The Twins and the Sunken Continent
By MURAKAMI Haruki
Translated by Christopher Allison
After the twins had been gone from my life for about a year and a half, I came across their picture in a photo magazine.
In that picture, they weren’t wearing the cheap matching sweatshirts bearing the consecutive numbers ‘208’ and ‘209’ that they had worn the whole time we were living together. They had a much more chic appearance. One was wearing a knit one-piece, and the other was wearing a coarse cotton jacket type of thing. Their hair was much longer than before, and they both wore quite a bit of make-up around their eyes.
But I knew right away that it was the twins. Even though one was turned around to look behind her, and I could only make out the profile of the other, I knew it the very instant I opened to the page. I understood everything instantly, just like when you hear the first note of a record that you’ve listened to so many hundreds of times that it’s been beaten into your skull. So: they’re here.
The picture had been taken inside a discotheque that had just opened on the fringes of Roppongi. The magazine had put together a special six-page spread called “Tokyo’s Hottest New Nightspots,” and the picture of the twins appeared on the first page.
It had been taken with a wide-angle lens from quite high up, so as to capture the big club, and if there hadn’t been any explanation, I’d have been more inclined to think it was a greenhouse or an aquarium than a discotheque. This was on account of everything was made of glass. If you looked from floor to ceiling, the tables and the walls and the fixtures were all made of glass. And huge decorative plants had been scattered all over the place.
People were holding cocktail glasses in the midst of an area that was cordoned off with a glass partitions, and in another area people were dancing. It seemed to me something like a precise, transparent model of humanity. Each part functioned perfectly according to its own rules.
At the far right edge of the picture, there was a huge glass table, where the twins were seated. There were two tropical drinks in over-sized glasses in front of them, and a couple of plates piled high with simple snacks. One of the twins had the back of a chair in her hands and was turned around to face behind her, gazing intently at the dance floor on the other side of the glass wall, while the other one was talking about something with a young guy seated next to her. If it hadn’t been for the twins, it would have been a totally ordinary scene. Two guys and a girl are sitting at a table in a discotheque having drinks. The name of the discotheque was “The Glass Cage.”
I had come upon this magazine totally by accident. I had some time to kill in this coffee shop where I was supposed to meet my business partner, so I had picked up a magazine off the magazine rack and started thumbing through it. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have bothered myself to peruse a month-old copy of a photo magazine.
Beneath the color picture of the twins, there was a completely predictable story. The Glass Cage plays Tokyo’s latest music and attracts the hippest people, the article explained. As the name suggests the inside of the place is surrounded by glass walls, which reminded me of a transparent maze. They serve specialty cocktails, and have paid special attention to acoustics. It’s the kind of place where guests are checked at the door, and if they are not suitably chic, or if a group of unaccompanied men tries to get in, they are turned away.
I ordered a second cup of coffee from the waitress, and asked if I could rip the page out of the magazine and take it with me. She said that the person who took care of the magazines wasn’t there, so she wasn’t sure, but that she thought probably no one would even notice. So I used the edge of a plastic menu to make a neat tear, folded the page in four, and put it in my jacket pocket.
When I returned to the office, the door was standing open wide, but there was no one inside. The desk was covered with assorted documents, dirty dishes and glasses were piled in the sink, and the ashtray was overflowing with cigarette butts. Our office girl had been out sick for three days with a cold.
Well well, I thought to myself. Three days ago the office was so clean there wasn’t a speck of dust in the place, and now it looks like the locker room of a boys’ high school basketball team.
I boiled some water in the kettle and, after washing out a single mug, made instant coffee. I couldn’t find a spoon, so I stirred it with a ballpoint pen that looked relatively clean. It didn’t taste very good. I probably would have been better off just drinking the hot water.
Just as I sat down on the edge of the desk to drink my coffee alone, the girl who worked part-time as a receptionist at the dentist’s office next door poked her head through the doorway. She was a short girl with long hair, and was quite good-looking. When I saw her for the first time, I thought she must be Jamaican or something on account of her complexion was so dark, but when I asked her where she was from, it turns out that her family are dairy farmers on Hokkaido. She didn’t know why she was so dark herself. But whatever the case, her dark skin against her white uniform was pretty eye-popping. Like Albert Schweitzer’s assistant or something.
Since she was the same age as the girl who worked in our office, she often came in when she wasn’t busy just to hang out and the two of them would chat, and when our girl was out of the office, she would answer our phones and take memos for us. Whenever she heard our phone ring, she would come from next door and answer the phone and take messages for us. That’s why we were always leaving the door to the office open when we were away. If a burglar ever came, he wouldn’t find much to steal.
“Mr. Watanabe said he was going out to buy medicine,” she said. Noboru Watanabe was the name of the guy with whom I owned the business. He and I had a small translation business at that time.
“Medicine?” I asked, a little surprised. “What medicine?”
“For his wife. She’s got stomach trouble, and needs some kind of special Chinese remedy. So he went to the Gotanda Pharmacy. Since it’s pretty far away, he said that he’d go straight home from there.”
“Hmph,” I said.
“And there are memos from the phone calls while you were out,” she said, pointing a piece of white stationary weighted down by the phone.
“Thanks,” I said. “You’re a big help.”
“My boss says you should get an answering machine.”
“That’s no good,” I said. “They’re too impersonal.”
“Well, it’s OK with me anyway. Running up and down the hall keeps me warm.”
After she had disappeared, leaving behind only her Cheshire Cat-like smile, I picked up the memo and made several necessary phone calls. I set a time for the delivery from the printer, discussed specifics with a part-time translator who we subcontracted to, and called the lease company to arrange for the copier to be fixed.
Once those phone calls were taken care of, there wasn’t anything left that I really needed to do, so I was reduced to washing all the dishes that were piled in the sink. Then I threw away the cigarette butts that were in the ashtray, reset the stopped clock, and ripped a bunch of pages off the page-a-day calendar. I put the pencils in the pen holder, arranged the documents according to their clauses, and put the nail clippers in the drawer. As a result of my efforts, the room eventually looked something like a place where normal people worked.
“Not bad,” I said aloud, sitting down on the edge of the desk and looking around the room.
Outside the window, the dull, leaden sky of April 1974 stretched out. The clouds fit together in a seamless monotony, as if a grey lid covered the sky. The pale light of the approaching evening floated slowly like dust particles in water, and the undersea trenches of concrete and steel and glass didn’t make a sound.
The sky and the town and the room, all were dyed with the same damp grey hue. No seam could be discerned anywhere.
I boiled water for another cup of coffee, but this time I was careful to use a spoon to stir it. I flipped the switch on the cassette deck and a Bach lute concerto flowed out of speakers near the ceiling. Noboru Watanabe had brought the speakers and the deck and the tape all from his house.
Not bad, I said again, this time silently. A Bach lute concerto fit this neither-warm-nor-cold cloudy April evening just fine.
Then I sat down in the chair and, taking the picture of the twins out my pocket, I lay it down on top of the desk. I stared at the picture distractedly for a long time, under the bright glare of a floor lamp, without thinking about anything. Finally, I remembered that there was a magnifying glass in the desk drawer for enlarging photographs, so I got it out of the drawer and carefully inspected each part of the picture individually. I didn’t really think that doing that kind of thing would help in any way, but it wasn’t like I had anything better to do.
The one of the twins that was saying something into the young guy’s ear--I was eternally failing to tell the twins apart--had the slightest hint of a smile, so faint that it would not be difficult to carelessly overlook it, playing at the corner of her mouth. Her left arm was resting on top of the glass table. It was certainly that twins arm. You could tell that she wore neither watch nor rings.
In contrast to her, though, the guy she was talking to had an extremely dark expression. He was a tall, slender, handsome man, and he was wearing a stylish dark blue shirt, and a thin silver bracelet on his right arm. Both of his hands rested on the tabletop, and he was staring intently at the tall, thin glass in front of him. You got the feeling that the drink had some tremendous, life-changing significance, and that he now faced some kind of decision on its account. A whiff of white smoke that seemed to have been charmed into its shape rose from the ashtray that sat by the glass.
The twins looked a little thinner than they had been when they stayed at my apartment, but I couldn’t tell for sure. Camera angle and lighting can sometimes have that kind of effect.
I downed the rest of my coffee in one gulp, took a cigarette from the drawer, and lit it with a match. And I wondered what in the world the twins were doing drinking in a discotheque in Roppongi. The twins I knew weren’t the type to be going to snooty nightclubs and wearing make-up around their eyes. Where were they living now, and what were they doing? And who the hell was the guy?
But after poring over that picture while twirling the pen I had in my hand about 350 times, I reached the conclusion that the guy was probably their new benefactor. The twins had seized some chance and moved right into the midst of this guy’s life, just as they had done previously with me. I could tell right away when I saw the smile that played on the lips of the twin that was talking to the guy. Her smile was so completely her own, like a gentle rain falling on a vast prairie. They had found a new place.
I could conjure vividly in my head the minutest details of the life the three of them shared. Just as before, the twins had likely adapted to their new life like flowing clouds. But I also knew that there were some special characteristics that existed with them that had definitely not changed. They certainly still nibbled at coffee cream biscuits, they certainly still took long walks, and they still did the laundry diligently on the bathroom floor. That was the twins.
As I was looking at that picture, though, strangely I didn’t feel any jealousy. And not just jealousy: I didn’t have any kind of interest at all. It was just the situation as it existed there. To me, it was nothing more than a fragmentary glimpse torn from a different world and a different epoch. I had already lost the twins, and no matter what I might think or what I might try to do, there was no way to restore things to their former state.
I was a little bit bothered by the terribly dark expression on the guy’s face. What does he have to look so grim about? I thought. You have the twins and I don’t. Someday you’ll lose the twins too, just like before, and that thought probably hasn’t even occurred to you yet. I think you’re all mixed up, kid. I have a feeling you know that. What kind of person is always mixed up? But this confusion that you’re savoring now isn’t the fatal kind of confusion. And someday you’ll realize that.
But no matter what I thought, I couldn’t communicate anything to this guy. He was in a distant epoch, on a distant world. They were like a floating continent, and I was wandering nowhere in particular in the dark, unknown reaches of outer space.
At five o’clock, Noboru Watanabe still hadn’t returned, so I left him a note to call me sometime and prepared to leave for the day. Just then, the receptionist at the dentist’s office next door came by and asked if she could use the our bathroom.
“Feel free, anytime,” I said.
“The fluorescent light in ours is burned out,” she said, carrying a cosmetic bag with her into the bathroom. Standing in front of the mirror, she brushed her hair and then put on lipstick. Since she left the door standing open the whole time she was in the bathroom, I could watch her from behind without even trying, from where I sat on the edge of the desk. Without her white lab coat, she had beautiful legs. Beneath the hem of her short blue wool skirt, on the backside of her knee, you could see a small indentation.
“What are you looking at?” she asked to the mirror, fixing her lipstick with a piece of tissue paper.
“Legs,” I said.
“Do you like ’em?”
“They’re not bad,” I replied frankly.
She laughed brightly, returned her lipstick to her back, and closed the door as she came out. Above her white blouse, she wore a light blue cardigan half-coat. The cardigan was so light, it seemed as if it had been made from the scraps of clouds. I sunk both of my hands into the pockets of my jacket, and then looked at the cardigan again.
“Hey, you’re checking me out, aren’t you? What are you thinking about?” she asked.
“I was thinking that that’s a nice cardigan,” I said.
“Yeah, it was pretty expensive,” she said. “Except that it really wasn’t so expensive. What I mean is, I bought it at this boutique I used to work at as a clerk before I worked here, so I got it pretty cheap with my employee discount.”
“Why’d you quit the boutique and start working for the dentist?”
“The pay wasn’t very good, and I was only buying western fashions. Working for the dentist is much better than that was. And of course he fills all my cavities for free.”
“Huh,” I said.
“But, ya know, your taste in clothes isn’t too bad at all,” she said.
“Me?” I said, looking over the clothes I was wearing. I didn’t even remember deciding what kind of clothes to wear for the day that morning. I was wearing a pair of beige cotton pants I had bought when I was in college, a pair of blue sneakers that hadn’t been washed in three months, and a grey tweed jacket over a white polo shirt. The polo shirt was new, but shape of the jacket’s pockets had been fatally damaged by me constantly jamming my hands in them.
“This is a terrible look.”
“But it suits you well.”
“But even if it suits me, it doesn’t qualify as a taste. It’s just a product of my frustration,” I laughed.
“If you bought a brand new suit, would you still jam your hands in the pockets like that? It’s a terrible habit. Even if you had a really nice jacket, you’d ruin it.”
“I’d ruin it,” I echoed. “Say, if your work’s done, you mind if I walk you to the station?”
“OK,” she said.
I flipped the switch on the tape deck and the amp, turned out the lights, locked the door, and then we started down the long hill to the station. Since I don’t customarily carry a bag, I had both hands thrust into my jacket pockets as usual. In accordance with her oft-repeated admonitions, I tried putting them in my pants pockets instead, but that didn’t really work. With my hands in my pants pockets, it was impossible for me to maintain my repose.
She clutched the strap of her shoulder bag in her right hand, and it seemed to mark a rhythm as her left hand swung gently at her side. She kept her back very straight when she walked, and as a result looked taller than she actually was, and her walking tempo was much faster than mine.
There was no breeze at all, and the town was deathly still. The sound of the trucks backfiring as they passed by on the road, and the racket made by the buildings under construction too, all the sounds seemed to be dampened as if covered by heavy veils. Only the sound of her high heels clacking on the pavement stuck out, punching perfectly regular, smooth wedges out of the languid spring night air.
Not really thinking about anything, I was just walking along focusing on those sounds, so when a this elementary school kid came flying around the corner on his bicycle, I nearly ran into him. The girl grabbed my elbow with her left hand, and deftly pulled me out of the way. Otherwise I really would have creamed the kid.
“You better watch where you’re going,” she said, startled. “What were you thinking about?”
“I wasn’t thinking about anything,” I said after taking a deep breath. “I was just in a daze.”
“What a jackass. How old are you, anyway?”
“Twenty-five,” I said. I’d be 26 at the end of the year.
She finally let go of my elbow, and the two of us started down the hill again. After that I concentrated scrupulously on my walking.
“Hey, I still don’t know your name,” I said.
“I didn’t tell you?”
“I didn’t hear it, if you did.”
“May,” she said. “May Kasahara.”
“May?” I repeated, a little surprised.
“May, like the fifth month.”
“Were you born in May?”
“Huh-uh,” she said, shaking her head. “I was born on August 21.”
“Then what are you called ‘May’ for?”
“You really want to know?”
“Boy, do I.”
“You won’t laugh?”
“I don’t think I’ll laugh.”
“Our family kept a goat.”
“A goat?” I asked again out of surprise.
“You know what goats are?”
“It was a really smart goat, so we loved like it was one of the family.”
“May the Goat Girl,” I said, as if reciting.
“That, and I was the youngest girl in a farm family with six daughters. They probably thought that it didn’t matter much what they called me.”
“But it’s pretty easy to remember, huh? May the Goat Girl.”
“Quite,” I said.
When we reached the station, I asked May Kasahara if I could take her out to dinner as thanks for looking after our phone for us, but she said that she had a date with her fiancé.
“Next time, then,” I said.
“Yeah, that’d be fun,” May Kasahara said.
And so we separated.
Her light blue cardigan disappeared as if it were swallowed up into the herd of people going home from work, and after I had waited long enough to be sure that she wasn’t coming back again, I jammed my hands in my jacket pockets and headed off in the appropriate direction.
Once May Kasashara was gone, I felt like my body was once again veiled by the shadow of that flat, seamless grey cloud. When I looked high overhead, the cloud was still there. The indistinct grey blended with the blue of evening, so that if I looked closely, I couldn’t tell whether the cloud was still there. But, like some giant blind beast hidden from view, it covered the sky and blocked out the moon and the stars.
Like walking on the bottom of the ocean, I thought. Front and back, left and right, everything looks exactly the same. My body just hadn’t adjusted to the pressure and the breathing yet.
Now that I was alone, my appetite had disappeared completely. I didn’t want to eat anything. I didn’t want to go back to my apartment, but there wasn’t anywhere else I needed to go either. So, not knowing what else to do with myself, I decided to walk around town until I came up with something.
From time to time, I’d come to a stop and stare at an advertisement for a Kung-Fu movie, or peep in the show window of a music store, but other than that I spent most of the time looking into the faces of the people passing by. Thousands of people appeared before my eyes and then vanished. I felt like they were moving from one distant realm of consciousness to another distant realm of consciousness.
The town was the same as ever, unchanged. The clamour of all those jumbled up people, who one by one had lost their original meaning; the brief fragments of music that would cut through the commotion to reach my ear, and then be gone; the traffic lights continually blinking off and on, off and on, and the sounds of the cars stopped in front of them; it all overflowed from the sky and, like an inexhaustible supply of ink, the night washed over the city. When I walk the streets of the city at night, all of the bustle and the light and the smell and the excitement doesn’t really seem real to me at all. They are all just distant echoes from yesterday or the day before or last week or last month.
But I couldn’t identify anything in that echo that I recognized. It was all too far away, too indistinct.
No matter how long I walked or what distance I covered, I still wouldn’t understand. The only thing I knew was that I had passed by thousands of people. And I could guess that, after seventy or eighty years had elapsed, all of those thousands of people would, to a man, have vanished from the face of the earth. Seventy or eighty years isn’t that long a time.
When I got tired of looking at all of the faces of the people passing by--I guess I was searching for the twins somewhere in that throng; otherwise I had no good reason for staring at all of those faces--I turned down a desolate, narrow side-street, almost without even knowing what I was doing, and went to this tiny bar where I sometimes go to drink alone. I sat at the counter and ordered a bourbon on the rocks, as always, and ate a cheese sandwich. There was hardly anybody in the place, and the atmosphere of long-aged wood and stucco was very familiar. A song by some piano trio that was hip dozens of years ago flowed from small speakers near the ceiling, and occasionally the sound of glasses clinking and ice being chipped mingled with it.
I’ve lost everything, I tried hard to convince myself. I’ve lost everything, and I deserve to keep on losing. And there’s no one who can put things right again. That’s why the Earth keeps going around the sun.
In the end, the thing I really need most of all is reality, I thought. The Earth goes around the Sun, the moon goes around the Earth; that kind of reality.
Supposing I ran into the twins somewhere, I hypothesized. Then what?
Try suggesting to them Hey, why don’t we live together again?
I knew well that the idea was ridiculous. Ridiculous and impossible. They were already a part of my past.
And supposing the twins agreed to come back to me, I further hypothesized. It was impossible to even think about, but anyway that was my hypothesis. Then what?
I took a bite of the pickle that came with the sandwich, and sipped my whiskey.
It’s meaningless, I thought. They would stay at my apartment for however many weeks, months, or years. And then one day they would disappear again. Just like before, with no preface or explanation, they would take off for somewhere like a rocket buffeted by the wind. Similar situations play themselves out in similar ways. It was meaningless.
That was the thing called ‘reality.’ I had to accept a world without the twins in it.
I wiped the condensation off the countertop with a napkin, took the twins’ picture out of my inside jacket pocket and set it down. While I was drinking my second whiskey, I tried to imagine what in the world the twin who was talking to the young guy sitting next to her was saying. As I stared intently at the picture, it looked as if she was blowing air into his ear, or else some invisibly fine, ephemeral thing. I couldn’t tell from the picture whether or not the guy was aware of this. But I speculated that he probably didn’t realize a thing. Just like I hadn’t realized a thing back then.
While this slightly shifting fragment of memory was unwinding in my mind--as is always the result of such behavior--I felt a stultifying torpor inside both my temples. It was as if a pair of something kept on file in my mind had been pulled out of there, and was twisting up my body.
I should probably just burn up the picture and throw it away, I thought to myself. But I couldn’t burn it. If I only had the strength to destroy that picture, I never would have come down this blind alley in the first place.
When I was finished with my second whiskey, I got my address book and some change, went to stand in front of the pink telephone, and turned the dial. After it had rung 4 times though, I thought better of it and hung up, returning the receiver to the hook. I stood there with my address book in my hand glaring at the phone for a few seconds, and finding myself bereft of good ideas, I went back to the counter and ordered a third whiskey.
In the end, I couldn’t think of anything. It wasn’t as if I was thinking of things only to have them creep off somewhere; my brain was just momentarily vacant. I poured several glasses of whiskey into that vacuum. And I listened to the music flowing down from the speakers above my head. I wanted to be with a girl so bad I couldn’t stand it, but I couldn’t think of anyone who fit the bill. Just about anybody would have been OK, but I couldn’t come up with any one single person that I could imagine as a sex partner. Anybody was fine, but somebody in particular was a problem. So, I thought to myself. If you took all of the girls I knew and brought them together and mixed them into one body, I probably could have made it with her, but I couldn’t flip through my address book and find which page her phone number was on.
I heaved a sigh, took a sip of my nth whiskey on the rocks, paid the bill, and left. And standing in front of the traffic light, I asked myself “So, what do I do now?” I mean, really: five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes from now, what the hell should I be doing? Where should I go? What do I want to do? Where do I want to go? What’ll happen if I do something? What’ll happen if I go somewhere?
But I couldn’t come up with a single answer to any of those questions.
“I always have the same dream,” I said to her, my eyes still closed.
After lying there for a long time with my eyes closed, I had the feeling that I had achieved a delicate equilibrium while floating in unstable space. Perhaps it was because I was lying naked on a soft bed. Or maybe it was of the strong smell of the Eau de Cologne the girl was wearing. That scent infiltrated my darkness like some delicate winged insect, and my cells expanded and contracted.
“I always have the dream at about the same time: 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, just before sunrise. I wake up in the darkness, drenched in sweat. But it’s not completely completely dark; it’s that time of day. Of course, the dreams aren’t completely identical. The details vary each time. But the basic pattern is the same. The characters are the same, the conclusion is the same. It’s like a low-budget series movie.”
“I sometimes have bad dreams, too,” the girl said, lighting a cigarette. I heard the sound of the flint being struck and smelled the cigarette smoke. Then the sound of something being lightly brushed two or three times with the palm of a hand.
“In the dream I had this morning, there was a building made entirely of glass,” I continued, not responding to what the girl had said. “It was a really big building. Like the ones at the western edge of Shinjuku. The walls were all made of glass. In the dream, I came across it by chance as I was walking down the road. But the building wasn’t completely finished. Most of it was done, but it was still under construction. Inside the glass walls, people were busily working. The inside was partitioned, but it was almost completely empty.”
The girl made a noise like wind blowing through a crack, smoke pouring out of her mouth. Then she coughed. “Uh, can I ask you a question?”
“I’d rather you didn’t. Can I ask you just to listen for now?” I said.
“OK,” the girl said.
“I didn’t have anything in particular to do, so I stopped in front of that huge glass building and watched the worked going on inside. In the room I was looking at, a helmeted workman was stacking fancy decorative glass bricks. He had his back to me the whole time as he was doing his work, so I couldn’t see his face, but judging from his build and his carriage, I could tell that he was a young guy. Tall and thin. He was alone in the room. There wasn’t anybody else there.
“In the dream, the air was terribly hazy. It was like there was smoke from an open fire somewhere mixed up in it. Hazy, white turbidity, so I couldn’t see very far. But as I strained my eyes, the air gradually became clearer. I don’t know whether the air really got clearer, or whether my eyes just got used to murkiness. Whatever the case, I was able to see every nook and cranny of the room better than before. The young guy moved like a robot or something, laying each brick with exactly the same motions. Even though it was a pretty big room, he was extremely good at his work, and it seemed like he would be finished after an hour or two.”
I paused there and, opening my eyes, drank some beer from the glass that had been left by the headboard. The girl peered into my eyes, in order to show that she’d been listening closely to what I was saying.
“Behind the bricks that the guy had been laying stood the original wall of the building. It was a typical concrete wall. So basically the guy was building a new ornamental wall in front of the original wall. You understand what I’m trying to say?”
“Yeah, I get it. He was building a double wall, right?”
“Right,” I said. “He was building a double wall. If you looked at it closely, you could see that there was a gap of about a foot and a half between the old wall and the new wall. I didn’t know why he had to leave that space. Doing that would make the room much smaller. So I strained my eyes to get a better look at the work, because I thought it was so strange. And when I did that, gradually I saw something like human forms. Like a photograph submerged in developer, the human figures slowly rose to the surface. Those shades were what was interposed between the old wall and the new wall.
“They were twins,” I continued. “Twin girls. 19 or 20 or 21, somewhere around that age, anyway. They were wearing my clothes. One was wearing a tweed jacket, and the other was wearing a navy-blue windbreaker, both of them mine. It seemed as if they were imprisoned in that foot-and-a-half gap, but they themselves didn’t seem to notice that they had been shut in, and the two of them were chattering away, merrily as ever. The workman didn’t seem to notice that he was shutting them in either. He just silently piled up the bricks. It was like I was the only one who was paying attention.”
“How did you know that the workman didn’t notice the twins were there?” the girl asked.
“I just knew. There are some things in dreams that you just know. So I thought that I had to do something to stop the work. I boldly beat the glass will with both my fists. I pounded so hard that my arms went numb. But no matter how hard I pounded, it didn’t make any sound at all. I don’t know why, but the sound just died. So the workman didn’t pay any attention to me. He laid each brick one-by-one, mechanically, with the same speed. He’d apply the plaster with his left hand and then set the brick on top with his right hand. The bricks were already up to the twins’ knees.”
"So I gave up pounding on the glass wall and decided to try to find a way in to the building, to stop the construction. But I couldn't find an entrance. Even though it was an enormous building, there didn't seem to be a doorway anywhere. I ran as fast as I could, circling the building repeatedly. But the result was the same. There wasn't any kind of entrance at all. Like a giant goldfish bowl."
I took another sip of beer, to slake my thirst. The girl was still gazing directly into my eyes. She shifted her body, so that her breasts pressed into my arm.
"So what did you do?" she asked.
"There was nothing to do," I replied.
"There was really nothing I could do. No matter how hard I looked, there still wasn't an entrance, and the sound died. I put both hands to the glass and just watched. The wall was gradually getting higher. It was waist-high, then chest-high, then shoulder-high, and then they were completely covered, and it reached the ceiling. It happened so fast. There was nothing I could do. The workman finished laying the last brick, and then he gathered up his things and disappeared somewhere. After that, only the glass wall and I were left. There was really nothing that I could have done."
The girl stretched out her hand and tussled my hair.
"It's always the same," I said, as if making an excuse. “The details are different, the settings different, the actors different--but the conclusion is always the same. There is always that glass wall, and I'm always helpless to tell anyone anything. It's always the same. When I wake up, the feeling of that cold glass always lingers on the palms of my hands. It stays on the palms of my hands for days and days."
After I'd finished talking she was still running her fingers through my hair.
"You must be tired," the girl said. "I'm that way. I always have bad dreams when I'm really tired. But they don't have any connection to real life. It's just that your body or your brain or whatever is tired."
Then she took my hand and guided it down to her genitals. Her vagina was warm and wet, but there was no activity on my end. I just had this kind of strange feeling.
Then I gave her a little extra money for listening to me talk about my dream.
"Listening to you talk is on the house," she said.
"I want to pay you," I said.
She nodded and took the money and put it in a black bag that closed with a pleasing click. I felt like my dream itself had been shut up in there.
The girl got out of bed, put on her underwear, her stockings, her skirt, blouse and sweater, and stood in front of the mirror brushing her hair. As she was standing in front of the mirror brushing her hair, the girl looked just like anyone else.
I lifted myself up off the bed and stared distractedly at the girl's back.
"Maybe it’s just me, but I think it was only a dream," she said, getting ready to leave. Then she stopped to think for a second with the doorknob still in her hand.
"It doesn't have any special meaning that you should be worried about."
When I nodded, she left. The door rattled shut. After the girl had vanished from view, I lay back down on top of the bed and stared up at the ceiling for the longest time. It was the same cheap hotel as anywhere, with the same cheap ceiling.
Through a gap in the curtains, I could see the damp-hued lights of the town. From time to time, the strong November wind would whip the chill raindrops into the panes of the window. I stretched out my arm to get my wristwatch from beside the bed, but in the end it was more trouble than it was worth and I gave up. It didn’t matter much what time it was. And anyway, I realized, I didn't have an umbrella.
As I was staring at the ceiling, I thought about the legendary ancient continent that sank into the sea. I don't have any idea why this occurred to me. Maybe it was because it was a November night with a cold rain falling and I didn't have an umbrella. Or maybe it was because I had embraced the body of some nameless girl--I couldn’t even remember what her body was like--with hands still chill from the morning's dream. So I conceived of myself as that legendary continent, somewhere long ago and far away, sunk to the bottom of the sea. The pale light was blurred, the sounds muffled, the air heavy and damp.
How many goddamn years had passed since I had lost it?
But I couldn't remember the year that I had lost it. It was probably gone long before the twins ever went away. They just informed me of it. You can’t know with any conviction when exactly it is that you lose the things that you lose; you can only know when it is that you notice they’re gone.
Enough already. Let’s start from there:
A three-year stretch of time spirited me away from this rainy November night.
But I guess I gradually became familiar with this new world. It would probably take a long time but I would gradually conceal my muscle and bone in that dislocation of heavy, damp space. In the end, no matter what condition the person was in, the self would be absorbed. Whatever kind of vivid dreams may come, in the end they would be drunk into an indistinct reality, and be extinguished. And then someday I wouldn’t even remember that such dreams had ever existed.
I turned out the light at the head of the bed and, closing my eyes, slowly stretched out my body on top of the bed. And my consciousness sank into a dreamless sleep. Rain battered the window; a dark ocean current washed a forgotten mountain range.
(Translated by Christopher Allison)