Lexington Ghosts

1996, Bungeishunju

Short Stories:

Lexington Ghosts (translated by Christopher Allison)
The Ghost of Lexington (translated by Eric Han)

The Green Monster (translated by Jay Rubin in "The Elephant Vanishes)

The Silence (translated by Alfred Birnbaum in "The Elephant Vanishes)

The Ice Man (translated by Christopher Allison)
Ice Man (translated by Richard L. Peterson in "The New Yorker" on February 10, 2003)

Tony Tanitaki (translated by Jay Rubin in "The New Yorker" on April 15, 2002)

The Seventh Man (translated by Christopher Allison)

Blind Willow, Sleeping Girl
(translated by Philip Gabriel in "Harper's Magazine" of June 2002 issue)
The Blind Willow, and the Sleeping Woman (translated by Eric Han)


Lexington Ghosts

by Haruki Murakami

Translated by Christopher Allison

This is something that actually happened several years ago. I have altered the names on account of certain circumstances, but other than that it's entirely true.

I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for about 2 years. At that time, I got to know this architect--a handsome guy, just past fifty, about half of his hair was white. He wasn't very tall. He enjoyed swimming a lot, swam everyday, and consequently was in very good shape. He played tennis once in a while as well. As for his name--let's call him Casey. He was single, and lived in this old mansion in Lexington, a suburb of Boston, together with an extremely reticent, sallow-faced piano tuner. His name was Jeremy: probably mid-thirties, tall, slender as a willow, hair thinning a little. In addition to being a piano tuner he also played tolerably.

A few of my stories had been translated into English, and then had appeared in a magazine. Casey had read these and sent me a letter through my publisher.

"I'm very interested in your work, and curious what kind of person you are," he wrote. I don't usually meet people who send me fan mail (in my experience, these kinds of meetings are never very fun or interesting), but I thought that meeting this guy Casey would probably be OK. His letter was really interesting, and imbued with a his rich sense of humor. I also had the optimism that comes with living overseas. We lived quite close to each other. Still, all of these circumstances didn't match up to one other, peripheral reason. The single biggest reason I wanted to meet this guy Casey was that he was the owner of a magnificent collection of old jazz records.

"If you searched the whole country over, you probably wouldn't find a single private collection that is so complete. I understand that you like jazz a lot, or are at least interested in it," he wrote. Just so. I am certainly interested in it. After reading his letter, I wanted to see this record collection so badly I couldn't stand it. When I get ensnared by a collection of old jazz records, all my psychological powers of resistance disappear, like a horse bewitched by the scent of some special tree.

Casey's house was in Lexington. That's about 30 minutes by car from where I lived. When I called him, he faxed me a detailed map with directions. One afternoon in April, I got in my green Volkswagen and drove to his house alone. I quickly picked it out. It's was a huge, old three-story house. It had probably been standing there for at least 100 years. Even in Boston's swank residential neighborhoods, where stately mansions stand side-by-side and all have long histories, this splendid house particularly stuck out. It was good enough for a postcard.

The garden was like a vast forest, and blue jays jumped from branch to branch, raising their sharp, merry voices all the while. There was a new BMW parked in the driveway. When I parked the car behind the BMW, a large mastiff who had been sleeping on the welcome mat on the front porch slowly got to his feet and barked dutifully two or three times. His bark seemed to suggest "It's not that I really want to bark, so I'll do it sort of halfway."

Casey came out and shook my hand. He had a firm handshake that seemed to confirm something. While he was shaking my hand, he patted my shoulder gently with his other hand. This was a frequent mannerism of his. "Hi. I'm glad you came. It's really nice to meet you," he said. He was wearing a fashionable white Italian shirt buttoned all the way to the top, a light brown cashmere cardigan, and soft cotton pants. He also had on a pair of small Georgio Armani-style glasses. All very smart.

Casey took me inside, sat me down on a sofa in the living room, and brought out a freshly-made pot of excellent coffee.

Casey wasn't overly forward; he'd had a good upbringing and was well-educated. Having traveled all over the world when he was young, he was a great conversationalist. We got to be good friends, and I went over to his house to hang out about once a month. And he shared the blessing of that splendid record collection with me. When I was there, I was able to listen to incredibly rare and valuable music as much as I liked, which I otherwise never would have heard. Compared to that record collection, the stereo system wasn't so great, but the old vacuum-tube amp produced a warm, nostalgic sound.

Casey used the house's study as his office, and drew up building plans on a big computer there. But he didn't tell me very much about his work. "It's not particularly important," he said with a laugh, as if making an excuse. I have no idea what kind of buildings he designed. He never appeared to be particularly busy. The Casey I knew was always sitting on the sofa in the living room, his wine glass tilted elegantly, reading a book or straining to hear Jeremy's piano. Or perhaps sitting in his garden chair playing with the dog. It's just a feeling I have, but I think that he didn't work that hard.

His deceased father had been a nationally famous psychologist, and had written five or six books, all of which were well on their way to becoming classics. Also a devoted jazz fan, he was a close friend of Prestige Records founder and producer Bob Weinstock, and on account of that his collection of jazz vinyl from the 1940's to the 1960's was, as Casey 's letter had said, astonishingly complete. While it's sheer volume was particularly impressive, one couldn't complain about the outstanding quality of the records either. Almost all the records were first editions and in perfect condition. Neither the jackets nor the disks themselves had the slightest blemish. It was very close to miraculous. Casey took great care with their preservation, and he handled each one as if he were bathing an infant.

Casey had no siblings, and his mother died when he was young. His father had never remarried. Hence, when his father had succumbed to pancreatic cancer 15 years before, he alone had inherited the house and all it's various heirlooms, including the complete record collection. Because Casey respected his father more than anyone, and loved him too, he didn't get rid of a single record, and preserved the whole collection with great care, just as it was. Casey liked to listen to jazz, but he wasn't as ardent a fan as his father. He really preferred classical music, and whenever Seiji Ozawa was conducting the Boston Symphony, he and Jeremy never failed to attend.

After I had known him for about a year, Casey asked me to take care of his house while we was away. Although it happened very rarely, he had to go to London for about a week on business. When Casey went away on trips, Jeremy usually looked after the house, but this time he couldn't. Jeremy's mother, who lived in West Virginia, was in declining health, and a short time before he had gone back home. So Casey called me.  

"Sorry to do this to you, but I couldn't think of anyone else," he said. "And while I say ehouse-sitter,' aside from giving Miles (that was the dog's name) his food twice a day, there's not really anything else to do. You can listen to whatever records you like. And there's plenty of food and drink, so help yourself."

It didn't sound like a bad proposition. I was living alone at that time on account of certain circumstances, and the house next to my apartment in Cambridge was under construction, so there was an unbearable racket everyday. I got some extra clothes, my MacIntosh Powerbook, and a couple of books and went to Casey's house early in the afternoon one Friday. Casey had just finished packing and was about to call a taxi.

Have a good time in London, I said

"Yeah, of course," Casey said smiling. "Enjoy the house and the records. It's not a bad place."

After Casey had gone, I went to the kitchen and fixed a cup of coffee. Then I set up my computer on a table in the music room, which adjoined the living room and, listening to some of the records Casey's father had left behind, I worked for about an hour. It seemed like I should be able to get a lot of work done during the coming week.

The desk, a huge mahogany affair, had drawers on either side. It was from quite an ancient time. It was by far the oldest thing in the room, and beside anything from a different era, like the MacIntosh I had brought with me, it seemed as if it had remained there unmoved for an unimaginably long period of time. After his father had died, Casey hadn't added so much as a postage stamp to the music room--it was as if he regarded it as some holy shrine or reliquary. While the whole house was prone to dust on account of it's age, in the music room it was as if the flow of time had stopped until moments before. It was in perfect order. There wasn't a speck of dust on the shelves, and the desk was polished to sparkling.

Miles came in and lay down at my feet. I patted his head a few times. He was a terribly lonely dog, and couldn't stand to be alone for very long. He'd been trained to sleep on his own bed in the kitchen, but the rest of the time he was always at someone's side, unaffectedly attaching himself to some part of his companion's body.

The living room and the music room were separated by a high door-less doorway. In the living room there was a large brick fireplace, and a very comfortable three-person leather sofa. There were four mismatched arm-chairs, and three coffee tables, also all distinct. A fancy, but now somewhat faded, Persian carpet had been laid on the floor, and from the high ceiling dangled a chandelier of ancient origin. I went in and sat down on the sofa, taking in my surroundings. The clock above the fireplace chopped up the minutes with a tick-tock that sounded like someone smashing a window on tip-toes.

The tall wooden bookshelves against the wall were lined art books and volumes on all sorts of specialties. A couple of oil paintings of some unknown coastline hung on three walls, kind of haphazardly. The general impression created by this scenery was somehow fitting. No human form could be seen in any of these pictures, just lonely sea-scapes. They looked as though, if you brought your ear up close enough, you'd be able to hear the sound of the chill wind and the rough seas. Splendid pieces, all, but not a one that particularly stood out. There wafted from each one the smell of moderate, New England-style, but still quite detached, Old Money.

The record shelf was against one broad wall of the music room, and all of those old records were lined up neatly, in alphabetical order according to the performers' names. Even Casey didn't know exactly how many there were. It's probably around six or seven thousand, he had said. But there are the same number again, packed in cardboard boxes and stored in the attic. "I wouldn't be surprised if the whole place sank into the ground someday on account of the weight of all those old records, like the House of Usher."

I set an old Lee Connitz 10" on the turntable, and as I sat at the desk writing, time passed comfortably and tranquilly. I had a very pleasant sensation, like I had buried myself in a perfectly-fitting mould. As time passed, I felt like I developed a special, carefully-constructed intimacy with this room. The reverberation of the music permeated everything: every nook of the room, every tiny cavity in the walls, right down to the creases in the curtains.

That evening I opened a bottle of Montepulciano that Casey had left specially for me, poured it into a crystal wine glass, and drank several glasses, sitting on the sofa reading a new-release novel I had just bought. Even disregarding Casey's recommendation, the wine was great. I got a wedge of Brie out of the refrigerator and ate about a quarter of it with crackers. All the while, it was quiet as a mouse. Apart from the tick-tock of the aforementioned clock, the only sound that could be heard was the occasional car passing on the street out front. The street closest to the house was just a cul-de-sac, though, so traffic was limited just to people in the neighborhood. When evening came, it dropped off to almost nothing. Coming from Cambridge, with it's noisy student crowds, it felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean. As per my usual, when the clock struck 11 I began to feel a little tired. Putting the book aside, I set my wine glass in the kitchen sink and said goodnight to Miles. The dog curled up on top of his bed with resignation and, after a slight groan, shut his eyes. I turned out the lights and went up to the guest bedroom on the second floor. I changed into my pajamas and was soon fast asleep.

When I woke up, I was in a formless void. I didn't know where I was. For a little while I was senseless, like a wilted vegetable. Like a vegetable that's forgotten and left forgotten in a dark cupboard for a long time. At length I finally remembered that I was house-sitting for Casey. Oh, yeah. I'm in Lexington. I fumbled around for the wristwatch I had left on the pillow. When I pushed the button, the time appeared with a blue glow. It was 1:15.

I quietly raised myself from the bed and turned on a small reading lamp. It took me a minute to find the switch. The lamp was made of polished glass in the shape of a lily, and produced a yellow light. I rubbed my temples strongly with the palms of both hands, heaved a big sigh, and looked around the inside of the brightened room. I inspected the walls, gazed across the carpet, and looked up at the ceiling. Then, like collecting beans that had spilled out on the floor, I gathered up the fragments of my consciousness one-by-one, and got reacquainted with the reality of my body. Gradually, I became aware of something: there was a sound. A low rumble, like waves crashing against the shore--that sound is what had roused me from my deep sleep.

Someone is downstairs.

I tip-toed to the door and held my breath. Soon, I could hear the sound of my own heartbeat. There was no mistaking that there was someone in the house besides me. And it wasn't just one or two people. A sound like music could also be faintly heard. I had no idea why. A cold sweat began to trickle from my armpits. What in the world had gone on while I was asleep?

The first thing that popped into my head was that this was some kind of elaborate practical joke. Casey had only pretended to go to London, but in reality had stayed behind, and had organized a party in the middle of the night just to scare me. No matter how I thought it about it though, I couldn't convince myself that Casey was the type to play such a childish prank.  His sense of humor was more refined, more elegant.

Or perhaps--I thought, as I stood there still leaning on the door--the people down there were acquaintances of Casey's whom I didn't know. They knew that Casey was going out of town (but not that I was house-sitting for him), and had decided to stop by his house in his absence.  At any rate, I was pretty sure that they weren't burglars. When burglars break into someone's house, they usually don't play their music so loud.

I took off my pajamas and picked up my pants. I put on my sneakers and pulled a sweater over my T-shirt. But I was only one person. I wanted something in my hands. Glancing around the room, nothing suitable presented itself. There wasn't a baseball bat or a set of fire tongs. The only things I could see were the bed, the dresser, a small book shelf, and a framed picture.

When I went out into the hall, I could hear the noise more clearly. The sound of cheerful old-time music floated up like steam into the hallway from the bottom of the stairs. The melody was quite familiar, but I couldn't remember the name of the tune.

I could hear voices, too. Since there were a lot of people's voices mixed up together, I couldn't make out what they were talking about. Occasionally there was a laugh. It was a pleasant, airy laugh. It seemed like there was a party going on downstairs, and by the sound of it, it was just getting good. As if coloring the whole scene, the clinking of champagne glasses and wine glasses resounded merrily. There were probably people dancing, too; I could hear what sounded like the rhythmical creaking of leather on the wood floor.

I crept down the hallway to the landing of the staircase. Leaning forward over the banister, I looked down. Light spilled out from the high vertical window in the foyer, filling it with a queer, ghastly light. There were no shadows. The doors that separated the living room from the hall were shut tight. I know that I had left them open when I went to bed. I am absolutely certain of that. There was no alternative but that someone had shut them after I had gone upstairs to bed.

I was completely at a loss about what to do. One possibility was to return to my second-floor bedroom and hide. Lock the door from the inside, crawl into bed and... When I considered the matter calmly, this seemed like the most prudent course of action. And yet, standing at the top of the stairs, listening to the sounds of that cheery music and laughter, it was something of a shock to realize that it seemed to be growing quieter, like ripples on the surface of a pond subsiding. Judging by that atmosphere, I surmised that perhaps these were not an ordinary kind of people.

I took one long, deep breath and descended the stairs to the entrance hall. The rubber soles of my sneakers silently passed from one of those old wooden steps to the next. When I came to the foyer, I immediately turned left and went into the kitchen. Turning on the lights, I opened a drawer and retrieved a heavy meat cleaver. Casey was a cooking enthusiast and had a set of expensive German-made kitchen knives. The finely-polished stainless steel blade gleamed voluptuous and true in my hand.

But when I tried to imagine myself walking into that rollicking party gripping an enormous meat cleaver, I quickly realized that it was a bad idea. I poured myself a glass of water from the tap and returned the meat cleaver to the drawer.


What happened to the dog?

I realized for the first time that Miles was nowhere to be found. He wasn't on his usual pillow on the floor. Where in the world could he have gone? Wasn't it his job to bark or something if someone broke into the house in the middle of the night? Bending over, I felt the depression in the fur-covered pillow where he usually lay. No warmth remained. It seemed he'd gotten out of his bed long before and gone off somewhere.

I left the kitchen, went out into the foyer, and sat down on a small bench there. The music continued without a break and the conversation continued as well. Like waves, they swelled up from time to time, and then quieted down again, but they never stopped altogether. How many people were in there? It seemed like there had to be at least 15. Or maybe it was more like 20. At any rate, it seemed like that big living room was pretty nearly filled.

I thought for a second about whether I should throw open the doors and go in. That was a strange and difficult decision. I was the caretaker of the house after all, and as such it's management was my responsibility. On the other hand, I hadn't been invited .

I strained my ears to catch fragments of the conversation that crept through the cracks in the door, but it was impossible. The conversation blended into one monotonous whole, and I couldn't distinguish any individual words. While I knew that there was a conversation, it was like there was a thick plaster wall in front of me. There was no room for me to enter there. I stuck my hand in my pocket and pulled out a quarter. I twiddled it around in my fingers absently. That silver coin's solidity and reality restored me to my senses. Then something hit me, like a blow on the head from a fluffy mallet:

They were ghosts.

The folks assembled in the living room, listening to music and amiably chatting away weren't real people. The air pressure changed like a phase shift had taken place, and my ears were buzzing. I tried to swallow, but my throat had gone dry and I couldn't. I put the coin back in my pocket and looked around me. My heart began to thump heavily in my chest.

It seemed very odd that I hadn't realized this until now. How totally ridiculous to think that someone would break into the house and have a party. The sound of so many cars parking near the house, and the tramp of so many feet from the front gate to the house would certainly have woken me up. The dog probably would have barked. In short, there was no way that they could have entered the house.

I wanted Miles by my side. I wanted to put my hands around his big neck, smell that smell, feel the warmth of his skin. But the dog wasn't anywhere to be seen. I went and sat back down on the bench in the foyer by myself, as if I were under a spell. Naturally, I was terrified. But it surpassed the fear of any one particular thing. The fear was deep and mysterious like some vast desert.

Taking in a couple of deep breaths, I quietly replenished the air in my lungs. Little by little, my normal senses returned. It was a feeling like many cards were being turned over deep inside my consciousness. 

Then I stood up, and muffling the sound of my footsteps exactly like before, I crept up the stairs. I returned to the bedroom and, without changing my clothes, got into bed.

The music and conversation meandered on. I couldn't sleep well, so I had no choice but to lie there, until almost day-break. Leaving the light on, I leaned against the headboard and stared at the ceiling, trying to hear the sounds of the never-ending party below. Eventually, I managed to fall asleep.

When I woke up the next morning, it was raining. It was a quiet drizzle, whose sole purpose was to soak the earth. The blue jays sang from under the eaves. The clock's hour hand showed a little before nine. The doors between the foyer and the living room were again standing open, as I had left them when I went to bed. The living room was not disordered. The book that I had been reading lay open on the couch. Fine cracker crumbs were still scattered across the top of the coffee table. Just as I had anticipated, there were no traces of the party.

Miles was curled up on the kitchen floor, sound asleep. He got up and I gave him his dog food. Shaking his ears, he ate greedily and with relish, as if nothing had happened.

The bizarre party in the middle of the night took place the first night I stayed at Casey's house. After that, nothing unusual transpired. Lexington's quiet, secretive nights returned without incident. But for some reason, almost every night I was there I'd wake up in the middle of the night. It was always between 1:00 and 2:00. I guess I was just high-strung, staying in someone else's house. Or perhaps I was anxious about a recurrence of that strange party.

When I woke up like this, I'd hold my breath, and strain to hear anything in the darkness. But there was never a sound. Occasionally, I'd hear the sound of leaves rustling in the garden. At those times I'd go downstairs and get a drink of water in the kitchen. Miles was always curled up asleep on the floor, and when he saw me he'd get up happily, wag his tail, and lay his head on my feet.

I'd take the dog with me into the living room, turn on the lights, and carefully look around. I never felt anything there, though. The sofa and the coffee table were always lined up silently in their places. Those cold oil paintings of the New England coast hung on the walls as always. I'd sit down on the couch for 10 or 15 minutes and just kill time. And when I wasn't able to discover any clue as to what had happened, I'd close my eyes and focus on my consciousness. But I couldn't feel anything. I was simply in the suburbs on a quiet and peaceful night.  I'd open the window that looked out on the garden and breathe in the flower-laden spring air. The curtains would flap slightly in the night breeze, and in the woods, owls would hoot.

When Casey returned after a week in London, I decided not to say anything about what had happened that night, for the time being. I can't really explain why. I just had a feeling that it was better that way. Anyway.

"So, how was it? Anything happen while I was gone?" Casey asked me as we stood in the foyer.

"No, nothing special. It was really quiet and I got a lot of work done." That was totally the truth.

"That's great," Casey said with a happy look on his face. Then he pulled a bottle of expensive scotch out of his bag that he'd gotten for me as a souvenir. We shook hands and parted, and I drove the Volkswagen back to my apartment in Cambridge.

After that, I didn't see Casey for about six months. We talked on the phone a few times. Jeremy's mother had died, so that reticent piano tuner had returned to West Virginia permanently. At that time, I was in the final stages of a long novel, so except for matters of utter necessity, I didn't have room to meet anyone or go anywhere. I was spending more than twelve hours a day at my desk working, and I don't think I was ever more that a kilometer away from my house.

The last time I met Casey was at a cafe near the Charles River boathouse. I walked there to meet him and we had a cup of coffee together. I don't know why, but Casey had aged considerably since our last meeting. He was almost unrecognizable. He looked like he had gained ten years. The white in his hair had increased, and he had dark bags under his eyes. The backs of his hands had also become more wrinkled. I couldn't reconcile him with the Casey I had known before, who had always taken such care about his appearance. Perhaps he had some kind of disease. But Casey didn't say anything about it, so I didn't ask.

Jeremy probably won't come back to Lexington, Casey said to me with a sinking voice, gently shaking his head from left to right. I call West Virginia once in a while and talk to him on the phone. The shock of his mother's death changed him somehow, he said. He's different from the Jeremy of the old days. He only talks about the constellations now. From beginning to end, this unfortunate astrology talk. How the constellations are positioned today, and so what it's OK to do today, what should be avoided, that kind of thing.  When he was here, he never mentioned the stars even once.

"I'm really sorry," I said. But I didn't really know who in the world he was talking about.

"When my mother died, I was only ten years old," Casey began, his eyes fixed on his coffee cup. "Since I didn't have any brothers of sisters, it was just the two of, my father and I, left behind. She died in a yachting accident in the early fall one year. We were totally unprepared psychologically for the shock of my mother's death. She was young and vivacious; more than ten years younger than my father. It had never occurred to either my father or myself that one day my mother would die. But then one day she was suddenly gone from this world. Poof. Like she'd vanished into thin air. She was clever and gorgeous and everybody liked her. She like to go out walking, and had a great stride, with her back stretched, her chin thrust forward slightly, and both hands clasped behind her. She walked with such an air of pleasure. She usually sang songs while she walked. I loved to go walking with her, the two of us together. Whenever I think of my mother, I see her walking along the boardwalk by the sea in Newport, bathed in the vivid light of a summer morning. The hem of her long summer dress fluttered coolly in the breeze. It was a cotton flower-print dress. That scene is burned into my mind like a photograph.

"She was very dear to my father, and he valued her tremendously. I think he probably loved her even more deeply than he loved me. He was that kind of person. He loved things that he had gained by his own hand. To him, I was something obtained by a natural string of events. This is not to say that he didn't love me: I was his one and only son. But he never loved me as much as he loved my mother. This is something I understood well. There was no one that my father loved like my mother. After my mother died, he never remarried.

"For three weeks after my mother's funeral, my father slept continuously. That's not an exaggeration. Literally, for three weeks straight.

"Occasionally, he would stagger out of bed and, without saying anything, drink a glass of water and eat a little food. He looked like a sleepwalker or a ghost. It was always only for the shortest possible time, and then he'd get back into bed. With the shutters shut tight, and the air stagnant in that dark room, he slept like an enchanted princess. He hardly moved at all. He didn't roll over and his expression remained the same. Being very uneasy about him, I went back to his side time after time to check up on him. I was afraid he would suddenly die in his sleep. When I came in to fluff his pillow and bring him food, I looked closely at his face.

"But he didn't die. He just slept deeply, like a stone buried in the ground. I think he probably didn't dream. In that dark, quiet room, only the sound of his regular breathing could be heard. That sleep, so long and deep, was unlike anything I had ever seen. He looked like a person departed for another world. I remember being very afraid. Completely alone in that huge mansion, I felt like I had been abandoned by the whole world. 

"15 years ago, when my father passed away, I was obviously very sad, but frankly I wasn't that surprised. My father looked just the same dead as he had during that deep sleep. He's just like he was then, I thought to myself. It was deja vu. This overwhelming deja vu, like something deep inside of me had shifted. From a distance of 30 years, I retraced the past just as it had been. Only this time, I couldn't hear the sound of his breathing.

"I loved my father. I loved him more than anyone else in the world. I respected him, too. But even more than that, I was strongly bound to him, both emotionally and spiritually. I know this may sound strange, but when my father died I, too, got in bed and slept for many days, exactly like my father had when my mother died. It was like I had succeeded to some special ritual of my bloodline.

"It probably lasted for about two weeks. During that time I slept and slept and slept... I slept until time decayed and melted away into nothing. No matter how much I slept, it was never enough. At that time, the world of sleep was the real world, and the everyday world became nothing more than a vain and temporary place. It was a superficial world devoid of the color of life. I thought that I didn't want to live anymore in such a world. Gradually, I came to understand what I imagine my father must have felt like when my mother died. Do you get what I'm saying? Things take on a different shape all together. Without these new shapes, they can't exist."    

Casey was then silent for a moment as if he was thinking about something. It was late fall, and the sound of acorns falling and hitting the ground with a thud occasionally reached my ears.

"There's only one thing I can say," Casey said raising his head, his familiar stylish smile returning to his lips. "When I die, there is not one person in the world who will have to sleep that deep sleep."

Sometimes I think about the Lexington ghosts: about their unknown character and number, and about that lively party they had in the living room of Casey's old mansion in the middle of the night. And I think about Casey and his long, solitary deep sleep, as if in preparation for death, in the second floor bedroom, with the shutters shut tight. And I think about his father. I think about Miles, the lonely dog, and that breathtaking record collection. Jeremy playing Shubert. The blue BMW wagon parked in front of the front door. But they all have the feeling of things that happened a terribly long time ago in a place terribly far away. Even though they just happened recently.

I've never told these things to anyone until now. Whenever I try to think about it, although it seems like a very strange tale indeed, perhaps on account of the distance, it doesn't seem very strange to me at all.

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The Ghosts of Lexington
 by Haruki Murakami
  translated by Eric Han

(numbers in parentheses are references to page numbers in the original text)

This story is about something that really happened to me a few years ago. Circumstances being as they are, names have been changed, but everything else is true.

I'd been living in Cambridge Massachussetts for about 2 years when I made the acquaintance of a certain architect. He was a handsome man of a little past fifty with hair half-way to white. Not particularly tall. He was fond of swimming and spent part of every day at the pool, in return for being housed in a taut, slim body. (*) On occasion he also played tennis. As for his name, let's just leave it provisionally as "Casey". He was unmarried and lived in an ancient estate in the Boston suburb of Lexington together with a pale and silent piano tuner. His name was Jeremy (probably in his mid thirties, tall, slender like a willow, hair just starting to go.) (*) Jeremy though, didn't just tune the piano, he was also fairly accomplished at playing it.

At the time, not a few of my short stories had been translated into English and published in various magazines. Casey read them and, through their editorial departments, managed to send me a letter. Basically, "I'm very much interested in both you and your works. If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to meet you. . ." I usually don't meet with people who write letters like that (from personal experience, I can't say I've had even one enjoyable encounter) but I felt it was all right to meet this Casey. For one thing, his letter was intelligently written and with just the right humorous sensibility. The easy-going sense of living in a foreign country may also have had something to do with it. And plus he didn't live too far away. But all those factors, ultimately don't add up to anything more than peripheral considerations. If you get down to the heart of it, the real reason I took a personal interest in this character named Casey was because of his magnificent collection of classic jazz records.

"Even if you searched clear across America, you probably wouldn't find a personal collection of jazz records this complete. I've heard that you like jazz, or perhaps I should say, I've heard that you have a profound interest in jazz. . ." his letter said. Damn straight. I have a profound interest in jazz. Reading his letter, I couldn't bear not to see this collection of his. Bring up "classic jazz record collection" and like a horse with a weakness for the odor of a certain tree, I psychologically lose all ability to resist.

Casey's house was in Lexington, thirty minutes by car from my residence in Cambridge. When I called him up, he sent me a detailed map by fax. On one April afternoon I took my green volkswagon over to his place. I found it right off. It was an ancient three story house, erected no less than two hundred years ago. Among the rows of ostentatious residences in Boston's high-class suburbs, even with the occasional pockets of genteel and historic homes, Casey's caught the eye with it's venerable charm. I must say it deserved to be on a postcard.

His yard was practically a forest, and four blue jays called piercingly as they orderly hopped from branch to branch. In the driveway was parked a new BMW wagon. As I parked behind the BMW the enormous mastiff that was sleeping on the doormat slowly raised itself up and gave exactly two and a half obligatory barks. "It's not that I want to," it seemed to apologize, "but this is what I'm supposed to do."


That's when Casey came out to shake my hand. He shook it with a firmness that seemed to seek confirmation of something. While one hand was shaking, his other reached up to lightly tap my shoulder. That was one of Casey's habits. "Hey, thank you for coming. I'm so happy to finally be able to meet you," he said. He was wearing an elegant white Italian style shirt, buttoned right up to the top, a light brown cashmere cardigan, and soft cotton slacks. He also had on a pair of delicate glasses that looked very Giorgio Armani. Quite the dashing gentleman.

Casey led me inside, sat me on the sofa in the living room and brought out some fresh-brewed coffee.

He was of a gentle, reticent character, had a good upbringing and was well educated. When he was young he traveled the world over and as a result turned out a sparkling conversationalist. I grew to know him and made a habit of visiting his place about once a month. And in doing so, I was privy to that magnificent record collection of his.

While I was at Casey's I was free to pick out and play any of those audio treasures that could be found nowhere else. His stereo equipment, though nothing in comparison to the records, was an old model vacuum tube set that gave off a warm nostalgic sound.

As for his work, Casey used one of the house's studies as his office and created his architectural designs on a large computer he had installed there. He rarely spoke to me about his work though. "It's really nothing special or worth mentioning," he would say with a laugh, almost as if he were making an excuse for something. And so I never did find out what sort of architectural designs he was creating. Neither did I ever see him even look remotely busy. The Casey I knew was always sitting on his living room sofa, elegantly facing a wine glass while either reading a book or entranced by Jeremy's piano playing. Either that or seated at his garden chair playing with the dog. This is ultimately only my flawed impression, but I was convinced that he was none too serious about this work of his.


His late father was once a nationally renowned psychologist with five or six books to his name, all of which are now halfway to being considered classics. He was also a jazz aficionado and was on a first name basis with the founder and producer of Prestige Records, Bob Winstock. And in that connection, for jazz records from the 1940's to the 1960's, the collection that Casey had written about in his letter was jaw droppingly complete. It was impressive not merely for sheer number of titles, but for their unquestionable quality. The majority of the titles were first print originals in excellent condition, with neither scratches on the vinyl nor flaws on the jackets. Close to miraculous. They must have been cared for meticulously. Probably placed on the turntable as carefully as you'd put a baby in bathwater.

Casey had no siblings in his family and his mother died while he was only a child. His father continued on alone without remarrying and that's how Casey came into sole possession of the house, the estate and the records when his father succumbed to liver cancer fifteen years earlier.


It seems that Casey looked up to his father more than any other person on earth, and loved him more still, so after his death preserved the record collection exactly as it was, down to the very last disk. Casey himself enjoyed jazz and regularly listened to his favorites, but his enthusiasm never reached the wild passion of his father. Given the choice, I would have to say that Casey was more a classical music aficionado, and if Ozawa were conducting a Boston Symphony concert, he and Jeremy would never fail to miss it.

It was just over six months after our acquaintance that I was asked to house-sit for him. In a rare move, he had to take a one week work related trip to London. When Casey did go on trips, he usually would have Jeremy look after things, but this time he wasn't able to do that. A short while before, Jeremy's mother had taken ill, and Jeremy had gone back to her home in West Virginia. And that's how Casey came to call me up.
"Sorry but I couldn't think of anyone else who could help," Casey said. "'House sitting' would be going to far. All I need is someone to feed Miles (which was the dog's name) two times a day. That's all you'll have to do. You can listen to all the records you want, and there's plenty of wine and food. You can help yourself to whatever you like."

Not a bad suggestion. At that time certain circumstances had me living by myself in a Cambridge apartment, with neighbors busy with a noisy remodeling project. The daily noise was driving me up the wall. So a little after noon on friday, I took a few changes of clothes, my Macintosh Powerbook, and several books and drove to Casey's.

I told him to have fun in London.
"Yes, of course," he cheerfully replied. "And you too, enjoy the records and the house. It's not such a bad place you know."

When Casey was gone I went to the kitchen and brewed myself some coffee. Then I went to the music room adjoining the living room, set my computer on the table, carefully selected a few records from Casey's father's collection and quietly passed an hour at work.
I was really just testing whether or not I'd be able to get any work done during this one week of house-sitting.

The desk was a massive old style mahogany number with drawers on either side. Pretty ancient from the look of it, although the only thing in the room that didn't look ancient was my Macintosh. Everything else the eye met looked as if they hadn't been moved from their resting places in a very, very long time. After his father's death, Casey had apparently treated the music room like a temple, or rather, a repository for sacred relics, and refrained from touching the state in which it had been left. Even in a house like this with a knack for resisting the flow of time, the music room was especially striking for its air of having been frozen at a precise moment in the past. Even so, it hadn't been forgotten. The shelves were free from dust and the desk looked well and regularly polished.

Miles came over and lay down at my feet, and I ended up stroking his head over and over. He seemed to be a dog that got lonely easily. I don't suppose he could survive being alone for any significant amount of time. He kept to himself only when asleep, since he was trained to sleep on a blanket kept on one side of the kitchen. At all other times it was his habit to stay by you and gently insinuate himself against some part of your body.
The living room and the music room were divided by a tall, doorless entryway. Within the living room was a large brick fireplace and a comfy looking leather sofa that from the look of it, could easily seat three. Sharing the floor were four unmatched armchairs, each of a different shape, and again, three unmatched coffee tables. Beneath these lay a faded persian rug, and above, from the ceiling hung a fabulously old-fashioned chandelier that looked like it was responsible for more than its share of fatal accidents. I went in and flopped down on the sofa. I took a good look around me. The clock set above the fireplace went on tick-tock chopping off little slices of time.

The bookshelf high up on the wall was lined with books on art and various esoteric subjects. On three walls were arranged an assortment of oil paintings of some indeterminate coastline, each of which gave you the exact same feeling. There was no hint of a human presence in any of them, just the same lonesome seascape. If you brought your ear to them, I imagine you could hear the chilly wind and the grumbling of the surf. And all together the room gave me the singular impression of old money. And not just any old money, but New England old money. Modest if somewhat severe.


One broad expanse of wall in the music room was covered by the record shelf, and on it the LP's were arrayed alphabetically by artist name. The exact number, not even Casey knew. Six thousand, seven thousand, or thereabouts he conjectured, but about the same number again were still stuffed in boxes and waiting in the attic. "Under the weight of all these records, this place is liable to fall at any moment like the House of Usher."

I put an old Lee Cornitz ten inch on the turn table, faced the desk and started on my writing. In perfect comfort and peace, time gently passed. It was a little like slipping into a form of just the right size and shape. I felt something akin to an intimacy there, a special intimacy that took care and a great deal of time to build. Every corner of the room, from the small hollows in the walls, to the pleats in the curtains, and finally the reverberation of the music, all put me at ease.


That night, I filled a crystal wine glass with the Monte Puciano red that Casey had left for me, and had more than my share of it as I sat on the living room sofa reading a freshly published novel. Being his personal selection, it was a lovely wine. I went to the refrigerator and took out some brie cheese and polished off one fourth of it with some crackers. All the while, the surrounding neighborhood was deafeningly silent. Besides the tick-tock of the clock, the only sound was the occasional swish of a passing car. The "drive" right in front of the house was a cul-de-sac, so only the immediate neighbors would be passing in their cars. I expected that as the night deepened even those sounds would vanish. Coming from my Cambridge apartment, surrounded by students and their boisterousness, I felt as if I'd been consigned to the silent ocean floor.

The clock wound its way to eleven and as usual I began to feel sleepy. I put down the book, took the empty glass to the sink and said goodnight to Miles. The dog resignedly curled up on his old blanket, gave a soft whimper and blinked his eyes. I turned off the lights and made my way to the second floor guestroom. I changed into my pajamas, climbed into bed and fell asleep almost immediately.

When I came to, I was in the midst of a blank void. I had not the slightest clue where I was. And for a duration I remained, like a shriveled vegetable, in that senseless condition, just like a forgotten vegetable in the back of a dark cabinet. Finally I managed to recall that I was house-sitting for Casey. That's right, I was in Lexington. I groped around and located the watch I'd left by the bedside. I pushed a button and by it's green glow read the time. It was 1:15.

I quietly sat up on the bed and switched on the miniature reading lamp. It took some time for me to determine the whereabouts of the switch. Beneath the lily shaped head, it produced a yellow light. I vigorously rubbed my face with both palms, took a deep breath and gave the now illuminated room a good look around. I inspected the walls, stared at the carpet, and looked up at the tall ceiling. Then, like collecting beans spilled on the floor, I gathered together my consciousness and adapted my body to reality. Only then did I finally notice "it." The sound that is, like the murmur of waves at the seashore, that had tugged me out of my deep sleep.

Someone was downstairs.

I muffled my footsteps, caught my breath and made my way to the door. Close to my ear I could hear the dry thumping of my own heart. Without a doubt, there was someone else besides me in the house, and not just one or two people either. I could make out the faint sound of music. Threads of cold sweat ran down from my armpits. While I had been sleeping, what on earth had been going on in this house?

The first thing that ran through my head was that I must have been taken in by a practical joke. Casey, pretending to go off to London, had actually been in the neighborhood the entire time preparing for a late night party to surprise me. Or so I conjectured. But the more I thought it through, the less Casey seemed like the type to come up with such a miserable joke. His sense of humor had much more subtlety than that.

Or else, I thought as I leaned against the door, they could be some of Casey's friends that I hadn't met. They, knowing that Casey would be traveling out of town (and unaware that I would be looking after the house), might have found the opportunity too perfect and barged on in. Whichever the case, it was well nigh unthinkable for them to be burglars. Burglars don't sneak into other peoples' houses to make noise and listen to music on their stereos.

At any rate, I couldn't just sit there. I removed my pajamas and picked up my trousers, stepped into my sneakers and put a sweater over my t-shirt. Still, I didn't want to take any chances, and I wanted to at least have something in hand when I went down there. I scanned the room, but came across nothing that seemed appropriately damage inflicting. There weren't any baseball bats or fireplace tongs handy. All I could see were just a chest of drawers, a bed, a small desk and a framed landscape portrait.

When I stepped into the hallway, I could hear the sounds even more clearly. From down the stairs old fashioned, merry music came floating up to me. It was a famous tune I'd heard many times before, but couldn't recall the name.

There was also the sound of voices talking. There were a great number of voices mingling together, and it was impossible to make out the conversation. And sometimes the sound of laughter made its way to my ears, elegant and airy. Apparently the party was not only in progress but at its height. And, as if to add color to the aural scene, there was the airy echo of champagne or wine glasses ringing together. I imagined there was dancing too, from the rhythmical sound of leather shoes sliding on the floor.

Careful to silence my footsteps, I made my way down the dark corridor to the landing of the stairs. There I leaned myself over the railing and peered down. The tall narrow window of the foyer bathed the solemn front hall in a chilly wan light. There was no sign of human presence. The double doors that led from the front hall to the living room sealed shut. Those very same doors had been wide open when I went to sleep. There was no doubt about that. Which meant that basically someone had come and shut them while I was slumbering on the second floor.

I wavered over what to do next. I could very well go back and hide in the guest room. Lock the door from the inside, dive under the covers . . . . From a cool-headed perspective, that would probably be the most appropriate course of action. But standing on top of the stairs, listening to the merry sounds emanating from behind those doors, I realized I had slowly gotten over my earlier sense of shock. The ripples were slowly subsiding and the pond was returning to its usual unruffled state.
(25) Judging from the atmosphere, the type of people to throw such a party couldn't be too weird or unusual I conjectured.

I took one deep breath and made my way down the stairs to the front hall. I quietly tip-toed down one old step at a time in my rubber soled sneakers. When I reached the hall, I immediately made a left and headed for the kitchen. There I slid open a drawer and dug out a hefty kitchen knife. Because Casey was into cooking, he owned an expensive set of German made knives, and kept them in meticulous shape too. The finely sharpened stainless steel blade in my hand glimmered sexily with the cold light of reality.

But when I imagined myself walking in a bustling party while clutching such a large meat cleaver, I suddenedly felt ridiculous. I drank a glass of water from the tap and put the knife back where I found it.

Where was the dog?

That's when I realized that Miles was nowhere to be seen. He wasn't atop his usual blanket on the floor. (26) Where could he have gotten to? If someone had truly broken into the house, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect him to at least give a bark? I pressed my hand into the indentation of his fur coated blanket. There was no sign of warmth. He must have left his sleeping place on the floor and gone off to who knows where quite some time ago.

I made my way back out of the kitchen to the front hall and lowered myself onto the bench there. The music was rolling on and on without pause. The peoples' conversations rolled on too. It was like the ocean tide, swelling at times in volume only to then recede into quieter lulls, unceasingly. Just how many people were in there? I figured at least fifteen people seemed to be present. Or make that over twenty five. And if that were so, the living room, wide as it was, must have been in quite a state of disarray.

I sat for a while and debated whether or not I should open that door and go inside. It was a difficult, and not a little peculiar decision. I was house-sitting, and in that capacity had a responsibility to watch over things. However, that wasn't the same as being invited to a party.
I tried to focus and catch the fragments of conversation filtering out through the crack between the doors, but it was impossible. The conversations harmonized perfectly into one body of sound, making individual words impossible to distinguish. I knew I was hearing words and dialogue, but it was almost like there was a thick plastered wall before me. There seemed little choice other than to go in.

I plunged my hand into the pocket of my trousers and dug out a quarter which I, with no real significance, turned over and over in my hand. The silver coin in my hand returned to me a sense of solid reality. Then something slammed into my head like a soft mallet.

Those were ghosts.

They who were gathered in Casey's living room, listening to music and chatting were no people of this world.

A chill raced up the skin of both of my arms. Inside my head, I felt something swaying to and fro violently. Like slipping out of phase with my surroundings, the air pressure shifted and a light fog horn roar came to my ears. I wanted to swallow but my throat, dessicated and numb, refused. I returned the coin to my pocket and took a look around. My heart was just starting to make that forceful thumping sound again.
It truly was a mystery why I hadn't realized the fact earlier. Come to think of it, who in their right minds would have thought to march on in to throw a party at this hour? And no matter the hour, how could I not wake up with this number of people pulling up in their cars and tramping through the foyer? The dog at least would have barked. Basically, they could not have and did not enter into this house in any ordinary way.

I yearned to have Miles near me. I wanted to put my hand around his bulky neck, be surrounded by his odor, feel his warmth on my skin. The dog however was nowhere to be found. I was sitting stark still and alone on the bench in the front hall like a man enthralled. Of course I was scared. But in addition, I felt a something there that superceded the fear entirely. Something profound and fathomless.

I took and released several breaths, quietly exchanging the air in my lungs. My body bit by bit recovered it's normal sensation. In the deepest region of my consciousness, I had a sense akin to cards lightly being flipped back over.

Then I stood up, and in precisely the way I came down, I muffled my footsteps on the stairs, returned to my room, and slipped back into bed just as I was. And still, the conversations and music dragged on. Because I had trouble falling back to sleep, it was there with me until nearly dawn. Lights on, leaning back against the headboard, staring at the ceiling, I trained my ears on the sounds below, of a party showing no sign of concluding. In due course though, I sank back into my slumber.

When I woke up, it was raining outside, silent and fine. It was a spring rain with no other purpose but to moisten the ground. Under the eaves, a bluejay was singing. The needle of my watch pointed to nine o'clock. Without changing out of my pajamas, I got up and made my way down the stairs. The door linking the front hall with the living room was as I had left it when I went to sleep the previous night, open. The living room itself showed nothing out of place. The book I had been reading was open and face down on the sofa. Minute cracker crumbs were still scattered about the coffee table. It was afterall as I had predicted; there was not the slightest evidence of a party having taken place.


On the kitchen floor Miles was curled in a circle, sound asleep. I woke him up and gave him some dog food. As if nothing at all were amiss, he dove into his food with gusto while wagging his ears.

That mysterious middle of the night party in Casey's living room was held only that first night. Afterwards, nothing out of the ordinary took place, and the silent, secretive Lexington nights passed with scarcely a remarkable feature. Except for one small detail, that is. Nearly every night I was there, for reasons beyond my own comprehension, I would wake suddenly in the middle of the night. The time was always between one and two o'clock. Perhaps it was the usual uneasiness of sleeping alone in someone else's house, or then again, it may have been that deep within my consciousness I was expecting to once again confront that strange party.

Waking in the middle of the night, I would suck in my breath and strain my ears in the darkness. But nary a sound would be heard. At times the wind blowing by would stir the leaves of the trees in the yard, but that would be all. And at those times, I would descend to the first floor, and have a glass of water in the kitchen.

Miles would always be curled round sleeping on the floor. He would get up excitedly at the sight of me and wagging his tail, run his nose over to my feet.

I'd take the dog with me and go into the living room, turn on the light and inspect my surroundings with the utmost care. But there was never the slightest trace to be felt. The sofa and coffee table were layed out the same as ever, lined up and silent with their secrets. The usual oil paintings of disagreeable New England coastlines were still on the walls. I'd plop down on the sofa kill off ten or fifteen minutes doing nothing. Then I'd close my eyes and concentrate my consciousness to see if perhaps I could come upon some kind of clue. I never did feel or sense anything though. All I had around me was the deep, secretive, suburban night. Opening the window facing the flower bed, I smelled air heavy with the overtones of spring's blossoms. The night air sent the curtain into faint undulations, and from the grove in the yard an owl called.

When Casey came back from London a week later, I had already resolved in my heart not to say a word about that night. I can't really explain why. I just sensed that it would be for the best if I didn't mention it to Casey. That's just how I felt.
"Well, how was it? Anything happen while I was gone?" Casey asked right as he stepped in the foyer.

"Nothing special. It was really quiet, so I got a lot of work done." And that was absolutely, entirely the truth.

"That's great to hear, it really is," Casey cheerfully said. He then proceeded to produce a bottle of high class single-malt whiskey from his carry-on. "Souvenir for you." And just like that I shook his hand goodbye, climbed into my Volkswagon and drove back to my Cambridge apartment.

After that, I didn't see Casey even once for the next six months. He called me several times though, and we kept in touch by phone. Jeremy's mother passed away and so the silent piano tuner in Casey's life ended up staying in West Virginia. At that time however, I was on the final stretch of finishing a lengthy novel. Besides matters of absolute necessity, I
had no time to go out and see anyone. During that span, I spent upwards of twelve hours a day at my desk, and my entire world was the area within one kilometer of my home.

The last time I saw Casey was at a little cafe near the boathouse on the Charles River. I ran smack into him while out on a walk, and ended up having coffee with him. For reasons beyond my comprehension, he had aged to a shocking degree since I last saw him; he had changed nearly beyond recognition. He looked at least ten years older, his hair, now greyer, grew down to the tops of his ears, and bags hung darkly under his eyes. Even the wrinkles on the back of his hand seemed to have multiplied. For someone who had been so fastidious about his presentation as Casey, his outward appearance was well, truly hard to believe. He looked like he may even have taken ill in some serious way. Casey didn't say anything about that however, so I didn't inquire.

"Jeremy may never come back to Lexington," Casey said in a sunken voice as he shook his head from side to side. "He still calls him from time to time but because of the shock of the death of his mother or something, he's like a completely different person now. (34) He's not the same Jeremy I used to know. All he talks about is astrology now. From beginning to end, he talks of nothing but this astrology nonsense. Like the way the stars are aligned today, and how that means you should do these things today, and not these other things. Stuff like that. And to think that while he was here he didn't mention one word about horoscopes or astrology."

"I'm really sorry," I told him. But toward whom I felt sorry, I myself was not completely sure.

"When my mother died, I was only ten years old,"Casey quietly announced while gazing at his coffee cup. "I didn't have any siblings, so afterwards it was just my father and I. One day in early autumn a yacht accident took my mother's life. Psychologically, we weren't prepared in the least for her sudden loss. She was young, energetic and ten years younger than my father, so we never once considered the fact that she would indeed die someday. But then one day, she suddenly disappeared from this world. Poof, just like a cloud of smoke or something. My mother was beautiful, wise, and liked by everyone she met. She loved to take long walks, and was so beautiful when she walked. (35)
She would walk with such obvious pleasure, back stretched out, jaw forward, and hands clasped behind her. And all the while, she would sing. I enjoyed my walks with my mother like nothing else. I'll always cherish the memory of my mother, bathed in the dazzling sunlight of a summer morning, strolling at the New Port seashore. I remember the breeze cooly rippling the hem of her summer dress. It was a cotton dress with a dense flower print. That image is practically burned into my mind with the clarity of a photograph.
My father had only the deepest of affection for her and truly treasured her. He probably loved her more deeply than me, his only son. But that's the sort of person he was; he was the type to love what he was able to acquire by his own power. To him, my existence in his life was more the result of natural circumstances that befell him. He of course loved me, after all I was his only son. But he didn't love me nearly to the extent that he loved his wife. That's one fact that I was quite sharply aware of. He loved her more than he loved anything and anyone. After she died, he never thought to remarry.

After my mother's funeral, my father slept for three full weeks. I'm not exaggerating when I say that. (36) I mean that he literally slept continuously for three weeks. At times he would rise unsteadily from his bed as if suddenly remembering to do so, and without saying a word, down some water and a symbolic portion of food. Just like a sleep-walker or a ghost. But when these brief waking moments passed, he would be back under his blanket fast asleep. In his pitch black room with the shutters sealed tight and the air stagnant, he lay in an unshakeable slumber like Sleeping Beauty trapped by her curse. He scarcely even moved in his sleep. At that, he barely even changed the expression on his face, much less shift in his sleep. I started worrying about him, and went in to check on him countless times. I really thought that he'd pass away in his sleep. I stood by his bedside and stared into his face long enough to bore holes in him.

But he wasn't dead. He was simply asleep, deep as a rock buried in the earth. I suppose he didn't even dream. In the dim, silent bedroom, the only thing I could hear was his faint, orderly breathing. I'd never seen such a deep, lengthy sleep before in my life. He looked to me like someone who had gone off to another world. I remember being very very scared. In that enormous mansion, I was completely alone and abandoned by the world.

When my father died fifteen years ago, of course I was sad. But to speak the truth I wasn't altogether surprised. That's because my father in death looked exactly as he did in his sleep. It was as if he were still as he was during that time. It was deja vu. It was a deja vu intense enough to shake the very core of my body. Despite the span of nearly thirty years I felt as if I were vividly tracing the past over the present, only this time, I couldn't make out the sound of his breathing.

I truly loved my father. I loved him more than anyone on this earth. You could say that I looked up to him, but far more than that we were bound spiritually and emotionally. You may think it strange, but when my father died I crawled into bed and fell into my own unshakeable sleep, exactly as my father did when my mother died. It really was like inheriting an obligatory family ritual.

Most likely I continued like that for about two weeks. I was just sleeping, sleeping, sleeping . . . until time decayed, melted and fell away. My capacity to sleep was endless. No matter how much I slept, it was never enough. To me, the world of sleep was the true world, and the waking one nothing but a spurious facade. It was nothing but a superficiality drained of all color. I even went so far as to think that there was no longer any point in living in the waking world. Ultimately, what my father felt when my mother died, I had finally come to understand. Do you get what I'm saying? Basically a thing of one type takes the shape of another. That is, it can't help but take the shape of another."

Casey then stopped speaking and sat for a time, deep in thought. It was late autumn, and the season brought the dessicated crunch of passania nuts (huh? pine cones?) on the asphault to my ears from time to time.
"I suppose there's only one thing I can say," Casey said as he raised his face to meet mine, his usual gentle, stylish grin forming on his lips. "Even if I were to die here and now, there wouldn't be a single person who would fall into such a deep sleep over me."


Every now and then I think of the ghosts of Lexington. I think of that assemblage of uncanny ghosts who, in the dead of night, hold their parties in the living room of Casey's ancient estate. I think of Casey and his father in their tightly shuttered second floor bedroom, lonesome and slumbering like men practicing at being corpses. Then there's the ever friendly Miles, and the breathtakingly marvelous record collection, Jeremy's Shubert on the piano, and the BMW wagon parked out front. But all of it seems to belong to the distant past, or to circumstances in a distant place. In spite of the fact that it only happened a short time ago, that is.

Until now, I've never shared this story with anyone. Come to think of it, it truly is a bizarre enough story. But perhaps it's because of that very distance, that I don't find it bizarre in the least.


rev. 3/18/02 

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The Ice Man

by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Christopher Allison

I married the Ice Man.

I first met the Ice Man at this ski resort hotel. I guess that's the kind of place one ought to meet an Ice Man. In the boisterous hotel lobby, crowded with young people, the Ice Man was sitting in a chair at the furthest possible remove from the fireplace, silently reading a book. Though it was approaching high noon, it seemed to me that the cool, fresh light of the winter morning still lingered around him. "Hey, that's the Ice Man," my friend informed me in a low voice. But at that time, I had no idea what in the world an Ice Man was. My friend didn't really know, either. She just knew that he existed and was called the Ice Man. "I'm sure he's made out of ice. That's why he's called the Ice Man," she said to me with a serious expression. It was like she was talking about a ghost or somebody with a contagious disease or something.

The Ice Man was tall, and from looking at him, his hair seemed bristly. When I saw his face, he looked fairly young still, but that thick, wiry hair was white, like it had been mixed with melted snow. He had high cheek-bones that appeared to have been chiseled out of cold, hard rock, and there was a slight coating of unmelted white frost on his fingers, but other than that the Ice Man's appearance wasn't much different from a normal person. While he probably couldn't have been called handsome, there was undeniably something charming in his bearing. There are some people that just jab you sharply in the heart. It was especially this way with him, so he really stood out. He had a shy, transparent look, like an icicle on a winter morning. There was something in the way his body was put together that made his whole being seem to sparkle. I stood there for a moment and gazed at the Ice Man from afar. But the Ice Man didn't lift his face from his book even once. Without moving so much as a muscle, he continued reading. It was as if he was trying to persuade himself that there wasn't anybody at all around him.

The next day, the Ice Man was in the same place, reading a book exactly the same way. When I went to the cafeteria to get lunch, and again when I came back in the evening from skiing with everybody else, he was sitting in the same chair as the day before, pouring over the top of a page of the same book with the same expression on his face. And the next day was the same. The day passed, the night grew late, and he sat there as quietly as the winter outside the window, reading his book alone.
On the afternoon of the fourth day, I fashioned an appropriate excuse and didn't go out to the slopes. Staying behind alone in the hotel, I wandered around the lobby for a while. Since everyone had gone out for an afternoon‘s skiing, the lobby was deserted like a ghost town. The air in the lobby was unnecessarily warm and moist, and there was a strange, dank smell mixed in with it. It was the smell of people tracking snow into the hotel on the bottom of their boots and then carelessly sitting by the fireplace, where it slowly melted off. I stared vacantly out the various windows, and flipped through the newspaper. Then, bravely walking up to the Ice Man, I boldly started a conversation. I'm normally a very shy person, and not at all in the habit of talking to total strangers. But at that time, I really wanted to talk to the Ice Man, no matter what. It was our last night in that hotel, and I thought that if I let it slip away, I might never have another chance to talk to an Ice Man.
On the afternoon of the fourth day, I fashioned an appropriate excuse and didn't go out to the slopes. Staying behind alone in the hotel, I wandered around the lobby for a while. Since everyone had gone out for an afternoon‘s skiing, the lobby was deserted like a ghost town. The air in the lobby was unnecessarily warm and moist, and there was a strange, dank smell mixed in with it. It was the smell of people tracking snow into the hotel on the bottom of their boots and then carelessly sitting by the fireplace, where it slowly melted off. I stared vacantly out the various windows, and flipped through the newspaper. Then, bravely walking up to the Ice Man, I boldly started a conversation. I'm normally a very shy person, and not at all in the habit of talking to total strangers. But at that time, I really wanted to talk to the Ice Man, no matter what. It was our last night in that hotel, and I thought that if I let it slip away, I might never have another chance to talk to an Ice Man.

Don't you ski? I asked the Ice Man, trying to sound as casual as possible. He slowly raised his head. He had an expression on his face like he could a hear the sound of wind blowing from incredibly far away. He looked at my face with eyes like that. He silently shook his head. I don't ski. I'm fine just reading a book and watching the snow fall, he said. His words made little white clouds in the air, like when you breathe on a TV screen. I could literally see his words with my own eyes. He gently brushed off the frost that had accumulated on his fingers.

I didn't know what to say after that. I just stood there blushing. The Ice Man looked in my eyes. Then he seemed to smile a little. But I wasn't really sure. Did he really smile? Or was it just a feeling? Won't you sit down? the Ice Man said. Let's have a little conversation. You’re curious about me, right? You want to know what an Ice Man is, right? Then he really did laugh a little. It's OK. There's nothing to worry about. You won't catch a cold or anything talking to me.

This is how I came to talk to the Ice Man. Sitting side-by-side on the sofa in the corner of the lobby, watching the snow flakes dance on the other side of the window, our conversation proceeded haltingly. I ordered some cocoa and drank it. The Ice Man didn't have anything. He was just as bad a conversationalist as me. In addition, we didn't really have anything in common to talk about. At first, we talked about the weather. Then, how cozy the hotel was. Did you come here alone? I asked the Ice Man. Yes, the Ice Man replied. The Ice Man asked me whether I liked to ski. Not really, I responded. My girlfriends invited me to go skiing with them for some reason, but I'm not very good at it. I really wanted to know what kind of thing the Ice Man was: whether he was really made out of ice or not; what he ate; where he spent the summer; whether he had a family--that type of thing. But the Ice Man didn't seem to want to talk about himself. I didn't dare to broach the subject either. He probably just doesn't like to talk about stuff like that, I thought.

Instead, we talked about me as a human being. I really couldn't believe it, but, for whatever reason, the Ice Man knew all kinds of things about me: the make up of my family, my age, my hobbies, my health, the school I attended, the friends I hung out with--he knew it all from beginning to end. He knew things about me that had happened so long ago that I had forgotten about them.

I don't understand, I said, blushing. I had this feeling like I was naked in public. How do you know so much about me? I asked. Can you read people's minds?
No, it is not possible for me to read people's minds. But I know. I just know, he said. It's just like seeing something frozen in ice. So, when I looked at you, I could see all kinds of things about you clearly.

Can you see my future? I asked.

I can't see the future, the Ice Man said expressionlessly. And he shook his head slowly. I'm not interested in the future at all. To speak more precisely, I have no concept of the future. Ice has no future. It just captures the past. It captures everything just as it was in life, fresh, and preserves it that way. Ice can preserve all kinds of things in this way. Totally freshly, totally clearly. Just as it is. That's the purpose of ice, it's true quality.

Good, I said. I laughed a little. I'm relieved to hear it. I don't want to know anything about my future.

After we had returned to Tokyo, we got together frequently. Eventually, we were going out on dates nearly every weekend. But we didn't go out to movies together, or to coffee shops. We didn't even have dinner. We'd always go to parks together, sit on a bench, and talk about stuff. We really talked about a lot of different stuff. But as always, the Ice Man wouldn't say anything about himself. Why is that? I asked him. How come you never talk about yourself? I want to know more about you--where you were born, what kind of people your parents were, and how you got to be an Ice Man. The Ice Man looked at my face for a moment. Then he slowly shook his head. I don't know either, the Ice Man said, his voice barely above a whisper. Then he exhaled a hard, white breath into the air. I don't have a past. I know all things past. I preserve all things past. But I myself don't have a past. I don't know where I was born. I wouldn't recognize my parents if I saw them. I don't even know whether or not I have parents. I don't even know how old I am. I don't even know whether I have an age or not.

The Ice Man was as isolated as an iceberg in the mist.

And gradually I came to love the Ice Man very deeply. Having no past and no future, he loved just the me of the present. And I loved just the present Ice Man, without a past and without a future. This seemed a splendid thing to me. We even began to speak of marriage. I had just turned twenty years old. And the Ice Man was the first person to inspire such feelings in me. I couldn't imagine then what in the world it meant to love the Ice Man. But if, hypothetically, the Ice Man hadn't been my partner, but someone else instead, I wouldn't have known anything then either, I guess.

My mother and my sister were strongly opposed to me marrying the Ice Man. You're too young to get married, they said. You don't even know clearly what kind of person he is, or what his family is like. Or where he was born, or when. As your family, we can't consent to you marrying such a person. And, besides, he's an Ice Man. What happens if he melts? they said. I know you don't really understand it, but marriage is a big responsibility. Do you really think that you're capable of the responsibility of marrying this Ice Man?
But their fears were needless. It wasn't like the Ice Man was actually made out of ice. He was just cool like ice. He doesn't melt if he gets too warm. That chilliness really was like ice, but his body was different from ice. And while he was incredibly cold, it wasn't the kind of coldness that robs other people of their body heat.
So we got married. No one celebrated our wedding, though. Not my friends, or my parents, or my sisters: no one was happy about it. We didn't have a ceremony. Since the Ice Man didn't have a family register, we didn't even apply for a marriage license. We just jointly decided that we were married. We bought a small cake and ate it together. That was the extent of our meager wedding. We rented a little apartment, and the Ice Man got a job at a meat storehouse to cover our expenses. He liked the cold a lot, and no matter how hard he worked, he never got tired. He didn't even stop much to eat. Naturally, he quickly caught the boss's eye, and was rewarded with a higher salary than anybody else. We didn't bother anybody and nobody bothered us; and we had a quiet, happy life together.
Whenever the Ice Man embraced me, I always thought of this quiet, still iceberg that existed in some far off place. I thought that the Ice Man probably knew where that iceberg was. The ice was hard, harder than anything I could think of. It was the biggest iceberg in the world. But it was in some incredibly far away place. He was telling the secret of that ice to the world. At first, the Ice Man's embraces made me feel disoriented, but after a while I got used to it. I even came to love it. As always, he didn't talk about himself at all. Not even why he became the Ice Man. And I didn't ask anything. Embracing in the silence, we shared that huge, still iceberg. The entirety of past events of the whole world for billions of years was stored pristinely, just as it was, inside that ice.
In our married life, there weren't really any problems that could properly be called problems. We loved each other deeply, and nothing impeded that. While the neighbors seemed as if they were quite unfamiliar with the existence of Ice Men, as time passed, little by little they began to talk to him. Even though he's an Ice Man, he's no different than anybody else, they came to say. But in the depths of their hearts they never really accepted him, and so they never really accepted that I was married to him. We were a different type of human being from them, and no matter how much time passed, that chasm could never be filled.
The two of us were unable to have children. Perhaps the result of mixing human and Ice Man genes was problematic. In any event, since we didn't have any children, I had an abundance of free time. I'd take care of the house work fairly quickly in the morning, but after that there was nothing to do. I didn't have any friends to talk to, or to go somewhere with, and I didn't have much to do with the neighbors. My mother and sisters, still mad that I had married the Ice Man, weren't speaking to me. They were ashamed of my household. There wasn't even anyone to call on the telephone. While the Ice Man was working at the storehouse, I stayed at home all alone, reading books or listening to music. I generally prefer staying at home to going out anyway, and I'm not the kind of person for whom being alone is a trial. But in spite of this, I was still young, and the endless daily repetition without any variation began to get me down. It wasn't the boredom that got to me. The thing I couldn't bear was the repetition. In the midst of that endless repetition, I felt kind of like my own shadow.
So one day, I made a proposal to my husband. Why don't we go on a trip together somewhere, for a change of pace. Trip? he said. He narrowed his eyes as he looked at me. Why in the world should we take a trip? Aren't you happy living here with me?
It's not that, I said. I'm perfectly happy. There are no problems between us. It's just that I'm bored. I want to go somewhere far away and see things I've never seen before. I want to breath air I've never breathed before. Do you understand? And anyway, we never went on a honeymoon. We have plenty of money in the bank, and taking a few days off shouldn't be a problem. I just think a relaxing trip somewhere would be nice.
The Ice Man heaved a deep, frozen sigh. The sigh made a crisp sound as the air crystallized. He brought his long, frost-covered fingers together on his knee. I guess so. If you want to go on a trip so badly, I'm not particularly opposed to it. I don't think it's such a good idea to take a trip, but if it will make you happy, I'll do whatever you want, go wherever you want to go. Taking a vacation should be OK since I always work really hard when I'm there. I don't think there will be any problem. But where do you want to go?
How about the South Pole? I ventured. I chose the South Pole because I thought the Ice Man would be interested in a cold place. And besides, I've always wanted to go to the South Pole sometime. I wanted to see the Northern Lights, and penguins. I imagined myself wearing a fur coat with an attached hood, playing with a flock of penguins under a sky lit up by the aurora borealis.
When I said this, my husband the Ice Man looked straight into my eyes. He didn't blink even once. His gaze like sharp icicles, it pierced through my eyes to the back of my head. He pondered it silently for a moment, and finally said It's fine, with a twinkle. Fine, if that's what you want to do, we'll go to the South Pole. That's what you want to do?
I agreed.
In about two weeks I think I can take a long vacation. We can probably make all the preparations before then. Really, it won't be a problem.
I couldn't respond right away. When the Ice Man had looked at me with that icicle gaze, it had numbed the inside of my head.
However, with the passage of time, I came to regret that I had ever brought up the idea of going to the South Pole with my husband. I don't know why this was so. Before the words "South Pole" came out of my mouth, I had this feeling that something had changed in him. His gaze had become even sharper and more icicle-like than before; his breath had become even whiter than before; and even more frost accumulated on his fingers than before. He became even more stubborn and reticent. Now, he wasn't eating anything at all. All of these things made me terribly uneasy. Five days before we were due to depart, I boldly made a proposal to my husband. Let's call off the South Pole trip, I said. I've thought about it a little, and it's so cold, it will probably be bad for me. It just seems like it would be a better idea to go somewhere a little more normal. I bet Europe is really nice; why don't we go to Spain instead? We could drink wine, and eat paella, and watch bullfights. But my husband didn't respond. For a little while, he just stared at some place far away. Then he looked at my face. He peered deeply into my eyes. That look, was so deep that I felt as if my body, just as it was, had evaporated into nothing. No, I don't want to go to Spain, my husband, the Ice Man, said plainly. I know it's not fair to you, but Spain is too hot and dusty for me. And the food is too spicy. Anyway, we've already bought to tickets for the South Pole. We've already bought a fur coat for you, and a pair of fur-lined boots. We can't afford to waste all that. At this point, we have to go.
The way he said it scared me. I had this sense of foreboding that, if we went to the South Pole, something would happen and we would lose something that we would never be able to recover. I had terrible nightmares over and over. It was the same dream each time. In the dream, I was taking a walk, and I fell in a deep hole in the ground, but no one discovered me and I ended up being frozen there. Trapped inside that ice, I could see the sky clearly. I was conscious, but I couldn't move even a single finger. It was a terribly strange feeling. I understood as moment by moment the present changed into the past. I had no future. The past kept piling up irreversibly. And everyone kept staring at me. They were looking at the past. I was looking backwards at passing scenes.
And then I would wake up. The Ice Man was sleeping next to me. He slept without breathing at all. Just like he had died and frozen that way or something. But I loved the Ice Man. I'd start to cry. My tears would land on his cheek. Then he'd wake up and hold me in his arms. I had a bad dream, I'd say. He'd shake his head silently in the darkness. It was just a dream, he'd say. Dreams are things from the past. They aren't from the future. That wasn't you imprisoned there. You imprison your dreams. You understand?
Yeah, I'd say. But I wasn't convinced.

Eventually, my husband and I boarded the plane for the South Pole. There just wasn't a good enough reason to cancel it. The pilot and the stewardesses on the plane to the South Pole were all totally silent. I really wanted to look at the scenery outside the window, but the clouds were thick and I couldn't see anything. After a while, they were completely covered with ice anyway. My husband just silently read a book all the while. I didn't have the excitement or sense of anticipation that usually accompanies going on a trip. I was just going through a set of pre-determined motions.
When I first stepped off the gangway and onto the surface of the South Pole, I could feel my husband's whole body tremble violently. It was quicker than a wink, maybe half the time that it takes to blink, so no one noticed; and my husbands didn't so much as bat an eyelash, but I couldn't miss it. Something deep inside my husband's body had shuddered violently, although in secret. He stopped there, looked at the sky, then stared at his hands, and finally took a deep breath. Then he looked me in the eye and beamed merrily. So, this is the land of your dreams, he said. Yeah, I said.
The gloominess of the South Pole exceeded even the worst of my premonitions. Almost no one lived there. There is just one little featureless town there. In the town, there is just one little featureless hotel. There are no sights to see. There aren't even any penguins. You can't see the Northern Lights. Occasionally, I'd set about trying to ask people where I might be able to see penguins, but they would just shake their heads silently. They couldn't comprehend my speech. I would try to draw a picture of a penguin on a piece of paper. But of course, they would just shake their heads silently. I was all alone. If you took one step outside of town, there was nothing beyond but ice. There weren't any trees; there weren't any flowers; no rivers, no ponds, no nothing. Wherever you went, there was nothing but ice. Frozen wasteland stretched out as far as the eye could see in every direction.
And yet my husband, breathing his white breath, frost growing on his fingers, his eyes, as ever, glaring icicle-like, walked around from place to place vigorously, as if knowing no satiation. The native speech of that land quickly returned to him, and he had conversations with the people of the town, in a voice that rang as hard as ice. They talked together for hours at a time, with serious expressions on their faces. I couldn't understand at all what in the world they were talking about so earnestly. My husband was completely delirious in that place. There was something there that entranced him. At first, this really irritated me. I felt as though I had been left behind by myself. I felt neglected and betrayed by my husband.
Eventually, though, I lost all of my strength, in the midst of that desert world, hemmed in by thick ice. Slowly, gradually. I even lost the power to be upset. It was like I had misplaced the compass of my senses. Direction vanished, time vanished, even my awareness of my own existence vanished. I don't know when this process began or when it ended. I came to realize, though, that I was imprisoned all alone, senseless, in the midst of that world of ice, in the midst of that color-starved eternal winter. After my senses were almost all gone, I understood only this. My husband in the South Pole was not my former husband. It wasn't that his behavior toward me had changed. He was as concerned about me as ever, and his speech was always kind. And I'm sure that he meant everything that he said. He was simply a different Ice Man than the one that I met at the ski lodge. But there wasn't anyone there who I could ask about it. All of the South Poleans were friends with him, and besides, they couldn't understand my speech. They all breathed their white breaths, frost grew on their faces, and they told their jokes, debated their debates, and sang their songs in South Pole-ese. I ended up locking myself in my room alone, staring blankly at the never-changing gray sky, and pouring over the impossibly complicated mystery of South Pole-ese grammar, even though I had no hope of ever mastering it.
There were no planes at the airstrip. After the plane that had brought us here promptly took off again, there hadn't been even one single arrival. The runway had eventually become buried in a thick layer of ice. Just like my heart.

Winter has come, my husband said. It's a very long winter. No planes will come, no ships will come. Everything is frozen. We'll just have to wait here for the spring, he said.

After we had been in the South Pole for about three months, I realized that I was pregnant. I knew right away: the child to whom I would give birth was a little Ice Man. My uterus was covered with ice, and the amniotic fluid was mingled with slush. I could feel the chill growing in my abdomen. I just knew. The child would have his father's icicle gaze, and frost would grow on his little fingers. And I just knew: our new family would never again leave the South Pole. Our feet would surely catch on the insensate mass of the eternal past. No matter how hard we tried, we would never shake it off.

Now, there is almost nothing left of my former self. My natural warmth has been displaced far, far away. Sometimes I forget that I ever even had it. And yet somehow I can still cry. I am truly alone. I am in a colder, lonelier place than anyone in the whole world. When I cry, the Ice Man kisses my cheek. His kisses turn my tears to ice. Then he takes these ice tears in his hand and sets them on his tongue. I love you, he says. It's not a lie. I understand this well. The Ice Man loves me. But then, from some far-off place, a wind stirs and blows his white, frozen words away, away, into the past. I cry. Icy tears stream down my face. In our far away, frozen home at the South Pole.

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The Seventh Man

by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Christopher Allison

"It was a September afternoon during my tenth year when that wave nearly brought me to my end," the Seventh Man began in a quiet voice.

He was the last person to speak that night. The hour hand on the clock had already past ten. The sound of the wind blowing to the west outside in the black darkness could be heard by everyone sitting there together in a circle in the room. Leaves rustled in the garden, the panes of the window rattled slightly, and the wind rose up in a shrill whistle before blowing away into the night.

"That was a special type of wave, a colossus, the like of which I've never again seen," the man continued.

"That wave only missed finishing me off by hair's breadth. But instead it drank up the most essential part of me, and transported it to another world. It took such a long time before I was finally completely recovered. So much precious time."

The Seventh Man looked to be in his mid-fifties.  Tall and gaunt, he had a profusion of whiskers around his mouth, and there was a small but deep wound by his right eye, that appeared to have been made by a knife stroke. His hair was short, and had bristly touches of white here and there. His face seemed to bear the expression of a man who suddenly doesn't know quite what to say, except that he seemed to have worn this expression consistently for a long time, and there was something quite familiar about it. He wore a cheerless blue shirt under a grey tweed jacket. He occasionally took the collar of his shirt into his hand. No one knew his name. There was probably nobody who knew anything about him.

The Seventh Man coughed quietly. All other words dropped away into silence. Without saying anything, everyone waited for him to go on.

"In my case, it was a wave. Of course, I can't say anything about how it is with other people. But in my case it just happened to be a wave. I had no advance warning. Suddenly it was just there in front of me one day: that fatal force presenting itself in the shape of an enormous wave.

"I grew up in S Prefecture, in this town by the sea.   It was such a nowhere town that even if I told you the name, it probably wouldn't make an impression on you. My father was engaged as a medical practitioner there, and at first I had a relatively untroubled childhood. I had one very close friend for as long as I could remember.   His name was K. He lived in the house next door to ours, and was a year behind me in school. We walked to school together everyday, and when we returned home in the afternoon the two of us always played together. We might as well have been brothers. Though we were friends for a very long time, never once did any kind of trouble arise between us. I actually had a real brother, but because he was six years older than me we didn't have much in common, and to speak frankly, there wasn't much love lost between us. It was because of this that I felt more fraternal love for my friend than I did for my real brother.

"K was pale and slight, and had the delicate features of a girl. He also had a speech impediment, and couldn't talk well. When strangers met him for the first time, I imagine they got the impression that he was retarded. And since he wasn't very strong, I frequently found myself acting as his protector both at school and after school when we were playing. Anybody can see right away that I'm a pretty big guy, and fairly athletic. The thing that I liked most about being with K was his kindness and the beauty of his soul. There was absolutely nothing wrong with his mind, but his impediment led him to have academic problems, and going to class was troublesome for him. He was exceptionally gifted at drawing pictures, though, and whenever he took up a pencil or his paints, he created such exquisite pictures exuding such vitality that even his teacher was blown away. He frequently won prizes in competitions and received commendations. If he had grown up unpreturbed, I think that he probably would have made a name for himself as an artist. He was particularly fond of painting landscapes, and went to the shore incessantly to draw the sea. I spent countless days sitting next to him, watching his nimble hand guide the pencil over the paper. The way he could bring such life-like shapes and colors out of the pure white of the paper in an instant impressed me deeply, and was truly amazing. When I think about it now, it was really nothing short of genius.

"One year in September, the region where I lived was beset by a fierce typhoon. According to the report on the radio, this was going to be the biggest typhoon the area had seen in ten years. School was quickly dismissed, and all the shops in town were closed and shuttered tight. My father and brother got out the tool box and began putting up storm doors around the house, while my mother busied herself in the kitchen preparing onigiri as emergency rations. Bottles and canteens were filled with water, and we all packed backpacks with necessaries, in case we had to be evacuated somewhere quickly. To the adults, who had to face the hardship of typhoons nearly every year, it was just a noisome and dangerous fact of life, but to us children, removed as we were from the hard reality of the situation, it was nothing less than a great and exciting event of considerable moment.

"The color of the sky began to change dramatically just after noon. There seemed to be an unnatural hue mixed into it. The wind rose to a howl, making a strange dry, crackling sound like beaten sand, and I went out onto the veranda to watch the sky until the rain began to beat fiercely against the side of the house. In the darkness of the house sealed off by storm shutters, the family gathered in one room and listened to the news reports on the radio. The volume of the rain wasn't that great, but there was a lot of danger from strong winds, and many houses had had their roofs blown off, and numerous ships had been overturned. Heavy objects flying through the air had killed or injured several people. The announcer repeated his warning not to go outdoors under any circumstances. Occasionally, the strong winds would cause a creaking sound in the house, as if some giant hand were shaking it. Once in a while, we would hear a great wham as some heavy object crashed into the storm shutters. Father said that they were probably roofing tiles from a house somewhere. We had a lunch of the onigiri my mother had made, along with some fried eggs, and listened to the news on the radio, waiting for the typhoon to leave us and go somewhere else.

"But the typhoon wouldn't leave. According to the news, from the time the typhoon had reached the eastern part of S Prefecture it had lost speed, and was now moving to the northeast no faster than a person walking briskly. The wind didn't slacken at all, and made a brutal sound as if it was trying to rip up the very surface of the earth and blow it away.

"That fierce wind probably lasted about an hour from the time it first began to blow. But then I noticed that it had grown very quiet. You couldn't hear a single sound; not even the crow of distant birds. Father opened one of the rain shutters a little and peered out from the crack to see what was happening. The wind had died down and the rain was slackening. The thick grey clouds were slowly rolling away. Here and there, patches of blue sky appeared between breaks in the clouds. The trees in the garden were dripping with rain water and droplets hung off the tips of the braches.

" eWe're in the eye of the typhoon right now,' my father told me. eFor a little while, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, we'll get a short break from the storm. Then it will pick up again, as fierce as before.'

"I asked father if it was ok for me to go outside. It's ok to take a walk around, father told me, as long as you don't go far.

" eBut as soon as the wind begins to pick up even a little bit, hurry back home right away.' I went outside and looked around. I couldn't believe that just a few minutes before everything was being buffeted by fierce winds. I looked up at the sky. I had the impression that the typhoon's huge eye floated up there above us, glaring down malevolently. But of course that was just my childish imagination. We were merely in the midst of a temporary lull at the center of an air pressure vortex.

"While the adults walked around the outside of the house checking for damage, I decided to wander down to the sea shore. A lot of limbs from trees in the neighborhood had been ripped off by the wind and dropped on the roadway. Some of them were fat pine branches so big that an adult couldn't possibly lift them alone. Shattered roof tiles were scattered all over the ground. A rock had hit a car windshield, and caused a large crack. There was even a doghouse that had been blown onto the road from somewhere. The sight looked like a giant hand had reached down from the sky and calmly wiped across the surface of the earth. K spotted me as I was walking along the road, and came out of his house. Where are you going?, K asked. When I replied that I was going down to take a look at the sea, K fell in behind me without saying a word. There was a small white dog that lived at K's house, and this dog trailed the both of us as well. eWe have to go home right away when the wind picks up even a little bit,' I told K, and he nodded silently in reply.

"The sea was no more than a 200 meter walk from my house. There was a breakwater there that was about as tall as I was at the time, and climbing a short set of stairs, we arrived at the seashore. We came to the shore nearly every day to play, and we knew this stretch of beach like the backs of our hands. But in the eye of the typhoon, things seemed different from normal. The color of the sky, the color of the sea, the crashing of the waves, the smell of salt, the breadth of the scene, everything about that stretch of sea coast had changed. We sat on top of the breakwater for a moment and just stared out at the sea wordlessly. Even though we were in the middle of a typhoon, the waves were dreadfully still. When the waves struck, they retreated farther than normal. The white sand beach was getting wider as we watched. Even at ebb tide, the water didn't recede so far. It was like a large room after all the furniture has been moved out, when it looks unbearably empty. Assorted pieces of flotsam washed up into a line on shore, almost as usual.

"I got down off the sea wall, and keeping my eye on the sky as I walked along the newly expanded beach, I looked more closely at the junk that had been deposited there. Plastic toys and sandals and chunks of wood that seemed to have once been pieces of furniture and loose clothing and rare bottles and boxes made of wood with foreign writing on them and other things of unknown character were scattered as far as the eye could see. Most likely, the great waves of the typhoon had transported it all here from some far away place. Whenever we noticed anything particularly unique, we would pick it up and examine it closely. K's dog stood beside the two of us wagging his tail and sniffing each thing we picked up.

"We were there for at most 5 minutes or so. Suddenly, however, I noticed that the waves had made their way up the beach. Without any sound, without any indication at all, the silvery tongue of the sea had silently crept to our very feet. There was no way that I could have anticipated this. Having been raised close to the ocean, I knew well the terrors of which it was capable. I knew that it could on occasion produce brutality of a scale impossible to predict. We thus moved away from the place where the waves were lapping, exercising all due caution, to a place that seemed safe to me. But before I knew it, the waves had reached up to within a 8 inches of where I was standing, and then soundlessly receded again. And then finally they didn't return. There was nothing particularly menacing about these waves. They were quietly and discreetly washing the beach. But there was something secretive and terribly ominous in them, like the serpentine feel of reptile hide, that immediately sent chills up my spine.  It was fear without any obvious cause. But it was fear real and true nonetheless. I realized intuitively that it was something alive. There could be no mistake. Those waves were alive. The waves would grab hold of me, and toy with me according to their whim. And as I fantasized about that giant carnivore honing in on me and devouring me with his sharp teeth, the wind lurked somewhere out there in the fields. We've got to get out of here, I thought to myself.

"I turned to K and said to him eHey, let's go.' He was standing about ten yards away with his back to me, and looking at something as if it were his reflection. I had spoken in a plenty loud enough voice, but it was as if K didn't even hear me. Or maybe he was so absorbed in what he had discovered that my voice didn't reach his ears. As if in a dream, the outside world was forgotten. Or perhaps my voice wasn't as loud as I thought. I remember clearly that it didn't sound like my voice. It sounded entirely like somebody else's voice.

Then I heard a groan. It seemed loud enough to shake the earth. No, but before the groan another sound could be heard. It was the strange sound of a lot of water gushing through a hole. After this gushing sound had continued for a while, there came an almost insensible groaning sound, like the rumble of distant thunder. But still K didn't look up. He just stood there distractedly staring at something at his feet. All of his senses were concentrated on it. K probably couldn't even hear that groaning sound. I don't know how he could not have heard that tremendous sound, like the very earth trembling. Maybe it was a sound that I alone could hear. It may sound strange, but I wonder whether that sound was made only to reach my ears. That is to say, the dog which stood at his side didn't seem to notice the sound either. And dogs do have especially acute hearing, after all.

"I had to go over there and get him and drag him away, I thought to myself. There was no other way about it. I knew that the wave was coming, and K did not. My feet, though, which knew what was about to happen, turned away from my willin exactly the opposite direction. I ran away to the breakwater alone. I guess it was the overwhelming fear that made me do it. It robbed me of my voice, but it got my feet moving well enough. I fled stumbling across the soft sand beach and, arriving there, turned to shout at K.

" eWatch out! There's a wave coming!' I yelled in a loud voice. Then I noticed that the rumbling sound had stopped. K finally noticed my shouting and raised his head. But it was too late. At that very moment, a great wave rose up, like a viper preparing to strike, and pounded the coast. I had never seen anything like it in my entire life. It was taller than a three-story building. It hardly made any noise at all (or, at least, my memory of it contains no sound. It came soundlessly in my memory), and rose so high as to block out the sky behind K. He looked at me for a moment with an expression of incomprehension. But then he seemed to realize something and turned around. He was trying to get away. But there was no escape. In the next instant, the wave swallowed him up. It was like a collision with an unfeeling locomotive running at full speed.

"The rumbling sound rose and the wave broke, smashing down violently on the beach and, like an explosion, threw off fragments which came flying through the air to attack me at the breakwater. But secreted as I was behind the seawall, it passed by me. The tendrils of spray that managed to surmount it only soaked my clothes. Then I climbed up on top of the breakwater quickly and looked down the shoreline. The wave was rolling back out to sea at full speed, raising its savage shout all the while. It looked as if as someone had stretched a giant wool carpet at the extreme edge of the land. I looked as hard as I could, but there was no trace of K anywhere. In the space of a breath, the wave had passed so far out to sea that it seemed as if the ocean were drying out and the seafloor would be exposed. I cowered alone on the seawall.

"The silence returned. It was a hopeless silence as if the world had been violently stripped of every sound. With K still swallowed up inside, the wave passed far away. I couldn't begin to guess what I ought to do next. I thought that maybe I should go down to the beach. Maybe, by some chance, K had been buried in the sand somewhere nearby... But then I changed my mind and didn't move from atop the breakwater. I had learned from experience that these big waves could come two or three times together.

"I can't remember now how much time passed. I think it probably wasn't very long. 10 or 20 seconds, something like that, anyway. At any rate, after that impenetrable interval, the wave returned again to pound the shore, just as I had anticipated. That rumbling sound shook the earth violently just as before, the noise ceased, and at last the wave raised its head like a viper. All exactly like before. It blocked out the sky, and hemmed me in in front like a mortal cliff face. But this time there was nowhere to run to. As if bewitched, I stood there petrified on top of the breakwater, watching my impending demise. I had this feeling that, K having already been abducted, there was no use in trying to escape. Or then again, maybe in the face of that overwhelming fear, I could do nothing but cower. I don't clearly remember now which way it was.

"The second wave was every bit as big as the first. No, it was even bigger. The shape distorted slowly at first, like a brick rampart collapsing, as the wave toppled down from above. It was far too big, and didn't look like a real wave. It looked like something completely different that had the shape of a wave. Something come from some distant world in the shape of a wave, but altogether different. I steeled my resolve and waited for the instant when darkness would seize me. I didn't even close my eyes. I remember hearing the sound of my own pulse. When the wave was immediately before me, however, it stopped and floated in the air, as if it had suddenly lost power. It only lasted for a second, but in that moment the wave hung there, midway through breaking, and stopped. And in the foam at the crest of the wave, in the middle of that vicious, transparent tongue, I clearly recognized the shape of K.

"Perhaps not all of you can believe such a thing. That's probably inevitable. To speak frankly, even I still can't comprehend how something like this could happen. Of course there is no explanation. But it wasn't a vision and it wasn't an illusion. That's exactly how it happened without the slightest fabrication. As if enclosed in a transparent capsule, K floated on his side in the crest of that wave. And that wasn't all. K was laughing at me. There, right before my eyes, so close I could reach out and touch him, I could make out my best friend's face, who only moments before had been swallowed by the wave. There was no mistake. He started laughing at me. And it was no ordinary laugh either. His grin literally stretched from ear to ear. Then his look grew cold and dire, and he fixed his gaze on me. He stretched out his right hand in my direction. As if he wanted to take my hand and drag me into that world. His hand was unable to grasp me, however. Then K opened his mouth even wider and laughed once again.

"I guess I lost consciousness after that. The next thing I knew, I was on a bed in my father's hospital. When I opened my eyes, a nurse went to call my father and he came running in right away. He took my hand and measured my pulse, looked in my pupils, and put a hand to my forehead to check my temperature. I tried to move my hand, but it was impossible for me to lift it. I had a fever like my whole body was on fire, and I was dazed and couldn't hold a thought. It seems that I'd had a high fever for quite a while. You slept for three days straight, my father said. A neighbor who had been watching the whole time from some distance away picked me up after he saw me fall and carried me home. K was carried of by the wave and we still don't know where he is, my father said. I knew there was something I wanted to tell my father. There was something I had to tell my father. But my tongue was swollen and numb. I couldn't get any words out. It felt like some completely different type of creature had taken up residence in my mouth. Father asked me my name. I tried to remember my name, but before it came to mind I lost consciousness again and plunged back into the darkness.

"In the end, I was in bed for a week, hooked up to an I.V. I threw up many times and had nightmares. The whole time, Father was deeply concerned that the severe shock and the high fever might cause permanent brain damage. My situation was so grave that it wouldn't have been unusual if that had happened. But my body slowly recovered somehow. Over the course of many weeks I gradually returned to my former life. I ate the usual foods, and I went back to school. But of course not everything was back to the way it was.

"K's corpse was never recovered. The dog that the wave had swallowed up with him wasn't ever seen again either. Usually, people who drown off that part of the coast get carried by the tide to this small inlet to the east, and after a few days wash up on the beach, but what became of K's body was never known. Maybe the overwhelming size of the waves during that typhoon carried him so far out to sea that his body never made it back to shore. He probably sank to the bottom of the ocean somewhere and became food for fish. The search for K's body continued for quite a long time with the assistance of the local fishermen, but at some point tapered off and eventually stopped. Since the all-important corpse was missing, in the end no funeral was held. From then on, K's parents were half-mad with grief, spending every day wandering aimlessly up and down the beach, or else shut up in their house chanting sutras.

"And despite the fact that they took the blow so hard, K's parents never once blamed me for having brought him to the beach in the middle of the typhoon. They knew well that until then I loved him as my own brother and valued him tremedously. My parents also seemed to avoid touching on the incident in my presence. But I knew it. If I think about it a little, I know I could have saved K. I'm pretty sure I could have gone to the place where he was standing and brought him safely to some place where the wave that carried him off wouldn't have been able to reach him. It would have been close, but when I go over my memory of it and the amount of time I had, I think I could have made it. But, as I said previously, I was overcome with blinding fear, and abandoned K to save myself. Since K's parents didn't blame me, and everybody else avoided talking about the incident as if it were cancerous, I suffered abundantly. For a long time, I was unable to recover from that psychological shock. I didn't go to school, I didn't eat much, I just lay on my back and stared up at the ceiling.

"No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't forget the sight of K reclining in the foam of the crest of that wave, with a merry grin on his face. Nor could I drive from my mind the individual fingers of his hand, each reaching out to me invitingly. When I went to sleep, that face, those eyes would appear in my dreams as well, as if he were waiting impatiently for me. In these dreams, K would leap out from his capsule in the foam, grab me by the wrist, and pull me into the wave.

"And I also had this other kind of dream. In it, I was swimming in the ocean. It's a beautiful summer afternoon, and I swim across the flat water far out to sea. The sun beats down on my back, and the water wraps around my body luxuriantly. But then something in the water grabs my right foot. I feel an ice-cold grip around my ankle. It is very strong and I can't shake it off. And just like that I'm pulled down into the deep. I see K's face there. Just like that time, he's looking dead at me, his face nearly split by that immense grin. I try to scream, but no sound comes out. I just gulp water in. My lungs fill up with water.

"I wake up in the dark, screaming, covered in sweat, and breathless.

"At the end of that year, I begged my parents to let me leave town immediately and move away somewhere else. I couldn't continue to live by that beach where K had been carried off by the wave, and I was having nightmares nearly every night, as you know. Some place fairly far removed from here. If I couldn't, I'd probably end up going mad. When he heard my request, my father made arrangements for me to relocate. In January, I moved to Nagano Prefecture and started going to a public elementary school there. My father's family home was nearby, and I was allowed to stay there. I advanced to junior high and then to high school in that same place. When vacations came, I didn't ever go back home. Every once in a while, my parents would come up for a visit.

"And to this very day, I still live in Nagano. I graduated from a technical college in Nagano City, found a job with a precision machinery company, and that brings us up to the present. I have had the life and career of a completely ordinary person. As you can see, there is nothing particularly different about me. I'm not a very social person, but I enjoy mountaineering, and I have a number of close friends through that. As soon as I moved away from that town, the nightmares decreased in frequency, almost to how it was before. But they didn't depart from my life completely either. They would come back to me periodically, like a bill collector knocking at the door. Just as soon as I would start to forget, there they would be. The dreams were always exactly the same, down to the minutest detail. Whenever that happened, I'd wake up screaming. My sheets would be drenched with sweat.

"That's probably why I never married. I didn't want to be continually waking up whoever was sleeping next to me at two or three o'clock in the morning with my yelling. There have been a number of women thus far that I've been quite fond of. But I've never spent the night with any of them. The fear is suffused into the very marrow of my bones, and is not something that it is possible to share with anyone.

"At this point, I'm over 40 years old and I'd never been back to my hometown, nor had I gotten near that stretch of coastline. It's not just that stretch of shore either, but the sea itself that I could not bear to be near. I was afraid that if I actually went to the sea there, the things that happened in my dreams would come to pass in reality. At one time, I loved swimming more than anything, but since then I hadn't even been able to swim in a pool. I couldn't get near a deep river or the tide. I avoided riding in ships. I had never been overseas on a plane either. I couldn't scrub from my mind the image of me drowning in some unknown place. Like K's cold hand in my dreams, I couldn't shake loose that dark presentiment from my consciousness.

"In the spring of last year, I revisited the site of K's abduction for the first time.

"Father had died the previous year, and my brother had sold the family home in order to divide up the proceeds. As he'd been putting the storage room in order, he came across a cardboard box full of my childhood things, and had sent it to me. Most of the stuff was worthless junk, but deep inside, a bundle of pictures that K had painted for me caught my eye. I think K's parents had given them to me as a rememberence of him. The fear was so strong it took my breath away. I had the feeling that K's spirit was revivified before my eyes in those pictures. I wrapped them back up in their flimsy wrapping and, intending to destroy them right away, put them back in the box. For whatever reason, though, I was unable to through away K's paintings. Several days later, completely at the end of my rope, I ripped the paper off K's watercolors, and boldly took them in hand.

"They were nearly all landscapes, familiar ocean and beaches and forests and store fronts, all done in K's distinctive shades. They were unfaded to a peculiar degree, and marks that had been there when I had seen the pictures years before still appeared as though they were fresh. As soon as I took the pictures in my hand, before I had even had a chance to really look at them, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of longing and remorse. Those pictures were far more skillfully executed and artistically superior than I had even remembered them being. I could feel acutely the presence of K's deep spirit in those pictures as if it were my own. I was able to understand fully how K saw the world around him. As I gazed at those pictures, the things that I did with K and the places that we went together came rushing vividly back to me, one by one. Yes, that's it: it was as if they were my own personalperceptions. I could see the world distinctly and unclouded, exactly as it had been then, the two of us side by side.

"Everyday when I returned home from work, I would take one of those pictures in my hand and stare at it. I could look at them endlessly. They contained the beautiful scenery of my youth that I had long before forced out of my mind. When I looked at K's pictures, I had the feeling that they permeated quietly into the center of my body.

"Then, after about a week had passed, I was taken aback by a new thought. Hadn't I, perhaps, been completely mistaken in my thinking? As K was lying in the foam of that wave, did he really hate and resent me, or was he not, perhaps, trying to transport me to somewhere else? That weird smile on his face--might it have just looked like a smile? Was he not already unconscious by then? Or could he not have just wanted to give me one last final, affectionate smile before we parted forever? Could the color of violent hatred that I saw in his face have been nothing more than the projection of my own deep fear?... As I examined those ancient watercolors of K's, my thoughts in this direction became stronger and stronger. No matter how I looked at them, nothing but K's unblemished, pacific spirit emerged from the pictures.

"For a long time after that, I just sat there. I was compledtely unable to stand up. The day passed and dusky darkness slowly enveloped the room. Finally, a deeply silent night came on. The seemingly unending night continued on until the counterbalance of the darkness could no longer sustain its weight, and then gradually day broke. New sunlight dyed the sky a pale rose, and the birds woke up and began their crowing. 

"I realized then that I had to go back to that town. And right away.

"I packed a suitcase with the bare essentials, called the office to tell them that something urgent had come up, and took a train in the direction of my hometown..

"The town was not at all the quiet seaside town of my memory. Out of the rapid growth period of the 1960's had emerged a manufacturing city, and this had wrought a great transformation on the scenery. The area around the station, where once only a few souvenir shops stood, was now crowded with merchants, and the only movie theater in town had become a supermarket. Even my own house was no more. It had been demolished some months before and now was nothing more than naked tilled earth. All the trees in the garden had been cut down, and weeds sprouted here and there from the black earth. Needless to say, the house that K had once lived in had vanished too. The land had been paved over for monthly parking, and cars and vans were lined up side by side. None of this really made me nostalgic at all, though. It had been so long since this town had been my own.

I walked to the shore and climbed the stairs to the top of the seawall. Facing the breakwater just as always, impeded by no one, the sea spread out wide. It was a huge ocean. Far away I could see the unbroken line of the horizon. The view from the beach was exactly as it had been long before. The beach stretched out like before, the waves lapped the shore like before, and people walked along the surf like before. The weak light of early evening enveloped the area and, as if the sun was considering something carefully, sunk slowly into the west. I sat down on the beach there, set my bag down next to me, and silently watched the sunset. It was a truly soothing and peaceful sight. The sight gave no clue that this was the same place where a great typhoon had once blown in, where a wave had swallowed up my best friend. There was probably hardly anyone left who even remembered that it had happened, forty years before.  I began to wonder whether it was just some private phantom that I had conjured up entirely in my head.

"Suddenly I noticed that the deep darkness within me had been extinguished. Just as suddenly as it had come on it was gone without a trace. I slowly got up from the beach. I walked to the edge of the surf and without rolling up my pants waded out into it. Waves lapped at my feet, still covered by shoes. The waves hit the shore just as they had when I was a child, and as if making a peace offering, washed over my feet, dampening my shoes and my clothes. Waves approached internittently and then retreated. Passersby stared at the peculiar sight of me, but I didn't pay any attention to them. After such a long time, I had finally made it back here.

"I looked up at the sky. Small grey clouds, like finely chopped cotton, floated by. There being hardly any wind, the clouds seemed to stay stopped in one place. I can't really explain it, but I had the feeling that those clouds floated there for me alone. My thoughts turned to the time when I was a boy that I had gone out looking for the great eye of the typhoon, and how at that time I had looked up to the sky in just the same way. The huge axle of time gave a mighty screech within me. The past and present crashed together, like my old desiccated house being demolished, and mixed together in one vortex of time. All ambient sound ceased, and the light wavered. I lost my balance and toppled into the approaching wave. My heart made a loud noise in my throat, as sensation in my hands and feet disipated. I lay prone like that, where I had fallen, for a long time. I was unable to stand up. But I wasn't at all afraid either. There was nothing to be afraid of. All of that was past.

"Since then I haven't had a single bad dream. I haven't once woken up screaming in the middle of the night. I wish I could start my life over from the beginning now and live it right. But no, I guess it's too late for that. From here on out, I probably don't have that much time left. But in spite of having lost so much time, I'm so grateful that I was redeemed before the end, and managed to recover. That's right. The possibility was there for me to end my life without receiving redemption, screaming into the fearful void."

The Seventh Man fell silent for a moment, and looked around him at the people seated there. Nobody said a word. There wasn't a sound in the room except for the faint whisper of breathing. Nobody so much as twitched. The wind had died down completely, and no sounds could be heard outside either. As if searching for a word, the man started once again to fidget with the collar of shirt.

"The way I see it, the true fear for us as human being is not terror as such," the man said after a little while. Terror certainly exists there....It manifests itself in various forms, and from time to time overwhelms our very existence as human beings. But the most fearful thing of all is to turn your back on that fear, to close your eyes to it. By doing that, we end up alienating the very most essential part of our make-up. In my case--it was a wave."

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Blind Willow, Sleeping Girl

by MURAKAMI Haruki
Translated by Philip Gabriel

When I closed my eyes, the scent of the wind wafted toward me. A May wind, swelling up like a piece of fruit, with a rough outer skin, slimy flesh, dozens of seeds. The flesh split open in midair, spraying seeds like gentle buckshot into the bare skin of my arms, leaving behind a faint trace of pain.
"What time is it?" my cousin asked me. About eight inches shorter than me, he had to look up when he talked.
I glanced at my watch. "Ten-twenty."
"Does that watch tell good time?"
"Yeah, I think so."
My cousin grabbed my wrist to look at the watch. His slim, smooth fingers were surprisingly strong. "Did it cost a lot?"
"No, it's pretty cheap," I said, glancing again at the timetable.
No response.
My cousin had a confused look on his face. The white teeth between his open lips looked like bones that had regressed.
"It's pretty cheap," I said, looking right at him, carefully repeating the words. "It's pretty cheap, but it keeps good time."
My cousin nodded silently.

My cousin can't hear well out of his right ear. Soon after he went into elementary school he was hit by a baseball and his hearing was screwed up. Not that he can't function normally. He goes to a regular school, leads an entirely normal life. In his classroom, he always sits in the front row, on the right, so he can keep his left ear toward his teacher. And his grades aren't so bad. The thing is, though, he goes through periods when he can hear sounds pretty well, and periods when he can't. It's cyclical, like the tides. And sometimes, maybe twice a year, he can barely hear anything out of either ear. It's like the silence in his right ear deepens to the point where it crushes any sound on the left side. When that happens, ordinary life goes out the window and he has to take some time off from school. The doctors are basically stumped. They've never seen a case like it, so there's nothing they can do.
"Just because a watch is expensive doesn't mean it's accurate," my cousin said, as if trying to convince himself. "I used to have a pretty expensive watch, but it was always off. I got it when I started junior high, but I lost it a year later. After that I've gone without a watch. They wouldn't buy me a new one."
"Must be tough to get along without one," I said.
"What?" he asked.
"Isn't it hard to get along without a watch?" I repeated, looking right at him.
"No, it isn't," he replied, shaking his head. "It's not like I'm living off in the mountains or something. If I want to know the time I just ask somebody."
"True enough," I said.
We were silent again for a while.
I knew I should say something more, try to be kind to him, try to make him relax a little until we arrived at the hospital. But it had been five years since I saw him last. In the meanwhile he'd grown from nine to fourteen, and I'd gone from twenty to twenty-five. And that span of time had created a translucent barrier between us that was hard to traverse. Even when I had to say something, the right words just wouldn't come out. And every time I hesitated, every time I swallowed back something I was about to say, my cousin looked up at me with a slightly confused look on his face. His left ear tilted ever so slightly toward me.
"What time is it now?" he asked me.
"Ten twenty-nine," I replied.
It was ten thirty-two when the bus finally rolled into view.

The bus that came was a new type, not like the one I used to take to high school. The windshield in front of the driver was much bigger, the whole vehicle like some huge bomber minus the wings. And the bus was more crowded than I had imagined. Nobody was standing in the aisles, but we couldn't sit together. We weren't going very far, so we stood next to the rear door in back. Why the bus should be so crowded at this time of day was a mystery. The bus route started from a private railway station, continued up into a residential area in the hills, then circled back to the station, and there weren't any tourist spots along the way. A few schools along the route made the buses crowded when kids were going to school, but at this time of day the bus should have been empty.
My cousin and I held on to the straps and the poles. The bus was brand-new, straight from the factory, the metal surfaces so shiny you could see your face reflected in them. The nap of the seats was all fluffy, and even the tiniest of screws had that proud, expectant feeling that only brand-new machinery possesses.
The new bus, and the way it was more crowded than expected, threw me off. Maybe the bus route had changed since I last rode it. I looked carefully around the bus and glanced outside. But it was the same old view of a quiet residential district I remembered.
"This is the right bus, isn't it?" my cousin asked worriedly. Ever since we got aboard I must have had a perplexed look on my face.
"Not to worry," I said, half trying to assure myself. "There's only one bus route that goes by here, so this has got to be it."
"Did you used to take this bus when you went to high school?" my cousin asked.
"Yeah, that's right."
"Did you like school?"
"Not particularly," I said. "But I could see my friends there, and it wasn't such a long ride."
My cousin thought about what I said.
"Do you still see them?"
"No, not for a long time," I said, choosing my words carefully.
"Why not? Why don't you see them?"
"'Cause we live so far away from each other." That wasn't the reason, but I couldn't think of any other way to explain it.
Right beside me sat a group of old people. Must have been close to fifteen of them. They were the reason the bus was so crowded, I suddenly realized. They were all suntanned, even the backs of their necks dark. And every single one of them was skinny. Most of the men had on thick mountain-climbing types of shirts; the women, simple, unadorned blouses. All of them had small rucksacks in their laps, the kind you'd use for short hikes into the mountains. It was amazing how much they looked alike. Like a drawer full of samples of something, all lined up neatly by category. The strange thing, though, was that there wasn't any mountain-climbing route along this bus line. So where in the world could they have been going? I thought about this as I stood there, clinging to the strap, but no plausible explanation came to mind.

I wonder if it's going to hurt this time-the treatment," my cousin asked me.
"I don't know," I said. "I didn't hear any of the details."
"Have you ever been to an ear doctor?" I shook my head. I hadn't been to an ear doctor once in my life.
"Has it hurt before?" I asked.
"Not really," my cousin said glumly. "It wasn't totally painless, of course; sometimes there was a little pain. But nothing terrible."
"Maybe this time it'll be the same. Your mom said they're not going to do anything much different from usual."
"But if they do the same as always, how's that going to help?"
"You never know. Sometimes the unexpected happens."
"You mean like pulling out a cork?" my cousin said. I glanced at him, but I didn't detect any sarcasm.
"It'll feel different having a new doctor treat you, and sometimes just a slight change in procedure might make all the difference. I wouldn't give up so easily."
"I'm not giving up," my cousin said.
"But you are kind of fed up with it?""I guess," he said, and sighed. "The fear is the worst thing. The pain I imagine is worse than the actual pain. Know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I know," I said.

A lot of things had happened that spring. A situation developed at work and I ended up quitting my job at a little ad company in Tokyo where I'd been working for two years. Around the same time I broke up with the girlfriend I'd been going out with since college. A month after that my grandmother died of intestinal cancer, and for the first time in five years I came back to this town, small suitcase in hand. My old room was just as I'd left it. The books I'd read were still on the shelf, my bed was there, my desk, and all the old records I used to listen to. But everything in the room had dried up, had long ago lost its color and smell. Time alone had stood still.
I'd planned to go back to Tokyo a couple of days after my grandmother's funeral to run down some leads for a new job. I was planning to move to a new apartment too, for a change of scenery. As the days passed, though, it seemed like too much trouble to get off my butt and get going. To put a finer point on it, even if I'd wanted to get up and moving, I couldn't. I spent my time holed up in my old room, listening to those old records, rereading old books, occasionally doing a little weeding in the garden. I didn't meet anybody, and the only people I talked to were members of my family.
One day my aunt dropped by and asked me to take my cousin to a new hospital. She should take him herself, she said, but something had come up that day so she couldn't. The hospital was near the high school I used to go to, so I knew where it was, and I had nothing else going on, so I couldn't very well refuse. My aunt handed me an envelope with some cash in it for us to use as lunch money.
This switch to a new hospital came about because the treatment he'd been getting at his old hospital hadn't done a thing to help. In fact he was having more problems than ever. When my aunt complained to the doctor in charge, he suggested that the problem had more to do with the boy's home environment than anything medical, and the two of them went at it. Not that anybody really expected that changing hospitals would lead to a quick improvement in his hearing. Nobody said as much, but they'd pretty much given up hope that his hearing would get any better.
My cousin lived nearby, but I was just over a decade older than him and we were never what you'd call close. When the relatives would get together I might take him someplace or play with him, but that was the extent of it.
Still, before long everyone started to look at my cousin and me as a pair, thinking that he was attached to me and that he was my favorite. For the longest time I couldn't figure out why. Now, though, seeing the way he tilted his head, his left ear aimed at me, I found it strangely touching.
Like the sound of rain heard long ago, his awkwardness struck a chord in me. And I began to catch a glimpse of why our relatives wanted to bring us together.

The bus had passed by seven or eight bus stops when my cousin looked up at me again anxiously.
"Is it much farther?"
"Yeah, we still have a ways. It's a big hospital, so we won't miss it."
I casually watched as the wind from the open window gently rustled the brims of the old people's hats and the scarves around their necks. Who were these people? And where could they possibly be headed?
"Hey, are you going to work in my father's company?" my cousin asked. I looked at him in surprise. His father, my uncle, ran a large printing company in Kobe. I'd never given the idea a thought, and nobody ever dropped a hint.
"Nobody's said anything about that," I said. "Why do you ask?"
My cousin blushed. "I just thought you might be," he said. "But why don't you? You wouldn't have to leave. And everybody'd be happy."
The taped message announced the next stop, but no one pushed the button to get off. Nobody was waiting to get on at the bus stop either.
"But there's stuff I have to do, so I have to go back to Tokyo," I said. My cousin nodded silently.
There wasn't a single thing I had to do. But I couldn't very well stay here.
The number of houses thinned out as the bus climbed the mountain slope.
Thick branches began to throw a heavy shadow across the road. We passed by some foreign-looking houses, painted, with low walls in front. The cold breeze felt good. Each time the bus rounded a curve the sea down below popped into view, then disappeared. Until the bus pulled up at the hospital my cousin and I just stood there, watching the scenery go by.
"The examination will take some time and I can handle it alone," my cousin said, "so why don't you go and wait for me somewhere?" After a quick hello to the doctor in charge, I exited the exam room and went to the cafeteria.
I'd barely had a bite for breakfast and was starving, but nothing on the menu whetted my appetite. I made do with a cup of coffee.
It was a weekday morning and one little family and I had the place to ourselves. The father was mid-forties, wearing a navy-blue, striped pair of pajamas and plastic slippers. The mother and little twin girls had come to pay a visit. The twins had on identical white dresses and were bent over the table, serious looks on their faces, drinking glasses of orange juice. The father's injury, or illness, didn't seem too serious, and both parents and kids looked bored.
Outside the window was a lawn. A sprinkler ticked as it rotated, misting the grass with a silvery spray. A pair of shrill, long-tailed birds cut right above the sprinkler and disappeared from sight. Past the lawn there were a few deserted tennis courts, the nets gone. Beyond the tennis courts was a line of zelkovas, and between their branches you could see the ocean. The early summer sun glinted here and there off the small waves. The breeze rustled the new leaves of the zelkova, ever so slightly bending the spray from the sprinkler.
I felt like I'd seen this scene, many years before. A broad expanse of lawn, twin girls slurping up orange juice, long-tailed birds flying off who knows where, netless tennis courts, and the sea beyond ... But it was an illusion. It was vivid enough, an intense sense of reality, but an illusion nonetheless. I'd never been to this hospital before in my life.
I stretched my legs out on the seat opposite, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes. In the darkness I could see a lump of white. Silently it expanded, then contracted, like some microbe under a microscope. Changing form, spreading out, breaking up, reforming.
It was eight years ago when I went to that other hospital. A small hospital next to the sea. All you could see out the window were some oleanders. It was an old hospital, and smelled of rain. My friend's girlfriend had her chest operated on there, and the two of us went to see how she was doing. The summer of our junior year in high school.
It wasn't much of an operation, really, just done to correct the position of one of her ribs that curved inward a bit. Not an emergency procedure, just the type of thing that would eventually have to be done, so she figured why not take care of it now. The operation itself was over quickly, but they wanted her to take her time recuperating, so she stayed in the hospital for ten days. My friend and I rode there together on a 125cc Yamaha motorcycle. He drove on the way there, me on the way back. He'd asked me to come. "No way I'm going to a hospital by myself," he'd said.
My friend stopped at a candy store near the station and bought a box of chocolates. I held on to his belt with one hand, the other hand clutching tightly the box of chocolates. It was a hot day and our shirts kept getting soaked, then drying in the wind. As my friend drove he sang some nothing song in an awful voice. I can still remember the smell of his sweat.
Not too long after that he died.

His girlfriend had on blue pajamas and a thin gown sort of thing down to her knees. The three of us sat at a table in the cafeteria, smoked Short Hope cigarettes, drank Cokes, and ate ice cream. She was starving and ate two sugar-coated doughnuts and drank cocoa with tons of cream in it. Still that didn't seem enough for her.
"By the time you get out of the hospital you're going to be a regular blimp," my friend said, somewhat disgustedly.
"It's okay-I'm recovering," she replied, wiping the tips of her fingers, covered with oil from the doughnuts.
As they talked I gazed out the window at the oleanders. They were huge, almost like a woods unto themselves. I could hear the sound of waves too. The railing next to the window was completely rusted from the constant breeze. An antique-- looking ceiling fan nudged the hot, sticky air around the room. The cafeteria had the smell of a hospital. Even the food and the drinks had that hospital odor to them. The girlfriend's pajamas had two breast pockets, in one of which was a small gold-colored pen. Whenever she leaned forward I could see her small, white breastspeep out of the V-necked collar.

The memories ground to a halt right there. I tried to remember what had happened after that. I drank a Coke, gazed at the oleander, snuck a look at her breasts-and then what? I shifted in the plastic chair and, resting my head in my hands, tried to dig down further in the layer of memory. Like gouging out a cork with the tip of a thin-bladed knife.
I looked off to one side and tried to visualize the doctors splitting open the flesh on her chest, sticking their rubber-gloved hands inside to straighten out her crooked rib. But it all seemed too surreal, like some sort of allegory.
That's right-after that we talked about sex. At least my friend did. But what did he say? Something about me, no doubt. How I'd tried, unsuccessfully, to make it with some girl. Not much of anything, but the way he told it, blowing everything out of proportion, made his girlfriend burst out laughing. Made me laugh as well. The guy really knew how to tell a story.
"Please don't make me laugh," she said, a bit painfully. "When I laugh my chest hurts."
"Where does it hurt?" my friend asked.
She pressed a spot on her pajamas above her heart, just to the right of her left breast. He made some joke about that, and again she laughed.

I looked at my watch. It was eleven forty-five but my cousin still wasn't back. It was getting close to lunchtime and the cafeteria was starting to get more crowded. All sorts of sounds and voices mixed together like smoke enveloping the room. I returned once more to the realm of memory. And that small gold pen she had in her breast pocket. ... Now I remember-she used that pen to write something on a paper napkin.
She was drawing a picture. The napkin was too soft and the tip of her pen kept getting stuck. Still, she managed to draw a hill. And a small house on top of the hill. A girl was asleep in the house. The house was surrounded by a stand of blind willows. It was the blind willows that had put her to sleep.
"What the heck's a blind willow?" my friend asked.
"There is a kind of tree like that." "Well I never heard of it."
"That's 'cause I'm the one who created it," she said, smiling. "Blind willows have a lot of pollen, and tiny flies covered with the stuff crawl inside her ear and put the girl to sleep."
She took a new napkin and drew a picture of the blind willow. The blind willow turned out to be a tree the size of an azalea. The tree was in bloom, the flowers surrounded by dark green leaves like a bunch of lizard tails gathered together. The blind willow didn't resemble a willow at all.
"You got a cigarette?" my friend asked me. I tossed a sweaty pack of Hopes and some matches across the table.
"A blind willow looks small on the outside, but it's got incredibly deep roots," she explained. "Actually, after a certain point it stops growing up and pushes further and further down into the ground. Like the darkness nourishes it."
"And the flies carry that pollen to her ear, burrow inside, and put her to sleep," my friend added, struggling to light his cigarette with the damp matches. "But what happens to the flies?"
"They stay inside the girl and eat her flesh-naturally," his girlfriend said.
"Gobble it up," my friend said.

I remembered now how that summer she'd written a long poem about the blind willow and explained it all to us. That was the only homework assignment she did that summer. She made up a story based on a dream she'd had one night, and as she lay in bed for a week she wrote this long poem. My friend said he wanted to read it, but she was still polishing it, so she turned him down; instead, she drew those pictures and summarized the plot.
A young man climbed up the hill to rescue the girl the blind-willow pollen had put to sleep.
"That's got to be me," my friend put in.
She shook her head. "No, it isn't you. "You sure?" he asked.
"I'm sure," she said, a fairly serious look on her face. "I don't know why I know that. But I do. You're not angry, are you?"
"You bet I am," my friend frowned, half joking.
Pushing his way through the thick blind willows, the young man slowly made his way up the hill. He was the first one ever to climb the hill once the blind willows took over. Hat pulled down over his eyes, brushing away with one hand the swarms of flies buzzing around him, the young man kept on climbing. To see the sleeping girl. To wake her from her long, deep sleep.
"But by the time he reached the top of the hill the girl's body had basically been eaten up already by the flies, right?" my friend said.
"In a sense," his girlfriend replied. "In a sense being eaten by flies makes it a sad story, doesn't it," my friend said.
"Yes, I guess so," she said after giving it some thought. "What do you think?" she asked me.
"Sounds like a sad story to me," I replied.

It was twelve-twenty when my cousin came back. He was carrying a small bag of medicine and had a sort of unfocused look on his face. After he appeared at the entrance to the cafeteria it took some time for him to spot me and come on over. He walked awkwardly, as if he couldn't keep his balance. He sat down across from me and, like he'd been too busy to remember to breathe, took a huge breath.
"How'd it go?" I asked.
"Mmm," he said. I waited for him to say more, but he didn't.
"Are you hungry?" I asked. He nodded silently.
"You want to eat here? Or do you want to take the bus into town and eat there?"
He looked uncertainly around the room. "Here's fine," he said. I bought lunch tickets and ordered the set lunches for both of us. Until the food was brought over to us my cousin gazed silently out the window at the same scenery I'd been looking at-the sea, the row of zelkovas, the sprinkler.
At the table beside us a nicely decked-out middle-aged couple were eating sandwiches and talking about a friend of theirs who had lung cancer. How he'd quit smoking five years ago but it was too late, how he'd vomit blood when he woke up in the morning. The wife asked the questions, the husband gave the answers. In a certain sense, the husband explained, you can see a person's whole life in the cancer they get.
Our lunches consisted of Salisbury steaks and fried white fish. Plus salads and rolls. We sat there, across from each other, silently eating. The whole time we were eating the couple next to us went on and on about how cancer starts. Why the cancer rate's gone up,why there isn't any medicine that can combat it.

"Everywhere you go it's the same," my cousin said in a flat tone, gazing at his hands. "The same old questions, the same tests."
We were sitting on the bench in front of the hospital, waiting for the bus. Every once in a while the breeze would rustle the green leaves above us.
"Sometimes you can't hear anything at all?" I asked him.
"That's right," my cousin answered. "I can't hear a thing."
"What does that feel like?"
He tilted his head to one side and thought about it. "All of a sudden you can't hear anything. But it takes quite some time before you realize what's happened. By then you can't hear a thing. It's like you're at the bottom of the sea wearing earplugs. That continues for a while. All that time you can't hear a thing, but it's not just your ears. Not being able to hear anything is just a part of it."
"Is it annoying?"
He shook his head, a short, definite shake. "I don't know why, but it doesn't bother me that much. It is inconvenient, though. Not being able to hear anything."
I tried to picture it. But the image wouldn't come.
"Did you ever see John Ford's movie Fort Apache?" my cousin asked.
"A long time ago," I said.
"It was on TV a while ago. It's really a good movie."
"Um," I affirmed.
"In the beginning there's this new colonel who's come to a fort out west. A veteran captain comes out to meet him when he arrives, the captain played by John Wayne. The colonel doesn't know much about what things are like out west. And there's an Indian uprising all around the fort."
My cousin took a neatly folded white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his mouth.
"Once he arrives at the fort the colonel turns to John Wayne and says, 'I did see a few Indians on the way over here.' And John Wayne, this cool look on his face, replies, `Don't worry. If you were able to spot some Indians, that means there aren't any there.' I don't remember the actual lines, but it went something like that. Do you get what he means?"
I couldn't recall any lines like that from Fort Apache. It struck me as a bit too abstruse for a John Ford movie. But it had been some time since I'd seen the film.
"I think it means that what can be seen by anybody isn't all that important ... I guess."
My cousin frowned. "I don't really understand it either, but every time somebody sympathizes with me about my ears that line comes to me. `If you were able to spot some Indians, that means there aren't any there."'
I laughed.
"Is that strange?" my cousin asked. "Yep," I said. And he laughed. It'd been a long time since I'd seen him laugh.
After a while my cousin said, like he was unburdening himself, "Would you look inside my ears for me?"
"Look inside your ears?" I asked, a little surprised.
"Just what you can see from the outside."
"Okay, but why do you want me to do that?"
"I don't know," my cousin blushed. "I just want you to see what they look like."
"Okay," I said. "I'll give it a whirl."
My cousin sat facing away from me, tilting his right ear toward me. His ear was really nicely shaped. On the small side, but the earlobe was all puffy, like a freshly baked madeleine. I'd never looked at anybody's ear so intently before. Once you start observing it closely, the human ear-its structure-is a pretty mysterious thing. With all these outrageous twists and turns to it, bumps and depressions. Maybe evolution determined this weird shape was the optimum way to collect sounds, or to protect what's inside. Surrounded by this asymmetrical wall, the hole of the ear gapes open like the entrance to a dark, secret cave.
I pictured my friend's girlfriend, microscopic flies nesting in her ear. Sweet pollen stuck to their six tiny legs, they burrow into the warm darkness inside her, chewing on the soft, light pink flesh within, sucking up all the juices, laying tiny eggs inside her brain. But you can't see them, or even hear the sound of their wings.
"That's enough," my cousin said. He spun around to sit facing forward, shifting around on the bench. "So, did you see anything unusual?"
"Nothing different as far as I could see, from the outside at least."
"Anything's okay-even a feeling
you got or something."
"Your ear looks normal to me." My cousin looked disappointed. Maybe I had said the wrong thing.
"Did the treatment hurt?" I asked. "No, it didn't. Same as always. They just rummaged around in the same old spot. Makes me feel they're about to wear it out. Sometimes it doesn't feel like my own ear anymore."

"There's the number 28," my cousin said after a while, turning to me. "That's our bus, isn't it?"
I'd been lost in thought. I looked up when he said this and saw the bus slowing down as it went round the curve coming up the slope. This wasn't the kind of brand-new bus we'd ridden over on but one of those older buses I remembered. A sign with the number 28 was hanging from the front. I tried to stand up from the bench, but I couldn't. Like I was caught up in the middle of a powerful current, my limbs didn't respond.
I'd been thinking of the box of chocolates we'd taken when we went to that hospital on that long ago summer afternoon. The girl had happily opened the lid to the box only to discover that the dozen little chocolates had completely melted, sticking to the paper between each piece and to the lid itself. On the way to the hospital my friend and I had stopped the motorcycle by the seaside, and lay around on the beach just talking and hanging out. The whole while we'd let that box of chocolates lie out in the hot August sun. Our carelessness, our self-centeredness, had wrecked those chocolates, made one fine mess of them all. We should have sensed what was happening. One of us-it didn't matter who-should have said something meaningful. But on that afternoon, we didn't sense anything, just exchanged a couple of dumb jokes and said goodbye. And left that hill still overgrown with blind willows.
My cousin grabbed my right arm in a tight grip.
"Are you all right?" he asked me. That brought me back to reality, and I stood up from the bench. This time I had no trouble standing. Once more I could feel on my skin the sweet May breeze blowing by. For a few seconds I stood there in a strange, dim place. Where the things I could see didn't exist. Where the invisible did. Finally, though, the real number 28 bus stopped in front of me, its real door opening. I clambered aboard, heading off to some other place.
I rested my hand on my cousin's shoulder. "I'm all right," I told him.

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The Blind Willow, and the Sleeping Woman

by Murakami Haruki

trans. by Eric Han

Translator's note: This work was originally published in the December 1983 issue of Bungakkai, and is thus one of Murakami's earlier published works. It was originally about 80 sheets of 400-character paper [genkô yôshi], but since he found it to be a little too long, he reworked it into a 45 sheet 'diet version' in 1995. The version I'm using was published in 1996, in the short stories collection, The Ghosts of Lexington, and is 36 pages in print. In the foreword he mentions that though there is no direct connection between this story and his 1987 novel Norwegian Wood, it was one of the short stories on which he drew to compose that later work.


When I closed my eyes, I smelled the fragrance of the wind. It was a May wind, swollen like a fruit. It had the pitted peel of a fruit, its slimy pulp, and its powdery seeds too. When the pulp disintegrated in the sky, the seeds became buckshot and dove into my naked breast. All that remained afterwards was a faint ache.

"Um, what time is it?" my cousin asked me. Because of the 20 centimeter difference in our height, he was always peering up at my face to speak to me.

I glanced at my wristwatch. "10:12."

"Is your watch on time?" he asked.

"I think so."

My cousin yanked at my wrist and took a look at the watch. His fingers were slim and smooth, but more powerful than they appeared. "Was it expensive?"

"No. It was really cheap," I said while scanning the watch face one more time.

There was no response.

When I looked toward my cousin, he was looking up at me with this troubled expression on his face. His white teeth peeking out between his lips, seemed like degenerated bone. "It was really cheap," gazing at his face, I repeated in clear, precise syllables. "But, it keeps fairly good time."

He nodded silently.

My cousin has a bad right ear. Soon after he entered elementary school his ear was struck by a baseball, and since then it often caused him difficulty in hearing. But even so, in most cases, it didn't prove to be an obstacle in his daily life. He continued to go to school as usual and otherwise live his life as before. Only, in class he would face his left ear toward the teacher, and always sat on the right side in the very first row. His grades weren't bad either, though there were times when he couldn't hear external sounds well, and times when he could. These came to him alternately, like high and low tide. And then there were extreme cases, coming perhaps once every six months, when he couldn't hear anything from either ear. It was almost as if the silence in his right ear had deepened until it bore down and crushed all sound on the left side as well. When that happened he naturally was unable to function normally, and had to take some time off from school. The doctors were unable to explain the reason for these occurrences because there were no other cases like it. Of course, they were also unable to treat the condition.

"Well, just because a watch is expensive doesn't mean its accurate," my cousin said, as if trying to persuade himself of that fact. "The watch I used to wear was pretty expensive, and it was always messed up. I had my parents buy it for me when I started middle school. But I lost it within one year, and ever since then I've made do without wearing a watch . . . because they wouldn't buy me another one."

"It must be inconvenient not to have a watch," I remarked.

"Eh?" responded my cousin.

"Isn't it inconvenient, not having a watch?" I rephrased myself while looking directly into his face.

"Not really," he replied, shaking his head. "It's not as if I were living up in the mountains by myself. . . and I can always ask someone the time."

"Well that's true," I said.

And with that, we again lapsed into silence.

I understood very well that I needed to be gentle with him, and make some conversation; I had to at least slacken his nervousness a little bit before we reached the hospital. But it'd been five years since we last met, and in that span of time, my cousin had gone from nine to fourteen, and I from twenty to twenty-five. That blank space of time had erected a translucent partition between us which we had difficulty penetrating. Even when I tried to make absolutely necessary conversation, the right words just wouldn't come to mind. And when my words faltered, or got stuck in my throat, he would always gaze up at me with a perplexed look on his face, his left ear slightly tilted toward me.

 "What time is it now?" my cousin inquired.

"10:29," I answered.

It was 10:32 by the time the bus arrived.

Compared to when I rode it back and forth from high school, the form of the bus had vastly modernized. The windshield in front of the driver's seat was much wider; the bus now looked like a large bomber with its wings wrenched off. Moreover, it was unexpectedly crowded. Although there weren't any passengers left standing in the aisles, it was too crowded to afford us seats side by side. We decided not to sit down and instead occupied the standing room in front of the rear exit; it wouldn't be a long ride anyway. Nonetheless, I couldn't figure out why there were so many passengers on the bus at this time of day. The bus route departs from a private rail station, circles around some hilly residential districts, and then returns back to the same station; there were no famous sites or facilities worthy of mention along the route. The bus was of course crowded during the school commute hours, since there were a number of schools along the way, but normally it should be utterly deserted at noon.

My cousin and I stood, clinging to a strap and a bar with one hand each. The bus gleamed like it had just been built and delivered from the factory. It's untarnished metal was so free of blemishes that you could see yourself clearly reflected in it, and the shag on the seats was taut and neat. An air of pride and optimism, so characteristic of new machines, exuded from the bus down to its each and every bolt.

The new form of the bus, and the unexpectedly large number of riders threw me into confusion. Maybe, completely unbeknownst to me, the route's circumstances had been completely transformed. I carefully surveyed the interior of the bus around me, then inspected the view out the window. But all I saw were the silent suburbs that had not changed in the slightest for as long as I could remember.

"Sure this is the right bus?" my cousin asked anxiously. He was probably worried by the puzzled look I had been wearing on my face ever since we boarded.

"It's fine," I said, half to persuade myself. "There can't be a mistake. There just aren't any other bus routes running through here."

"You used to take this bus back and forth from high school, right?" inquired my cousin.

"That's right."

"Did you like your school?"

"No, not really," I said in all honesty. "But I got to see my friends there, and I didn't find going all that painful."

He thought about what I said.

"Do you still see those friends?"

"No, it's been a long time since I last saw any of them." I selected my words carefully before answering.

"Why? Why don't you see them anymore?"

"Well, it's because we now live far away from each other." It wasn't really the truth, but there was no other way to explain it.

Near me sat an assembled group of senior citizens. All together, there were probably about fifteen of them. Actually, they were the reason why the bus was so crowded. Each and every one of them was well tanned; they were all uniformly bronzed down to the backs of their necks. Without exception, they were all also exceptionally thin. The men mostly wore heavy shirts, fit for mountain climbing, and the women austere blouses devoid of any decoration. The group was all holding what looked like small backpacks for light-mountaineering on their laps. They were all eerily similar in appearance, as if they were identical articles pulled from the same sample drawer. But still, they made an odd story. There just weren't any mountain climbing trails along this bus route. Just where were they going? Hanging from the strap, I gave it some thought, but couldn't come up with any viable explanations.

"I wonder if the therapy this time is going to hurt," my cousin asked me.

"Well, I don't know," I replied. "I haven't heard any of the specifics."

"Have you ever had a doctor check out your ear before?"

I shook my head. Come to think of it, I'd never had a doctor look at my ear in my whole life.

"Was the therapy up to now very painful?" I inquired.

"No, not all that much," my cousin replied with a sour look on his face. "Of course, it's not like it didn't hurt at all. At times, it hurt some, but I wouldn't say it was extremely painful."  

"Then I guess this time will probably be about the same as before. From what your mom told me, it doesn't seem like they're going to do anything vastly different from before."

"But, if they don't do anything different, then I won't get any better this time either."

"Now we don't know that. There's always that chance it'll work, you know."

"Suddenly, like a cork popping out?" my cousin said. I glanced at his face, but it didn't seem like he was being intentionally ironic.

"Changing doctors can change the entire feeling of the situation, and what's more, small differences in procedure can make a great difference. We shouldn't just give up like that."

"I didn't say I was giving up," my cousin replied.

"But, you're getting fed up with it?"

"I guess so," he said and sighed. "The worst part about it is being afraid. It's scary imagining the pain that's on its way. I hate it worse than the actual pain itself. Can you understand that?"

"I think so," I answered.

Quite a lot happened during the spring of that year. Due to certain circumstances, I quit my job that I had held for two years at a small advertising agency in Tokyo. Around that time, I also broke up with a girl I had been seeing since college. The following month, my grandmother died from intestinal cancer; to attend her funeral, I packed one small bag and returned to this town for the first time in five years. At my house, my room was exactly as I had left it. The books I read were still on the shelves; the bed I slept in, the desk I used, and the records I listened to, they were all still there. But, everything in the room was desiccated and stale, and had long since lost its color and odor. It was only time itself that had ground to a marvelously rigid halt.

After my grandmother's funeral, I had planned to rest at home for maybe two or three days, and then head back to Tokyo. It wasn't as if I had no job leads there, and I fully intended to give them a shot. I also wanted to move out of my apartment, to make a fresh start.

But, as time went on, it became more and more troublesome to get up and go. Or rather, to express it more precisely, I had already become unable to leave even had I wanted to. I cloistered myself in my room, listening to old records, and re-reading books from my past, and at times plucked at the grass in the yard. I didn't speak to anyone besides my family.

It was on one such day, that my aunt came by and told me that my cousin would now be going to a different hospital, and asked whether I would be so kind as to accompany him there. Really she ought to go herself, she said, but had an important matter to deal with on that day. I had no reason to turn her down; I certainly had the time, and since it was near my old school, I knew exactly where the hospital was. My aunt, telling me to have a decent meal together with him, handed me an envelope with some money in it.

The reason my cousin was to switch hospitals had much to do with the fact that his treatment at the previous hospital had been largely ineffective. On the contrary, his deafness cycle started coming at even shorter intervals than ever. When my aunt vented her grievances at the doctor, he responded by declaring that the problem was not the result of external, medical factors, but instead due to his home environment; it turned into quite a row. So in all honesty, no one actually expected that changing hospitals would quickly put him on the path toward recovering his hearing. They would not say it out loud of course,  but most of the people around him had already half given up on him and his ears.

Though our homes were rather close by, my cousin and I weren't really that familiar, mainly because of an age gap of over ten years. We only saw each other when my relatives dropped by and took me to go off somewhere, or let us play together. Imperceptibly however, we somehow became joined together and seen as a pair. Basically, they assumed that he had become especially attached to me, and that I had singularly taken him under my wing. For the longest time, I couldn't understand the reasons behind that. Looking at him now, seeing his posture with his head slightly inclined and directing his left ear toward me though, I strangely couldn't help being struck with affection for him. Like the sound of the rain I'd heard long ago, I had taken a liking to something about his awkward little movements. I felt that I now understood a little better why all my relatives had connected the two of us.  

As the bus passed the seventh or eighth stop, my cousin again looked up at me with an anxious expression on his face.

"It's still ahead?"

"It's still ahead. It's a really large hospital, so there's no way we could have missed it."

I absentmindedly watched the senior citizens' hat cords and scarves fluttering in the wind blowing from the windows. Just who were they anyway? And where were they going?

"Hey, are you going to work for my father's company?" my cousin asked me.

Surprised, I looked back at his face. My cousin's father, in other words my uncle, operated a major publishing firm in Kobe. But, I had neither thought of that possibility, nor caught a whiff of it from anyone else.

"That's the first I've heard of that . . ." I replied. "But, why this all of a sudden?"

My cousin reddened in the face. "I just thought that, maybe, you were," he answered. "But, wouldn't it be great if you did? Then you'd be able to stay here. Everyone'd be so happy to have you around."

A recording announced the upcoming bus stop, though no one had pressed the stop button. There was no indication of anyone waiting at the stop either.

"But, there are things I need to do back in Tokyo," I told him. He nodded in silence.

There isn't a single thing that I needed to do, anywhere. But, this is the one place where I absolutely cannot be.

As the bus ascended a slope, the residential homes began to thin out, and the thick foliage on the tree branches started throwing deep shadows on the surface of the road. The variously colored foreign residences, surrounded by low fences, also came into view. The wind turned imperceptibly chillier. As the bus navigated the curves in the road, the sea by turns emerged and withdrew from sight. My cousin and I contemplated the scene together until the bus arrived at the hospital.

My cousin told me he wanted me to wait outside since the treatment would take some time, and he would be fine by himself. I gave the doctor in charge a terse greeting, exited the examination room and made my way to the cafeteria. I was famished, a result of having skipped breakfast that morning, but nothing at all on the menu seemed appetizing. Ultimately, I only ordered a coffee.

Being a weekday morning, there was only one group of family visitors in the cafeteria besides me. The man in his mid-forties whom I made out to be the father, wore navy blue striped pajamas, and vinyl slippers. The mother, and the two identical female twins were evidently visiting him. The twins wore matching white, one piece jumpers, and were both slumped over the table, drinking orange juice with solemn expressions on their faces. The father's condition, whether illness or injury, did not appear particularly acute, and parents and children all wore bored looks on their faces.

Outside of the window stretched a grassy yard. The sprinklers there clattered about as they revolved, and scattered splashes of white light above the emerald grass. Two birds with long tails cried piercingly as they sliced straight across the tableaux, and quickly vanished from sight. Before the lawn were a number of tennis courts, but their nets had been stripped off, and no one was about. Beyond the courts stood a row of zelkova trees, and I saw the sea peeking through the interstices between their branches. The minute waves here and there reflected the early summer's brilliant sun. A breeze rustled the young zelkova leaves, and gently disturbed the vector of the mist projecting from the sprinklers.

I was struck by the sensation that I had witnessed this exact scene somewhere, long long ago. Broad grassy yard, twin girls drinking orange juice, long-tailed birds flying off, and beyond the tennis courts bereft of nets, the blue sea . . .  But that was merely a mirage. It had a certain verisimilitude, and an intensity to it, but I understood perfectly well that it was a mirage. This was, after all, my first visit to this hospital.

I rested both feet on the chair in front of me, inhaled deeply and closed my eyes. In the utter darkness, a white lump came into view. Like a microorganism under a microscope, it distended and contracted noiselessly. It morphed, spread out, splintered apart, and then solidified again into one mass.

It'd been eight years since I went to that hospital. It was a small one by the shore. Outside its cafeteria windows, all you could see were oleander shrubs. And because of its age, it always gave off that rainy day smell. My friend's girlfriend had undergone chest surgery there, so my friend and I had gone to pay her a visit. It was the middle of our junior year summer break.

For surgery, it wasn't a particularly difficult operation; they said they were only straightening a misaligned bone in her chest that she had been born with. It wasn't a condition that demanded urgent attention, but since it would have to be taken care of some time or other, they decided to do it then. The operation itself was finished in a flash, but bed rest after the procedure was crucial, so she remained in the hospital an additional ten days. We rode tandem on my friend's 125cc Yamaha motorbike to get there. He drove on the way there, and I drove on the way home. It was he who asked me to go with him. "I really don't want to go to a hospital by myself," he had told me.

My friend had first stopped first at a confectioner's in front of the train station and purchased a box of chocolates. So, while we were riding, I gripped his belt with one hand while clenching the chocolates in the other. It was a scorchingly hot day, and our shirts were drenched in sweat then blown dry by the wind, over and over. While he was driving the bike, he sang some unidentifiable tune in a hideous, off-pitch voice. Even now, I can still remember the smell of his sweat. It wasn't long afterwards that he died.

His girlfriend was wearing blue pajamas with something like a thin, knee-length gown flung over it. The three of us sat at the cafeteria table, smoking Short Hopes, drinking cola, and eating ice cream. She was starved beyond belief, and proceeded to also devour two thickly powdered sugar donuts, over a mug of cocoa, heavily laden with cream. Even so, she still didn't seem satisfied.

"You'll be one huge pig by the time you leave this hospital," my friend exclaimed in amazement.

"Fine by me. This is my recuperation period." she retorted, while wiping her oily fingers on a paper napkin.

While the two of them were conversing like that, I was gazing out the window at the stand of oleander bushes. They were so large that together they almost constituted a forest. I also heard the sound of waves; the metal railing on the window sill had almost completely been corroded by the salt air. A fan, looking more an antique than anything else, hung from the ceiling and churned the humid air about the room. The hospital's smell completely permeated the cafeteria. The food, the drink, as if by previous agreement, also conveyed that same hospital odor. I noticed that her pajamas had two breast pockets, and in one she had inserted a gold ball point pen. When she stooped forward, I could see, through the V shaped neckline, the flat, white skin of her chest, which had not been touched by the sun.

At that, my reflections suddenly came to a stand-still. "Just what happened after that?" I mused. I took a sip of cola, gazed out at the oleander, caught sight of her chest, and then what? I shifted in the plastic chair, and with my chin resting on my hands, tried excavating one stratum deeper into my memory. Like prying off a cork with the tip of a slender knife.

. . . I defocused my eyes, and tried imagining the doctors slitting open the flesh of her chest, inserting their latex covered fingers and resituating her bone. But, I found the image too unrealistic, too fanciful. Akin to some sort of parable.

That's right, after that we talked about sex. It was my friend who did the talking. And what was he going on about? It was probably about something that I had done; like how I came on to some girl, and got turned down. It must have been something along those lines. And even though the original event was not especially noteworthy, he related it with such exaggeration, wit, and absurdity, that his girlfriend burst into laughter. Even I couldn't help laughing. He really was an excellent story teller.

"No, don't make me laugh," she managed to gasp out. "My chest really hurts when I laugh."

"Where does it hurt?" my friend inquired.

She pressed a finger on her chest through her pajamas, above her heart, a little in from her left breast. He then proceeded to make some joke relating to that, and she laughed again.

I looked at my watch. It was 11:45, and my cousin still had not returned. Lunch-time was drawing near, and the cafeteria was beginning to fill up. Various sounds and bits of conversation were mixing together, enveloping the room like cigarette smoke.

Returning once more to the realm of memory. Thinking of that gold ball-point pen in her breast pocket.

. . . right. She was drawing on the back of a paper napkin with that ball-point pen.

She was drawing a picture. The napkin was too fragile, and her pen point kept catching, but she persisted in sketching out a hill. On top of the hill was a small house. Inside the house, a woman was sleeping. Blind willows grew thickly around the house. The blind willows that were forcing her into a deep slumber.

"What the hell is a blind willow?" demanded my friend.

"It's the name of a plant."

"Well, I've never heard of it."

"That's because I made it up," she replied with a grin. "You see, the blind willow has this really potent pollen; it gets carried by tiny flies into her ears, and that's what makes her fall asleep."

She took a new napkin and sketched the blind willow. It was about the same size as an azalea bush. Though its flowers were in bloom, they were completely enveloped by fat green leaves, which rather resembled thick bundles of lizards' tails. The blind willow bore not the slightest resemblance to a normal willow.

"Got any cigarettes?" my friend asked me. I tossed a lighter and a sweat dampened carton of Short Hopes to him across the table.

"The blind willow may appear small, but it has incredibly deep roots," explained his girlfriend. "In actuality, after it reaches a certain age, the blind willow stops growing upward, and instead extends down, down, deeper into the earth. Almost as if it were drawing nourishment from the darkness."

"And so basically, the flies carry its pollen, burrow into her ear, and cause her to sleep," my friend reiterated, while struggling to light one of the soggy cigarettes. "And then . . . what are the flies doing?"

"They're eating her flesh of course, deep inside her body," she said.

"Munch, munch," my friend added.

That's right. That summer she had composed a long poem about the blind willow, and related to us the outline of its plot. It was her sole homework assignment for summer vacation. She had thought up a story to go with a dream she had one night, and spent the following week in bed writing it down. My friend wanted to read it, but she demurred, saying that she still hadn't fleshed out the details. In lieu of that, she offered to explain the plot through illustrations.

There was a young man ascending the hill to rescue the woman who had been put to sleep by the blind willows.

"The young man's me, definitely," my friend burst in.

His girlfriend shook her head. "No, the young man's not you."

"And you would know?" asked my friend.

"Yes, I would," she replied with a serious look on her face. "I don't know how, but that's the way it is. Are you hurt?"

"Of course," my friend said frowning, and only half-jokingly.

The youth slowly ascended the hill, all the while slashing his way through the blind willows that grew profuse, and impenetrable. Actually, the hill was so overgrown with blind willows that he was the first person to even attempt to climb it. The visor of his hat pulled low over his eyes, he advanced step by step, all the while swatting away the swarming flies. To meet the sleeping girl face to face. To wake her from her profound, endless slumber.

"But in the end, on top of the hill he finds that the girl's already been eaten hollow by the flies, right?" my friend interjected.

"In a sense, yes," she replied.

"So, if she was, in a sense, completely devoured by the flies, then couldn't you say, in a sense, that it's a depressing story?" my friend announced.

"Well, I guess so," she said after a thoughtful pause. "What do you think?" she asked me.

"It sounds like a depressing story to me," I answered.

It was 12:20 by the time my cousin came out. He wore an unfocused expression on his face, and was dangling a bag of medicine from his fingers. From the moment he appeared at the entrance of the cafeteria, it took some time for him to find my table. He was walking a little unsteadily, as if he were having some difficulty balancing himself. He plopped down in the seat opposite mine, and swallowed an enormous breath, as if he had been so occupied that he had forgotten to breathe until that moment.

"How was it?" I inquired.

"Hmm," he said. I waited a while for him to say something more, but time passed and he still didn't continue.

"You hungry?" I asked him.

My cousin nodded silently.

"Do you want to eat here, or get on the bus and eat somewhere in town? Which would you prefer?"

He glanced suspiciously about the room, and then told me that here would be fine. I bought some meal tickets, and ordered two lunches. Until the food arrived, my cousin silently gazed at the scene out the window ¡V the sea, the stand of zelkova trees, the sprinklers ¡V the same scene I had so recently been scrutinizing.

At the neighboring table, a tidily dressed middle aged couple was eating sandwiches and discussing a friend who had been hospitalized for lung cancer. They went on about how he had stopped smoking five years ago, but it had been too late, and how one morning he woke up coughing a stream of blood. The wife asked the questions, and the husband answered them. Cancer can, in a sense, be seen as the crystallization of one's lifestyle and inclinations, explained the husband.

Lunch consisted of hamburg steaks and fried whitefish. Salad and rolls were also included. We silently sat across from each other, and ate our meal. All the while, the couple at the next table continued their absorbing conversation on cancer's origins. About why cancer cases have risen so sharply of late, and why they haven't been able to develop a wonder drug, and so forth.

"No matter where you go, it's all about the same," my cousin told me in a deflated voice, looking down at his hands. "Everyone just asks the same sort of questions, and then examines my ears the same way."

We were seated on a bench at the entrance of the hospital. From time to time, the wind rustled the green foliage above our heads.

"Sometimes, you just altogether lose your sense of hearing?" I asked.

"Yeah," he replied. "I completely lose my hearing."

"How does that feel?"

My cousin tilted his head slightly and gave it some thought. "By the time it dawns on me, I already can't hear anything. But you know, it takes some time for me to figure it out. So when I've realized what's happening, I'm already completely deaf. Like I'm wearing ear plugs, on the bottom of the sea. And then, it continues for a while. While it's happening of course, I can't hear anything, but it's not just about my ears. Not being able to hear is just one part of it."

"Is it an unpleasant feeling?"

He gave his head a sharp, abbreviated shake. "I don't understand why, but I don't find it unpleasant. But, it's inconvenient in a lot of ways. Because I can't hear anything, you know."

I considered what he said, but somehow the image just didn't come through very well.

"Have you every seen John Ford's ¡¥Fort Apache'?" he inquired.

"A long long time ago," I said.

"It was just on TV. Isn't it a great movie?"

"Yeah," I concurred.

 "It kicks off with this new colonel arriving to take command over a fort in the West. This veteran lieutenant comes out to meet the colonel, and that's John Wayne. The colonel still doesn't know much about the circumstances out in the West, but the Indians around the fort are raising a revolt."

My cousin pulled a folded white handkerchief from his pocket, and wiped his lips.

"When they arrive at the fort, the colonel turns to John Wayne and says, ¡¥On my way here, I saw quite a few Indians.' To which John Wayne coolly responds, ¡¥It's alright. The fact that your Excellency has seen Indians means that there are no Indians there.' I've forgotten the exact dialogue, but that's basically how it goes I think. Do you understand what he meant by that?"

I couldn't recall whether or not there really was a line like that in ¡¥Fort Apache'. For a John Ford movie, the line struck me as just a little too cryptic. Still, it had been a long time since I saw the movie.

"Like maybe, things that just anyone can see, really aren't that important? . . . I'm not sure I get it."

My cousin furrowed his brow, "I don't really understand it either, but whenever people sympathize with me over my ears, somehow that line comes to mind. ¡¥The fact that you've seen Indians means that there are no Indians there.'"

I laughed.

"Is that funny?" my cousin inquired.

"Yeah, it is," I told him, and he also laughed. It'd been a while since he last laughed.

After a long pause, my cousin asked me in a confessional tone, "Hey, would you mind taking a peek into my ear?"

"Peek into your ear?" I said, a little surprised.

"You know, just looking in from the outside would be fine."

"No problem, but why?"

"Well, it's just that . . ." he stated, blushing, "I thought maybe you could tell me how it looks."

"Sure," I told him, "let's have a look."

My cousin reseated himself facing backwards, and directing his right ear toward me. Seeing it afresh in this way, it really was a well shaped ear. Though diminutive in construction, the flesh of his earlobe was full and plump, much like a fresh baked madeleine sponge cake. It was the first time that I had ever gazed so fixedly at anyone's ear. Inspecting an ear this way makes you realize that morphologically speaking, the ear is somewhat of an enigma compared to the other organs of the human body. Of its various parts, some are immoderately winding and twisted, while others rise or drop precipitously. Perhaps, in the process of evolving toward optimal sound collection and self-protection, the ear had quite naturally taken on this mysterious configuration. Surrounded by contorted walls, the ear's single orifice gapes darkly, like the entrance to a secret cavern.

I thought of the miniature flies nesting and feeding inside of her ears. With sweet flower pollen clinging to their six legs, they dive into her tepid darkness, nibble on her peach colored flesh, slurp up her nectar, and deposit their tiny eggs in her brain. But even so, I couldn't see their bodies. I couldn't hear the sound of their wings.

"Ok, that's good enough," I told him.

He spun around and resituated himself on the bench, facing front again. "How was it? Anything out of the ordinary?"

"Well, not as far as I could tell. Looking from the outside like this, there wasn't anything out of the ordinary."

"Even like, a sense of something amiss . . . nothing like that?"

"It's a perfectly normal looking ear."

My cousin appeared disappointed. Perhaps I had said the wrong thing.

"Did the treatment hurt?" I asked.

"Not really. It was just like all the previous times. They root around in the same places, in the exact same way; I feel like my ear's been rubbed raw. You know, sometimes it doesn't even feel like my own ear anymore."

"Number twenty-eight," my cousin faced me and announced, a short while later. "We want the number twenty-eight bus, right?"

I had been ruminating on something else the entire time. Hearing him, I raised my head just in time to glimpse the approaching bus decelerating as it negotiated an uphill curve. It wasn't the modern bus we had so recently ridden, but a familiar one from the past. Affixed to its front was the number {28}. I made to stand up from the bench. But I didn't make it. Just as if I had been cast into the center of a raging torrent, I had lost command of my limbs.

At that moment, I had been thinking of the box of get-well chocolates that we had brought with us that summer afternoon. As she so happily lifted the lid off the box, we saw that the dozen little chocolates had melted into an unrecognizable liquid mass and adhered to the paper, the box, everything. On the way to the hospital, my friend and I had taken a break at the seashore. There, we had flopped down on the dunes and chatted about all sorts of things. The two of us had left the box of chocolates out in the fierce August sunlight all the while. And so, because of our carelessness and impertinence, the chocolates were ruined, melted to nothing, and lost forever. We should have felt something about this. One of us, it doesn't matter who, should have had something meaningful to say about this. But on that summer afternoon, we felt nothing, cracked some lame joke about it, and departed. And thus we abandoned that hill, left it overgrown with blind willows.

My cousin forcefully grabbed hold of my right arm.

"Are you alright?" he inquired.

I pulled my consciousness back to reality, and stood up from the bench. This time, I made it. I once again felt on my skin the memory-laden May wind that was blowing past. For a matter of moments, I was standing in a curious, twilit place. A place in which all that I could perceive with my eyes did not exist, and only that which I could not, did. But just as suddenly, the very real number twenty-eight bus came to a stop before my eyes, and the door to reality opened before me. I got in, and began moving toward some other place.

I placed my hand on my cousin's shoulder. "Everything's fine," I said.


rev. 7.27.02

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