TV People (translated by Alfred Birnbaum in "The Elephant Vanishes")
Airplane - or how to talk to himself as he read poem. (translated by Jay Rubin in "The New Yorker on July 1, 2002) http://newyorker.com/printable/?fiction/020701fi_fiction
The Folklore of our Times (translated by Alfred Birnbaum in "The New Yorker on June 2, 2003)
KANO Creta (translated by Christopher Allison)
Zombie (translated by Kiki)
Sleep (translated by Jay Rubin in "The Elephant Vanishes")
by HARUKI MURAKAMI
translated by Chirstopher Allison
My name is Creta Kano, and I help my sister Malta Kano with her work.
Of course my real name isn't Creta Kano. That's my name when I help my sister. It's just my professional name. When I'm not at work, I use my real name, Taki Kano. I call myself Creta because my sister calls herself Malta.
I have not yet been to the isle of Crete.
Sometimes, I look at maps. Crete is a Greek island near Africa. It is long and thin in shape, like a dog's meaty bone, and has famous ruins. The Knossos Palace is there. There's a story about a young hero who rescued a princess from a maze. If I ever had the chance, I think I'd like to go to Crete.
My job is to help my sister listen to the sound of water. My sister's occupation is listening to the sound of water. She listens to the sound of the water that permeates people. This isn't as easy as it sounds, though, and not just anyone can do it. Talent is necessary, as well as practice. My sister is probably the only person in Japan who can do it. She learned this skill many years ago on the island of Malta. Allen Ginsberg and Keith Richards had also been to the center where my sister received her training. The island of Malta is that special a place. Water holds very great meaning at that place. My sister trained there for many years. Thus, when she returned to Japan, she took the name Malta Kano, and began listening to people's waters professionally.
The two of us live together in an old single-family house in the mountains. It has a cellar, where my sister stores the countless samples of waters that she has gathered from every part of Japan. These are put in ceramic water jugs and lined up in rows. Just like wine, a cellar is the ideal place for preserving water. My duty is to protect that water carefully. If there is detritus floating in it, I scoop it out, and I make sure that it doesn't freeze in the winter. In the summer, I keep the bugs out. It's not that difficult a job. It doesn't take much time. So I spend most of every day drawing blueprints for buildings. When clients come to visit my sister, I also make tea.
Everyday, my sister goes down to the basement and applies her ear to each of the water jugs one-by-one, listening for the subtle sounds they emit. Two or three hours every day. This is practice for her ears. Each individual water produces a slightly different sound. She makes me do it, too. I close my eyes and focus every nerve in my body on my ears. But I can barely hear the sound of the water at all. I probably don't have the necessary talent as much as my sister.
First, listen to the water in the vessels. When you can do that, you will also become able to hear the sounds of the waters in people's bodies, my sister says. I apply my ears earnestly. But I can't hear anything. There have been times when I thought I heard something. It feels like something incredibly far away moving suddenly. It's like the sound of a tiny insect flapping its wings two or three times. It's not so much a sound as a slight flutter in the air. But it disappears instantly. Like it's playing hide and seek.
Malta says it's too bad that I can't hear the sound. "It's exactly people like you for whom this practice is necessary," Malta says. Then she shakes her head. "If you could just do it, then your problem would be resolved simultaneously," Malta says. My sister worries about me very deeply.
I certainly do have a problem. And no matter what I do, I can't escape it. Whenever men see me, they all decide to rape me. As soon as one sees me, he pushes me to the ground and unfastens my belt. I have no idea why this happens. But it's been this way for a long time. Since I was old enough to remember.
Certainly, I think of myself as a beautiful woman. And I have a great body. My chest is big and my hips are narrow. When I look at myself in the mirror, I think I'm sexy. When I walk through town all of the men stop and stare at me distractedly. "It's like you're being raped for every single pretty woman in the whole world," Malta says. I think that's it exactly. I alone have to go through this. I guess it's my unique responsibility. This inclination in men is probably on account of my timidity. Since I get nervous when men look at me this way, they probably come to want to rape me without even thinking about it.
Because of this, I have thus far been raped by quite a variety of men. Forcibly, violently raped. By teachers in school, by fellow students, by private tutors, by an uncle on my mother's side, by the gas meter reader, by a fireman who had come to put out a fire at the house next door. No matter how hard I try to avoid it, nothing works. I've been cut with a knife, I've had my face struck, and I've been strangled with a hose. In such fashion I have been violently raped.
A long time ago, I stopped going out of the house altogether. If these things had kept happening, eventually I certainly would have been killed. I live with my sister Malta in the mountains, apart from human habitation, and take care of the water vessels in the cellar.
On just one occasion, I managed to kill my attacker. No; to say it correctly, the killer was my sister. That man was, of course, raping me. It happened in the cellar. He was a police officer. He had come in the course of some investigation, and as soon as he opened the door, he pushed me down as if he couldn't stand it an instant longer. Then he ripped off my clothes, and pushed his pants down to his knees. His gun made a scraping sound on the floor. Do whatever you like, but please don't kill me, I begged. The police officer slapped my face. But just then, my wonderful sister Malta came home. Hearing the racket, she took a big metal bar in her hands. Then she valiantly hit the policeman in the back of the head with the bar. There was a sound like something caving in, and the policeman lost consciousness. Next, she retrieved a cleaver from the kitchen and, just as one would split open the belly of a tuna, she slit the policeman's throat. Cutting his throat made no sound. My sister is really good at sharpening knives. The knives my sister sharpens are always unbelievably sharp. I was dumbfounded as I watched all of this.
"Why did you do that? Why did you slit his throat?" I asked.
"It's better this way. He won't be any further trouble. And anyway, your attacker was a policeman. You don't want him coming back to haunt you," Malta said. My sister is very adept at solving problems.
Quite a lot of blood poured out of him. My sister put all of the blood into one of the water vessels. "Removing the blood and hiding it is crucial," Malta said. "That way, he won't be able to cause us any trouble." We held the policeman's booted feet up until all the blood had run out. He was a big man, and holding up his feet and supporting his body was really difficult. If Malta wasn't so strong, there's no way we would have been able to do it. She has a body like a lumberjack and is very strong. "It's not your fault that men attack you," Malta said, still holding his feet. "It's on account of the water inside your body. The water inside your body is troubled. So others are attracted to your water. They become very stimulated."
"Then how can I drive these waters from my body?" I asked. "I can't stay hidden away up here like this forever, avoiding the sight of other people. I don't want my life to end like this." I really wanted to go live in the outside world. I have an architecture license. I got it through a correspondence course. Since then, I had entered various design contests, and had won several prizes. My specialty is designing steam-powered power plants.
"It won't do to hurry. Use your ears. If you do that, you'll be able to hear the answer," Malta said. Then she shook the policeman's feet, and the last drops of blood ran out into the water vessel.
"We just killed a police officer. What in the world are we going to do? If anybody finds out, we'll be in deep trouble," I said. Killing a police officer is a serious crime. I couldn't bear the thought of the death penalty.
"We'll just have to bury him out back," Malta said.
So we buried the policeman with the slit throat in the garden. We buried his pistol and his handcuffs and his scissors and his boots, too. Malta dug the hole, moved the body, and filled it up again, all by herself. While she was working, she sang "Going to A-Go-Go" in a mock Mick Jagger voice. After she had finished, we both stomped the dirt down, and piled fallen leaves on top.
The local police, of course, conducted an exhaustive investigation. They practically tore the grass up by the roots looking for the missing officer. The investigation came to our place. We were asked various questions. But they didn't find any clues. "It's OK. We won't be found out," Malta said. "We cut his throat and drained the blood out. And I dug that hole quite deep." So we breathed a little sigh of relief.
Starting the following week, however, the ghost of the murdered police officer came into our house. He lurked around the cellar just as he had been in life, with his pants down around his knees. There was the scraping sound of his gun against the floor. This seemed to me like a fairly indecent appearance, but I guess no matter how it looks, a ghost is still a ghost.
"That's funny. Even though I slit his throat so that he wouldn't come back..." Malta said. At first, I was scared of the ghost. After all, we had been the ones who killed the policeman. I would crawl into my sister's bed and fall asleep trembling. "You don't have to be afraid. He can't do anything to you. Anyway, we slit his throat and drained out all the blood. He can't get it up," Malta said.
Before long, I got used to the ghost being there. With the skin of his slit throat flapping around, the policeman's ghost wandered around here and there, but he didn't do anything. He just walked around. Once you got past the sight of him, he wasn't anything that special. And he didn't try to rape me. Without any blood, there was no way he could have anyway. And he couldn't speak, either; whenever he tried to say anything, the air just escaped with a hiss from the hole in his neck. It certainly was just as my sister had said. Once you slit his throat, you'll have no further trouble. Every once in a while, I'd get naked while he was around on purpose, just to try to get him excited. I'd even open my legs. I did some really indecent things, too. Such terribly lewd things that I had no idea I could even do things like that. Totally brazenly. But it was like the ghost couldn't feel a thing.
Doing this stuff gave me a lot of confidence.
I stopped being timid.
"I won't be timid anymore. I won't be afraid of anybody. No one will take advantage of me," I said to Malta.
"That may be," Malta said. "But it'll all be for naught if you can't hear your own body's water. That's a tremendously important thing."
One day, I received a phone call. The caller asked if I would draw up plans for a new power plant that was being built. The offer made my chest flutter. I came up with several different designs for the plant in my head. I wanted to go back out into the world and build lots of power plants.
"But when you're back in society, you're bound to have a hard time of it," Malta said.
"I really want to do it," I said. " I want to try it all from the beginning one more time. I think everything will be all right this time. I'm not timid anymore. Nobody will take advantage of me."
Malta shook her head. I guess you gotta do what you gotta do, she said.
"But be careful. Don't let your guard down at all," Malta said.
I went into the outside world and did the plans for several power plants. In the blink of an eye, I was at the top of my field. I had natural ability. The plants I designed had originality, they were sturdy, and there wasn't a single accident. They received high praise from the people who worked in them as well. Whenever anyone started to build a power plant, they always came to me first. And I got rich. I bought a whole building in the best part of town and lived in the very top of it. It had an alarm system and an electronic lock, and I hired a gay bodyguard the size of a gorilla.
In such fashion, I passed a happy, elegant life. Until that man came.
He was huge. He had smoky green eyes. Evading all the alarms, he broke the lock off, beat up my bodyguard, and kicked down the bedroom door. As I stood there in front of him, I wasn't nervous at all, but the man didn't seem to notice. He ripped off my clothes, and lowered his pants to his knees. Then, after he had brutally raped me, he slit my throat with a knife. The knife cut unbelievably well. It sliced through my throat as easily as through warm butter. The cut was so smooth, it was almost as though I didn't even know it had happened. Then the darkness came. The police officer was walking around in the darkness. He started to speak, but since his throat had been cut, the air just came out with a hissing sound. Then I heard the sound of my body's water. It's true. You really can hear it. The sound was really small, but it was definitely audible. I sunk down inside my body, put my ear to the wall, and listened to that faint sound of water dripping. Drip...drip...drop...
by MURAKAMI Haruki
Translated by Kiki
A man and a woman are walking along a street. The street is next to a cemetery. It is late on a foggy night. They didnft choose to be walking here so late. However a number of things happened and they have been left with little choice. They are tightly holding each otherfs hands. They are walking quickly. gI feel like Ifm in a Michael Jackson video,h the woman said.
gHey, that tombstone is moving,h the man says. They hear the creek of something heavy, as though it were being dragged. They stop walking and look at each otherDThe man laughs. gItfs ok. Therefs nothing to be nervous about. It is just the rubbing of a branch. Probably just the wind or something.h
But the wind isnft blowing. Holding her breath the woman looks around. She has a really bad feeling. She senses that something evil is going to happen. A premonition.
But there is nothing to see. There is no sign of corpses returning to life. They start to walk again. The man suddenly grimaces.
gWhy do you walk like that? You have a really strange walk,h he said.
gHmm.h She says, surprised. gIs my walk really so strange?h
gYes it is. You look terrible,h he says.
gYoufre practically bowlegged.h
The woman bites her lip. Maybe I do walk that way she thinks. Itfs true that my heels donft wear evenly. It canft be that bad, can it? I just wish he werenft so blunt.
But she doesnft say anything. She loves the man. And he loves her. They are getting married next month. She doesnft want to start a big fight. Maybe she is a bit bowlegged.@Whatfs the big deal?
gIfve never dated a bowlegged woman before.h
gReally?h the woman says, laughing. Have they been drinking? No, it appears that they havenft had anything to drink today.@
gAnd whatfs more, inside your ear you have three moles,h the man says.
gWhat?h the woman asks. gWhich ear?h
gIn the right ear. There are three moles, really nasty, gross ones.h
gYou donft like moles?h
gI hate such gross moles. Who in the world could like such gross things?h
She bites down hard on her lip.
gAnd sometimes you have b.o.,h he continues. gI noticed it from the beginning. If I had met you in the summer, I donft think I wouldfve gone out with you.h
The woman sighs and drops his hand. gWait a minute. Thatfs a terrible thing to say. Why are you talking to me like this?h
gThe collar of your blouse is dirty too. On that blouse that you are wearing today. Why are you so sloppy? Why canft you do anything right?h
The woman says nothing. She is too angry to speak.
gI have a mountain of things I want to say to you. Bowlegged, b.o., dirty collar, moles in your ear. And Ifm just getting started. Letfs see what else. Those earrings look shitty on you. They donft fit you at all. They make you look like a cheap whore. They would look better on a hooker. If you want to wear such earrings, why donft you wear them in your nose instead? They match your double chin. That reminds me of your mother. Shefs really a pig. Oink oink. In twenty years thatfs what youfll look like. She really gobbles up her food. Like a sow. And your father, god is he strange! He canft even write kanji. He sent my parents a letter the other day and they just laughed at it. Didnft he even go to elementary school? What a shitty family! A cultural slum!@Why donft we just set fire to them? They might burn well because of all the fat.h
gIf all of these things bother you so much, why are you going to marry me?h
He ignores her question.
gYoufre a pig,h he says. gAnd about your cunt. Itfs incredibly awful. Itfs like some cheap rubber thing, all stretched out and useless. Why donft you just die? If I were a woman Ifd die from embarrassment. Any kind of death would be welcome. I wouldnft care. Living under such circumstances would be damn embarrassing.h
Astonished, she stands up. ghHow dare you!h
Suddenly the man grabs his head. In agony he leans forward and tilts his head. Crouching, he starts to tears at his face with his fingernails.
gMan, my head hurts,h he says. gIt feels like itfs being ripped in half! I canft stand it. The pain is unbearable.h
gAre you ok?h she asks.
gNo, Ifm not. I canft stand it. My skin is burning up. It feels like Ifm on fire.h She touches his head. It does feel like itfs on fire. She begins to rub his head, and a chunk of skin drops off. Loose slimy red flesh appears. The woman holds her breath and jumps back. The man stands up and laughs. With his own hand he starts tearing the skin from his face. His eyeballs hang out of their sockets. His nose now has two deep holes. His lips have disappeared. His teeth are protruding like fangs. These teeth are laughing.
gIfm with you because you are a pig. Ifm here to eat your pig flesh. Could there be any other reason to be with you? Youfre such so stupid. You are such a dumb bitch. Ha ha ha.!h
The slimy mass of flesh starts to chase her. She tries to escape, but she canft get away from this hunk of flesh. At the edge of the cemetery its wet slimy hand grabs her by the collar. She screams.
The man is holding her close. The womanfs throat is dry. The man looks at her and smiles, gWhatfs wrong? Did you have a bad dream?h
Sitting up, the woman looks around. They are lying in bed in a hotel room by a lake. She shakes her head.
gDid I scream?h
gYes, loud enough to wake the dead.h he says, laughing. gIfll bet everybody in the hotel could hear you. They probably thought you were being murdered.h
gSorry,h she mutters.
gDonft worry about it,h he assures her. gA nightmare?h
gAn unbelievably bad nightmare.h
gYou want to talk about it?h
gNo, not really,h she says.
gYou might feel better if you talk about it. It might ease the shock.h
gThatfs ok, thanks anyway. I donft really want to talk about it.h
They remain quiet for a few minutes. She clings to his body. She can feel his heartbeat. In the distance she can hear the croak of a frog.
gSay, gshe says quietly. gCan I ask you something?h
gBy any chance do I have a mole in my ear?h
gA mole?h he says. gDo you mean, by any chance, that gross, nasty mole in the middle of your right ear? h
She closes her eyes and realizes that it has just begun.
by MURAKAMI Haruki
translated by Jay Rubin
This is my seventeenth straight day without sleep.
Ifm not talking about insomnia. I know what insomnia is. I had something like it in college—hsomething like ith because Ifm not sure that what I had then was exactly the same as what people refer to as insomnia. I suppose a doctor could have told me. But I didnft see a doctor. I knew it wouldnft do any good. Not that I had any reason to think so. Call it womanfs intuition—I just felt they couldnft help me. So I didnft see a doctor, and I didnft say anything to my parents or friends, because I knew that that was exactly what they would tell me to do.
Back then, my gsomething like insomniah went on for a month. I never really got to sleep that entire time. Ifd go to bed at night and say to myself, gAll right now, time for some sleep.h That was, all it took to wake me up. It was instantaneous-like a conditioned reflex. The harder I worked at sleeping, the wider awake I became. I tried alcohol, I tried sleeping pills, but they had absolutely no effect.
Finally, as the sky began to grow light in the morning, Ifd feel that I might be drifting off. But this wasnft sleep. My fingertips were just barely brushing against the outermost edge of sleep. And all the while my mind was wide-awake. I would feel a hint of drowsiness, but my mind was there, in its own room, on the other side of a transparent wafl, watching me. My physical self was drifting through the feeble morning light, and all the while it could feel my mind staring, breathing, close beside it. I was both a body on the verge of sleep and a mind determined to stay awake.
This incomplete drowsiness would continue on and off all day. My head was always foggy. I couldnft get an accurate fix on the things around me—their distance or mass or tenure. The drowsiness would overtake me at regular, wavelike intervals: on the subway, in the classroom, at the dinner table. My mind would slip away from my body. The world would sway soundlessly. I would drop things. My pencil or my purse or my fork would clatter to the floor. All I wanted was to throw myself down and sleep. But I couldnft. The wakefulness was always there beside me. I could feel its chilling shadow. It was the shadow of myself. Weird, I would think as the drowsiness overtook me, Ifm in my own shadow. I would walk and eat and talk to people inside my drowsiness. And the strangest thing was that no one noticed. I lost fifteen pounds that month, and no one noticed. No one in my family, not one of my friends or classmates realized that I was going through life asleep.
It was literally true: I was going through life asleep. My body had no more feeling than a drowned corpse. My very existence, my life in the world, seemed like a hallucination. A strong wind would make me think my body was about to be blown to the end of the earth, to some land I had never seen or heard of, where my mind and body would separate forever. gHold tight,h I would tell myself, but there was nothing for me to hold on to.
And then, when night came, the intense wakefulness would return. I was powerless to resist it. I was locked in its core by an enormous force. All I could do was stay awake until morning, eyes wide open in the dark. I couldnft even think. As I lay there, listening to the clock tick off the seconds, I did nothing but stare at the darkness as it slowly deepened and slowly diminished.
And then one day it ended, without warning, without any external cause. I started to lose consciousness at the breakfast table. I stood up without saying anything. I may have knocked something off the table. I think someone spoke to me. But I canft be sure. I staggered to my room, crawled into bed in my clothes, and fell fast asleep. I stayed that way for twenty-seven hours. My mother became alarmed and tried to shake me out of it. She actually slapped my cheek.. But I went on sleeping for twenty-seven hours without a break. And when I finally did awaken, I was my old self again. Probably.
I have no idea why I became an insomniac then nor why the condition suddenly cured itself. It was like a thick, black cloud brought from somewhere by the wind, a cloud crammed full of ominous things I have no knowledge of. No one knows where such a thing comes from or where it goes. I can only be sure that it did descend on me for a time, and then departed.
In any case, what I have now is nothing like that insomnia, nothing at all. I just canft sleep. Not for one second. Aside from that simple fact, Ifm perfectly normal. I donft feel sleepy, and my mind is as clear as ever. Clearer, if anything. Physically, too, Ifm normal: my appetite is fine; Ifm not fatigued. In terms of everyday reality, therefs nothing g with me. I just canft sleep.
Neither my husband nor my son has noticed that Ifm not sleeping. And I havenft mentioned it to them. I donft want to be told to see a doctor. I know it wouldnft do any good. I just know. Like before. This is myself.
So they donft suspect a thing. On the surface, our life flows on unchanged. Peaceful. Routine. After I see my husband and son off in the morning. I take my ca, and go marketing. My husband is a dentist. His office is a ten-minute drive from our condo. He and a dental-school friend own it as partners. That way they can afford to hire a technician and a receptionist. One partner can take the otherfs overflow. Both of them are good, so for an office that has been in operation for only five year., and that opened without any special connections, the place is doing very well. Almost too well. gI didnft want to work so hard,h says my husband. gBut I canft complain.h
And I always say, gReally, you canft.h Itfs true. We had to get an enormous bank loan to open the place. A dental office requires a huge investment in equipment. And the competition is fierce. Patients donft start pouring in the minute you open your doors. Lots of dental clinics have failed for lack of patients.
Back then, we were young and poor and we had a brand-new baby. No one could guarantee that we would survive in such a tough world. But we have survived, one way or another. Five years. No. we really canft complain. Wefve still got almost two-thirds of our debt left to pay, though.
gI know why youfve got so many patients,h I always say to him. gItfs because youfre such a good-looking guy.
This is our little joke. Hefs not good-looking at all. Actually, hefs kind of strange-looking. Even now I sometimes wonder why I married such a strange-looking man. I had other boyfriends who were far mote handsome.
What makes his face so strange? I canft really say. Itfs not a handsome face, but itfs not ugly, either. Nor is it the kind that people would say has gcharacter.h Honestly, gstrangefh about all that fits. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it has no distinguishing features. Still, there must be some element that makes his face have no distinguishing features, and if I could grasp whatever that is, I might be able to understand the strangeness of the whole. I once tried to draw his picture, but I couldnft do it. I couldnft remember what he looked like. I sat there holding the pencil over the paper and couldnft make a mark. I was flabbergasted. How can you live with a man so long and not be able to bring his face to mind? I knew how to recognize him, of course. I would even get mental images of him now and then. But when it came to drawing his picture, I realized that I didnft remember anything about his face. What could I do? It was like running into an invisible wall. The one thing I could remember was that his face looked strange.
The memory of that often makes me nervous.
Still, hefs one of those men everybody likes. Thatfs a big plus in his business, obviously, but I think he would have been a success at just about anything. People feel secure talking to him. I had never met anyone like that before. All my women friends like him. And Ifm fond of him, of course. I think I even love him. But, strictly speaking, I donft actually like him.
Anyhow, he smiles in this natural, innocent way, just like a child. Not many grownup men can do that. And I guess youfd expect a dentist to have nice teeth, which he does.
gItfs not my fault Ifm so good-looking,h he always answers when we enjoy our little joke. Wefre the only ones who understand what it means. Itfs a recognition of reality—the fact that we have managed in one my or another to survive—and itfs an important ritual for us.
He drives his Sentra out of the condo parking garage every morning at eight-fifteen. Our son is in the seat next to him. The elementary school is on the way to the office. gBe careful,h I say. gDonft worryh he answers. Always the same little dialogue. I canft help myself. I have to say it. gBe careful.h And my husband has to answer, gDonft worry.h He starts the engine, puts a Haydn or Mozart tape into the car stereo, and hums along with the music. My two gmenh always wave to me on the way out. Their hands move in exactly the same way. Itfs almost uncanny. They lean their heads at exactly the same angle and turn their palms toward me, moving them slightly from side to aside in exactly the same way, as if theyfd been trained by a choreographer.
I have my own car, a used Honda Civic. A girlfriend sold it to me two years ago for next to nothing. One bumper is smashed in, and the body style is old-fashioned, with rust spots showing up. The odometer has over a hundred and fifty thousand kilometers on it. Sometimes—once or twice a month—the car is almost impossible to start. The engine simply wonft catch. Still, itfs not bad enough to have the thing fixed. If you baby it and let it rest for ten minutes or so, the engine will start up with a nice, solid vroom. Oh, well, everything-everybody-gets out of whack once or twice a month. Thatfs life. My husband calls my car gyour donkey.h I donft care. Itfs mine.
I drive my Civic to the supermarket. After marketing I clean the house and do the laundry. Then I fix lunch. I make a point of performing my morning chores with brisk, efficient movements. If possible, I like to finish my dinner preparations in the morning, too. Then the afternoon is all mine.
My husband comes home for lunch. He doesnft like to eat out. He says the restaurants are too crowded, the food is no good, and the smell of tobacco smoke gets into his clothes. He prefers eating at home, even with the extra travel time involved. Still, I donft make anything fancy for lunch. I warm up leftovers in the microwave or boil a pot of noodles. So the actual time involved is minimal. And, of course, itfs more fun to eat with my husband than all alone with no one to talk to.
Before, when the clinic was just getting started, there would often be no patient in the first afternoon slot, so the two of us would go to bed after lunch. Those were the loveliest times with him. Everything was hushed, and the soft afternoon sunshine would filter into the room. We were a lot younger then, and happier.
We ere still happy, of course. I really do think so. No domestic troubles cast shadows on our home. I love him and trust him. And Ifm sure he feels the same about me. But little by little, as the months and years go by, your life changes. Thatfs just how it is. There s nothing you can do about it. Now all the afternoon slots are taken. When we finish eating, my husband brushes his teeth, hurries out to his car, and goes back to the office. Hefs got all those sick teeth waiting for him. But thatfs all right. We both know you can t have everything your own way.
After my husband goes back to the office, I take a bathing suit and towel and drive to the neighborhood athletic club. I swim for half an hour. I swim hard. Ifm not that crazy about the swimming itself: I just want to keep the flab off. Ifve always liked my own figure. Actually, Ifve never liked my face. Itfs not bad, but Ifve never felt I liked it. My body is another matter. I like to stand naked in front of the mirror. I like to study the soft outlines
I see there, the balanced vitality. Ifm not sure what it is, but I get the feeling that something inside there is very important to me. Whatever it is, I donft want to lose it.
Ifm thirty. When you reach thirty, you realize itfs not the end of the world. Ifm not especially happy about getting older, but it does make some things easier. Itfs a question of attitude. One thing I know for sure, though: if a thirty-year-old woman loves her body and is serious about keeping it looking the way it should, she has to put in a certain amount of effort. I learned that from my mother. She used to be a slim, lovely woman, but not anymore. I donft want the same thing to happen to me.
After Ifve had my swim, I use the rest of my afternoon in various ways. Sometimes Ifll wander over to the station plaza and window-shop. Sometimes Ifll go home, curl up on the sofa and read a book or listen to an FM station or just rest. Eventually my son comes home from school. I help him change into his playclothes, and give him a snack. When hefs through eating, he goes out to play with his friends. Hefs too young to go to an afternoon cram school, and we arenft making him take piano lessons or anything.
gLet him play,h says my husband. gLet him grow up naturally.h When my son leaves the house, I have the same little dialogue with him as I do with my husband. gBe careful,h I say, and he answers, gDonft worry.h
As evening approaches, I begin preparing dinner. My son is always back by six. He watches cartoons on TV. If no emergency patients show up, my husband is home before seven. He doesnft drink a drop and hefs not fond of pointless socializing. He almost always comes straight home from work.
The three of us talk during dinner, mostly about what wefve done that day. My son always has the most to say. Everything that happens in his life is fresh and full of mystery. He talks, and we offer our comments. After dinner, he does what he likes—watches television or reads or plays some kind of game with my husband. When he has homework, he shuts himself up in his room and does it. He goes to bed at eight-thirty. I tuck him in and stroke his hair and say good night to him and turn off the light.
Then itfs husband and wife together. He sits on the sofa, reading the newspaper and talking to me now and then about his patients or something in the paper. Then he listens to Haydn or Mozart. I donft mind listening to music, but I can never seem to tell the difference between those two composers. They sound the same to me. When I say that to my husband, he tells me it doesnft matter. gItfs all beautiful. Thatfs what counts.h
gJust like you,h I say.
gJust like me,h he answers with a big smile. He seems genuinely pleased.
So thatfs my life—or my life before I stopped sleeping—each day pretty much a repetition of the one before. I used to keep a simple diary, but if I forgot for two or three days, Ifd lose track of what happened on which day. Yesterday could have been the day before yesterday, or vice versa. Ifd sometimes wonder what kind of life this was. Which is not to say that I found it empty. I was—very simply—amazed. At the lack of demarcation between the days. At the fact that I was part of such a life, a life that had swallowed me up so completely. As the fact that my footprints were being blown away before I ever had a chance to turn and look at them.
Whenever I felt like that, I would look at my face in the bathroom mirror—just look at it for fifteen minutes at a time, my mind a total blank. Ifd stare at my face purely as a physical object, and gradually it would disconnect from the rest of me, becoming just some thing that happened to exist at the same time as myself. And a realization would come to me: This is happening here and now. Itfs got nothing to do with footprints. Reality and I exist simultaneously at this present moment. Thatfs the most important thing.
But now I canft sleep anymore. When I stopped sleeping, I stopped keeping a diary.
I remember with perfect clarity that first night I lost the ability to sleep. I was having a repulsive dream—a dark, slimy dream. I donft remember what it was about, but I do remember how it felt ominous and terrifying. I woke at the climatic moment—came fully awake with a start, as if something had dragged me back at the last moment from a fatal turning point. Had I remained immersed in the dream for another second, I would have been lost forever. My breath came in painful gasps for a time after I awoke. My arms and legs felt paralyzed. I lay there immobilized, listening to my own labored breathing, as if I were stretched out full length on the Boor of a huge cavern.
gIt was a dream,h I told myself, and I waited for my breathing to calm down. Lying stiff on my back, I felt my heart working violently, my lungs hurrying the blood to it with big, slow, bellowslike contractions. I began to wonder what time it could be. I wanted to look at the clock by my pillow, but I couldnft turn my head far enough. Just then I seemed to catch a glimpse of something at the foot of the bed, something like a vague, black shadow. I caught my breath. My heart, my lungs, everything inside me seemed to freeze in that instant. I strained to see the black shadow.
The moment I tried to focus on it, the shadow began to assume a definite shape, as if it had been waiting for me to notice it. Its outline became distinct, and began to be filled with substance, and then with details. It was a gaunt old man wearing a skintight black shirt. His hair was gray and short, his cheeks sunken. He stood at my feet, perfectly still. He said nothing, but his piercing eyes stared at me. They were huge eyes, and I could see the red network of veins in them. The old manfs face wore no expression at all. It told me nothing. It was like an opening in the darkness.
This was no longer the dream, I knew. From that, I had already awakened. And not just by drifting awake but by having my eyes ripped open. No, this was no dream. This was reality. And in reality an old man I had never seen before was standing at the foot of my bed. I had to do something—turn on the light, wake my husband, scream. I tried to move. I fought to make my limbs work, but it did no good. I couldnft move a finger. When it became clear to me that I would never be able to move, I was filled with a hopeless terror, a primal fear such as I had never experienced before, like a chill that rises silently from the bottomless well of memory. I tried to scream, but I was incapable of producing a sound, or even moving my tongue. All I could do was look at the old man.
Now I saw that he was holding something—a tall, narrow, rounded thing that shone white. As I stared at this object, wondering what it could be, it began to take on a definite shape, just as the shadow had earlier. It was a pitcher, an old-fashioned porcelain pitcher. Alter some time, the man raised the pitcher and began pouring water from it onto my feet. I could not feel the water. I could see it and hear it splashing down on my feet, but I couldnft Feel a thing.
The old man went on and on pouring water over my feet. Strange—no matter how much he poured, the pitcher never ran dry. I began to worry that my feet would eventually rot and melt away. Yes, of course they would rot. What else could they do with so much water pouring over them? When it occurred to me that my feet were going to rot and melt away, I couldnft take it any longer.
I closed my eyes and let out a scream so loud it took every ounce of strength I had. But it never left my body. It reverberated soundlessly inside, tearing through me, shutting down my heart. Everything inside my head turned white for a moment as the scream penetrated my every cell. Something inside me died. Something melted away, leaving only a shuddering vacuum. An explosive flash incinerated everything my existence depended on.
When I opened my eyes, the old man was gone. The pitcher was gone. The bedspread was dry, and there was no indication that anything near my feet had been wet. My body, though, was soaked with sweat, a horrifying volume of sweat, more sweat than I ever imagined a human being could produce. And yet, undeniably, it was sweat that had come f mm me.
I moved one finger. Then another, and another, and the rest Next, I bent my arms and then my legs. I rotated my feet and bent my knees. Nothing moved quite as it should have, but at least it did move. After carefully checking to see that all my body parts were working. I eased myself into a sitting position. In the dim light filtering in from the sweet lamp, I scanned the entire room from corner to corner. The old man was definitely not there.
The clock by my pillow said twelve-thirty. I had been sleeping for only an hour and a half. My husband was sound asleep in his bed. Even his breathing was inaudible. He always sleeps like that, as if all mental activity in him had been obliterated. Almost nothing can wake him.
I got out of bed and went to the bathroom. I threw my sweat-soaked nightgown into the washing machine and took a shower. After putting on a fresh pair of pajamas, I went to the living room, switched on the floor lamp beside the sofa, and sat there drinking a full glass of brandy. I almost never drink. Not that I have a physical incompatibility with alcohol, as my husband does. In fact, I used to drink quite a lot, but after marrying him I simply stopped. Sometimes when I had trouble sleeping I would take a sip of brandy but that night I felt I wanted a whole glass to quiet my overwrought nerves.
The only alcohol in the house was a bottle of Remy Martin we kept in the sideboard. It had been a gift. I donft even remember who gave it to us, it was so long ago. The bottle wore a thin layer of dust. We had no real brandy glasses, so I just poured it into a regular tumbler and sipped it slowly.
I must have been in a trance, I thought. I had never experienced such a thing, but I had heard about trances from a college friend who had been through one. Everything was incredibly clear, she had said. You canft believe itfs a dream. gI didnft believe it was a dream when it was happening, and now I still donft believe it was a dream.h Which is exactly how I felt. Of course it had to be a dream-a kind of dream that doesnft feel like a dream.
Though the terror was leaving me, the trembling of my body would not stop. It was in my skin, like the circular ripples on water after an earthquake. I could see the slight quivering. The scream had done it. Tint scream that had never found a voice was still locked up in my body, making it tremble.
I closed my eyes and swallowed another mouthful of brandy. The warmth spread from my throat to my stomach. The sensation felt tremendously real.
With a start, I thought of my son. Again my heart began pounding. I hurried from the sofa to his room. He was sound asleep, one hand across his mouth, the other thrust out to the side, looking just as secure and peaceful in sleep as my husband. I straightened his blanket. Whatever it was that had so violently shattered my sleep, it had attacked only me. Neither of them had felt a thing.
I returned to the living room and wandered about there. I was not the least bit sleepy.
I considered drinking another glass of brandy. In fact, I wanted to drink even more alcohol than that. I wanted to warm my body more, to calm my nerves down more, and to feel that strong, penetrating bouquet in my mouth again. After some hesitation, I decided against it. I didnft want to start the new day drunk. I put the brandy back in the sideboard, brought the glass to the kitchen sink, and washed it. I found some strawberries in the refrigerator and ate them.
I realized that the trembling in my skin was almost gone.
What was that old man in black? I asked myself. I had never seen him before in my life. That black clothing of his was so strange, like a tight-fitting sweatsuit, and yet, at the same time, old-fashioned. I had never seen anything like it. And those eyes—bloodshot, and never blinking. Who was he? Why did he pour water on my feet? Why did he have to do such a thing?
I had only questions, no answers.
The time my friend went into a trance, she was spending the night at her fiancéfs house. As she lay in bed asleep, an angry-looking man in his early fifties approached and ordered her out of the house. While that was happening, she couldnft move a muscle. And, like me, she became soaked with sweat. She was certain it must be the ghost of her fiancéfs father, who was telling her to get Out of his house. But when she asked to see a photograph of the father the next day, it wined out to be an entirely different man. gI must have been feeling tense,h she concluded. gThatfs what caused it.h
But Ifm not tense. And this is my own house. There shouldnft be anything here to threaten me. Why did I have to go into a trance?
I shook my head. Stop thinking, I told myself. It wonft do any good. I had a realistic dream, nothing more. Ifve probably been building up some kind of fatigue. The tennis I played the day before yesterday must have done it. I met a friend at the club after my swim and she invited me to play tennis and I overdid it a little, thatfs all. Sure—my arms and legs felt tired and heavy for a while afterward.
When I finished my strawberries, I stretched out on the sofa and tried closing my eyes.
I wasnft sleepy at all. gOh, great,h I thought. g1 really donft feel like sleeping.h
I thought Ifd read a hook until I got tired again. I went to the bedroom and picked a novel from the bookcase. My husband didnft even twitch when I turned on the light to hunt for it. I chose gAnna Karenina.h I was in the mood for a long Russian novel, and I had only read gAnna Kareninah once, long ago, probably in high school. I remembered just a few things about it the first line, gAll happy families resemble one another, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,h and the heroinefs throwing herself under a train at the end. And that early on there was a hint of the final suicide. Wasnft there a scene at a racetrack? Or was that in another novel?
Whatever. I went back to the sofa and opened the book. How many years had it been since I sat down and relaxed like this with a book? True, I often spent half an hour or an hour of my private time in the afternoon with a book open. But you couldnft really call that reading. Ifd always find myself thinking about other things—my son, or shopping, or the freezerfs needing to be fixed, or my having to find something to wear to a relativefs wedding, or the stomach operation my father had last month. That kind of stuff would drift into my mind, and then it would grow, and take off in a million different directions. After a while Ifd notice that the only thing that had gone by was the time, and I had hardly turned any pages.
Without noticing it, I had become accustomed in this way to a life without books. How strange, now that I think of it. Reading had been the center of my life when I was young. I had read every book in the grade-school library, and almost my entire allowance would go for books. Ifd even scrimp on lunches to buy books I wanted to read. And this went on into junior high and high school. Nobody read as much as I did. I was the middle one of five children, and both my parents worked, so nobody paid much attention to me. I could read alone as much as I liked. Ifd always enter the essay contests on books so I could win a gift certificate for more books. And I usually won. In college I majored in English literature and got good grades. My graduation thesis on Katherine Mansfield won top honors, and my thesis adviser urged me to apply to graduate school. I wanted to go out into the world, though, and I knew that I was no scholar. I just enjoyed reading books. And, even if I had wanted to go on studying, my family didnft have the financial wherewithal to send me to graduate school. We werenft poor by any means, but there were two sisters coming along after me, so once I graduated from college I simply had to begin supporting myself.
When had I really read a book last? And what had it been? I couldnft recall anything. Why did a personfs life have to change so completely? Where had the old me gone, the one who used to read a book as if possessed by it? What had those days—and that almost abnormally intense passion—meant to me?
That night, I found myself capable of reading gAnna Kareninah with unbroken concentration. I went on turning pages without another thought in mind. In one sitting, I read as far as the scene where Anna and Vronsky first see each other in the Moscow train station. At that point, I stuck my bookmark in and poured myself another glass of brandy.
Though it hadnft occurred to me before, I couldnft help thinking what an odd novel this was. You donft see the heroine, Anna, until Chapter 18. I wondered if it didnft seem unusual to readers in Tolstoyfs day. What did they do when the book went on and on with a detailed description of the life of a minor character named Oblonsky—just sit there, waiting for the beautiful heroine to appear? Maybe that was it. Maybe people in those days had lots of time to kill—at least the part of society that read novels.
Then I noticed how late it was. Three in the morning! And still I wasnft sleepy.
What should I do? I donft feel sleepy at all, I thought. I could just keep on reading. Ifd love to find out what happens in the story. But I have to sleep.
I remembered my ordeal with insomnia and how I had gone through each day back then, wrapped in a cloud. No, never again. I was still a student in those days. It was still possible for me to get away with something like that. But not now, I thought. Now Ifm a wife. A mother. I have responsibilities. I have to make my husbandfs lunches and take care of my son.
But even if I get into bed now, I know I wonft be able to sleep a wink.
I shook my head.
Letfs face it, Ifm just not sleepy, I told myself. And I want to read the rest of the book.
I sighed and stole a glance at the big volume lying on the table. And that was that. I plunged into gAnna Kareninah and kept reading until the sun came up. Anna and Vronsky stared at each other at the ball and fell into their doomed love. Anna went to pieces when Vronskyfs horse fell at the racetrack (so there was a racetrack scene, after all!) and confessed her infidelity to her husband. I was there with Vronsky when he spurred his horse over the obstacles. I heard the crowd cheering him on. And I was there in the stands watching his horse go down. When the window brightened with the morning light, I laid the book down and went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. My mind was filled with scenes from the novel and with a tremendous hunger, obliterating any other thought. I cut two slices of bread, spread them with butter and mustard, and had a cheese sandwich. My hunger pangs were almost unbearable. It was rare for me to feel that hungry. I had trouble breathing, I was so hungry. One sandwich did hardly anything for me, so I made another one and had another cup of coffee with it.
To my husband I said nothing about either my trance or my night without sleep. Not that I was hiding them from him. It just seemed to me that there was no point in telling him. What good would it have done? And besides, I had simply missed a nightfs sleep. That much happens to everyone now and then.
I made my husband his usual cup of coffee and gave my son a glass of warm milk. My husband ate toast and my son a bowl of cornflakes. My husband skimmed the morning paper and my son hummed a new song he had learned in school. The two of them got into the Sentra and left. gBe careful,h I said to my husband. gDonft worry,h he answered. The two of them waved. A typical morning.
After they were gone, I sat on the sofa and thought about how to spend the rest of the day. What should I do? What did I have to do? I went to the kitchen to inspect the contents of the refrigerator. I could get by without shopping. We had bread, milk, and eggs, and there was meat in the freezer. Plenty of vegetables, too. Everything Ifd need through tomorrowfs lunch.
I had business at the bank, but it was nothing I absolutely had to take care of immediately. Letting it go a day longer wouldnft hurt.
I went back to the sofa and started reading the rest of gAnna Karenina.h Until that reading, I hadnft realized how little I remembered of what goes on in the book. I recognized virtually nothing—the characters, the scenes, nothing. I might as well have been reading a whole new hook How strange. I must have been deeply moved at the time I first read it, but now there was nothing left. Without my noticing, the memories of all the shuddering, soaring emotions had slipped away and vanished.
What, then, of the enormous fund of time I had consumed back then reading books? What had all that meant?
I stopped reading and thought about that for a while. None of it made sense to me, though, and soon I even lost track of what I was thinking about. I caught myself staring at the tree that stood outside the window. I shook my head and went back to the book.
Just after the middle of Volume III, I found a few crumbling flakes of chocolate stuck between the pages. I must have been eating chocolate as I read the novel when I was in high school. I used to like to eat and read. Come to think of it, I hadnft touched chocolate since my marriage. My husband doesnft like me to eat sweets, and we almost never give them to our son. We donft usually keep that kind of thing around the house.
As I looked at the whitened flakes of chocolate from over a decade ago, I felt a tremendous urge to have the real thing. I wanted to eat chocolate while reading gAnna Karenina,h the way I did back then. I couldnft hear to be denied it for another moment. Every cell in my body seemed to be panting with this hunger for chocolate.
I slipped a cardigan over my shoulder and took the elevator down. I walked straight to the neighborhood candy shop and bought two of the sweetest-looking milk-chocolate bars they had. A. soon as I left the shop, I tore one open, and started eating it while walking home. The luscious taste of milk chocolate spread through my mouth. I could feel the sweetness being absorbed directly into every part of my body. I continued eating in the elevator, steeping myself in the wonderful aroma that filled the tiny space.
Heading straight for the sofa, I started reading gAnna Kareninah and eating my chocolate. I wasnft the least bit sleepy. I felt no physical fatigue, either. I could have gone on reading forever. When I finished the first chocolate bar, I opened the second and ate half of that. About two-thirds of the way through Volume III, I looked at my watch. Eleven-forty.
My husband would be home soon. I closed the book and hurried to the kitchen. I put water in a pot and turned on the gas. Then I minced some scallions and took out a handful of buckwheat noodles for boiling. While the water was heating, I soaked some dried seaweed, cut it up, and topped it with a vinegar dressing. I took a block of tofu from the refrigerator and cut it into cubes. Finally, I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth to get rid of the chocolate smell.
At almost the exact moment the water came to a boil, my husband walked in. He had finished work a little earlier than usual, he said.
Together, we ate the buckwheat noodles. My husband talked about a new piece of dental equipment he was considering bringing into the office, a machine that would remove plaque from patientsf teeth far more thoroughly than anything he had used before, and in less time. Like all such equipment, it was quite expensive, but it would pay for itself soon enough, since these days more and more patients were coming in just for a cleaning.
gWhat do you think?f he asked me.
I didnft want to think about plaque on peoplefs teeth, and I especially didnft want to hear or think about it while I was eating. My mind was filled with hazy images of Vronsky falling off his horse. But of course I couldnft tell my husband that. He was deadly serious about the equipment. I asked him the price and pretended to think about it. gWhy not buy it if you need it?h I said. gThe money will work out one way or another. You wouldnft be spending it for fun, after all.h
gThatfs true,h he said. gI wouldnft be spending it for fun.h Then he continued eating his noodles in silence.
Perched on a branch of the tree outside the window, a pair of large birds were chirping. I watched them half consciously. I wasnft sleepy. I wasnft the least bit sleepy. Why not?
While I cleared the table, my husband sat on the sofa reading the paper. gAnna Kareninah lay there beside him, but he didnft seem to notice. He had no interest in whether I read books.
After I finished washing the dishes, my husband said, gIfve got a nice surprise today. What do you think it is?h
gI donft know,h I said.
gMy first afternoon patient has cancelled. I donft have to be back in the office until one-thirty.h He smiled.
I couldnft figure out why this was supposed to be such a nice surprise. I wonder why I couldnft.
It was only after my husband stood up and drew me toward the bedroom that I realized what he had in mind. I wasnft in the mood for it at all. I didnft understand why I should have sex then. All I wanted was to get back to my book. I wanted to stretch out alone on the sofa and munch on chocolate while I turned the pages of gAnna Karenina.h All the time I had been washing the dishes, my only thoughts had been of Vronsky and of how an author like Tolstoy managed to control his characters so skillfully. He described them with such wonderful precision. But that very precision somehow denied them a kind of salvation. And this finally—
I closed my eyes and pressed my fingertips to my temple.
gIfm sorry, Ifve had a kind of headache all day. What awful timing.h
I had often had some truly terrible headaches, so he accepted my explanation without a murmur.
gYoufd better lie down and get some rest,h he said. gYoufve been working too hard.h
gItfs really not that bad,h I said.
He relaxed on the sofa until one ofclock, listening to music and reading the paper. And he talked about dental equipment again. You bought the latest high-tech staff and it was obsolete in two or three years... So then you had to keep replacing everythingc The only ones who made any money were the equipment manufacturers—that kind of talk. I offered a few clucks, but I was hardly listening.
After my husband went back to the office, I folded the paper and pounded the sofa cushions until they were puffed up again. Then I leaned on the windowsill, surveying the room. I couldnft figure out what was happening. Why wasnft I sleepy? In the old days I had done all-nighters any number of times, but I had never stayed awake this long. Ordinarily, I would have been sound asleep after so many hours, or, if not asleep, impossibly tired. But I wasnft the least bit sleepy. My mind was perfectly clear.
I went into the kitchen and warmed up some coffee. I thought, Now what should I do? Of course I wanted to read the rest of gAnna Karenina,h but I also wanted to go to the pool for my swim. After a good deal of agonizing, I decided to go swimming. I donft know how to explain this, but I wanted to purge my body of something by exercising it to the limit. Purge it—of what? I spent some time wondering about that. Purge it of what?
I didnft know.
But this thing, whatever it was, this mistlike something, hung there inside my body like a certain kind of potential. I wanted to give it a name, but the word refused to come to mind. Ifm terrible at finding the right word, for things. Ifm sure Tolstoy would have been able to come up with exactly the right word.
Anyhow, I put my swimsuit in my bag and, as always, drove my Civic to the athletic club. There were only two other people in the pool—a young man and a middle-aged woman—and I didnft know either of them. A bored-looking lifeguard was on duty.
I changed into my bathing suit, put on my goggles, and swam my usual thirty minutes. But thirty minutes wasnft enough. I swam another fifteen minutes, ending with a crawl for two full lengths at maximum speed. I was out of breath, but I still felt nothing but energy welling up inside my body. The others were staring at me when I left the pool.
It was still a little before three ofclock, so I drove to the bank and finished my business there. I considered doing some shopping at the supermarket, but I decided instead to head straight for home. There, I picked up gAnna Kareninah where I had left off, eating what was left of the chocolate. When my son came home at four ofclock, I gave him a glass of juice, and some fruit gelatin that I had made. Then I started on dinner. I defrosted some meat from the freezer and cut up some vegetables in preparation for stir-frying. I made miso soup and cooked the rice. All of these tasks I took care of with tremendous mechanical efficiency.
I went back to gAnna Karenina.
I was not tired.
At ten ofclock I got into my bed, pretending that I would be sleeping there near my husband. He fell asleep right away, practically the moment the light went out, as if there were some cord connecting the lamp with his brain.
Amazing. People like that are rare. There are far more people who have trouble falling asleep. My father was one of those. Hefd always complain about how shallow his sleep was. Not only did he find it hard to get to sleep, but the slightest sound or movement would wake him up for the rest of the night.
Not my husband, though. Once he was asleep nothing could wake him until morning. We were still newly-weds when it struck me how odd this was. I even experimented to see what it would take to wake him. I sprinkled water on his face and tickled his nose with a brush and that kind of thing. I never once got him to wake up. If I kept at it, I could get him to groan once, but that was all. And he never dreamed. At least he never remembered what his dreams were about. Needless to say, he never Went into nay paralytic trances. He slept. He slept like a turtle buried in mud.
Amazing. But it helped with what quickly became my nightly routine.
After ten minutes of lying near him, I would get out of bed. I would go to the living room, turn on the floor lamp, and pour myself a glass of brandy. Then I would sit on the sofa and read my book, taking tiny sips of brandy and letting the smooth liquid glide over my tongue. Whenever I felt like it, would eat a cookie or a piece of chocolate that I had hidden in the sideboard. After a while, morning would come. When that happened, I would close my book and make myself a cup of coffee. Then I would make a sandwich and eat it.
My days became just a. regulated.
I would hurry through my housework and spend the rest of the morning reading. Just before noon, I would put my book down and fix my husbandfs lunch. When he left, before one. Ifd drive to the club and have my swim. I would swim for a full hour. Once I stopped sleeping, thirty minutes was never enough. While I was in the water I concentrated my entire mind on swimming. I thought about nothing but how to move my body most effectively, and I inhaled and exhaled with perfect regularity. If I met someone I knew, I hardly said a word—just the basic civilities. I refused all invitations. gSorry,h Ifd say. gIfm going straight home today. Therefs something I have to do.h I didnft want to get involved with anybody. I didnft want to have to waste time on endless gossiping. When I was through swimming as hard as I could, all I wanted was to hurry home and read.
I went through the motions—shopping, cooking, playing with my son, having sex with my husband. It was easy once I got the hang of it. All I had to do was break the connection between my mind and my body. While my body went about its business, my mind floated in its own inner space. I ran the house without a thought in my head, feeding snacks to my son, chatting with my husband.
After I gave up sleeping, it occurred to me what a simple thing reality is, how easy it is to make it work. Itfs just reality. Just housework. Just a home. Like running a simple machine. Once you learn to run it, itfs just a matter of repetition. You push this button and pull that lever. You adjust a gauge, put on the lid, set the timer. The same thing, over and over.
Of course there were variations now and then. My mother-in-law had dinner with us. On Sunday, the three of us went to the zoo. My son had a terrible case of diarrhea.
But none of these events had any effect on my being. They swept past me like a silent breeze. I chatted with my mother-in-law, made dinner for four, took a picture in front of the bear cage, put a hot-water bottle on my sonfs stomach, and gave him his medicine.
No one noticed that I had changed—that I had given up sleeping entirely, that I was spending all my time reading, that my mind was someplace a hundred years—and hundreds of miles—from reality. No matter how mechanically I worked, no matter how little love or emotion I invested in my handling of reality, my husband and my son and my mother-in-law went on relating to me as they always had. If anything, they seemed more at ease with me than before.
And so a week went by.
Once my constant wakefulness entered its second week, though, it started to worry me. It was simply not normal. People are supposed to sleep. All people sleep. Once, some years ago, I had read about a form of torture in which the victim is prevented from sleeping. Something the Nazis did, I think. Theyfd lock the person in a tiny room, fasten his eyelids open, and keep shining lights in his face and making loud noises without a break. Eventually, the person would go mad and die.
I couldnft recall how long the article said it took for the madness to set in, but it couldnft have been much more than three days or four. In my case, a whole week had gone by. This was simply too much. Still, my health was not suffering. Far from it. I had more energy than ever.
One day, after showering, I stood naked in front of the mirror. I was amazed to discover that my body appeared to be almost bursting with vitality. I studied every inch of myself, head to toe, but I could find not the slightest hint of excess flesh, not one wrinkle. I no longer had the body of a young girl, of course, but my skin had far more glow, far more tautness than it had before. I took a pinch of flesh near my waist, and found it almost hard, with a wonderful elasticity.
It dawned on me that I was prettier than I had realized. I looked so much younger than before that it was almost shocking. I could probably pass for twenty-four. My skin was smooth. My eyes were bright, lips moist. The shadowed area beneath my protruding cheekbones (the one feature I really hated about myself) was no longer noticeable—at all. I sat down and looked at my face in the mirror for a good thirty minutes. I studied it from all angles, objectively. No, I had not been mistaken: I was really pretty.
What was happening to me?
I thought about seeing a doctor.
I had a doctor who had been taking care of me since I was a child and to whom I felt close, but the more I thought about how he might react to my story the less inclined I felt to tell it to him. Would he take me at my word? Hefd probably think I was crazy if I said I hadnft slept in a week. Or he might dismiss it as a kind of neurotic insomnia. But if he did believe I was telling the truth he might send me to some big research hospital for testing.
And then what would happen?
Ifd be locked up and sent from one lab to another to be experimented on. Theyfd do EEGs and EKGs and urinalyses and blood tests and psychological screening and who knows what else.
I couldnft take that. I just wanted to stay by myself and quietly read my book I wanted to have my hour of swimming every day. I wanted my freedom: thatfs what I wanted more than anything. I didnft want to go to any hospitals. And, even if they did get me into a hospital, what would they find? Theyfd do a mountain of tests and formulate a mountain of hypotheses, and that would be the end of it. I didnft want to be locked up in a place like that.
One afternoon I went to the library and read some hooks on sleep. The few books I could find didnft tell me much. In fact, they all had only one thing to say: that sleep is rest. Like turning off a car engine. If you keep a motor running constantly, sooner or later it will break down. A running engine must produce heat, and the accumulated heat fatigues the machinery itself. Which is why you have to let the engine rest. Cool down. Turning off the engine-that, finally, is what sleep is. In a human being, sleep provides rest for both the flesh and the spirit When a person lies down and rests her muscles, she simultaneously closes her eyes and cuts off the thought processes. And excess thoughts release an electrical discharge in the form of dreams.
One book did have a fascinating point to make. The author maintained that human beings, by their very nature, are incapable of escaping from certain fixed idiosyncratic drives both in their thought processes and in their physical movements. People unconsciously fashion their own action- and thought-drives, which under normal circumstances never disappear. In other words, people live in the prison cells of their own drives. What modulates these drives and keeps them in check—so the organism doesnft wear down as the heel of a shoe does, at a particular angle, as the author puts it—is nothing other than sleep. Sleep therapeutically counteracts the tendency. In sleep, people naturally relax muscles that have been consistently used in only one direction; sleep both calms and provides a discharge for thought circuits that have likewise been used in only one direction. This is how people are cooled down. Sleeping is an act that has been programmed, with Karmic inevitability, into the human system, and no one can diverge from it. If a person were to diverge from it, the personfs very gground of beingh would be threatened.
gDrives?h I asked myself.
The only gdriveh of mine that I could think of was housework—those chores I perform day after day like an unfeeling machine. Cooking and shopping and laundry and mothering: what were they if not gdrivesh? I could do them with my eyes closed. Push the buttons. Pull the levers. Pretty soon, reality just flows off and away. The same physical movements over and over. Drives. They were consuming me, wearing -me down on one side like the heel of a shoe. I needed sleep every day to adjust them and cool me down.
Was that it?
I read the passage once more, with intense concentration. And I nodded. Yes, almost certainly, that was it.
So, then, what was this life of mine? I was being consumed by my drives and then sleeping to repair the damage. My life was nothing but a repetition of this cycle. It was going nowhere.
Sitting at the library table, I shook my head.
Ifm through with sleep! So what if I go mad? So what if I lose my gground of beingh? I will not be consumed by my gdrives.h If sleep is nothing more than a periodic repairing of the parts of me that are being worn away, I donft want it anymore. I donft need it anymore. My flesh may have to be consumed, but my mind belongs to me. Ifm keeping it for myself. I will not hand it over to anyone. I donft want to be grepaired.h I will not sleep.
I left the library filled with a new determination.
Now my inability to sleep ceased to frighten me. What was there to be afraid of? Think of the advantages! Now the hours from ten at night to six in the morning belonged to me alone. Until now, a third of every day had been used up by sleep. But no more. No more. Now it was mine, just mine, nobody elsefs, all mine. I could use this time in any way I liked. No one would get in my way. No one would make demands on me. Yes, that was it. I had expanded my life. I had increased it by a third.
You are probably going to tell me that this is biologically abnormal. And you may be right. And maybe someday in the future Ifll have to pay back the debt Ifm building up by continuing to do this biologically abnormal thing. Maybe life will try to collect on the expanded part—this gadvanceh it is paying me now. This is a groundless hypothesis, but there is no ground for negating it, and it feels right to me somehow. Which means that in the end the balance sheet of borrowed time will even out.
Honestly, though, I didnft give a damn, even if I had to die young. The best thing to do with a hypothesis is to Let it run any course it pleases. Now, at least, I was expanding my life, and it was wonderful. My hands werenft empty anymore. Here I was—alive, and I could feel it. It was real. I wasnft being consumed any longer. Or at least there was a part of me in existence that was not being consumed, and that was what gave me this intensely real feeling of being alive. A life without that feeling might go on forever, but it would have no meaning at all. I saw that with absolute clarity now.
After checking to see that my husband was asleep I would go sit on the living-room sofa, drink brandy by myself, and open my book. I read gAnna Kareninah three times. Each time, I made new discoveries. This enormous novel was full of revelations and riddles. Like a Chinese box, the world of the novel contained smaller worlds, and inside those were yet smaller worlds. Together, these worlds made up a single universe, and the universe waited there in the book to be discovered by the reader. The old me had been able to understand only the tiniest fragment of it, but the gaze of this new me could penetrate to the core with perfect understanding. I knew exactly what the great Tolstoy wanted to say, what he wanted the reader to get from his book; I could see how his message had organically crystallized as a novel, and what in that novel had surpassed the author himself.
No matter how hard I concentrated, I never tired. After reading gAnna Kareninah as many times as I could, I read Dostoyevski. I could read book after book with utter concentration and never tire. I could understand the most difficult passages without effort. And I responded with deep emotion.
I felt that I had always been meant to be like this. By abandoning sleep I had expanded myself. The power to concentrate was the most important thing. Living without this power would be like opening onefs eyes without seeing anything.
Eventually, my bottle of brandy ran out. I had drunk almost all of it by myself. I went to the gourmet department of a big store for another bottle of Remy Martin. As long as I was there, I figured, I might as well buy a bottle of red wine, too. And a fine crystal brandy glass. And chocolate and cookies.
Sometimes while reading I would become overexcited. When that happened, I would put my book down and exercise—do calisthenics or just walk around the room. Depending on my mood, I might go out for a nighttime drive. Ifd change clothes, get into my Civic, and drive aimlessly around the neighborhood. Sometimes Ifd drop into an all-night fast-food place for a cup of coffee, but it was such a bother to have to deal with other people that Ifd usually stay in the car. Ifd stop in some safe-looking spot and just let my mind wander. Or Ifd go all the way to the harbor and watch the boats.
One time, though, I was questioned by a policeman. It was two-thirty in the morning, and I was parked under a street lamp near the pier, listening to the car stereo and watching the lights of the ships passing by. He knocked on my window. I lowered the glass. He was young and handsome, and very polite. I explained to him that I couldnft sleep. He asked for my license and studied it for a while. gThere was a murder here last month,h he said. gThree young men attacked a couple, killed the man, and raped the woman.h I remembered having read about the incident. I nodded. gIf you donft have any business here, Mafam, youfd better not hang around here at night.h I thanked him and said I would leave. He gave my license back. I drove away.
That was the only time anyone talked to me. Usually I would drift through the streets at night for an hour or more and no one would bother me. Then I would park in our underground garage. Right next to my husbandfs white Sentra; he was upstairs sleeping soundly in the darkness. Ifd listen to the crackle of the hot engine cooling down, and when the sound died Ifd go upstairs.
The first thing I would do when I got inside was check to make sure my husband was asleep. And he always was. Then Ifd check my son, who was always sound asleep, too. They didnft know a thing. They believed that the world was as it always had been, unchanging. But they were wrong. It was changing in ways they could never guess. Changing a lot. Changing fast. It would never be the same again.
One time I stood and stared at my sleeping husbandfs face. I had heard a thump in the bedroom and rushed in. The alarm clock was on the floor. He had probably knocked it down in his sleep. But he was sleeping as soundly as ever, completely unaware of what he had done. What would it take to wake this man? I picked up the clock and put it back on the night table. Then I folded my arms and stared at my husband. How long had it been—years?—since the last time I had studied his face as he slept?
I had done it a lot when we were first married. That was all it took to relax me and put me in a peaceful mood. gIfll be safe as long as he goes on sleeping peaceful1y like this,h Ifd tell myself. Which is why I spent a lot of time watching him in his sleep.
But, somewhere along the way, I had given up the habit. When had that been? I tried to remember. It had probably happened back when my mother-in-law and I were sort of quarreling over what name to give my son. She was big on some religious-cult kind of thing, and had asked her priest to gbestowh a name on the baby. I donft remember exactly the name she was given. but I had no intention of letting some priest ebestowh a name on my child. We had some pretty violent arguments at the time, but my husband couldnft say a thing to either of us. He stood by and tried to calm us.
After that I lost the feeling that my husband was my protector. The one thing I thought I wanted from him he had failed to give me. All he had managed to do was make me furious. This all happened a long time ago, of course. My mother-in-law and I have long since made up. I gave my son the name I wanted to give bin,. My husband and I made up right away, too.
Ifm pretty sure that was the end, though, of my watching hint m his sleep.
So there I stood, looking at him sleeping.. soundly as always. One bare foot stuck out from under the covers at a strange angle—so strange that the foot could have belonged to someone else. It was a big, chunky foot. My husbandfs mouth hung open, the lower lip drooping. Every once in a while, his nostrils would twitch. There was a mole under his eye that bothered me. It was so big and vulgar-looking. There was something vulgar about the way his eyes were closed, the lids slack, covers made of faded human flesh. He looked like an absolute fool. This was what they mean by gdead to the world.h How incredibly ugly! He sleeps with such an ugly face! Itfs just too gruesome, I thought. He couldnft have been like this in the old days. Ifm sure he must have had a better Face when we were first married, one that was taut and alert. Even sound asleep, he couldnft have been such a blob.
I tried to r ember what his sleeping face had looked like back then, but I couldnft do it, though I tried hard enough. All I could be sure of was that he couldnft have had such a terrible face. Or was I just deceiving myself? Maybe he had always looked like this in his sleep and I had been indulging in some kind of emotional projection. Ifm sure thatfs what my mother would say. That sort of thinking was a specialty of hen. gAll that lovey-dovey stuff lasts two years—three years tops,h she always used to insist. gYou were a new bride,h Ifm sure she would tell me now. gOf course your little hubby looked like a darling in his sleep.h
Ifm sure she would say something like that, but Ifm just as sure that shefd be wrong. He had grown ugly over the years. The firmness had gone out of his face. Thatfs what growing old is all about. He was old now, and tired. Worn out. Hefd get even uglier in the years ahead, that much was certain. And I had no choice but to go along with it, put up with it, resign myself to it.
I let out a sigh as I stood there watching him. It was a deep sigh, a noisy one as sighs go, but of course he didnft move a muscle. The loudest sigh in the world would never wake him up.
I left the bedroom and went back to the living room. I poured myself a brandy and started reading. But something wouldnft let me concentrate. I put the book down and went to my sonfs room. Opening the door. I stared at his face in the light spilling in from the hallway. He was sleeping just as soundly as my husband was. As he always did. I watched him in hi. sleep, looked at his smooth, nearly featureless face. It was very different from my husbandfs: it was still a childfs face, after all. The skin still glowed; it still had nothing vulgar about it.
And yet something about my sonfs face annoyed me. I had never felt anything like this about him before. What could be making me feel this way? I stood there, looking, with my arms folded. Yes, of course I loved my son, loved him tremendously. But still, undeniably, that something was bothering me, getting on my nerves.
I shook my head.
I closed my eyes and kept them shut. Then I opened them and looked at my sonfs face again. And then it hit me. What bothered me about my sonfs sleeping face was that it looked exactly like my husbandfs. And exactly like my mother-in-lawfs. Stubborn. Self-satisfied. It was in their blood—a kind of arrogance I hated in my husbandfs family. True, my husband is good to me. Hefs sweet and gentle and hefs careful to take my feelings into account Hefs never fooled around with other women, and he works hard. Hefs serious, and hefs kind to everybody. My friends all tell me how lucky I am to have him. And I canft fault him, either. Which is exactly what galls me sometimes. His very absence of faults makes for a strange rigidity that excludes imagination. Thatfs what grates On me so.
And that was exactly the kind of expression my son had on his face as he slept.
I shook my head again. This little boy is a stranger to me, finally. Even after he grows up, hefll never be able to understand me, just as my husband can hardly understand what I feel now.
I love my son, no question. But I sensed that someday I would no longer be able to love this boy with the same intensity. Not a very maternal thought. Most mothers never have thoughts like that. But as I stood there looking at him asleep, I knew with absolute certainty that one day I would come to despise him.
The thought made me terribly sad. I closed his door and turned out the hail light I went to the living-room sofa, sat down, and opened my book. After reading a few pages. I closed it again. I looked at the clock. A little before three.
I wondered how many days it had been since I stopped sleeping. The sleeplessness started the Tuesday before last. Which made this the seventeenth day. Not one wink of sleep in seventeen days. Seventeen days and seventeen nights. Along, long time. I couldnft even recall what sleep was like.
I closed my eyes and tried to recall the sensation of sleeping, but all that existed for me inside was a wakeful darkness. A wakeful darkness: what it called to mind was death.
Was I about to die?
And if I died now, what would my life have amounted to?
There was no way I could answer that.
All right, then, what death?
Until now I had conceived of sleep as a kind of model for death. I had imagined death as an extension of sleep. A far deeper sleep than ordinary sleep. A sleep devoid of all consciousness. Eternal rest. A total blackout.
But now I wondered if I had been wrong. Perhaps death was a state entirely unlike sleep, something that belonged to a different category altogether—like the deep, endless, wakeful darkness I was seeing now.
No, that would be too terrible. If the state of death was not to be a rest for us, then what was going to redeem this imperfect life of ours, so fraught with exhaustion? Finally, though, no one knows what death is. Who has ever truly seen it? No one. Except the ones who are dead. No one living knows what death is like. They can only guess. And the best guess is still a guess. Maybe death is a kind of rest, but reasoning canft tell us that. The only way to find out what death is is to die. Death can be anything at all.
An intense terror overwhelmed me at the thought A stiffening chill ran down my spine. My eyes were still shut tight. I had lost the power to open them. I stared at the thick darkness that stood planted in front of me, a darkness as deep and hopeless as the universe itself. I was all alone. My mind was in deep concentration, and expanding. If I had wanted to, I could have seen into the uttermost depths of the universe. But I decided not to look. It was too soon for that.
If death was like this, if to die meant being eternally awake and staring into the darkness like this, what should I do?
At last, I managed to open my eyes. I gulped down the brandy that was left in my glass.
Ifm taking off my pajamas and putting on jeans, T-shirt, and a windbreaker. I tie my hair back in a tight ponytail, tuck it under the windbreaker, and put on a baseball cap of my husband's. In the mirror I look like a boy. Good. I put on sneakers and go down to the garage.
I slip in behind the steering wheel, turn the key, and listen m the engine hum. It sounds normal. Hands on the wheel, I rake a few deep breaths. Then I shift into gear and drive out of the building. The car is running better than usual. It seems to be gliding across a sheet of ice. I ease it into higher gear, move out of the neighborhood, and enter the highway to Yokohama.
It's only three in the morning, but the number of cars on the road is by no means small. Huge semis roll past, shaking the ground as they head east. Those guys don't sleep at night. They sleep in the daytime and work at night for greater efficiency.
What a waste. I could work day and night. I don't have m sleep.
This is biologically unnatural, I suppose, but who really knows what is natural? They just infer it inductively. Ifm beyond that. A priori. An evolutionary leap. A woman who never sleeps. An expansion of consciousness.
I have to smile. A priori. An evolutionary leap.
Listening to the car radio, I drive to the harbor. I want classical music, but I canft find a station that broadcasts it at night. Stupid Japanese rock music. Love songs sweet enough to rot your teeth. I give up searching and listen to those. They make me feel Ifm in a far-off place, far away from Mozart and Haydn.
I pull into one of the white-outlined spaces in the big parking lot at the waterfront park and cut my engine. This is the brightest area of the lot, under a lamp, and wide open all around. Only one other car is parked here—an old, white two-door coupé of the kind that young people like to drive. Probably a couple in there now, making love—no money for a hotel room. To avoid trouble, I pull my hat low, trying not to look like a woman. I check to see that my doors are locked.
Half consciously, I let my eyes wander through the surrounding darkness, when all of a sudden I remember a drive I took with my boyfriend the year I was a college freshman. We parked and got into some heavy petting. He couldnft stop, he said, and he begged me to let him put it in. But I refused. Hands on the steering wheel, listening to the music, I try to bring back the scene, but I canft recall his face. It all seems to have happened such an incredibly long time ago.
All the memories I have from the time before I stopped sleeping seem to be moving away with accelerating speed. It feels so strange, as if the me who used to go to sleep every night is not the real me, and the memories from back then are not really mine. This is how people change. But nobody realizes it. Nobody notices. Only I know what happens. I could try to tell them, but they wouldnft understand. They wouldnft believe me. Or if they did believe me, they would have absolutely no idea what Ifm feeling. They would only see me as a threat to their inductive world view.
I am changing, though. Really changing.
How long have I been sifting here? Hands on the wheel. Eyes closed. Staring into the sleepless darkness.
Suddenly Ifm aware of a human presence, and I come to myself again. Therefs somebody out there. I open my eyes and look around; Someone outside the car. Trying to open the door. But the doors are locked. Dark shadows on either side of the car, one at each door. Canft see their faces. Canft make out their clothing. Just two dark shadows, standing there.
Sandwiched between them, my Civic feels tiny—like a little pastry box. Itfs being rocked from side to side. A fist is pounding on the right-hand window. I know itfs not a policeman. A policeman would never pound on the glass like this and would never shake my car. I hold my breath. What should I do? I canft think straight. My underarms are soaked. Ifve got to get out of here. The key. Turn the key. I reach out for it and turn it to the right. The starter grinds.
The engine doesnft catch. My hand is shaking. I close my eyes and turn the key again. No good. A sound like fingernails clawing a giant wall. The motor turns and turns. The men—the dark shadows—keep shaking my car. The swings get bigger and bigger. Theyfre going to tip me over!
Therefs something wrong. Just calm down and think, then everything will be O.K. Think. Just think. Slowly. Carefully. Something is wrong.
Something is wrong.
But what? I canft tell. My mind is crammed full of thick darkness. Itfs not taking me anywhere. My hands are shaking. I try pulling out the key and putting it back in again. But my shaking hand canft find the hole. I try again and drop the key. I curl over and try to pick it up. But I canft get hold of it. The car is rocking back and forth. My forehead slams against the steering wheel.
Ifll never get the key. I fall back against the seat, cover my face with my hands. Ifm crying. All I can do is cry. The tears keep pouring out. Locked inside this little box, I canft go anywhere. Itfs the middle of the night. The men keep rocking the car back and forth. Theyfre going to turn it over.