I knocked out another long overdue Murakami, almost cover-to-cover over the course of two days. I started reading A Wild Sheep Chase a couple of years ago. I worked a job with a split shift and had three hours to kill during lunchtime. At the time, I didn’t have a place of my own to stay, and I didn’t like going back to where I was sleeping. It would have been a long walk there and back, and there was nothing to do anyway.
So I’d go to the library or sit in the shopping centre, either reading books, or writing my own outlines and dialogue for stories I planned. A Wild Sheep Chase was one of the books I started reading during that time. I got about half-way through, but a lot of things happened around May and June of that year, and my schedule changed, and I didn’t have my alone time in the library or on shopping centre benches anymore.
But to cut a long story short, I picked it up again a few days ago a here we are. I couldn’t quite remember where I left off, so I started again from the beginning. As has become a little tradition, I wrote down all the quotes I particularly enjoyed as I read through the book, and here they are for anybody to read. They’re from the 299 page paperback published by Vintage in 2003, with translation by Alfred Birnbaum.
I forgot her name.
I could pull out the obituary, but what difference would it make now. I’ve forgotten her name.
Suppose I meet up with old friends and mid-swing the conversation turns to her. No one ever remembers her name either. Say, back then there was this girl who’d sleep with anyone, you know, what’s-her-face, the name escapes me, but I slept with her lots of times, wonder what she’s doing now, be funny to run into her on the street.
“Back then, there was this girl who’d sleep with anyone.” That’s her name.
From the photo albums, every single print of her had been peeled away. Shots of the both of us together had been cut, the parts with her neatly trimmed away, leaving my image behind. Photos of me alone or of mountains and rivers and deer and cats were left intact. Three albums rendered into a revised past. It was as if I’d been alone at birth, alone all my days, and would continue alone.
There were, of course, no whales in the aquarium. One whale would have been too big, even if you knocked out all the walls and made the entire aquarium into one tank. Instead, the aquarium kept a whale penis on display. As a token, if you will.
So it was that my most impressionable years of boyhood were spent gazing at not a whale but a whale’s penis. Whenever I tired of strolling through the chill aisles of the aquarium, I’d steal off to my place on the bench in the hushed, high-ceilinged stillness of the exhibition room and spend hours on end there contemplating this whale’s penis.
I swallowed my breath and gazed at her, transfixed. My mouth went dry. From no part of me could I summon a voice. For an instant, the white plaster wall seemed to ripple. The voices of the other diners and the clinking of their dinnerware grew faint, then once again returned to normal. I heard the sound of waves, re-called the scent of a long forgotten evening. Yet all this was but a mere fragment of the sensations passing through me in those few hundredths of a second.
She’d become so beautiful, it defied understanding. Never had I feasted my eyes on such beauty. Beauty of a variety I’d never imagined existed. As expansive as the entire universe, yet as dense as a glacier. Unabashedly excessive, yet at the same time pared down to an essence. It transcended all concepts within the boundaries of my awareness. She was at one with her ears, gliding down the oblique face of time like a protean beam of light.
“You’re extraordinary,” I said, after catching my breath.
“I know, ” she said. “These are my ears in their unblocked state.”
Several of the other customers were now turned our way, staring agape at her. The waiter who came over with more espresso couldn’t pour properly. Not a soul uttered a word. Only the reels on the tape deck kept slowly spinning.
She retrieved a clove cigarette from her purse and put it to her lips. I hurriedly offered her a light with my lighter.
“I want to sleep with you,” she said.
So we slept together.
I couldn’t for the life of me believe I might be any better or different in any way than anyone else.
Generally, people who are good at writing letters have no need to write letters. They’ve got plenty of life to lead inside their own context. This, of course, is only my opinion. Maybe it’s impossible to live out a life in context.
My biggest fault is that the faults I was born with grow bigger each year. It’s like I was raising chickens inside me. The chickens lay eggs and the eggs hatch into other chickens, which then lay eggs. Is this any way to live a life? What with all these faults I’ve got going, I have to wonder. Sure, I get by. But in the end, that’s not the question, is it?
Time really is one big continuous cloth, no? We habitually cut out pieces of time to fit us, so we tend to fool ourselves into thinking that time is our size, but it really goes on and on.
Boarding a long-distance train without any luggage gave me a feeling of exhilaration. It was as if while out taking a leisurely stroll, I was suddenly like a dive-bomber caught in a space-time warp. In which there is nothing: no dentist’s appointments, no pending issues in desk drawers, no inextricably complicated human involvements, no favors demanded. I’d left all that behind, temporarily.
What’s over for one person isn’t over for another. Simple as that. Beyond, the path goes in two different directions.
Almost all the customers in the place were university student couples, neatly dressed and politely sipping their highballs. No girls on the verge of passing out drunk, no hot fights brewing. You could tell that when they went home, they put on pajamas, brushed their teeth, and went straight to bed. There was nothing wrong with that. Nice and neat is fine and dandy. There’s nothing in a bar or in the world at large that says things have to be a certain way.
“I really don’t know if it’s the right thing to do, making new life. Kids grow up, generations take their place. What does it all come to? More hills bulldozed and more oceanfronts filled in? Faster cars and more cats run over? Who needs it?”
You concentrate on waiting for someone and after a certain time it hardly matters what happens anymore. It could be five years or ten years or one month. It’s all the same.
“People can generally be classified into two groups: the mediocre realists and the mediocre dreamers. You clearly belong to the latter. Your fate is and will always be the fate of a dreamer.”
“Mediocrity takes many forms.”
There’re many things we don’t really know. It’s an illusion that we know anything at all. If a group of aliens were to stop me and ask, “Say, bud, how many miles an hour does the earth spin at the equator?” I’d be in a fix. Hell, I don’t even know why Wednesday follows Tuesday. I’d be an intergalactic joke.
“To get irritated is to lose our way in life.”
“The Boss is an honorable man. After the Lord, the most godly person I’ve ever met.”
“You’ve met God?”
“Certainly. I telephone Him every night.”
I planted an elbow on the armrest of my chair, rested my head on my hands, and shut my eyes. Nothing came to mind. With my eyes closed, I could hear hundreds of elves sweeping out my head with their tiny brooms. They kept sweeping and sweeping. It never occurred to any of them to use a dustpan.
I’m well on the way to veteran class when it comes to killing time in the city.
A built-in ceiling speaker called my name. At first it didn’t sound like my name. Only a few seconds after the announcement was over did it sink in that I’d heard the special characteristics of my name, and only gradually then did it come to me that my name was my name.
“I can’t figure it out. You’re probably right that it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if it’s futile in the end, at least we looked for the sheep. On the other hand, I don’t like being ordered and threatened and pushed around.”
“To a greater or lesser extent, everybody’s always being ordered and threatened and pushed around. There may not be anything better we could hope for.”
There’s that kind of money in the world. It aggravates you to have it, makes you miserable to spend it, and you hate yourself when it’s gone. And when you hate yourself, you feel like spending money. Except there’s no money left. And no hope.
Casually taking it all in, I thought of my ex-wife’s parting remark that maybe we ought to have had children. To be sure, at my age it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to have kids, but me a father? Good grief. What kid would want to have anyone like me for a father?
With the job out of the picture, I felt a surge of relief. Slowly but surely I was making things simpler. I’d lost my hometown, lost my teens, lost my wife, in another three months I’d lose my twenties. What’d be left for me when I got to sixty, I couldn’t imagine. There’s no thinking about these things. There’s no telling even what’s going to happen a month from now.
“Nice kitty-kitty,” said the chauffeur, hand not outstretched. “What’s his name?”
“He doesn’t have a name.”
“So what do you call the fella?”
“I don’t call it,” I said. “It’s just there.”
“Body cells replace themselves every month. Even at this very moment,” she said, thrusting a skinny back of her hand before my eyes. “Most everything you think you know about me is nothing more than memories.”
We returned to the hotel and had intercourse. I like that word intercourse. It poses only a limited range of possibilities.
I was feeling lonely without her, but the fact that I could feel lonely at all was consolation. Loneliness wasn’t such a bad feeling. It was like the stillness of the pin oak after the little birds had flown off.