don't remember anything at all about that.

That's strange, isn't it?

Really strange.

So, he said, sounding bored, did you do anything, speak to her, follow her, huh?

I didn't do anything, I said. Only just passed her.

She was walking from east to west and I was heading west to east. It was a very happy April morning. I think I would have liked to have a talk with her, even thirty minutes would have been fine. I would have liked to hear about her life; I would have liked to open up about mine. And, more than anything, I think I'd like to clear up the facts about the kind of fate that led us to pass on a Harajuku back street one fine morning in April 1981. No doubt there's some kind of tender secret in there, just like the ones in the souls of old-time machines.

After that talk we would have lunch somewhere, maybe see a movie, go to a hotel lounge and drink cocktails or something. If everything went well, after that I might even be able to sleep with her.

Opportunity knocks on the door of my heart.

The distance separating her and myself is already closing down to only fifteen meters.

Now, how in the world should I speak up to her?

Good morning. Would you please speak with me for just thirty minutes?

That's absurd. It sounds like an insurance come-on.

Excuse me, is there a twenty-four-hour cleaning shop around here?

This is absurd, too. First of all, I'm not carrying a laundry basket, am I? Maybe it would be best to speak out sincerely. Good morning. You really are my one hundred percent woman.

She probably wouldn't believe that confession. Besides, even if she believed it, she might think she didn't want to talk to me at all. Even if I'm your 100 percent woman, you really are not my 100 percent man, she might say. If it should come to that, no doubt I'd just end up completely flustered. I'm already thirty-two, and when you get down to it, that's what getting older is like.

In front of a flower shop, I pass her. A slight, warm puff of air touches my skin. Water is running on the asphalt sidewalk; the smell of roses is in the air. I can't speak out to her. She is wearing a white sweater, she's carrying an envelope that isn't stamped yet in her right hand. She's written someone a letter. Since she has extremely sleepy eyes, maybe she spent all night writing it. And all of her secrets might be carried inside that envelope.

After walking on a few more steps, when I turned around, her figure had already disappeared into the crowd.

Of course, now I know exactly how I should have spoken up to her then. But, no matter what, its such a long confession I know I wouldn't have been able to say it well. I'm always thinking of things like this that aren't realistic.

Anyway, that confession starts, once upon a time, and ends, Isn't that a sad story?

Once upon a time, in a certain place, there was a young boy and a young girl. The young boy was eighteen; the young girl was sixteen. He was not an especially handsome boy; she was not an especially pretty girl, either. They were an average young man and young woman, ~st like lonely people anywhere. But they believed firmly, without doubt, that somewhere in this world their perfect 100 percent partners really existed.

One day It happened that the two suddenly met at a street corner. What a surprise! I've been looking for you for a long time.

You might not believe this, but you are the one hundred percent woman for me, the man says to the young woman.

The young woman says to the young man, You yourself are my one-hundred percent man, too. In every way you are what I imagined. This really seems like a dream!

The couple sat on a park bench, and they continued talking without ever getting tired. The two were no longer lonely. How wonderful to claim a 100 percent partner and be claimed as one

However, a tiny, really tiny, doubt drifted across their hearts; could It really be all right for a dream to come completely true this simply?

When the conversation happened to pause, the young man spoke like this.

'Well, shall we give this another try? If we're really, truly the one hundred percent lovers for each other, surely, no doubt, we can meet again sometime, somewhere. And this next time we meet if we're really each other's one hundred percent, then let's get married right away. OK?

'OK, the young woman said.

And the two parted.

However, if the truth be told, it wasn't really necessary to give it another try. That's because they were really and truly the 100 percent lovers for each other. Now, it came to pass that the two were tossed about in the usual waves of fate.

One winter, the two caught a bad flu that was going around that year. After wandering on the borderline of life and death for several weeks, they ended up having quite lost their old memories. When they came to, the insides of their heads, like D. H. Lawrence's childhood savings bank, were empty.

But since the two were a wise and patient young man and young woman, piling effort upon effort, they put new knowledge and feeling into themselves again, and they were able to return to society splendidly. In fact, they even became able to do things like transfer on the subway or send a special-delivery letter at the post office. And they were even able to regain 75 percent or 85 percent of their ability to fall In love.

In that way, the young man became thirty-two, the young woman became thirty. Time went by surprisingly fast

And one fine April morning, in order to have breakfast coffee, the young man was headed from west to east on a Harajuku back street, and in order to buy a special-delivery stamp the young woman was headed from east to west on the same street. In the middle of the block the couple passed. A weak light from their lost memories shone out for one instant in their hearts.

She is the 100 percent woman for me.

He is the 100 percent man for me.

However, the light of their memories was too weak, and their words didn't rise as they had fourteen years ago. The couple passed without words, and they disappeared like that completely into the crowd.

Isn't that a sad story?

That's what I should have tried to tell her.

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On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning

by Haruki Murakami
translated by Jay Rubin

One beautiful April morning, on a narrow side street in Tokyo's fashionable Harujuku neighborhood, I walked past the 100% perfect girl.

Tell you the truth, she's not that good-looking. She doesn't stand out in any way. Her clothes are nothing special. The back of her hair is still bent out of shape from sleep. She isn't young, either - must be near thirty, not even close to a "girl," properly speaking. But still, I know from fifty yards away: She's the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there's a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.

Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of girl - one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you're drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I'll catch myself staring at the girl at the next table to mine because I like the shape of her nose.

But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can't recall the shape of hers - or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It's weird.

"Yesterday on the street I passed the 100% girl," I tell someone.

"Yeah?" he says. "Good-looking?"

"Not really."

"Your favorite type, then?"

"I don't know. I can't seem to remember anything about her - the shape of her eyes or the size of her breasts."

"Strange."

"Yeah. Strange."

"So anyhow," he says, already bored, "what did you do? Talk to her? Follow her?"

"Nah. Just passed her on the street."

She's walking east to west, and I west to east. It's a really nice April morning.

Wish I could talk to her. Half an hour would be plenty: just ask her about herself, tell her about myself, and - what I'd really like to do - explain to her the complexities of fate that have led to our passing each other on a side street in Harajuku on a beautiful April morning in 1981. This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock build when peace filled the world.

After talking, we'd have lunch somewhere, maybe see a Woody Allen movie, stop by a hotel bar for cocktails. With any kind of luck, we might end up in bed.

Potentiality knocks on the door of my heart.

Now the distance between us has narrowed to fifteen yards.

How can I approach her? What should I say?

"Good morning, miss. Do you think you could spare half an hour for a little conversation?"

Ridiculous. I'd sound like an insurance salesman.

"Pardon me, but would you happen to know if there is an all-night cleaners in the neighborhood?"

No, this is just as ridiculous. I'm not carrying any laundry, for one thing. Who's going to buy a line like that?

Maybe the simple truth would do. "Good morning. You are the 100% perfect girl for me."

No, she wouldn't believe it. Or even if she did, she might not want to talk to me. Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you're not the 100% boy for me. It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I'd probably go to pieces. I'd never recover from the shock. I'm thirty-two, and that's what growing older is all about.

We pass in front of a flower shop. A small, warm air mass touches my skin. The asphalt is damp, and I catch the scent of roses. I can't bring myself to speak to her. She wears a white sweater, and in her right hand she holds a crisp white envelope lacking only a stamp. So: She's written somebody a letter, maybe spent the whole night writing, to judge from the sleepy look in her eyes. The envelope could contain every secret she's ever had.

I take a few more strides and turn: She's lost in the crowd.

Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said to her. It would have been a long speech, though, far too long for me to have delivered it properly. The ideas I come up with are never very practical.

Oh, well. It would have started "Once upon a time" and ended "A sad story, don't you think?"

Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was eighteen and the girl sixteen. He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others. But they believed with their whole hearts that somewhere in the world there lived the 100% perfect boy and the 100% perfect girl for them. Yes, they believed in a miracle. And that miracle actually happened.

One day the two came upon each other on the corner of a street.

"This is amazing," he said. "I've been looking for you all my life. You may not believe this, but you're the 100% perfect girl for me."

"And you," she said to him, "are the 100% perfect boy for me, exactly as I'd pictured you in every detail. It's like a dream."

They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It's a miracle, a cosmic miracle.

As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one's dreams to come true so easily?

And so, when there came a momentary lull in their conversation, the boy said to the girl, "Let's test ourselves - just once. If we really are each other's 100% perfect lovers, then sometime, somewhere, we will meet again without fail. And when that happens, and we know that we are the 100% perfect ones, we'll marry then and there. What do you think?"

"Yes," she said, "that is exactly what we should do."

And so they parted, she to the east, and he to the west.

The test they had agreed upon, however, was utterly unnecessary. They should never have undertaken it, because they really and truly were each other's 100% perfect lovers, and it was a miracle that they had ever met. But it was impossible for them to know this, young as they were. The cold, indifferent waves of fate proceeded to toss them unmercifully.

One winter, both the boy and the girl came down with the season's terrible inluenza, and after drifting for weeks between life and death they lost all memory of their earlier years. When they awoke, their heads were as empty as the young D. H. Lawrence's piggy bank.

They were two bright, determined young people, however, and through their unremitting efforts they were able to acquire once again the knowledge and feeling that qualified them to return as full-fledged members of society. Heaven be praised, they became truly upstanding citizens who knew how to transfer from one subway line to another, who were fully capable of sending a special-delivery letter at the post office. Indeed, they even experienced love again, sometimes as much as 75% or even 85% love.

Time passed with shocking swiftness, and soon the boy was thirty-two, the girl thirty.

One beautiful April morning, in search of a cup of coffee to start the day, the boy was walking from west to east, while the girl, intending to send a special-delivery letter, was walking from east to west, but along the same narrow street in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. They passed each other in the very center of the street. The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in their chest. And they knew:

She is the 100% perfect girl for me.

He is the 100% perfect boy for me.

But the glow of their memories was far too weak, and their thoughts no longer had the clarity of fouteen years earlier. Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd.
Forever.

A sad story, don't you think?

Yes, that's it, that is what I should have said to her.


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Sleepy

by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Christopher Allison

I started to fall asleep while I was eating the soup. The spoon fell from my hand and made a fairly loud clatter when it hit the rim of the dish. Several people looked in my direction. In the seat next to me, my girlfriend cleared her throat lightly. Trying to cover up, I opened the palm of my right hand, examining it closely and then turning it over to look at the back. After all, I didnft want anyone to know that I had dozed off in the middle of the soup.

After looking at my hand for fifteen seconds or so, I took a deep breath and returned to my corn potage. The back of my head was empty and numb. It felt like Ifd been hit from behind with a small baseball bat. A white, egg-shaped gas cloud hovered languidly about a foot above my soup bowl, and whispered seductively to me eItfs ok, donft fight it.Sleep...f It had been there for a while.

The outline of that white gas cloud was sometimes faint, sometimes clear. As if to confirm any minute hangs that may have been taking place, my eyelids were slowly but surely growing heavier. Naturally, I shook my head a couple of times, closed my eyes tightly, and then opened them wide, trying to dispel that gas cloud. But try as I might, I couldnft get rid of it. The whole time, the gas cloud hovered above the table. So very tired.

In order to banish the apparition, I tried to spell gcorn potageh silently in my head as I brought the spoon to my lips.

C-O-R-N-P-O-T-A-G-E-S-O-U-P

It was too easy, and had no effect.

gCan you give me a word that really tough to spell?h I asked my girlfriend. Shefs a middle school English teacher.

gMississippi,h she said in a low voice that no one else could hear.

M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I, I spelled in my head. 4 Sfs, 4 Ifs, 2 Pfs. Strange word.

gAnother?h

gShut up and eat,h she said.

gIfm so tired,h I said.

gI understand,h she said gbut please try to stay awake for me. Everybodyfswatching.h

I probably shouldnft have accepted the wedding invitation. It was strange enough having a guy sitting at the table with all the bridefs friends, but she wasnft even really a friend of mine. I clearly should have declined. If I had, I could have been at home at this very moment, sound asleep in bed.

gYorkshire terrier,h my girlfriend said suddenly. It took a second before I realized we were back on pelling.

gY-O-R-K-S-H-I-R-E-T-E-R-R-I-E-R,h I said out loud this time. Once upon a time I was pretty good at spelling tests.

gYou got it. Now please try to stay awake for the last hour. After that you can sleep all you want.h

After I finished the soup, I yawned three times in succession. Dozens of waiters appeared all at once to take up the soup dishes, and then brought out the salad and the bread. The bread felt like it had traveled quite a long, hard road to get to me.

We were blessed with seemingly endless boring speeches. Life, the weather, stuff like that. I started to fall asleep again. My girlfriend kicked me in the shin with the toe of her pumps.

gI know itfs totally rude, but this is the tiredest Ifve ever been in my entire life.h

gWhy didnft you sleep better last night?h

gI couldnft. I kept thinking about all kinds of random stuff.h

gWell keep thinking. Anyway, donft fall asleep. This is my friendfs wedding.h

gShefs not my friend,h I said.

She returned her bread to her plate and glared at me silently. I gave up and started to eat my oyster gratin. The oysters tasted as if they were some sort of ancient life form. As I was eating the oysters, I found myself instantly transformed into a magnificent dragon, soaring high above primeval forests, gazing down coolly at the barren landscape below.

On the ground, a docile-looking middle aged piano teacher was recounting memories of the bride as an elementary school student. She was the sort of child who, when she didnft understand something, would ask endless questions. Compared to other children, she wasnft particularly gifted in anything but this, but nobody put more heart into their playing.

Hmmph, I thought.

gI guess you probably think that shefs a pretty boring girl,h my girlfriend said. gBut really, shefs an excellent person.h

gHmmph.h

Her spoon stopped in mid-air and she glowered at me. gItfs true. I guess you donft believe me.h

gI believe you,h I said. gBut Ifll believe you more after Ifve woken up from a long, deep sleep.h

gTo tell the truth, shefs a little boring. But being boring isnft such an awful crime, is it?h

I shook my head. gItfs not a crime.h

gIsnft it way better than looking at the world askew like you?h

gI donft look at the world askew,h I protested. gHere I am, press-ganged into going to the wedding of a girl I hardly know just to fill out the number of guests. Only because shefs your friend. I donft even like weddings. In fact, I totally dislike them. Hundreds of people eating miserable oysters in unison.h

My girlfriend returned her spoon to the top of her plate without hearing a word that I said, and wiped her mouth with the white napkin in her lap. Somebody started singing a song, and a number of camera flashes went off.

gIfm just really tired,h I muttered. I felt like Ifd been left behind in an unfamiliar town without a suitcase. A plate with a steak on it was set down in front of me, and of course that white gas cloud still floated languidly above it. gJust look at these nice white sheets,h the white gas cloud carried on. gCrisp clean sheets that have just returned from the cleaners. Donft you see? You should crawl into those sheets. Theyfll be a little cool at first, but theyfll warm up. And they smell like sunshine.h

My girlfriend touched the back of my hand with her tiny hand, and I got faint whiff of her perfume. Her fine, straight hair brushed my cheek. My eyes popped open.

gItfs almost over, so just hold out a little while longer. Please,h she whispered in my ear. The shape of her chest stood out conspicuously and filled out her white silk one-piece.

I took my fork and knife in hand and slowly cut the meat as if I was drawing a line with a T-square. The table was growing boisterous, everyone chatting amiably at everyone else, and the sound of fork hitting plate was lost in the din. It felt like I was riding the subway at rush hour.

gTo tell the truth, I always get really tired when I go to weddings,h I confessed. gItfs the same thing every time.h

gIndeed.h

gIfm not lying. Itfs the absolute truth. I have no idea why, but Ifve never been to a single wedding where I didnft wind up dozing off.h

She took a sip of her wine with a confounded expression on her face, and ate several fries.

gI wonder if itfs some kind of complex.h

gIfve never really thought about it.h

gItfs definitely a complex.h

gSpeaking of which, I always have this dream where Ifm breaking window glass with a polar bear,h I joked. gBut itfs actually the penguins fault. The penguin forces me and the polar bear to eat soramame. And they are incredibly large, green soramame.

gShut up,h she hissed. I shut up.

gBut I really do get tired every time I go to a wedding. One time I knocked over a bottle of beer, and another time I dropped my knife and fork on the floor three times.h

gThatfs annoying,h she said, separating the meat from the fat with her steak knife. gMaybe you actually want to get married.h

gSo I doze off at other peoplefs weddings?h

gAs revenge.h

gRevenge because of some deep latent urge to get married?h

gExactly.h

gThen why is it that people doze off on the train? Some latent urge to be a coal miner?h

My girlfriend didnft respond to this. Giving up on my steak halfway through, I pulled a cigarette out of my shirt pocket and lit it.

gIn a word,h she said.

gYou want to be a child forever.h

We ate our blackberry sherbet silently, and then drank our espressos.

gStill sleepy?h

gJust a little,h I replied.

gDo you want my coffee?h

gThanks.h

I drank two cups of coffee, smoked two cigarettes, and yawned for the 36th time. After I finished yawning and raised my head, the white gas cloud that had hovered over the table had vanished.

Same as always.

The gas cloud disappeared just as the cake boxes were being distributed to the tables. My apparition had blown off to some other place.

A complex?

gDo you want to go swimming?h I asked my girlfriend.

gNow?h

gItfs only mid-afternoon.h

gSure, but what will we do about swimming suits?

gWe can buy them at the hotel shop.h


Taking up our cake boxes, we walked down the corridor to the hotel shop. It being Sunday afternoon, the lobby was crawling with wedding guests and family members.

gBy the way, does eMississippif really have four Sfs?h

gI have no idea,h my girlfriend replied. I could smell the lovely perfume on her neck.

(Originally published in Japanese in A Fine Day for Kangarooing, Kodansha, 1986)

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The Vampire Cabbie

by MURAKAMI Haruki
Translated by Kiki


Sometimes bad things and bad luck pile up. But that is just a generalization. However, if bad things keep happening to the same person, if they keep piling up, then that isnft a generalization anymore.It has become personal. In that case thinking in terms of a generalization doesnft help because one wants sympathy. Consider all of these things that happened to me today: I missed the woman I was waiting for. I lost a button on my jacket. I met somebody on the train that I didnft want to meet.I felt the first twinge of a toothache. And now itfs raining and Ifm trapped in a cab, stuck in traffic because of an accident. If anybody says these are just general things then Ifll going to belt him. Donft you agree?

So that is why getting along with others is so difficult. Sometimes I imagine life as a welcome mat, spending all my time just lying at the door in the entranceway. But probably in the doormat world one can generalize too. Doormats have their own problems too, I suppose, their own ups and downs.What are we to do? Maybe it doesnft really matter.

Anyway I was riding in a taxi, feeling trapped and stuck. A fall rain was beating on the roof of the cab. I could hear the periodic click of the meter. The pounding of the rain on the roof of the cab pierced my brain like a machine gun.

Complicating matters was that I just quit smoking three days ago. I tried to pass the time but nothing came to mind. So I started to ponder the proper sequence for undressing a woman: First the glasses, and then the wristwatch. Next the bracelet with its soft metallic sound. After that. ..

gExcuse me,h asked the taxi driver, diverting my attention from the first button of the blouse. gDo you think that vampires really exist?h

gVampiresh? I repeated, dumbfounded.I glanced at the driver in the rearview mirror. He looked back at me in the rearview mirror.

gBy vampires you mean creatures that suck blood . . .g

gYeah.Do you think that they exist?h

gNot vampires in the movies or flying bats, but the real thing?h

gOf course, of course,h he answered. The cab crept forward a couple of feet.

gI donft know.hI told him. gI have no idea.h

gThatfs not an answer. Do you believe or donft you? Just give me an answer.h

gI donft believe in vampires.h

gSo you donft believe that vampires exist, right?h

gI donft believe in vampires.h I reached into my pocket and pulled out a cigarette and popped it into my mouth.I left it unlit.

-gWhat about ghosts?Do you believe in ghosts?h

gI have a feeling that ghosts exist.h

gI didnft ask about your feeling, I asked whether you think they exist. Just give me a yes or a no.h

gYes,h I blurted out, gI believe in ghosts.h

gHowever you donft believe in vampires.h

gNo, I donft.h

gWell, what in the world is the difference between ghosts and vampires?h

gGhosts are the antithesis of the physical world,h I mumbled. Thatfs just nonsense I thought to myself.But spouting such nonsense is one of my strengths.

gHmm.h

gBut vampires, they are a corruption of our physical existence. They change what it means to be physical.h

gOk, if I accept that ghosts are the antithesis of the world, then how can I buy your notion that vampires corrupt that same existence? I can buy your antithetical argument, but Ifm not sure about the corruption part.h

gHmm, thatfs a good question. And after all it does open up an endless can of worms.h@@

The cab driver smiled at me. gYoufre pretty smart, you know that.h

gI donft know about that.I graduated from college seven years ago.h The driver continued to inch the cab forward into traffic. He put a thin cigarette into his mouth and lit it, looking at the cars in front of us. A hint of mint floated through the cab.

gBut if vampires really exist, then what?h

gThat would be something to worry about, wouldnft it?h

gDo you think thatfs enough?h

gNo, probably not.h

gYoufre right. Yet consider faith. Itfs really sublime. It can move mountains, you know. If you believe in a mountain it exists. If you donft, then it doesnft.h

For some reason that reminded me of an old Donovan song.

gIs that right?h

gThatfs right.h

I took a deep sigh. The unlit cigarette remained in my mouth. gSay, do you believe in vampires?h

gYes, I do.h

gWhy?h

gWhy? I just do.h

gCan you prove it?h

gTherefs no connection between faith and evidence.h

gIf you say so.hI returned to the buttons on the womanfs blouse:one, two, threec.

gBut I can prove it,h the cabbie said.

gReally?h

gReally.h

gHow?h

gBecause Ifm a vampire.h

We were quiet for a while. The cab barely moved more than fifteen feet. The rain continued to beat on the roof. The meter showed more than 1500 yen.

gSay, could I borrow your lighter?h

gSure, no problem.h

I lit my cigarette with his white bic and fed my lungs with nicotine for the first time in three days.

gWefve really been stuck here for a long time, havenft we?h

gThatfs for sure,h I answered.gSpeaking of vampiresch

gYeah.h

gAre you really a vampire?h

gYes I am. Thatfs not something Ifd lie about, is it?h

gI guess not. How long have you been a vampire?h

gMore than ten years now. Back to about the time of the Munich Olympics, I think.h

g I remember them.Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut. And werenft some Israelis killed?h

gYeah, I think so.

gDo you mind if I ask another question?h

gFire away.h

gWhy are you driving a cab?h

gWell I donft want to be just another stereotyped vampire who wears a cape and rides in a carriage, or one of those vampires living in a castle. Thatfs bullshit.Ifm just like you. We arenft really all that different. I pay taxes. My hanko-stamp is registered with the city just like yours. I go to discos and play pachinko. Do you think thatfs strange?h

gNo, not really.But we arenft really the same, are we?h

gWhatfs the matter, donft you believe me?h

gOf course I believe you,h I said quickly. gIf you believe in a mountain then it exists.h

gOk then.h

gSo sometimes you drink blood.h

gOf course, Ifm a vampire after all.h

gSay, does some blood taste better than others?h

gYes, of course.For example, your blood is no good because you smoke too much.h

gBut I did quit for a little while, but I suppose that doesnft really matter.h

gSpeaking of drinking blood, I have to admit that I prefer the blood of women.I really do.h@

gThat makes sense.By the way, which actresses do you think have delicious blood?h

gWell, Ifd love to sink my teeth into Kayoko Kishimoto. And Kimie Shingyojifs blood looks really delicious too. But I donft have any interest in Kaori Momoi. Shefs too independent for me.h

gItfs good to drink blood?h

gYeah, for me.h


We separated about fifteen minutes later. I entered my apartment, turned on the light and grabbed a beer from the refrigerator. After that I called the woman that I had missed earlier in the afternoon. I was calling simply because we had missed each other earlier in the day.

gSay, for the time being, it might be a good idea not to ride in any black-lacquered cabs with downtown plates. Ok?h

gWhy not?h

gBecause the cabbie is a vampire.h

gReally?h

gReally.h

gShould I be worried?h

gOf course.h

gSo I shouldnft take any black-lacquered cabs with downtown plates, right?h

gYeah.h

gThank you.h

gYoufre welcome.h

gGood night.h

gYou too.h

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Her Town, Her Sheep

by MURAKAMI Haruki
Translated by Kiki


The first snow of the year has started to fall on the streets of Sapporo in northern Japan.It began as rain and then it changed to snow. It didnft take long before it had changed back to rain. However on the streets of Sapporo snow really isnft that romantic. Itfs about as welcome as an unpopular relative.It is Friday October 23.

When I left Tokyo on a 747 from Narita airport, I was wearing only a T-shirt.It started to snow before I had finished listening to my 90-minute tape on my walkman.

gThat sounds about par for the course,h my friend said to me. gWe generally get the first snowfall of the year about now, and then it turns cold.h

gIt gets really cold, doesnft it?h

gNo kidding.It gets really, really, cold.h

We grew up in a small quiet neighborhood in Kobe in western Japan.Our houses were separated by about 50 meters.We attended both junior and senior high school together. We also went on school trips and double dates with each other.Once we got so drunk that we rolled out of the cab when its doors popped open.After graduating from high school we attended different colleges: I went to Tokyo while he moved north to Hokkaido.I married one of my classmates from Tokyo, and my friend married a classmate of his from the city of Otaru in Hokkaido.Thatfs just the way life works out. We were scattered like seeds in the wind.

If he had attended college in Tokyo and if I had gone to college in Hokkaido, our lives might have turned out completely different.Perhaps I might have worked for a travel agency, gallivanting all over the globe.He may have become a writer in Tokyo. But fate led me to write novels while his path took him to a travel agency. And yet everyday the sun continues to shine.

My friend has a six year old son, Hokuto, and he always carries three pictures of his son in his wallet: Hokuto playing with sheep at the zoo; Hokuto wearing dress clothes for the autumn childrenfs Shichigosan Festival; Hokuto riding a rocket at the playground.I looked at each picture three times, one after another, before returning them to him.I picked up my beer and grabbed some icy gruibeh, a Hokkaido delicacy.

gBy the way, how is P doing?h He asked me.@

gPretty good,h I answered.gJust the other day I bumped into him on the street. He got divorced and is now living with a young woman.h

gWhat about Q?h

gHefs working for an ad agency, writing some just terrible copy.h

gThat doesnft surprise me..h

Etc. Etc.

We paid for the check and left the restaurant.It had started to rain again.

gSay, have you returned to Kobe recently?h I asked.

gNope,h shaking his head.gItfs just too far away.How about you?h

gMe neither. I donft really have much desire to go back.h@

gYeah.h

gI imagine the neighborhood has really changed over the years.h

We walked around the streets of Sapporo for only ten more minutes, quickly running out of things to talk about.I returned to my hotel and he went back to his small apartment.

gDonft be a stranger. Take care of your self.h

gYou too.h

Suddenly the thud of a converter made me realize that tomorrow we will again be separated by over 500 kilometers. In a few days we will again be walking on different streets.We will return to our respective boring routines.We will continue the aimless uphill struggle as members of the rat race.


Back in my hotel room I turned on the TV and started to watch a local public service-program.Climbing onto bed with without taking my shoes off, I attacked my smoked salmon sandwich and beer from room-service, absent-mindedly gazing at the screen.

A young woman wearing a dark blue dress was standing alone in the middle of the screen.The camera focused on her like a patient carnivore.It was transfixed on her image.The camera angle didnft advance or retreat.I felt like I was watching a Goddard movie.

gI work in the publicity section of the R Town local government,h the woman said.She spoke with a slight local accent and her voice cracked a bit, maybe she was a little nervous. gR Town is small, with a population of only about 7500 people.Nobody famous has ever come from our little town, so I donft think any of you have ever heard of it.h

Thatfs too bad I thought.

gOur main industries are agriculture and dairy farming.Rice used to be our townfs primary industry.But recent governmental subsidy policies have forced a radical shift toward barley, wheat and vegetables for the suburbs.On the outskirts of town there are pastures with about two hundred head of cattle, a hundred horses as well as a hundred sheep.At the moment the breeding of livestock continues to increase.Over the next three years we anticipate further increases in livestock production.g

I wouldnft really describe the woman as beautiful.She was about twenty, wearing metal-framed glasses. She smiled like a broken refrigerator. Yet I thought she was wonderful. This Goddardesque camera technique captured her best feature.And it continued to emphasize that feature, keeping her in the best possible light.If any of us could spend ten minutes in front of that camera, maybe we too could look so wonderful.Thatfs how I saw it.

gIn the middle of the 19th century gold dust was discovered in the R river near our little town.So we enjoyed a slight ggold-dust boomh.But soon the gold dust was exhausted, leaving behind the scars of innumerable shacks and paths on the mountain. Itfs really quite sad.h

I popped the last bite of my smoked salmon sandwich into my mouth and washed it down with the last of my beer.

gThe towncumm cthe population of the town peaked at around ten thousand a few years ago. However recently the number of families who have left farming has increased. Another problem is that our young people have begun to escape to the suburbs.More than half of my classmates have already moved away.But those who have decided to remain are doing their best for our town.h

She continued to stare into the camera as though it were a mirror that might foretell the future. She seemed to be staring directly at me. Taking another beer from the refrigerator, I pulled the tab and took a big drink.

The womanfs town.

I didnft have much trouble imagining her small town:A tiny train station where a train stops only eight times a day.A small space heater in the stationfs waiting room.A small sterile circular area for buses to pick up people.A guide map of the town on which half of the letters are nearly illegible. A bed of marigolds and a row of mountain ash trees.A mangy white dog tired of living.An advertisement for school uniforms and headache remedies.A relatively big but useless main street.A want-ad poster for the Japanese defense forces.A three-story department store selling a variety of miscellaneous stuff. One small travel agency.A farmerfs co-op, a forestry center and an animal husbandry building.The townfs public bath, its solitary gray smokestack sticking up into the sky.Turning left before the main intersection, two blocks down, is the city hall building, where she sits at her desk in the p.r. section.Yes, definitely a small boring town.Half of the year covered with snow.She sits at her desk writing copy:

gWe will soon be distributing medication for disinfecting sheep. If interested, please complete the proper forms and submit them as soon as possible.hBack in my smallSapporo hotel room I suddenly experienced a tangible connection with the womanfs life.I had made contact with her existence.However, something is missing.I feel like I am wearing a borrowed suit that doesnft fit very well. I donft feel comfortable. My feet are bound by rope.I consider cutting the rope with a dull hatchet blade, but if I do so, how will I return?That makes me uneasy.However I have to cut the rope.Maybe I have drunk too much beer.Maybe the snow is causing this sensation. Thatfs all I could think about.I slip back underneath the dark wings of reality. My town, her sheep.

Now she must get her sheep ready to be disinfected by that new drug.Me too, I need to get my sheep ready for winter.I have to gather hay and fill the tanks with kerosene. I should get that window fixed. After all winter is just around the corner. gThatfs my town,h the woman continued on TV.gItfs not so interesting, but itfs my home.If you get a chance, please visit us.Wefll do whatever we can for you.h

And just like that she vanished from my TV screen.I turned it off and finished the rest of my beer.I began to consider visiting her town.Maybe she could help me.But after all I probably would never get around to visiting it.I have already thrown away too many things.Outside it continued to snow.A hundred head of sheep closed their eyes in the darkness.@@

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The Sea Lion Festival

by MURAKAMI Haruki

Translated by Kiki

I am smoking a cigarette after a simple lunch when a sea lion comes to my apartment.I hear a knock, so I answer the door.At my front door there is a sea lion.There isnft really anything special about him.It is just an ordinary sea lion.I mean he isnft wearing sunglasses or a three-piece Brooks Brothers suit.Actually he looks old- fashioned and almost Chinese.

hGood afternoon. Nice to meet you,h says the Sea Lion.gI trust that Ifm not disturbing you.Is this a good time?h

gItfs ok, Ifm not really that busy,h I say, a bit flustered.

Sea lions are relatively harmless animals. There is nothing fierce or threatening about them.It doesnft matter what kind of sea lion you have at your front door, there is really no reason for concern.And this one didnft look any different.

That realization is almost more disturbing.

gIf you could just give me ten minutes, Ifd be really grateful.hOut of habit I glance at my watch.But that is unnecessary.I have time.

gBut it might not even take that long,h the Sea Lion adds, practically reading my thoughts. Without even thinking about it I lead him into my apartment.I even offer him a glass of barley tea.

gYou shouldnft have. You really didnft need to go to such trouble.hHe downs half of the tea in one gulp.Then he takes a cigarette from his jacket pocket and lights it with his lighter. gItfs still really hot, isnft it?h

gThatfs for sure.h

gBut at least the mornings and evenings are not so bad.

gYeah, but it is September after all.h

gHmm.The high school baseball tournament is already finished. And the Giants have all but clinched the pennant.@Nothing much to get worked up about, is there?Summerfs practically finished.h

gI guess youfre right.h

The Sea Lion nods in agreement and looks around my apartment.gForgive me for prying, but do you live here alone?h

gNo, I live with my wife, but shefs away on a trip at the moment.h

gReally? Taking separate vacations sounds like fun.h The Sea Lion gives a knowing slightly cynical laugh.


It was completely my fault, and I take full responsibility.I donft care how drunk one gets at some bar in Shinjuku, one should never offer a business card to the sea lion sitting on the next stool.I think everybody recognizes that. What else can I say but since I am a thoughtful person, I offered it to him.I didnft have any choice.Itfs what I had to do.The sea lion took it.

Misunderstandings cause problems. It isnft that I dislike sea lions.There isnft anything that I hate about them.I admit that Ifd be torn if suddenly one day my sister announces that she wants to marry a sea lion.Assuming they love each other I would not vigorously protest such a marriage.Falling in love with a sea lion might happen.

However giving a business card to a sea lion is a completely different kettle of fish. As you all know sea lions are symbols of the vast ocean.A is the symbol of B, and B is the symbol of C.So C is the symbol for both A and B.Sea lions have established their community on such a pyramid structure.Maybe it contains a high risk of chaos.@At the core of this pyramid is the business card. Thatfs why the sea lion always carries a thick bunch of business cards in his briefcase.For the sea lion those cards represent his place in the community.Itfs the same as those birds that collect beads.


gA few days ago an associate of mine received your business card, I believe.h

gReally?hI pretend to have no idea what he is talking about. gI was pretty drunk so I donft really remember that well.h

gBut my friend was delighted.h

I drink my tea, politely feigning interest.

gI apologize again for dropping in unannounced, but I wanted to take this opportunity to visit you.And since I have this card. . . .h

gYou want something from me?h

gItfs just a little thing.We just need some symbolic assistance, Teacher.h Apparently the animals called sea lions describe humans as gteacher.h

gSymbolic assistance?h

gOh pardon me.h He reaches into his briefcase, takes out a business card, and hands it to me. gThis should help explain matters.h

gSea Lion Festival Executive Committee Chairperson,h I read from the card.

gI trust that you have heard of our organization.h

gWell, I canft really say that I have,h I say.gMaybe Ifve heard something about it.h

gFor us sea lions, our festival is an extremely important event.Itfs full of symbolic import.But this event is also beneficial for the rest of the worldh.

gHmm.h

gAt the moment our existence is pretty marginal.But, at this time ch Suddenly he cuts himself off and stamps his cigarette out in the ashtray.gThe world is comprised of many diverse factors.We sea lions are shouldering the responsibility for the spiritual factor.h

gOh sorry, but really, Ifm just not interested in that kind of talkc.h

gWe are aiming for a renaissance of sea lions. For this to occur there must be a corresponding renaissance all over the world.In the past our festival has been closed to you humans because of our own close-mindedness. But today our message to the world is this: we have fundamentally changed our festival. We hope that our festival can serve as a springboard to achieve such a renaissance. That is our message for the world.h

gI guess I follow what you are saying.h

gUp to now we have approached our festivals as simply festivals. Of course they are beautiful and exciting spectacles.But we sea lions believe that life is preparation for the festival because festivals help us discern the true nature of our sea lion identity.Festivals confirm our identity: our sea lion-ness, if you will.Self-discovery is located in such continuous action.Self-discovery is the culmination of the final action.h

gConfirmation of the what?h

gThe grand deja vu.h

I keep nodding my head even though I have no idea what he is babbling about. Thatfsjust how they talk. They say what is on their minds.I usually just stand back and let them get it out of their system.By the time the Sea Lion finishes it is past 2:30 and I am dead tired.

gThatfs all I have,h the Sea Lion says, calmly finishing his warm tea.hDo you basically understand what I have been talking about?h

gYou are looking for a handout.h

gNo, no, we are seeking spiritual assistance,h the Sea Lion corrects.

I reach into my billfold and remove two one thousand yen bills and place them in front of him.gSorry, this isnft much, but tomorrow I have to pay my insurance and my newspaper subscription is also due.h

gThank you very much.Every little bit helps, as you know. Itfs the thought that counts,h the Sea Lion says, waving off my excuses with his hand.

The Sea Lion leaves behind a thin pamphlet entitled gThe Sea Lion Reporth and a sticker on which gAre sea lions metaphorical?h is printed.Finding the proper location for the sticker is a problem until I remember an illegally parked red Selica in the neighborhood.I place it firmly in the middle of the windshield.It looks like one of those really adhesive stickers so he might have some trouble removing it.

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Mirror

by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Christopher Allison

Ok, so I' ve been listening to everybody's stories from the beginning, and it seems to me that there are a couple of basic patterns for this kind of thing. The first one is, here is the world of the living, over there is the world of the dead, and it's a story about crossing between the two. Like ghosts, and that type of thing. And then there's the type where phenomena or abilities exist that surpass everyday three-dimensional experience. E.S.P., premonitions, and the like. If you were to divide them broadly, I think you could separate them into those two groups.
And if you take what I said even further, I think you'd find that everybody only has experiences of one type or the other. What I mean is, someone who sees ghosts may see ghosts again and again, but he never has premonitions, and someone who has ESP may have premonitions all the time but will never see a ghost. I have no idea why this is, but for whatever reason it seems to happen this way. Or at least I think so.
And of course there are some people who don't fit into either group. Me, for example. I've been alive for 30-some years, and I've never once seen a ghost. Nor have I ever had a vision or a premonition or anything. There was even a time when I was riding an elevator with two of my friends and they both saw a ghost but I didn't see a thing. They saw this woman wearing a grey suit standing next to me, but there wasn't actually any woman in the elevator. Just the three of us. I'm totally serious. And these two friends weren't the type to put one over on me. Sure, that was a totally creepy experience, but all the same it doesn't change the fact that I've never seen a ghost.
But one time, just one time, I think I felt fear in the depths of my soul. It was more than ten years ago now, but I've never told anyone about it. Even talking about it scared me. I had this feeling like, if I talked about it, the same kind of thing might happen again. So I have kept silent all these years. But tonight, listening to everybody tell their scary stories one by one, as the host, I can't very well close up the place without saying anything at the end. So I've decided to talk.
No, please, you don't have to clap. It's really not that big a deal.
Like I said before, I've never seen a ghost and I don't have any special powers. You may not think that my story is as scary as I do, and perhaps you'll think, like, so what? And if that's the case, that's fine. But anyway, this is my story.

I left high school at the end of the sixties, during the period of civil turmoil when it seemed like whole system was breaking down. For my part, I was swept up in that wave as well, refusing to go on to college, and spending several years wandering around Japan doing manual labor. I thought that was the right way to lead a life. Yeah, I sure did a lot of different stuff. And some of it was dangerous. I was young and foolish. But when I think about it now, it was a fun lifestyle. If I had my life to live over again, I'd probably do the same thing. I'm that kind of person.
In the fall of my second year of wandering, I spent about two months as a night watchman at a middle school. This middle school in a small town in Niigata Prefecture. I had spent the summer doing really tough work, so I wanted to relax a little bit. And being a night watchman sounded kind of fun. I could sleep all day in the janitor's room, and at night I only had to walk around and check all of the buildings twice. Apart from that, I could listen to records in the music room or read books in the library or shoot baskets alone in the gym or whatever. Being all alone at night in a middle school wasn't too bad. No, it wasn't bad at all. When you're 18 or 19, you don't know anything to be afraid of.
Since none of you have probably ever spent any time as a night watchman at a middle school, I'll give you a quick run down of the procedure. I had to make rounds once at 9:00 and again at 3:00. That was fixed. The schoolhouse was a relatively new three storey concrete structure, with 18 or 20 classrooms. It wasn't that big a school. Then there was the music room, the laboratory, the home-ec room, the art room, and also the staff room and the principal's office. Apart from the main building, there was also the cafeteria and the pool and the gym and the auditorium. That was pretty much the extent of what I had to cover.
There were about twenty checkpoints that I had to mark off one by one on a form with a ballpoint pen as I made my rounds. Staff Room--check, Laboratory--check, like that. Of course I could have just kept sleeping in the janitor's room and written check, check, check on the paper. But I'm not quite that lazy. Which is to say that it didn't take much time, and anyway if someone had broken in they could have attacked me in my sleep.
So at 9:00 and 3:00, I'd take up a large flashlight and a kendo sword and make my rounds of the school. Flashlight in my left hand, kendo sword in my right. When I was a high school student I had practiced kendo, so I felt pretty confident in my ability to defend myself. If a novice had attacked me with a samurai sword, I wouldn't have been particularly scared. But that was then. If it happened to me now, I'd run away pronto.
It was a windy October night. It wasn't very cold. To tell you the truth, it felt kind of humid. When night fell, the mosquitoes became unbearable, and I remember lighting a couple of insect coils. The wind was howling all night. It sounded like the gate to the pool was being destroyed as it banged around in the wind. I thought to myself that I should fix it, but it was dark so I left it. It kept banging all night long.
When I made the rounds at 9:00, nothing was happening. I marked all twenty checkpoints 'OK.' The doors were firmly locked and everything was in its proper place. There was nothing out of the ordinary. I went back to the janitor's room, set the clock to wake me up at 3:00, and fell sound asleep.
When the alarm bell went off at 3:00, I awoke with the strangest feeling. I can't really describe it, but it was a very strange sensation. To make it plain, I didn't want to get up. I felt like my body was resisting my will to wake up. I usually get up right away, so it was peculiar. But with difficulty I eventually got up to make my rounds. The pool gate was still banging around the same as earlier. But I had the feeling that the sound was somehow different than before. It was probably just my imagination, but I felt uncomfortable in my skin. This sucks, I thought to myself. I don't want to make the rounds. But of course I pulled myself together and went out. If I faked it even once, I'd be doing it all the time. I took up my flashlight and my kendo sword and left the janitor's room.
It was a miserable night. The wind was getting stronger and stronger, and the air was growing increasingly damp. My skin crawled and I couldn't concentrate on anything. First, I checked on the gym and the auditorium and the pool. All three were OK. The pool gate kept banging open and shut like a lunatic bobbing and shaking his head senselessly. It was totally irregular: yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, no...like that. I know that's a really odd way to put it, but at the time that's what it felt like.
Nothing seemed to be amiss in the main school building. Same as ever. I hurriedly made my rounds and marked off all the checkpoints on the form 'OK.' There didn't seem to be anything wrong, after all. It was with some relief that I decided to return to the janitor's room. The last checkpoint was the boiler room, next to the cafeteria, on the far east side of the school. Unfortunately, the janitor's room was on the far west side of the school. As a result, I had to walk the whole length of the first floor corridor on my way back to the janitor's room. Naturally, it was pitch black. When the moon was out, a little light penetrated into the hallway, but if not, you couldn't see a thing. I'd make my way back shining the flashlight right in front of me. Since there was a typhoon close by that night, naturally the moon wasn't out. Every once in a while there would be a flash of lightning, and then darkness once again.
That night I walked more quickly than normal down the hallway. The rubber soles of my basketball shoes made a slapping sound against the linoleum. The hallway was covered in green linoleum. I can see it even now.
About halfway down the length of the hallway was the entranceway of the school, and when I passed it I suddenly had this feeling like 'What the...?!?.' It was like I could make out a figure in the darkness. Just out of the corner of my eye. I fixed my grip on the sword, and turned in that direction. In a heartbeat, I trained the beam of my flashlight there. It was a spot on the wall next to the shoe rack.
And there I was. That is to say--it was a mirror. There was nothing there except my own image reflecting back at me. The mirror must have just been installed, and hadn't been there the day before. That's why it had caught me off guard. I felt immensely relieved and totally stupid all at once. You dumbshit, I thought to myself. Still standing in front of the mirror, I set the flashlight down, fished a cigarette out of my pocket, and lit it. I had a smoke staring at myself in the mirror. A tiny bit of light from a street lamp came in through the window, and that light reached the mirror. The clanging sound of the pool gate could be heard coming from behind me.
After I'd taken about three drags off my cigarette, I abruptly noticed something strange. The image in the mirror wasn't me. The outward appearance was me. There was no mistaking that. But it was absolutely not me. I knew it instinctively. No, wait, that's not right. Of course it was me. But it was a me outside of me. It was me in a form that shouldn't have been me.
I'm not saying this very well.
But at that time, the only thing I understood for certain was that the person staring back at me hated me from the very depths of his soul. It was a hatred like a dark iceberg, a hatred that no one could cure. That was the only thing I could understand. I stood there for a moment dumbfounded, unable to move. The cigarette dropped from between my fingers to the floor. We stared at each other identically. My body wouldn't move, as if it had been bound there.
Eventually, the other guy moved his hand. The fingers of his left hand slowly touched his cheek and then, little by little, wandered across his face. I realized I was doing the same thing. It was as if I was the image in the mirror. What I mean is, he seemed to be in control of me.
Then, summoning all my strength, I screamed as loud as I could. I yelled, like, 'Garhhh!' With that, the bonds loosened a little bit. I hurled the kendo sword with all my might in the direction of the mirror. I heard the sound of the mirror shattering. I took off running back to my room without looking back, locked the door, and climbed into bed. The sound of the pool gate continued until morning.
Yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, no...and on and on.

I guess you probably know how the story ends: of course, there was never any mirror there. Nothing of the sort. No mirror had ever been installed in the entranceway next to the shoe rack.
All of which is to say, it wasn't a ghost that I saw. All I saw was myself. I've never been able to forget the fear that I felt that night.
Perhaps you've noticed that there's not a single mirror in this house. I don't even use a mirror for shaving, although it takes a lot longer that way. It's a true story.
(Translated by Christopher Allison)

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The Girl from Ipanema, 1963/1982

by Haruki Murakami
translated by brian wilson

{It begins with the lyrics of the Getz/Gilberto song,}

Tall and tan and young and lovely.... {and continues like this.}

In 1963 the girl from Ipanema watched the sea in this way. And now, the girl from Ipanema in 1982 watches the sea in the same way. She has not got older since then. She is confined in an image and floating in the sea of time. If she had become older, she would now be almost forty years old.

Of course it's possible that she is not so old, but she might not be so slender and so tanned as she used to be. She might have three children. Sunburn is not good for the skin. She might still be called a beauty, but not so youthful as she was twenty years ago.
But in the song she does not get old. She is always an eighteen-years-old cool and kind Ipanema girl on the velvety sound of Stan Getz' tenor saxophone. As soon as I put on the record on the turntable and drop the stylus on the record, she appears.

Every time I listen to this song, I remember the corridor of my high school building. The dark and a little damp high school corridor. The ceiling is high and when I walk on the concrete floor, the sound of my steps echoed. There are some windows on the northside wall, but little sunlight comes in because the building is just at the foot of a steep hill. It is always still in the corridor, at least in my memory.

Why I remember the corridor every time I hear The Girl From Ipanema, I don't know. There's no cause and effect. What kind of pebble did the Girl from Ipanema 1963 dropped into my well of consciousness?

And the corridor of the highschool building reminds me of a salad consisting of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, greenpepper, asparagus, onion, and pink Thousand Island dressing. Of course there's no salad shop at the end of the corridor. At the end of the corridor is a door and outside is an ordinary 25 meter swimming pool.

Why the corridor reminds me of the salad, I don't know. There's no cause and effect here, either. The two connected in my mind by some accident or other. Just like an unlucky lady who sat on a freshly painted bench.

The salad reminds me of a girl I used to know. There's a clear connection here. The girl was always eating salad.

Have you (crunch, crunch) finished (crunch, crunch) the paper for the English class?

(Crunch, crunch) not yet, (crunch, crunch) a little (crunch, crunch) left undone.

I myself liked vegetables and every time we met, we ate salad like this. She was a woman of very strong mind, and believed that everything would go well if she ate various vegetables. If people kept on eating vegetables, the world would be peaceful, beautiful, healthy and full of love. Something like

Strawberry Statement.

Once upon a time, a philosopher wrote there was a time when matters and memories were divided by a metaphysical depth.

The Girl from Ipanema in 1963/1982 is walking on a metapysically hot sandbeach without making any sound. It is a very long beach and slow white waves are washing it. No breeze. Nothing on the horizon. I can smell the sea. The hot sun scorches me.

I lie under the beach umbrella and pull out a canned beer from the coolbox and open it. She is still walking. On her tall and tan body are the bikinis in bright color.

Hi, I pluck up my courage and say to her. Hi, she answers.

How about a beer? I offer.

She hesitates a little. But after walking a lot, she must be tired and thirsty. Good, she says. And we drink beer together under the beach umbrella.

By the way, I say I'm sure I saw you in 1963 in the same place at the same time.

It was a long time ago, wasn't it? she says tilting her head a little.

Yes, it was, I say Must have been a long time ago.

She drinks a half of the beer in one go and looks at the opening. The opening is an ordinary opening of a beer can. But when she looks at it, it seems to me it is something significant. It looks as if it might contain the whole world.

We might have met. In 1963? Umm 1963. Yes, we might have met each other.

You haven't get older since then, haven't you?

That's because I'm a metaphysical girl.

I nodded. Since you were always watching the sea, I'm sure you didn't notice me.

That might have been the case. she said and smiled. A beautiful smile with a little hint of sadness. I might have been always watching the sea. I might have been watching nothing but the sea.

I opened a can of beer for myself, and then offered one to her. But she shook her head and said she couldn't drink so much beer. Thank you. But I have to keep on walking from now on just as I have been, she said.

Don't you feel hot at the sole of your feet walking on the sand for such a long time?

No, because my soles are made very metaphysically. Wanna look at them?

Yes.

She stretched her slender legs out and showed the soles to me. Yes, they were really metaphysical soles. I softly touched them. They are neither hot nor cold. When I touched her soles, I heard faint sound of waves. Even the sound of waves are very metaphysical.

I kept my eyes closed for a while and opened them and took a sip of cold beer. The sun didn't move at all. Even the time stood still. It's as if I was drawn into a mirror.

Every time I think of you, I always remember the corridors of my high school building. Why do you think I do? I ventured to say.

The essence of humanity lies in its being a compound, she says The human science should not try to explore the object but the subject that is involved in the body,

Hummm. I say.

Anyway, go on living. Live. Live. That's all. It is important that you should go on living. That is all I can say. I'm only a girl with metaphysical soles.

And the Girl From Ipanema in 1963/1982 brushed the sand off her thighs and stood up. Thanks for the beer. she says. And I say, You are welcome.

Only occasionally, I see her in subway trains. I know her and she knows me. Every time we meet, she gives me a thank-you-for-the beer smile. We haven't exchanged words since then, but I feel that we are connected somewhere at our hearts. I don't know where we are connected, but I'm sure the knot is somewhere in a strange distant world.

I imagine the knot. The knot lies silently in the dark corridor where no one walks along. When I am thinking in this way, many dear old memories gradually return to my mind. There must be a knot that connects me and myself. I'm sure someday I will meet myself in the strange distant world. And I wish it was a warm place. And if there was some cold beer, I would have nothing to complain. In the world I am myself and myself is me. The subject is the object and the object is the subject. There is no opening of any kind between the two. They are closely stuck together. Such a strange place must exist somewhere in the world.

The Girl from Ipanema in 1963/1982 is still walking on the hot sand beach. Until the last one of the records is worn out, she keeps on walking without any break.

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A Window

by MURAKAMI Haruki
translated by Kiki

Dear-----


As winter daily softens her grip I can sense spring in the warmth of the sunlight.@Thank you again for yesterdayfs interesting letter.

I enjoyed the part of your essay about spicing your hamburger steaks with nutmeg. It seemed real to me. I can clearly hear the gchop-choph of your kitchen knife as it attacks the leeks. I can feel the warmth of your kitchen. I can smell it too. 

Reading your letter really made me hungry for a hamburger steak. So I went directly to a restaurant to have one. At this restaurant they had eight different kinds of hamburger steaks. Believe it or not! A Texas style and a California style, a Hawaiian flavor, and a Japanese style. The Texas steak was just big, nothing else. That was all there was to it. The Hawaiian steak came garnished with a slice of pineapple.  I donft remember what the California style was. The Japanese steak was served with grated radish. This restaurant struck me as rather trendy. All of the waitresses were really cute, and they were also wearing short skirts.   

However I didnft go to that restaurant to check out its interior or to stare at the waitresses. No, I went there to taste their basic hamburger steak. Thatfs what I told the waitress.  But she apologized and said that they didnft have just a plain steak. Of course I canft blame the waitress. After all she didnft decide the menu. But she also wasnft wearing such a short skirt that somebody could drop his silverware to look up at her panties. So I ordered a Hawaiian style hamburger steak. While I was eating it the waitress suggested that I just remove the pineapple. The world is such a strange place. All I really wanted was just a simple, ordinary hamburger steak.@By the way how do you make your hamburger steaks? After reading your letter, someday I really want to try one of your steaks.

I liked what you wrote about the automatic ticket machine, and I thought it showed some improvement.@The point of view was interesting. But I couldnft really see the scenery or the situation.  Maybe you are trying too hard. After all you canft change the world with a sentence. 

Considering all of your writing Ifd give it about a 70. And I do think it is improving. Donft rush it, be patient. Good luck. Ifm looking forward to your next letter.@By the way, it looks like spring is just around the corner, doesnft it?

P.S. Thanks for that box of assorted cookies. They were really good. However since personal fraternization outside of our letters is prohibited, please be more careful in the future and donft send me any more packages. Thank you nonetheless.

P.S.S. In your letter before last I thought you explained your husbandfs nervous problem very well.


And that was my job for a year when I was 22. I signed a contract with a small company called gPen Society.h  I donft know why it was called that. I got 2000 yen for each letter I wrote, and soon I was writing more than 30 letters every month. gYou too will write letters that will echo in the bottom of your friendfs hearth--that was our companyfs motto.h After paying a monthly fee and a sign-up fee, the clients write four letters every month. The gPen Masterh?that is what we were called?proceeds to edit the letters, offering feedback, guidance, and impressions.

Female gPen Mastersh write to men, and male gPen Mastersh write to women. All of my clients were older than me. About 15 were between the ages of 40 to 53, but most of my clients were between 25 and 35. I had a rough first month of writing letters. Why did all of my clients write better than me? Because they were used to writing letters. Up to that point in my life I really hadnft taken letter writing seriously.

However my reputation grew. My clients told me this. After three months my writing power had nearly improved to a gleadershiph role. It felt strange to get credit for helping these women. They trusted me and my guidance.@ At that time I didnft really understand, but later I realized that these women were all lonely. It didnft matter who wrote to them. Nor did it matter what they wrote in their letters.@Maybe we all need to be needed. Maybe we all need to be forgiven. Maybe we all need somebody to share such feelings with.

Anyway thatfs how I spent the winter and spring when I was 21 going on 22. Surrounded by this harem of letters like a sea lion with a bad leg.

I answered many different kinds of letters. I answered boring letters. I answered pleasing letters and sad letters. I worked there for only one year but it felt like three.   When I gave my notice my clients expressed their regrets. To be honest I had become tired of the job. It didnft have any point. But I had my own misgivings about quitting.  I realized that I might never have a second chance to meet so many honest people. 


Speaking of hamburger steaks, I finally did eat one cooked by that woman (from my first letter). She was 32, married but no kids. Her husband worked for the fifth most famous commercial firm in the world. When I wrote to tell her that Ifd be quitting at the end of the month, she invited me to her apartment for lunch. She promised to make me a basic hamburger steak. Even though such contact was against the companyfs fraternization policy I accepted readily.@I just couldnft suppress my curiosity. Her apartment was near the Otachu train line. It was a neat, tidy, apartment, quite appropriate for a couple with no children. The furniture and the interior, even her sweater, they werenft so expensive but they looked nice. She looked younger than I expected. She was surprised at how young I looked. Company policy also prohibited us from disclosing our ages.

Even though at first we were caught off guard, soon we loosened up and relaxed. It felt like we were two people who had become friends after just missing the same train and waiting together for the next one. We ate our steak and drank our coffee. The atmosphere was good. You could see the train from her 3rd story window. That day the weather was great. A lot of futons were being aired out on verandas. You could hear the whap-whap-whap of housewives beating them with bamboo brooms. The sound seemed to be coming from the bottom of a dry well, yet you couldnft really tell how far away it was. The hamburger steak tasted great. It was spiced just right, and it was really juicy too. It was also covered with the just the right amount of gravy. After our coffee while listening to Burt Bacharach we started to tell our life stories. I didnft really have any life to talk about, so she did most of the talking. She told me that when she was a student she wanted to be a writer. She was a fan of the books of Franciose Sagan. Her story gDo you like Brahms?h was one of her favorites. It wasnft that I didnft like Sagan. Shefs ok. People say shefs boring but I donft really agree.

gBut I canft write anything,h she complained.

gItfs never too late to start,h I suggested.

gBut you are the one who told me that I canft write very well,h she said smiling.

I blushed. I used to blush often when I was 22.

gBut I think therefs a lot of truth in your writing.h She didnft say anything, but a wisp of a smile slipped across her face. gYour letter made me want to try one of your hamburger steaks.h

gYou were probably just hungry,h she said, smiling.

Maybe so I thought.

A train passed under the window, with its dry clack-clack sound.

I suddenly realized that it was 5:00. I had to go. I apologized to her and started to leave. gYour husband will be home soon, so I suppose you have to start dinner.h  

gHe always comes home very late,h she said, resting her head in her hands. gHe generally doesnft get home until after midnight.h@@

gHe sounds busy.h

gI guess so.h She hesitated for a moment. gAs I mentioned in my letters we donft get along that well.h I didnft have an answer for that. 

gBut thatfs ok,h she said softly. I thought it was ok too. gThanks again for writing me all those letters. I really enjoyed them.h

gMe too,h I said. gAnd thank you for the hamburger steak.h


Ten years later whenever I take the Otakyu line close to her apartment I think of her hamburger steak.  I donft remember which window is hers. But I wonder if shefs still alone, in that apartment, listening to Burt Bacharach.

Do you think I should have slept with her?

That is the point of this story. I donft know either.

As the years go by there are more and more things that I donft understand.

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Thirty-Two-Year-Old Day Tripper
Haruki Murakami
translated by brian wilson

I'm thirty-two and she's eighteen...
To think of that makes me disgusted.
I'm still thirty-two and she's already eighteen... This sounds OK.
We are only friends, no more or no less. I have my wife, and she has six boy friends. She dates with each of the six boyfriends on weekdays, and dates with me on one of the Sundays every month. On the other Sundays she watches TV at her home.
When watching TV, she is lovely like a walrus.
She was born in 1963, the year when President Kennedy was shot to death. It was also the year when I had a first date with a girl. Cliff Richard's "Summer Holiday" was popular then, wasn't it?
It really doesn't matter. She was born in such a year.
I didn't expect that I would have a date with a girl born in such a year. Even now it feels like a wonder. It's as if I were on the other side of the moon and smoking a cigarette leaning on a rock.
Young girls are boring, the men around me unanimously say. What young girls talk about is on a different plane from theirs and their responses are hackneyed, they say. In spite of that they often go out with young girls. Have they found young girls who are not boring? No, of course not. In short, the fact that they are boring is attractive to them. They enjoy from the bottom of their hearts a complicated game in which a bucketful of boredom is poured on them while they never sprinkle even a drop of boredom on the girls. It seems so at least to me.
The fact is that nine out of ten young girls are boring but of course they are not aware of it. They are young, pretty, and full of curiosity. They believe that they are far from boring. Oh, God.
I'm not blaming young girls nor I hate them. On the contrary, I love them. They remind me of my young boring days. This is, how should I say, wonderful. We were beautifully hackneyed and boring when we were young.
"Hey, have you ever wished you would be eighteen again?" she asks.
"No, I haven't, and no amount of money would make me want to be eighteen again." I answered. It seemed that she didn't understand what I said.
"No? Really?"
"Of course, not."
"Why?"
"I like what I am now."
Lost in thought with her chin on her hand, she stirred her coffee with a spoon.
"I can't believe what you say."
"You'd better believe it."
"It's nice to be young, isn't it?"
"I think so, too."
"Why do you prefer what you are now, then?"
"Once is enough."
"I haven't been fed up with being young yet."
"After all, you are still eighteen."
"I see," she says. And I think to myself that she is already eighteen.
I called a waitress and ordered another beer. It was raining outside and I could see the Port of Yokohama through the window.
"Hey, what were you thinking about when you were eighteen?"
"Sleeping with girls."
"Other things?"
"No."
She chuckled and had a sip of her coffee.
"And you made it?" "Sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn't. More times I didn't succeed, I'm afraid."
"How many girls have you slept with?"
"I don't count them."
"Really?"
"I don't want to count them."
"If I were a man, I would surely count. Must be fun."
I sometimes think it might be fun to be eighteen again, but when I begin to think what it would be the first thing to do if I could be eighteen again, nothing comes to my mind. I can't think of anything I would to do if I could be eighteen again.
Wouldn't it be nice if I were eighteen and could have a date with a thity-two-year-old attractive woman?
"Have you ever thought of being eighteen again?" I ask.
"Well," she smiles and pretends to be thinking and says "No. Perhaps."
"Really?"
"No."
"I don't understand," I say "Everybody says it's nice to be young."
"Yes, it is."
"Then why don't you want to be young again?"
"You will see when you get older."
But I'm thirty-two and I have a surplus layer of fat on my stomach if I don't run for a week. I can't go back to be eighteen. This is a matter of course.
After I finish running in the morning I drink a can of vegetable juice and lie down on a sofa and play a record of "Day Tripper" by the Beatles.
"Daaaa-ay Tripper."
When I listen to the song, I feel as if I were sitting on a seat of a train. Electric poles, stations, tunnels, bridges, bulls, horses, chimneys and junk pass by. However far I travel, the sceney outside is the same and not attractive any more. I used to enjoy it, though. The person sitting next to me sometimes changes. I happened to sit next to an eighteen-year-old girl then. I was on the window seat and she was on the aisle seat.
"Shall we change seats?"
"Thanks," she says "You are kind."
It's not that I'm kind. I think to myself smiling wryly. It's only that I'm more accustomed to being bored than you.

Thirty-two-year old
Day Tripper
Tired of counting electric poles

This is one of my miscreated haiku.

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gThe Rise and Fall of the Tongariyakih

by

Murakami Haruki

Translated by Michael Ward

            In the corner of the morning paper that I was absentmindedly gazing through there was an ad printed for the Great Assembly for New Tongariyaki. I did not know very well what a Tongariyaki was, however, the cookie was famous. I am a sophisticated critic when it comes to sweets and in addition I was free, so I decided to attend the Great Assembly.

            The Great Assembly was held in the ballroom of a hotel where tea and cookies were served. The cookies were of course Tongariyaki. I picked up one to see what it was like, but the taste was not particularly admirable. The quality of the sweetness was sticky and the outer part of the cookie was too dry. I did not think that the young people of today would like to eat this type of cookie.

However, the people who came to the assembly were around my age or younger than me. I was given a nametag with the number 952 printed on it, and because around one hundred people arrived after me, there were substantially over one thousand people who came. It was quite a big deal.

The individual sitting next to me was a girl around twenty years old wearing a strong pair of glasses. She was not a beauty, but she was a girl with a comparatively good personality.

gHey, have you ever eaten Tongariyaki before now?h I asked the young woman.

gNaturally,h she said, gthey are famous too.h

As I was saying gBut the taste is not so gooch she kicked me on the leg. The people around me were throwing glances at me. It was a hateful atmosphere. However, I looked at them with innocent eyes like Winnie the Pooh and let the comment pass.

After a little time had passed, she whispered gyou are a bit of an idiot arenft you?h into my ear. gAfter an individual came here and slandered the Tongariyaki like that, he would be caught by the Tongariyaki Crows and never return alive.h

gTongariyaki Crows!h I shouted surprised. gTongariyaki Crowsch

gShhh!h She said. The explanation assembly had begun.

The President of Tongariyaki Confectionaries began talking about the history of the cookies. It was the kind of story with unknown authenticity about someone who did something to create the prototypes of Tongariyaki during the Heian period. Also, a poem concerning Tongariyaki was printed in an anthology called the Kokinkaka. Because it was strange I thought everyone would laugh, but everyone around me wore serious faces while listening intently. Also, after all, because the Tongariyaki Crows were frightening, so I decided not to laugh.

The presidentfs explanation continued for a whole hour. It was dreadfully boring. In short, to sum it up in one sentence, the only things that he liked to talk about were the traditions of the Tongariyaki and with that he finished his speech.

Then, the managing director went on to perform the New Product Recruitment Exposition. The explanation stated that the famous Tongariyaki through its long history throughout the nation had to be dialectically developed by incorporating new blood to adapt to the ages. Fame like that is good, but after all in short, because the flavor of Tongariyaki was old fashioned, sales were dropping and this was why the company wanted the ideas of young people. Still, it would have been good if he had spoken in a straightforward manner.

As I was leaving, I received the application form and instructions. According to it I was to make the cookies a month later and take them to the Tongariyaki base. The prize money was two million yen. If I had two million yen I would be able to move into a new apartment and marry my sweetheart. This is why I decided to make the new Tongariyaki.

As I stated before I am a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to cookies, so I could make them in any manner I desired: bean jam, cream, or pie crust. Itfs easy to produce some new and simple Tongariyaki in a monthfs time. At the deadline I made two dozen Tongariyaki  and brought them to the reception desk of Tongariyaki Confectionaries.

gThey look delicious,h the young female receptionist said.

gThey are delicious,h I said.

 

At the end of the month I received a phone call from Tongariyaki Confectionaries asking me to please go to their office. I headed out to Tongariyaki Confectionaries with my necktie on and there I talked to the managing director in his reception office.

gThe new Tongariyaki that you submitted have received considerably good criticism within the company,h the managing director said. gAh, your popularity is good amongst the younger workers.h

gThanks,h I said.

g On the other hand, the older executives within the company say that these are not true Tongariyaki. This situation is that there are arguments both pro and con for this new product.h

gAh,h I said. I really did not understand clearly what he was trying to say.

gIt was decided at a conference of senior executives that, for this case, the respected opinion of the Tongari Crows will be asked for.

gTongari Crows!h I said. gI hope that you that you can explain to me what sort of creatures the Tongari Crows are.h

The managing director looked at me with a look of incomprehension on his face. gYou mean to say that you entered this contest without even knowing about the Tongari Crows?h

gSorry, I am kind of out of it.h

 gHow is it possible for you not to know about the Tongari Crows,h the managing director said shaking his head, g ... But well, it's okay. Please follow behind me.h

I followed the man out of the room, walked down a hall, rode an elevator up to the sixth floor, and then walked down another hall. At the end of the hall there was a big iron door. After pushing a buzzer firmly, the figure of a guard came out. His partner confirmed the managing director, and he opened the door with its key. Their cautiousness was quite severe.

gIn here are the Tongari Crows,h the managing director said. gThis particular family of Tongariyaki crows has lived for many years eating nothing but Tongariyaki.h

Additional explanation was unnecessary. Inside the room there were upwards of one hundred crows. The Tongari crows were sitting alongside each other on a number of horizontal bars in a building that was around 500 meters tall and seemed to be an empty warehouse. The Tongari crows looked like ordinary crows except that they were very big. The big ones were around one meter long; however, the small ones were around sixty centimeters. Since I had a good look at them, I noticed they had no eyes. In the areas where their eyes were supposed to be, there were only clumps of white fat adhering to the surface. To make matters worse their bodies were filled to near bursting point.

We entered the room and I heard the noise of the crows yelling something together while noisily flapping their wings. At first the thunderous roar kept me from being able to hear anything, but soon my ears became used to the noise and I understood that they seemed to be shouting gTongariyaki! Tongariyaki!h They were disgusting animals.

After the managing director reached into a box and tossed a handful of Tongariyaki on the floor, one hundred Tongari Crows sprung upon them at once. Desiring Tongariyaki, the Tongari crows snapped at each otherfs legs and clawed at each otherfs eyes. Well, that was the reason why they had lost their eyes.

Next the managing director scattered cookies across the floor that looked like Tongariyaki from another box. gYou see? These are the rejected entries from the Tongariyaki contest.h

The crows flocked together as they did before, but after they realized they were not Tongariyaki, they spit them out. They all simultaneously shouted in angry, loud voices

gTongariyaki!h

gTongariyaki!h

gTongariyaki!h

gTongariyaki!h

Their voices echoed off the ceiling to the extent that the insides of my ears hurt.

gLook! They will only eat the genuine Tongariyaki!h The managing director shouted with pride. They will not hold the false ones in their mouths!h

gTongariyaki!h

gTongariyaki!h

gTongariyaki!h

gWell, letfs see what will happen when we scatter your new Tongariyaki across the floor.h If they eat them, you will be chosen. If they do not, you lose.h

I wondered if that would be okay, because I had a dreadfully bad premonition. Generally they are mistaken in deciding the results by letting the crows eat. However, the managing director was unmindful of my expectations and did business by scattering my submitted new Tongariyaki on the floor. The crows still flocked around the cookies, and then the chaos began. Some crows were satisfied and ate the cookies and others spit them out and shouted gTongariyaki!h Next the crows that were unable to get the cookies became vehement and stabbed at the windpipes of the crows that had eaten the cookies. A crow jumped at the cookies spit out by the others, but a massive crow shouting gTongariyakih caught him and tore open his stomach. The circumstances led to a free for all fight. Blood called for blood and hate called for hate. They are only cookies, but for the crows they are everything. The only question for their existence was choosing whether or not certain cookies were Tongariyaki or not.

gPlease, look at that!h I said to the managing director. gBecause you scattered that many cookies, the stimulation was too strong for them.h

And then I left the room alone, went down the elevator, and out the door. I regret having to give up the prize money of two million yen, but I would by no means want to spend my life in the companionship of those long lived crows.

I will only make the things that I like to eat and eat them myself. Let the crows peck each other to death!

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The Year of Spaghetti

By MURAKAMI Haruki

Translated by Kiki

1971—that was the year of spaghetti.  In 1971 I cooked spaghetti in order to live, and I lived in order to cook spaghetti.  I was proud of the billows of steam rising from the aluminum pot as well as the gurgling of the tomato sauce as it simmered—they were my raison d`etre.

From a supermarket specializing in imported food, I bought a pot big enough for a German shepherd to take a bath in, an egg timer, and some seasonings and spices with strange names.  I bought a cookbook that specializes in spaghetti as well as a dozen tomatoes. Garlic, leeks, salad oil---all of these aromas joined together and leapt through the air of my tiny one-room apartment, absorbed into its every nook and cranny.  It smelled like an ancient Roman sewer.

Something special happened in the era of spaghetti in the year 1971.

Generally I boiled spaghetti by myself, and I ate it by myself.  I didnft really need any company.  I liked eating alone.  I felt that spaghetti should be eaten alone.  I canft really explain.

I always ate my spaghetti with a salad and black tea: three scoops of tea leaves in a pot and a tossed lettuce and cucumber salad.  Then I leisurely read the newspaper, enjoying my spaghetti by myself.  From Sunday to Saturday, everyday I ate spaghetti.  When Saturday is finished, the cycle of spaghetti begins again.

I usually ate my spaghetti alone, but sometimes I am struck by the feeling that somebody might knock on my door and enter my apartment. This sensation is especially strong on rainy days. It is different from inviting somebody to my apartment.  Sometimes I sense an acquaintance, sometimes a stranger.  It might be a girl with really thin legs from high school that I had one date with.  Other times it is a younger version of myself, while sometimes it is William Holden with Jennifer Jones on his arm.  William Holden?

However, nobody actually ever comes to my apartment. They are all lurking in front of my door, but nobody ever knocks.

Outside it is raining.


I cooked spaghetti all through the spring, summer and into the fall like a person bent on revenge, like a jilted lover burning a bundle of old love letters. She tosses them one by one into the flames of the fireplace; I slide bundles of spaghetti into the boiling water.

I put the trampled shadow into the bowl and then I mold it into the shape of a German shepherd. Then I drop it into the boiling water and I add some salt.  Ifm standing in front of the aluminum pot, a pair of long chopsticks in my hand, waiting for the mournful epingf of the egg timer.  My bundles of spaghetti are sly and cunning—thatfs why I canft take my eyes off of them. At the moment they are sliding down the edge of the pot, disappearing into the inky darkness of night.  Like a brightly colored butterfly being swallowed up by the eternity of the tropical jungle. Evening is calmly waiting for the arrival of the bundles of spaghetti.


spaghetti polonaise

basil spaghetti

spaghetti and garlic

spaghetti carbonara,

spaghetti with clam and tomato sauce

spaghetti and beef tongue.

Sometimes from the refrigerator I randomly grabbed leftovers to make spaghetti that tragically never receives a name.  Nameless.  The bundles of spaghetti being born in the steam in the year 1971, flowing like a river to the sea until it disappears.  I mourned for them.  All of my bundles of spaghetti in the year of 1971.


When the phone rings at 3:20, I am lying on my tatami mat and gazing at the ceiling.  I am lying in the middle of a pool of warm winter sunlight, perfect for such mindless times.  Like a dead fly in the sunlight of December 1971.

At first I donft recognize the sound of the ringing of the phone as the sound of the ringing of the phone.  I am just spacing out.  The ring is like some unrecognizable fragment of memory.  As the sound piles up, gradually in my mind it takes the shape of a phone ring. Finally, the air of my apartment hums with the vibration of the ringing of a phone: 100%, absolutely, without a doubt the ringing of the phone.  Still lying down and half asleep, I reach out and pick up the phone. 

The caller is a woman I can barely remember and who has never made much of an impression on me.  She is so slight that she evaporates every day by 4:30. The former girlfriend of an acquaintance of mine.  But I hardly knew him.  If we met somewhere we did little more than exchange greetings. The same strange reason that brought them together a few years ago also broke them up a couple months back.

gWhy donft you tell me where he is?h she asks.

I look at the receiver, following it with my eyes.  The cord is firmly connected to the receiver.  Not bored so much as just verifying the connection.

gWhy are you asking me?h

gBecause nobody else will tell me,h she answers, her voice cold.  gWhere is he?h

gI have no idea,h I tell her.  Even though I answer her I canft hear my own voice.  It doesnft sound like my own voice.

She doesnft say anything. She remains quiet.

The receiver becomes a pillar of ice.  Everything around me seems to change to ice.  It is like being in a J.G. Ballard science fiction story.

gI really donft know where he is,h I tell her.  gHe just disappeared without saying a word.h

On the other end of the line she laughs. gI donft think hefs smart enough to simply disappear.h

It is just like she says.  I canft agree with her more.  He really isnft that smart. But thatfs not the reason I donft reveal his whereabouts to her. If he learns that I told her, then hefll probably call me.  I will get embroiled in their lives again.  I was still fed up from my involvement in their past.  In a deep hole in my backyard I had already buried the whole incident and my memory of it.  I didnft want to dig it up again.  Nobody could dig it up again. 

gIfm sorry,h I say.

gDonft you like me?h she blurts.  I donft know how to answer that question.  I actually donft have much of an impression of her.

gIfm sorry,h I repeat.  gAt the moment Ifm making spaghetti.h

gWhat was that?h

gIfm making spaghetti.h  I put some imaginary water into a pot and light the stove with an imaginary match.

gSo?h she says. 

I put some imaginary spaghetti into the boiling water, it slides down and I add some imaginary salt.  I set the imaginary egg timer for fifteen minutes. 

gI canft take my eyes off of it right now. If I do, the spaghetti might stick.h

She doesnft say anything. 

gIfm at the tricky part of the cooking.h In my hand the temperature of the receiver continues to drop.

gSo, could you call me back later?h  I add hurriedly.

gYoufre in the middle of making spaghetti, huh?h she says.

gYeah, thatfs right.h

gAre you eating by yourself?h

gYep.h

She sighs.  gI really do have a problem.h

gIfm really sorry that I canft help you.h

gItfs about money, you know.h

gReally?h

gI want him to return it.h

gOf course.h

gSpaghetti huh?h

gYeah.h

She forces a weak laugh through the phone cord.  gSee you later.h

gGoodbye,h I say.

After hanging up, I notice that the pool of sunlight on the floor had moved a few centimeters.@I return to my spot on the floor in the middle of the sunlight.  I look up at the ceiling.


It is sad to consider all of those imaginary bundles of spaghetti that will never be cooked. Maybe I should have told her, I regret that now.  At any rate he wasnft such an important person. A mediocre abstract painter who put on airs, a man who did nothing but talk big.  She probably really did need that money back. I wonder what she is doing these days? I suppose at 4:30 in the afternoon her shadow has already vanished. 


Durham Samolina

Thatfs a kind of golden wheat grown on the plains of Italy.  How would the Italians have reacted if they had known that they were exporting loneliness instead of spaghetti in the year of spaghetti 1971?  I bet they would have been astonished.

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Dabchick

By MURAKAMI Haruki

Translated by Jay Rubin

When I reached the bottom of a narrow concrete stairway, I found myself in a corridor that stretched on forever straight ahead?a long corridor with ceilings so high the passageway felt more like a dried-up drainage canal than a corridor. Lacking decoration of any kind, it was an authentic corridor that was all corridor and nothing but corridor. The lighting was feeble and uneven, as if the light itself had finally reached its destination after a series of terrible mishaps. It had to pass through a layer of thick black dust that caked the fluorescent tubes installed at irregular intervals along the ceiling. And of those tubes, one in three was burnt out. I could hardly see my hand before my eyes. The place was silent. The only sound in the gloomy hallway was the flat slapping of my tennis shoes against the concrete floor.

I kept walking: two hundred yards, three hundred yards, maybe half a mile, not thinking, just walking, no time, no distance, no sense that I was moving forward in any way. But I must have been. All of a sudden I was standing in a T-shaped intersection.

A T-shaped intersection?

I fished a crumpled postcard from my jacket pocket and let my eyes wander over its message: gWalk straight down the corridor. Where it intersects at right angles with another corridor, you will find a door.h I searched the wall in front of me, but there was no sign of a door, no sign there had ever been a door, no indication there would ever be a door installed in this wall. It was a plain, simple concrete wall with no distinguishing features other than those shared by other concrete walls. No metaphysical doors, no symbolic doors, no metaphorical doors, no nothing. I ran my palm over long stretches of the wall, but it was just a wall, smooth and blank.

There must be some mistake, I was sure.

Leaning against the wall, I smoked a cigarette. Now what? Was I to forge onward or go back?

Not that the answer was ever seriously in doubt. I had no choice. I had to go on. I was sick of being poor. Sick of monthly payments, of alimony, of my cramped apartment, of the cockroaches in the tub, of the rush-hour subway, sick of everything. Now, at last, I had found a decent job. The work would be easy, the pay astoundingly good. Bonuses twice a year. Long summer vacations. I wasn't about to give up now?just because I was having trouble finding one lousy door. If I couldn't find the door here, I would simply go on until I did find it.

I pulled a ten-yen coin from my pocket and flipped it. Heads. I took the corridor to the right.

The passageway turned twice to the right, once to the left, down ten steps, and turned right again. The air here made me think of coffee jello: it was chilly and strangely thick. I thought about the prospect of a salary, about the refreshing cool of an air-conditioned office. Having a job was a wonderful thing. I quickened my steps and went on down the corridor.

At last there was a door ahead. From this distance, it looked like a ragged, old postage stamp, but the closer I came the more it took on the look of a door?until there could no longer be any doubt.

I cleared my throat and, after a light knock on the door, I took a step back and waited for a response. Fifteen seconds went by. Nothing. Again I knocked, this time a little harder, then stepped back to wait. Again, nothing.

All around me, the air was gradually congealing.

Urged on by my own apprehension, I was taking a step forward to knock for a third time when the door opened soundlessly, naturally, as if a breeze had sprung up to swing it on its hinges, though to be sure, nature had nothing to do with it. The click of a switch came first, and then a man appeared before me.

He was in his middle twenties and perhaps two inches shorter than I. Water dripped from his freshly washed hair, and the only clothing on his body was a maroon bathrobe. His legs were abnormally white, and his feet as tiny as a childfs. His features were as blank as a handwriting practice pad, but his mouth wore a faintly apologetic smile. He was probably not a bad man.

gSorry. You caught me in the bath,h he said, drying his hair with a towel.

gThe bath?h I glanced at my watch in reflex.

gItfs a rule. We have to bathe after lunch.h

gI see.h

gMay I ask the nature of your business?h

I drew the postcard from my jacket pocket and handed it to the man. He took it in his fingertips so as to avoid wetting it and read it over several times.

gI guess Ifm five minutes late,h I said. gSorry.h

He nodded and returned the card to me. gHmmm. Youfll be starting to work here, then?h

gThatfs right.h

gFunny, I havenft heard about any new hires. Ifll have to announce you to my superior. Thatfs my job, you know. All I do is answer the door and announce people to my superior.h

gWell, good. Would you please announce me?h

gOf course. If youfll just tell me the password.h

gThe password?h

gYou didnft know there was a password?h

I shook my head. gNo one told me about a password.h

gThen I canft help you. My superior is very strict about that. I am not to let in anyone who does not know the password.h

This was all news to me. I pulled the postcard from my pocket again and studied it to no avail. It said nothing about a password.

gThey probably forgot to write it,h I said. gThe directions for getting here were a little off, too. If youfll just announce me to your superior, Ifm sure everything will be fine. Ifve been hired to start work here today. Ifm sure your superior knows all about it. If youfll just announce my arrival. . . .h

gThatfs what I need the password for,h he said and began groping for a cigarette only to find that his bathrobe had no pockets. I gave him one of my cigarettes and lit it for him with my lighter.

gThanks, thatfs very nice of you,h he said. gNow, are you sure you canft recall anything that might have been a password?h

I could only shake my head.

gI donft like this picky business any better than you do, but my superior must have his reasons. See what I mean? I donft know what kind of person he is. Ifve never met him. But you know how people like that are?they get these brainstorms. Please donft take it personally.h

gNo, of course not.h

gThe guy before me announced someone he felt sorry for because the person claimed he ejust forgotf the password. He was fired on the spot. And you of all people know how hard it is to find work these days.h

I nodded. gHow about it, then?h I said. gCan you give me a hint? Just a little one.h

Leaning against the door, the man exhaled a cloud of smoke. gSorry. Itfs against the rules.h

gOh, come on. What harm can a little hint do?h

gYeah, but if it ever got out, Ifd be in deep trouble.h

gI wonft tell a soul. You wonft tell a soul. Howfll they ever know?h This was a deadly serious business for me. I wasnft about to give up.

After some indecision, the man bent close to my ear and whispered, gAre you ready for this? All right, now, itfs a simple word and it has something to do with water. It fits in your hand, but you canft eat it.h

Now it was my turn to mull things over.

gWhatfs the first letter?h

gD,h he said.

gDriftwood,h I ventured.

gWrong,h he said. gTwo more.h

gTwo more what?h

gTwo more tries. If you miss those, youfve had it. Ifm sorry, but Ifm risking a lot here, breaking the rules like this. I canft just let you keep on guessing.h

gLook, I really appreciate you giving me a chance like this, but how about a few more hints? Like how many letters in the word.h

He frowned. gNext youfre gonna ask me to tell you the whole damned thing.h

gNo, I would never do that. Never. Just tell me how many letters there are in the word.h

gOK. Eight,h he said with a sigh. gMy father always told me: Give somebody a hand and hefll take an arm.h

gIfm sorry. Really.h

gAnyhow, itfs eight letters.h

gSomething to do with water, it fits in your hand but you canft eat it.h

gThatfs right.h

gIt starts with a D and it has eight letters.h

gRight.h

I concentrated on the riddle. gDabchick,h I said finally.

gNope. Anyway, you can eat a dabchick.h

gYou sure?h

gProbably. It might not taste good,h he added with less than total conviction. gAnd it wouldnft fit in your hand.h

gHave you ever seen a dabchick?h

gNope,h he said. gI donft know anything about birds. Especially water birds. I grew up in the middle of Tokyo. I can tell you all the stations in the Yamanote Line in order, but Ifve never seen a dabchick.h

Neither had I, of course. I didnft even know I knew the word until I heard myself saying it. But gdabchickh was the only eight-letter word I could think of that fit the clues.

gItfs got to be edabchick,fh I insisted. gThe little, palm-sized dabchicks taste so bad you couldnft get a dog to eat one.h

gHey, wait a minute,h he said. gIt doesnft matter what you think; edabchickf is not the password. You can argue all you want, but youfve got the wrong word.h

gBut it fits all the clues?connected with water, fits in your hand, you canft eat it, eight letters. Itfs perfect.h

gTherefs just one thing wrong.h

gWhatfs that?h

gfDabchickf is not the password.h

gWell, then, what is?h

He had to catch himself. gI canft tell you.h

gBecause it doesnft exist,h I declared in the coldest tone I could manage. gThere is no other eight-letter word for a thing connected with water that fits in your hand but you canft eat it.h

gBut there is,h he pleaded, close to tears.

gIs not.h

gIs.h

gYou canft prove it. And edabchickf meets all the criteria.h

gI know, but still, there might be a dog somewhere that likes to eat palm-sized dabchicks.h

gAll right, if youfre so smart, tell me where you can find a dog like that. What kind of dog? I want concrete evidence.h

He moaned and rolled his eyes.

I went on: gI know everything there is to know about dogs, but I have never?ever?seen a dog that likes to eat palm-sized dabchicks.h

gDo they taste that bad?h he whimpered.

gAwful. Just awful. Yech!h

gHave you ever tasted one?h

gNever. Do you expect me to put something so gross in my mouth?h

gWell, no, I guess not.h

gIn any case, I want you to announce me to your superior,h I demanded. gfDabchick.fh

gI give up,h he said, wiping his hair once again with his towel. gIfll give it a try. But Ifm pretty sure it wonft do you any good.h

gThanks,h I said. gI owe you one.h

gBut tell me,h he said. gAre there really such things as palm-sized dabchicks?h

gYes. Without a doubt. They exist somewhere,h I said, though for the life of me I couldnft tell how the word had popped into my head.


THE PALM-SIZED DABCHICK wiped his glasses with a velvet square and let out another sigh. His lower right molar throbbed with pain. Another trip to the dentist? he thought. I canft take it anymore. The world is such a drag: dentists, tax returns, car payments, broken-down air conditionersc. He let his head settle back against the leather-covered armchair, closed his eyes, and thought about death. Death as silent as the ocean bottom, as sweet as a rose in May. The dabchick had been thinking about death a lot these days. In his mind, he saw himself enjoying his eternal rest.

gHere lies the palm-sized dabchick,h said the words engraved on the tombstone.

Just then his intercom buzzed.

He aimed one angry shout at the device: gWhat!h

gSomeone to see you, sir,h came the voice of the doorman. gSays hefs supposed to start work here today. He knows the password.h

The palm-sized dabchick scowled and looked at his watch.

gFifteen minutes late.h

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