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""#$%&'()* HARUKI
ChafmIng, humofous and ffequentIy
puzzIIng . +,- .#-/,$01 2$0%3,-3 ]Is|
fun to fead.
These stofIes show us Japan as It's ex-
pefIenced ffom the InsIde.. ]They|
take pIace In pafaIIeI wofIds not so
much femote ffom ofdInafy IIfe as hId-
den wIthIn Its suffaces.. Even In the
sIIppefIest of Mf. MufakamI's stofIes,
pInpoInts of detaII fIash out . wafm
wIth IIfe, hopeIessIy and wondeffuIIy
A stunnIng wfItef at wofk In an efa of
IntefnatIonaI IItefatufe."
MufakamI Is one of the gfeat Japanese
mastefs, and hIs styIe Is sexy, funny,
mystefIous, and aIways cooIIy
EnchantIng . IntfIguIng . aII of
these taIes have a wondeffuIIy suffeaI
quaIIty and a hIp, wItty tone. Mf.
MufakamI has puIIed off a tfIcky feat,
wfItIng stofIes about peopIe who afe
bofed but nevef bofIng. He Ieft me Iy-
Ing awake at nIght, hungfy fof mofe."
What's unIque to MufakamI's stofIes Is
that they manage to kIndIe up aII softs
of feeIIngs at once.. ReadIng +,-
.#-/,$01 2$0%3,-3 Ieaves you wantIng
F+,- .#-/,$01 2$0%3,-3, thfough ]Its|
boId ofIgInaIIty and chafmIng suffeaI-
Ism, shouId wIn the authof new feadefs
In thIs countfy."
I'M IN THE KITCHEN cookIng spaghettI
when the woman caIIs. Anothef mo-
ment untII the spaghettI Is done, thefe I
am, whIstIIng the pfeIude to RossInI's
H$ I$JJ$ H$<*$ aIong wIth the FM fa-
dIo. Peffect spaghettI-cookIng musIc.
I heaf the teIephone fIng but teII my-
seIf, Ignofe It. Iet the spaghettI fInIsh
cookIng. It's aImost done, and besIdes,
CIaudIo Abbado and the Iondon Sym-
phony Ofchestfa afe comIng to a cfes-
cendo. StIII, on second thought, I fIgufe
I mIght as weII tufn down the fIame
and head Into the IIvIng foom, cookIng
chopstIcks In hand, to pIck up the fe-
ceIvef. It mIght be a ffIend, It occufs to
me, possIbIy wIth wofd of a new job.
I want ten mInutes of youf tIme,"
comes a woman's voIce out of the bIue.
Excuse me?" I bIuft back In sufpfIse.
How's that agaIn?"
I saId, just ten mInutes of youf tIme,
that's aII I want," the woman fepeats.
I have absoIuteIy no fecoIIectIon of
evef heafIng thIs woman's voIce befofe.
And I pfIde myseIf on a neaf-peffect eaf
fof voIces, so I'm sufe thefe's no mIs-
take. ThIs Is the voIce of a woman I
don't know. A soft, Iow, nondescfIpt
Pafdon me, but what numbef mIght
you have been caIIIng?" I put on my
most poIIte Ianguage.
What dIffefence does that make? AII
I want Is ten mInutes of youf tIme. Ten
mInutes to come to an undefstandIng."
She cInches the mattef quIck and neat.
Come to an undefstandIng?"
Of ouf feeIIngs," says the woman
I cfane my neck back thfough the
doof I've Ieft open to peef Into the kIt-
chen. A pIume of whIte steam fIsIng
cheeffuIIy ffom the spaghettI pot, and
Abbado Is stIII conductIng hIs I$JJ$.
If you don't mInd, I've got spaghettI
on fIght now. It's aImost done, and It'II
be fuIned If I taIk wIth you fof ten
mInutes. So I'm goIng to hang up, aII
SpaghettI?" the woman sputtefs In
dIsbeIIef. It's onIy ten-thIfty In the
mofnIng. What afe you doIng cookIng
spaghettI at ten-thIfty In the mofnIng?
KInd of stfange, don't you thInk?"
Stfange of not, what's It to you?" I
say. I hafdIy had any bfeakfast, so I
was gettIng hungfy fIght about now.
And as Iong as I do the cookIng, when
and what I eat Is my own busIness, Is It
WeII, whatevef you say. Hang up,
then," says the woman In a sIow, sappy
tfIckIe of a voIce. A pecuIIaf voIce. The
sIIghtest emotIonaI shIft and hef tone
swItches to anothef ffequency. I'II caII
back Iatef."
Now, waIt just one mInute," I stam-
mef. If you'fe seIIIng somethIng, you
can fofget fIght now about caIIIng back.
I'm unempIoyed at pfesent and can't af-
fofd to buy anythIng."
I know that, so don't gIve It anothef
thought," says the woman.
You know that? You know what?"
That you'fe unempIoyed, of coufse.
That much I knew. So cook youf spa-
ghettI and Iet's get on wIth It, okay?"
Hey, who the" I Iaunch fofth,
when suddenIy the phone goes dead.
Cut me off. Too abfuptIy to have set
down the feceIvef, she must have
pfessed the button wIth hef fIngef.
I'm Ieft hangIng. I stafe bIankIy at the
feceIvef In my hand and onIy then fe-
membef the spaghettI. I put down the
feceIvef and fetufn to the kItchen. Tufn
off the gas, empty the spaghettI Into a
coIandef, top It wIth tomato sauce I've
heated In a saucepan, then eat. It's
ovefcooked, thanks to that poIntIess
teIephone caII. No mattef of IIfe-and-
death, nof am I In any mood to fuss
ovef the subtIetIes of cookIng spa-
ghettII'm too hungfy. I sImpIy IIsten
to the fadIo pIayIng send-off musIc fof
two hundfed fIfty gfams of spaghettI as
I eagefIy dIspatch evefy Iast stfand to
my stomach.
I wash up pIate and pans whIIe boII-
Ing a kettIe of watef, then pouf a cup
fof a tea bag. As I dfInk my tea, I thInk
about that phone caII.
What on eafth dId that woman mean,
caIIIng me up IIke that? And who on
eafth was she?
The whoIe thIng Is a mystefy. I can't
fecaII any woman evef teIephonIng me
befofe wIthout IdentIfyIng hefseIf, nof
do I have the sIIghtest cIue what she
couId have wanted to taIk about.
What the heII, I teII myseIf, what do I
cafe about undefstandIng some stfange
woman's (--#%0K3, anyway? What pos-
sIbIe good couId come of It? What mat-
tefs now Is that I fInd a job. Then I can
settIe Into a new IIfe cycIe.
Yet even as I fetufn to the sofa to fe-
sume the Ien DeIghton noveI I took out
of the IIbfafy, the mefe gIImpse out of
the cofnef of my eye of the teIephone
sets my mInd goIng. Just what wefe
those (--#%0K3 that wouId take ten
mInutes to come to an undefstandIng
about? I mean, feaIIy, 1-0 &%0B1-3 1)
Come to thInk of It, the woman spe-
cIfIed pfecIseIy ten mInutes fIght ffom
the staft. Seems she was quIte ceftaIn
about that exact amount of tIme. As If
nIne mInutes wouId have been too
shoft, eIeven mInutes maybe too Iong.
Just IIke fof spaghettI aI dente.
What wIth these thoughts funnIng
thfough my head, I Iose tfack of the
pIot of the noveI. So I decIde to do a
few quIck exefcIses, pefhaps Ifon a
shIft of two. Whenevef thIngs get In a
muddIe, I aIways Ifon shIfts. A habIt of
Iong standIng wIth me.
I dIvIde the shIft-IfonIng pfocess Into
tweIve steps totaI: ffom (1) CoIIaf
Ffont, to (12) Cuff Ieft SIeeve.
AbsoIuteIy no devIatIon ffom that of-
def. One by one, I count off the steps.
The IfonIng doesn't go fIght If I don't.
So thefe I am, IfonIng my thIfd shIft,
enjoyIng the hIss of the steam Ifon and
the dIstInctIve smeII of hot cotton,
checkIng fof wfInkIes befofe hangIng
up each shIft In the wafdfobe. I swItch
off the Ifon and put It away In the
cIoset wIth the IfonIng boafd.
I'm gettIng thIfsty by now and am
headIng to the kItchen fof some watef
when once mofe the teIephone fIngs.
Hefe we go agaIn, I thInk. And fof a
moment I wondef whethef I shouIdn't
just Ignofe It and keep on goIng Into
the kItchen. But you nevef know, so I
fetface my steps back to the IIvIng
foom and pIck up the feceIvef. If It's
that woman agaIn, I'II say I'm In the
mIddIe of IfonIng and hang up.
The caII, howevef, Is ffom my wIfe.
By the cIock atop the TV, It's eIeven-
How'fe thIngs?" she asks.
FIne," I answef, feIIeved.
What've you been up to?"
Is anythIng wfong?" my wIfe asks. A
sIIght tensIon Invades hef voIce. She
knows aII about my IfonIng when I'm
NothIng at aII. I just feIt IIke IfonIng
some shIfts. No paftIcuIaf feason," I
say, swItchIng the feceIvef ffom fIght
hand to Ieft as I sIt down on a chaIf.
So, Is thefe somethIng you wanted to
teII me about?"
Yes, It's about wofk. Thefe's the pos-
sIbIIIty of a job."
Uh-huh," I say.
Can you wfIte poetfy?"
Poetfy?" I shoot back In sufpfIse.
What's thIs about poetfy?
A magazIne company whefe
someone I know wofks puts out thIs
popuIaf fIctIon monthIy fof young gIfIs
and they'fe IookIng fof someone to se-
Iect and bfush up poetfy submIssIons.
Then they want one Ieadoff poem each
month fof the sectIon. The wofk's easy
and the pay's not bad. Of coufse It's
onIy paft-tIme, but If thIngs go weII
they mIght stfIng you on fof edItofIaI
wofk and"
Easy?" I say. Now hoId on just one
mInute. I've been IookIng fof a posItIon
wIth a Iaw fIfm. Just whefe do you
come up wIth thIs bfushIng up of
WeII, dIdn't you say you used to do
some wfItIng In hIgh schooI?"
In a newspapef. The hIgh-schooI
newspapef. Such-and-such team won
the soccef meet, the physIcs teachef feII
down the staIfs and had to go to the
hospItaI. Dumb IIttIe aftIcIes IIke that I
wfote. Not poetfy. I can't wfIte poetfy."
Not feaI poetfy, just the kInd of
poems hIgh-schooI gIfIs mIght fead.
They don't even have to be that good.
It's not IIke they'fe expectIng you to
wfIte IIke AIIen GInsbefg. Just
whatevef you can make do."
I absoIuteIy cannot wfIte make-do
poetfy," I snap. The vefy Idea.
Hmph," pouts my wIfe. ThIs taIk of
IegaI wofk, though. NothIng seems to
be matefIaIIzIng, does It?"
SevefaI pfospects have come my
way aIfeady. The fInaI wofd'II be In
sometIme thIs week. If those faII
thfough, maybe then I'II consIdef It."
Oh? Have It youf way, then. But
say, what day Is It today?"
Tuesday," I teII hef aftef a moment's
Okay, then, couId you stop by the
bank and pay the gas and phone bIIIs?"
Sufe thIng. I was goIng out to shop
fof dInnef soon, anyway. I can take
cafe of It at the same tIme."
And what afe we havIng fof
Hmm, Iet's see," I say. Haven't
made up my mInd yet. I thought I'd de-
cIde when I go shoppIng."
You know," my wIfe stafts In wIth a
new tone of voIce, I've been thInkIng.
Maybe you don't feaIIy need to be Iook-
Ing fof wofk."
And why not?" I spIt out. Yet mofe
sufpfIses? Is evefy woman In the wofId
out to shake me up ovef the phone?
Why don't I have to be IookIng fof
wofk? Anothef thfee months and my
unempIoyment compensatIon Is due to
fun out. No tIme fof IdIe hands."
My saIafy's gone up, and my sIde
job Is goIng weII, not to mentIon we
have pIenty In savIngs. So If we don't
go ovefboafd on IuxufIes, we shouId be
abIe to keep food on the tabIe."
And I'd do the housewofk?"
Is that so bad?"
I don't know," I say In aII honesty. I
feaIIy don't know. I'II have to thInk It
Do thInk It ovef," feItefates my
wIfe. Oh, and by the way, has the cat
come back?"
The cat?" I'm caught off guafd, then
I feaIIze I'd compIeteIy fofgotten about
the cat aII mofnIng. No, doesn't seem
CouId you scout afound the neIgh-
bofhood a bIt? He's been gone fouf
days now."
I gIve some spuf-of-the-moment
fepIy, swItchIng the feceIvef back to
my fIght hand.
My guess Is that the cat's pfobabIy
In the yafd of that vacant house at the
end of the passage. The yafd wIth the
stone bIfd fIgufIne. I've seen hIm thefe
often enough. You know whefe I'm
taIkIng about?"
No, I'm affaId I don't," I say. And
sInce when have you been snoopIng
afound In the passage on youf own?
Nevef once have you mentIoned"
You'II have to fofgIve me, but I've
got to hang up. Have to be gettIng back
to wofk. Don't fofget about the cat,
And the teIephone cuts off.
I sIt thefe IookIng dumbIy at the fe-
ceIvef a second befofe settIng It down.
Now why wouId my wIfe know so
much about the passage? I can't fIgufe
It out. She'd have to cIImb ovef a hIgh
cIndef-bIock waII to get thefe ffom ouf
yafd, and what possIbIe feason was
thefe to go to aII that tfoubIe to begIn
I go to the kItchen fof that dfInk of
watef, tufn on the FM fadIo, and tfIm
my naIIs. They'fe doIng a featufe on
Robeft PIant's new aIbum. I IIsten to
two songs befofe my eafs staft to huft
and I swItch the thIng off. I go out to
the pofch to check the cat's food dIsh,
the dfIed fIsh I put In the pfevIous
nIght hasn't been touched. Guess the
cat feaIIy hasn't come back.
StandIng thefe on the pofch, I Iook at
the bfIght spfIng sun sIIcIng down Into
ouf tIny yafd. HafdIy the soft of yafd
that IIngefs fondIy In the mInd. The sun
hIts hefe onIy the bfIefest paft of the
day, so the soII Is aIways dafk and
damp. Not much gfowIng: just a coupIe
of unfemafkabIe hydfangeas. And I'm
not teffIbIy cfazy about hydfangeas In
the fIfst pIace.
Ffom a neafby stand of tfees comes
the pefIodIc scfee-ee-eech of a bIfd,
shafp as a tIghtenIng spfIng. The
wInd-up bIfd," we caII It. My wIfe's
name fof It. I have no Idea what It's
feaIIy caIIed. Nof even what It Iooks
IIke. NonetheIess, thIs wInd-up bIfd Is
thefe evefy mofnIng In the tfees of the
neIghbofhood to wInd thIngs up. Us,
ouf quIet IIttIe wofId, evefythIng.
As I IIsten to the wInd-up bIfd, I'm
thInkIng, Why on eafth Is It up to me to
go seafchIng aftef that cat? And mofe
to the poInt, even If I do chance to fInd
It, what am I supposed to do then?
Dfag the cat home and Iectufe It? PIead
wIth ItIIsten, you've had evefyone
woffIed sIck, so why don't you come
Gfeat, I thInk. Just gfeat. What's
wfong wIth IettIng a cat go whefe It
wants to go and do what It wants to
do? Hefe I am, thIfty yeafs oId, and
what am I doIng? WashIng cIothes,
pIannIng dInnef menus, chasIng aftef
Not so Iong ago, I'm thInkIng, I was
youf feguIaf soft of guy. FIfed up wIth
ambItIon. In hIgh schooI, I fead CIaf-
ence Daffow's autobIogfaphy and de-
cIded to become a Iawyef. My gfades
wefen't bad. And In my senIof yeaf I
was voted by my cIassmates funnef-up
Most IIkeIy to Succeed." I even got ac-
cepted Into the Iaw depaftment of a
compafatIveIy feputabIe unIvefsIty. So
whefe had I scfewed up?
I pIant my eIbows on the kItchen
tabIe, pfop up my chIn, and thInk:
When the heII dId the compass needIe
get out of whack and Iead my IIfe
astfay? It's mofe than I can fIgufe.
Thefe's nothIng I can feaIIy put my fIn-
gef on. No setbacks ffom student poIIt-
Ics, no dIsIIIusIonment wIth unIvefsIty,
nevef feaIIy had much gIfI tfoubIe. As
neaf as I can teII, I've had a peffectIy
nofmaI exIstence. Yet one day, when It
came tIme fof me to be gfaduatIng, I
suddenIy feaIIzed I wasn't the same guy
I used to be.
PfobabIy, the seed of a schIsm had
been thefe aII aIong, howevef mIcfo-
scopIc. But In tIme the gap wIdened,
eventuaIIy takIng me out of sIght of
who I was supposed to be. In tefms of
the soIaf system, If you wIII, I shouId by
now have feached somewhefe between
Satufn and Ufanus. A IIttIe bIt fafthef
and I ought to be seeIng PIuto. And
beyond thatIet's seewas thefe any-
thIng aftef that?
At the begInnIng of Febfuafy, I quIt
my IongtIme job at the Iaw fIfm. And
fof no paftIcuIaf feason. It wasn't that I
was fed up wIth the wofk. Gfanted, It
wasn't what you couId caII an espe-
cIaIIy thfIIIIng job, but the pay wasn't
bad and the atmosphefe afound the of-
fIce was ffIendIy enough.
My foIe at the fIfm was, In a wofd,
that of fuII-tIme offIce boy.
AIthough I stIII beIIeve I dId a good
job of It, by my standafds. Stfange as It
may sound comIng ffom my own
mouth, I fInd I'm feaIIy vefy capabIe
when It comes to caffyIng out ImmedI-
ate tasks afound the offIce IIke that. I
catch on quIckIy, opefate methodIcaIIy,
thInk pfactIcaIIy, don't compIaIn. That's
why, when I toId the senIof paftnef I
wanted to quIt, the oId manthe fathef
haIf of thIs and Son, Attofneys at
Iaw"even offefed to faIse my saIafy
If I'd just stay on.
But stay on I dIdn't. I don't exactIy
know why I up and quIt. DIdn't even
have any cIeaf goaIs of pfospects of
what to do aftef quIttIng. The Idea of
hoIIng up somewhefe and cfammIng fof
one mofe shot at the baf exam was too
IntImIdatIng. And besIdes, I dIdn't even
especIaIIy want to become a Iawyef at
that poInt.
When I came out and toId my wIfe
ovef dInnef I was thInkIng of quIttIng
my job, aII she saId was FaIf enough."
Just what that FaIf enough" was sup-
posed to mean, I couIdn't teII. But that
was the extent of It, she dIdn't voIun-
teef a wofd mofe.
When I then saId nothIng, she spoke
up. If you feeI IIke quIttIng, why don't
you quIt? It's youf IIfe, you shouId do
wIth It as you IIke." She'd saId hef
pIece and was stfaIghtaway debonIng
the fIsh on hef pIate wIth hef
My wIfe does offIce wofk at a desIgn
schooI and feaIIy doesn't do badIy,
saIafywIse. SometImes she gets IIIustfa-
tIon assIgnments ffom edItof ffIends,
and not fof unfeasonabIe pay, eIthef. I,
on my paft, was eIIgIbIe fof sIx months'
unempIoyment compensatIon. So If I
stayed home and dId the housewofk
feguIafIy evefy day, we couId even
swIng a few expenses IIke eatIng out
and dfy cIeanIng, and ouf IIfe-styIe
wouIdn't change aII that much ffom
when I was wofkIng and gettIng a
So It was I quIt my job.
AT TWEIVE-THIRTY I go out shoppIng as
usuaI, a Iafge canvas caffyaII sIung ovef
my shouIdef. FIfst I stop by the bank to
pay the gas and teIephone bIIIs, then I
shop fof dInnef at the supefmafket,
then I have a cheesebufgef and coffee
at McDonaId's.
I fetufn home and am puttIng the
gfocefIes away In the feffIgefatof when
the teIephone fIngs. It sounds posItIveIy
IffItated, the way It fIngs. I Ieave a haIf-
opened pIastIc tub of tofu on the tabIe,
head Into the IIvIng foom, and pIck up
the feceIvef.
FInIshed wIth youf spaghettI?" It's
that woman agaIn.
Yeah, I'm done," I say. But now I
have to go out IookIng fof the cat."
Can't that waIt ten mInutes? Iook-
Ing fof the cat!"
WeII, ten mInutes, maybe."
What the heII am I doIng?, I thInk.
Why am I obIIged to spend ten mInutes
passIng the tIme of day wIth some
stfange woman?
Now, then, pefhaps we can come to
an undefstandIng," says the woman,
nIce and quIet. Ffom the sound of It,
thIs womanwhoevef she IsIs set-
tIIng back Into a chaIf thefe on the oth-
ef end of the IIne, cfossIng hef Iegs.
Hmm, I don't know about that," I
say. Some peopIe, ten yeafs togethef
and they stIII can't undefstand each
Cafe to tfy?" the woman teases.
I undo my wfIstwatch and swItch on
the stopwatch mode, then pfess the
tImef's staft button.
Why me?" I ask. Why not fIng up
somebody eIse?"
I have my feasons," the woman
enuncIates sIowIy, as If measufedIy
mastIcatIng a mofseI of food. I've
heafd aII about you."
When? Whefe?"
SometIme, somewhefe," the woman
says. But what does that mattef? The
Impoftant thIng Is 0)5. RIght? What's
mofe, taIkIng about It onIy Ioses us
tIme. D1M3 0)1 $3 %( D ,$< $## 1,- 1%&- %0 1,-
GIve me some pfoof, then. Pfoof
that you know me."
Fof Instance."
How about my age?"
ThIfty," the woman answefs on the
spot. ThIfty and two months. Good
That shuts me up. The woman feaIIy
<)-3 know me. Yet no mattef how I
fack my bfaIns, I can't pIace hef voIce.
I sImpIy couIdn't have fofgotten of con-
fused someone's voIce. Faces,
namesmaybebut voIces, nevef.
WeII, now, It's youf tufn to see what
you can teII about me," she says sug-
gestIveIy. What do you ImagIne ffom
my voIce? What kInd of woman am I?
Can you pIctufe me? ThIs soft of thIng's
youf fofte, Isn't It?"
You got me," I say.
Go ahead, tfy," the woman InsIsts.
I gIance at my watch. Not quIte a
mInute and a haIf so faf. I heave a sIgh
of fesIgnatIon. Seems I've aIfeady taken
hef up, and once the chaIIenge Is on,
thefe's no tufnIng back. I used to have
a knack fof guessIng games.
Iate twentIes, unIvefsIty gfaduate,
natIve TokyoIte, uppef-mIddIe-cIass up-
bfIngIng," I fIfe away.
AmazIng," says the woman, fIIckIng
a cIgafette IIghtef by the feceIvef. A
CaftIef, by the sound of It. Keep
FaIfIy good-IookIng. At Ieast, you
youfseIf thInk so. But you've got a com-
pIex. You'fe too shoft of youf bfeasts
afe too smaII of somethIng IIke that."
Pfetty cIose," the woman gIggIes.
You'fe maffIed. But aII's not as
smooth as It couId be. Thefe afe pfob-
Iems. No woman wIthout hef shafe of
pfobIems wouId caII up a man and not
gIve hef name. Yet I don't know you. At
Ieast I've nevef taIked wIth you befofe.
ThIs much ImagIned, I stIII can't pIctufe
Oh, feaIIy?" says the woman In a
hush caIcuIated to dfIve a soft wedge
Into my skuII. How can you be so sufe
of youfseIf? MIghtn't you have a fataI
bIInd spot somewhefe? If not, don't you
thInk you'd have puIIed youfseIf a IIttIe
mofe togethef by now? Someone wIth
youf bfaIns and taIent."
You put gfeat stock In me," I say. I
don't know who you afe, but I shouId
teII you I'm not the wondeffuI human
beIng you make me out to be. I don't
seem to be abIe to get thIngs done. AII I
do Is head off down detouf aftef
StIII, I used to have a thIng fof you.
A Iong tIme ago, that Is."
A Iong tIme ago, you say," I pfompt.
Two mInutes fIfty-thfee seconds.
Not so vefy Iong ago. We'fe not taIk-
Ing hIstofy."
Yes, we $*- taIkIng hIstofy," I say.
BIInd spot, eh? WeII, pefhaps the wo-
man does have a poInt. Somewhefe, In
my head, In my body, In my vefy exIst-
ence, It's as If thefe wefe some Iong-Iost
subteffanean eIement that's been skew-
Ing my IIfe evef so sIIghtIy off.
No, not even that. Not 3#%K,1#=
off5$= off. IffetfIevabIy.
I'm In bed fIght now," the woman
says. I just took a showef and have
nothIng on."
That does It, I thInk. 4)1,%0K )0L A
feguIaf pofno tape thIs Is gettIng to be.
Of wouId you fathef I put on
pantIes? How about stockIngs? Do they
tufn you on?"
AnythIng's fIne. Do what you IIke," I
say. But If you don't mInd, I'm not that
kInd of a guy, not fof thIs soft of stuff
ovef the teIephone."
Ten mInutes, that's aII. A mefe ten
mInutes. That's not such a fataI Ioss, Is
It? I'm not askIng fof anythIng mofe.
That much Is pIaIn goodwIII. But
whatevef, just answef the questIon. Do
you want me naked? Of shouId I put
somethIng on? I've got aII kInds of
thIngs, you know. Gaftef beIts and ."
I$*1-* Q-#13L I must be goIng cfazy.
What woman has gaftef beIts In thIs
day and age? ModeIs fof C-01,)B3-,
Naked Is fIne. And you don't have to
move," I say.
Fouf mInutes down.
My pubIc haIf Is stIII wet," the wo-
man says. I dIdn't toweI It dfy. So It's
stIII wet. Wafm and oh so wet."
IIsten, If you don't mInd"
And down beIow that, It's a whoIe
Iot wafmef. Just IIke hot buttefcfeam.
Oh so vefy hot. Honest. And what posI-
tIon do you thInk I'm In fIght now? I
have my knee up and my Ieft Ieg spfead
out to the sIde. It'd be afound 10:05 If I
wefe a cIock."
I couId teII ffom the way she saId It
that she wasn't makIng thIs up. She
feaIIy dId have hef Iegs spfead to
10:05, hef vagIna wafm and moIstened.
Cafess the IIps. GentIy, sIowIy. Then
open them. SIowIy, IIke that. Now
cafess them gentIy wIth the sIdes of
youf fIngefs. Oh, yes, sIowIy . sIowIy.
Now Iet one hand fondIe my Ieft bfeast,
ffom undefneath, IIftIng gentIy, tweak-
Ing the nIppIe just so. AgaIn and agaIn.
UntII I'm about to come"
I hang up wIthout a wofd. Then I foII
ovef on the sofa, smoke a cIgafette, and
gaze up at the ceIIIng, stopwatch
cIIcked at fIve mInutes twenty-thfee
I cIose my eyes and dafkness des-
cends, a dafkness paInted bIInd wIth
What Is It? Why can't evefyone just
Ieave me In peace?
Not ten mInutes Iatef, the teIephone
fIngs agaIn, but thIs tIme I don't pIck
up. FIfteen fIngs and It stops. I Iet It
dIe, and aII gfavIty Is dIspIaced by a
pfofound sIIence. The stone-chIII sI-
Ience of bouIdefs ffozen deep Into a
gIacIef fIfty thousand yeafs ago. FIfteen
fIngs of the teIephone have uttefIy
tfansfofmed the quaIIty of the aIf
afound me.
A IITTIE BEFORE two o'cIock, I cIImb ffom
my backyafd ovef the cIndef-bIock waII
Into the passage. ActuaIIy, It's not the
coffIdof you'd expect a passage to be,
that's onIy what we caII It fof Iack of a
bettef name. StfIctIy speakIng, It Isn't a
coffIdof at aII. A coffIdof has an en-
tfance and an exIt, fofmIng a foute
ffom one pIace to anothef.
But thIs passage has neIthef entfance
nof exIt, and Ieads smack Into a cIndef-
bIock waII at one end and a chaIn IInk
fence at the othef. It's not even an aI-
Ieyway. Fof staftefs, an aIIey has to at
Ieast have an entfance. The neIghbofs
aII caII It the passage" fof convenIence
The passage meandefs between
evefyone's backyafds fof about sIx hun-
dfed feet. Thfee-foot-somethIng In
wIdth fof the most paft, but what wIth
aII the junk IyIng afound and the occa-
sIonaI hedge cfoppIng In, thefe afe
pIaces you can bafeIy squeeze thfough
Ffom what I've heafdthIs Is ffom a
kIndIy uncIe of mIne who fents us ouf
house fIdIcuIousIy cheapthe passage
used to have an entfance and an exIt,
offefIng a shoftcut acfoss the bIock,
stfeet-to-stfeet. But then, wIth the post-
waf boom yeafs, new homes wefe buIIt
In any avaIIabIe space, hemmIng In the
common gfound to a naffow path.
WhIch ushefed In the none-too-InvItIng
pfospect of havIng stfangefs waIkIng
thfough backyafds, pfactIcaIIy undef
the eaves, so the fesIdents suffeptI-
tIousIy covefed the entfance. At fIfst an
Innocent IIttIe bush bafeIy dIsguIsed the
openIng, but eventuaIIy one fesIdent
expanded hIs yafd and extended hIs
cIndef-bIock waII to compIeteIy seaI It
ovef. WhIIe the coffespondIng othef
apeftufe was scfeened off wIth a chaIn
IInk fence to keep the dogs out. It
hadn't been the fesIdents who made use
of the passage to begIn wIth, so no one
compIaIned about Its beIng cIosed at
both ends. And anyway, cIosIng It
wouIdn't huft as a cfIme-pfeventIon
measufe. Thus, the path went negIected
and untfaffIcked, IIke some abandoned
canaI, mefeIy sefvIng as a kInd of buf-
fef zone between the houses, the
gfound ovefgfown wIth weeds, stIcky
spIdef webs stfung evefywhefe a bug
couId possIbIy aIIght.
Now, why shouId my wIfe ffequent
such a pIace? It was beyond me. Me, I'd
onIy set foot In the passage one tIme
befofe. And she can't even stand
Yet when I tfy to thInk, my head's
fIIIed to bufstIng wIth some gaseous
substance. I dIdn't sIeep weII Iast nIght,
pIus the weathef's too hot fof the be-
gInnIng of May, pIus thefe was that un-
nefvIng teIephone caII.
Oh, weII, I thInk, mIght as weII Iook
fof that cat. Ieave Iatef deveIopments
fof Iatef. Anyway, It's a damn sIght bet-
tef to be out and about than to be
cooped up Indoofs waItIng fof the teIe-
phone to fIng.
The spfIng sun cuts cIean and cfIsp
thfough the ceIIIng of ovefhangIng
bfanches, scattefIng patches of shadow
acfoss the gfound. WIth no wInd, the
shadows stay gIued In pIace IIke fatefuI
staIns. TeIItaIe staIns sufe to cIIng to
the eafth as It goes afound and afound
the sun fof mIIIennIa to come.
Shadows fIIt ovef my shIft as I pass
undef the bfanches, then fetufn to the
gfound. AII Is stIII. You can aImost heaf
each bIade of gfass fespIfIng In the sun-
IIght. A few smaII cIouds fIoat In the
sky, vIvId and weII fofmed, stfaIght out
of a medIevaI engfavIng. EvefythIng
stands out wIth such cIafIty that I feeI
buoyant, as If somehow my body went
on fofevef. That, and It's teffIbIy hot.
I'm In a T-shIft, thIn cotton sIacks,
and tennIs shoes, but aIfeady, just
waIkIng afound, my afmpIts and the
cIeft of my chest afe dfenched wIth
sweat. I'd onIy just thIs mofnIng puIIed
the T-shIft and sIacks out of stofage, so
evefy tIme I take a deep bfeath thefe's
thIs shafp mothbaII smeII, as If some
tIny bug had fIown up my nose.
I keep an eye peeIed to both sIdes
and waIk at a sIow, even pace, stoppIng
ffom tIme to tIme to caII the cat's name
In a stage whIspef.
The homes that sandwIch the passage
afe of two dIstInct types and bIend to-
gethef as weII as IIquIds of two dIffef-
ent specIfIc gfavItIes. FIfst thefe afe the
houses datIng ffom way back, wIth bIg
backyafds, then thefe afe the compafat-
IveIy newef ones. None of the new
houses has any yafd to speak of, some
don't have a sIngIe speck of yafd space.
ScafceIy enough foom between the
eaves and the passage to hang out two
IInes of Iaundfy. In some pIaces, cIothes
actuaIIy hang out ovef the passage, fof-
cIng me to Inch past fows of stIII-dfIp-
pIng toweIs and shIfts. I'm so cIose I
can heaf teIevIsIons pIayIng and toIIets
fIushIng InsIde. I even smeII cuffy cook-
Ing In one kItchen.
The oId homes, by contfast, hafdIy
betfay a bfeath of IIfe. JudIcIousIy
pIaced hedges of cypfess and othef
shfubbefy guafd agaInst InquIsItIve
eyes, aIthough hefe and thefe you catch
a gIImpse of a weII-manIcufed spfead.
The houses themseIves afe of aII dIffef-
ent afchItectufaI styIes: tfadItIonaI
Japanese houses wIth Iong haIIways,
tafnIshed coppef-foofed eafIy Westefn
vIIIas, fecentIy femodeIed modefn"
homes. Common to aII, howevef, Is the
absence of any vIsIbIe occupants. Not a
sound, not a hInt of IIfe. No notIceabIe
Iaundfy, eIthef.
It's the fIfst tIme I've taken In the
sIghts of the passage at IeIsufe, so
evefythIng Is new to my eyes. Pfopped
up In a cofnef of one backyafd Is a
Ione, wIthefed, bfown ChfIstmas tfee.
In anothef yafd IIes sevefaI chIIdhoods'
wofth of evefy pIaythIng ImagInabIea
vIftuaI scfap heap of tfIcycIe pafts, a
fIngtoss set, pIastIc samufaI swofds,
fubbef baIIs, a toy tuftIe, wooden
tfucks. One yafd spofts a basketbaII
hoop, anothef a fIne set of gafden
chaIfs and a fattan tabIe. By the Iook of
them, the chaIfs haven't been sat on In
months (maybe yeafs), they'fe so
covefed wIth dIft, the tabIetop Is faIn-
pIastefed wIth Iavendef magnoIIa
One house pfesents a cIeaf vIew Into
Its IIvIng foom thfough Iafge gIass sIId-
Ing doofs. Thefe I see a kIdney-shaped
sofa wIth matchIng Iounge fufnItufe, a
sIzabIe teIevIsIon, a ceIIafette topped
wIth a tank of tfopIcaI fIsh and two
tfophIes of some soft, and a decofatof
fIoof Iamp. It aII Iooks as unfeaI as a set
fof a TV sItcom.
In anothef yafd, thefe's a massIve
doghouse penned In wIth wIfe scfeen-
Ing. No dog InsIde that I can see,
though. Just a wIde-open hoIe. I aIso
notIce that the scfeenIng Is stfetched
shapeIess, buIgIng out as If someone of
somethIng had been IeanIng Into It fof
The vacant house my wIfe toId me
about Is onIy a IIttIe fafthef aIong, past
the one wIth the doghouse. RIght away,
I can see It's vacant. One Iook teIIs you
that thIs Is not youf scant two-of thfee-
months' absence. The pIace Is a faIfIy
new two-stofy affaIf, yet the tIght shut-
tefs Iook posItIveIy weathef-beaten and
the fusted faIIIngs afound the upstaIfs
wIndows seem about feady to faII off.
The smaIIIsh yafd hosts a stone fIgufIne
of a bIfd wIth wIngs outstfetched atop a
chest-hIgh pedestaI suffounded by a
thIcket of weeds, the taIIef staIks of
goIdenfod feachIng cIeaf to the bIfd's
feet. The bIfdbeats me what
kIndfInds thIs encfoachment most
dIstfessIng and fIaps Its wIngs to take
fIIght at any second.
BesIdes thIs stone fIgufIne, the yafd
has IIttIe In the way of decofatIon. Two
beat-up oId vInyI chaIses afe pafked
neatIy undef the eaves, fIght next to an
azaIea bIazIng wIth ethefeaIIy cfImson
bIossoms. OthefwIse, weeds afe about
aII that meets the eye.
I Iean agaInst the chest-hIgh chaIn
IInk fence and make a bfIef sufvey of
the yafd. Just the soft of yafd a cat
wouId Iove, but hope as I mIght, noth-
Ing catty puts In an appeafance. On the
fooftop TV aefIaI, a pIgeon pefches, Its
monotone caffyIng evefywhefe. The
shadow of the stone bIfd faIIs acfoss the
tangIe of weeds, theIf bIades cuttIng It
Into ffagments of dIffefent shapes.
I take a cIgafette out of my pocket,
IIght up, and smoke It, IeanIng agaInst
the fence the whoIe whIIe. The pIgeon
doesn't budge ffom the aefIaI as It goes
on cooIng nonstop.
CIgafette fInIshed and stamped out
on the gfound, I stIII don't move fof the
Iongest tIme. Just how Iong, I don't
know. HaIf asIeep, I stafe dumbIy at the
shadow of the bIfd, hafdIy even
Of maybe I am thInkIng, somewhefe
out of fange of my conscIous mInd.
PhenomenoIogIcaIIy speakIng,
howevef, I'm sImpIy stafIng at the
shadow of the bIfd faIIIng ovef staIks of
GfaduaIIy I become awafe of
somethInga voIce?fIItefIng Into the
bIfd's shadow. Whose voIce? Someone
seems to be caIIIng me.
I tufn afound to Iook behInd me, and
thefe, In the yafd opposIte, stands a gIfI
of maybe fIfteen of sIxteen. PetIte, wIth
shoft, stfaIght haIf, she's weafIng dafk
sungIasses wIth ambef ffames and a
IIght-bIue AdIdas T-shIft wIth the
sIeeves snIpped off at the shouIdefs.
The sIendef afms pfotfudIng ffom the
openIngs afe exceedIngIy weII tanned
fof onIy May. One hand In hef shofts,
the othef on a Iow bamboo gate, she
pfops hefseIf up pfecafIousIy.
Hot, huh?" the gIfI gfeets me.
Hot aII fIght," I echo.
Hefe we go agaIn, I thInkagaIn. AII
day Iong It's goIng to be femaIes stfIk-
Ing up convefsatIons wIth me, Is It?
Say, you got a cIgafette?" the gIfI
I puII a pack of Hope feguIafs ffom
my pocket and offef It to hef. She wIth-
dfaws hef hand ffom hef shofts, ex-
tfacts a cIgafette, and examInes It a
second befofe puttIng It to hef mouth.
Hef mouth Is smaII, wIth the sIIghtest
hInt of a cufI to hef uppef IIp. I stfIke a
match and gIve hef a IIght. She Ieans
fofwafd, feveaIIng an eaf: a ffeshIy
fofmed, soap-smooth, pfetty eaf, Its
deIIcate outIIne gIIstenIng wIth a
tfacefy of fIne haIfs.
She pafts hef IIps In the centef wIth
an accompIIshed aIf and Iets out a satIs-
fIed puff of smoke, then Iooks up at me
as If she's suddenIy femembefed
somethIng. I see my face spIIt Into two
fefIectIons In hef sungIasses. The Ienses
afe so hIdeousIy dafk, and even mIffof-
coated, that thefe's no way to make out
hef eyes.
You ffom the neIghbofhood?" the
gIfI asks.
Yeah," I fepIy, and am about to
poInt towafd the house, onIy I can't teII
If It's feaIIy the fIght dIfectIon of not.
What wIth aII these odd tufns gettIng
hefe. Sowhat's the dIffefence, any-
way?I sImpIy poInt any whIch way.
What you been up to ovef thefe so
I'm IookIng fof a cat. It's been mIss-
Ing thfee of fouf days now," I expIaIn,
wIpIng a sweaty paIm on my sIacks.
Someone saId they saw the cat afound
What kInd of cat?"
A bIg tom. Bfown stfIpes, a sIIght
kInk at the end of Its taII."
Name .?"
The cat's. It has a name, no?" she
says, peefIng Into my eyes ffom behInd
hef sungIassesat Ieast, I guess she Is.
Nobofu," I fepIy. Nobofu
Fancy name fof a cat."
It's my bfothef-In-Iaw's name. My
wIfe's IIttIe joke. Says It somehow fe-
mInds hef of hIm."
IIke how?"
The way It moves. Its waIk, the
sIeepy Iook In Its eyes. IIttIe thIngs."
OnIy then does the gIfI smIIe. And as
she Iets down hef faade, I can see she's
much mofe of a chIId than I thought on
fIfst ImpfessIon. The quIfky cufI of hef
uppef IIp shoots out at a stfange angIe.
R$*-33, I can sweaf I heaf someone
say. The voIce of that teIephone wo-
man. Not the gIfI's voIce. I wIpe the
sweat ffom my bfow wIth the back of
my hand.
A bfown-stfIped cat wIth a kInk In
the end of Its taII, huh?" the gIfI fecon-
fIfms. WeafIng a coIIaf?"
A bIack fIea coIIaf."
The gIfI gIves It a cooI ten-, fIfteen-
second thInk, hand stIII festIng on the
gate. Whefeupon she fIIcks the stub of
hef cIgafette to the gfound by my feet.
Stamp that out fof me? I got bafe
I conscIentIousIy gfInd It out undef
the soIe of my tennIs shoe.
That cat, I thInk I just may have
seen It," she phfases guafdedIy. I
dIdn't get as faf as notIcIng the tIp of Its
taII, but yes, thefe was a bfown tom.
BIg, pfobabIy weafIng a coIIaf."
When dId you see It?"
Yeah, when was that? I'm sufe I
must've seen It Iots of tImes. I'm out
hefe In the yafd neafIy evefy day sun-
bathIng, so one day just bIends Into the
fest. But anyway, It'd have to be wIthIn
the Iast thfee of fouf days. The yafd's a
cat shoftcut, aII kInds of cats scootIng
thfough aII the tIme. They come out of
the SuzukIs' hedge thefe, cut acfoss ouf
yafd, and head Into the MIyawakIs'
So sayIng, she poInts ovef at the va-
cant house. Same as evef, thefe's the
stone bIfd wIth outspfead wIngs,
goIdenfod baskIng In the spfIng fays,
pIgeon cooIng away on the TV aefIaI.
Thanks fof the tIp," I teII hef.
Hey, I've got It, why not come Into
the yafd hefe and waIt? AII the cats
pass thIs way anyhow. And besIdes, If
you keep snoopIng afound ovef thefe,
somebody's goIng to mIstake you fof a
bufgIaf and caII the cops. WouIdn't be
the fIfst tIme."
But I can't just hang afound waItIng
fof a cat In somebody eIse's yafd."
Sufe you can, IIke, It's no bIg deaI.
Nobody's home and It's dead bofIng
wIthout someone to taIk to. Why don't
we just get some sun, the two of us, un-
tII the cat shows up? I've got shafp
eyes, I'd be a feaI heIp."
I Iook at my watch. Two thIfty-sIx.
AII I've got Ieft to do today Is take In
the Iaundfy and fIx dInnef.
WeII, okay, I'II stay untII thfee
o'cIock," I say, stIII not feaIIy gfaspIng
the sItuatIon.
I open the gate and step In, foIIowIng
the gIfI acfoss the gfass, and onIy then
do I notIce that she's dfaggIng hef Ieft
Ieg sIIghtIy. Hef tIny shouIdefs sway
wIth the pefIodIc fhythm of a cfank
gfIndIng mechanIcaIIy to the Ieft. She
stops a few steps ahead of me and sIg-
naIs fof me to waIk aIongsIde hef.
Had an accIdent Iast month," the
gIfI says sImpIy. Was fIdIng on the
back of someone's bIke and got thfown
off. No Iuck."
Two canvas deck chaIfs afe set out In
the mIddIe of the gfass. A bIg bIue tow-
eI Is dfaped ovef the back of one chaIf,
and the othef Is occupIed by a fed
MafIbofo box, an ashtfay, and a IIghtef
tossed togethef wIth a Iafge fadIo-cas-
sette pIayef and some magazInes. The
voIume Is on Iow, but some
unIdentIfIabIe hafd-fock gfoup Is
She femoves the cIuttef to the gfass
and asks me to sIt down, swItchIng off
the musIc. No soonef am I seated than I
get a cIeaf vIew of the passage and the
vacant house beyond. I can even see
the whIte stone bIfd fIgufIne and the
goIdenfod and the chaIn IInk fence. I
bet she's been watchIng me ffom hefe
the whoIe tIme.
The yafd Is Iafge and unpfetentIous.
The gfass sweeps down a gentIe sIope,
gfaced hefe and thefe wIth pIants. To
the Ieft of the deck chaIfs Is a sIzabIe
concfete pond, whIch obvIousIy hasn't
seen much use of Iate. DfaIned of wa-
tef, It pfesents a gfeenIsh, dIscoIofed
bottom to the sun, IIke some ovef-
tufned aquatIc cfeatufe. The eIegant
beveIed faade of an oId Westefn-styIe
house, neIthef paftIcuIafIy Iafge nof aII
that IuxufIous, poses behInd a stand of
tfees to the feaf. OnIy the yafd Is of
any scaIe of shows any feaI upkeep.
Once, I used to paft-tIme fof a Iawn-
mowIng sefvIce," I say.
Oh yeah?" says the gIfI wIthout
much Intefest.
Must be hafd wofk maIntaInIng a
yafd thIs bIg," I comment, IookIng
afound me.
Don't you have a yafd?"
Just a IIttIe yafd. Two, thfee hy-
dfangeas, that's about the sIze of It," I
say. You aIone hefe aII the tIme?"
Yeah, you saId It. DaytIme, I'm aI-
ways aIone. MofnIngs and evenIngs, a
maId comes afound, though othefwIse
I'm aIone. Say, how about a coId dfInk?
Thefe's even beef."
No, I'm fIne."
ReaIIy? IIke, It's no bIg deaI."
I'm not thIfsty," I say. Don't you go
to schooI?"
Don't you go to wofk?"
No wofk to go to," I admIt.
KInd of. I quIt."
What soft of wofk wefe you doIng?"
Iawyef's gofef," I equIvocate, takIng
a sIow, deep bfeath to cut the taIk.
CoIIectIng papefs ffom cIty-haII and
govefnment offIces, fIIIng matefIaIs,
checkIng case pfecedents, takIng cafe
of couft pfocedufes, busy wofk IIke
But you quIt?"
Youf wIfe wofk?"
She does," I say.
I take out a cIgafette and put It to my
mouth, stfIke a match, and IIght up.
The wInd-up bIfd scfeeches ffom a
neafby tfee. A good tweIve of thIfteen
tufns of the watch spfIng, then It fIIts
off to anothef tfee.
Cats afe aIways goIng past thefe,"
the gIfI femafks apfopos of nothIng,
poIntIng ovef at the edge of the gfass In
ffont. See that IncInefatof behInd the
SuzukIs' hedge? WeII, they come out
ffom fIght next to It, fun aII the way
acfoss, duck undef the gate, and make
fof the yafd ovef thefe. AIways the
same foute. Say, you know Mf. SuzukI?
CoIIege pfofessof, on TV haIf the tIme?"
Mf. SuzukI?"
She goes on In some detaII, but It
tufns out that I don't know ouf Mf.
I hafdIy evef watch TV," I say.
HoffIbIe famIIy," the gIfI sneefs.
Stuck-up, the whoIe Iot of them. TV
peopIe afe aII a bunch of phonIes."
The gIfI pIcks up hef MafIbofos,
takes one out, and foIIs It afound unIIt
between hef fIngefs.
WeII, I suppose thefe's decent foIk
among them, but they'fe not my type.
Now, the MIyawakIs, they wefe okay
peopIe. Mfs. MIyawakI was nIce. And
Mf. MIyawakI, he fan two of thfee fam-
IIy festaufants."
What happened to them?"
Don't know," saId the gIfI, fIIckIng
the end of hef cIgafette. PfobabIy
owed money. Thefe was a feaI commo-
tIon when they Ieft. Been gone two
yeafs now, I guess. Dfopped evefythIng
and just Ieft. The cats just keep muI-
tIpIyIng, no consIdefatIon. Mom's aI-
ways compIaInIng."
Afe thefe that many cats?"
She puts the cIgafette to hef IIps and
IIghts up wIth hef IIghtef. Then nods.
AII kInds of cats. Some IosIng theIf
fuf, even a one-eyed cat . bIg Iump of
fIesh whefe the eye was. Gfoss, huh?"
Gfoss," I concuf.
I've got a cousIn wIth sIx fIngefs. A
gIfI, IIttIe oIdef than me, has thIs baby
pInkIe fIght besIde hef IIttIe fIngef.
AIways keeps It neatIy foIded undef, so
you can bafeIy teII. A feaI pfetty gIfI."
Hmm," I say.
You thInk stuff IIke that's hefedIt-
afy? IIke, you know . funs In the
I couIdn't teII you," I say.
The gIfI says nothIng fof the moment.
I smoke my cIgafette and tfaIn my eyes
on the cat path. Not a sIngIe cat has
shown the whoIe tIme.
Hey, you sufe you won't dfInk
somethIng? I'm goIng to have a coIa,"
says the gIfI.
No thanks," I teII hef.
The gIfI gets up ffom hef deck chaIf
and dIsappeafs Into the shade, dfaggIng
hef Ieg, meanwhIIe, I pIck up one of the
magazInes IyIng by my feet and fIIp
thfough the pages. Contfafy to what I'd
expected, It's a men's monthIy. The cen-
tef spfead has a woman sIttIng In an
unnatufaI pose, Iegs wIde apaft, so that
you can see hef genItaIs and pubIc haIf
thfough a sheef body stockIng. Nevef a
duII moment, I thInk, and put the
magazIne back whefe I found It, then
fedIfect my gaze towafd the cat path,
afms foIded acfoss my chest.
Aftef what seems IIke ages, the gIfI
fetufns, gIass of coIa In hand. She's
shed hef AdIdas T-shIft fof a bIkInI top
wIth hef shofts. It's a smaII bfa that
shows off the fuII shape of hef bfeasts,
wIth tIe-stfIngs In back.
Fof sufe, It's one hot aftefnoon. Just
IyIng thefe In the sun on the deck chaIf,
my gfay T-shIft Is bIotched dafk wIth
TeII me," the gIfI pIcks up whefe she
Ieft off, suppose you found out the gIfI
you IIked had a sIxth fIngef, what
wouId you do?"
I'd seII hef to the cIfcus," I say.
Just kIddIng," I come back, staftIed.
I pfobabIy wouIdn't mInd."
Even If thefe's the possIbIIIty of
passIng It on to youf kIds?"
I gIve It some thought.
I don't thInk I'd mInd. One fIngef
too many's no gfeat hafm."
What about If she had fouf bfeasts?"
I thInk It ovef a whIIe.
I don't know," I say.
G)B* Q*-$313L ThIs convefsatIon's go-
Ing nowhefe fast, so I decIde to change
the subject.
How oId afe you?"
SIxteen," the gIfI answefs. Just
tufned sIxteen. Ffeshman In hIgh
But you'fe takIng tIme off ffom
Can't waIk too much befofe my Ieg
stafts to huft. Got a gash fIght by my
eye, too. It's a pfetty stfaIght schooI, no
teIIIng what kInd of tfoubIe I'd be In If
they found out I huft myseIf faIIIng off
a bIke . whIch Is why I'm out sIck. I
can take a whoIe yeaf off If I want. I'm
In no bIg huffy to gfaduate ffom hIgh
Hmm" Is aII I can say.
But anyway, back to what we wefe
taIkIng about, you saId you thought It
was okay to maffy a gIfI wIth sIx fIn-
gefs, but fouf bfeasts tufned you off."
I dIdn't say It tufned me off, I just
saId I dIdn't know."
Why don't you know?"
I can't quIte pIctufe It."
But you can pIctufe a sIxth fIngef."
Soft of."
What's the dIffefence? SIx fIngefs of
fouf bfeasts?"
Once agaIn, I gIve the mattef some
thought, but can't begIn to thInk of
how to expIaIn.
TeII me, do I ask too many ques-
tIons?" the gIfI asks, peefIng Into my
eyes ffom behInd hef sungIasses.
You been toId that?" I ask back.
NothIng wfong wIth askIng ques-
tIons. Makes the othef pefson thInk."
Most peopIe, though, don't gIve me
much thought," she says, IookIng at the
tIps of hef toes. Evefyone just gIves
the usuaI nothIng-doIng answefs."
I shake my head vagueIy and to fe-
aIIgn my gaze onto the cat path. What
the heII am I doIng hefe? +,-*- ,$30M1
I shut my eyes fof twenty of thIfty
seconds, afms foIded acfoss my chest.
IyIng thefe, eyes cIosed, I can feeI the
sweat bead up ovef dIffefent pafts of
my body. On my fofehead, undef my
nose, afound my neck, the sIIghtest sen-
satIons, as If tIny moIstened feathefs
had been fIoated Into pIace hefe and
thefe. My T-shIft cIIngs to my chest IIke
a dfoopIng fIag on a doIdfum day. The
sunIIght has a cufIous weIght as It seeps
Into me. I can heaf the tInkIIng of Ice as
the gIfI jIggIes hef gIass.
Go to sIeep If you want. I'II wake
you If I see youf cat," the gIfI whIspefs.
I nod sIIentIy wIth eyes cIosed.
Fof the tIme beIng, thefe Isn't a
sound. That pIgeon and the wInd-up
bIfd must have gone off somewhefe.
Not a bfeeze, not even a caf staftIng.
The whoIe whIIe I'm thInkIng about
that voIce on the teIephone. ?,$1 %( D
Yet I can't fecaII any such woman.
She's just not thefe, she's Iong depafted
ffom my conscIousness. OnIy hef Iong,
Iong shadow tfaIIIng acfoss my path, a
vIsIon ffom ChIfIco. An endIess fIngIng
In my eafs.
Hey, you asIeep?" comes the gIfI's
voIce, so faInt It's aImost no voIce at
No, I'm awake," I answef.
Can I get cIosef? It's easIef fof me to
taIk In a whIspef."
Go fIght ahead," I say, eyes stIII
I IIsten as the gIfI sIIdes hef deck
chaIf aIongsIde mIne, heaf the dfy
cIack of wooden ffames touchIng.
Stfange, I thInk, the gIfI's voIce wIth
my eyes cIosed sounds compIeteIy dIf-
fefent ffom hef voIce wIth my eyes
open. What's come ovef me? ThIs has
nevef happened to me befofe.
Can I taIk some?" the gIfI asks. I'II
be feaI quIet. You don't have to answef,
you can even faII fIght asIeep at any
Sufe," I say.
Death. PeopIe dyIng. It's aII so fas-
cInatIng," the gIfI begIns.
She's whIspefIng fIght by my eaf, so
the wofds entef my body In a wafm,
moIst stfeam of bfeath.
How's that?" I ask.
The gIfI pIaces a one-fIngef seaI ovef
my IIps.
No questIons," she says. I don't
want to be asked anythIng just now.
And don't open youf eyes, eIthef. Got
I gIve a nod as IndIstInct as hef voIce.
She femoves hef fIngef ffom my IIps,
and the same fIngef now tfaveIs to my
I thInk about what It wouId be IIke
to cut the thIng open wIth a scaIpeI.
Not the cofpse. That Iump of death It-
seIf. Thefe's got to be somethIng IIke
that In thefe somewhefe, I just know It.
DuII IIke a softbaIIand pIIabIea
pafaIyzed tangIe of nefves. I'd IIke to
femove It ffom the dead body and cut It
open. I'm aIways thInkIng about It.
ImagInIng what It'd be IIke InsIde. It'd
pfobabIy be aII gummy, IIke toothpaste
that cakes up InsIde the tube, don't you
thInk? That's okay, you don't have to
answef. AII gooey afound the outsIde,
gettIng toughef the fufthef In. That's
why the fIfst thIng I'd do once I cut
thfough the outef skIn Is scoop out aII
the gIop, and thefe InsIde whefe It
stafts to fIfm up wouId be thIs teeny
IIttIe cofe. IIke a supefhafd baII beaf-
Ing, don't you thInk?"
The gIfI gIves a coupIe of shoft
IateIy, It's aII I thInk about. Pfob-
abIy 'cause I've got so much ffee tIme
evefy day. But feaIIy, I do thInk so. If
I've got nothIng to do, my thoughts just
wandef off faf away. I get so faf off In
my thoughts, It's hafd to fInd my way
At thIs, the gIfI takes hef fIngef away
ffom my wfIst to dfInk the fest of hef
coIa. I can teII ffom the empty-gIass
sound of the Ice.
It's okay, I'm keepIng an eye out fof
the cat. Don't woffy. As soon as I see
Nobofu Watanabe, I'II Iet you know. So
you can keep youf eyes cIosed. Nobofu
Watanabe's bound to come waIkIng
thfough hefe any mInute now. I mean,
aII the cats take the same foute, so he's
got to show up. Iet's just ImagIne whIIe
we waIt. IIke, Nobofu Watanabe's get-
tIng cIosef, cIosef. He's comIng thfough
the gfass, sneakIng undef a waII, stop-
pIng and snIffIng the fIowefs, gettIng
cIosef evefy mInute. Tfy and pIctufe
I pIay aIong and tfy to see the cat In
my mInd's eye, but It's aII I can do to
conjufe up even the bIuffIest backIIt
snapshot of a cat. The bfIght sun bufns
thfough my eyeIIds, dIspefsIng any
dafk afeas of the Image, on top of
whIch, no mattef how I tfy I just can't
fecaII the IIttIe fuf face wIth any accuf-
acy. My Nobofu Watanabe Is a faIIed
poftfaIt, somehow dIstofted and unnat-
ufaI. OnIy the quIfks afe thefe, the ba-
sIcs afe mIssIng. I can't even femembef
how he waIked.
The gIfI pIaces hef fIngef on my wfIst
once mofe and thIs tIme dfaws a pat-
tefn. An odd dIagfam of IndetefmInate
confIgufatIon. WhIIe she dIagfams my
wfIst, as If In unIson I feeI a whoIIy oth-
ef vafIety of dafkness InfIItfatIng my
mInd. I must be faIIIng asIeep, I thInk.
Not that I'm paftIcuIafIy sIeepy, but
somethIng teIIs me I can't hoId out
agaInst the InevItabIe. My body feeIs
unseemIngIy heavy In the soft canvas
cufve of the deck chaIf.
AmId the gathefIng dafkness, a cIeaf
Image of Nobofu Watanabe's fouf feet
comes Into my head. Fouf quIet bfown
paws wIth fubbefy pads on the soIes.
WIthout a sound, they go tfaIpsIng ovef
the teffaIn.
I have no Idea.
S%K,10M1 =)B ,$;- $ ($1$# Q#%0< 3/)1
3)&-5,-*-L says the woman softIy.
I AWAKE TO FIND I'm aIone. Gone Is the
gIfI ffom the deck chaIf nestIed next to
mIne. The toweI and cIgafettes and
magazInes femaIn, but the coIa and
fadIo-cassette pIayef have dIsappeafed.
The sun Is sIantIng westwafd and I'm
up to my ankIes In the shade of the
pIne tfees. The hands of my watch
poInt to 3:40. I shake my head a few
tImes as If fattIIng an empty can, get up
ffom the chaIf, and take a Iook afound.
EvefythIng Iooks the same as when I
fIfst saw It. BIg Iawn, dfIed-up pond,
hedge, stone bIfd, goIdenfod, TV aefIaI,
no cat. No gIfI, eIthef.
I pIunk myseIf down on a shady
patch of gfass and fun my paIm ovef
the gfeen tuff, one eye on the cat path,
whIIe I waIt fof the gIfI to fetufn. Ten
mInutes Iatef, thefe's stIII no sIgn of cat
of gIfI. Not even a whIff of anythIng
movIng about. I'm stumped fof what to
do now. I feeI IIke I must have aged
somethIng awfuI In my sIeep.
I stand up agaIn and gIance ovef at
the house. But thefe's no hInt of anyone
about. OnIy the westefn sun gIafIng off
the bay wIndow. Thefe's nothIng to do
but cut acfoss the gfass Into the passage
and beat a path home. So I dIdn't fInd
the cat. WeII, at Ieast I tfIed.
BACK HOME. I take In the dfy Iaundfy
and thfow togethef the makIngs of a
sImpIe meaI. Then I coIIapse onto the
IIvIng-foom fIoof, my back agaInst the
waII, to fead the evenIng papef. At
5:30, the teIephone fIngs tweIve tImes,
but I don't pIck up the feceIvef. Aftef
the fIngIng has dIed away, a IIngefIng
hoIIowness hovefs about the dafk foom
IIke dfIftIng dust. The cIock atop the TV
stfIkes an InvIsIbIe paneI of space wIth
Its bfIttIe cIaws. A feguIaf wInd-up toy
wofId thIs Is, I thInk. Once a day the
wInd-up bIfd has to come and wInd the
spfIngs of thIs wofId. AIone In thIs fun
house, onIy I gfow oId, a paIe softbaII
of death sweIIIng InsIde me. Yet even as
I sIeep somewhefe between Satufn and
Ufanus, wInd-up bIfds evefywhefe afe
busy at wofk fuIfIIIIng theIf appoInted
I consIdef wfItIng a poem about the
wInd-up bIfd. But no fIfst IInes come.
BesIdes, I fInd It hafd to beIIeve that
hIgh-schooI gIfIs wouId be teffIbIy
thfIIIed to fead a poem about the wInd-
up bIfd. They don't even know that any
such thIng as a wInd-up bIfd exIsts.
IT'S SEVEN-THIRTY when my wIfe comes
Soffy, I had to wofk Iate," she apo-
IogIzes. I had the dafnedest tIme tfack-
Ing down one pupII's tuItIon fecofd.
The paft-tIme gIfI Is so Iame, It aII faIIs
to me."
Nevef mInd," I say. Then I step Into
the kItchen, panffy a pIece of fIsh In
buttef, and pfepafe a saIad and mIso
soup. MeanwhIIe, my wIfe feads the
evenIng papef at the kItchen tabIe.
Say, wefen't you home at fIve-
thIfty?" she asks. I tfIed caIIIng to teII
you I'd be a IIttIe Iate."
I fan out of buttef and went out to
buy some," I IIe.
DId you femembef to go to the
Natch," I fepIy.
How about the cat?"
Not a tface."
Oh," says my wIfe.
I EMERGE ffom an aftef-dInnef bath to
fInd my wIfe sIttIng aII aIone In the
dafkened IIvIng foom. I thfow on a
gfay shIft and fumbIe thfough the dafk
to feach whefe she's been dumped IIke
a pIece of Iuggage. She Iooks so uttefIy
fofsaken. If onIy they'd Ieft hef In an-
othef spot, she mIght have seemed a
IIttIe happIef.
DfyIng my haIf wIth a bath toweI, I
take a seat on the sofa opposIte hef.
What's the mattef?" I ask.
The cat's dead, I just know It," my
wIfe says.
Oh c'mon," I pfotest. He's just off
expIofIng. Soon enough he'II get
hungfy and head on back. The same
thIng happened once befofe, femem-
bef? That tIme when we wefe stIII IIv-
Ing In KoenjI"
ThIs tIme It's dIffefent. I can feeI It.
The cat's dead and fottIng away In the
weeds. DId you seafch the gfass In the
yafd of the vacant house?"
Hey now, stop It. It may be a vacant
house, but It's somebody eIse's house.
I'm not about to go tfespassIng."
You kIIIed It!" my wIfe accuses.
I heave a sIgh and gIve my head
anothef once-ovef wIth the toweI.
You kIIIed It wIth that Iook of
youfs!" she fepeats ffom the dafkness.
How does that foIIow?" I say. The
cat dIsappeafed of Its own doIng. It's
not my fauIt. That much you've got to
You! You nevef IIked that cat,
Okay, maybe so," I admIt. At Ieast I
wasn't as cfazy about the cat as you
wefe. StIII, I nevef mIstfeated It. I fed It
evefy day. Just because I wasn't en-
thfaIIed wIth the IIttIe buggef doesn't
mean I kIIIed It. Staft sayIng thIngs IIke
that and I end up havIng kIIIed haIf the
peopIe on eafth."
WeII, that's you aII ovef," my wIfe
deIIvefs hef vefdIct. That's just so you.
AIways, aIways that way. You kIII
evefythIng wIthout evef pIayIng a
I'm about to countef when she bufsts
Into teafs. I can the speech and toss the
toweI Into the bathfoom basket, go to
the kItchen, take a beef out of the feffI-
gefatof, and chug. What an ImpossIbIe
day It's been! One ImpossIbIe day, of an
ImpossIbIe month, of an ImpossIbIe
Nobofu Watanabe, whefe have you
gone?, I thInk. DIdn't the wInd-up bIfd
wInd youf spfIng?
A feguIaf poem that Is:
Nobofu Watanabe
Whefe have you gone?
DIdn't the wInd-up
WInd youf spfIng?
I've not fInIshed haIf my beef when
the teIephone begIns to fIng.
Get that, wIII you?" I shout Into the
IIvIng-foom dafkness.
No way! You get It youfseIf," says
my wIfe.
I don't want to get It," I say.
No one answefs It, and the teIephone
keeps on fIngIng. The fIngIng stIfs up
the Ioose dust fIoatIng In the dafk.
NeIthef my wIfe nof I ventufe one
wofd. Me dfInkIng my beef, my wIfe
sobbIng away. Twenty fIngs befofe I
Iose count and just Iet the thIng fIng.
You can't keep countIng fofevef.
I'M STIII NOT SURE I made the fIght choIce
when I toId my wIfe about the bakefy
attack. But then, It mIght not have been
a questIon of fIght and wfong. WhIch Is
to say that wfong choIces can pfoduce
fIght fesuIts, and vIce vefsa. I myseIf
have adopted the posItIon that, In fact,
5- 0-;-* ",))3- $0=1,%0K $1 $##. ThIngs
happen. Of not.
If you Iook at It thIs way, %1 TB31 3)
,$//-03 that I toId my wIfe about the
bakefy attack. I hadn't been pIannIng to
bfIng It upI had fofgotten aII about
Itbut It wasn't one of those now-that-
you-mentIon-It kInd of thIngs, eIthef.
What femInded me of the bakefy at-
tack was an unbeafabIe hungef. It hIt
just befofe two o'cIock In the mofnIng.
We had eaten a IIght suppef at sIx,
cfawIed Into bed at nIne-thIfty, and
gone to sIeep. Fof some feason, we
woke up at exactIy the same moment. A
few mInutes Iatef, the pangs stfuck
wIth the fofce of the tofnado In +,-
?%J$*< )( UJ. These wefe tfemendous,
ovefpowefIng hungef pangs.
Ouf feffIgefatof contaIned not a
sIngIe Item that couId be technIcaIIy
categofIzed as food. We had a bottIe of
Ffench dfessIng, sIx cans of beef, two
shfIveIed onIons, a stIck of buttef, and
a box of feffIgefatof deodofIzef. WIth
onIy two weeks of maffIed IIfe behInd
us, we had yet to estabIIsh a pfecIse
conjugaI undefstandIng wIth fegafd to
the fuIes of dIetafy behavIof. Iet aIone
anythIng eIse.
I had a job In a Iaw fIfm at the tIme,
and she was doIng secfetafIaI wofk at a
desIgn schooI. I was eIthef twenty-eIght
of twenty-nInewhy can't I femembef
the exact yeaf we maffIed?and she
was two yeafs and eIght months young-
ef. GfocefIes wefe the Iast thIngs on
ouf mInds.
We both feIt too hungfy to go back to
sIeep, but It huft just to IIe thefe. On
the othef hand, we wefe aIso too
hungfy to do anythIng usefuI. We got
out of bed and dfIfted Into the kItchen,
endIng up acfoss the tabIe ffom each
othef. What couId have caused such vI-
oIent hungef pangs?
We took tufns openIng the feffIgefat-
of doof and hopIng, but no mattef how
many tImes we Iooked InsIde, the con-
tents nevef changed. Beef and onIons
and buttef and dfessIng and deodofIzef.
It mIght have been possIbIe to saute the
onIons In the buttef, but thefe was no
chance those two shfIveIed onIons
couId fIII ouf empty stomachs. OnIons
afe meant to be eaten wIth othef
thIngs. They afe not the kInd of food
you use to satIsfy an appetIte.
WouId madame cafe fof some
Ffench dfessIng sauteed In deodofIzef?"
I expected hef to Ignofe my attempt
at humof, and she dId. Iet's get In the
caf and Iook fof an aII-nIght festauf-
ant," I saId. Thefe must be one on the
She fejected that suggestIon. We
can't. You'fe not supposed to go out to
eat aftef mIdnIght." She was oId-fash-
Ioned that way.
I bfeathed once and saId, I guess
Whenevef my wIfe expfessed such an
opInIon (of thesIs) back then, It fevef-
befated In my eafs wIth the authofIty
of a feveIatIon. Maybe that's what hap-
pens wIth newIyweds, I don't know. But
when she saId thIs to me, I began to
thInk that thIs was a specIaI hungef,
not one that couId be satIsfIed thfough
the mefe expedIent of takIng It to an
aII-nIght festaufant on the hIghway.
A specIaI kInd of hungef. And what
mIght that be?
I can pfesent It hefe In the fofm of a
cInematIc Image.
U0-, I am In a IIttIe boat, fIoatIng on
a quIet sea. +5), I Iook down, and In
the watef I see the peak of a voIcano
thfustIng up ffom the ocean fIoof.
+,*--, the peak seems pfetty cIose to
the watef's sufface, but just how cIose I
cannot teII. G)B*, thIs Is because the hy-
peftfanspafency of the watef Inteffefes
wIth the pefceptIon of dIstance.
ThIs Is a faIfIy accufate descfIptIon of
the Image that afose In my mInd dufIng
the two of thfee seconds between the
tIme my wIfe saId she fefused to go to
an aII-nIght festaufant and I agfeed
wIth my I guess not." Not beIng SIg-
mund Ffeud, I was, of coufse, unabIe to
anaIyze wIth any pfecIsIon what thIs
Image sIgnIfIed, but I knew IntuItIveIy
that It was a feveIatIon. WhIch Is
whythe aImost gfotesque IntensIty of
my hungef notwIthstandIngI aII but
automatIcaIIy agfeed wIth hef thesIs (of
We dId the onIy thIng we couId do:
opened the beef. It was a Iot bettef
than eatIng those onIons. She dIdn't
IIke beef much, so we dIvIded the cans,
two fof hef, fouf fof me. WhIIe I was
dfInkIng the fIfst one, she seafched the
kItchen sheIves IIke a squIffeI In
Novembef. EventuaIIy, she tufned up a
package that had fouf buttef cookIes In
the bottom. They wefe Ieftovefs, soft
and soggy, but we each ate two, savof-
Ing evefy cfumb.
It was no use. Upon thIs hungef of
oufs, as vast and boundIess as the SInaI
PenInsuIa, the buttef cookIes and beef
Ieft not a tface.
TIme oozed thfough the dafk IIke a
Iead weIght In a fIsh's gut. I fead the
pfInt on the aIumInum beef cans. I
stafed at my watch. I Iooked at the fe-
ffIgefatof doof. I tufned the pages of
yestefday's papef. I used the edge of a
postcafd to scfape togethef the cookIe
cfumbs on the tabIetop.
I've nevef been thIs hungfy In my
whoIe IIfe," she saId. I wondef If It has
anythIng to do wIth beIng maffIed."
Maybe," I saId. Of maybe not."
WhIIe she hunted fof mofe ffagments
of food, I Ieaned ovef the edge of my
boat and Iooked down at the peak of
the undefwatef voIcano. The cIafIty of
the ocean watef aII afound the boat
gave me an unsettIed feeIIng, as If a
hoIIow had opened somewhefe behInd
my soIaf pIexusa hefmetIcaIIy seaIed
cavefn that had neIthef entfance nof
exIt. SomethIng about thIs weIfd sense
of absencethIs sense of the exIstentIaI
feaIIty of non-exIstencefesembIed the
pafaIyzIng feaf you mIght feeI when
you cIImb to the vefy top of a hIgh
steepIe. ThIs connectIon between hun-
gef and acfophobIa was a new dIscov-
efy fof me.
WhIch Is when It occuffed to me that
I had once befofe had thIs same kInd of
expefIence. My stomach had been just
as empty then.. When? . Oh, sufe,
that was
The tIme of the bakefy attack," I
heafd myseIf sayIng.
The bakefy attack? What afe you
taIkIng about?"
And so It stafted.
I ONCE ATTACKED a bakefy. Iong tIme
ago. Not a bIg bakefy. Not famous. The
bfead was nothIng specIaI. Not bad,
eIthef. One of those ofdInafy IIttIe
neIghbofhood bakefIes fIght In the
mIddIe of a bIock of shops. Some oId
guy fan It who dId evefythIng hImseIf.
Baked In the mofnIng, and when he
soId out, he cIosed up fof the day."
If you wefe goIng to attack a
bakefy, why that one?"
WeII, thefe was no poInt In attack-
Ing a bIg bakefy. AII we wanted was
bfead, not money. We wefe attackefs,
not fobbefs."
We? Who's we?"
My best ffIend back then. Ten yeafs
ago. We wefe so bfoke we couIdn't buy
toothpaste. Nevef had enough food. We
dId some pfetty awfuI thIngs to get ouf
hands on food. The bakefy attack was
I don't get It." She Iooked hafd at
me. Hef eyes couId have been seafchIng
fof a faded staf In the mofnIng sky.
Why dIdn't you get a job? You couId
have wofked aftef schooI. That wouId
have been easIef than attackIng
We dIdn't want to wofk. We wefe
absoIuteIy cIeaf on that."
WeII, you'fe wofkIng now, afen't
I nodded and sucked some mofe
beef. Then I fubbed my eyes. A kInd of
beefy mud had oozed Into my bfaIn
and was stfuggIIng wIth my hungef
TImes change. PeopIe change," I
saId. Iet's go back to bed. We've got to
get up eafIy."
I'm not sIeepy. I want you to teII me
about the bakefy attack."
Thefe's nothIng to teII. No actIon.
No excItement."
Was It a success?"
I gave up on sIeep and fIpped open
anothef beef. Once she gets Intefested
In a stofy, she has to heaf It aII the way
thfough. That's just the way she Is.
WeII, It was kInd of a success. And
kInd of not. We got what we wanted.
But as a hoIdup, It dIdn't wofk. The
bakef gave us the bfead befofe we
couId take It ffom hIm."
Not exactIy, no. That's the hafd
paft." I shook my head. The bakef was
a cIassIcaI-musIc ffeak, and when we
got thefe, he was IIstenIng to an aIbum
of Wagnef oveftufes. So he made us a
deaI. If we wouId IIsten to the fecofd
aII the way thfough, we couId take as
much bfead as we IIked. I taIked It ovef
wIth my buddy and we fIgufed, Okay.
It wouIdn't be wofk In the pufest sense
of the wofd, and It wouIdn't huft any-
body. So we put ouf knIves back In ouf
bag, puIIed up a coupIe of chaIfs, and
IIstened to the oveftufes to +$00,VB3-*
and +,-'G#=%0K'>B1",&$0OP
And aftef that, you got youf bfead?"
RIght. Most of what he had In the
shop. Stuffed It In ouf bag and took It
home. Kept us fed fof maybe fouf of
fIve days." I took anothef sIp. IIke
soundIess waves ffom an undefsea
eafthquake, my sIeepIness gave my
boat a Iong, sIow fockIng.
Of coufse, we accompIIshed ouf mIs-
sIon. We got the bfead. But you
couIdn't say we had commItted a cfIme.
It was mofe of an exchange. We
IIstened to Wagnef wIth hIm, and In fe-
tufn, we got ouf bfead. IegaIIy speak-
Ing, It was mofe IIke a commefcIaI
But IIstenIng to Wagnef Is not
wofk," she saId.
Oh, no, absoIuteIy not. If the bakef
had InsIsted that we wash hIs dIshes of
cIean hIs wIndows of somethIng, we
wouId have tufned hIm down. But he
dIdn't. AII he wanted ffom us was to
IIsten to hIs Wagnef IP ffom begInnIng
to end. Nobody couId have antIcIpated
that. I meanWagnef? It was IIke the
bakef put a cufse on us. Now that I
thInk of It, we shouId have fefused. We
shouId have thfeatened hIm wIth ouf
knIves and taken the damn bfead. Then
thefe wouIdn't have been any
You had a pfobIem?"
I fubbed my eyes agaIn.
Soft of. NothIng you couId put youf
fIngef on. But thIngs stafted to change
aftef that. It was kInd of a tufnIng
poInt. IIke, I went back to the unI-
vefsIty, and I gfaduated, and I stafted
wofkIng fof the fIfm and studyIng fof
the baf exam, and I met you and got
maffIed. I nevef dId anythIng IIke that
agaIn. No mofe bakefy attacks."
That's It?"
Yup, that's aII thefe was to It." I
dfank the Iast of the beef. Now aII sIx
cans wefe gone. SIx puII-tabs Iay In the
ashtfay IIke scaIes ffom a mefmaId.
Of coufse, It wasn't tfue that nothIng
had happened as a fesuIt of the bakefy
attack. Thefe wefe pIenty of thIngs that
you couId easIIy have put youf fIngef
on, but I dIdn't want to taIk about them
wIth hef.
So, thIs ffIend of youfs, what's he
doIng now?"
I have no Idea. SomethIng
happened, some nothIng kInd of thIng,
and we stopped hangIng afound togeth-
ef. I haven't seen hIm sInce. I don't
know what he's doIng."
Fof a whIIe, she dIdn't speak. She
pfobabIy sensed that I wasn't teIIIng
hef the whoIe stofy. But she wasn't
feady to pfess me on It.
StIII," she saId, that's why you two
bfoke up, Isn't It? The bakefy attack
was the dIfect cause."
Maybe so. I guess It was mofe In-
tense than eIthef of us feaIIzed. We
taIked about the feIatIonshIp of bfead
to Wagnef fof days aftef that. We kept
askIng oufseIves If we had made the
fIght choIce. We couIdn't decIde. Of
coufse, If you Iook at It sensIbIy, we <%<
make the fIght choIce. Nobody got
huft. Evefybody got what he wanted.
The bakefI stIII can't fIgufe out why
he dId what he dIdbut anyway, he
succeeded wIth hIs Wagnef pfopa-
ganda. And we succeeded In stuffIng
ouf faces wIth bfead.
But even so, we had thIs feeIIng that
we had made a teffIbIe mIstake. And
somehow, thIs mIstake has just stayed
thefe, unfesoIved, castIng a dafk shad-
ow on ouf IIves. That's why I used the
wofd 'cufse.' It's tfue. It was IIke a
Do you thInk you stIII have It?"
I took the sIx puII-tabs ffom the ash-
tfay and affanged them Into an aIumIn-
um fIng the sIze of a bfaceIet.
Who knows? I don't know. I bet the
wofId Is fuII of cufses. It's hafd to teII
whIch cufse makes any one thIng go
That's not tfue." She Iooked fIght at
me. You can teII, If you thInk about It.
And unIess you, youfseIf, pefsonaIIy
bfeak the cufse, It'II stIck wIth you IIke
a toothache. It'II toftufe you tIII you
dIe. And not just you. Me, too."
WeII, I'm youf best ffIend now,
afen't I? Why do you thInk we'fe both
so hungfy? I nevef, evef, once In my
IIfe feIt a hungef IIke thIs untII I maf-
fIed you. Don't you thInk It's abnofmaI?
Youf cufse Is wofkIng on me, too."
I nodded. Then I bfoke up the fIng of
puII-tabs and put them back In the ash-
tfay. I dIdn't know If she was fIght, but
I dId feeI she was onto somethIng.
The feeIIng of stafvatIon was back,
stfongef than evef, and It was gIvIng
me a deep headache. Evefy twInge of
my stomach was beIng tfansmItted to
the cofe of my head by a cIutch cabIe,
as If my InsIdes wefe equIpped wIth aII
kInds of compIIcated machInefy.
I took anothef Iook at my undefsea
voIcano. The watef was even cIeafef
than befofemuch cIeafef. UnIess you
Iooked cIoseIy, you mIght not even no-
tIce It was thefe. It feIt as though the
boat wefe fIoatIng In mIdaIf, wIth abso-
IuteIy nothIng to suppoft It. I couId see
evefy IIttIe pebbIe on the bottom. AII I
had to do was feach out and touch
We've onIy been IIvIng togethef fof
two weeks," she saId, but aII thIs tIme
I've been feeIIng some kInd of weIfd
pfesence." She Iooked dIfectIy Into my
eyes and bfought hef hands togethef on
the tabIetop, hef fIngefs IntefIockIng.
Of coufse, I dIdn't know It was a cufse
untII now. ThIs expIaIns evefythIng.
You'fe undef a cufse."
What kInd of pfesence?"
IIke thefe's thIs heavy, dusty cuftaIn
that hasn't been washed fof yeafs,
hangIng down ffom the ceIIIng."
Maybe It's not a cufse. Maybe It's
just me," I saId, and smIIed.
She dId not smIIe.
No, It's not you," she saId.
Okay, suppose you'fe fIght. Suppose
It Is a cufse. What can I do about It?"
Attack anothef bakefy. RIght away.
Now. It's the onIy way."
Yes. Now. WhIIe you'fe stIII hungfy.
You have to fInIsh what you Ieft
But It's the mIddIe of the nIght.
WouId a bakefy be open now?"
We'II fInd one. Tokyo's a bIg cIty.
Thefe must be at Ieast one aII-nIght

WE GOT INTO my oId CofoIIa and stafted
dfIftIng afound the stfeets of Tokyo at
2:30 a.m., IookIng fof a bakefy. Thefe
we wefe, me cIutchIng the steefIng
wheeI, she In the navIgatof's seat, the
two of us scannIng the stfeet IIke
hungfy eagIes In seafch of pfey.
Stfetched out on the backseat, Iong and
stIff as a dead fIsh, was a RemIngton
automatIc shotgun. Its sheIIs fustIed
dfyIy In the pocket of my wIfe's wInd-
bfeakef. We had two bIack skI masks In
the gIove compaftment. Why my wIfe
owned a shotgun, I had no Idea. Of skI
masks. NeIthef of us had evef skIed.
But she dIdn't expIaIn and I dIdn't ask.
MaffIed IIfe Is weIfd, I feIt.
ImpeccabIy equIpped, we wefe nev-
eftheIess unabIe to fInd an aII-nIght
bakefy. I dfove thfough the empty
stfeets, ffom YoyogI to ShInjuku, on to
Yotsuya and Akasaka, Aoyama, HIfoo,
RoppongI, DaIkanyama, and ShIbuya.
Iate-nIght Tokyo had aII kInds of
peopIe and shops, but no bakefIes.
TwIce we encountefed patfoI cafs.
One was huddIed at the sIde of the
foad, tfyIng to Iook InconspIcuous. The
othef sIowIy oveftook us and cfept
past, fInaIIy movIng off Into the dIs-
tance. Both tImes I gfew damp undef
the afms, but my wIfe's concentfatIon
nevef faItefed. She was IookIng fof that
bakefy. Evefy tIme she shIfted the
angIe of hef body, the shotgun sheIIs In
hef pocket fustIed IIke buckwheat
husks In an oId-fashIoned pIIIow.
Iet's fofget It," I saId. Thefe afen't
any bakefIes open at thIs tIme of nIght.
You've got to pIan fof thIs kInd of thIng
of eIse"
Stop the caf!"
I sIammed on the bfakes.
ThIs Is the pIace," she saId.
The shops aIong the stfeet had theIf
shuttefs foIIed down, fofmIng dafk, sI-
Ient waIIs on eIthef sIde. A bafbefshop
sIgn hung In the dafk IIke a twIsted,
chIIIIng gIass eye. Thefe was a bfIght
McDonaId's hambufgef sIgn some two
hundfed yafds ahead, but nothIng eIse.
I don't see any bakefy," I saId.
WIthout a wofd, she opened the
gIove compaftment and puIIed out a
foII of cIoth-backed tape. HoIdIng thIs,
she stepped out of the caf. I got out my
sIde. KneeIIng at the ffont end, she tofe
off a Iength of tape and covefed the
numbefs on the IIcense pIate. Then she
went afound to the back and dId the
same. Thefe was a pfactIced effIcIency
to hef movements. I stood on the cufb
stafIng at hef.
We'fe goIng to take that McDon-
aId's," she saId, as cooIIy as If she wefe
announcIng what we wouId have fof
McDonaId's Is not a bakefy," I poIn-
ted out to hef.
It's #%7- a bakefy," she saId. Some-
tImes you have to compfomIse. Iet's
I dfove to the McDonaId's and pafked
In the Iot. She handed me the bIanket-
wfapped shotgun.
I've nevef fIfed a gun In my IIfe," I
You don't have to fIfe It. Just hoId
It. Okay? Do as I say. We waIk fIght In,
and as soon as they say 'WeIcome to
McDonaId's,' we sIIp on ouf masks. Got
Sufe, but"
Then you shove the gun In theIf
faces and make aII the wofkefs and cus-
tomefs get togethef. Fast. I'II do the
How many hambufgefs do you thInk
we'II need? ThIfty?"
I guess so." WIth a sIgh, I took the
shotgun and foIIed back the bIanket a
IIttIe. The thIng was as heavy as a sand-
bag and as bIack as a dafk nIght.
Do we feaIIy have to do thIs?" I
asked, haIf to hef and haIf to myseIf.
Of coufse we do."
WeafIng a McDonaId's hat, the gIfI
behInd the countef fIashed me a
McDonaId's smIIe and saId, WeIcome
to McDonaId's." I hadn't thought that
gIfIs wouId wofk at McDonaId's Iate at
nIght, so the sIght of hef confused me
fof a second. But onIy fof a second. I
caught myseIf and puIIed on the mask.
Conffonted wIth thIs suddenIy masked
duo, the gIfI gaped at us.
ObvIousIy, the McDonaId's hospItaI-
Ity manuaI saId nothIng about how to
deaI wIth a sItuatIon IIke thIs. She had
been staftIng to fofm the phfase that
comes aftef WeIcome to McDonaId's,"
but hef mouth seemed to stIffen and
the wofds wouIdn't come out. Even so,
IIke a cfescent moon In the dawn sky,
the hInt of a pfofessIonaI smIIe IIngefed
at the edges of hef IIps.
As quIckIy as I couId manage, I un-
wfapped the shotgun and aImed It In
the dIfectIon of the tabIes, but the onIy
customefs thefe wefe a young
coupIestudents, pfobabIyand they
wefe facedown on the pIastIc tabIe,
sound asIeep. TheIf two heads and two
stfawbeffy-mIIk-shake cups wefe
aIIgned on the tabIe IIke an avant-gafde
scuIptufe. They sIept the sIeep of the
dead. They dIdn't Iook IIkeIy to ob-
stfuct ouf opefatIon, so I swung my
shotgun back towafd the countef.
AII togethef, thefe wefe thfee
McDonaId's wofkefs. The gIfI at the
countef, the managefa guy wIth a
paIe, egg-shaped face, pfobabIy In hIs
Iate twentIesand a student type In the
kItchena thIn shadow of a guy wIth
nothIng on hIs face that you couId fead
as an expfessIon. They stood togethef
behInd the fegIstef, stafIng Into the
muzzIe of my shotgun IIke toufIsts
peefIng down an Incan weII. No one
scfeamed, and no one made a thfeaten-
Ing move. The gun was so heavy I had
to fest the baffeI on top of the cash fe-
gIstef, my fIngef on the tfIggef.
I'II gIve you the money," saId the
managef, hIs voIce hoafse. They coI-
Iected It at eIeven, so we don't have too
much, but you can have evefythIng.
We'fe Insufed."
Iowef the ffont shuttef and tufn off
the sIgn," saId my wIfe.
WaIt a mInute," saId the managef. I
can't do that. I'II be heId fesponsIbIe If I
cIose up wIthout pefmIssIon."
My wIfe fepeated hef ofdef, sIowIy.
He seemed tofn.
You'd bettef do what she says," I
wafned hIm.
He Iooked at the muzzIe of the gun
atop the fegIstef, then at my wIfe, and
then back at the gun. He fInaIIy
fesIgned hImseIf to the InevItabIe. He
tufned off the sIgn and hIt a swItch on
an eIectfIcaI paneI that Iowefed the
shuttef. I kept my eye on hIm, woffIed
that he mIght hIt a bufgIaf aIafm, but
appafentIy McDonaId's don't have
bufgIaf aIafms. Maybe It had nevef oc-
cuffed to anybody to attack one.
The ffont shuttef made a huge facket
when It cIosed, IIke an empty bucket
beIng smashed wIth a basebaII bat, but
the coupIe sIeepIng at theIf tabIe was
stIII out coId. TaIk about a sound sIeep:
I hadn't seen anythIng IIke that In
ThIfty BIg Macs. Fof takeout," saId
my wIfe.
Iet me just gIve you the money,"
pIeaded the managef. I'II gIve you
mofe than you need. You can go buy
food somewhefe eIse. ThIs Is goIng to
mess up my accounts and"
You'd bettef do what she says," I
saId agaIn.
The thfee of them went Into the kIt-
chen afea togethef and stafted makIng
the thIfty BIg Macs. The student gfIIIed
the bufgefs, the managef put them In
buns, and the gIfI wfapped them up.
Nobody saId a wofd.
I Ieaned agaInst a bIg feffIgefatof,
aImIng the gun towafd the gfIddIe. The
meat pattIes wefe IIned up on the
gfIddIe IIke bfown poIka dots, sIzzIIng.
The sweet smeII of gfIIIIng meat buf-
fowed Into evefy pofe of my body IIke
a swafm of mIcfoscopIc bugs, dIssoIv-
Ing Into my bIood and cIfcuIatIng to the
fafthest cofnefs, then massIng togethef
InsIde my hefmetIcaIIy seaIed hungef
cavefn, cIIngIng to Its pInk waIIs.
A pIIe of whIte-wfapped bufgefs was
gfowIng neafby. I wanted to gfab and
teaf Into them, but I couId not be cef-
taIn that such an act wouId be consIst-
ent wIth ouf objectIve. I had to waIt. In
the hot kItchen afea, I stafted sweatIng
undef my skI mask.
The McDonaId's peopIe sneaked
gIances at the muzzIe of the shotgun. I
scfatched my eafs wIth the IIttIe fIngef
of my Ieft hand. My eafs aIways get
Itchy when I'm nefvous. JabbIng my
fIngef Into an eaf thfough the wooI, I
was makIng the gun baffeI wobbIe up
and down, whIch seemed to bothef
them. It couIdn't have gone off accI-
dentaIIy, because I had the safety on,
but they dIdn't know that and I wasn't
about to teII them.
My wIfe counted the fInIshed ham-
bufgefs and put them Into two smaII
shoppIng bags, fIfteen bufgefs to a bag.
Why do you have to do thIs?" the
gIfI asked me. Why don't you just take
the money and buy somethIng you IIke?
What's the good of eatIng thIfty BIg
I shook my head.
My wIfe expIaIned, We'fe soffy,
feaIIy. But thefe wefen't any bakefIes
open. If thefe had been, we wouId have
attacked a bakefy."
That seemed to satIsfy them. At Ieast
they dIdn't ask any mofe questIons.
Then my wIfe ofdefed two Iafge Cokes
ffom the gIfI and paId fof them.
We'fe steaIIng bfead, nothIng eIse,"
she saId. The gIfI fesponded wIth a
compIIcated head movement, soft of
IIke noddIng and soft of IIke shakIng.
She was pfobabIy tfyIng to do both at
the same tIme. I thought I had some
Idea how she feIt.
My wIfe then puIIed a baII of twIne
ffom hef pocketshe came
equIppedand tIed the thfee to a post
as expeftIy as If she wefe sewIng on
buttons. She asked If the cofd huft, of If
anyone wanted to go to the toIIet, but
no one saId a wofd. I wfapped the gun
In the bIanket, she pIcked up the shop-
pIng bags, and out we went. The cus-
tomefs at the tabIe wefe stIII asIeep,
IIke a coupIe of deep-sea fIsh. What
wouId It have taken to fouse them ffom
a sIeep so deep?
We dfove fof a haIf houf, found an
empty pafkIng Iot by a buIIdIng, and
puIIed In. Thefe we ate hambufgefs and
dfank ouf Cokes. I sent sIx BIg Macs
down to the cavefn of my stomach, and
she ate fouf. That Ieft twenty BIg Macs
In the back seat. Ouf hungefthat hun-
gef that had feIt as If It couId go on
fofevefvanIshed as the dawn was
bfeakIng. The fIfst IIght of the sun dyed
the buIIdIng's fIIthy waIIs pufpIe and
made a gIant SONY BETA ad towef gIow
wIth paInfuI IntensIty. Soon the whIne
of hIghway tfuck tIfes was joIned by
the chIfpIng of bIfds. The AmefIcan
Afmed Fofces fadIo was pIayIng cow-
boy musIc. We shafed a cIgafette. Aftef-
wafd, she fested hef head on my
StIII, was It feaIIy necessafy fof us to
do thIs?" I asked.
Of coufse It was!" WIth one deep
sIgh, she feII asIeep agaInst me. She feIt
as soft and as IIght as a kItten.
AIone now, I Ieaned ovef the edge of
my boat and Iooked down to the bot-
tom of the sea. The voIcano was gone.
The watef's caIm sufface fefIected the
bIue of the sky. IIttIe wavesIIke sIIk
pajamas fIuttefIng In a bfeezeIapped
agaInst the sIde of the boat. Thefe was
nothIng eIse.
I stfetched out In the bottom of the
boat and cIosed my eyes, waItIng fof
the fIsIng tIde to caffy me whefe I
SAY HEY, how's tfIcks?
ThIs mofnIng, I paId a caII on the
kangafoos at the IocaI zoo. Not youf
bIggest zoo, but It's got the standafd
anImaIs. EvefythIng ffom gofIIIas to
eIephants. AIthough If youf taste funs
to IIamas and anteatefs, don't go out of
youf way. Thefe, you'II fInd neIthef
IIama nof anteatef. No ImpaIa of hy-
ena, eIthef. Not even a Ieopafd.
Instead, thefe afe fouf kangafoos.
One, an Infant, bofn just two months
ago. And a maIe and two femaIes. I
can't fof the IIfe of me fIgufe out how
they get aIong as a famIIy.
Evefy tIme I set eyes on a kangafoo,
It aII seems so ImpfobabIe to me: I
mean, what on eafth wouId It feeI IIke
to be a kangafoo? Fof what possIbIe
feason do they go hoppIng afound In
such an ungodIy pIace as AustfaIIa?
Just to get kIIIed by some cIunky stIck
of a boomefang?
I can't fIgufe It out.
Though, feaIIy, that's neIthef hefe
nof thefe. No majof Issue.
Anyway, IookIng at these kangafoos,
I got the ufge to send you a Iettef.
Maybe that stfIkes you as odd. You
ask youfseIf, Why shouId IookIng at
kangafoos make me want to send you a
Iettef? And just what Is the connectIon
between these kangafoos and me? WeII,
you can stop thInkIng those thoughts
fIght now. Makes no nevefmInd.
Kangafoos afe kangafoos, you afe you.
In othef wofds, It's IIke thIs:
ThIfty-sIx IntfIcate pfocedufaI steps,
foIIowed one by one In just the fIght of-
def, Ied me ffom the kangafoos to
youthat's It. To attempt to expIaIn
each and evefy one of these steps
wouId sufeIy tfy youf powefs of com-
pfehensIon, but mofe than that, I doubt
I can even femembef them aII.
Thefe wefe thIfty-sIx of them, aftef
If but one of these stages had gotten
scfewed up, I guess I wouIdn't be send-
Ing you thIs Iettef. Who knows? I mIght
have ended up somewhefe In the
AntafctIc Ocean cafeenIng about on the
back of a spefm whaIe. Of maybe I'd
have tofched the IocaI cIgafette stand.
Yet somehow, guIded by thIs seem-
IngIy fandom convefgence of thIfty-sIx
coIncIdences, I fInd myseIf communIc-
atIng wIth you.
Stfange, Isn't It?
OKAY, THEN, aIIow me to Intfoduce
I AM TWENTY-SIX yeafs oId and wofk In
the pfoduct-contfoI sectIon of a depaft-
ment stofe. The jobas I'm sufe you
can easIIy ImagIneIs teffIbIy bofIng.
FIfst of aII, I check the mefchandIse
that the pufchasIng sectIon has decIded
to stock and make sufe that thefe afen't
any pfobIems wIth the pfoducts. ThIs Is
supposed to pfevent coIIusIon between
the pufchasIng sectIon and the suppII-
efs, but actuaIIy, It's a pfetty Ioose op-
efatIon. A few tugs at shoe buckIes
whIIe chattIng, a nIbbIe of two at
sampIe sweetsthat's about It. So
much fof pfoduct contfoI.
Then we come to anothef ask, the
feaI heaft of ouf wofk, whIch Is fe-
spondIng to customef compIaInts. Say,
fof Instance, two paIfs of stockIngs just
pufchased deveIoped funs one aftef the
othef, of the wInd-up beaf feII off the
tabIe and stopped wofkIng, of a bath-
fobe shfank by one foufth the fIfst tIme
thfough the machInethose kInd of
WeII, Iet me teII you, the numbef of
compIaIntsthe sheef numbefIs
enough to dampen anyone's spIfIts.
Enough to keep fouf staffefs facIng
afound IIke cfazy, day In and day out.
These compIaInts IncIude both cIeaf-cut
cases and totaIIy unfeasonabIe fequests.
Then thefe afe those we have to puzzIe
ovef. Fof convenIence sake, we've cIas-
sIfIed these Into thfee categofIes: A, B,
and C. And In the mIddIe of the offIce
we've got thfee boxes, mafked A, B,
and C, fespectIveIy, whefe we toss the
Iettefs. An opefatIon we caII TfIIeveI
RatIonaIIty EvaIuatIon." In-house joke.
Fofget I mentIoned It.
Anyway, to expIaIn these thfee cat-
egofIes, we have:
A. ReasonabIe compIaInts. Cases
whefe we afe obIIged to assume
fesponsIbIIIty. We vIsIt the cus-
tomefs' homes beafIng oxes of
sweets and exchange the mef-
chandIse In questIon.
B. BofdefIIne cases. When In
doubt, we pIay safe. Even whefe
hefe Is no mofaI obIIgatIon of
busIness pfecedent of IegaI Iab-
IIIty, we offef some appfopfIate
gestufe so as not to compfomIse
the Image of the depaftment
stofe and to avoId unnecessafy
C. Customef negIIgence. When
cIeafIy the customef's fauIt, we
ffef an expIanatIon of the sItu-
atIon and Ieave It at that.
Now, as to youf compIaInt of a few
days back, we gave the mattef sefIous
consIdefatIon and uItImateIy affIved at
the concIusIon that youf compIaInt was
of a natufe that couId onIy be cIassIfIed
as beIongIng to categofy C. The feasons
fof thIs wefefeady? IIsten cafe-
fuIIy!we cannot exchange (1) a fe-
cofd once pufchased (2) one whoIe
week Iatef (3) wIthout a feceIpt.
Do you get what I'm sayIng?
End of expIanatIon of the sItuatIon.
Youf compIaInt has been duIy
NONETHEIESS, pfofessIonaI vIewpoInt
asIdeand actuaIIy, I Ieave It asIde a
Iotmy pefsonaI feactIon to youf
pIIghthavIng mIstakenIy bought
MahIef, not BfahmsIs one of heaftfeIt
sympathy. I kId you not. So It Is I send
you not youf fun-of-the-mIII fofm Iettef
but thIs In some sense mofe IntImate
ACTUAIIY, I stafted to wfIte you a Iettef
any numbef of tImes Iast week. We fe-
gfet to Infofm you that ouf poIIcy pfo-
hIbIts the exchange of fecofds, aI-
though youf Iettef dId In some smaII
way move me to pefsonaIIy . bIah,
bIah, bIah." A Iettef IIke that. NothIng I
wfote, howevef, came out fIght. And
It's not as though I'm no good at wfIt-
Ing Iettefs. It's just that each tIme I set
my mInd on wfItIng you, I dfew a
bIank, and the wofds that dId come
wefe consIstentIy off base. Stfangest
So I decIded not to fespond at aII. I
mean, why send out a botched attempt
at a Iettef? Bettef to send nothIng at aII,
fIght? At Ieast, that's what I thInk: A
message ImpeffectIy communIcated
does about as much good as a scfewed-
up tImetabIe.
As fate wouId have It, though, thIs
mofnIng, standIng befofe the kangafoo
cage, I hIt upon the exact pefmutatIon
of those thIfty-sIx coIncIdences and
came up wIth thIs InspIfatIon. To wIt,
the pfIncIpIe we shaII caII the NobIIIty
of ImpeffectIon. Now, what Is thIs
NobIIIty of ImpeffectIon?, you may
askwho wouIdn't ask? WeII, sImpIy
put, the NobIIIty of ImpeffectIon mIght
mean nothIng so much as the pfoposI-
tIon that someone %0 -((-"1 fofgIves
someone eIse. I fofgIve the kangafoos,
the kangafoos fofgIve you, you fofgIve
meto cIte but one exampIe.
ThIs cycIe, howevef, Is not pefpetuaI.
At some poInt, the kangafoos mIght
take It Into theIf heads not to fofgIve
you. PIease don't get angfy at the
kangafoos just because of that, though.
It's not the kangafoos' fauIt and It's not
youf fauIt. Nof, fof that mattef, Is It my
fauIt. The kangafoos have theIf own
pfessIng cIfcumstances. And I ask you,
what kInd of pefson Is It who can
bIame a kangafoo?
So we seIze the moment. That's aII
we can do. Captufe the moment In a
snapshot. Ffont and centef, In a fow
Ieft to fIght: you, the kangafoos, me.
Enough of tfyIng to wfIte thIs aII
down. It's goIng nowhefe. Say I wfIte
the wofd coIncIdence." What you fead
In the wofd coIncIdence" couId be ut-
tefIy dIffefenteven opposIteffom
what the vefy same wofd means to me.
ThIs Is unfaIf, If I may say so. Hefe I
am, stfIpped to my undefpants, whIIe
you've onIy undone thfee buttons of
youf bIouse. An unfaIf tufn of events If
thefe evef was one.
Hence I bought myseIf a cassette
tape, havIng decIded to dIfectIy fecofd
my Iettef to you.
W?,%31#%0K8-%K,1 Q$*3 )( 1,- FR)#)0-# 9)X
TESTING, can you heaf me?
I DON'T REAIIY KNOW how you wIII take to
feceIvIng thIs Iettefthat Is, thIs
tapeI feaIIy can't ImagIne. I suppose
you mIght even get quIte upset by It aII.
Why? . Because It's hIghIy unusuaI fof
a pfoduct-contfoI cIefk of a depaftment
stofe to fepIy to a customef compIaInt
by cassette tapewIth a pefsonaIIzed
message, too, mInd you! You couId
even, If you wefe so IncIIned, say the
whoIe thIng was downfIght bIzaffe.
And say, wefe you to get so upset that
you sent thIs tape back to my boss, my
standIng wIthIn the ofganIzatIon wouId
be pIaced In a teffIbIy deIIcate baIance
But If that Is what you want to do,
pIease do so.
If It comes to that, I wIII not get mad
of hoId a gfudge agaInst you.
CIeaf enough? We afe on 100% equaI
tefms: I have the fIght to send you a
Iettef and you have the fIght to
thfeaten my IIveIIhood.
Isn't that fIght?
We'fe even Stephen. Just femembef
COME TO THINK OF IT, I fofgot to mentIon
that I'm caIIIng thIs Iettef +,- Z$0K$*))
I mean, evefythIng needs a name,
Suppose, fof Instance, you keep a dI-
afy. Instead of wfItIng thIs Iong-dfawn-
out entfy, Depaftment-stofe pfoduct-
contfoI cIefk's fepIy fe compIaInt af-
fIves," you couId sImpIy wfIte
FZ$0K$*)) R)&&B0%EB[ affIves" and be
done wIth It. And such a catchy name,
too, don't you thInk? +,- Z$0K$*))
R)&&B0%EB[\ Makes you thInk of
kangafoos boundIng off acfoss the vast
pIaIns, pouches stuffed fuII of maII,
doesn't It?
W+,B&/N 1,B&/N 1,B&/ (fappIng on
Now fof some knockIng.
Stop me If you've heafd thIs.
Don't open the doof If you don't feeI
IIke It. EIthef way Is peffectIy fIne. If
you don't want to IIsten anymofe,
pIease stop the tape and thfow It away.
I just wanted to sIt down awhIIe by
youf ffont doof taIkIng to myseIf, that's
aII. I have no Idea whatsoevef If you'fe
IIstenIng of not, but sInce I don't know,
It's feaIIy aII the same whethef you do
of you don't, Isn't It? Ha, ha, ha.
OKAY, WHAT THE HEII, Iet's gIve It a go.

STIII AND AII, thIs ImpeffectIon busIness
Is pfetty tough goIng. Who'd have
thought taIkIng Into a mIcfophone
wIthout any scfIpt of pIan wouId be so
hafd? It's IIke standIng In the mIddIe of
the deseft spfInkIIng watef afound wIth
a cup. No vIsIbIe sIgn of anythIng, not
one thIng to cIIng to.
That's why aII thIs tIme I've been
taIkIng to the VU metefs. You know,
the VU metefs? Those gIzmos wIth the
needIes that twItch to the voIume? I
don't know what the 2 of the ] stand
fof, but whatevef, they'fe the onIy
thIngs showIng any feactIon to my
Hey, hey.
AII the same, theIf cfItefIa afe feaIIy
quIte sImpIe.
2 and ], weII, they'fe IIke a
vaudevIIIe duo. Thefe's no 2 wIthout ]
and no ] wIthout 2a nIce IIttIe setup.
As faf as they'fe concefned, It feaIIy
doesn't mattef what I babbIe on about.
The onIy thIng they'fe Intefested In Is
how much my voIce makes the aIf
vIbfate. To them, the aIf vIbfates,
thefefofe I am.
Pfetty swIft, don't you thInk?
WatchIng them, I get to thInkIng It
doesn't mattef what I say so Iong as I
keep taIkIng.
Come to thInk of It, not too Iong ago
I saw a movIe. It was about a comedIan
who just couIdn't make anyone Iaugh
no mattef what jokes he toId. Got the
pIctufe? Not one souI wouId Iaugh.
WeII, taIkIng Into thIs mIcfophone,
I'm femInded of that movIe ovef and
ovef agaIn.
It's aII vefy odd.
The vefy same IInes when spoken by
one pefson wIII have you dyIng wIth
Iaughtef but when spoken by anothef
won't seem funny In the Ieast. CufIous,
don't you thInk? And the mofe I thInk
about It, that dIffefence just seems to
be one of these thIngs you'fe bofn wIth.
See, It's IIke the cufvatufe of the semI-
cIfcuIaf canaIs of youf eafs havIng the
edge ovef somebody eIse's, of . you
SometImes I fInd myseIf thInkIng, If
onIy I had such gIfts, how happy I'd be.
I'm aIways doubIIng ovef IaughIng to
myseIf when somethIng stfIkes me as
funny, but tfy to teII someone eIse and
It faIIs fIat, a dud. It makes me feeI IIke
the EgyptIan Sandman. Even mofe, It's
You know about the EgyptIan
Hmm, weII, you see, the EgyptIan
Sandman was PfInce of Egypt by bIfth.
A Iong tIme ago, back In the days of
pyfamIds and sphInxes and aII that. But
because he was so ugIyI mean, tfuIy
ugIythe kIng had hIm sent off Into
the deepest jungIe to get fId of hIm.
WeII, It so happens that the kId ends up
gettIng faIsed by woIves, of monkeys,
maybe. One of those stofIes, you know.
And somehow of othef, he becomes a
Sandman. Now, thIs Sandman,
evefythIng he touches tufns to sand.
Bfeezes tufn Into sandstofms, babbIIng
bfooks tufn Into dunes, gfassy pIaIns
tufn Into desefts. So goes the taIe of the
Sandman. Evef heaf It befofe? PfobabIy
not, eh? That's because I just made It
up. Ha, ha, ha.
Anyway, taIkIng to you IIke thIs, I get
the feeIIng I've become the EgyptIan
Sandman myseIf. And whatevef I touch,
It's sand sand sand.
-NCE AGAIN, I see I'm taIkIng about my-
seIf too much. But aII thIngs
consIdefed, It's unavoIdabIe. I mean, I
don't even know one soIItafy thIng
about you. I've got youf addfess and
youf name, and that's It. Youf age, In-
come bfacket, the shape of youf nose,
whethef you'fe sIendef of ovefweIght,
maffIed of notwhat do I know? Not
that any of that feaIIy mattefs. It's aI-
most bettef thIs way. If at aII possIbIe, I
pfefef to keep thIngs sImpIe, vefy
sImpIeon the metaphysIcaI IeveI, If
you wIII.
To wIt, hefe I have youf Iettef.
ThIs Is aII I need.
Just as the zooIogIst coIIects shIt
sampIes In the jungIe ffom whIch to de-
duce the eIephant's dIetafy habIts and
pattefns of actIvIty and weIght and sex
IIfe, so youf one Iettef gIves me enough
to go on. I can actuaIIy sense what kInd
of pefson you afe. Of coufse, mInus
youf Iooks, the kInd of peffume you
weaf, detaIIs IIke that. Nonethe-
Iessyouf vefy essence.
Youf Iettef was, honestIy, quIte fas-
cInatIng. Youf choIce of wofds, the
handwfItIng, punctuatIon, spacIng
between IInes, fhetofIcevefythIng
was peffect. SupefIatIve It was not. But
peffect, yes.
Evefy month, I fead ovef fIve hun-
dfed Iettefs, and ffankIy, youfs was the
fIfst Iettef that evef moved me. I
secfetIy took youf Iettef home wIth me
and fead It ovef and ovef agaIn. Then I
anaIyzed youf Iettef thofoughIy. BeIng
such a shoft Iettef, It was no tfoubIe at
Many thIngs came to IIght thfough
my anaIysIs. FIfst of aII, the numbef of
punctuatIon mafks Is ovefwheImIng.
6.36 commas fof evefy pefIod. On the
hIgh sIde, don't you thInk? And that's
not aII: The way you punctuate Is
mafkedIy IffeguIaf.
IIsten, pIease don't thInk I'm puttIng
down youf wfItIng. I'm sImpIy moved
by It.
And It's not just the commas, eIthef.
Evefy paft of youf Iettefdown to each
Ink smeafevefythIng set me off,
evefythIng shook me.
WeII, the Iong and the shoft of It Is
that thefe's no =)B In the whoIe pIece
of wfItIng. Oh, thefe's a stofy to It, aII
fIght. A gIfIa womanmakes a mIs-
take buyIng a fecofd. She had the feeI-
Ing the fecofd had the wfong tunes, but
stIII, she went ahead and bought It, and
It's exactIy one week befofe she feaI-
Izes. The saIesgIfI won't exchange It. So
she wfItes a Iettef of compIaInt. That's
the stofy.
I had to fefead youf Iettef thfee
tImes befofe I gfasped the stofy. The
feason was, youf Iettef was compIeteIy
dIffefent ffom aII the othef Iettefs of
compIaInt that come ouf way. To put It
bIuntIy, thefe wasn't even any com-
pIaInt In youf Iettef. Iet aIone any emo-
tIon. The )0#= thIng that was thefe .
was the stofy.
ReaIIy and tfuIy, you had me won-
defIng. Was the Iettef In fact Intended
as a compIaInt of a confessIon of a pfo-
cIamatIon, of was It pefhaps meant to
put fofth some thesIs? I had no Idea.
Youf Iettef femInded me of a news
photo ffom the scene of a massacfe.
WIth no commentafy, no aftIcIe, no
nothIngjust a photo. A shot of dead
bodIes IIttefIng some foadsIde In some
countfy somewhefe.
Bang, bang, bang . thefe's youf
No, waIt, we can sImpIIfy thIngs a
IIttIe. SImpIIfy them a Iot.
That Is to say, youf Iettef excItes me
Thefe you have It.
IET US NOW addfess the topIc of sex.
You know, If thIs doesn't Intefest
you, you can stop the tape. I'm just
taIkIng to myseIf, bIabbefIng away to
the VU metefs. BIah, bIah, bIah.
PICTURE THIS: Shoft fofeafms wIth fIve
fIngefs, but sInguIafIy huge hInd Iegs
wIth fouf toes, the foufth of whIch Is
ImmenseIy ovefdeveIoped, whIIe the
second and thIfd afe extfa tIny and
fused togethef . that's a descfIptIon of
the feet of a kangafoo. Ha, ha, ha.
UH, MOVING ON to the topIc of sex.
Evef sInce I took youf Iettef home wIth
me, aII I can seem to thInk about Is
sIeepIng wIth you. That I'II cIImb Into
bed to fInd you next to me, wake up In
the mofnIng and thefe you'd be. As I
open my eyes you'II aIfeady be gettIng
out of bed, and I'II heaf you zIppIng up
youf dfess. Thefe I'd beand you know
how deIIcate the zIppef on a dfess can
beweII, I'd just shut my eyes and pfe-
tend to be asIeep. I wouIdn't even set
eyes on you.
Once you cut acfoss the foom and
dIsappeafed Into the bathfoom, onIy
then wouId I open my eyes. Then I'd
get a bIte to eat and head out to wofk.
In the pItch-bIack of nIghtI'II InstaII
specIaI bIInds on my wIndows to make
the pIace extfa pItch-bIackof coufse, I
wouIdn't see youf face. I'd know noth-
Ing, not youf age of weIght. So I
wouIdn't Iay a hand on you, eIthef.
But, weII, that's fIne.
If you feaIIy want to know, It makes
no dIffefence whatsoevef If I have sex
wIth you of not..
No, I take that back.
Iet me thInk that one ovef.
OKAY, Iet's put It thIs way. I wouId IIke
to sIeep wIth you. But It's aII fIght If I
don't sIeep wIth you. What I'm sayIng
Is, I'd IIke to be as faIf as possIbIe. I
don't want to fofce anythIng on any-
body, any mofe than I'd want anythIng
fofced on me. It's enough that I feeI
youf pfesence of see youf commas
swIfIIng afound me.
YOU SEE, It's IIke thIs:
SometImes, when I thInk about entIt-
IesIIke In sepafate entItIes"It gets
mIghty gfIm. I staft thInkIng, and I
neafIy go to pIeces..
Fof Instance, say you'fe fIdIng on the
subway. And thefe afe dozens of peopIe
In the caf. Mefe passengefs" you'd
have to caII them, as a fuIe.
Passengefs" beIng conveyed ffom
Aoyama One-chome to AkasakamIt-
suke. SometImes, though, It'II stfIke
you that each and evefy one of those
passengefs Is a dIstInct IndIvIduaI en-
tIty. IIke, what does thIs one do? Of
why on eafth do you suppose that one's
fIdIng the GInza IIne? Of whatevef. By
then It's too Iate. You Iet It get to you
and you'fe a gonef.
Iooks IIke that busInessman's haIf-
IIne Is fecedIng, of the gIfI ovef thefe's
got such haIfy Iegs I bet she shaves at
Ieast once a week, of why Is that young
guy sIttIng acfoss the aIsIe weafIng that
awfuI tIe? IIttIe thIngs IIke that. UntII
fInaIIy you've got the shakes and you
want to jump out of the caf then and
thefe. Why, just the othef dayI know
you'fe goIng to Iaugh, butI was on
the vefge of pfessIng the emefgency-
bfake button by the doof.
I admIt It. But that doesn't mean you
shouId go thInkIng I'm hypefsensItIve
of on edge aII the tIme. I'm feaIIy a feg-
uIaf soft of guy, youf evefyday ofdIn-
afy wofkaday type, gaInfuIIy empIoyed
In the pfoduct-contfoI sectIon of a
depaftment stofe. And I've got nothIng
agaInst the subway.
Nof do I have any pfobIem sexuaIIy.
Thefe's a woman I'm seeIngI guess
you couId caII hef my gIfIffIendbeen
sIeepIng wIth hef twIce a week fof
maybe a yeaf now. And she and I,
we'fe both pfetty satIsfIed. OnIy I tfy
not to take hef too sefIousIy. I have no
IntentIon of maffyIng hef. If I thought
about gettIng maffIed, I'm sufe I'd be-
gIn takIng hef sefIousIy, and I'd Iose aII
confIdence that I couId caffy on ffom
that poInt. I mean, that's how It Is. You
IIve wIth a gIfI and these thIngs staft to
get to youhef teeth afen't exactIy
stfaIght, the shape of hef fIngef-
naIIshow can you expect to go on IIke
IET ME SAY a IIttIe mofe about myseIf.
No knockIng thIs tIme.
If you've IIstened thIs faf, you mIght
as weII heaf me out.
Just a second. I need a smoke.
Up to now, I've hafdIy saId a wofd
about myseIf. IIke, thefe's feaIIy not
that much to say. And even If I dId,
pfobabIy nobody wouId fInd It teffIbIy
So why am I teIIIng you aII thIs?
I thInk I aIfeady toId you, It's because
now my sIghts afe set on the NobIIIty of
And what touched off thIs NobIIIty of
ImpeffectIon Idea?
Youf Iettef and fouf kangafoos.
Yes, kangafoos.
Kangafoos afe such fascInatIng
cfeatufes, I can Iook at them fof houfs
on end. What can kangafoos possIbIy
have to thInk about? The whoIe Iot of
them, jumpIng afound In theIf cage aII
day Iong, dIggIng hoIes now and agaIn.
And then what do they do wIth these
hoIes? NothIng. They dIg them and
that's It. Ha, ha, ha.
Kangafoos gIve bIfth to onIy one
baby at a tIme. So as soon as one baby
Is bofn, the femaIe gets pfegnant agaIn.
OthefwIse the kangafoo popuIatIon
wouId nevef sustaIn ItseIf. ThIs means
the femaIe kangafoo spends hef entIfe
IIfe eIthef pfegnant of nufsIng babIes. If
she's not pfegnant, she's nufsIng babIes,
If she's not nufsIng babIes, she's pfeg-
nant. You couId say she exIsts just to
ensufe the contInuance of the specIes.
The kangafoo specIes wouIdn't sufvIve
If thefe wefen't any kangafoos, and If
theIf pufpose wasn't to go on exIstIng,
kangafoos wouIdn't be afound In the
fIfst pIace.
Funny about that.
BUT I'M GETTING ahead of myseIf. Excuse
TO TAIK about myseIf, then.
ActuaIIy, I'm extfemeIy dIssatIsfIed
wIth beIng who I am. It's nothIng to do
wIth my Iooks of abIIItIes of status of
any of that. It sImpIy has to do wIth be-
Ing me. The sItuatIon stfIkes me as
gfossIy unfaIf.
StIII, that doesn't mean you shouId
wfIte me off as someone wIth a Iot of
gfIpes. I have not one compIaInt about
the pIace whefe I wofk of about my
saIafy. The wofk Is undenIabIy bofIng,
but then, most jobs afe bofIng. Money
Is not a majof Issue hefe.
ShaII I put It on the IIne?
I want to be abIe to be In two pIaces
at once. That Is my one and onIy wIsh.
Othef than that, thefe's not a thIng I
Yet beIng who and what I am, my
sInguIafIty hampefs thIs desIfe of mIne.
An unhappy Iot, don't you thInk? My
wIsh, If anythIng, Is fathef unassumIng.
I don't want to be fuIef of the wofId,
nof do I want to be an aftIst of genIus. I
mefeIy want to exIst In two pIaces sIm-
uItaneousIy. Got It? Not thfee, not fouf,
onIy 15). I want to be foIIef-skatIng
whIIe I'm IIstenIng to an ofchestfa at a
conceft haII. I want to be a McDonaId's
Quaftef Poundef and stIII be a cIefk In
the pfoduct-contfoI sectIon of the de-
paftment stofe. I want to sIeep wIth
you and be sIeepIng wIth my gIfIffIend
aII the whIIe. I want to Iead a genefaI
exIstence and yet be a dIstInct, sepafate
AIIOW ME one mofe cIgafette.
GettIng a IIttIe tIfed.
I'm not used to thIs, speakIng so
ffankIy about myseIf.
Thefe's just one thIng I'd IIke to get
cIeaf, though. WhIch Is that I do not
Iust aftef you sexuaIIy as a woman. IIke
I toId you, I am angfy at the fact that I
am onIy myseIf and nothIng eIse. BeIng
a soIItafy entIty Is dfeadfuIIy depfess-
Ing. Hence I do not seek to sIeep wIth
you, a soIItafy IndIvIduaI.
If, howevef, you wefe to dIvIde Into
two, and I spIIt Into two as weII, and
we fouf aII shafed the same bed togeth-
ef, wouIdn't that be somethIng! Don't
you thInk?
PIEASE SEND no fepIy. If you decIde you
want to wfIte me a Iettef, pIease send It
cafe of the company In the fofm of a
compIaInt. If not a compIaInt, then
whatevef you come up wIth.
That's about It.
I IISTENED to the tape thIs faf on pIay-
back just now. To be honest, I'm vefy
dIssatIsfIed wIth It. I feeI IIke an aquafI-
um tfaInef who's Iet a seaI dIe out of
negIIgence. It made me woffy whethef
I shouId even send you thIs tape of not,
bIowIng thIs thIng aII out of pfopoftIon
even by my standafds.
And now that I've decIded to send It,
I'm stIII woffIed.
But what the heII, I'm stfIvIng fof Im-
peffectIon, so I've got to IIve happIIy by
my choIce. It was you and the fouf
kangafoos who got me Into thIs Impef-
fectIon, aftef aII.
fow sIde stfeet In Tokyo's fashIonabIe
Hafajuku neIghbofhood, I waIk past the
100% peffect gIfI.
TeII you the tfuth, she's not that
good-IookIng. She doesn't stand out In
any way. Hef cIothes afe nothIng spe-
cIaI. The back of hef haIf Is stIII bent
out of shape ffom sIeep. She Isn't
young, eIthefmust be neaf thIfty, not
even cIose to a gIfI," pfopefIy speak-
Ing. But stIII, I know ffom fIfty yafds
away: She's the 100% peffect gIfI fof
me. The moment I see hef, thefe's a
fumbIIng In my chest, and my mouth Is
as dfy as a deseft.
Maybe you have youf own paftIcuIaf
favofIte type of gIfIone wIth sIIm
ankIes, say, of bIg eyes, of gfacefuI fIn-
gefs, of you'fe dfawn fof no good feas-
on to gIfIs who take theIf tIme wIth
evefy meaI. I have my own pfefefences,
of coufse. SometImes In a festaufant I'II
catch myseIf stafIng at the gIfI at the
tabIe next to mIne because I IIke the
shape of hef nose.
But no one can InsIst that hIs 100%
peffect gIfI coffespond to some pfecon-
ceIved type. Much as I IIke noses, I
can't fecaII the shape of hefsof even
If she had one. AII I can femembef fof
sufe Is that she was no gfeat beauty. It's
Yestefday on the stfeet I passed the
100% peffect gIfI," I teII someone.
Yeah?" he says. Good-IookIng?"
Not feaIIy."
Youf favofIte type, then?"
I don't know. I can't seem to femem-
bef anythIng about hefthe shape of
hef eyes of the sIze of hef bfeasts."
Yeah. Stfange."
So anyhow," he says, aIfeady bofed,
what dId you do? TaIk to hef? FoIIow
Nah. Just passed hef on the stfeet."
She's waIkIng east to west, and I west
to east. It's a feaIIy nIce ApfII mofnIng.
WIsh I couId taIk to hef. HaIf an houf
wouId be pIenty: just ask hef about hef-
seIf, teII hef about myseIf, andwhat
I'd feaIIy IIke to doexpIaIn to hef the
compIexItIes of fate that have Ied to ouf
passIng each othef on a sIde stfeet In
Hafajuku on a beautIfuI ApfII mofnIng
In 1981. ThIs was somethIng sufe to be
cfammed fuII of wafm secfets, IIke an
antIque cIock buIIt when peace fIIIed
the wofId.
Aftef taIkIng, we'd have Iunch some-
whefe, maybe see a Woody AIIen
movIe, stop by a hoteI baf fof cocktaIIs.
WIth any kInd of Iuck, we mIght end up
In bed.
PotentIaIIty knocks on the doof of my
Now the dIstance between us has
naffowed to fIfteen yafds.
How can I appfoach hef? What
shouId I say?
Good mofnIng, mIss. Do you thInk
you couId spafe haIf an houf fof a IIttIe
RIdIcuIous. I'd sound IIke an Insuf-
ance saIesman.
Pafdon me, but wouId you happen
to know If thefe Is an aII-nIght cIeanefs
In the neIghbofhood?"
No, thIs Is just as fIdIcuIous. I'm not
caffyIng any Iaundfy, fof one thIng.
Who's goIng to buy a IIne IIke that?
Maybe the sImpIe tfuth wouId do.
Good mofnIng. You afe the 100% pef-
fect gIfI fof me."
No, she wouIdn't beIIeve It. Of even
If she dId, she mIght not want to taIk to
me. Soffy, she couId say, I mIght be the
100% peffect gIfI fof you, but you'fe
not the 100% peffect boy fof me. It
couId happen. And If I found myseIf In
that sItuatIon, I'd pfobabIy go to pIeces.
I'd nevef fecovef ffom the shock. I'm
thIfty-two, and that's what gfowIng
oIdef Is aII about.
We pass In ffont of a fIowef shop. A
smaII, wafm aIf mass touches my skIn.
The asphaIt Is damp, and I catch the
scent of foses. I can't bfIng myseIf to
speak to hef. She weafs a whIte
sweatef, and In hef fIght hand she
hoIds a cfIsp whIte enveIope IackIng
onIy a stamp. So: She's wfItten some-
body a Iettef, maybe spent the whoIe
nIght wfItIng, to judge ffom the sIeepy
Iook In hef eyes. The enveIope couId
contaIn evefy secfet she's evef had.
I take a few mofe stfIdes and tufn:
She's Iost In the cfowd.
NOW, OF COURSE, I know exactIy what I
shouId have saId to hef. It wouId have
been a Iong speech, though, faf too
Iong fof me to have deIIvefed It pfop-
efIy. The Ideas I come up wIth afe nev-
ef vefy pfactIcaI.
Oh, weII. It wouId have stafted Once
upon a tIme" and ended A sad stofy,
don't you thInk?"
ONCE UPON A TIME, thefe IIved a boy and
a gIfI. The boy was eIghteen and the
gIfI sIxteen. He was not unusuaIIy
handsome, and she was not especIaIIy
beautIfuI. They wefe just an ofdInafy
IoneIy boy and an ofdInafy IoneIy gIfI,
IIke aII the othefs. But they beIIeved
wIth theIf whoIe heafts that somewhefe
In the wofId thefe IIved the 100% pef-
fect boy and the 100% peffect gIfI fof
them. Yes, they beIIeved In a mIfacIe.
And that mIfacIe actuaIIy happened.
One day the two came upon each
othef on the cofnef of a stfeet.
ThIs Is amazIng," he saId. I've been
IookIng fof you aII my IIfe. You may
not beIIeve thIs, but you'fe the 100%
peffect gIfI fof me."
And you," she saId to hIm, afe the
100% peffect boy fof me, exactIy as I'd
pIctufed you In evefy detaII. It's IIke a
They sat on a pafk bench, heId
hands, and toId each othef theIf stofIes
houf aftef houf. They wefe not IoneIy
anymofe. They had found and been
found by theIf 100% peffect othef.
What a wondeffuI thIng It Is to fInd and
be found by youf 100% peffect othef.
It's a mIfacIe, a cosmIc mIfacIe.
As they sat and taIked, howevef, a
tIny, tIny sIIvef of doubt took foot In
theIf heafts: Was It feaIIy aII fIght fof
one's dfeams to come tfue so easIIy?
And so, when thefe came a moment-
afy IuII In theIf convefsatIon, the boy
saId to the gIfI, Iet's test
oufseIvesjust once. If we feaIIy afe
each othef's 100% peffect Iovefs, then
sometIme, somewhefe, we wIII meet
agaIn wIthout faII. And when that hap-
pens, and we know that we afe the
100% peffect ones, we'II maffy then
and thefe. What do you thInk?"
Yes," she saId, that Is exactIy what
we shouId do."
And so they pafted, she to the east,
and he to the west.
The test they had agfeed upon,
howevef, was uttefIy unnecessafy. They
shouId nevef have undeftaken It, be-
cause they feaIIy and tfuIy wefe each
othef's 100% peffect Iovefs, and It was
a mIfacIe that they had evef met. But It
was ImpossIbIe fof them to know thIs,
young as they wefe. The coId, IndIffef-
ent waves of fate pfoceeded to toss
them unmefcIfuIIy.
One wIntef, both the boy and the gIfI
came down wIth the season's teffIbIe
InfIuenza, and aftef dfIftIng fof weeks
between IIfe and death they Iost aII
memofy of theIf eafIIef yeafs. When
they awoke, theIf heads wefe as empty
as the young D. H. Iawfence's pIggy
They wefe two bfIght, detefmIned
young peopIe, howevef, and thfough
theIf unfemIttIng effofts they wefe abIe
to acquIfe once agaIn the knowIedge
and feeIIng that quaIIfIed them to fe-
tufn as fuII-fIedged membefs of socIety.
Heaven be pfaIsed, they became tfuIy
upstandIng cItIzens who knew how to
tfansfef ffom one subway IIne to anoth-
ef, who wefe fuIIy capabIe of sendIng a
specIaI-deIIvefy Iettef at the post offIce.
Indeed, they even expefIenced Iove
agaIn, sometImes as much as 75% of
even 85% Iove.
TIme passed wIth shockIng swIftness,
and soon the boy was thIfty-two, the
gIfI thIfty.
One beautIfuI ApfII mofnIng, In
seafch of a cup of coffee to staft the
day, the boy was waIkIng ffom west to
east, whIIe the gIfI, IntendIng to send a
specIaI-deIIvefy Iettef, was waIkIng
ffom east to west, both aIong the same
naffow stfeet In the Hafajuku neIghbof-
hood of Tokyo. They passed each othef
In the vefy centef of the stfeet. The
faIntest gIeam of theIf Iost memofIes
gIImmefed fof the bfIefest moment In
theIf heafts. Each feIt a fumbIIng In the
chest. And they knew:
She Is the 100% peffect gIfI fof me.
He Is the 100% peffect boy fof me.
But the gIow of theIf memofIes was
faf too weak, and theIf thoughts no
Iongef had the cIafIty of foufteen yeafs
eafIIef. WIthout a wofd, they passed
each othef, dIsappeafIng Into the
cfowd. Fofevef.
A sad stofy, don't you thInk?
YES, THAT'S IT, that Is what I shouId have
saId to hef.
THIS IS MY seventeenth stfaIght day
wIthout sIeep.
I'm not taIkIng about InsomnIa. I
know what InsomnIa Is. I had
somethIng IIke It In coI-
IegesomethIng IIke It" because I'm
not sufe that what I had then was ex-
actIy the same as what peopIe fefef to
as InsomnIa. I suppose a doctof couId
have toId me. But I dIdn't see a doctof.
I knew It wouIdn't do any good. Not
that I had any feason to thInk so. CaII It
woman's IntuItIonI just feIt they
couIdn't heIp me. So I dIdn't see a doc-
tof, and I dIdn't say anythIng to my
pafents of ffIends, because I knew that
that was exactIy what they wouId teII
me to do.
Back then, my somethIng IIke In-
somnIa" went on fof a month. I nevef
feaIIy got to sIeep that entIfe tIme. I'd
go to bed at nIght and say to myseIf,
AII fIght now, tIme fof some sIeep."
That was aII It took to wake me up. It
was InstantaneousIIke a condItIoned
fefIex. The hafdef I wofked at sIeepIng,
the wIdef awake I became. I tfIed aIco-
hoI, I tfIed sIeepIng pIIIs, but they had
absoIuteIy no effect.
FInaIIy, as the sky began to gfow
IIght In the mofnIng, I'd feeI that I
mIght be dfIftIng off. But that wasn't
sIeep. My fIngeftIps wefe just bafeIy
bfushIng agaInst the outefmost edge of
sIeep. And aII the whIIe, my mInd was
wIde awake. I wouId feeI a hInt of
dfowsIness, but my mInd was thefe, In
Its own foom, on the othef sIde of a
tfanspafent waII, watchIng me. My
physIcaI seIf was dfIftIng thfough the
feebIe mofnIng IIght, and aII the whIIe
It couId feeI my mInd stafIng, bfeath-
Ing, cIose besIde It. I was both a body
on the vefge of sIeep and a mInd de-
tefmIned to stay awake.
ThIs IncompIete dfowsIness wouId
contInue on and off aII day. My head
was aIways foggy. I couIdn't get an ac-
cufate fIx on the thIngs afound
metheIf dIstance of mass of textufe.
The dfowsIness wouId oveftake me at
feguIaf, waveIIke IntefvaIs: on the sub-
way, In the cIassfoom, at the dInnef
tabIe. My mInd wouId sIIp away ffom
my body. The wofId wouId sway
soundIessIy. I wouId dfop thIngs. My
pencII of my pufse of my fofk wouId
cIattef to the fIoof. AII I wanted was to
thfow myseIf down and sIeep. But I
couIdn't. The wakefuIness was aIways
thefe besIde me. I couId feeI Its chIIIIng
shadow. It was the shadow of myseIf.
WeIfd, I wouId thInk as the dfowsIness
oveftook me, I'm In my own shadow. I
wouId waIk and eat and taIk to peopIe
InsIde my dfowsIness. And the stfangest
thIng was that no one notIced. I Iost fIf-
teen pounds that month, and no one
notIced. No one In my famIIy, not one
of my ffIends of cIassmates, feaIIzed
that I was goIng thfough IIfe asIeep.
It was IItefaIIy tfue: I was goIng
thfough IIfe asIeep. My body had no
mofe feeIIng than a dfowned cofpse.
My vefy exIstence, my IIfe In the wofId,
seemed IIke a haIIucInatIon. A stfong
wInd wouId make me thInk that my
body was about to be bIown to the end
of the eafth, to some Iand I had nevef
seen of heafd of, whefe my mInd and
body wouId sepafate fofevef. HoId
tIght, I wouId teII myseIf, but thefe was
nothIng fof me to hoId on to.
And then, when nIght came, the In-
tense wakefuIness wouId fetufn. I was
powefIess to fesIst It. I was Iocked In Its
cofe by an enofmous fofce. AII I couId
do was stay awake untII mofnIng, eyes
wIde open In the dafk. I couIdn't even
thInk. As I Iay thefe, IIstenIng to the
cIock tIck off the seconds, I dId nothIng
but stafe at the dafkness as It sIowIy
deepened and sIowIy dImInIshed.
And then one day It ended, wIthout
wafnIng, wIthout any extefnaI cause. I
stafted to Iose conscIousness at the
bfeakfast tabIe. I stood up wIthout say-
Ing anythIng. I may have knocked
somethIng off the tabIe. I thInk
someone spoke to me. But I can't be
sufe. I staggefed to my foom, cfawIed
Into bed In my cIothes, and feII fast
asIeep. I stayed that way fof twenty-
seven houfs. My mothef became
aIafmed and tfIed to shake me out of It.
She actuaIIy sIapped my cheeks. But I
went on sIeepIng fof twenty-seven
houfs wIthout a bfeak. And when I
fInaIIy dId awaken, I was my oId seIf
agaIn. PfobabIy.
I have no Idea why I became an In-
somnIac then of why the condItIon sud-
denIy cufed ItseIf. It was IIke a thIck,
bIack cIoud bfought ffom somewhefe
by the wInd, a cIoud cfammed fuII of
omInous thIngs I have no knowIedge of.
No one knows whefe such a thIng
comes ffom of whefe It goes. I can onIy
be sufe that It dId descend on me fof a
tIme, and then depafted.
IN ANY CASE, what I have now Is nothIng
IIke that InsomnIa, nothIng at aII. I just
can't sIeep. Not fof one second. AsIde
ffom that sImpIe fact, I'm peffectIy nof-
maI. I don't feeI sIeepy, and my mInd Is
as cIeaf as evef. CIeafef, If anythIng.
PhysIcaIIy, too, I'm nofmaI: My appet-
Ite Is fIne, I'm not fatIgued. In tefms of
evefyday feaIIty, thefe's nothIng wfong
wIth me. I just can't sIeep.
NeIthef my husband nof my son has
notIced that I'm not sIeepIng. And I
haven't mentIoned It to them. I don't
want to be toId to see a doctof. I know
It wouIdn't do any good. I just know.
IIke befofe. ThIs Is somethIng I have to
deaI wIth myseIf.
So they don't suspect a thIng. On the
sufface, ouf IIfe fIows on unchanged.
PeacefuI. RoutIne. Aftef I see my hus-
band and son off In the mofnIng, I take
my caf and go mafketIng. My husband
Is a dentIst. HIs offIce Is a ten-mInute
dfIve ffom ouf condo. He and a dentaI-
schooI ffIend own It as paftnefs. That
way, they can affofd to hIfe a technI-
cIan and a feceptIonIst. One paftnef
can take the othef's oveffIow. Both of
them afe good, so fof an offIce that has
been In opefatIon fof onIy fIve yeafs
and that opened wIthout any specIaI
connectIons, the pIace Is doIng vefy
weII. AImost too weII. I dIdn't want to
wofk so hafd," says my husband. But I
can't compIaIn."
And I aIways say, ReaIIy, you can't."
It's tfue. We had to get an enofmous
bank Ioan to open the pIace. A dentaI
offIce fequIfes a huge Investment In
equIpment. And the competItIon Is
fIefce. PatIents don't staft poufIng In
the mInute you open youf doofs. Iots
of dentaI cIInIcs have faIIed fof Iack of
Back then, we wefe young and poof
and we had a bfand-new baby. No one
couId guafantee that we wouId sufvIve
In such a tough wofId. But we have suf-
vIved, one way of anothef. FIve yeafs.
No, we feaIIy can't compIaIn. We've
stIII got aImost two thIfds of ouf debt
Ieft to pay back, though.
I know why you've got so many pa-
tIents," I aIways say to hIm. It's be-
cause you'fe such a good-IookIng guy."
ThIs Is ouf IIttIe joke. He's not good-
IookIng at aII. ActuaIIy, he's kInd of
stfange-IookIng. Even now I sometImes
wondef why I maffIed such a stfange-
IookIng man. I had othef boyffIends
who wefe faf mofe handsome.
What makes hIs face so stfange? I
can't feaIIy say. It's not a handsome
face, but It's not ugIy, eIthef. Nof Is It
the kInd that peopIe wouId say has
chafactef." HonestIy, stfange" Is
about aII that fIts. Of maybe It wouId
be mofe accufate to say that It has no
dIstInguIshIng featufes. StIII, thefe must
be some eIement that &$7-3 hIs face
have no dIstInguIshIng featufes, and If I
couId gfasp whatevef that Is, I mIght be
abIe to undefstand the stfangeness of
the whoIe. I once tfIed to dfaw hIs pIc-
tufe, but I couIdn't do It. I couIdn't fe-
membef what he Iooked IIke. I sat thefe
hoIdIng the pencII ovef the papef and
couIdn't make a mafk. I was fIabbefgas-
ted. How can you IIve wIth a man so
Iong and not be abIe to bfIng hIs face to
mInd? I knew how to fecognIze hIm, of
coufse. I wouId even get mentaI Images
of hIm now and then. But when It came
to dfawIng hIs pIctufe, I feaIIzed that I
dIdn't femembef anythIng about hIs
face. What couId I do? It was IIke fun-
nIng Into an InvIsIbIe waII. The one
thIng I couId femembef was that hIs
face Iooked stfange.
The memofy of that often makes me
StIII, he's one of those men evefy-
body IIkes. That's a bIg pIus In hIs busI-
ness, obvIousIy, but I thInk he wouId
have been a success at just about any-
thIng. PeopIe feeI secufe taIkIng to hIm.
I had nevef met anyone IIke that be-
fofe. AII my women ffIends IIke hIm.
And I'm fond of hIm, of coufse. I thInk I
even Iove hIm. But stfIctIy speakIng, I
don't actuaIIy #%7- hIm.
Anyhow, he smIIes In thIs natufaI, In-
nocent way, just IIke a chIId. Not many
gfown-up men can do that. And I guess
you'd expect a dentIst to have nIce
teeth, whIch he does.
It's not my fauIt I'm so good-Iook-
Ing," he aIways answefs when we enjoy
ouf IIttIe joke. We'fe the onIy ones who
undefstand what It means. It's a fecog-
nItIon of feaIItyof the fact that we
have managed In one way of anothef to
sufvIveand It's an Impoftant fItuaI fof
HE DRIVES hIs Sentfa out of the condo
pafkIng gafage evefy mofnIng at 8:15.
Ouf son Is In the seat next to hIm. The
eIementafy schooI Is on the way to the
offIce. Be cafefuI," I say. Don't
woffy," he answefs. AIways the same
IIttIe dIaIogue. I can't heIp myseIf. I
have to say It. Be cafefuI." And my
husband has to answef, Don't woffy."
He stafts the engIne, puts a Haydn of a
Mozaft tape Into the caf stefeo, and
hums aIong wIth the musIc. My two
men" aIways wave to me on the way
out. TheIf hands move In exactIy the
same way. It's aImost uncanny. They
Iean theIf heads at exactIy the same
angIe and tufn theIf paIms towafd me,
movIng them sIIghtIy ffom sIde to sIde
In exactIy the same way, as If they'd
been tfaIned by a chofeogfaphef.
I have my own caf, a used Honda
CIvIc. A gIfIffIend soId It to me two
yeafs ago fof next to nothIng. One
bumpef Is smashed In, and the body
styIe Is oId-fashIoned, wIth fust spots
showIng up. The odometef has ovef
150,000 kIIometefs on It. Some-
tImesonce of twIce a monththe caf
Is aImost ImpossIbIe to staft. The en-
gIne sImpIy won't catch. StIII, It's not
bad enough to have the thIng fIxed. If
you baby It and Iet It fest fof ten
mInutes of so, the engIne wIII staft up
wIth a nIce, soIId ;*))&. Oh, weII,
evefythIngevefybodygets out of
whack once of twIce a month. That's
IIfe. My husband caIIs my caf youf
donkey." I don't cafe. It's mIne.
I dfIve my CIvIc to the supefmafket.
Aftef mafketIng, I cIean the house and
do the Iaundfy. Then I fIx Iunch. I make
a poInt of peffofmIng my &)*0%0K
",)*-3 wIth bfIsk, effIcIent movements.
If possIbIe, I IIke to fInIsh my dInnef
pfepafatIons In the mofnIng, too. Then
the aftefnoon Is aII mIne.
My husband comes home fof Iunch.
He doesn't IIke to eat out. He says the
festaufants afe too cfowded, the food Is
no good, and the smeII of tobacco
smoke gets Into hIs cIothes. He pfefefs
eatIng at home, even wIth the extfa
tfaveI tIme InvoIved. StIII, I don't make
anythIng fancy fof Iunch. I wafm up
Ieftovefs In the mIcfowave of boII a pot
of noodIes. So the actuaI tIme InvoIved
Is mInImaI. And of coufse It's mofe fun
to eat wIth my husband than aII aIone
wIth no one to taIk to.
Befofe, when the cIInIc was just get-
tIng stafted, thefe wouId often be no
patIent In the fIfst aftefnoon sIot, so the
two of us wouId go to bed aftef Iunch.
Those wefe the IoveIIest tImes wIth
hIm. EvefythIng was hushed, and the
soft aftefnoon sunshIne wouId fIItef In-
to the foom. We wefe a Iot youngef
then, and happIef.
We'fe stIII happy, of coufse. I feaIIy
do thInk so. No domestIc tfoubIes cast
shadows on ouf home. I Iove hIm and
tfust hIm. And I'm sufe he feeIs the
same about me. But IIttIe by IIttIe, as
the months and yeafs go by, youf IIfe
changes. That's just how It Is. Thefe's
nothIng you can do about It. Now aII
the aftefnoon sIots afe taken. When we
fInIsh eatIng, my husband bfushes hIs
teeth, huffIes out to hIs caf, and goes
back to the offIce. He's got aII those
sIck teeth waItIng fof hIm. But that's aII
fIght. We both know you can't have
evefythIng youf own way.
Aftef my husband goes back to the
offIce, I take a bathIng suIt and toweI
and dfIve to the neIghbofhood athIetIc
cIub. I swIm fof haIf an houf. I swIm
hafd. I'm not that cfazy about the
swImmIng ItseIf: I just want to keep the
fIab off. I've aIways IIked my own fIg-
ufe. ActuaIIy, I've nevef IIked my face.
It's not bad, but I've nevef feaIIy IIked
It. My body Is anothef mattef. I IIke to
stand naked In ffont of the mIffof. I
IIke to study the soft outIInes I see
thefe, the baIanced vItaIIty. I'm not
sufe what It Is, but I get the feeIIng that
somethIng InsIde thefe Is vefy Impoft-
ant to me. Whatevef It Is, I don't want
to Iose It.
I'm thIfty. When you feach thIfty,
you feaIIze It's not the end of the
wofId. I'm not especIaIIy happy about
gettIng oIdef, but It does make some
thIngs easIef. It's a questIon of attItude.
One thIng I know fof sufe, though: If a
thIfty-yeaf-oId woman Ioves hef body
and Is sefIous about keepIng It IookIng
the way It shouId, she has to put In a
ceftaIn amount of effoft. I Ieafned that
ffom my mothef. She used to be a sIIm,
IoveIy woman, but not anymofe. I don't
want the same thIng to happen to me.
Aftef I've had my swIm, I use the fest
of my aftefnoon In vafIous ways. Some-
tImes I'II wandef ovef to the statIon
pIaza and wIndow-shop. SometImes I'II
go home, cufI up on the sofa, and fead
a book of IIsten to the FM statIon of
just fest. EventuaIIy, my son comes
home ffom schooI. I heIp hIm change
Into hIs pIaycIothes, and gIve hIm a
snack. When he's thfough eatIng, he
goes out to pIay wIth hIs ffIends. He's
too young to go to an aftefnoon cfam
schooI, and we afen't makIng hIm take
pIano Iessons of anythIng. Iet hIm
pIay," says my husband. Iet hIm gfow
up natufaIIy." When my son Ieaves the
house, I have the same IIttIe dIaIogue
wIth hIm as I do wIth my husband. Be
cafefuI," I say, and he answefs, Don't
As evenIng appfoaches, I begIn pfe-
pafIng dInnef. My son Is aIways back
by sIx. He watches caftoons on TV. If
no emefgency patIents show up, my
husband Is home befofe seven. He
doesn't dfInk a dfop and he's not fond
of poIntIess socIaIIzIng. He aImost aI-
ways comes stfaIght home ffom wofk.
The thfee of us taIk dufIng dInnef,
mostIy about what we've done that
day. My son aIways has the most to say.
EvefythIng that happens In hIs IIfe Is
ffesh and fuII of mystefy. He taIks, and
we offef ouf comments. Aftef dInnef,
he does what he IIkeswatches teIevI-
sIon of feads of pIays some kInd of
game wIth my husband. When he has
homewofk, he shuts hImseIf up In hIs
foom and does It. He goes to bed at
8:30. I tuck hIm In and stfoke hIs haIf
and say good nIght to hIm and tufn off
the IIght.
Then It's husband and wIfe togethef.
He sIts on the sofa, feadIng the newspa-
pef and taIkIng to me now and then
about hIs patIents of somethIng In the
papef. Then he IIstens to Haydn of
Mozaft. I don't mInd IIstenIng to musIc,
but I can nevef seem to teII the dIffef-
ence between those two composefs.
They sound the same to me. When I say
that to my husband, he teIIs me It
doesn't mattef. It's aII beautIfuI. That's
what counts."
Just IIke you," I say.
Just IIke me," he answefs wIth a bIg
smIIe. He seems genuIneIy pIeased.
SO THAT'S MY IIFEof my IIfe befofe I
stopped sIeepIngeach day pfetty
much a fepetItIon of the one befofe. I
used to keep a dIafy, but If I fofgot fof
two of thfee days, I'd Iose tfack of what
had happened on whIch day. Yestefday
couId have been the day befofe yestef-
day, of vIce vefsa. I'd sometImes won-
def what kInd of IIfe thIs was. WhIch Is
not to say that I found It empty. I
wasvefy sImpIyamazed. At the Iack
of demafcatIon between the days. At
the fact that I was paft of such a IIfe, a
IIfe that had swaIIowed me up so com-
pIeteIy. At the fact that my footpfInts
wefe beIng bIown away befofe I even
had a chance to tufn and Iook at them.
Whenevef I feIt IIke that, I wouId
Iook at my face In the bathfoom mIf-
fofjust Iook at It fof fIfteen mInutes
at a tIme, my mInd a totaI bIank. I'd
stafe at my face pufeIy as a physIcaI
object, and gfaduaIIy It wouId dIscon-
nect ffom the fest of me, becomIng just
some thIng that happened to exIst at
the same tIme as myseIf. And a feaIIza-
tIon wouId come to me: ThIs Is happen-
Ing hefe and now. It's got nothIng to do
wIth footpfInts. ReaIIty and I exIst sIm-
uItaneousIy at thIs pfesent moment.
That's the most Impoftant thIng.
But now I can't sIeep anymofe. When
I stopped sIeepIng, I stopped keepIng a
I REMEMBER wIth peffect cIafIty that fIfst
nIght I Iost the abIIIty to sIeep. I was
havIng a fepuIsIve dfeama dafk,
sIImy dfeam. I don't femembef what It
was about, but I do femembef how It
feIt: omInous and teffIfyIng. I woke at
the cIImactIc momentcame fuIIy
awake wIth a staft, as If somethIng had
dfagged me back at the Iast moment
ffom a fataI tufnIng poInt. Had I fe-
maIned Immefsed In the dfeam fof an-
othef second, I wouId have been Iost
fofevef. Aftef I awoke, my bfeath came
In paInfuI gasps fof a tIme. My afms
and Iegs feIt pafaIyzed. I Iay thefe Im-
mobIIIzed, IIstenIng to my own Iabofed
bfeathIng, as If I wefe stfetched out
fuII-Iength on the fIoof of a huge
It was a dfeam," I toId myseIf, and I
waIted fof my bfeathIng to caIm down.
IyIng stIff on my back, I feIt my heaft
wofkIng vIoIentIy, my Iungs huffyIng
the bIood to It wIth bIg, sIow, beIIow-
sIIke contfactIons. I began to wondef
what tIme It couId be. I wanted to Iook
at the cIock by my pIIIow, but I
couIdn't tufn my head faf enough. Just
then, I seemed to catch a gIImpse of
somethIng at the foot of the bed,
somethIng IIke a vague, bIack shadow. I
caught my bfeath. My heaft, my Iungs,
evefythIng InsIde me, seemed to ffeeze
In that Instant. I stfaIned to see the
bIack shadow.
The moment I tfIed to focus on It, the
shadow began to assume a defInIte
shape, as If It had been waItIng fof me
to notIce It. Its outIIne became dIstInct,
and began to be fIIIed wIth substance,
and then wIth detaIIs. It was a gaunt
oId man weafIng a skIntIght bIack shIft.
HIs haIf was gfay and shoft, hIs cheeks
sunken. He stood at my feet, peffectIy
stIII. He saId nothIng, but hIs pIefcIng
eyes stafed at me. They wefe huge
eyes, and I couId see the fed netwofk of
veIns In them. The oId man's face wofe
no expfessIon at aII. It toId me nothIng.
It was IIke an openIng In the dafkness.
ThIs was no Iongef the dfeam, I
knew. Ffom that I had aIfeady
awakened. And not just by dfIftIng
awake, but by havIng my eyes fIpped
open. No, thIs was no dfeam. ThIs was
feaIIty. And In feaIIty an oId man I had
nevef seen befofe was standIng at the
foot of my bed. I had to do
somethIngtufn on the IIght, wake my
husband, scfeam. I tfIed to move. I
fought to make my IImbs wofk, but It
dId no good. I couIdn't move a fIngef.
When It became cIeaf to me that I
wouId nevef be abIe to move, I was
fIIIed wIth a hopeIess teffof, a pfImaI
feaf such as I had nevef expefIenced
befofe, IIke a chIII that fIses sIIentIy
ffom the bottomIess weII of memofy. I
tfIed to scfeam, but I was IncapabIe of
pfoducIng a sound of even movIng my
tongue. AII I couId do was Iook at the
oId man.
Now I saw that he was hoIdIng
somethInga taII, naffow, founded
thIng that shone whIte. As I stafed at
thIs object, wondefIng what It couId be,
It began to take on a defInIte shape,
just as the shadow had eafIIef. It was a
pItchef, an oId-fashIoned pofceIaIn
pItchef. Aftef some tIme, the man
faIsed the pItchef and began poufIng
watef ffom It onto my feet. I couId not
feeI the watef. I couId see It and heaf It
spIashIng down onto my feet, but I
couIdn't feeI a thIng.
The oId man went on and on poufIng
watef ovef my feet. Stfangeno mattef
how much he poufed, the pItchef nevef
fan dfy. I began to woffy that my feet
wouId eventuaIIy fot and meIt away.
Yes, of coufse they wouId fot. What
eIse couId they do wIth so much watef
poufIng ovef them? When It occuffed
to me that my feet wefe goIng to fot
and meIt away, I couIdn't take It any
I cIosed my eyes and Iet out a scfeam
so Ioud It took evefy ounce of stfength I
had. But It nevef Ieft my body. It fevef-
befated soundIessIy InsIde, teafIng
thfough me, shuttIng down my heaft.
EvefythIng InsIde my head tufned
whIte fof a moment as the scfeam pen-
etfated my evefy ceII. SomethIng InsIde
me dIed. SomethIng meIted away, Ieav-
Ing onIy a shuddefIng vacuum. An ex-
pIosIve fIash IncInefated evefythIng my
exIstence depended on.
When I opened my eyes, the oId man
was gone. The pItchef was gone. The
bedspfead was dfy, and thefe was no
IndIcatIon that anythIng neaf my feet
had been wet. My body, though, was
soaked wIth sweat, a hoffIfyIng voIume
of sweat, mofe sweat than I evef Ima-
gIned a human beIng couId pfoduce.
And yet, undenIabIy, It was sweat that
had come ffom me.
I moved one fIngef. Then anothef,
and anothef, and the fest. Next, I bent
my afms and then my Iegs. I fotated my
feet and bent my knees. NothIng moved
quIte as It shouId have, but at Ieast It
dId move. Aftef cafefuIIy checkIng to
see that aII my body pafts wefe wofk-
Ing, I eased myseIf Into a sIttIng posI-
tIon. In the dIm IIght fIItefIng In ffom
the stfeetIamp, I scanned the entIfe
foom ffom cofnef to cofnef. The oId
man was defInIteIy not thefe.
The cIock by my pIIIow saId 12:30. I
had been sIeepIng fof onIy an houf and
a haIf. My husband was sound asIeep In
hIs bed. Even hIs bfeathIng was Inaud-
IbIe. He aIways sIeeps IIke that, as If aII
mentaI actIvIty In hIm had been obIItef-
ated. AImost nothIng can wake hIm.
I got out of bed and went Into the
bathfoom. I thfew my sweat-soaked
nIghtgown Into the washIng machIne
and took a showef. Aftef puttIng on a
ffesh paIf of pajamas, I went to the IIv-
Ing foom, swItched on the fIoof Iamp
besIde the sofa, and sat thefe dfInkIng a
fuII gIass of bfandy. I aImost nevef
dfInk. Not that I have a physIcaI Incom-
patIbIIIty wIth aIcohoI, as my husband
does. In fact, I used to dfInk quIte a Iot,
but aftef maffyIng hIm I sImpIy
stopped. SometImes when I had tfoubIe
sIeepIng I wouId take a sIp of bfandy,
but that nIght I feIt I wanted a whoIe
gIass to quIet my ovefwfought nefves.
The onIy aIcohoI In the house was a
bottIe of Remy MaftIn we kept In the
sIdeboafd. It had been a gIft. I don't
even femembef who gave It to us, It
was so Iong ago. The bottIe wofe a thIn
Iayef of dust. We had no feaI bfandy
gIasses, so I just poufed It Into a feguIaf
tumbIef and sIpped It sIowIy.
I must have been In a tfance, I
thought. I had nevef expefIenced such a
thIng, but I had heafd about tfances
ffom a coIIege ffIend who had been
thfough one. EvefythIng was IncfedIbIy
cIeaf, she had saId. You can't beIIeve
It's a dfeam. I dIdn't beIIeve It was a
dfeam when It was happenIng, and now
I stIII don't beIIeve It was a dfeam."
WhIch Is exactIy how I feIt. Of coufse It
had to be a dfeama kInd of dfeam
that doesn't feeI IIke a dfeam.
Though the teffof was IeavIng me,
the tfembIIng of my body wouId not
stop. It was In my skIn, IIke the cIfcuIaf
fIppIes on watef aftef an eafthquake. I
couId see the sIIght quIvefIng. The
scfeam had done It. That scfeam that
had nevef found a voIce was stIII
Iocked up In my body, makIng It
I cIosed my eyes and swaIIowed an-
othef mouthfuI of bfandy. The wafmth
spfead ffom my thfoat to my stomach.
The sensatIon feIt tfemendousIy *-$#.
WIth a staft, I thought of my son.
AgaIn my heaft began poundIng. I huf-
fIed ffom the sofa to hIs foom. He was
sound asIeep, one hand acfoss hIs
mouth, the othef thfust out to the sIde,
IookIng just as secufe and peacefuI In
sIeep as my husband. I stfaIghtened hIs
bIanket. Whatevef It was that had so
vIoIentIy shattefed my sIeep, It had at-
tacked onIy me. NeIthef of them had
feIt a thIng.
I fetufned to the IIvIng foom and
wandefed about thefe. I was not the
Ieast bIt sIeepy.
I consIdefed dfInkIng anothef gIass of
bfandy. In fact, I wanted to dfInk even
mofe aIcohoI than that. I wanted to
wafm my body mofe, to caIm my
nefves down mofe, and to feeI that
stfong, penetfatIng bouquet In my
mouth agaIn. Aftef some hesItatIon, I
decIded agaInst It. I dIdn't want to staft
the new day dfunk. I put the bfandy
back In the sIdeboafd, bfought the gIass
to the kItchen sInk and washed It. I
found some stfawbeffIes In the feffIgef-
atof and ate them.
I feaIIzed that the tfembIIng In my
skIn was aImost gone.
What was that oId man In bIack? I
asked myseIf. I had nevef seen hIm be-
fofe In my IIfe. That bIack cIothIng of
hIs was so stfange, IIke a tIght-fIttIng
sweat suIt, and yet, at the same tIme,
oId-fashIoned. I had nevef seen any-
thIng IIke It. And those
eyesbIoodshot, and nevef bIInkIng.
Who was he? Why dId he pouf watef
onto my feet? Why dId he have to do
such a thIng?
I had onIy questIons, no answefs.
The tIme my ffIend went Into a
tfance, she was spendIng the nIght at
hef fIance's house. As she Iay In bed
asIeep, an angfy-IookIng man In hIs
eafIy fIftIes appfoached and ofdefed
hef out of the house. WhIIe that was
happenIng, she couIdn't move a muscIe.
And, IIke me, she became soaked wIth
sweat. She was ceftaIn It must be the
ghost of hef fIance's fathef, who was
teIIIng hef to get out of hIs house. But
when she asked to see a photogfaph of
the fathef the next day, It tufned out to
be an entIfeIy dIffefent man. I must
have been feeIIng tense," she con-
cIuded. That's what caused It."
But DM& not tense. And thIs Is my own
house. Thefe shouIdn't be anythIng
hefe to thfeaten me. Why dId I have to
go Into a tfance?
I shook my head. Stop thInkIng, I
toId myseIf. It won't do any good. I had
a feaIIstIc dfeam, nothIng mofe. I've
pfobabIy been buIIdIng up some kInd of
fatIgue. The tennIs I pIayed the day be-
fofe yestefday must have done It. I met
a ffIend at the cIub aftef my swIm and
she InvIted me to pIay tennIs and I
ovefdId It a IIttIe, that's aII. Sufemy
afms and Iegs feIt tIfed and heavy fof a
whIIe aftefwafd.
When I fInIshed my stfawbeffIes, I
stfetched out on the sofa and tfIed cIos-
Ing my eyes.
I wasn't sIeepy at aII. Oh, gfeat, I
thought. I feaIIy don't feeI IIke sIeepIng.
I thought I'd fead a book untII I got
tIfed agaIn. I went to the bedfoom and
pIcked a noveI ffom the bookcase. My
husband dIdn't even twItch when I
tufned on the IIght to hunt fof It. I
chose !00$ Z$*-0%0$. I was In the mood
fof a Iong RussIan noveI, and I had fead
!00$ Z$*-0%0$ onIy once, Iong ago,
pfobabIy In hIgh schooI. I femembefed
just a few thIngs about It: the fIfst IIne,
AII happy famIIIes fesembIe one an-
othef, evefy unhappy famIIy Is unhappy
In Its own way," and the hefoIne's
thfowIng hefseIf undef a tfaIn at the
end. And that eafIy on thefe was a hInt
of the fInaI suIcIde. Wasn't thefe a
scene at a facetfack? Of was that In an-
othef noveI?
Whatevef. I went back to the sofa
and opened the book. How many yeafs
had It been sInce I'd sat down and fe-
Iaxed IIke thIs wIth a book? Tfue, I of-
ten spent haIf an houf of an houf of my
pfIvate tIme In the aftefnoon wIth a
book open. But you couIdn't feaIIy caII
that feadIng. I'd aIways fInd myseIf
thInkIng about othef thIngsmy son,
of shoppIng, of the ffeezef's needIng to
be fIxed, of my havIng to fInd
somethIng to weaf to a feIatIve's wed-
dIng, of the stomach opefatIon my fath-
ef had Iast month. That kInd of stuff
wouId dfIft Into my mInd, and then It
wouId gfow and take off In a mIIIIon
dIffefent dIfectIons. Aftef a whIIe I'd
notIce that the onIy thIng that had gone
by was the tIme, and I had hafdIy
tufned any pages.
WIthout notIcIng It, I had become ac-
customed In thIs way to a IIfe wIthout
books. How stfange, now that I thInk of
It. ReadIng had been the centef of my
IIfe when I was young. I had fead evefy
book In the gfade-schooI IIbfafy, and
aImost my entIfe aIIowance wouId go
fof books. I'd even scfImp on Iunches to
buy books I wanted to fead. And thIs
went on Into junIof hIgh and hIgh
schooI. Nobody fead as much as I dId. I
was the thIfd of fIve chIIdfen, and both
my pafents wofked, so nobody paId
much attentIon to me. I couId fead
aIone as much as I IIked. I'd aIways
entef the essay contests on books so
that I couId wIn a gIft ceftIfIcate fof
mofe books. And I usuaIIy won. In coI-
Iege, I majofed In EngIIsh IItefatufe and
got good gfades. My gfaduatIon thesIs
on KathefIne MansfIeId won top hon-
ofs, and my thesIs advIsef ufged me to
appIy to gfaduate schooI. I wanted to
go out Into the wofId, though, and I
knew that I was no schoIaf. I just en-
joyed feadIng books. And even If I had
wanted to go on studyIng, my famIIy
dIdn't have the fInancIaI whefewIthaI
to send me to gfaduate schooI. We wef-
en't poof by any means, but thefe wefe
two sIstefs comIng aIong aftef me, so
once I gfaduated ffom coIIege I sImpIy
had to begIn suppoftIng myseIf.
When had I feaIIy fead a book Iast?
And what had It been? I couIdn't fecaII
anythIng. Why dId a pefson's IIfe have
to change so compIeteIy? Whefe had
the oId me gone, the one who used to
fead a book as If possessed by It? What
had those daysand that aImost abnof-
maIIy Intense passIonmeant to me?
THAT NIGHT, I found myseIf capabIe of
feadIng !00$ Z$*-0%0$ wIth unbfoken
concentfatIon. I went on tufnIng pages
wIthout anothef thought In mInd. In
one sIttIng, I fead as faf as the scene
whefe Anna and Vfonsky fIfst see each
othef In the Moscow tfaIn statIon. At
that poInt, I stuck my bookmafk In and
poufed myseIf anothef gIass of bfandy.
Though It hadn't occuffed to me be-
fofe, I couIdn't heIp thInkIng what an
odd noveI thIs was. You don't see the
hefoIne, Anna, untII Chaptef 18. I
wondefed If It dIdn't seem unusuaI to
feadefs In ToIstoy's day. What dId they
do when the book went on and on wIth
a detaIIed descfIptIon of the IIfe of a
mInof chafactef named ObIonskyjust
sIt thefe, waItIng fof the beautIfuI
hefoIne to appeaf? Maybe that was It.
Maybe peopIe In those days had Iots of
tIme to kIIIat Ieast the paft of socIety
that fead noveIs.
Then I notIced how Iate It was. Thfee
In the mofnIng! And stIII I wasn't
What shouId I do? I don't feeI sIeepy
at aII, I thought. I couId just keep on
feadIng. I'd Iove to fInd out what hap-
pens In the stofy. But I have to sIeep.
I femembefed my ofdeaI wIth Insom-
nIa and how I had gone thfough each
day back then, wfapped In a cIoud. No,
nevef agaIn. I was stIII a student In
those days. It was stIII possIbIe fof me
to get away wIth somethIng IIke that.
But not now, I thought. Now I'm a wIfe.
A mothef. I have fesponsIbIIItIes. I have
to make my husband's Iunches and take
cafe of my son.
But even If I get Into bed now, I
know I won't be abIe to sIeep a wInk.
I shook my head.
Iet's face It, I'm just not sIeepy, I toId
myseIf And I want to fead the fest of
the book.
I sIghed and stoIe a gIance at the bIg
voIume IyIng on the tabIe. And that
was that. I pIunged Into !00$ Z$*-0%0$
and kept feadIng untII the sun came up.
Anna and Vfonsky stafed at each othef
at the baII and feII Into theIf doomed
Iove. Anna went to pIeces when Vfon-
sky's hofse feII at the facetfack (so
thefe 5$3 a facetfack scene, aftef aII!)
and confessed hef InfIdeIIty to hef hus-
band. I was thefe wIth Vfonsky when
he spuffed hIs hofse ovef the obstacIes.
I heafd the cfowd cheefIng hIm on.
And I was thefe In the stands watchIng
hIs hofse go down. When the wIndow
bfIghtened wIth the mofnIng IIght, I
IaId down the book and went to the
kItchen fof a cup of coffee. My mInd
was fIIIed wIth scenes ffom the noveI
and wIth a tfemendous hungef obIItef-
atIng any othef thoughts. I cut two
sIIces of bfead, spfead them wIth buttef
and mustafd, and had a cheese sand-
wIch. My hungef pangs wefe aImost
unbeafabIe. It was fafe fof me to feeI
that hungfy. I had tfoubIe bfeathIng, I
was so hungfy. One sandwIch dId
hafdIy anythIng fof me, so I made an-
othef one and had anothef cup of cof-
fee wIth It.
TO MY HUSBAND I saId nothIng about
eIthef my tfance of my nIght wIthout
sIeep. Not that I was hIdIng them ffom
hIm. It just seemed to me that thefe
was no poInt In teIIIng hIm. What good
wouId It have done? And besIdes, I had
sImpIy mIssed a nIght's sIeep. That
much happens to evefyone now and
I made my husband hIs usuaI cup of
coffee and gave my son a gIass of wafm
mIIk. My husband ate toast, and my son
ate a bowI of cofnfIakes. My husband
skImmed the mofnIng papef, and my
son hummed a new song he had
Ieafned In schooI. The two of them got
Into the Sentfa and Ieft. Be cafefuI," I
saId to my husband. Don't woffy," he
answefed. The two of them waved. A
typIcaI mofnIng.
Aftef they wefe gone, I sat on the
sofa and thought about how to spend
the fest of the day. What shouId I do?
What dId I have to do? I went to the
kItchen to Inspect the contents of the
feffIgefatof. I couId get by wIthout
shoppIng. We had bfead, mIIk, and
eggs, and thefe was meat In the ffeezef.
PIenty of vegetabIes, too. EvefythIng I'd
need thfough tomoffow's Iunch.
I had busIness at the bank, but It was
nothIng I absoIuteIy had to take cafe of
ImmedIateIy. IettIng It go a day Iongef
wouIdn't huft.
I went back to the sofa and stafted
feadIng the fest of !00$ Z$*-0%0$. UntII
that feadIng, I hadn't feaIIzed how IIttIe
I femembefed of what goes on In the
book. I fecognIzed vIftuaIIy noth-
Ingthe chafactefs, the scenes, noth-
Ing. I mIght as weII have been feadIng a
whoIe new book. How stfange. I must
have been deepIy moved at the tIme I
fIfst fead It, but now thefe was nothIng
Ieft. WIthout my notIcIng, the memof-
Ies of aII the shuddefIng, soafIng emo-
tIons had sIIpped away and vanIshed.
What, then, of the enofmous fund of
tIme I had consumed back then feadIng
books? What had aII that meant?
I stopped feadIng and thought about
that fof a whIIe. None of It made sense
to me, though, and soon I even Iost
tfack of what I was thInkIng about. I
caught myseIf stafIng at the tfee that
stood outsIde the wIndow. I shook my
head and went back to the book.
Just aftef the mIddIe of VoIume 3, I
found a few cfumbIIng fIakes of chocoI-
ate stuck between the pages. I must
have been eatIng chocoIate as I fead
the noveI when I was In hIgh schooI. I
used to IIke to eat and fead. Come to
thInk of It, I hadn't touched chocoIate
sInce my maffIage. My husband doesn't
IIke me to eat sweets, and we aImost
nevef gIve them to ouf son. We don't
usuaIIy keep that kInd of thIng afound
the house.
As I Iooked at the whItened fIakes of
chocoIate ffom ovef a decade ago, I feIt
a tfemendous ufge to have the feaI
thIng. I wanted to eat chocoIate whIIe
feadIng !00$ Z$*-0%0$, the way I dId
back then. I couIdn't beaf to be denIed
It fof anothef moment. Evefy ceII In my
body seemed to be pantIng wIth thIs
hungef fof chocoIate.
I sIIpped a cafdIgan ovef my
shouIdefs and took the eIevatof down. I
waIked stfaIght to the neIghbofhood
candy shop and bought two of the
sweetest-IookIng mIIk-chocoIate bafs
they had. As soon as I Ieft the shop, I
tofe one open and stafted eatIng It
whIIe waIkIng home. The IuscIous taste
of mIIk chocoIate spfead thfough my
mouth. I couId feeI the sweetness beIng
absofbed dIfectIy Into evefy paft of my
body. I contInued eatIng In the eIevat-
of, steepIng myseIf In the wondeffuI
afoma that fIIIed the tIny space.
HeadIng stfaIght fof the sofa, I staf-
ted feadIng !00$ Z$*-0%0$ and eatIng
my chocoIate. I wasn't the Ieast bIt
sIeepy. I feIt no physIcaI fatIgue, eIthef.
I couId have gone on feadIng fofevef.
When I fInIshed the fIfst chocoIate baf,
I opened the second and ate haIf of
that. About two thIfds of the way
thfough VoIume 3, I Iooked at my
watch. EIeven-fofty.
My husband wouId be home soon. I
cIosed the book and huffIed to the kIt-
chen. I put watef In a pot and tufned
on the gas. Then I mInced some scaI-
IIons and took out a handfuI of buck-
wheat noodIes fof boIIIng. WhIIe the
watef was heatIng, I soaked some dfIed
seaweed, cut It up, and topped It wIth a
vInegaf dfessIng. I took a bIock of tofu
ffom the feffIgefatof and cut It Into
cubes. FInaIIy, I went Into the bath-
foom and bfushed my teeth to get fId
of the chocoIate smeII.
At aImost the exact moment the wa-
tef came to a boII, my husband waIked
In. He had fInIshed wofk a IIttIe eafIIef
than usuaI, he saId.
Togethef, we ate the buckwheat
noodIes. My husband taIked about a
new pIece of dentaI equIpment he was
consIdefIng bfIngIng Into the offIce, a
machIne that wouId femove pIaque
ffom patIents' teeth faf mofe thof-
oughIy than anythIng he had used be-
fofe, and In Iess tIme. IIke aII such
equIpment, It was quIte expensIve, but
It wouId pay fof ItseIf soon enough.
Mofe and mofe patIents wefe comIng In
just fof a cIeanIng these days.
What do you thInk?" he asked me.
I dIdn't want to thInk about pIaque
on peopIe's teeth, and I especIaIIy
dIdn't want to heaf of thInk about It
whIIe I was eatIng. My mInd was fIIIed
wIth hazy Images of Vfonsky faIIIng off
hIs hofse. But of coufse I couIdn't teII
my husband that. He was deadIy sefI-
ous about the equIpment. I asked hIm
the pfIce and pfetended to thInk about
It. Why not buy It If you need It?" I
saId. The money wIII wofk out one
way of anothef. You wouIdn't be
spendIng It fof fun, aftef aII."
That's tfue," he saId. I wouIdn't be
spendIng It fof fun." Then he contInued
eatIng hIs noodIes In sIIence.
Pefched on a bfanch of the tfee out-
sIde the wIndow, a paIf of Iafge bIfds
was chIfpIng. I watched them haIf-con-
scIousIy. I wasn't sIeepy. I wasn't the
Ieast bIt sIeepy. Why not?
WhIIe I cIeafed the tabIe, my hus-
band sat on the sofa feadIng the papef.
!00$ Z$*-0%0$ Iay thefe besIde hIm, but
he dIdn't seem to notIce. He had no In-
tefest In whethef I fead books.
Aftef I fInIshed washIng the dIshes,
my husband saId, I've got a nIce suf-
pfIse today. What do you thInk It Is?"
I don't know," I saId.
My fIfst aftefnoon patIent has can-
ceIed. I don't have to be back In the of-
fIce untII one-thIfty." He smIIed.
I couIdn't fIgufe out why thIs was
supposed to be such a nIce sufpfIse. I
wondef why I couIdn't.
It was onIy aftef my husband stood
up and dfew me towafd the bedfoom
that I feaIIzed what he had In mInd. I
wasn't In the mood fof It at aII. I dIdn't
undefstand why I shouId have sex then.
AII I wanted was to get back to my
book. I wanted to stfetch out aIone on
the sofa and munch on chocoIate whIIe
I tufned the pages of !00$ Z$*-0%0$. AII
the tIme I had been washIng the dIshes,
my onIy thoughts had been of Vfonsky
and of how an authof IIke ToIstoy man-
aged to contfoI hIs chafactefs so skIII-
fuIIy. He descfIbed them wIth wondef-
fuI pfecIsIon. But that vefy pfecIsIon
somehow denIed them a kInd of saIva-
tIon. And thIs fInaIIy
I cIosed my eyes and pfessed my fIn-
geftIps to my tempIe.
I'm soffy, I've had a kInd of head-
ache aII day. What awfuI tImIng."
I had often had some tfuIy teffIbIe
headaches, so he accepted my expIana-
tIon wIthout a mufmuf.
You'd bettef IIe down and get some
fest," he saId. You've been wofkIng
too hafd."
It's feaIIy not that bad," I saId.
He feIaxed on the sofa untII one
o'cIock, IIstenIng to musIc and feadIng
the papef. And he taIked about dentaI
equIpment agaIn. You bought the Iatest
hIgh-tech stuff and It was obsoIete In
two of thfee yeafs.. So then you had
to keep fepIacIng evefythIng.. The
onIy ones who made any money wefe
the equIpment manufactufefsthat
kInd of taIk. I offefed a few cIucks, but
I was hafdIy IIstenIng.
Aftef my husband went back to the
offIce, I foIded the papef and pounded
the sofa cushIons untII they wefe puffed
up agaIn. Then I Ieaned on the wIn-
dowsIII, sufveyIng the foom. I couIdn't
fIgufe out what was happenIng. Why
wasn't I sIeepy? In the oId days, I had
done aII-nIghtefs any numbef of tImes,
but I had nevef stayed awake thIs Iong.
OfdInafIIy, I wouId have been sound
asIeep aftef so many houfs of, If not
asIeep, ImpossIbIy tIfed. But I wasn't
the Ieast bIt sIeepy. My mInd was pef-
fectIy cIeaf.
I went Into the kItchen and wafmed
up some coffee. I thought, Now what
shouId I do? Of coufse, I wanted to
fead the fest of !00$ Z$*-0%0$, but I
aIso wanted to go to the pooI fof my
swIm. I decIded to go swImmIng. I
don't know how to expIaIn thIs, but I
wanted to pufge my body of somethIng
by exefcIsIng It to the IImIt. Pufge
Itof what? I spent some tIme wondef-
Ing about that. Pufge It of what?
I dIdn't know.
But thIs thIng, whatevef It was, thIs
mIstIIke somethIng, hung thefe InsIde
my body IIke a ceftaIn kInd of poten-
tIaI. I wanted to gIve It a name, but the
wofd fefused to come to mInd. I'm tef-
fIbIe at fIndIng the fIght wofds fof
thIngs. I'm sufe ToIstoy wouId have
been abIe to come up wIth exactIy the
fIght wofd.
Anyhow, I put my swImsuIt In my
bag and, as aIways, dfove my CIvIc to
the athIetIc cIub. Thefe wefe onIy two
othef peopIe In the pooIa young man
and a mIddIe-aged womanand I
dIdn't know eIthef of them. A bofed-
IookIng IIfeguafd was on duty.
I changed Into my bathIng suIt, put
on my goggIes, and swam my usuaI
thIfty mInutes. But thIfty mInutes
wasn't enough. I swam anothef fIfteen
mInutes, endIng wIth a cfawI at maxIm-
um speed fof two fuII Iengths. I was out
of bfeath, but I stIII feIt nothIng but en-
efgy weIIIng up InsIde my body. The
othefs wefe stafIng at me when I Ieft
the pooI.
It was stIII a IIttIe befofe thfee
o'cIock, so I dfove to the bank and fIn-
Ished my busIness thefe. I consIdefed
doIng some shoppIng at the supefmaf-
ket, but I decIded Instead to head
stfaIght fof home. Thefe, I pIcked up
!00$ Z$*-0%0$ whefe I had Ieft off, eat-
Ing what was Ieft of the chocoIate.
When my son came home at fouf
o'cIock, I gave hIm a gIass of juIce and
some ffuIt geIatIn that I had made.
Then I stafted on dInnef. I deffosted
some meat ffom the ffeezef and cut up
some vegetabIes In pfepafatIon fof stIf-
ffyIng. I made mIso soup and cooked
the fIce. AII of these tasks I took cafe of
wIth tfemendous mechanIcaI effIcIency.
I went back to !00$'Z$*-0%0$.
I was not tIfed.
AT TEN O'CIOCK, I got Into my bed, pfe-
tendIng that I wouId be sIeepIng thefe
neaf my husband. He feII asIeep fIght
away, pfactIcaIIy the moment the IIght
went out, as If thefe wefe some cofd
connectIng the Iamp wIth hIs bfaIn.
AmazIng. PeopIe IIke that afe fafe.
Thefe afe faf mofe peopIe who have
tfoubIe faIIIng asIeep. My fathef was
one of those. He'd aIways compIaIn
about how shaIIow hIs sIeep was. Not
onIy dId he fInd It hafd to get to sIeep,
but the sIIghtest sound of movement
wouId wake hIm up fof the fest of the
Not my husband, though. Once he
was asIeep, nothIng couId wake hIm
untII mofnIng. We wefe stIII newIyweds
when It stfuck me how odd thIs was. I
even expefImented to see what It wouId
take to wake hIm. I spfInkIed watef on
hIs face and tIckIed hIs nose wIth a
bfushthat kInd of thIng. I nevef once
got hIm to wake up. If I kept at It, I
couId get hIm to gfoan once, but that
was aII. And he nevef dfeamed. At Ieast
he nevef femembefed what hIs dfeams
wefe about. NeedIess to say, he nevef
went Into any pafaIytIc tfances. He
sIept. He sIept IIke a tuftIe bufIed In
AmazIng. But It heIped wIth what
quIckIy became my nIghtIy foutIne.
Aftef ten mInutes of IyIng neaf hIm, I
wouId get out of bed. I wouId go to the
IIvIng foom, tufn on the fIoof Iamp,
and pouf myseIf a gIass of bfandy. Then
I wouId sIt on the sofa and fead my
book, takIng tIny sIps of bfandy and Iet-
tIng the smooth IIquId gIIde ovef my
tongue. Whenevef I feIt IIke It, I wouId
eat a cookIe of a pIece of chocoIate that
I had hIdden In the sIdeboafd. Aftef a
whIIe, mofnIng wouId come. When that
happened, I wouId cIose my book and
make myseIf a cup of coffee. Then I
wouId make a sandwIch and eat It.
My days became just as feguIated.
I wouId huffy thfough my housewofk
and spend the fest of the mofnIng fead-
Ing. Just befofe noon, I wouId put my
book down and fIx my husband's Iunch.
When he Ieft, befofe one, I'd dfIve to
the cIub and have my swIm. I wouId
swIm fof a fuII houf. Once I stopped
sIeepIng, thIfty mInutes was nevef
enough. WhIIe I was In the watef, I
concentfated my entIfe mInd on swIm-
mIng. I thought about nothIng but how
to move my body most effectIveIy, and
I InhaIed and exhaIed wIth peffect feg-
uIafIty. If I met someone I knew, I
hafdIy saId a wofdjust the basIc cIvII-
ItIes. I fefused aII InvItatIons. Soffy,"
I'd say. I'm goIng stfaIght home today.
Thefe's somethIng I have to do." I
dIdn't want to get InvoIved wIth any-
body. I dIdn't want to have to waste
tIme on endIess gossIpIng. When I was
thfough swImmIng as hafd as I couId,
aII I wanted was to huffy home and
I went thfough the motIonsshop-
pIng, cookIng, pIayIng wIth my son,
havIng sex wIth my husband. It was
easy once I got the hang of It. AII I had
to do was bfeak the connectIon
between my mInd and my body. WhIIe
my body went about Its busIness, my
mInd fIoated In Its own Innef space. I
fan the house wIthout a thought In my
head, feedIng snacks to my son, chat-
tIng wIth my husband.
Aftef I gave up sIeepIng, It occuffed
to me what a sImpIe thIng feaIIty Is,
how easy It Is to make It wofk. It's just
feaIIty. Just housewofk. Just a home.
IIke funnIng a sImpIe machIne. Once
you Ieafn to fun It, It's just a mattef of
fepetItIon. You push thIs button and
puII that Ievef. You adjust a gauge, put
on the IId, set the tImef. The same
thIng, ovef and ovef.
Of coufse, thefe wefe vafIatIons now
and then. My mothef-In-Iaw had dInnef
wIth us. On Sunday, the thfee of us
went to the zoo. My son had a teffIbIe
case of dIaffhea.
But none of these events had any ef-
fect on my beIng. They swept past me
IIke a sIIent bfeeze. I chatted wIth my
mothef-In-Iaw, made dInnef fof fouf,
took a pIctufe In ffont of the beaf cage,
put a hot-watef bottIe on my son's
stomach and gave hIm hIs medIcIne.
No one notIced that I had
changedthat I had gIven up sIeepIng
entIfeIy, that I was spendIng aII my
tIme feadIng, that my mInd was some-
pIace a hundfed yeafsand hundfeds
of mIIesffom feaIIty. No mattef how
mechanIcaIIy I wofked, no mattef how
IIttIe Iove of emotIon I Invested In my
handIIng of feaIIty, my husband and
my son and my mothef-In-Iaw went on
feIatIng to me as they aIways had. If
anythIng, they seemed mofe at ease
wIth me than befofe.
And so a week went by.
Once my constant wakefuIness
entefed Its second week, though, It
stafted to woffy me. It was sImpIy not
nofmaI. PeopIe afe supposed to sIeep.
AII peopIe sIeep. Once, some yeafs ago,
I had fead about a fofm of toftufe In
whIch the vIctIm Is pfevented ffom
sIeepIng. SomethIng the NazIs dId, I
thInk. They'd Iock the pefson In a tIny
foom, fasten hIs eyeIIds open, and keep
shInIng IIghts In hIs face and makIng
Ioud noIses wIthout a bfeak. Eventu-
aIIy, the pefson wouId go mad and dIe.
I couIdn't fecaII how Iong the aftIcIe
saId It took fof the madness to set In,
but It couIdn't have been much mofe
than thfee of fouf days. In my case, a
whoIe week had gone by. ThIs was
sImpIy too much. StIII, my heaIth was
not suffefIng. Faf ffom It. I had mofe
enefgy than evef.
One day, aftef showefIng, I stood na-
ked In ffont of the mIffof. I was
amazed to dIscovef that my body ap-
peafed to be aImost bufstIng wIth vItaI-
Ity. I studIed evefy Inch of myseIf, head
to toe, but I couId fInd not the sIIghtest
hInt of excess fIesh, not one wfInkIe. I
no Iongef had the body of a young gIfI,
of coufse, but my skIn had faf mofe
gIow, faf mofe tautness, than It had be-
fofe. I took a pInch of fIesh neaf my
waIst and found It aImost hafd, wIth a
wondeffuI eIastIcIty.
It dawned on me that I was pfettIef
than I had feaIIzed. I Iooked so much
youngef than befofe that It was aImost
shockIng. I couId pfobabIy pass fof
twenty-fouf. My skIn was smooth. My
eyes wefe bfIght, IIps moIst. The shad-
owed afea beneath my pfotfudIng
cheekbones (the one featufe I feaIIy
hated about myseIf) was no Iongef no-
tIceabIeat aII. I sat down and Iooked
at my face In the mIffof fof a good
thIfty mInutes. I studIed It ffom aII
angIes, objectIveIy. No, I had not been
mIstaken: I was feaIIy pfetty.
What was happenIng to me?
I thought about seeIng a doctof.
I had a doctof who had been takIng
cafe of me sInce I was a chIId and to
whom I feIt cIose, but the mofe I
thought about how he mIght feact to
my stofy the Iess IncIIned I feIt to teII It
to hIm. WouId he take me at my wofd?
He'd pfobabIy thInk I was cfazy If I saId
I hadn't sIept In a week. Of he mIght
dIsmIss It as a kInd of neufotIc Insom-
nIa. But If he dId beIIeve I was teIIIng
the tfuth, he mIght send me to some
bIg feseafch hospItaI fof testIng.
And 1,-0 what wouId happen?
I'd be Iocked up and sent ffom one
Iab to anothef to be expefImented on.
They'd do EEGs and EKGs and
ufInaIyses and bIood tests and psycho-
IogIcaI scfeenIng and who knows what
I couIdn't take that. I just wanted to
stay by myseIf and quIetIy fead my
book. I wanted to have my houf of
swImmIng evefy day. I wanted my ffee-
dom: That's what I wanted mofe than
anythIng. I dIdn't want to go to any
hospItaIs. And, even If they <%< get me
Into a hospItaI, what wouId they fInd?
They'd do a mountaIn of tests and fof-
muIate a mountaIn of hypotheses, and
that wouId be the end of It. I dIdn't
want to be Iocked up In a pIace IIke
One aftefnoon, I went to the IIbfafy
and fead some books on sIeep. The few
books I couId fInd dIdn't teII me much.
In fact, they aII had onIy one thIng to
say: that sIeep Is fest. IIke tufnIng off a
caf engIne. If you keep a motof funnIng
constantIy, soonef of Iatef It wIII bfeak
down. A funnIng engIne must pfoduce
heat, and the accumuIated heat fatIgues
the machInefy ItseIf. WhIch Is why you
have to Iet the engIne fest. CooI down.
TufnIng off the engInethat, fInaIIy, Is
what sIeep Is. In a human beIng, sIeep
pfovIdes fest fof both the fIesh and the
spIfIt. When a pefson IIes down and
fests hef muscIes, she sImuItaneousIy
cIoses hef eyes and cuts off the thought
pfocess. And excess thoughts feIease an
eIectfIcaI dIschafge In the fofm of
One book dId have a fascInatIng
poInt to make. The authof maIntaIned
that human beIngs, by theIf vefy
natufe, afe IncapabIe of escapIng ffom
ceftaIn fIxed IdIosyncfatIc tendencIes,
both In theIf thought pfocesses and In
theIf physIcaI movements. PeopIe
unconscIousIy fashIon theIf own actIon-
and thought-tendencIes, whIch undef
nofmaI cIfcumstances nevef dIsappeaf.
In othef wofds, peopIe IIve In the pfIs-
on ceIIs of theIf own tendencIes. What
moduIates these tendencIes and keeps
them In checkso the ofganIsm doesn't
weaf down as the heeI of a shoe does,
at a paftIcuIaf angIe, as the authof puts
ItIs nothIng othef than sIeep. SIeep
thefapeutIcaIIy countefacts the tenden-
cIes. In sIeep, peopIe natufaIIy feIax
muscIes that have been consIstentIy
used In onIy one dIfectIon, sIeep both
caIms and pfovIdes a dIschafge fof
thought cIfcuIts that have IIkewIse been
used In onIy one dIfectIon. ThIs Is how
peopIe afe cooIed down. SIeepIng Is an
act that has been pfogfammed, wIth
kafmIc InevItabIIIty, Into the human
system, and no one can dIvefge ffom It.
If a pefson 5-*- to dIvefge ffom It, the
pefson's vefy gfound of beIng" wouId
be thfeatened.
TendencIes?" I asked myseIf.
The onIy tendency" of mIne that I
couId thInk of was housewofkthose
chofes I peffofm day aftef day IIke an
unfeeIIng machIne. CookIng and shop-
pIng and Iaundfy and mothefIng: What
wefe they If not tendencIes"? I couId
do them wIth my eyes cIosed. Push the
buttons. PuII the Ievefs. Pfetty soon,
feaIIty just fIows off and away. The
same physIcaI movements ovef and
ovef. TendencIes. They wefe consumIng
me, weafIng me down on one sIde IIke
the heeI of a shoe. I needed sIeep evefy
day to adjust them and cooI me down.
Was that It?
I fead the passage once mofe, wIth
Intense concentfatIon. And I nodded.
Yes, aImost ceftaInIy, that 5$3 It.
So, then, what was thIs IIfe of mIne? I
was beIng consumed by my tendencIes
and then sIeepIng to fepaIf the damage.
My IIfe was nothIng but a fepetItIon of
thIs cycIe. It was goIng nowhefe.
SIttIng at the IIbfafy tabIe, I shook
my head.
I'm thfough wIth sIeep! So what If I
go mad? So what If I Iose my gfound
of beIng"? I wIII not be consumed by
my tendencIes." If sIeep Is nothIng
mofe than a pefIodIc fepaIfIng of the
pafts of me that afe beIng wofn away, I
don't want It anymofe. I don't need It
anymofe. My fIesh may have to be con-
sumed, but my mInd beIongs to me. I'm
keepIng It fof myseIf. I wIII not hand It
ovef to anyone. I don't want to be fe-
paIfed." I wIII not sIeep.
I Ieft the IIbfafy fIIIed wIth a new

NOW MY INABIIITY to sIeep ceased to
ffIghten me. What was thefe to be
affaId of? ThInk of the advantages!
Now the houfs ffom ten at nIght to sIx
In the mofnIng beIonged to me aIone.
UntII now, a thIfd of evefy day had
been used up by sIeep. But no mofe. No
mofe. Now It was mIne, just mIne,
nobody eIse's, aII mIne. I couId use thIs
tIme In any way I IIked. No one wouId
get In my way. No one wouId make de-
mands on me. Yes, that was It. I had ex-
panded my IIfe. I had Incfeased It by a
You afe pfobabIy goIng to teII me
that thIs Is bIoIogIcaIIy abnofmaI. And
you may be fIght. And maybe someday
In the futufe I'II have to pay back the
debt I'm buIIdIng up by contInuIng to
do thIs bIoIogIcaIIy abnofmaI thIng.
Maybe IIfe wIII tfy to coIIect on the ex-
panded paftthIs advance" It Is pay-
Ing me now. ThIs Is a gfoundIess hypo-
thesIs, but thefe Is no gfound fof negat-
Ing It, and It feeIs fIght to me somehow.
WhIch means that In the end, the baI-
ance sheet of boffowed tIme wIII even
HonestIy, though, I dIdn't gIve a
damn, even If I had to dIe young. The
best thIng to do wIth a hypothesIs Is to
Iet It fun any coufse It pIeases. Now, at
Ieast, I was expandIng my IIfe, and It
was wondeffuI. My hands wefen't
empty anymofe. Hefe I wasaIIve, and
I couId feeI It. It was feaI. I wasn't be-
Ing consumed any Iongef. Of at Ieast
thefe was a paft of me In exIstence that
was not beIng consumed, and that was
what gave me thIs IntenseIy feaI feeIIng
of beIng aIIve. A IIfe wIthout that feeI-
Ing mIght go on fofevef, but It wouId
have no meanIng at aII. I saw that wIth
absoIute cIafIty now.
Aftef checkIng to see that my hus-
band was asIeep, I wouId go sIt on the
IIvIng-foom sofa, dfInk bfandy by my-
seIf, and open my book. I fead !00$
Z$*-0%0$ thfee tImes. Each tIme, I made
new dIscovefIes. ThIs enofmous noveI
was fuII of feveIatIons and fIddIes. IIke
a ChInese box, the wofId of the noveI
contaIned smaIIef wofIds, and InsIde
those wefe yet smaIIef wofIds. Togeth-
ef, these wofIds made up a sIngIe unI-
vefse, and the unIvefse waIted thefe In
the book to be dIscovefed by the fead-
ef. The oId me had been abIe to undef-
stand onIy the tInIest ffagment of It, but
the gaze of thIs new me couId penetfate
to the cofe wIth peffect undefstandIng.
I knew exactIy what the gfeat ToIstoy
wanted to say, what he wanted the
feadef to get ffom hIs book, I couId see
how hIs message had ofganIcaIIy cfys-
taIIIzed as a noveI, and what In that
noveI had sufpassed the authof hImseIf.
No mattef how hafd I concentfated, I
nevef tIfed. Aftef feadIng !00$ Z$*-0X
%0$ as many tImes as I couId, I fead
DostoyevskI. I couId fead book aftef
book wIth uttef concentfatIon and nev-
ef tIfe. I couId undefstand the most dIf-
fIcuIt passages wIthout effoft. And I fe-
sponded wIth deep emotIon.
I feIt that I had aIways been meant to
be IIke thIs. By abandonIng sIeep I had
expanded myseIf. The powef to concen-
tfate was the most Impoftant thIng. IIv-
Ing wIthout thIs powef wouId be IIke
openIng one's eyes wIthout seeIng
EventuaIIy, my bottIe of bfandy fan
out. I had dfunk aImost aII of It by my-
seIf. I went to the goufmet depaftment
of a bIg stofe fof anothef bottIe of
Remy MaftIn. As Iong as I was thefe, I
fIgufed, I mIght as weII buy a bottIe of
fed wIne, too. And a fIne cfystaI bfandy
gIass. And chocoIate and cookIes.
SometImes whIIe feadIng I wouId be-
come ovefexcIted. When that
happened, I wouId put my book down
and exefcIsedo caIIsthenIcs of just
waIk afound the foom. DependIng on
my mood, I mIght go out fof a nIght-
tIme dfIve. I'd change cIothes, get Into
my CIvIc, and dfIve aImIessIy afound
the neIghbofhood. SometImes I'd dfop
Into an aII-nIght fast-food pIace fof a
cup of coffee, but It was such a bothef
to have to deaI wIth othef peopIe that
I'd usuaIIy stay In the caf. I'd stop In
some safe-IookIng spot and just Iet my
mInd wandef. Of I'd go aII the way to
the hafbof and watch the boats.
One tIme, though, I was questIoned
by a poIIceman. It was two-thIfty In the
mofnIng, and I was pafked undef a
stfeetIamp neaf the pIef, IIstenIng to
the caf stefeo and watchIng the IIghts
of the shIps passIng by. He knocked on
my wIndow. I Iowefed the gIass. He
was young and handsome, and vefy po-
IIte. I expIaIned to hIm that I couIdn't
sIeep. He asked fof my IIcense and stud-
Ied It fof a whIIe. Thefe was a mufdef
hefe Iast month," he saId. Thfee young
men attacked a coupIe. They kIIIed the
man and faped the woman." I fe-
membefed havIng fead about the IncId-
ent. I nodded. If you don't have any
busIness hefe, ma'am, you'd bettef not
hang afound hefe at nIght." I thanked
hIm and saId I wouId Ieave. He gave
me my IIcense back. I dfove away.
That was the onIy tIme anyone taIked
to me. UsuaIIy, I wouId dfIft thfough
the stfeets at nIght fof an houf of mofe
and no one wouId bothef me. Then I
wouId pafk In ouf undefgfound gafage.
RIght next to my husband's whIte Sen-
tfa, he was upstaIfs sIeepIng soundIy In
the dafkness. I'd IIsten to the cfackIe of
the hot engIne cooIIng down, and when
the sound dIed I'd go upstaIfs.
The fIfst thIng I wouId do when I got
InsIde was check to make sufe my hus-
band was asIeep. And he aIways was.
Then I'd check my son, who was aIways
sound asIeep, too. They dIdn't know a
thIng. They beIIeved that the wofId was
as It had aIways been, unchangIng. But
they wefe wfong. It was changIng In
ways they couId nevef guess. ChangIng
a Iot. ChangIng fast. It wouId nevef be
the same agaIn.
One tIme, I stood and stafed at my
sIeepIng husband's face. I had heafd a
thump In the bedfoom and fushed In.
The aIafm cIock was on the fIoof. He
had pfobabIy knocked It down In hIs
sIeep. But he was sIeepIng as soundIy as
evef, compIeteIy unawafe of what he
had done. What wouId It take to wake
thIs man? I pIcked up the cIock and put
It back on the nIght tabIe. Then I foIded
my afms and stafed at my husband.
How Iong had It beenyeafs?sInce
the Iast tIme I had studIed hIs face as
he sIept?
I had done It a Iot when we wefe fIfst
maffIed. That was aII It took to feIax
me and put me In a peacefuI mood. I'II
be safe as Iong as he goes on sIeepIng
peacefuIIy IIke thIs, I'd teII myseIf.
WhIch Is why I spent a Iot of tIme
watchIng hIm In hIs sIeep.
But, somewhefe aIong the way, I had
gIven up the habIt. When had that
been? I tfIed to femembef. It had pfob-
abIy happened back when my mothef-
In-Iaw and I wefe soft of quaffeIIIng
ovef what name to gIve my son. She
was bIg on some feIIgIous cuIt kInd of
thIng, and had asked hef pfIest to be-
stow" a name on the baby. I don't fe-
membef exactIy the name she was gIv-
en, but I had no IntentIon of IettIng
some pfIest bestow" a name on my
chIId. We had some pfetty vIoIent afgu-
ments at the tIme, but my husband
couIdn't say a thIng to eIthef of us. He
stood by and tfIed to caIm us.
Aftef that, I Iost the feeIIng that my
husband was my pfotectof. The one
thIng I thought I wanted ffom hIm he
had faIIed to gIve me. AII he had man-
aged to do was make me fufIous. ThIs
happened a Iong tIme ago, of coufse.
My mothef-In-Iaw and I have Iong sInce
made up. I gave my son the name I
wanted to gIve hIm. My husband and I
made up fIght away, too.
I'm pfetty sufe that was the end,
though, of my watchIng hIm In hIs
So thefe I stood, IookIng at hIm
sIeepIng as soundIy as aIways. One bafe
foot stuck out ffom undef the covefs at
a stfange angIeso stfange that the
foot couId have beIonged to someone
eIse. It was a bIg, chunky foot. My hus-
band's mouth hung open, the Iowef IIp
dfoopIng. Evefy once In a whIIe, hIs
nostfIIs wouId twItch. Thefe was a moIe
undef hIs eye that bothefed me. It was
so bIg and vuIgaf-IookIng. Thefe was
somethIng vuIgaf about the way hIs
eyes wefe cIosed, the IIds sIack, covefs
made of faded human fIesh. He Iooked
IIke an absoIute fooI. ThIs was what
they mean by dead to the wofId." How
IncfedIbIy ugIy! He sIeeps wIth such an
ugIy face! It's just too gfuesome, I
thought. He couIdn't have been IIke thIs
In the oId days. I'm sufe he must have
had a bettef face when we wefe fIfst
maffIed, one that was taut and aIeft.
Even sound asIeep, he couIdn't have
been such a bIob.
I tfIed to femembef what hIs sIeepIng
face had Iooked IIke back then, but I
couIdn't do It, though I tfIed hafd
enough. AII I couId be sufe of was that
he ")B#<0M1 have had such a teffIbIe
face. Of was I just deceIvIng myseIf?
Maybe he had aIways Iooked IIke thIs
In hIs sIeep and I had been InduIgIng In
some kInd of emotIonaI pfojectIon. I'm
sufe that's what my mothef wouId say.
That soft of thInkIng was a specIaIty of
hefs. AII that Iovey-dovey stuff Iasts
two yeafsthfee yeafs tops," she aI-
ways used to InsIst. You wefe a new
bfIde," I'm sufe she wouId teII me now.
Of ")B*3-, youf IIttIe hubby Iooked IIke
a dafIIng In hIs sIeep."
I'm sufe she wouId say somethIng
IIke that, but I'm just as sufe she'd be
wfong. He ,$< gfown ugIy ovef the
yeafs. The fIfmness had gone out of hIs
face. That's what gfowIng oId Is aII
about. He was oId now, and tIfed.
Wofn out. He'd get even ugIIef In the
yeafs ahead, that much was ceftaIn.
And I had no choIce but to go aIong
wIth It, put up wIth It, fesIgn myseIf to
I Iet out a sIgh as I stood thefe watch-
Ing hIm. It was a deep sIgh, a noIsy one
as sIghs go, but of coufse he dIdn't
move a muscIe. The Ioudest sIgh In the
wofId wouId nevef wake hIm up.
I Ieft the bedfoom and went back to
the IIvIng foom. I poufed myseIf a
bfandy and stafted feadIng. But
somethIng wouIdn't Iet me concentfate.
I put the book down and went to my
son's foom. OpenIng the doof, I stafed
at hIs face In the IIght spIIIIng In ffom
the haIIway. He was sIeepIng just as
soundIy as my husband was. As he aI-
ways dId. I watched hIm In hIs sIeep,
Iooked at hIs smooth, neafIy featufeIess
face. It was vefy dIffefent ffom my hus-
band's: It was stIII a chIId's face, aftef
aII. The skIn stIII gIowed, It stIII had
nothIng vuIgaf about It.
And yet, somethIng about my son's
face annoyed me. I had nevef feIt any-
thIng IIke thIs about hIm befofe. What
couId be makIng me feeI thIs way? I
stood thefe, IookIng, wIth my afms foI-
ded. Yes, of coufse I Ioved my son,
Ioved hIm tfemendousIy. But stIII, un-
denIabIy, that somethIng was bothefIng
me, gettIng on my nefves.
I shook my head.
I cIosed my eyes and kept them shut.
Then I opened them and Iooked at my
son's face agaIn. And then It hIt me.
What bothefed me about my son's
sIeepIng face was that It Iooked exactIy
IIke my husband's. And exactIy IIke my
mothef-In-Iaw's. Stubbofn. SeIf-satIs-
fIed. It was In theIf bIooda kInd of af-
fogance I hated In my husband's famIIy.
Tfue, my husband Is good to me. He's
sweet and gentIe and he's cafefuI to
take my feeIIngs Into account. He's nev-
ef fooIed afound wIth othef women,
and he wofks hafd. He's sefIous, and
he's kInd to evefybody. My ffIends aII
teII me how Iucky I am to have hIm.
And I can't fauIt hIm, eIthef. WhIch Is
exactIy what gaIIs me sometImes. HIs
vefy absence of fauIts makes fof a
stfange fIgIdIty that excIudes ImagIna-
tIon. That's what gfates on me so.
And that was exactIy the kInd of ex-
pfessIon my son had on hIs face as he
I shook my head agaIn. ThIs IIttIe boy
Is a stfangef to me, fInaIIy. Even aftef
he gfows up, he'II nevef be abIe to un-
defstand me, just as my husband can
hafdIy undefstand what I feeI now.
I Iove my son, no questIon. But I
sensed that someday I wouId no Iongef
be abIe to Iove thIs boy wIth the same
IntensIty. Not a vefy matefnaI thought.
Most mothefs nevef have thoughts IIke
that. But as I stood thefe IookIng at hIm
asIeep, I knew wIth absoIute ceftaInty
that one day I wouId come to despIse
The thought made me teffIbIy sad. I
cIosed hIs doof and tufned out the haII
IIght. I went to the IIvIng-foom sofa, sat
down, and opened my book. Aftef
feadIng a few pages, I cIosed It agaIn. I
Iooked at the cIock. A IIttIe befofe
I wondefed how many days It had
been sInce I stopped sIeepIng. The
sIeepIessness stafted the Tuesday befofe
Iast. WhIch made thIs the seventeenth
day. Not one wInk of sIeep In seventeen
days. Seventeen days and seventeen
nIghts. A Iong, Iong tIme. I couIdn't
even fecaII what sIeep was IIke.
I cIosed my eyes and tfIed to fecaII
the sensatIon of sIeepIng, but aII that
exIsted fof me InsIde was a wakefuI
dafkness. A wakefuI dafkness: What It
caIIed to mInd was death.
Was I about to dIe?
And If I dIed now, what wouId my
IIfe have amounted to?
Thefe was no way I couId answef
AII fIght, then, what 5$3 death?
UntII now, I had conceIved of sIeep
as a kInd of modeI fof death. I had Ima-
gIned death as an extensIon of sIeep. A
faf deepef sIeep than ofdInafy sIeep. A
sIeep devoId of aII conscIousness.
EtefnaI fest. A totaI bIackout.
But now I wondefed If I had been
wfong. Pefhaps death was a state en-
tIfeIy unIIke sIeep, somethIng that be-
Ionged to a dIffefent categofy aItogeth-
efIIke the deep, endIess, wakefuI
dafkness I was seeIng now.
No, that wouId be too teffIbIe. If the
state of death was not to be a fest fof
us, then what was goIng to fedeem thIs
Impeffect IIfe of oufs, so ffaught wIth
exhaustIon? FInaIIy, though, no one
knows what death Is. Who has evef
tfuIy seen It? No one. Except the ones
who afe dead. No one IIvIng knows
what death Is IIke. They can onIy guess.
And the best guess Is stIII a guess.
Maybe death %3 a kInd of fest, but feas-
onIng can't teII us that. The onIy way to
fInd out what death Is Is to dIe. >-$1,
An Intense teffof ovefwheImed me at
the thought. A stIffenIng chIII fan down
my spIne. My eyes wefe stIII shut tIght.
I had Iost the powef to open them. I
stafed at the thIck dafkness that stood
pIanted In ffont of me, a dafkness as
deep and hopeIess as the unIvefse ItseIf.
I was aII aIone. My mInd was In deep
concentfatIon, and expandIng. If I had
wanted to, I couId have seen Into the
uttefmost depths of the unIvefse. But I
decIded not to Iook. It was too soon fof
If death was IIke thIs, If to dIe meant
beIng etefnaIIy awake and stafIng Into
the dafkness IIke thIs, what shouId I
At Iast, I managed to open my eyes. I
guIped down the bfandy that was Ieft
In my gIass.
I'M TAKING OFF my pajamas and puttIng
on jeans, a T-shIft, and a wIndbfeakef. I
tIe my haIf back In a tIght ponytaII,
tuck It undef the wIndbfeakef, and put
on a basebaII cap of my husband's. In
the mIffof, I Iook IIke a boy. Good. I
put on sneakefs and go down to the
I sIIp In behInd the steefIng wheeI,
tufn the key, and IIsten to the engIne
hum. It sounds nofmaI. Hands on the
wheeI, I take a few deep bfeaths. Then I
shIft Into geaf and dfIve out of the
buIIdIng. The caf Is funnIng bettef than
usuaI. It seems to be gIIdIng acfoss a
sheet of Ice. I ease It Into hIghef geaf,
move out of the neIghbofhood, and
entef the hIghway to Yokohama.
It's onIy thfee In the mofnIng, but the
numbef of cafs on the foad Is by no
means smaII. Huge semIs foII past,
shakIng the gfound as they head east.
Those guys don't sIeep at nIght. They
sIeep In the daytIme and wofk at nIght
fof gfeatef effIcIency.
What a waste. I couId wofk day $0<
nIght. I don't have to sIeep.
ThIs Is bIoIogIcaIIy unnatufaI, I sup-
pose, but who feaIIy knows what Is nat-
ufaI? They just Infef It InductIveIy. I'm
beyond that. A pfIofI. An evoIutIonafy
Ieap. A woman who nevef sIeeps. An
expansIon of conscIousness.
I have to smIIe. A pfIofI. An evoIu-
tIonafy Ieap.
IIstenIng to the caf fadIo, I dfIve to
the hafbof. I want cIassIcaI musIc, but I
can't fInd a statIon that bfoadcasts It at
nIght. StupId Japanese fock musIc.
Iove songs sweet enough to fot youf
teeth. I gIve up seafchIng and IIsten to
those. They make me feeI I'm In a faf-
off pIace, faf away ffom Mozaft and
I puII Into one of the whIte-outIIned
spaces In the bIg pafkIng Iot at the wa-
tefffont pafk and cut my engIne. ThIs Is
the bfIghtest afea of the Iot, undef a
Iamp, and wIde open aII afound. OnIy
one caf Is pafked hefean oId whIte
two-doof coupe of the kInd that young
peopIe IIke to dfIve. PfobabIy a coupIe
In thefe now, makIng Ioveno money
fof a hoteI foom. To avoId tfoubIe, I
puII my hat Iow, tfyIng not to Iook IIke
a woman. I check to see that my doofs
afe Iocked.
HaIf-conscIousIy, I Iet my eyes
wandef thfough the suffoundIng dafk-
ness, when aII of a sudden I femembef
a dfIve I took wIth my boyffIend the
yeaf I was a coIIege ffeshman. We
pafked and got Into some heavy pet-
tIng. He couIdn't stop, he saId, and he
begged me to Iet hIm put It In. But I fe-
fused. Hands on the steefIng wheeI,
IIstenIng to the musIc, I tfy to bfIng
back the scene, but I can't fecaII hIs
face. It seems to have happened such
an IncfedIbIy Iong tIme ago.
AII the memofIes I have ffom the
tIme befofe I stopped sIeepIng seem to
be movIng away wIth acceIefatIng
speed. It feeIs so stfange, as If the me
who used to go to sIeep evefy nIght Is
not the feaI me, and the memofIes ffom
back then afe not feaIIy mIne. ThIs Is
how peopIe change. But nobody feaI-
Izes It. Nobody notIces. OnIy I know
what happens. I couId tfy to teII them,
but they wouIdn't undefstand. They
wouIdn't beIIeve me. Of If they dId be-
IIeve me, they wouId have absoIuteIy
no Idea what I'm feeIIng. They wouId
onIy see me as a thfeat to theIf Induct-
Ive wofIdvIew.
I am changIng, though. :-$##=
How Iong have I been sIttIng hefe?
Hands on the wheeI. Eyes cIosed. Staf-
Ing Into the sIeepIess dafkness.
SuddenIy I'm awafe of a human pfes-
ence, and I come to myseIf agaIn.
Thefe's somebody out thefe. I open my
eyes and Iook afound. Someone Is out-
sIde the caf. TfyIng to open the doof.
But the doofs afe Iocked. Dafk shadows
on eIthef sIde of the caf, one at each
doof. Can't see theIf faces. Can't make
out theIf cIothIng. Just two dafk shad-
ows, standIng thefe.
SandwIched between them, my CIvIc
feeIs tInyIIke a IIttIe pastfy box. It's
beIng focked ffom sIde to sIde. A fIst Is
poundIng on the fIght-hand wIndow. I
know It's not a poIIceman. A poIIceman
wouId nevef pound on the gIass IIke
thIs and wouId nevef shake my caf. I
hoId my bfeath. What shouId I do? I
can't thInk stfaIght. My undefafms afe
soaked. I've got to get out of hefe. The
key. Tufn the key. I feach out fof It and
tufn It to the fIght. The staftef gfInds.
The engIne doesn't catch. My hand Is
shakIng. I cIose my eyes and tufn the
key agaIn. No good. A sound IIke fIn-
gefnaIIs cIawIng a gIant waII. The mo-
tof tufns and tufns. The menthe dafk
shadowskeep shakIng my caf. The
swIngs get bIggef and bIggef. They'fe
goIng to tIp me ovef!
Thefe's somethIng wfong. Just caIm
down and thInk, then evefythIng wIII
be okay. ThInk. Just thInk. SIowIy.
CafefuIIy. SomethIng Is wfong.
SomethIng Is wfong.
But what? I can't teII. My mInd Is
cfammed fuII of thIck dafkness. It's not
takIng me anywhefe. My hands afe
shakIng. I tfy puIIIng out the key and
puttIng It back In agaIn. But my shak-
Ing hand can't fInd the hoIe. I tfy agaIn
and dfop the key. I cufI ovef and tfy to
pIck It up. But I can't get hoId of It. The
caf Is fockIng back and fofth. My fofe-
head sIams agaInst the steefIng wheeI.
I'II nevef get the key. I faII back
agaInst the seat, covef my face wIth my
hands. I'm cfyIng. AII I can do Is cfy.
The teafs keep poufIng out. Iocked
InsIde thIs IIttIe box, I can't go any-
whefe. It's the mIddIe of the nIght. The
men keep fockIng the caf back and
fofth. They'fe goIng to tufn It ovef.
I FIRST NOTICED the wInd had begun to
bIow In the aftefnoon on Sunday. Of
mofe pfecIseIy, at seven past two In the
At the tIme, just IIke aIwaysjust
IIke I aIways do on Sunday aftefnoons,
that IsI was sIttIng at the kItchen
tabIe, IIstenIng to some Innocuous mu-
sIc whIIe catchIng up on a week's wofth
of entfIes In my dIafy. I make a pfactIce
of jottIng down each day's events
thfoughout the week, then wfItIng
them up on Sunday.
I'd just fInIshed wIth the thfee days
up thfough Tuesday when I became
awafe of the stfong wInds dfonIng past
my wIndow. I canned the dIafy entfIes,
capped my pen, and went out to the
vefanda to take In the Iaundfy. The
thIngs on the IIne wefe aII afIuttef,
whIppIng out Ioud, dfy cfacks, stfeam-
Ing theIf cfazed comet taIIs off Into
When I Ieast suspected It, the wInd
seemed to have pIcked up out of
nowhefe. HangIng out the Iaundfy on
the vefanda In the mofnIngat eIght-
een past ten In the mofnIng, to be ex-
actthefe hadn't been the sIIghtest
whIspef of a bfeeze. About that my
memofy Is as aIftIght as the IId on a
bIast fufnace. Because fof a second
thefe I'd even thought: No need fof
cIothespIns on such a caIm day.
+,-*- ,)0-31 1) K))<0-33 ,$<0M1 Q--0 $
SwIftIy gathefIng up the Iaundfy, I
then went afound shuttIng aII the wIn-
dows In the apaftment. Once the wIn-
dows wefe cIosed, I couId hafdIy heaf
the wInd at aII. OutsIde In the absence
of sound, the tfeesHImaIayan cedafs
and chestnuts, mostIysquIfmed IIke
dogs wIth an uncontfoIIabIe Itch.
Swatches of cIoud covef sIIpped acfoss
the sky and out of sIght IIke shIfty-eyed
secfet agents, whIIe on the vefanda of
an apaftment acfoss the way sevefaI
shIfts had wfapped themseIves afound
a pIastIc cIothesIIne and wefe cIIngIng
ffantIcaIIy, IIke abandoned ofphans.
D1M3'*-$##='Q#)5%0K'B/'$'K$#-, I thought.
Upon openIng the newspapef and
checkIng out the weathef map,
howevef, I dIdn't fInd any sIgn of a
typhoon. The pfobabIIIty of faInfaII was
IIsted at 0%. A peacefuI Sunday aftef-
noon IIke the heyday of the Roman Em-
pIfe, It was supposed to have been.
I Iet out a sIIght, maybe 30% sIgh
and foIded up the newspapef, tIdIed the
Iaundfy away In the chest of dfawefs,
made coffee whIIe IIstenIng to mofe of
the same Innocuous musIc, then caffIed
on wIth my dIafy keepIng ovef a hot
Thufsday, I sIept wIth my gIfIffIend.
She IIkes to weaf a bIIndfoId dufIng
sex. She aIways caffIes afound a pIece
of cIoth In hef aIfIIne ovefnIght bag just
fof that pufpose.
Not my thIng, feaIIy, but she Iooks so
cute bIIndfoIded IIke that, I can't vefy
weII object. We'fe aII human, aftef aII,
and evefybody's got somethIng a IIttIe
off somewhefe.
That's pfetty much what I wfote fof
the Thufsday entfy In my dIafy. EIghty
pefcent facts, 20% shoft comments,
that's my dIafy poIIcy.
FfIday, I fan Into an oId ffIend In a
GInza bookstofe. He was weafIng a tIe
wIth the most ungodIy pattefn. TeIe-
phone numbefs, a whoIe sIew of them,
on a stfIped backgfoundI'd gotten
that faf when the teIephone fang.
IT WAS THIRTY-SIX past two by the cIock
when the teIephone fang. PfobabIy
hefmy gIfIffIend wIth the thIng about
bIIndfoIds, that Isof so I thought.
She'd pIanned on comIng ovef on
Sunday anyway, and she aIways makes
a poInt of fIngIng up befofehand. It was
hef job to buy gfocefIes fof dInnef.
We'd decIded on oystef hot pot fof that
Anyway, It was two-thIfty-sIx In the
aftefnoon when the teIephone fang. I
have the aIafm cIock sIttIng fIght next
to the teIephone. That way I aIways see
the cIock when I go fof the teIephone,
so I fecaII that much peffectIy.
Yet when I pIcked up the feceIvef, aII
I couId heaf was thIs fIefce wInd bIow-
Ing. A *B&&&&&Q#- fuII of fufy, IIke
the IndIans aII fIsIng on the wafpath In
1881, fIght thefe In the feceIvef. They
wefe bufnIng pIoneef cabIns, cuttIng
teIegfaph IInes, fapIng CandIce Befgen.
HeIIo?" I ventufed, but my Ione
voIce got sucked undef the ovefwheIm-
Ing tumuIt of hIstofy.
HeIIo? HeIIo?" I shouted out Ioud,
agaIn to no avaII.
StfaInIng my eafs, I couId just bafeIy
make out the faIntest catches of what
mIght have been a woman's voIce
thfough the wInd. Of then agaIn,
maybe I was heafIng thIngs. Whatevef,
the wInd was too stfong to be sufe. And
I guess too many buffaIo had aIfeady
bItten the dust.
I couIdn't say a wofd. I just stood
thefe wIth the feceIvef to my eaf. Hafd
and fast, I had the thIng pfactIcaIIy
gIued to my eaf. I aImost thought It
wasn't goIng to come off. But then,
aftef fIfteen of twenty seconds IIke that,
the teIephone cut off. It was as If a IIfe-
IIne had snapped In a seIzufe. Aftef
whIch a vast and empty sIIence,
wafmthIess as ovefbIeached undefweaf,
was aII that femaIned.
+,$1 <)-3 %1. I Iet out anothef sIgh. And
I contInued wIth my dIafy, thInkIng I'd
bettef just fInIsh IoggIng It In.
Satufday, HItIef's afmofed dIvIsIons
Invaded PoIand. DIve bombefs ovef
No, that's not fIght. That's not what
happened. HItIef's InvasIon of PoIand
was on Septembef 1, 1939. Not yestef-
day. Aftef dInnef yestefday, I went to
the movIes and saw MefyI Stfeep In
@)/,%-M3 R,)%"-. HItIef's InvasIon of Po-
Iand onIy fIgufed In the fIIm.
In the fIIm, MefyI Stfeep dIvofces
DustIn Hoffman, but then In a com-
mutef tfaIn she meets thIs cIvII engIn-
eef pIayed by Robeft De NIfo, and fe-
maffIes. A pfetty aII-fIght movIe.
SIttIng next to me was a hIgh-schooI
coupIe, and they kept touchIng each
othef on the tummy the whoIe tIme.
Not bad at aII, youf hIgh-schooI stu-
dent's tummy. Even me, tIme was I
used to have a hIgh-schooI student's
ONCE I'D SQUARED away the pfevIous
week's wofth In my dIafy, I sat myseIf
down In ffont of the fecofd fack and
pIcked out some musIc fof a wIndy
Sunday aftefnoon's IIstenIng. I settIed
on a ShostakovIch ceIIo concefto and a
SIy and the FamIIy Stone aIbum, seIec-
tIons that seemed suItabIe enough fof
hIgh wInds, and I IIstened to these two
fecofds one aftef the othef.
Evefy so often, thIngs wouId stfafe
past the wIndow. A whIte sheet fIyIng
east to west IIke some sofcefef bfewIng
an eIIxIf of foots and hefbs. A Iong,
fIImsy tIn sIgn afchIng Its sIckIy spIne
IIke an anaI-sex enthusIast.
I was takIng In the scene outsIde to
the stfaIns of the ShostakovIch ceIIo
concefto when agaIn the teIephone
fang. The aIafm cIock besIde the teIe-
phone fead 3:48.
I pIcked up the feceIvef fuIIy expect-
Ing that BoeIng 747 jet-engIne foaf, but
thIs tIme thefe was no wInd to be
HeIIo," she saId.
HeIIo," I saId, too.
I was just thInkIng about headIng
ovef wIth the fIxIngs fof the oystef hot
pot, okay?" saId my gIfIffIend. She'II be
on hef way wIth gfocefIes and a
FIne by me, but"
You have a cassefoIe?"
Yes, but," I say, what gIves? I don't
heaf that wInd anymofe."
Yeah, the wInd's stopped. Hefe In
Nakano It Iet up at thfee twenty-fIve.
So I don't ImagIne It'II be Iong befofe It
Iets up ovef thefe."
Maybe so," I saId as I hung up the
teIephone, then took down the cassef-
oIe ffom the above-cIoset stofage com-
paftment and washed It In the sInk.
Just as she had pfedIcted, the wInds
stopped, at 4:05 on the dot. I opened
the wIndows and Iooked afound out-
sIde. DIfectIy beIow, a bIack dog was
IntentIy snIffIng afound at the gfound.
Fof fIfteen of twenty mInutes, the dog
kept at It tIfeIessIy. I couIdn't ImagIne
why the dog feIt so compeIIed.
Othef than that, though, the appeaf-
ances and wofkIngs of the wofId fe-
maIned unchanged ffom befofe the
wInds had stafted. The HImaIayan ce-
dafs and chestnuts stood theIf open
gfound, aIoof as If nothIng had tfan-
spIfed. Iaundfy hung IImpIy ffom
pIastIc cIothesIInes. Atop the teIephone
poIes, cfows gave a fIap of two of theIf
wIngs, theIf beaks shIny as cfedIt cafds.
MeanwhIIe dufIng aII of thIs, my gIfI-
ffIend had shown up and began to pfe-
pafe the hot pot. She stood thefe In the
kItchen cIeanIng the oystefs, bfIskIy
choppIng ChInese cabbage, affangIng
bIocks of tofu just so, sImmefIng bfoth.
I asked hef whethef she hadn't tfIed
teIephonIng at 2:36.
I caIIed, aII fIght," she answefed
whIIe fInsIng fIce In a coIandef.
I couIdn't heaf a thIng," I saId.
Yeah, fIght, the wInd was tfemend-
ous," she saId mattef-of-factIy.
I got a beef out of the feffIgefatof
and sat down on the edge of the tabIe
to dfInk It.
But, feaIIy, why aII of a sudden thIs
fufy of wInd, then, agaIn, just IIke that,
nothIng?" I asked hef.
You got me," she saId, hef back
tufned towafd me as she sheIIed
shfImps wIth hef fIngefnaIIs. Thefe's
Iots we don't know about the wInd.
Same as thefe's Iots we don't know
about ancIent hIstofy of cancef of the
ocean fIoof of outef space of sex."
Hmm," I saId. That was no answef.
StIII, It dIdn't Iook IIke thefe was much
chance of fufthefIng thIs IIne of convef-
satIon wIth hef, so I just gave up and
watched the oystef hot pot's pfogfess.
Say, can I touch youf tummy?" I
asked hef.
Iatef," she saId.
So untII the hot pot was feady, I de-
cIded to puII togethef a few bfIef notes
on the day's events so I couId wfIte
them up In my dIafy next week. ThIs Is
what I jotted down:
FaII of Roman EmpIfe
1881 IndIan UpfIsIng
HItIef's InvasIon of PoIand
Just thIs, and even next week I'd be
abIe to feconstfuct what went on today.
PfecIseIy because of thIs metIcuIous
system of mIne, I have managed to
keep a dIafy fof twenty-two yeafs
wIthout mIssIng a day. To evefy mean-
IngfuI act, Its own system. Whethef the
wInd bIows of not, that's the way I IIve.
my wIfe's was sayIng one day, aII be-
cause of a paIf of shofts."
I've got to ask. A paIf of shofts?"
I know It sounds stfange," she says,
because It Is a stfange stofy."
A IARGE WOMAN, hef heIght and buIId
afe aImost the same as mIne. She tutofs
eIectfIc ofgan, but most of hef ffee tIme
she dIvIdes among swImmIng and skI-
Ing and tennIs, so she's tfIm and aIways
tanned. You mIght caII hef a spofts fan-
atIc. On days off, she puts In a mofnIng
fun befofe headIng to the IocaI pooI to
do Iaps, then at two of thfee In the af-
tefnoon It's 1-00%3, foIIowed by aefobIcs.
Now, I IIke my spofts, but I'm nowhefe
neaf hef Ieague.
I don't mean to suggest she's aggfess-
Ive of obsessIve about thIngs. QuIte the
contfafy, she's feaIIy fathef fetIfIng,
she'd nevef dfeam of puttIng emotIonaI
pfessufe on anyone. OnIy, she's dfIven,
hef bodyand vefy IIkeIy the spIfIt at-
tached to that bodycfaves aftef vIgof-
ous actIvIty, feIentIess as a comet.
WhIch may have somethIng to do
wIth why she's unmaffIed. Oh, she's
had affaIfsthe woman may be a IIttIe
on the Iafge sIde, but she Is beautIfuI,
she's been pfoposed to, even agfeed to
take the pIunge. But InevItabIy,
whenevef It's gotten to the weddIng
stage, some pfobIem has come up and
evefythIng faIIs thfough.
IIke my wIfe says, She's just
WeII, I guess," I sympathIze.
I'm not In totaI agfeement wIth my
wIfe on thIs. Tfue, Iuck may fuIe ovef
pafts of a pefson's IIfe and Iuck may
cast patches of shadow acfoss the
gfound of ouf beIng, but whefe thefe's
a wIIImuch Iess a stfong wIII to swIm
thIfty Iaps of fun twenty kIIomet-
efsthefe's a way to ovefcome most
any tfoubIe wIth whatevef stepIaddefs
you have afound. No, hef heaft was
nevef set on maffyIng, Is how I see It.
MaffIage just doesn't faII wIthIn the
sweep of hef comet, at Ieast not
And so she keeps on tutofIng eIectfIc
ofgan, devotIng evefy ffee moment to
spofts, faIIIng feguIafIy In and out of
unIucky Iove.
IT'S A RAINY SUNDAY aftefnoon and she's
come two houfs eafIIef than expected,
whIIe my wIfe Is stIII out shoppIng.
FofgIve me," she apoIogIzes. I took
a faIn check on today's tennIs, whIch
Ieft me two houfs to spafe. I'd have
been bofed out of my mInd beIng aIone
at home, so I just thought . Am I In-
teffuptIng anythIng?"
Not at aII, I say. I dIdn't feeI quIte In
the mood to wofk and was just sIttIng
afound, cat on my Iap, watchIng a
vIdeo. I show hef In, go to the kItchen
and make coffee. Two cups, fof watch-
Ing the Iast twenty mInutes of A$53. Of
coufse, we've both seen the movIe be-
fofepfobabIy mofe than onceso
neIthef of us Is paftIcuIafIy fIveted to
the tube. But anyway, we'fe watchIng It
because It's thefe In ffont of ouf eyes.
It's +,- .0<. The cfedIts foII up. No
sIgn of my wIfe. So we chat a bIt.
Shafks, seasIde, swImmIng . stIII no
wIfe. We go on taIkIng. Now, I suppose
I IIke the woman weII enough, but aftef
an houf of thIs ouf Iack of thIngs In
common becomes obvIous. In a wofd,
she's my wIfe's ffIend, not mIne.
Shoft of what eIse to do, I'm aIfeady
thInkIng about poppIng In the next
vIdeo when she suddenIy bfIngs up the
stofy of hef pafents' dIvofce. I can't
fathom the connectIonat Ieast to my
mInd, thefe's no IInk between swIm-
mIng and hef foIks spIIttIng upbut I
guess a feason Is whefe you fInd It.
They wefe Iedefhosen."
You mean those hIkIng pants the
Gefmans weaf? The ones wIth the
shouIdef stfaps?"
You got It. Fathef wanted a paIf of
Iedefhosen as a souvenIf gIft. WeII,
Fathef's pfetty taII fof hIs genefatIon.
He mIght even Iook good In them,
whIch couId be why he wanted them.
But can you pIctufe a Japanese weafIng
Iedefhosen? I guess It takes aII kInds."
I'm stIII not any cIosef to the stofy. I
have to ask, what wefe the cIfcum-
stances behInd hef fathef's fe-
questand of whom? fof these
souvenIf Iedefhosen?
Oh, I'm soffy. I'm aIways teIIIng
thIngs out of ofdef. Stop me If thIngs
don't make sense," she says.
Okay, I say.
Mothef's sIstef was IIvIng In Gef-
many and she InvIted Mothef fof a vIs-
It. SomethIng she'd aIways been mean-
Ing to do. Of coufse, Mothef can't speak
Gefman, she'd nevef even been abfoad,
but havIng been an EngIIsh teachef fof
so Iong she'd had that ovefseas bee In
hef bonnet. It'd been ages sInce she'd
seen my aunt. So Mothef appfoached
Fathef, How about takIng ten days off
and goIng to Gefmany, the two of us?
Fathef's wofk couIdn't aIIow It, and
Mothef ended up goIng aIone."
That's when youf fathef asked fof
the Iedefhosen, I take It?"
RIght," she says. Mothef asked
what he wanted hef to bfIng back, and
Fathef saId Iedefhosen."
Okay so faf."
Hef pafents wefe feasonabIy cIose.
They dIdn't afgue untII aII houfs of the
nIght, hef fathef dIdn't stofm out of the
house and not come home fof days on
end. At Ieast not then, though appaf-
entIy thefe had been fows mofe than
once ovef hIm and othef women.
Not a bad man, a hafd wofkef, but
kInd of a skIft chasef," she tosses off
mattef-of-factIy. No feIatIon of hefs, the
way she's taIkIng. Fof a second, I aI-
most thInk hef fathef Is deceased. But
no, I'm toId, he's aIIve and weII.
Fathef was aIfeady up thefe In
yeafs, and by then those tfoubIes wefe
aII behInd them. They seemed to be
gettIng aIong just fIne."
ThIngs, howevef, dIdn't go wIthout
IncIdent. Hef mothef extended the ten
days In Gefmany to neafIy a month and
a haIf, wIth hafdIy a wofd back to
Tokyo, and when she fInaIIy dId fetufn
to Japan she stayed wIth anothef sIstef
of hefs In Osaka. She nevef dId come
back home.
NeIthef shethe daughtefnof hef
fathef couId undefstand what was go-
Ing on. UntII then, when thefe'd been
mafItaI dIffIcuItIes, hef mothef had aI-
ways been the patIent oneso pIod-
dIngIy patIent, In fact, that she
sometImes wondefed If the woman had
no ImagInatIon, famIIy aIways came
fIfst, and the mothef was seIfIessIy de-
voted to hef daughtef. So when the
mothef dIdn't come afound, dIdn't even
make the effoft to caII, It was beyond
theIf compfehensIon. They made phone
caIIs to the aunt's house In Osaka, fe-
peatedIy, but they couId hafdIy get hef
to come to the phone, much Iess admIt
what hef IntentIons wefe.
In mId-Septembef, two months aftef
fetufnIng to Japan, hef mothef made
hef IntentIons known. One day, out of
the bIue, she caIIed home and toId hef
husband, You wIII be feceIvIng the ne-
cessafy papefs fof dIvofce. PIease sIgn,
seaI, and send back to me." WouId she
cafe to expIaIn, hef husband asked,
what was the feason? I've Iost aII Iove
fof youIn any way, shape, of fofm."
Oh? saId hef husband. Was thefe no
foom fof dIscussIon? Soffy, none, ab-
soIuteIy none."
TeIephone negotIatIons dfagged on
fof the next two of thfee months, but
hef mothef dId not back down an Inch,
and fInaIIy hef fathef consented to the
dIvofce. He was In no posItIon to fofce
the Issue, hIs own tfack fecofd beIng
what It was, and anyway, he aIways
tended to gIve In.
AII thIs came as a bIg shock," she
teIIs me. But It wasn't just the dIvofce.
I'd ImagIned my pafents spIIttIng up
many tImes, so I was aIfeady pfepafed
fof It psychoIogIcaIIy. If the two of
them had just pIaIn dIvofced wIthout
aII that funny busIness, I wouIdn't have
gotten so upset. The pfobIem wasn't
Mothef dumpIng Fathef, Mothef was
dumpIng me, too. That's what huft."
I nod.
Up to that poInt, I'd aIways taken
Mothef's sIde, and Mothef wouId aI-
ways stand by me. And yet hefe was
Mothef thfowIng me out wIth Fathef,
IIke so much gafbage, and not a wofd
of expIanatIon. It hIt me so hafd, I
wasn't abIe to fofgIve Mothef fof the
Iongest tIme. I wfote hef who knows
how many Iettefs askIng hef to set
thIngs stfaIght, but she nevef answefed
my questIons, nevef even saId she
wanted to see me."
It wasn't untII thfee yeafs Iatef that
she actuaIIy saw hef mothef. At a fam-
IIy funefaI, of aII pIaces. By then, the
daughtef was IIvIng on hef ownshe'd
moved out In hef sophomofe yeaf,
when hef pafents dIvofcedand now
she had gfaduated and was tutofIng
eIectfIc ofgan. MeanwhIIe, hef mothef
was teachIng EngIIsh at a pfep schooI.
Hef mothef confessed that she hadn't
been abIe to taIk to hef own daughtef
because she hadn't known what to say.
I myseIf couIdn't teII whefe thIngs
wefe goIng," the mothef saId, but the
whoIe thIng stafted ovef that paIf of
Shofts?" She'd been as staftIed as I
was. She'd nevef wanted to speak to
hef mothef evef agaIn, but cufIosIty got
the bettef of hef. In theIf moufnIng
dfess, mothef and daughtef went Into a
neafby coffee shop and ofdefed Iced
tea. She had to heaf thIspafdon the
expfessIonthIs shoft stofy.
THE SHOP THAT SOID the Iedefhosen was
In a smaII town an houf away by tfaIn
ffom Hambufg. Hef mothef's sIstef
Iooked It up fof hef.
AII the Gefmans I know say If you'fe
goIng to buy Iedefhosen, thIs Is the
pIace. The cfaftsmanshIp Is good, and
the pfIces afen't so expensIve," saId hef
So the mothef boafded a tfaIn to buy
hef husband hIs souvenIf Iedefhosen. In
hef tfaIn compaftment sat a mIddIe-
aged Gefman coupIe, who convefsed
wIth hef In haItIng EngIIsh. I go now
to buy Iedefhosen fof souvenIf," the
mothef saId. Vat shop you go to?" the
coupIe asked. The mothef named the
name of the shop, and the mIddIe-aged
Gefman coupIe chImed In togethef,
Zat Is ze pIace, T$,. It Is ze best." Heaf-
Ing thIs, the mothef feIt vefy confIdent.
It was a deIIghtfuI eafIy-summef af-
tefnoon and a quaInt oId-fashIoned
town. Thfough the mIddIe of the town
fIowed a babbIIng bfook, Its banks Iush
and gfeen. CobbIestone stfeets Ied In aII
dIfectIons, and cats wefe evefywhefe.
The mothef stepped Into a cafe fof a
bIte of ZV3-7B",-0 and coffee.
She was on hef Iast sIp of coffee and
pIayIng wIth the shop cat when the
ownef came ovef to ask what bfought
hef to theIf IIttIe town. She saId Iedef-
hosen, whefeupon the ownef puIIed out
a pad of papef and dfew a map to the
Thank you vefy much," the mothef
How wondeffuI It was to tfaveI by
oneseIf, she thought as she waIked
aIong the cobbIestones. In fact, thIs was
the fIfst tIme In hef fIfty-fIve yeafs that
she had tfaveIed aIone. DufIng the
whoIe tfIp, she had not once been
IoneIy of affaId of bofed. Evefy scene
that met hef eyes was ffesh and new,
evefyone she met was ffIendIy. Each
expefIence caIIed fofth emotIons that
had been sIumbefIng In hef, untouched
and unused. What she had heId neaf
and deaf untII thenhusband and
home and daughtefwas on the othef
sIde of the eafth. She feIt no need to
tfoubIe hefseIf ovef them.
She found the Iedefhosen shop
wIthout pfobIem. It was a tIny oId guIId
shop. It dIdn't have a bIg sIgn fof touf-
Ists, but InsIde she couId see scofes of
Iedefhosen. She opened the doof and
waIked In.
Two oId men wofked In the shop.
They spoke In a whIspef as they took
down measufements and scfIbbIed
them Into a notebook. BehInd a cuftaIn
dIvIdef was a Iafgef wofk space, the
monotone of sewIng machInes couId be
F>$*( %", D,0-0 ,-#(-0N S$<$&-LP the
Iafgef of the two oId men addfessed the
I want to buy Iedefhosen," she fe-
sponded In EngIIsh.
ZIss make pfobIem." The oId man
chose hIs wofds wIth cafe. Ve do not
make aftIcIe fof customef who not
My husband exIst," the mothef saId
wIth confIdence.
FA$,N T$,N youf husband exIst, of
coufse, of coufse," the oId man fespon-
ded hastIIy. Excuse my not good Eng-
IIsh. Vat I vant say, If youf husband not
exIst hefe, ve cannot seII ze
Why?" the mothef asked, pefpIexed.
Is stofe poIIcy. D31 B03-* C*%0J%/. Ve
must see ze Iedefhosen how It fIt
customef, ve aItef vefy nIce, onIy zen
ve seII. Ovef one hundfed yeafs ve afe
In busIness, ve buIId feputatIon on zIss
But I spend haIf day to come ffom
Hambufg to buy youf Iedefhosen."
Vefy soffy, madame," saId the oId
man, IookIng vefy soffy Indeed. Ve
make no exceptIon. ZIss vofId Is vefy
unceftaIn vofId. Tfust Is dIffIcuIt sInk to
eafn but easy sInk to Iose."
The mothef sIghed and stood In the
doofway. She facked hef bfaIn fof some
way to bfeak the Impasse. The Iafgef
oId man expIaIned the sItuatIon to the
smaIIef oId man, who nodded sadIy,
T$,N T$,. DespIte theIf gfeat dIffefence
In sIze, the two oId men wofe IdentIcaI
WeII, pefhaps, can we do thIs?" the
mothef pfoposed. I fInd man just IIke
my husband and bfIng hIm hefe. That
man puts on Iedefhosen, you aItef vefy
nIce, you seII Iedefhosen to me."
The fIfst oId man Iooked hef In the
face, aghast.
But, madame, zat Is agaInst fuIe. Is
not same man who tfIes ze Iedefhosen
on, youf husband. And ve know zIss. Ve
cannot do zIss."
Pfetend you do not know. You seII
Iedefhosen to that man and that man
seII Iedefhosen to me. That way, thefe
Is no shame to youf poIIcy. PIease, I
beg you. I may nevef come back to Gef-
many. If I do not buy Iedefhosen now, I
wIII nevef buy Iedefhosen."
Hmph," the oId man pouted. He
thought fof a few seconds, then tufned
to the othef oId man and spoke a
stfeam of Gefman. They spoke back
and fofth sevefaI tImes. Then, fInaIIy,
the Iafge man tufned back to the moth-
ef and saId, Vefy weII, madame. As ex-
ceptIonvefy exceptIon, you pIease un-
defstandve vIII know nossInk of zIss
mattef. Not so many come ffom Yapan
to buy Iedefhosen, and ve Gefmans not
so sIow In ze head. PIease fInd man
vefy IIke youf husband. My bfothef he
says zIss."
Thank you," she saId. Then she
managed to thank the othef bfothef In
Gefman: F>$3'%31'3)'0-11';)0'D,0-0OP
thIs stofyfoIds hef hands on the tabIe
and sIghs. I dfInk the Iast of my coffee,
Iong sInce coId. The faIn keeps comIng
down. StIII no sIgn of my wIfe. Who'd
have evef thought the convefsatIon
wouId take thIs tufn?
So then?" I Intefject, eagef to heaf
the concIusIon. DId youf mothef end
up fIndIng someone wIth the same
buIId as youf fathef?"
Yes," she says, uttefIy wIthout ex-
pfessIon. Mothef sat on a bench Iook-
Ing fof someone who matched Fathef's
sIze. And aIong came a man who fIt the
paft. WIthout askIng hIs pefmIssIonIt
seems the man couIdn't speak a wofd of
EngIIshshe dfagged hIm to the Iedef-
hosen shop."
The hands-on appfoach," I joke.
I don't know. At home, Mothef was
aIways a nofmaI sensIbIe-shoes wo-
man," she saId wIth anothef sIgh. The
shopkeepefs expIaIned the sItuatIon to
the man, and the man gIadIy consented
to stand In fof Fathef. He puts the
Iedefhosen on, and they'fe puIIIng hefe
and tuckIng thefe, the thfee of them
choftIIng away In Gefman. In thIfty
mInutes the job was done, dufIng
whIch tIme Mothef made up hef mInd
to dIvofce Fathef."
WaIt," I say, I don't get It! DId
somethIng happen dufIng those thIfty
NothIng at aII. OnIy those thfee Gef-
man men ,$X,$X,$X%0K IIke beIIows."
But what made youf mothef do It?"
That's somethIng even Mothef hef-
seIf dIdn't undefstand at the tIme. It
made hef defensIve and confused. AII
she knew was, IookIng at that man In
the Iedefhosen, she feIt an unbeafabIe
dIsgust fIsIng In hef. DIfected towafd
Fathef. And she couId not hoId It back.
Mothef's Iedefhosen man, apaft ffom
the coIof of hIs skIn, was exactIy IIke
Fathef, the shape of the Iegs, the beIIy,
the thInnIng haIf. The way he was so
happy tfyIng on those new Iedefhosen,
aII pfancy and cocky IIke a IIttIe boy.
As Mothef stood thefe IookIng at thIs
man, so many thIngs she'd been uncef-
taIn of about hefseIf sIowIy shIfted to-
gethef Into somethIng vefy cIeaf. That's
when she feaIIzed she hated Fathef."
MY WIFE GETS HOME ffom shoppIng, and
the two of them commence theIf wo-
man taIk, but I'm stIII thInkIng about
the Iedefhosen. The thfee of us eat an
eafIy dInnef and have a few dfInks, I
keep tufnIng the stofy ovef In my mInd.
So, you don't hate youf mothef any-
mofe?" I ask when my wIfe Ieaves the
No, not feaIIy. We'fe not cIose at aII,
but I don't hoId anythIng agaInst hef."
Because she toId you about the
I thInk so. Aftef she expIaIned thIngs
to me, I couIdn't go on hatIng hef. I
can't say why It makes any dIffefence, I
ceftaInIy don't know how to expIaIn It,
but It may have somethIng to do wIth
us beIng women."
StIII, If you Ieave the Iedefhosen out
of It, supposIng It was just the stofy of a
woman takIng a tfIp and fIndIng hef-
seIf, wouId you have been abIe to fof-
gIve hef?"
Of coufse not," she says wIthout
hesItatIon. The whoIe poInt Is the
Iedefhosen, fIght?"
A pfoxy paIf of Iedefhosen, I'm thInk-
Ing, that hef fathef nevef even
I MET HER AT the weddIng pafty of an ac-
quaIntance and we got ffIendIy. ThIs
was thfee yeafs ago. We wefe neafIy a
whoIe genefatIon apaft In ageshe
twenty, myseIf thIfty-onebut that
hafdIy got In the way. I had pIenty of
othef thIngs to woffy my head about at
the tIme, and to be peffectIy honest, I
dIdn't have a spafe moment to thInk
about age dIffefence. And ouf ages nev-
ef bothefed hef ffom the vefy begIn-
nIng. I was maffIed, but that dIdn't
mattef, eIthef. She seemed to consIdef
thIngs IIke age and famIIy and Income
to be of the same a pfIofI ofdef as shoe
sIze and vocaI pItch and the shape of
one's fIngefnaIIs. The soft of thIng that
thInkIng about won't change one bIt.
And that much saId, weII, she had a
She was wofkIng as an adveftIsIng
modeI to eafn a IIvIng whIIe studyIng
pantomIme undef somebody-of-othef, a
famous teachef, appafentIy. Though the
wofk end of thIngs was a dfag and she
was aIways tufnIng down jobs hef
agent IIned up, so hef money sItuatIon
was feaIIy fathef pfecafIous. But
whatevef she Iacked In take-home pay
she pfobabIy made up fof on the good-
wIII of a numbef of boyffIends. Natuf-
aIIy, I don't know thIs fof ceftaIn, It's
just what I pIeced togethef ffom snIp-
pets of hef convefsatIon.
StIII, I'm not suggestIng thefe was
even a gIImmef of a hInt that she was
sIeepIng wIth guys fof money. Though
pefhaps she dId come cIose to that on
occasIon. Yet even If she dId, that was
not an essentIaI Issue, the essentIaIs
wefe sufeIy faf mofe sImpIe. And the
Iong and shoft of It was, thIs guIIeIess
sImpIIcIty Is what attfacted a paftIcuIaf
kInd of pefson. The kInd of men who
had onIy to set eyes on thIs sImpIIcIty
of hefs befofe they'd be dfessIng It up
wIth whatevef feeIIngs they heId InsIde.
Not exactIy the best expIanatIon, but
even she'd have to admIt It was thIs
sImpIIcIty that suppofted hef.
Of coufse, thIs soft of thIng couIdn't
go on fofevef. (If It couId, we'd have to
tufn the entIfe wofkIngs of the unIvefse
upsIde down.) The possIbIIIty dId exIst,
but onIy undef specIfIc cIfcumstances,
fof a specIfIc pefIod. Just IIke wIth
peeIIng mandafIn ofanges."
PeeIIng mandafIn ofanges?" you
When we fIfst met, she toId me she
was studyIng pantomIme.
Oh, feaIIy, I'd saId, not aItogethef
sufpfIsed. Young women afe aII Into
3)&-1,%0K these days. PIus, she dIdn't
Iook IIke youf dIe-cast poIIsh-youf-
skIIIs-In-dead-eafnest type.
Then she peeIed a mandafIn of-
ange." IItefaIIy, that's what she dId:
She had a gIass bowI of ofanges to hef
Ieft and anothef bowI fof the peeIs to
hef fIghtso went the setupIn fact,
thefe was nothIng thefe. She pfoceeded
to pIck up one ImagInafy ofange, then
sIowIy peeI It, pop pIeces Into hef
mouth, and spIt out the puIp one sec-
tIon at a tIme, fInaIIy dIsposIng of the
skIn-wfapped fesIdue Into the fIght-
hand bowI when she'd eaten the entIfe
ffuIt. She fepeated thIs maneuvef agaIn
and agaIn. In so many wofds, It doesn't
sound IIke much, but I sweaf, just
watchIng hef do thIs fof ten of twenty
mInutesshe and I kept up a funnIng
convefsatIon at the countef of thIs baf,
hef peeIIng mandafIn ofanges" the
whoIe whIIe, aImost wIthout a second
thoughtI feIt the feaIIty of evefythIng
afound me beIng sIphoned away. Un-
nefvIng, to say the Ieast. Back when
EIchmann stood tfIaI In IsfaeI, thefe
was taIk that the most fIttIng sentence
wouId be to Iock hIm In a ceII and
gfaduaIIy femove aII the aIf. I don't
feaIIy know how he dId meet hIs end,
but that's what came to mInd.
Seems you'fe quIte taIented," I saId.
Oh, thIs Is nothIng. TaIent's not In-
voIved. It's not a questIon of makIng
youfseIf beIIeve thefe %3 an ofange
thefe, you have to fofget thefe %30M1 one.
That's aII."
PfactIcaIIy Zen."
That's when I took a IIkIng to hef.
We genefaIIy dIdn't see aII that much
of each othef. Maybe once a month,
twIce at the most. I'd fIng hef up and
InvIte hef out somewhefe. We'd eat out
of go to a baf. We taIked IntenseIy,
she'd heaf me out and I'd IIsten to
whatevef she had to say. We hafdIy
had any common topIcs between us,
but so what? We became, weII, paIs. Of
coufse, I was the one who paId the bIII
fof aII the food and dfInks. SometImes
she'd caII me, typIcaIIy when she was
bfoke and needed a meaI. And then It
was unbeIIevabIe the amount of food
she couId put away.
When the two of us wefe togethef, I
couId tfuIy feIax. I'd fofget aII about
wofk I dIdn't want to do and tfIvIaI
thIngs that'd nevef be settIed anyway
and the cfazy mIxed-up Ideas that cfazy
mIxed-up peopIe had taken Into theIf
heads. It was some kInd of powef she
had. Not that thefe was any gfeat
meanIng to hef wofds. And If I dId
catch myseIf IntefjectIng poIIte
nothIngs wIthout feaIIy tunIng In what
she was sayIng, thefe stIII was
somethIng soothIng to my eafs about
hef voIce, IIke watchIng cIouds dfIft
acfoss the faf hofIzon.
I dId my shafe of taIkIng, too.
EvefythIng ffom pefsonaI mattefs to
sweepIng genefaIItIes, I toId hef my
honest thoughts. I guess she aIso Iet
some of my vefbIage go by, IIkewIse
wIth mInImum comment. WhIch was
fIne by me. It was a mood I was aftef,
not undefstandIng of sympathy.
Then two yeafs ago In the spfIng, hef
fathef dIed of a heaft aIIment, and she
came Into a smaII sum of money. At
Ieast, that's how she descfIbed It. WIth
the money, she saId, she wanted to
tfaveI to Nofth AffIca. Why Nofth
AffIca, I dIdn't know, but I happened to
know someone wofkIng at the AIgefIan
embassy, so I Intfoduced hef. Thus she
decIded to go to AIgefIa. And as thIngs
took theIf coufse, I ended up seeIng hef
off at the aIfpoft. AII she caffIed was a
fatty oId Boston bag stuffed wIth a
coupIe of changes of cIothes. By the
Iook of hef as she went thfough the
baggage check, you'd aImost thInk she
was fetufnIng ffom Nofth AffIca, not
goIng thefe.
You feaIIy goIng to come back to
Japan In one pIece?" I joked.
Sufe thIng. 'I shaII fetufn,'"she
Thfee months Iatef, she dId. Thfee
kIIos IIghtef than when she Ieft and
tanned about sIx shades dafkef. WIth
hef was hef new guy, whom she
pfesented as someone she met at a fes-
taufant In AIgIefs. Japanese In AIgefIa
wefe aII too few, so the two of them
easIIy feII In togethef and eventuaIIy
became IntImate. As faf I know, thIs
guy was hef fIfst feaI feguIaf Iovef.
He was In hIs Iate twentIes, taII, wIth
a decent buIId, and fathef poIIte In hIs
speech. A IIttIe Iean on Iooks, pefhaps,
though I suppose you couId put hIm In
the handsome categofy. Anyway, he
stfuck me as nIce enough, he had bIg
hands and Iong fIngefs.
The feason I know so much about the
guy Is that I went to meet hef when she
affIved. A sudden teIegfam ffom BeIfut
had gIven a date and a fIIght numbef.
NothIng eIse. Seemed she wanted me to
come to the aIfpoft. When the pIane
got InactuaIIy, It was fouf houfs Iate
due to bad weathef, dufIng whIch tIme
I fead thfee magazInes covef to covef
In a coffee Ioungethe two of them
came thfough the gate afm In afm.
They Iooked IIke a happy young maf-
fIed coupIe. When she Intfoduced us,
he shook my hand, vIftuaIIy In fefIex.
The heaIthy handshake of those who've
been IIvIng a Iong tIme ovefseas. Aftef
that, we went Into a festaufant. She
was dyIng to have a bowI of tempufa
and fIce, she saId, meanwhIIe, he and I
both had beef.
He toId me he wofked In tfadIng but
dIdn't offef any mofe detaIIs. I couIdn't
teII whethef he sImpIy dIdn't want to
taIk busIness of was thoughtfuIIy spaf-
Ing me a bofIng exposItIon. Nof, In
tfuth, dId I especIaIIy want to heaf
about tfadIng, so I dIdn't pfess hIm.
WIth IIttIe eIse to dIscuss, the convefsa-
tIon meandefed between safety on the
stfeets of BeIfut and watef suppIIes In
TunIs. He pfoved to be quIte weII In-
fofmed about affaIfs ovef the whoIe of
Nofth AffIca and the MIddIe East.
By now she'd fInIshed hef tempufa
and announced wIth a bIg yawn that
she was feeIIng sIeepy. I haIf expected
hef to doze off on the spot. She was
pfecIseIy the type who couId faII asIeep
anywhefe. The guy saId he'd see hef
home by taxI, and I saId I'd take the
tfaIn as It was fastef. Just why she had
me come aII the way out to the aIfpoft
was beyond me.
GIad I got to meet you," he toId me,
as If to acknowIedge the InconvenIence.
Same hefe," I saId.
THEREAFTER I met up wIth the guy a
numbef of tImes. Whenevef I fan Into
hef, he was aIways by hef sIde. I'd
make a date wIth hef, and he'd dfIve
up In a spotIess sIIvef-gfay Gefman
spofts caf to Iet hef off. I know next to
nothIng about automobIIes, but It fe-
mInded me of those jaunty coupes you
see In oId bIack-and-whIte FeIIInI fIIms.
DefInIteIy not the soft of caf youf of-
dInafy saIafyman owns.
The guy's got to be Ioaded," I ven-
tufed to comment to hef once.
Yeah," she saId wIthout much In-
tefest, I guess."
Can you feaIIy make that much In
That's what he saId. He wofks In
Okay, then, I ImagIne so.. But hey,
what do I know? He doesn't seem to do
much wofk at aII, as faf as I can see. He
does hIs shafe of seeIng peopIe and
taIkIng on the phone, I'II say that,
The young man and hIs money fe-
maIned a mystefy.
THEN ONE SUNDAY aftefnoon In Octobef,
she fang up. My wIfe had gone off to
see some feIatIves that mofnIng and Ieft
me aIone at home. A pIeasant day,
bfIght and cIeaf, It found me IdIy gaz-
Ing at the camphof tfee outsIde and en-
joyIng the new autumn appIes. I must
have eaten a good seven of them that
dayIt was eIthef a pathoIogIcaI cfav-
Ing of some kInd of pfemonItIon.
IIsten," she saId fIght off, just
happened to be headIng In youf dIfec-
tIon. WouId It be aII fIght If we popped
F?-LP I thfew back the questIon.
Me and hIm," came hef seIf-evIdent
Sufe," I had to say, by aII means."
Okay, we'II be thefe In thIfty
mInutes," she saId, then hung up.
I Iay thefe on the sofa awhIIe Iongef
befofe takIng a showef and shavIng. As
I toweIed myseIf dfy, I wondefed
whethef to tIdy up afound the house
but canned the Idea. Thefe wasn't tIme.
And despIte the pIIes of books and
magazInes and Iettefs and fecofds, the
occasIonaI pencII hefe of sweatef thefe,
the pIace dIdn't seem paftIcuIafIy dIfty.
I sat back down on the sofa, Iooked at
the camphof tfee, and ate anothef
They showed up a IIttIe past two. I
heafd a caf stop In ffont of the house,
and went to the ffont doof to see hef
IeanIng out the wIndow of the sIIvef-
gfay coupe, wavIng. I dIfected them to
the pafkIng space afound back.
We'fe hefe," she beamed, aII smIIes.
She wofe a sheef bIouse that showed
hef nIppIes, and an oIIve-gfeen
mInIskIft. He spofted a navy bIazef, but
thefe was somethIng eIse sIIghtIy dIffef-
ent about hIm, maybe It was the two-
day gfowth of beafd. Not at aII sIovenIy
IookIng, It even bfought out hIs fea-
tufes a shade. As he stepped ffom the
caf, he femoved hIs sungIasses and
shoved them Into hIs bfeast pocket.
TeffIbIy soffy to be dfoppIng In on
you IIke thIs on youf day off," he
Not at aII, don't mInd a bIt. Evefy
day mIght as weII be a day off wIth me,
and I was gettIng kInd of bofed hefe on
my own," I aIIowed.
We bfought some food," she saId,
IIftIng a Iafge whIte papef bag ffom the
backseat of the caf.
NothIng extfaofdInafy," he spoke
up. It's just that, a sudden vIsIt on a
Sunday, I thought, why not take aIong
somethIng to eat?"
Vefy kInd of you. EspecIaIIy sInce I
haven't had anythIng but appIes aII
We went InsIde and set the gfocefIes
out on the tabIe. It tufned out to make
quIte a spfead: foast beef sandwIches,
saIad, smoked saImon, bIuebeffy Ice
cfeamand good quantItIes at that.
WhIIe she tfansfeffed the food to
pIates, I gfabbed a bottIe of whIte wIne
ffom the feffIgefatof. It was IIke an Im-
pfomptu pafty.
WeII, Iet's dIg In. I'm stafved," pfo-
nounced hef usuaI favenous seIf.
MIdway thfough the feast, havIng
poIIshed off the wIne, we tapped Into
my stock of beef. I can usuaIIy hoId my
own, but thIs guy couId dfInk, no mat-
tef how many beefs he downed, hIs
expfessIon nevef aItefed In the sIIght-
est. Togethef wIth hef contfIbutIon of a
coupIe of cans, we had In the space of a
IIttIe undef an houf facked up a whoIe
tabIefuI of emptIes. Not bad. Mean-
whIIe, she was puIIIng fecofds ffom my
sheIf and IoadIng the pIayef. The fIfst
seIectIon to come on was MIIes DavIs's
A Gaffafd autochangef IIke that's a
fafe fInd these days," he obsefved.
WhIch Iaunched us Into audIophIIIa, me
goIng on about the vafIous components
of my stefeo system, hIm InseftIng ap-
pfopfIate comments, poIIte as evef.
The convefsatIon had feached a mo-
mentafy IuII when the guy saId, I've
got some gfass. Cafe to smoke?"
I hesItated, fof no othef feason than
I'd onIy just quIt smokIng the month
befofe and I wasn't sufe what effect It
wouId have. But In the end, I decIded
to take a toke of two. Whefeupon he
fIshed a foII packet ffom the bottom of
the papef bag and foIIed a joInt. He IIt
up and took a few puffs to get It staf-
ted, then passed It to me. It was pfIme
stuff. Fof the next few mInutes we
dIdn't say a wofd as we each took hIts
In tufn. MIIes DavIs had fInIshed, and
we wefe now Into an aIbum of Stfauss
waItzes. CufIous combInatIon, but what
the heII.
Aftef one joInt, she was aIfeady beat,
pIeadIng gfass on top of thfee beefs and
Iack of sIeep. I feffIed hef upstaIfs and
heIped hef onto the bed. She asked to
boffow a T-shIft. No soonef had I
handed It to hef than she'd stfIpped to
hef pantIes, puIIed on the T-shIft, and
stfetched fIat out. By the tIme I got
afound to askIng If she was goIng to be
wafm enough, she had aIfeady snoozed
off. I went downstaIfs, shakIng my
Back In the IIvIng foom, hef guy was
busy foIIIng anothef joInt. PIays hafd,
thIs dude. Me, I wouId have just as
soon snuggIed Into bed next to hef and
conked fIght out. Fat chance. We
settIed down to smoke the second joInt,
Stfauss stIII waItzIng away. Somehow, I
was femInded of an eIementafy-schooI
pIay. I had the paft of the oId gIove
makef. A fox cub comes wIth money to
buy gIoves, but the gIove makef says
It's not enough fof a paIf.
FM+$%0M1 K)00$ QB= 0) K#);-3NP I say.
Guess I'm somethIng of a vIIIaIn.
F9B1 S)1,-*M3 3) ;-*= "X"X")#<O @,-M##
K-1 ",$//-< /X/X/$53O CX/X/#-$3-NP says
the fox cub.
F],XB,N 0)1,%0K <)%0KO @$;- =)B*
SometImes I bufn bafns," the guy
was sayIng.
Excuse me?" I asked. Had I mIs-
heafd hIm?
SometImes I bufn bafns," the guy
I Iooked at hIm. HIs fIngeftIps tfaced
the pattefn on hIs IIghtef. Then he took
a deep dfaw on the joInt and heId It In
fof a good ten seconds befofe sIowIy ex-
haIIng. The smoke came stfeamIng out
of hIs mouth and Into the aIf IIke ecto-
pIasm. He passed me the foach.
QuaIIty pfoduct, eh?" he saId.
I nodded.
I bfought It ffom IndIa. Top of the
IIne, the best I couId fInd. Smoke thIs
and, It's stfange, I fecaII aII kInds of
thIngs. IIghts and smeIIs and IIke that.
The quaIIty of memofy ." He paused
and snapped hIs fIngefs a few tImes, as
If seafchIng fof the fIght wofds. .
compIeteIy changes. Don't you thInk?"
That It dId, I concuffed. I feaIIy was
back In the schooI pIay, feexpefIencIng
the commotIon on stage, the smeII of
the paInt on the cafdboafd backdfop.
I'd IIke to heaf about thIs bafn
thIng," I saId.
He Iooked at me. HIs face wofe no
mofe expfessIon than evef.
May I taIk about It?" he asked.
Why not?" I saId.
Pfetty sImpIe, feaIIy. I pouf gasoIIne
and thfow a IIghted match. G#%"7, and
that's It. Doesn't take fIfteen mInutes
fof the whoIe thIng to bufn to the
So teII me," I began, then feII sIIent.
I was havIng tfoubIe fIndIng the fIght
wofds, too. Why Is It you bufn bafns?"
Is It so stfange?"
Who knows? You bufn bafns. I don't
bufn bafns. Thefe's thIs gIafIng dIffef-
ence, and to me, fathef than say whIch
of us Is stfange, fIfst of aII I'd IIke to
cIeaf up just what that dIffefence Is.
Anyway, It was you who bfought up
thIs bafn thIng to begIn wIth."
Got me thefe," he admItted. You
teII It IIke It Is. Say, wouId you have
any RavI Shankaf fecofds?"
No, I dIdn't, I toId hIm.
The guy spaced out awhIIe. I couId
pfactIcaIIy see hIs mInd kneadIng IIke
SIIIy Putty. Of maybe It was &= mInd
that was squIfmIng afound.
I bufn maybe one bafn evefy two
months," he came back. Then he
snapped hIs fIngefs agaIn. Seems to
me that's just about the fIght pace. Fof
me, that Is."
I nodded vagueIy. Pace?
Just out of Intefest, Is It youf own
bafns you bufn?" I thought to ask.
The guy Iooked at me uncompfe-
hendIngIy. Why have I got to bufn my
own bafns? What makes you thInk I'd
have thIs sufpIus of bafns, myseIf?"
WhIch means," I contInued, you
bufn othef peopIe's bafns, fIght?"
Coffect," he saId. ObvIousIy. Othef
peopIe's bafns. WhIch makes It, as It
wefe, a cfImInaI act. Same as you and
me smokIng thIs gfass hefe fIght now.
A cIeaf-cut cfImInaI act."
I shut up, eIbows on the afms of my
In othef wofds, I wantonIy IgnIte
bafns that beIong to othef peopIe. Nat-
ufaIIy, I choose ones that won't cause
majof fIfes. AII I want to do Is sImpIy
bufn bafns."
I nodded and gfound out what was
Ieft of the foach. But, If you get
caught, you'II be In tfoubIe. Whatevef,
It's afson, and you mIght get pfIson."
Nobody's goIng to get caught." He
Iaughed at the vefy Idea. Pouf the gas,
IIght the match, and fun. Then I watch
the whoIe thIng ffom a dIstance
thfough bInocuIafs, nIce and easy.
Nobody catches me. ReaIIy, bufn one
shItty IIttIe bafn and the cops hafdIy
even budge."
Come to thInk of It, they pfobabIy
wouIdn't. On top of whIch, who'd
suspect a weII-dfessed young man dfIv-
Ing a fofeIgn caf?
And does she know about thIs?" I
asked, poIntIng upstaIfs.
Not a thIng. Fact Is, I've nevef toId
anyone eIse about thIs but you. I'm not
the soft to go spoutIng off to just
So why me?"
The guy extended hIs fIngefs of hIs
Ieft hand and stfoked hIs cheek. The
gfowth of beafd made a dfy, faspIng
sound. IIke a bug waIkIng ovef a thIn,
taut sheet of papef. You'fe someone
who wfItes noveIs, so I thought,
WouIdn't he be Intefested In pattefns of
human behavIof and aII that? And the
way I see It, wIth noveIIsts, befofe even
passIng judgment on somethIng, afen't
they the kInd who afe supposed to ap-
pfecIate Its fofm? And even If they
can't $//*-"%$1- It, they shouId at Ieast
accept It at face vaIue, no? That's why I
toId you. I wanted to teII you, ffom my
I nodded. Just how was I to accept
thIs at ($"- ;$#B-L Ffom my sIde, I hon-
estIy dIdn't know.
ThIs mIght be a stfange way to put
It," he took off agaIn, spfeadIng both
hands, then bfIngIng them sIowIy to-
gethef befofe hIs eyes. But thefe's a Iot
of bafns In thIs wofId, and I've got thIs
feeIIng that they'fe aII just waItIng to
be bufned. Bafns buIIt way off by the
seasIde, bafns buIIt In the mIddIe of
fIce fIeIds . weII, anyway, aII kInds of
bafns. But nothIng that fIfteen mInutes
wouIdn't bufn down, nIce and neat. It's
IIke that's why they wefe put thefe
ffom the vefy begInnIng. No gfIef to
anyone. They just. vanIsh. One, two,
But you'fe judgIng that they'fe not
I'm not judgIng anythIng. They'fe
5$%1%0K to be bufned. I'm sImpIy obII-
gIng. You get It? I'm just takIng on
what's thefe. Just IIke the faIn. The faIn
faIIs. Stfeams sweII. ThIngs get swept
aIong. Does the faIn judge anythIng?
WeII, aII fIght, does thIs make me Im-
mofaI? In my own way, I'd IIke to be-
IIeve I've got my own mofaIs. And
that's an extfemeIy Impoftant fofce In
human exIstence. A pefson can't exIst
wIthout mofaIs. I wouIdn't doubt If
mofaIs wefen't the vefy baIance to my
RIght, I'm hefe, and I'm thefe. I'm In
Tokyo, and at the same tIme I'm In
TunIs. I'm the one to bIame, and I'm
aIso the one to fofgIve. Just as a fof In-
stance. It's that IeveI of baIance.
WIthout such baIance, I don't thInk we
couId go on IIvIng. It's IIke the IInchpIn
to evefythIng. Iose It and we'd IItefaIIy
go to pIeces. But fof the vefy feason
that I've got It, sImuItaneIty becomes
possIbIe fof me."
So what you'fe sayIng Is, the act of
bufnIng bafns Is In keepIng wIth these
mofaIs of youfs?"
Not exactIy. It's an act by whIch to
maIntaIn those mofaIs. But maybe we
bettef just fofget the mofaIIty. It's not
essentIaI. What I want to say Is, the
wofId Is fuII of these bafns. Me, I got
my bafns, and you got youf bafns. It's
the tfuth. I've been aImost evefywhefe
In the wofId. ExpefIenced evefythIng.
Came cIose to dyIng mofe than once.
Not that I'm pfoud of It of anythIng.
But okay, Iet's dfop It. My fauIt fof be-
Ing the quIet type aII the tIme. I taIk
too much when I do gfass."
We feII sIIent, bufned out. I had no
Idea what to say of how. I was sIttIng
tIght In my mentaI passengef seat, just
watchIng one weIfd scene aftef the next
sIIp past the caf wIndow. My body was
so Ioose I couIdn't get a good gfasp on
what the dIffefent pafts wefe doIng. Yet
I was stIII In touch wIth the Idea of my
bodIIy exIstence. SImuItaneIty, If evef
thefe was such a thIng: Hefe I had me
thInkIng, and hefe I had me obsefvIng
myseIf thInk. TIme tIcked on In Im-
possIbIy mInute poIyfhythms.
Cafe fof a beef?" I asked a IIttIe
Thank you. I wouId."
I went to the kItchen, bfought out
fouf cans and some Camembeft, and we
heIped oufseIves.
When was the Iast tIme you bufned
a bafn?" I had to ask.
Iet's see, now." He stfaIned to fe-
membef, beef can In hand. Summef,
the end of August."
And the next tIme, when'II that be?"
Don't know. It's not IIke I wofk out
a scheduIe of mafk dates In my caIen-
daf. When I get the ufge, I go bufn
But, say. When you get thIs ufge,
some IIkeIy bafn doesn't just happen to
be IyIng afound, does It?"
Of coufse not," he saId quIetIy.
That's why I scout out ones fIpe fof
bufnIng In advance."
To Iay In stock."
Can I ask you one mofe questIon?"
Have you aIfeady decIded on the
next bafn to bufn?"
ThIs caused hIm to fuffow up
wfInkIes between hIs eyes, then he In-
haIed audIbIy thfough hIs nose. WeII,
yes. As a mattef of fact, I have."
I sIpped the Iast of my beef and saId
A gfeat bafn. The fIfst bafn feaIIy
wofth bufnIng In ages. Fact Is, I went
and checked It out onIy today."
WhIch means, It must be neafby."
Vefy neaf," he confIfmed.
So ended ouf bafn taIk.
At fIve o'cIock, he foused hIs gIfI-
ffIend, and then apoIogIzed to me agaIn
fof the sudden vIsIt. He was compIeteIy
sobef, despIte the quantItIes of beef I'd
seen hIm dfInk. Then he fetched the
spofts caf ffom afound back.
I'II keep an eye out fof that bafn," I
toId hIm.
You do that," he answefed. IIke I
saId, It's fIght neaf hefe."
What's thIs about a bafn?" she
bfoke In.
Man taIk," he saId.
Oh, gfeat," she fawned.
And at that, the two of them wefe
I fetufned to the IIvIng foom and Iay
down on the sofa. The tabIe was
IIttefed wIth aII mannef of debfIs. I
pIcked up my duffIe coat off the fIoof,
puIIed It ovef my head, and conked out.
BIuIsh gIoom and a pungent
mafIjuana odof covefed evefythIng.
OddIy uneven, that dafkness. IyIng on
the sofa, I tfIed to femembef what
came next In the eIementafy-schooI
pIay, but It was Iong sInce IffetfIevabIe.
DId the fox cub evef get the gIoves?
I got up ffom the sofa, opened a wIn-
dow to aIf the pIace, went to the kIt-
chen, and made myseIf some coffee.
THE FOIIOWING DAY, I went to a book-
stofe and bought a map of the afea
whefe I IIve. ScaIed 20,000:I and de-
taIIed down to the smaIIest Ianes. Then
I waIked afound wIth the map, pencII-
Ing In X's whefevef thefe was a bafn of
shed. Fof the next thfee days, I covefed
fouf kIIometefs In aII fouf dIfectIons.
IIvIng towafd the outskIfts of town,
thefe afe stIII a good many fafmefs In
the vIcInIty. So It came to a
consIdefabIe numbef of bafnssIxteen
I cafefuIIy checked the condItIon of
each of these, and ffom the sIxteen I
eIImInated aII those whefe thefe wefe
houses In the ImmedIate pfoxImIty of
gfeenhouses aIongsIde. I aIso eIImIn-
ated those In whIch thefe wefe fafm
ImpIements of chemIcaIs of sIgns that
they wefe stIII In actIve use. I dIdn't
ImagIne he'd want to bufn tooIs of
That Ieft fIve bafns. FIve bafns wofth
bufnIng. Of, fathef, fIve bafns unobjec-
tIonabIe If bufned. The kInd of bafn It'd
take fIfteen mInutes to feduce to ashes,
then no one wouId mIss It. Yet I
couIdn't decIde whIch wouId be the one
he'd be most IIkeIy to tofch. The fest
was a mattef of taste. I was besIde
myseIf fof wantIng to know whIch of
the fIve bafns he'd chosen.
I unfoIded my map and efased aII but
those fIve X's. I got myseIf a fIght angIe
and a Ffench cufve and dIvIdefs, and
tfIed to estabIIsh the shoftest coufse
IeavIng ffom my house, goIng afound
the fIve bafns, and comIng back home
agaIn. WhIch pfoved to be a IabofIous
opefatIon, what wIth the foads wIndIng
about hIIIs and stfeams. The fesuIt: a
coufse of 7.2 kIIometefs. I measufed It
sevefaI tImes, so I couIdn't have been
too faf off.
The foIIowIng mofnIng at sIx, I put
on my tfaInIng weaf and joggIng shoes
and fan the coufse. I fun sIx kIIometefs
evefy mofnIng anyway, so addIng an
extfa kIIometef wouIdn't kIII me. Thefe
wefe two faIIfoad cfossIngs aIong the
way, but they fafeIy heId you up. And
othefwIse, the scenefy wouIdn't be bad.
FIfst thIng out of the house, I dId a
quIck cIfcuIt afound the pIayIng fIeId of
the IocaI coIIege, then tufned down an
unpaved foad that fan aIong a stfeam
fof thfee kIIometefs. PassIng the fIfst
bafn mIdway, a path took me thfough
woods. A sIIght uphIII gfade, then an-
othef bafn. A IIttIe beyond that wefe
facehofse stabIes. The Thofoughbfeds
wouId be aIafmed to see fIamesbut
that'd be It. No feaI damage.
The thIfd and foufth bafns fesembIed
each othef IIke ugIy twIns. Set not two
hundfed metefs apaft, both wefe
weathef-beaten and dIfty. You mIght as
weII tofch the both of them togethef.
The Iast bafn stood besIde a faIIfoad
cfossIng. RoughIy the sIx-kIIometef
mafk. UttefIy abandoned, the bafn had
a tIn PepsI-CoIa bIIIboafd naIIed to the
sIde facIng the tfacks. The stfuctufeIf
you couId caII It thatwas such a
shambIes, I couId see It, as he wouId
say, just waItIng to be bufned.
I paused befofe thIs Iast bafn, took a
few deep bfeaths, cut ovef the cfossIng,
and headed home. RunnIng tIme:
thIfty-one mInutes thIfty seconds. I
showefed, ate bfeakfast, stfetched out
on the sofa to IIsten to one fecofd, then
got down to wofk.
Fof one month, I fan the same coufse
each mofnIng. Butno bafns bufned.
SometImes, I couId sweaf he was tfy-
Ing to get me to bufn a bafn. That Is, to
pIant In my head the Image of bufnIng
bafns, so that It wouId sweII up IIke a
bIcycIe tIfe pumped wIth aIf. I'II gfant
you, thefe wefe tImes that, weII, as
Iong as I was waItIng afound fof hIm to
do the deed, I haIf consIdefed stfIkIng
the match myseIf. It wouId have been a
Iot fastef. And anyhow, they wefe onIy
fun-down oId bafns..
AIthough on second thought, no, Iet's
not get caffIed away. You won't see me
tofch any bafn. No mattef how InfIated
the Image of bufnIng bafns gfew In my
head, I'm feaIIy not the type. Me, bufn
bafns? Nevef. Then what about hIm?
He'd pfobabIy just swItched pfospects.
Of eIse he was too busy and sImpIy
hadn't found the tIme to bufn a bafn. In
any case, thefe was no wofd ffom hef.
Decembef came and went, and the
mofnIng aIf pIefced the skIn. The bafns
stood theIf gfound, theIf foofs whIte
wIth ffost. WIntefIng bIfds sent the
echo of fIappIng wIngs thfough the
ffozen woods. The wofId kept In mo-
tIon unchanged.

THE NEXT TIME I met the guy was In the
mIddIe of Decembef Iast yeaf. It was
ChfIstmas cafoIs evefywhefe you went.
I had gone Into town to buy pfesents
fof dIffefent peopIe, and whIIe waIkIng
afound NogIzaka I spotted hIs caf. No
mIstake, hIs sIIvef-gfay spofts caf. ShIn-
agawa IIcense pIate, smaII dent next to
the Ieft headIIght. It was pafked In the
Iot of a cafe, IookIng Iess spafkIIng than
when I Iast saw It, the sIIvef-gfay a hInt
duIIef. Though maybe that was a mIs-
taken ImpfessIon on my paft: I have
thIs convenIent tendency to fewofk my
memofIes. I dashed Into the cafe
wIthout a moment's hesItatIon.
The pIace was dafk and thIck wIth
the stfong afoma of coffee. Thefe wef-
en't many voIces to be heafd, onIy at-
mosphefIc bafoque musIc. I fecognIzed
hIm ImmedIateIy. He was sIttIng aIone
by the wIndow, dfInkIng a cafe au IaIt.
And though It was wafm enough In
thefe to steam up my gIasses, he was
weafIng a bIack cashmefe coat, wIth hIs
muffIef stIII wfapped afound hIs neck.
I hedged a second, but then fIgufed I
mIght as weII appfoach the guy. I de-
cIded not to say I'd seen hIs caf outsIde,
I'd just happened to step In, and by
chance thefe he was.
MInd If I sIt down?" I asked.
PIease, not at aII," he fepIIed.
We taIked a bIt. It wasn't a paftIcu-
IafIy IIveIy convefsatIon. CIeafIy, we
dIdn't have much In the way of com-
mon topIcs, mofeovef, hIs mInd seemed
to be on somethIng eIse. StIII, he dIdn't
show any sIgn of beIng put out by my
pfesence. At one poInt, he mentIoned a
seapoft In TunIsIa, then he stafted
descfIbIng the shfImp they caught
thefe. He wasn't just taIkIng fof my
sake: He feaIIy was sefIous about these
shfImp. AII the same, IIke watef to the
deseft, the stofy dIdn't go anywhefe be-
fofe It dIssIpated.
He sIgnaIed to the waItef and
ofdefed a second cafe au IaIt.
Say, by the way, how's youf bafn
doIng?" I bfaved the questIon.
The tface of a smIIe came to hIs IIps.
Oh, you stIII femembef?" he saId, fe-
movIng a handkefchIef ffom hIs pocket
to wIpe hIs mouth. Why, sufe, I
bufned It. Bufned It nIce and cIean.
Just as pfomIsed."
One fIght neaf my house?"
Yeah. ReaIIy, fIght by thefe."
Iastwhen was It? Maybe ten days
aftef I vIsIted youf pIace."
I toId hIm about how I pIotted the
bafns on my map and fan my daIIy cIf-
cuIt. So thefe's no way I couId have
0)1 seen It," I InsIsted.
Vefy thofough," he gIbed, obvIousIy
havIng hIs fun. Thofough and IogIcaI.
AII I can say Is, you must have mIssed
It. Does happen, you know. ThIngs so
cIose up, they don't even fegIstef."
It just doesn't make sense."
He adjusted hIs tIe, then gIanced at
hIs watch. So vefy, vefy cIose," he un-
defscofed. But If you'II excuse me, I've
got to be goIng. Iet's taIk about It next
tIme, shaII we? Can't keep a pefson
waItIng. Soffy."
I had no pIausIbIe feason to detaIn
the guy any fufthef.
He stood up, pocketed hIs cIgafettes
and IIghtef, and then femafked, Oh,
by the way, have you seen hef IateIy?"
No, not at aII. Haven't you?"
Me, neIthef. I've been tfyIng to get
In touch, but she's nevef In hef apaft-
ment and she doesn't answef the phone
and she hasn't been to hef pantomIme
cIass the whoIe whIIe."
She must have taken off somewhefe.
She's been known to do that."
The guy stafed down at the tabIe,
hands bufIed In hIs pockets. WIth no
money, fof a month and a haIf? As faf
as makIng hef own way, she hafdIy has
a cIue."
He was snappIng hIs fIngefs In hIs
coat pocket.
I thInk I know that gIfI pfetty weII,
and she absoIuteIy hasn't got yen one.
No feaI ffIends to speak of. An addfess
book fuII of names, but that's aII they
afe. She hasn't got anyone she can de-
pend on. No, I take that back, she dId
tfust you. And I'm not sayIng thIs out of
couftesy. I do beIIeve you'fe someone
specIaI to hef. ReaIIy, It's enough to
make me kInd of jeaIous. And I'm
someone who's nevef evef been jeaIous
at aII." He gave a IIttIe sIgh, then eyed
hIs watch agaIn. But I feaIIy must go.
Be seeIng you."
RIght, I nodded, but no wofds came.
The same as aIways, whenevef I was
thfown togethef wIth thIs guy, I be-
came aItogethef InaftIcuIate.
I tfIed caIIIng hef any numbef of
tImes aftef that, but hef IIne had appaf-
entIy been dIsconnected. WhIch some-
how bothefed me, so I went to hef
apaftment and encountefed a Iocked
doof, hef maIIbox stuffed wIth fIIefs.
The supefIntendent was nowhefe to be
found, so I had no way to know If she
was even IIvIng thefe anymofe. I fIpped
a page ffom my appoIntment book, jot-
ted down PIease contact," wfote my
name, and shoved It Into the maIIbox.
Not a wofd.
The next tIme I passed by, the apaft-
ment bofe the namepIate of anothef
fesIdent. I actuaIIy knocked, but no one
was In. And IIke befofe, no supefIntend-
ent In sIght.
At that, I gave up. ThIs was one yeaf
She'd dIsappeafed.
EVERY MORNING, I stIII fun past those fIve
bafns. Not one of them has yet bufned
down. Nof do I heaf of any bafn fIfes.
Come Decembef, the bIfds stfafe ovef-
head. And I keep gettIng oIdef.
AIthough just now and then, In the
depths of the nIght, I'II thInk about
bafns bufnIng to the gfound.
MY HUSBAND IEFT fof wofk as usuaI, and I
couIdn't thInk of anythIng to do. I sat
aIone In the chaIf by the wIndow, staf-
Ing out at the gafden thfough the gap
between the cuftaIns. Not that I had
any feason to be IookIng at the gafden:
Thefe was nothIng eIse fof me to do.
And I thought that soonef of Iatef, If I
sat thefe IookIng, I mIght thInk of
somethIng. Of aII the many thIngs In
the gafden, the one I Iooked at most
was the oak tfee. It was my specIaI fa-
vofIte. I had pIanted It when I was a
IIttIe gIfI, and watched It gfow. I
thought of It as my oId ffIend. I taIked
to It aII the tIme In my head.
That day, too, I was pfobabIy taIkIng
to the oak tfeeI don't femembef what
about. And I don't know how Iong I
was sIttIng thefe. The tIme sIIps by
when I'm IookIng at the gafden. It was
dafk befofe I knew It: I must have been
thefe quIte a whIIe. Then, aII at once, I
heafd a sound. It came ffom some-
whefe faf awaya funny, muffIed soft
of fubbIng soft of sound. At fIfst I
thought It was comIng ffom a pIace
deep InsIde me, that I was heafIng
thIngsa wafnIng ffom the dafk co-
coon my body was spInnIng wIthIn. I
heId my bfeath and IIstened. Yes. No
doubt about It. IIttIe by IIttIe, the
sound was movIng cIosef to me. What
was It? I had no Idea. But It made my
fIesh cfeep.
The gfound neaf the base of the tfee
began to buIge upwafd as If some thIck,
heavy IIquId wefe fIsIng to the sufface.
AgaIn I caught my bfeath. Then the
gfound bfoke open and the mounded
eafth cfumbIed away to feveaI a set of
shafp cIaws. My eyes Iocked onto them,
and my hands tufned Into cIenched
fIsts. SomethIng's goIng to happen, I
saId to myseIf. It's staftIng now. The
cIaws scfaped hafd at the soII, and soon
the bfeak In the eafth was an open
hoIe, ffom whIch thefe cfawIed a IIttIe
gfeen monstef.
Its body was covefed wIth shInIng
gfeen scaIes. As soon as It emefged
ffom the hoIe, It shook ItseIf untII the
bIts of soII cIIngIng to It dfopped away.
It had a Iong, funny nose, the gfeen of
whIch gfaduaIIy deepened towafd the
tIp. The vefy end was naffow and poIn-
ted as a whIp, but the beast's eyes wefe
exactIy IIke a human's. The sIght of
them sent a shIvef thfough me. They
showed feeIIngs, just IIke youf eyes of
WIthout hesItatIon, but movIng
sIowIy and deIIbefateIy, the monstef
appfoached my ffont doof, on whIch It
began to knock wIth the sIendef tIp of
Its nose. The dfy, fappIng sound echoed
thfough the house. I tIptoed to the back
foom, hopIng the beast wouId not feaI-
Ize I was thefe. I couIdn't scfeam. Oufs
Is the onIy house In the afea, and my
husband wouIdn't be comIng back ffom
wofk untII Iate at nIght. I couIdn't fun
out the back doof, eIthef, sInce my
house has onIy the one doof, the vefy
one on whIch a hoffIbIe gfeen monstef
was now knockIng. I bfeathed as
quIetIy as I couId, pfetendIng not to be
thefe, hopIng the thIng wouId gIve up
and go away. But It dIdn't gIve up. Its
nose went ffom knockIng to gfopIng at
the Iock. It seemed to have no tfoubIe
at aII cIIckIng the Iock open, and then
the doof ItseIf opened a cfack. Afound
the edge of the doof cfept the nose, and
then It stopped. Fof a Iong tIme It
stayed stIII, IIke a snake wIth Its head
faIsed, checkIng condItIons In the
house. If I had known thIs was goIng to
happen, I couId have stayed by the
doof and cut the nose off, I toId myseIf:
The kItchen had pIenty of shafp knIves.
No soonef had the thought occuffed to
me than the cfeatufe moved past the
edge of the doof, smIIIng, as If It had
fead my mInd. Then It spoke, not wIth
a stuttef, but fepeatIng ceftaIn wofds as
If It wefe stIII tfyIng to Ieafn them. It
wouIdn't have done you any good, any
good, the IIttIe gfeen monstef saId. My
nose Is IIke a IIzafd's taII. It aIways
gfows backstfongef and Iongef,
stfongef and Iongef. You'd get just the
opposIte of what what you want want.
Then It spun Its eyes fof a Iong tIme,
IIke two weIfd tops.
Oh, no, I thought to myseIf. Can It
fead peopIe's mInds? I hate to have
anyone know what I'm
thInkIngespecIaIIy when that
someone Is a hoffId and InscfutabIe
IIttIe cfeatufe IIke thIs. I bfoke out In a
coId sweat ffom head to foot. What was
thIs thIng goIng to do to me? Eat me?
Take me down Into the eafth? Oh, weII,
at Ieast It wasn't so ugIy that I couIdn't
stand IookIng at It. That was good. It
had sIendef, pInk IIttIe afms and Iegs
juttIng out ffom Its gfeen-scaIed body
and Iong cIaws at the ends of Its hands
and feet. They wefe aImost dafIIng, the
mofe I Iooked at them. And I couId see,
too, that the cfeatufe meant me no
Of coufse not, It saId to me, cockIng
Its head. Its scaIes cIIcked agaInst one
anothef when It movedIIke cfammed-
togethef coffee cups fattIIng on a tabIe
when you nudge It. What a teffIbIe
thought, madam: Of coufse I wouIdn't
eat you. No no no. I mean you no hafm,
no hafm, no hafm. So I was fIght: It
knew exactIy what I was thInkIng.
Madam madam madam, don't you
see? Don't you see? I've come hefe to
pfopose to you. Ffom deep deep deep
down deep down deep. I had to cfawI
aII the way up hefe up hefe up. AwfuI,
It was awfuI, I had to dIg and dIg and
dIg. Iook at how It fuIned my cIaws! I
couId nevef have done thIs If I meant
you any hafm, any hafm, any hafm. I
Iove you. I Iove you so much I couIdn't
stand It anymofe down deep down
deep. I cfawIed my way up to you, I
had to, I had to. They aII tfIed to stop
me, but I couIdn't stand It anymofe.
And thInk of the coufage that It took,
pIease, took. What If you thought It was
fude and pfesumptuous, fude and pfe-
sumptuous, fof a cfeatufe IIke me to
pfopose to you?
But It %3 fude and pfesumptuous, I
saId In my mInd. What a fude IIttIe
cfeatufe you afe to come seekIng my
A Iook of sadness came ovef the
monstef's face as soon as I thought thIs,
and Its scaIes took on a pufpIe tInge, as
If to expfess what It was feeIIng. Its en-
tIfe body seemed to shfInk a IIttIe, too.
I foIded my afms to watch these
changes occuffIng. Maybe somethIng
IIke thIs wouId happen whenevef Its
feeIIngs aItefed. And maybe Its awfuI-
IookIng extefIof masked a heaft that
was as soft and vuInefabIe as a bfand-
new mafshmaIIow. If so, I knew I couId
wIn. I decIded to gIve It a tfy. You $*-
an ugIy IIttIe monstef, you know, I
shouted In my mInd's Ioudest voIceso
Ioud It made my heaft fevefbefate. You
$*- an ugIy IIttIe monstef! The pufpIe of
the scaIes gfew deepef, and the thIng's
eyes began to buIge as If they wefe
suckIng In aII the hatfed I was sendIng
them. They pfotfuded ffom the
cfeatufe's face IIke fIpe gfeen fIgs, and
teafs IIke fed juIce fan down ffom
them, spIattefIng on the fIoof.
I wasn't affaId of the monstef any-
mofe. I paInted pIctufes In my mInd of
aII the cfueI thIngs I wanted to do to It.
I tIed It down to a heavy chaIf wIth
thIck wIfes, and wIth a needIe-nose pII-
efs I began fIppIng out Its scaIes at the
foots, one by one. I heated the poInt of
a shafp knIfe, and wIth It I cut deep
gfooves In the soft pInk fIesh of Its
caIves. Ovef and ovef, I stabbed a hot
soIdefIng Ifon Into the buIgIng fIgs of
Its eyes. WIth each new toftufe I Ima-
gIned fof It, the monstef wouId Iufch
and wfIthe and waII In agony as If
those thIngs wefe actuaIIy happenIng to
It. It wept Its coIofed teafs and oozed
thIck gobs of IIquId onto the fIoof,
emIttIng a gfay vapof ffom Its eafs that
had the ffagfance of foses. Its eyes sent
an unnefvIng gIafe of fepfoach at me.
PIease, madam, oh pIease, I beg of you,
don't thInk such teffIbIe thoughts! It
cfIed. I have no evII thoughts fof you. I
wouId nevef hafm you. AII I feeI fof
you Is Iove, Is Iove. But I fefused to
IIsten. In my mInd, I saId, Don't be fI-
dIcuIous! You cfawIed out of my
gafden. You unIocked my doof wIthout
pefmIssIon. You came InsIde my house.
I nevef asked you hefe. I have the fIght
to thInk anythIng I want to. And I con-
tInued to do exactIy thatthInkIng at
the cfeatufe IncfeasIngIy teffIbIe
thoughts. I cut and tofmented Its fIesh
wIth evefy machIne and tooI I couId
thInk of, ovefIookIng no method that
mIght exIst to toftufe a IIvIng beIng and
make It wfIthe In paIn. See, then, you
IIttIe monstef, you have no Idea what a
woman Is. Thefe's no end to the num-
bef of thIngs I can thInk of to do to
you. But soon the monstef's outIInes
began to fade, and even Its stfong gfeen
nose shfIveIed up untII It was no bIggef
than a wofm. WfIthIng on the fIoof, the
monstef tfIed to move Its mouth and
speak to me, stfuggIIng to open Its IIps
as If It wanted to Ieave me some fInaI
message, to convey some ancIent wIs-
dom, some cfucIaI bIt of knowIedge
that It had fofgotten to Impaft to me.
Befofe that couId happen, the mouth
attaIned a paInfuI stIIIness, and soon It
went out of focus and dIsappeafed. The
monstef now Iooked IIke nothIng mofe
than a paIe evenIng shadow. AII that fe-
maIned, suspended In the aIf, wefe Its
moufnfuI, bIoated eyes. That won't do
any good, I thought to It. You can Iook
aII you want, but you can't say a thIng.
You can't do a thIng. Youf exIstence Is
ovef, fInIshed, done. Soon the eyes dIs-
soIved Into emptIness, and the foom
fIIIed wIth the dafkness of nIght.
dIsIIked my kId sIstef's fIance fIght
ffom the staft. And the Iess I IIked hIm,
the mofe doubts I had about hef. I was
dIsappoInted In hef fof the choIce she
had made.
Maybe I'm just naffow-mInded.
My sIstef ceftaInIy seemed to thInk
so. We dIdn't taIk about my feeIIngs,
but she knew I dIdn't IIke hef fIance,
and she Iet hef annoyance show.
You've got such a naffow vIew of
thIngs," she saId.
At the tIme, we wefe taIkIng about
spaghettI. She was teIIIng me that I had
a naffow vIew of spaghettI.
ThIs was not aII she had In mInd, of
coufse. Hef fIance was IufkIng some-
whefe just beyond the spaghettI, and
she was feaIIy taIkIng about hIm. We
wefe fIghtIng ovef hIm by pfoxy.
It aII stafted one Sunday aftefnoon
when she suggested we go out fof ItaII-
an food. FIne," I saId, sInce I just
happened to be In the mood fof that.
We went to a cute IIttIe spaghettI house
that had fecentIy opened up acfoss
ffom the statIon. I ofdefed spaghettI
wIth eggpIant and gafIIc, and she asked
fof pesto sauce. WhIIe we waIted, I had
a beef. So faf, so good. It was May, a
Sunday, and the weathef was beautIfuI.
The pfobIem stafted wIth the spa-
ghettI ItseIf, whIch was a dIsastef. The
sufface of the pasta had an unpIeasant,
fIoufy textufe. The centef was stIII hafd
and uncooked. Even a dog wouId have
tufned Its nose up at the buttef they
had used. I couIdn't eat mofe than haIf
of what was on my pIate, and I asked
the waItfess to take the fest away.
My sIstef gIanced at me once of twIce
but dIdn't say anythIng at fIfst. Instead,
she took hef tIme, eatIng evefythIng
they had sefved hef, down to the Iast
thfead. I sat thefe, IookIng out the wIn-
dow and dfInkIng anothef beef.
You dIdn't have to make such a
show of IeavIng youf food," she saId
when the waItfess had taken hef pIate.
It wasn't that bad. You couId have
fofced youfseIf."
Why shouId I? It's &= stomach, not
It's a bfand-new festaufant. The
cook's pfobabIy not used to the kItchen.
It wouIdn't have kIIIed you to gIve hIm
the benefIt of the doubt," she saId, and
took a sIp of the thIn, tasteIess-IookIng
coffee they had bfought hef.
You may be fIght," I saId, but It
onIy makes sense fof a dIscfImInatIng
IndIvIduaI to Ieave food he doesn't
WeII, excuse &-, Mf. Know-It-aII."
What's =)B* pfobIem? That tIme of
the month agaIn?"
Oh, shut up. I desefve bettef than
that ffom you."
Take It easy," I saId. You'fe taIkIng
to a guy who knows exactIy when youf
pefIods stafted. You wefe so Iate, Mom
took you to see a doctof."
You'fe goIng to get my pocketbook
fIght between the eyes ."
She was tufnIng sefIous, so I shut up.
The tfoubIe wIth you Is, you'fe so
naffow-mInded about evefythIng," she
saId as she added cfeam to hef coffee
(meanIng It 5$3 tasteIess, aftef aII).
You onIy see the negatIve thIngs. You
don't even 1*= to Iook at the good
poInts. If somethIng doesn't measufe up
to youf standafds, you won't touch It.
It's so annoyIng."
Maybe so. But It's my IIfe, not
And you don't cafe how much you
huft peopIe. You just Iet them cIean up
youf mess. Even when you
What the heII afe you taIkIng
I femembef when you wefe In hIgh
schooI you used to do It In youf sheets.
The women of the famIIy had to cIean
up aftef you. The Ieast you couId do Is
mastufbate wIthout gettIng It aII ovef
youf sheets."
I'II be mofe cafefuI ffom now on," I
saId. Now, fofgIve me fof fepeatIng
myseIf, but It just so happens that I
have my own IIfe. I know what I IIke
and I know what I don't IIke. It's as
sImpIe as that."
Okay, but you don't have to huft
peopIe. Why don't you tfy a IIttIe
hafdef? Why don't you Iook at the good
sIde? Why don't you at Ieast show some
festfaInt? Why don't you gfow up?"
Now she had touched a sofe spot. I
am gfown up. I can show festfaInt. And
I can Iook at the good sIde, too. I'm just
not IookIng at the same thIngs you afe."
That's what I mean. You'fe so affog-
ant. That's why you haven't got a
steady gIfIffIend. I mean, you'fe
twenty-seven yeafs oId."
Of coufse I have a gIfIffIend."
You mean a body to sIeep wIth. You
know I'm fIght. Do you enjoy changIng
paftnefs evefy yeaf? How about Iove
and undefstandIng and compassIon?
WIthout those, what's the poInt? You
mIght as weII be mastufbatIng."
I don't change paftnefs -;-*= yeaf,
do I?"
Pfetty much. You ought to thInk
about youf IIfe mofe sefIousIy, act
mofe IIke a gfownup."
That mafked the end of ouf convefsa-
tIon. She just tuned out.
Why had hef attItude towafd me
changed so much ovef the past yeaf?
UntII then, she had seemed to enjoy be-
Ing paftnefs wIth me In my fesoIuteIy
aImIess IIfe-styIe, andIf I'm not mIs-
takenshe even Iooked up to me to
some extent. She had become gfaduaIIy
mofe cfItIcaI of me In the months sInce
she had begun seeIng hef fIance.
ThIs, to me, seemed tfemendousIy
unfaIf. She had been seeIng hIm fof a
few months, but she and I had been
seeIng" each othef fof twenty-thfee
yeafs. We had aIways gotten aIong
weII, pfactIcaIIy nevef had a fIght. I
dIdn't know a bfothef and sIstef who
couId taIk so honestIy and openIy wIth
each othef, and not onIy about mas-
tufbatIon and pefIods: She knew when I
fIfst bought condoms (I was seventeen),
and I knew when she fIfst bought Iace
undefweaf (she was nIneteen).
I had dated hef ffIends (but not sIept
wIth them, of coufse), and she had
dated mIne (but not sIept wIth them, of
coufseI thInk). That's just how we
wefe bfought up. ThIs exceIIent feIa-
tIonshIp of oufs tufned souf In Iess than
a yeaf. The mofe I thought about It, the
angfIef It made me.
She had to buy a paIf of shoes at the
depaftment stofe neaf the statIon, she
saId. I Ieft hef outsIde the festaufant
and went back to ouf apaftment aIone.
I gave my gIfIffIend a caII, but she
wasn't In. WhIch wasn't sufpfIsIng. Two
o'cIock on a Sunday aftefnoon was not
the best tIme to ask a gIfI fof a date. I
fIIpped the pages of my addfess book
and tfIed anothef gIfIa student I had
met at some dIsco. She answefed the
IIke to go out fof a dfInk?"
You'fe kIddIng. It's two o'cIock In
the aftefnoon."
So what? We'II dfInk tIII the sun
goes down. I know the peffect baf fof
watchIng the sunset. You can't get good
seats If you'fe not thefe by thfee."
Afe you some kInd of connoIsseuf of
But stIII she accepted, pfobabIy out
of kIndness. I pIcked hef up, and we
dfove out aIong the shofe just beyond
Yokohama to a baf wIth a vIew of the
ocean. I dfank fouf gIasses of I.W.
Hafpef on the focks, and she had two
banana daIquIfIs (can you beIIeve It?).
And we watched the sun go down.
Afe you goIng to be okay dfIvIng
wIth that much to dfInk?" she asked.
No pfobIem. Whefe aIcohoI Is con-
cefned, I'm undef paf."
'Undef paf'?"
Fouf dfInks afe just enough to bfIng
me up to nofmaI. You haven't got a
thIng to woffy about. Not a thIng."
If you say so ."
We dfove back to Yokohama, ate,
and enjoyed a few kIsses In the caf. I
suggested we go to a hoteI, but she
dIdn't want to.
I'm weafIng a tampon."
So take It out."
Yeah, fIght. It's my second day."
And what a day It was. At thIs fate, I
shouId have just had a date wIth my
gIfIffIend. But no, thIs was goIng to be
the day I spent a nIce, IeIsufeIy Sunday
wIth my sIstef, somethIng we hadn't
done fof a Iong tIme. So much fof 1,$1
Soffy," saId the gIfI. I'm teIIIng you
the tfuth."
Nevef mInd. It's not youf fauIt. I'm
to bIame."
You'fe to bIame fof my pefIod?" she
asked wIth an odd Iook.
No, It's just the way thIngs wofked
out." What a stupId questIon.
I dfove hef to hef house In Setagaya.
On the way, the cIutch stafted makIng
funny fattIIng noIses. I'd pfobabIy have
to bfIng It Into the gafage soon, I
thought wIth a sIgh. It was one of those
cIassIc days, when one thIng goes
wfong and then evefythIng goes wIth
Can I InvIte you out agaIn soon?" I
On a date? Of to a hoteI?"
Both," I saId wIth a smIIe. The two
go togethef. You know. IIke a tooth-
bfush and toothpaste."
Maybe. I'II thInk about It."
You do that. ThInkIng Is good fof
you. It keeps you ffom gettIng senIIe."
Whefe do you IIve? Can I come and
Soffy. I IIve wIth my sIstef. We've
got fuIes. I don't bfIng women home,
and she doesn't bfIng men."
Yeah, IIke she's feaIIy youf sIstef."
It's tfue. Next tIme I'II bfIng a copy
of ouf Iease. Sunday okay?"
She Iaughed. Okay."
I watched hef go In thfough hef gate.
Then I stafted my engIne and dfove
home, IIstenIng fof those cIutch noIses.
The apaftment was pItch-bIack. I
tufned on the IIght and caIIed my sIs-
tef's name, but she wasn't thefe. What
the heII was she doIng out at ten
o'cIock at nIght? I Iooked fof the even-
Ing papef but couIdn't fInd It. Of
coufse. It was Sunday.
I got a beef ffom the feffIgefatof and
caffIed It and a gIass Into the IIvIng
foom. I swItched on the stefeo and
dfopped a new HefbIe Hancock fecofd
on the tufntabIe. WaItIng fof the musIc
to staft, I took a Iong swaIIow of beef.
But nothIng came ffom the speakefs.
Then I femembefed. The stefeo had
gone on the bIInk thfee days eafIIef.
The amp had powef, but thefe was no
ThIs aIso made It ImpossIbIe to watch
TV. I have one of those monItofs
wIthout any sound cIfcuItfy of Its own.
You have to use It wIth the stefeo.
I stafed at my sIIent TV scfeen and
dfank my beef. They wefe showIng an
oId waf movIe. RommeI's AffIka Kofps
tanks wefe fIghtIng In the deseft. TheIf
cannons shot sIIent sheIIs, theIf
machIne guns shot sIIent buIIets, and
peopIe dIed sIIentIy, one aftef anothef.
I sIghed fof what must have been the
sIxteenth tIme that day.
I HAD STARTED IIvIng wIth my sIstef fIve
yeafs eafIIef, In the spfIng, when I was
twenty-two and she was eIghteen. I had
just gfaduated ffom coIIege and taken
my fIfst job, and she had just gfaduated
ffom hIgh schooI and entefed coIIege.
Ouf pafents had aIIowed hef to go to
schooI In Tokyo on the condItIon that
she IIve wIth me, a condItIon we wefe
both gIad to accept. They found us a
nIce, bIg two-bedfoom apaftment, and I
paId haIf the fent.
The thought of IIvIng wIth my sIstef
was an aImost paInIess pfoposItIon. Not
onIy dId we get aIong weII, as I men-
tIoned eafIIef, but ouf scheduIes
matched weII, too. WofkIng fof the PR
sectIon of an appIIance manufactufef, I
wouId Ieave the house faIfIy Iate In the
mofnIng and come back Iate at nIght.
She used to go out eafIy and come
home as the sun was goIng down. In
othef wofds, she was usuaIIy gone
when I woke up and asIeep by the tIme
I came back. And sInce my weekends
wefe mostIy taken up wIth dates, I
dIdn't feaIIy taIk to my sIstef mofe than
once of twIce a week. We wouIdn't
have had tIme to fIght even If we had
wanted to, and we dIdn't Invade each
othef's pfIvacy.
I assumed she had hef own thIngs go-
Ing, but I feIt It was not my pIace to say
anythIng. She was eIghteen, aftef aII.
What busIness was It of mIne who she
sIept wIth?
One tIme, though, I heId hef hand fof
a coupIe of houfsffom one to thfee In
the mofnIng, to be exact. I found hef at
the kItchen tabIe, cfyIng, when I got
home ffom wofk. Naffow-mInded and
seIfIsh as I am, I was smaft enough to
feaIIze that If she was cfyIng at the kIt-
chen tabIe and not In hef foom she
wanted some comfoftIng ffom me.
So I sat next to hef and heId hef
handpfobabIy fof the fIfst tIme sInce
eIementafy schooI, when we went out
huntIng dfagonfIIes. Hef hand was
much bIggef and stfongef than I fe-
membefed. ObvIousIy.
She cfIed fof two houfs stfaIght, nev-
ef movIng. I couId hafdIy beIIeve the
body was capabIe of pfoducIng such
quantItIes of teafs. Two mInutes of cfy-
Ing was aII It took to dfy me out.
By the tIme 3:00 a.m. foIIed afound,
though, I had had It. I couIdn't keep my
eyes open. Now It was my tufn, as the
eIdef bfothef, to say somethIng, though
gIvIng advIce was defInIteIy not my
I don't want to Inteffefe wIth the
way you IIve youf IIfe," I began. It's
youf IIfe, and you shouId IIve It as you
She nodded.
But I do want to gIve you one wofd
of advIce. Don't caffy condoms In youf
pufse. They'II thInk you'fe a whofe."
When she heafd that, she gfabbed
the teIephone book that was sIttIng on
the tabIe and heaved It at me wIth aII
hef mIght.
What afe you doIng snoopIng In my
She aIways thfew thIngs when she
got mad. WhIch Is why I dIdn't go on to
teII hef that I had nevef Iooked In hef
In any case, It wofked. She stopped
cfyIng, and I was abIe to get some
Ouf IIfe-styIe stayed exactIy the
same, even aftef she gfaduated ffom
coIIege and took a job wIth a tfaveI
agency. She wofked a standafd nIne-to-
fIve day, whIIe my scheduIe became, If
anythIng, Ioosef. I'd show up at the of-
fIce some tIme befofe noon, fead the
newspapef at my desk, eat Iunch, and
fInaIIy get sefIous about doIng a IIttIe
somethIng afound two In the aftefnoon.
Iatef, I'd make affangements wIth the
guys ffom the ad agency, and we'd go
out dfInkIng tIII aftef mIdnIght.
Fof hef fIfst summef vacatIon, my
sIstef went to CaIIfofnIa wIth a coupIe
of ffIends on a package touf put
togethef by hef agency. One of the
membefs of the touf gfoup was a com-
putef engIneef a yeaf hef senIof, and
she stafted datIng hIm when they came
back to Japan. ThIs kInd of thIng hap-
pens aII the tIme, but It's not fof me.
FIfst of aII, I hate package toufs, and
the thought of gettIng sefIous about
somebody you meet In a gfoup IIke that
makes me sIck.
Aftef she stafted seeIng thIs computef
engIneef, though, my sIstef began to
gIow. She paId a Iot mofe attentIon to
appeafances, both the apaftment's and
hef own. UntII then, she had gone just
about evefywhefe In a wofk shIft and
faded jeans and sneakefs. Thanks to hef
new Intefest In cIothIng, the ffont
cIoset fIIIed up wIth hef shoes, and aII
the othef cIosets wefe oveffIowIng wIth
wIfe hangefs ffom the cIeanef's. She
was constantIy doIng Iaundfy and
IfonIng cIothes (Instead of IeavIng them
to pIIe up In the bathfoom IIke an
AmazonIan ants' nest), aIways cookIng
and cIeanIng. These wefe dangefous
symptoms, I seemed to fecaII ffom my
own expefIence. When a woman stafts
actIng IIke thIs, a man has onIy one
choIce: to cIeaf out fast of maffy hef.
Then she showed me hIs pIctufe. She
had nevef done anythIng IIke that be-
fofe. Anothef dangefous symptom.
ActuaIIy, she showed me two pIc-
tufes. One had been taken on FIshef-
man's Whaff In San FfancIsco. It
showed my sIstef and the computef en-
gIneef standIng In ffont of a swofdfIsh
and weafIng bIg smIIes on theIf faces.
NIce swofdfIsh," I saId.
Stop jokIng. I'm sefIous."
So what shouId I say?"
Don't say anythIng. ThIs Is hIm."
I took the photo agaIn and studIed
hIs face. If thefe was one sIngIe type of
face In the wofId desIgned to afouse In-
stant dIsIIke In me, thIs was It. Wofse,
somethIng about hIm femInded me of a
paftIcuIaf uppefcIassman In a hIgh-
schooI cIub of mIne, a guy I hatednot
a bad-IookIng type, but absoIuteIy
empty-headed and a feaI whInef. He
had a memofy IIke an eIephant, once
he had some pIcky thIng on you, he'd
nevef Iet go. He made up fof Iack of
bfaIns wIth thIs phenomenaI memofy.
How many tImes have you done It
wIth hIm?" I asked.
Don't be stupId," she saId, bIushIng.
You don't have to judge the whoIe
wofId by youf own standafds. Not
evefybody Is IIke you, you know."
The second photo had been taken
aftef the tfIp. It showed the computef
engIneef by hImseIf. He wofe a Ieathef
jacket and was IeanIng agaInst a bIg
motofcycIe, hIs heImet pefched on the
saddIe. HIs face had exactIy the same
expfessIon as In San FfancIsco. Maybe
he dIdn't ,$;- any othef expfessIons.
He IIkes motofcycIes," she saId.
No kIddIng. I dIdn't thInk he put on
the Ieathef jacket just to have hIs pIc-
tufe taken."
Maybe It was anothef exampIe of my
naffow-mInded pefsonaIIty, but I couId
nevef IIke motofcycIe ffeaksthe way
they swaggef afound, so pIeased wIth
themseIves. I kept my mouth shut and
handed the pIctufe back.
WeII, then," I saId.
WeII, then, what?"
WeII, then, what comes next?"
I don't know. We mIght get
Has he pfoposed?"
Soft of. But I haven't gIven hIm my
I see."
ActuaIIy, I'm not sufe I want to get
maffIed. I've just stafted wofkIng, and I
thInk I'd IIke to take It easy, pIay
afound a IIttIe mofe. Not go cfazy IIke
you, of coufse ."
That's pfobabIy a heaIthy attItude,"
I offefed.
But I don't know, he's feaIIy nIce.
SometImes I thInk I'd IIke to maffy
hIm. It's hafd."
I pIcked up the photos agaIn and
Iooked at them. I kept my sIgh to
ThIs convefsatIon happened befofe
ChfIstmas. One mofnIng aftef New
Yeaf's, my mothef caIIed me at nIne
o'cIock. I was bfushIng my teeth to
Bfuce SpfIngsteen's Bofn In the
She asked If I knew the man my sIs-
tef was seeIng.
I saId I dIdn't.
She saId she had gotten a Iettef ffom
my sIstef askIng If she couId bfIng hIm
home two weeks ffom Satufday.
I suppose she wants to maffy hIm," I
That's why I'm tfyIng to fInd out
ffom you what kInd of man he Is. I'd
IIke to Ieafn somethIng about hIm be-
fofe I actuaIIy meet hIm."
WeII, I've nevef met the guy. He's a
yeaf oIdef than she Is and he's a
computef engIneef. Wofks at one of
those thfee-Iettef pIacesIBM of NEC
of TNT, I don't know. I've seen hIs pIc-
tufe. A nothIng kInd of face. Not my
taste, but then I don't have to maffy
Whefe dId he gfaduate ffom? Does
he have a house?"
How shouId I know?"
WeII, wouId you pIease meet hIm
and fInd out about these thIngs?"
No way. I'm busy. Ask hIm youfseIf
when you meet hIm In two weeks."
FInaIIy, though, I had no choIce but
to meet my sIstef's computef engIneef.
She was goIng to pay a fofmaI vIsIt to
hIs famIIy's home the foIIowIng Sunday,
and she wanted me to come wIth hef. I
put on a whIte shIft and a tIe and my
most consefvatIve suIt. They IIved In an
ImposIng house In the mIddIe of a nIce
fesIdentIaI neIghbofhood In Megufo.
The 500CC Honda I had seen In the
photo was pafked In ffont of the
NIce swofdfIsh."
FC#-$3-NP she saId, none of youf stu-
pId jokes. AII I'm askIng Is that you fe-
stfaIn youfseIf fof one day."
Yes, ma'am."
HIs pafents wefe fIne peopIe, vefy
pfopefmaybe a IIttIe too pfopef. The
fathef was an oII-company executIve.
SInce my fathef owned a chaIn of gas
statIons In ShIzuoka, thIs was by no
means an unthInkabIe match. The
mothef sefved us tea on an eIegant
I offefed the fathef my caIIIng cafd,
and he gave me hIs. Then I managed to
dfedge up aII the pfopef phfases to ex-
pIaIn that I was hefe to fepfesent my
pafents, who wefe unfoftunateIy unabIe
to attend, owIng to a pfevIous engage-
ment, we hoped that on some futufe
date acceptabIe to both paftIes they
mIght be aIIowed to pay theIf fofmaI
He fepIIed that hIs son had toId hIm
much about my sIstef and that, meetIng
hef now, he saw that she was faf IoveII-
ef than hIs son desefved. He knew we
came ffom an upstandIng famIIy, and
as faf as he and hIs wIfe wefe con-
cefned they had no objectIon to the
pfesent dIscussIons." I ImagIned he
must have had ouf famIIy backgfound
thofoughIy InvestIgated, but he
couIdn't possIbIy have found out that
my sIstef had not had hef fIfst pefIod
untII she was sIxteen and that she was
chfonIcaIIy constIpated.
Once the fofmaIItIes ended wIthout
mIshap, the fathef poufed me a
bfandypfetty decent stuff. As we
dfank, we taIked about jobs of vafIous
kInds. My sIstef poked me now and
then wIth the toe of hef sIIppef, wafn-
Ing me not to dfInk too much.
The computef engIneef, meanwhIIe,
saId nothIng, but sat next to hIs fathef
aII the whIIe wIth a tense expfessIon on
hIs face. You couId see fIght away that
he was undef hIs fathef's thumb, at
Ieast whIIe he femaIned In thIs house. It
fIgufed. The sweatef he was weafIng
had a stfange pattefn of a kInd I had
nevef seen befofe, and Its coIof cIashed
wIth hIs shIft. Why couIdn't she have
found somebody a IIttIe shafpef?
The convefsatIon feached a IuII
afound fouf o'cIock, and we stood up to
Ieave. The computef engIneef saw us as
faf as the statIon. How about a cup of
tea?" he ufged. I dIdn't want tea and I
ceftaInIy dIdn't want to sIt at the same
tabIe wIth a guy weafIng such a weIfd
sweatef, but It wouId have been awk-
wafd fof me to fefuse, so the thfee of us
went Into a neafby coffeehouse.
They ofdefed coffee and I ofdefed
beef, but the pIace dIdn't sefve beef so
I ofdefed coffee, too.
Thanks so much fof comIng today,"
he saId. I appfecIate youf heIp."
Just doIng what's expected of me," I
saId sImpIy. No thanks necessafy." I
had Iost the enefgy to make wIsecfacks.
She's toId me so much about
I scfatched an eafIobe wIth the
handIe of my coffee spoon and fetufned
It to the saucef. My sIstef gave me an-
othef heaIthy kIck, but Its meanIng
seemed Iost on the computef engIneef.
Maybe he onIy got jokes In bInafy
I envy the two of you beIng so
cIose," he saId.
We kIck each othef In the Ieg when
we'fe happy," I saId.
He took thIs wIth a puzzIed
It's supposed to be a joke,"
gfumbIed my sIstef. He IIkes to say
thIngs IIke that."
Just a joke," I concuffed. We shafe
the housewofk. She does the Iaundfy
and I do the jokes."
The computef engIneefhIs name
was Nobofu Watanabegave a IIttIe
Iaugh, as though thIs had soIved a
pfobIem fof hIm.
You two afe so bfIght and cheefy,"
he saId. That's the kInd of househoId I
want to have. BfIght and cheefy Is
See?" I saId to my sIstef. BfIght and
cheefy Is best. You'fe too uptIght."
Not If the jokes afe funny," she saId.
If possIbIe, we'd IIke to maffy In the
autumn," saId Nobofu Watanabe.
Autumn %3 the best tIme fof a wed-
dIng," I saId. You can stIII InvIte the
squIffeIs and beafs."
He Iaughed. She dIdn't. She was
staftIng to Iook sefIousIy angfy. I ex-
cused myseIf and Ieft.
Back at the apaftment, I phoned my
mothef and summed up the aftefnoon
fof hef.
He's not such a bad guy," I saId,
scfatchIng my eaf.
What do you mean by that?" she
He's a sefIous IndIvIduaI. At Ieast,
mofe sefIous than I am."
But you'fe not sefIous at aII."
I'm gIad to heaf that. Thanks," I
saId, IookIng at the ceIIIng.
So, whefe dId he gfaduate ffom?"
Whefe dId he go to coIIege?"
Ask hIm youfseIf," I saId, and hung
up. I was sIck of aII thIs. I took a beef
ffom the feffIgefatof and dfank It
THE DAY AFTER the spaghettI afgument
wIth my sIstef, I woke up at eIght-
thIfty. It was anothef beautIfuI,
cIoudIess day, just IIke yestefday. In
fact, It was IIke a contInuatIon of yes-
tefday, and my IIfe seemed to be staft-
Ing up agaIn, too, aftef a haIftIme
I thfew my sweat-dampened pajamas
Into the hampef, took a showef, and
shaved. WhIIe shavIng, I thought about
the gIfI I hadn't quIte been abIe to get
Iast nIght. Ah, weII, It just wasn't In the
cafds. I dId my best. I'II have pIenty
mofe oppoftunItIes. IIke next Sunday.
I toasted two sIIces of bfead and
wafmed up some coffee. I wanted to
IIsten to an FM statIon but femembefed
the stefeo was bfoken. Instead, I fead
book fevIews In the papef and ate my
toast. Not one of the books fevIewed
was somethIng I thought I'd want to
fead: a noveI on the sex IIfe of an oId
JewIsh man, mIngIIng fantasy and
feaIIty," a hIstofIcaI study of tfeatments
fof schIzophfenIa, a compIete expose of
the 1907 AshIo Coppef MIne poIIutIon
IncIdent. It'd be a Iot mofe fun to sIeep
wIth the captaIn of a gIfIs' softbaII
team. The newspapef pfobabIy chose
books IIke thIs just to annoy us.
MunchIng on my toast, I IaId the pa-
pef on the tabIe, then I notIced a memo
undef the jam jaf. In my sIstef's tIny
handwfItIng, It saId that she had In-
vIted Nobofu Watanabe fof dInnef thIs
Sunday and she expected me to be
I fInIshed eatIng, bfushed the cfumbs
off my shIft, and put the dIshes In the
sInk. Then I caIIed the tfaveI agency.
My sIstef took the phone and saId, I
can't taIk fIght now. I'II caII you back In
ten mInutes."
The caII came twenty mInutes Iatef.
In the meantIme, I had done fofty-thfee
push-ups, tfImmed aII twenty fIngef-
and toenaIIs, pIcked out my shIft, neck-
tIe, jacket, and pants fof the day,
bfushed my teeth, combed my haIf, and
yawned twIce.
DId you see my note?" she asked.
Yup. Soffy, but I've got a date thIs
Sunday. Made It a Iong tIme ago. If I
had known, I wouId have Ieft the day
open. Too bad."
You expect me to beIIeve that? I
know what you'fe goIng to do: go
somewhefe and do somethIng wIth
some gIfI whose name you hafdIy
know. WeII, you can do that on
Satufday I have to be In the studIo
aII day wIth an eIectfIc-bIanket com-
mefcIaI. We'fe busy these days."
So canceI youf date."
I can't. She'II chafge me a canceIIa-
tIon fee. And thIngs afe at a pfetty deI-
Icate stage wIth hef."
MeanIng thIngs afe not so deIIcate
In my case?"
No, I don't mean that at aII," I saId,
hoIdIng the necktIe I had chosen next
to the shIft hangIng on a chaIfback.
But don't fofget: We've got thIs fuIe
not to tfespass on each othef's IIves.
You eat dInnef wIth youf fIance and I'II
have a date wIth my gIfIffIend. What's
wfong wIth that?"
You know what's wfong wIth that.
Iook how Iong It's been sInce you've
seen hIm. You met hIm once, and that
was fouf months ago. It's just not fIght.
Evefy tIme I affange somethIng, you
fun away. Don't you see how fude
you'fe beIng? He's youf sIstef's fIance.
It wouIdn't kIII you to have dInnef wIth
hIm once."
She had a poInt thefe, so I kept quIet.
In fact, I had been tfyIng to avoId cfoss-
Ing paths wIth hIm, but to me It seemed
the most natufaI thIng In the wofId to
do. We had nothIng In common to taIk
about, and It was exhaustIng to teII
jokes usIng my sIstef as a sImuItaneous
WIII you /#-$3- just joIn us thIs
once? If you'II do that much fof me, I
pfomIse I won't Inteffefe wIth youf sex
IIfe tIII the end of the summef."
My sex IIfe Is pfetty feebIe at the
moment. It mIght not make It thfough
the summef."
You 5%## be home fof dInnef thIs
Sunday, though, won't you?"
How can I say no?"
He'II pfobabIy fIx the stefeo fof us.
He's good at that."
Good wIth hIs hands, huh?"
You and youf dIfty mInd," she saId,
and hung up.
I put on my necktIe and went to
The weathef was cIeaf aII that week.
Each day was IIke a contInuatIon of the
pfevIous one. Wednesday nIght, I caIIed
my gIfIffIend to say we couIdn't get to-
gethef on the weekend. She was undef-
standabIy annoyed: We hadn't seen
each othef fof thfee weeks. ReceIvef
stIII In hand, I dIaIed the coIIege gIfI I
had made a date wIth fof Sunday, but
she was out. She was out agaIn on
Thufsday and on FfIday.
My sIstef woke me up at eIght o'cIock
on Sunday mofnIng. Get out of bed,
wIII you? I have to wash the sheets."
She stfIpped the sheets and pIIIow-
case and ofdefed me out of my paja-
mas. My onIy fefuge was the bathfoom,
whefe I showefed and shaved. She was
gettIng to be mofe and mofe IIke ouf
mothef. Women afe IIke saImon: In the
end, they aII swIm back to the same
Aftef the showef, I put on a paIf of
shofts and a faded T-shIft, and wIth
Iong, Iong yawns I dfank a gIass of of-
ange juIce. My veIns stIII caffIed some
of Iast nIght's aIcohoI, openIng the
Sunday papef wouId have been too
much fof me. I nIbbIed a few soda
cfackefs ffom the box on the kItchen
tabIe and decIded that that was aII the
bfeakfast I needed.
My sIstef thfew the sheets Into the
washIng machIne and cIeaned ouf two
fooms. Next, she put some soap and
watef In a bucket and washed down the
waIIs and fIoofs of the IIvIng foom and
kItchen. I spfawIed on the sofa aII thIs
tIme, IookIng at the nude photos In a
copy of _B31#-* that a ffIend of mIne In
the States had gotten past the postaI
censofs. AmazIng, the vafIety In shape
and sIze of the femaIe sex ofgan. They
can be as dIffefent as peopIe's heIghts
of IQs.
Stop hangIng afound and do some
shoppIng fof me, wIII you?" She handed
me a IIst cfammed fuII of thIngs to buy.
And pIease hIde that magazIne. He's
vefy pfopef."
I IaId the magazIne down and studIed
the IIst. Iettuce, tomatoes, ceIefy,
Ffench dfessIng, smoked saImon, mus-
tafd, onIons, soup stock, potatoes, pafs-
Iey, thfee steaks .
Steaks? I just had steak Iast nIght.
Why don't you make cfoquettes?"
Maybe =)B had steak Iast nIght, but
we dIdn't. Don't be so seIfIsh. You can't
sefve cfoquettes when you have a guest
fof dInnef."
If some gIfI InvIted me to hef house
and fed me ffesh-ffIed cfoquettes, I'd be
deepIy moved. WIth a nIce pIIe of juII-
enned whIte cabbage, a bowI of mIso
cIam soup . that's feaI IIfe."
Maybe so, but I have decIded on
steak. Next tIme I'II feed you cfoquettes
tIII you dfop, but today you'II have to
make do wIth steak. PIease."
That'II be fIne," I toId hef feassuf-
IngIy. I can be a paIn In the neck, but
fInaIIy I'm a kInd, undefstandIng hu-
man beIng.
I went to the neIghbofhood supef-
mafket and bought evefythIng on the
IIst. On the way home, I stopped off at
a IIquof stofe and bought a 4,500-yen
bottIe of ChabIIsmy gIft to the young
coupIe. OnIy a kInd, undefstandIng hu-
man beIng wouId thInk of somethIng
IIke that.
At home, I found a bIue RaIph Iaufen
poIo shIft and a spotIess paIf of cotton
pants neatIy foIded on the bed.
Change Into those," she saId.
WIth anothef sIIent sIgh, I dId as I
was toId. I couIdn't have saId anythIng
to hef that wouId have bfought me
back my pIeasantIy messy, peacefuI
NOBORU WATANABE came fIdIng up at
thfee. AstfIde hIs tfusty cycIe, he af-
fIved wIth the gentIe zephyfs of spfIng-
tIme. I caught the omInous put-put of
hIs 500CC Honda ffom a quaftef mIIe
away. I stuck my head out ovef the
edge of the baIcony to see hIm pafkIng
next to the entfance of ouf apaftment
house and takIng off hIs heImet. Fof-
tunateIy, once he femoved that whIte
dome wIth Its STP stIckef, hIs outfIt
today appfoached that of a nofmaI hu-
man beIng: ovefstafched button-down
check shIft, baggy whIte pants, and
bfown Ioafefs wIth tasseIsthough the
coIof of the shoes and beIt dIdn't
I thInk youf ffIend ffom FIshefman's
Whaff Is hefe," I saId to my sIstef, who
was peeIIng potatoes at the kItchen
Keep hIm company fof a whIIe, wIII
you? I'II fInIsh up hefe."
Bad Idea. I don't know what to taIk
to hIm about. You taIk to hImI'II do
Don't be sIIIy. It wouIdn't Iook fIght
fof me to Ieave you In the kItchen. You
taIk to hIm."
The beII fang, and I opened the doof
to fInd Nobofu Watanabe standIng
thefe. I showed hIm Into the IIvIng
foom and settIed hIm onto the couch.
HIs gIft fof the evenIng was a seIectIon
of BaskIn-RobbIns's thIfty-one fIavofs,
but cfammIng It Into ouf tIny, aIfeady-
stuffed ffeezef took a majof effoft on
my paft. What a paIn. Of aII the thIngs
he couId have bfought, why dId he
have to pIck Ice cfeam?
How about a beef?"
No thanks. I thInk I'm aIIefgIc to aI-
cohoI. One gIass Is enough to make me
I once dfank a whoIe washbasInfuI
of beef on a bet wIth some coIIege
What dId It do to you?"
My pee stank beef fof two whoIe
days. And I kept bufpIng up thIs"
Why don't you have Nobofu Iook at
the stefeo set?" Intefjected my sIstef,
who had come aIong In the nIck of
tIme, as If she had smeIIed smoke, wIth
two gIasses of ofange juIce.
Good Idea," saId Nobofu.
I heaf you'fe good wIth youf
hands," I saId.
It's tfue," he confessed unabashedIy.
I aIways used to enjoy makIng pIastIc
modeIs and fadIo kIts. AnytIme
somethIng bfoke In the house, I'd fIx It.
What's wfong wIth the stefeo?"
No sound," I saId. I tufned on the
amp and put on a fecofd to show hIm.
He cfouched down In ffont of the ste-
feo IIke a mongoose feady to spfIng.
Aftef fIddIIng wIth aII the swItches, he
announced, It's defInIteIy In the ampII-
fIef system, but It's not IntefnaI."
How can you teII?"
By the InductIve method."
Oh, sufe, the InductIve method.
He puIIed out the mInI-pfeamp and
the powef ampIIfIef, femoved aII the
cofds connectIng them, and began to
examIne each one. WhIIe he was busy
wIth thIs, I took a can of BudweIsef
ffom the feffIgefatof and dfank It
It must be fun to be abIe to dfInk aI-
cohoI," he saId as he poked at a pIug
wIth a mechanIcaI pencII.
I wondef," I saId. I've been doIng It
so Iong I wouIdn't have anythIng to
compafe It wIth."
I've been pfactIcIng a IIttIe."
PfactIcIng dfInkIng?"
Yes. Is thefe somethIng odd about
No, not at aII. You shouId staft wIth
whIte wIne. Put some In a bIg gIass
wIth Ice, cut It wIth PeffIef and a
squeeze of Iemon juIce. That's what I
dfInk Instead of ffuIt juIce."
I'II gIve It a tfy," he saId. Aha! I
thought so!"
What's that?"
The connectIng cofds between the
pfeamp and the powef amp. The con-
nectIon's been bfoken at the pIugs on
both channeIs. ThIs kInd of pIn pIug
can't take much movement. In addItIon
to whIch, they'fe cheapIy made. I'II bet
somebody moved the ampIIfIef
I dId the othef day, when I was
cIeanIng," saId my sIstef.
That's It."
She Iooked at me. We got thIs thIng
ffom =)B* company. It's theIf fauIt fof
usIng such weak pafts."
WeII, D dIdn't make It," I muttefed.
I just do the commefcIaIs."
Don't woffy," saId Nobofu
Watanabe. I can fIx It fIght away If
you've got a soIdefIng Ifon."
A soIdefIng Ifon? Not In thIs house."
Nevef mInd. I'II zIp out and buy
one. You feaIIy ought to have a soIdef-
Ing Ifon In the house. They come In
Yeah, I'II bet. But I don't know
whefe thefe's a hafdwafe stofe."
I do. I passed one on the way."
I stuck my head out ovef the baIcony
agaIn and watched Nobofu Watanabe
stfap on hIs heImet, mount hIs bIke,
and dIsappeaf afound a cofnef.
He's so nIce," sIghed my sIstef.
Yeah, a feaI honey."
NOBORU WATANABE fInIshed fepaIfIng the
pIn pIugs befofe fIve o'cIock. He asked
to heaf some easy-IIstenIng vocaIs, so
my sIstef put on a JuIIo IgIesIas fecofd.
SInce when dId we have cfap IIke that
In the house?
Nobofu asked me, What kInd of mu-
sIc do you IIke?"
Oh, I just #);- stuff IIke thIs," I bIuf-
ted out. You know: Bfuce SpfIngsteen,
Jeff Beck, the Doofs."
Funny, I've nevef heafd of any of
those. Afe they IIke JuIIo?"
Yeah, a Iot IIke JuIIo."
He taIked about the new computef
system that hIs pfoject team was cuf-
fentIy deveIopIng. It was desIgned to
genefate an Instantaneous dIagfam
showIng the most effectIve method fof
fetufnIng tfaIns to the depot aftef an
accIdent. In fact, It sounded IIke a gfeat
Idea, but the pfIncIpIe made about as
much sense to me as FInnIsh vefb con-
jugatIons. WhIIe he faved on and on, I
nodded at appfopfIate tImes and
thought about womenIIke who I
shouId take whefe to dfInk what on my
next day off, IncIudIng whefe we wouId
eat and the hoteI we'd use. I must have
an Inbofn IIkIng fof such thIngs. Just as
thefe afe those who IIke to make pIastIc
modeIs and dfaw tfaIn dIagfams, I IIke
to get dfunk wIth women and sIeep
wIth them. It was a mattef of DestIny,
somethIng that sufpassed aII human
Afound the tIme I was fInIshIng my
foufth beef, dInnef was feady: smoked
saImon, vIchyssoIse, steak, saIad, and
ffIed potatoes. As aIways, my sIstef's
cookIng was pfetty good. I opened the
ChabIIs and dfank It aIone.
As he sIIced hIs tendefIoIn, Nobofu
Watanabe asked me, Why dId you take
a job wIth an appIIance manufactufef? I
gathef you'fe not paftIcuIafIy Intefested
In eIectfIcaI devIces."
My sIstef answefed fof me. He's not
paftIcuIafIy Intefested In anythIng
that's of benefIt to socIety. He wouId
have taken a job anywhefe. It just so
happened he had an In wIth that paftIc-
uIaf company."
I couIdn't have saId It any bettef
myseIf," I chImed In.
AII he thInks about Is havIng fun. It
nevef occufs to hIm to concentfate on
anythIng sefIousIy, to make hImseIf a
bettef pefson."
Youfs tfuIy, the summef
He gets a kIck out of smIfkIng at
those who <) choose to IIve sefIousIy."
Now, thefe you'fe wfong," I Intef-
jected. What I do has nothIng to do
wIth what anybody eIse does. I just go
aIong bufnIng my own caIofIes In ac-
cofdance wIth my own Ideas about
thIngs. What othef peopIe do doesn't
concefn me. I don't smIfk at them, I
don't even Iook at them. I may be a
good-fof-nothIng, but at Ieast I don't
get In the way of othef peopIe."
That's not tfue!" cfIed Nobofu
Watanabe In somethIng IIke a fefIex ac-
tIon. You'fe not a good-fof-nothIng!"
He must have been bfought up weII.
Thank you," I saId, faIsIng my wIne-
gIass to hIm. And by the way, congfat-
uIatIons on youf engagement. Soffy to
be the onIy one dfInkIng."
We'fe pIannIng to have the cefe-
mony In Octobef," he saId. PfobabIy
too Iate to InvIte the squIffeIs and
Not to woffy," I saId. IncfedIbIe, he
was makIng jokes!
So, whefe wIII you go on youf hon-
eymoon? I suppose you can get dIs-
count fafes?"
HawaII," my sIstef answefed cuftIy.
We taIked fof a whIIe about aIf-
pIanes. HavIng just fead sevefaI books
on the cfash In the Andes, I bfought up
that topIc.
When they ate human fIesh, they
wouId foast It In the sun on pIeces of
aIumInum ffom the aIfpIane."
My sIstef stopped eatIng and gIafed
at me. Why do you have to taIk about
such awfuI thIngs at the dInnef tabIe?
Do you say thIngs IIke that when you'fe
eatIng wIth gIfIs you'fe tfyIng to
IIke a guest InvIted to dInnef by a
feudIng maffIed coupIe, Nobofu
Watanabe tfIed to come between us by
askIng me, Have you evef thought of
Nevef had the chance," I saId as I
was about to put a chunk of ffIed
potato In my mouth. I had to faIse my
IIttIe sIstef wIthout any heIp, and then
came the Iong yeafs of waf ."
Waf? What waf?"
It's just anothef one of hIs stupId
jokes," saId my sIstef, shakIng the
bottIe of saIad dfessIng.
Just anothef one of my stupId
jokes," I added. But the paft about not
havIng had the chance Is tfue. I've aI-
ways been a naffow-mInded guy, and I
nevef used to wash my socks, so I was
nevef abIe to fInd a nIce gIfI who
wanted to spend hef IIfe wIth me. Un-
IIke you."
Was thefe somethIng wfong wIth
youf socks?" asked Nobofu Watanabe.
That's a joke, too," my sIstef ex-
pIaIned weafIIy. I wash hIs socks, at
Ieast, evefy day."
Nobofu Watanabe nodded and
Iaughed fof one and a haIf seconds. I
was detefmIned to make hIm Iaugh fof
thfee seconds next tIme.
But 3,-M3 been spendIng hef IIfe wIth
you, hasn't she?" he saId, gestufIng to-
wafd my sIstef.
WeII, aftef aII, she's my sIstef."
And we've stayed togethef because
you do anythIng you pIease and I don't
say a thIng. But that's not a *-$# IIfe. In
a feaI, gfown-up, $<B#1 IIfe, peopIe con-
ffont each othef honestIy. I'm not say-
Ing the past fIve yeafs wIth you haven't
been fun. It's been a ffee and easy tIme
fof me. But IateIy, I've come to see that
It's not a feaI IIfe. It hasn't gotoh, I
don't knowthe (--# of what feaI IIfe Is
aII about. AII you thInk about Is youf-
seIf, and If somebody tfIes to have a
sefIous convefsatIon wIth you, you
make fun of them."
Deep down, I'm feaIIy a shy
No, you'fe just pIaIn affogant."
I'm shy and affogant," I expIaIned
to Nobofu Watanabe as I poufed myseIf
mofe wIne. I have thIs shy, affogant
way of fetufnIng tfaIns to the depot
aftef an accIdent."
I thInk I see what you mean," he
saId, noddIng. But do you know what I
thInk? I thInk that aftef you'fe aIoneI
mean, aftef she and I get maffIedthat
you afe goIng to staft wantIng to get
maffIed, too."
You may be fIght," I saId.
ReaIIy?" my sIstef pIped up. If
you'fe feaIIy thInkIng about gettIng
maffIed, I've got a good ffIend, a nIce
gIfI, I'd be gIad to Intfoduce you."
Sufe. When the tIme comes," I saId.
Too dangefous now."
WHEN DINNER WAS OVER, we moved to the
IIvIng foom fof coffee. ThIs tIme my
sIstef put on a WIIIIe NeIson fe-
cofdmaybe one smaII step up ffom
JuIIo IgIesIas.
My sIstef was In the kItchen, cIeanIng
up, when Nobofu Watanabe saId to me
wIth an aIf of confIdentIaIIty, To teII
you the tfuth, I wanted to stay sIngIe
untII I was cIosef to thIfty, IIke you. But
when I met hef, aII I couId thInk of was
gettIng maffIed."
She's a good kId," I saId. She can
be stubbofn and a IIttIe constIpated, but
I feaIIy thInk you've made the fIght
StIII, the Idea of gettIng maffIed Is
kInd of ffIghtenIng, don't you thInk?"
WeII, If you make an effoft to aI-
ways Iook at the good sIde, aIways
thInk about the good thIngs, thefe's
nothIng to be affaId of. If somethIng
bad comes up, you can thInk agaIn at
that poInt."
You may be fIght."
I'm good at gIvIng advIce to othefs."
I went to the kItchen and toId my sIs-
tef I wouId be goIng out fof a waIk. I
won't come back befofe ten o'cIock, so
the two of you can feIax and enjoy
youfseIves. The sheets afe ffesh."
Is that aII you thInk about?" she saId
wIth an aIf of dIsgust, but she dIdn't tfy
to stop me ffom goIng out.
I went back to the IIvIng foom and
toId Nobofu Watanabe that I had an ef-
fand to fun and mIght be Iate gettIng
I'm gIad we had a chance to taIk,"
he saId. PIease be sufe to vIsIt us often
aftef we'fe maffIed."
Thanks," I saId, momentafIIy shut-
tIng down my ImagInatIon.
Don't you dafe dfIve," my sIstef
caIIed out to me as I was IeavIng.
You've had too much to dfInk."
Don't woffy. I'II waIk."
It was a IIttIe befofe eIght when I
entefed a neIghbofhood baf. I sat at the
countef, dfInkIng an I.W. Hafpef on the
focks. The TV behInd the baf was tuned
to a GIants-SwaIIows game. The sound
was off, and Instead they had a CyndI
Iaupef fecofd goIng. The pItchefs wefe
NIshImoto and Obana, and the SwaI-
Iows wefe ahead, 3-2. Thefe was
somethIng to be saId fof watchIng TV
wIth the sound off.
I had thfee whIskeys whIIe I watched
the baII game. It was the bottom of the
seventh, scofe tIed 3-3, when the
bfoadcast ended at nIne o'cIock and the
set was swItched off. Two seats away
ffom me was a gIfI afound twenty I had
seen thefe a few tImes. She had been
watchIng the game, too, so I stafted
taIkIng to hef about basebaII.
I'm a GIants fan," she saId. WhIch
team do =)B IIke?"
They'fe aII the same to me. I just
IIke to watch them pIay."
What's the fun of that? How can you
get excIted about the game?"
I don't have to get excIted. DM& not
pIayIng. +,-= afe."
I had two mofe whIskeys on the
focks and tfeated hef to two daIquIfIs.
She was a majof In commefcIaI desIgn
at Tokyo UnIvefsIty of the Afts, so we
taIked about aft In adveftIsIng. At ten,
we moved on to a baf wIth mofe com-
foftabIe seats, whefe I had a whIskey
and she had a gfasshoppef. She was
pfetty dfunk by thIs tIme, and so was I.
At eIeven, I accompanIed hef to hef
apaftment, whefe we had sex as a mat-
tef of coufse, the way they gIve you a
cushIon and a cup of tea at an Inn.
Put the IIght out," she saId, so I dId.
Ffom hef wIndow you couId see a bIg
NIkon ad towef. A TV next doof was
bIastIng the day's pfo-basebaII fesuIts.
What wIth the dafkness and my dfunk-
enness, I hafdIy knew what I was do-
Ing. You couIdn't caII It sex. I just
moved my penIs and dIschafged some
As soon as the modefateIy abbfevI-
ated act was fInIshed, she went to sIeep
as If she couIdn't waIt any Iongef to be
unconscIous. WIthout even bothefIng to
wIpe up pfopefIy, I got dfessed and Ieft.
The hafdest thIng was pIckIng out my
poIo shIft and undefpants ffom among
hef stuff In the dafk.
OutsIde, my aIcohoIIc hIgh tofe
thfough me IIke a mIdnIght ffeIght. I
feIt IIke shIt. My joInts cfeaked IIke the
TIn Woodman's In +,- ?%J$*< )( UJ. I
bought a can of juIce ffom a vendIng
machIne to sobef me up, but the second
I dfank It down I vomIted the entIfe
contents of my stomach onto the
foadthe cofpses of my steak and
smoked saImon and Iettuce and
How many yeafs had It been sInce I
Iast vomIted ffom dfInkIng? What the
heII was I doIng these days? The same
thIng ovef and ovef. But each fepetItIon
was wofse than the one befofe.
Then, wIth no connectIon at aII, I
thought about Nobofu Watanabe and
the soIdefIng Ifon he had bought me.
You feaIIy ought to have a soIdefIng
Ifon In the house. They come In
handy," he had saId.
What a whoIesome Idea, I saId to hIm
mentaIIy as I wIped my IIps wIth a
handkefchIef. Now, thanks to you, my
house Is equIpped wIth a soIdefIng
Ifon. But because of that damned soI-
defIng Ifon, my house doesn't feeI IIke
my house any Iongef.
That's pfobabIy because I have such
a naffow pefsonaIIty.
IT WAS AFTER mIdnIght by the tIme I got
home. The motofcycIe was, of coufse,
no Iongef pafked by the ffont entfance.
I took the eIevatof to the foufth fIoof,
unIocked the apaftment doof, and went
In. EvefythIng was pItch-bIack except
fof a smaII fIuofescent IIght above the
sInk. My sIstef had pfobabIy gotten fed
up and gone to bed. I couIdn't bIame
I poufed myseIf a gIass of ofange
juIce and emptIed It In one guIp. I used
Iots of soap In the showef to wash the
fouI-smeIIIng sweat ffom my body, and
then I dId a thofough job of bfushIng
my teeth. My face In the bathfoom mIf-
fof was enough to gIve me chIIIs. I
Iooked IIke one of those mIddIe-aged
men you see on the Iast tfaIns ffom
downtown, spfawIIng dfunk on the
seats and fouIIng themseIves wIth theIf
own vomIt. My skIn was fough, my
eyes Iooked sunken, and my haIf had
Iost Its sheen.
I shook my head and tufned out the
bathfoom IIght. WIth nothIng on but a
toweI wfapped afound my waIst, I went
to the kItchen and dfank some tap wa-
tef. SomethIng wIII wofk out tomoffow,
I thought. And If not, then tomoffow
I'II do some thInkIng. Ob-Ia-dI, ob-Ia-
da, IIfe goes on.
You wefe so Iate tonIght," came my
sIstef's voIce out of the gIoom. She was
sIttIng on the IIvIng-foom couch, dfInk-
Ing a beef aIone.
I was dfInkIng," I saId.
You dfInk too much."
I know."
I got a beef ffom the feffIgefatof and
sat down acfoss ffom hef.
Fof a whIIe, neIthef of us saId any-
thIng. We sat thefe, occasIonaIIy tIp-
pIng back ouf beef cans. The Ieaves of
the potted pIants on the baIcony
fIuttefed In the bfeeze, and beyond
them fIoated the mIsty semIcIfcIe of the
Just to Iet you know, we dIdn't do
It," she saId.
Do what?"
Do anythIng. SomethIng got on my
nefves. I just couIdn't do It."
Oh." I seem to Iose the powef of
speech on haIf-moon nIghts.
Afen't you goIng to ask what got on
my nefves?"
What got on youf nefves?"
ThIs foom! ThIs pIace! I just
couIdn't do It hefe."
Hey, Is somethIng wfong wIth you?
Afe you feeIIng sIck?"
I'm tIfed. Even I get tIfed
She Iooked at me wIthout a wofd. I
dfaIned the Iast sIp of my beef and
fested my head on the seat back, eyes
Was It ouf fauIt? DId we make you
No way," I saId wIth my eyes stIII
Afe you too tIfed to taIk?" she asked
In a tIny voIce.
I stfaIghtened up and Iooked at hef.
Then I shook my head.
I'm woffIed. DId I say somethIng
teffIbIe to you today? SomethIng about
you youfseIf, of about the way you
Not at aII," I saId.
EvefythIng you've saId IateIy has
been fIght on the mafk. So don't woffy.
But what's bothefIng you now, aII of a
I don't know, It just soft of popped
Into my mInd aftef he Ieft, whIIe I was
waItIng fof you. I wondefed If I hadn't
gone too faf."
I got two cans of beef ffom the feffI-
gefatof, swItched on the stefeo, and put
on the RIchIe BeIfach TfIo at vefy Iow
voIume. It was the fecofd I IIstened to
whenevef I came home dfunk In the
mIddIe of the nIght.
I'm sufe you'fe a IIttIe confused," I
saId. These changes In IIfe afe IIke
changes In the bafometfIc pfessufe. I'm
kInd of confused, too, In my own way."
She nodded.
Am I beIng hafd on you?" she asked.
Evefybody's hafd on somebody," I
saId. But If I'm the one you chose to be
hafd on, you made the fIght choIce. So
don't Iet It woffy you."
SometImes, I don't know, It scafes
me. The futufe."
You have to make an effoft to aI-
ways Iook at the good sIde, aIways
thInk about the good thIngs. Then
you've got nothIng to be affaId of. If
somethIng bad comes up, you do mofe
thInkIng at that poInt." I gave hef the
same speech I had gIven Nobofu
But what If thIngs don't wofk out
the way you want them to?"
If they don't wofk out, that's when
you thInk agaIn."
She gave a IIttIe Iaugh. You'fe as
stfange as evef."
Say, can I ask you one questIon?" I
yanked open anothef can of beef.
How many men dId you sIeep wIth
befofe hIm?"
She hesItated a moment befofe hoId-
Ing up two fIngefs. Two."
And one was youf age, and the oth-
ef was an oIdef man?"
How dId you know?"
It's a pattefn." I took anothef swIg
of beef. I haven't been fooIIng afound
fof nothIng aII these yeafs. I've Ieafned
that much."
So, I'm typIcaI."
Iet's just say 'heaIthy.'
How many gIfIs have you sIept
Twenty-sIx. I counted them up the
othef day. Thefe wefe twenty-sIx I
couId femembef. Thefe mIght be anoth-
ef ten of so I can't femembef. I'm not
keepIng a dIafy of anythIng."
Why do you sIeep wIth so many
I don't know," I answefed honestIy.
I guess I'II have to stop at some poInt,
but I can't seem to fIgufe out how."
We femaIned sIIent fof a whIIe, aIone
wIth ouf own thoughts. Ffom the dIs-
tance came the sound of a motofcycIe's
exhaust, but It couIdn't have been
Nobofu Watanabe's. Not at one o'cIock
In the mofnIng.
TeII me," she saId, what do you
feaIIy thInk of hIm?"
Nobofu Watanabe?"
He's not a bad guy, I guess. Just not
my type. Funny taste In cIothes, fof one
thIng." I thought about It some mofe
and saId, Thefe's nothIng wfong In
havIng one guy IIke hIm In evefy
That's what I thInk. And then thefe's
you: thIs pefson I caII my bfothef. I'm
vefy fond of you, but If evefybody wefe
IIke you the wofId wouId pfobabIy be a
teffIbIe pIace!"
You may be fIght."
We dfank what was Ieft of the beef
and wIthdfew to ouf sepafate fooms.
My sheets wefe new and cIean and
tIght. I stfetched out on top of them
and Iooked thfough the cuftaIn at the
moon. Whefe wefe we headed? I
wondefed. But I was faf too tIfed to
thInk vefy deepIy about such thIngs.
When I cIosed my eyes, sIeep fIoated
down on me IIke a dafk, sIIent net.
The wIntef coId dImInIshes wIth each
passIng day, and now the sunIIght hInts
at the subtIe scent of spfIngtIme. I tfust
that you afe weII.
Youf fecent Iettef was a pIeasufe to
fead. The passage on the feIatIonshIp
between hambufgef steak and nutmeg
was especIaIIy weII wfItten, I feIt: so
fIch wIth the genuIne sense of daIIy IIv-
Ing. How vIvIdIy It conveyed the wafm
afomas of the kItchen, the IIveIy tap-
pIng of the knIfe agaInst the cuttIng
boafd as It sIIced thfough the onIon!
In the coufse of my feadIng, youf Iet-
tef fIIIed me wIth such an IffepfessIbIe
desIfe fof hambufgef steak that I had to
go to a neafby festaufant and have one
that vefy nIght. In fact, the paftIcuIaf
neIghbofhood estabIIshment In
questIon offefs eIght dIffefent vafIetIes
of hambufgef steak, Texas-styIe,
HawaIIan-styIe, Japanese-styIe, and the
IIke. Texas-styIe Is bIg. PefIod. It wouId
no doubt come as a shock to any Tex-
ans who mIght fInd theIf way to thIs
paft of Tokyo. HawaIIan-styIe Is gaf-
nIshed wIth a sIIce of pIneappIe.
CaIIfofnIa-styIe . I don't femembef.
Japanese-styIe Is smothefed wIth gfated
daIkon. The pIace Is smaftIy decofated,
and the waItfesses afe aII pfetty, wIth
extfemeIy shoft skIfts.
Not that I had made my way thefe
fof the expfess pufpose of studyIng the
festaufant's IntefIof decof of the waIt-
fesses' Iegs. I was thefe fof one feason
onIy, and that was to eat hambufgef
steaknot Texas-styIe of CaIIfofnIa-
styIe of any othef styIe, but pIaIn,
sImpIe hambufgef steak.
WhIch Is what I toId the waItfess.
I'm soffy," she fepIIed, but such-and-
such-styIe hambufgef steak Is the onIy
kInd we have hefe."
I couIdn't bIame the waItfess, of
coufse. @,- hadn't set the menu. @,-
hadn't chosen to weaf thIs unIfofm that
feveaIed so much thIgh each tIme she
cIeafed a dIsh ffom a tabIe. I smIIed at
hef and ofdefed a HawaIIan-styIe ham-
bufgef steak. As she poInted out, I
mefeIy had to set the pIneappIe asIde
when I ate the steak.
What a stfange wofId we IIve In! AII I
want Is a peffectIy ofdInafy hambufgef
steak, and the onIy way I can have It at
thIs paftIcuIaf poInt In tIme Is
HawaIIan-styIe wIthout pIneappIe.
Youf own hambufgef steak, I gathef,
Is the nofmaI kInd. Thanks to youf Iet-
tef, what I wanted most of aII was an
uttefIy nofmaI hambufgef steak made
by you.
By contfast, the passage on the Na-
tIonaI RaIIways' automatIc tIcket ma-
chInes stfuck me as a bIt supeffIcIaI.
Youf angIe on the pfobIem Is a good
one, to be sufe, but the feadef can't
vIvIdIy gfasp the scene. Don't tfy so
hafd to be the penetfatIng obsefvef.
WfItIng Is, aftef aII, a makeshIft thIng.
Youf ovefaII scofe on thIs newest Iet-
tef Is 70. Youf styIe Is ImpfovIng sIowIy
but sufeIy. Don't be ImpatIent. Just
keep wofkIng as hafd as you have been
aII aIong. I Iook fofwafd to youf next
Iettef. Won't It be nIce when spfIng
feaIIy comes?
P.S. Thank you fof the box of assof-
ted cookIes. They afe deIIcIous. The So-
cIety's fuIes, howevef, stfIctIy fofbId
pefsonaI contact beyond the exchange
of Iettefs. I must ask you to festfaIn
youf kIndness In the futufe.
NeveftheIess, thank you once agaIn.
I KEPT THIS paft-tIme job goIng fof a
yeaf. I was twenty-two at the tIme.
I gfound out thIfty of mofe Iettefs
IIke thIs evefy month at two thousand
yen pef Iettef fof a stfange IIttIe com-
pany In the IIdabashI dIstfIct that caIIed
ItseIf The Pen SocIety."
You, too, can Ieafn to wfIte captIv-
atIng Iettefs," boasted the company's
adveftIsements. New membefs" paId
an InItIatIon fee and monthIy dues, In
fetufn fof whIch they couId wfIte fouf
Iettefs a month to The Pen SocIety. We
Pen Mastefs" wouId answef theIf Iet-
tefs wIth Iettefs of ouf own, such as the
one quoted above, contaInIng coffec-
tIons, comments, and guIdance fof
futufe Impfovement. I had gone fof a
job IntefvIew aftef seeIng an ad posted
In the student offIce of the IItefatufe
depaftment. At the tIme, ceftaIn events
had Ied me to deIay my gfaduatIon fof
a yeaf, and my pafents had Infofmed
me that they wouId consequentIy be de-
cfeasIng my monthIy suppoft. Fof the
fIfst tIme In my IIfe, I was faced wIth
havIng to make a IIvIng. In addItIon to
the IntefvIew, I was asked to wfIte sev-
efaI composItIons, and a week Iatef I
was hIfed. Then came a week of tfaIn-
Ing In how to make coffectIons, offef
guIdance, and othef tfIcks of the tfade,
none of whIch was vefy dIffIcuIt.
AII SocIety membefs afe assIgned to
Pen Mastefs of the opposIte sex. I had a
totaI of twenty-fouf membefs, fangIng
In age ffom foufteen to fIfty-thfee, the
majofIty In the twenty-fIve-to-thIfty-
fIve fange. WhIch Is to say, most of
them wefe oIdef than I was. The fIfst
month, I panIcked: The women wefe
faf bettef wfItefs than I was, and they
had a Iot mofe expefIence as coffes-
pondents. I had hafdIy wfItten a sefIous
Iettef In my IIfe, aftef aII. I'm not quIte
sufe how I made It thfough that fIfst
month. I was In a constant coId sweat,
convInced that most of the membefs In
my chafge wouId demand a new Pen
Mastefa pfIvIIege touted In the SocI-
ety's fuIes.
The month went by, and not one
membef faIsed a compIaInt about my
wfItIng. Faf ffom It. The ownef saId I
was vefy popuIaf. Two mofe months
went by, and It even began to seem that
my chafges wefe ImpfovIng thanks to
my guIdance." It was weIfd. These wo-
men Iooked up to me as theIf teachef
wIth compIete tfust. When I feaIIzed
thIs, It enabIed me to dash off my
cfItIques to them wIth faf Iess effoft
and anxIety.
I dIdn't feaIIze It at the tIme, but
these women wefe IoneIy (as wefe the
maIe membefs of the SocIety). They
wanted to wfIte but they had no one to
wfIte to. They wefen't the type to send
fan Iettefs to a deejay. They wanted
somethIng mofe pefsonaIeven If It
had to come In the fofm of coffectIons
and cfItIques.
And so It happened that I spent a
paft of my eafIy twentIes IIke a
cfIppIed waIfus In a wafmIsh hafem of
And what amazIngIy vafIed Iettefs
they wefe! BofIng Iettefs, funny Iettefs,
sad Iettefs. UnfoftunateIy, I couIdn't
keep any of them (the fuIes fequIfed us
to fetufn aII Iettefs to the company),
and thIs happened so Iong ago that I
can't fecaII them In detaII, but I do fe-
membef them as fIIIed to oveffIowIng
wIth IIfe In aII Its aspects, ffom the
Iafgest of questIons to the tInIest of
tfIvIa. And the messages they wefe
sendIng seemed to meto me, a
twenty-two-yeaf-oId coIIege stu-
dentstfangeIy dIvofced ffom feaIIty,
seemed at tImes to be uttefIy meanIng-
Iess. Nof was thIs due soIeIy to my own
Iack of IIfe expefIence. I feaIIze now
that the feaIIty of thIngs Is not
somethIng you convey to peopIe but
somethIng you make. It Is thIs that
gIves bIfth to meanIng. I dIdn't know It
then, of coufse, and neIthef dId the wo-
men. ThIs was sufeIy one of the feasons
that evefythIng In theIf Iettefs stfuck
me as oddIy two-dImensIonaI.
When It came tIme fof me to Ieave
the job, aII the membefs In my cafe ex-
pfessed theIf fegfet. And though, quIte
ffankIy, I was begInnIng to feeI that I
had had enough of thIs endIess job of
Iettef wfItIng, I feIt soffy, too, In a way.
I knew that I wouId nevef agaIn have
so many peopIe openIng themseIves to
me wIth such sImpIe honesty.

HAMBURGER STEAK. I dId actuaIIy have
the oppoftunIty to eat a hambufgef
steak made by the woman to whom the
eafIIef-quoted Iettef was addfessed.
She was thIfty-two, no chIIdfen, hus-
band wofked fof a company that was
genefaIIy consIdefed the fIfth-best-
known In the countfy. When I Infofmed
hef In my Iast Iettef that I wouId have
to be IeavIng the job at the end of the
month, she InvIted me to Iunch. I'II fIx
you a peffectIy nofmaI hambufgef
steak," she wfote. In spIte of the
SocIety's fuIes, I decIded to take hef up
on It. The cufIosIty of a young man of
twenty-two was not to be denIed.
Hef apaftment faced the tfacks of the
Odakyu IIne. The fooms had an ofdefII-
ness befIttIng a chIIdIess coupIe.
NeIthef the fufnItufe nof the IIghtIng
fIxtufes nof the woman's sweatef was
of an especIaIIy costIy soft, but they
wefe nIce enough. We began wIth mu-
tuaI sufpfIsemIne at hef youthfuI ap-
peafance, hefs at my actuaI age. She
had ImagIned me as oIdef than hefseIf.
The SocIety dId not feveaI the ages of
Its Pen Mastefs.
Once we had fInIshed sufpfIsIng each
othef, the usuaI tensIon of a fIfst meet-
Ing was gone. We ate ouf hambufgef
steak and dfank coffee, feeIIng much
IIke two wouId-be passengefs who had
mIssed the same tfaIn. And speakIng of
tfaIns, ffom the wIndow of hef thIfd-
fIoof apaftment one couId see the eIec-
tfIc tfaIn IIne beIow. The weathef was
IoveIy that day, and ovef the faIIIngs of
the buIIdIng's vefandas hung a coIoffuI
assoftment of sheets and futons dfyIng
In the sun. Evefy now and then came
the sIap of a bamboo whIsk fIuffIng out
a futon. I can bfIng the sound back
even now. It was stfangeIy devoId of
any sense of dIstance.
The hambufgef steak was pef-
fectthe fIavof exactIy fIght, the outef
sufface gfIIIed to a cfIsp dafk bfown,
the InsIde fuII of juIce, the sauce IdeaI.
AIthough I couId not honestIy cIaIm
that I had nevef eaten such a deIIcIous
hambufgef In my IIfe, It was ceftaInIy
the best I had had In a vefy Iong tIme. I
toId hef so, and she was pIeased.
Aftef the coffee, we toId each othef
ouf IIfe stofIes whIIe a Buft Bachafach
fecofd pIayed. SInce I dIdn't feaIIy have
a IIfe stofy as yet, she dId most of the
taIkIng. In coIIege she had wanted to be
a wfItef, she saId. She taIked about
FfanoIse Sagan, one of hef favofItes.
She especIaIIy IIked !%&-JX;)B3 9*$,&3L
I myseIf dId not dIsIIke Sagan. At Ieast,
I dIdn't fInd hef as cheap as evefyone
saId. Thefe's no Iaw fequIfIng evefy-
body to wfIte noveIs IIke Henfy MIIIef
of Jean Genet.
I can't wfIte, though," she saId.
It's nevef too Iate to staft," I saId.
No, I know I can't wfIte. You wefe
the one who Infofmed me of that." She
smIIed. WfItIng Iettefs to you, I fInaIIy
feaIIzed It. I just don't have the taIent."
I tufned bfIght fed. It's somethIng I
aImost nevef do now, but when I was
twenty-two I bIushed aII the tIme.
ReaIIy, though, youf wfItIng had
somethIng honest about It."
Instead of answefIng, she smIIeda
tIny smIIe.
At Ieast one Iettef made me go out
fof a hambufgef steak."
You must have been hungfy at the
And Indeed, maybe I had been.
A tfaIn passed beIow the wIndow
wIth a dfy cIattef.
WHEN THE CIOCK stfuck fIve, I saId I
wouId be IeavIng. I'm sufe you have to
make dInnef fof youf husband."
He comes home vefy Iate," she saId,
hef cheek agaInst hef hand. He won't
be back befofe mIdnIght."
He must be a vefy busy man."
I suppose so," she saId, pausIng mo-
mentafIIy. I thInk I once wfote to you
about my pfobIem. Thefe afe ceftaIn
thIngs I can't feaIIy taIk wIth hIm
about. My feeIIngs don't get thfough to
hIm. A Iot of the tIme, I feeI we'fe
speakIng two dIffefent Ianguages."
I dIdn't know what to say to hef. I
couIdn't undefstand how one couId go
on IIvIng wIth someone to whom It was
ImpossIbIe to convey one's feeIIngs.
But It's aII fIght," she saId softIy,
and she made It sound as If It feaIIy
wefe aII fIght. Thanks fof wfItIng Iet-
tefs to me aII these months. I enjoyed
them. TfuIy. And wfItIng back to you
was my saIvatIon."
I enjoyed youf Iettefs, too," I saId,
though In fact I couId hafdIy femembef
anythIng she had wfItten.
Fof a whIIe, wIthout speakIng, she
Iooked at the cIock on the waII. She
seemed aImost to be examInIng the
fIow of tIme.
What afe you goIng to do aftef
gfaduatIon?" she asked.
I hadn't decIded, I toId hef. I had no
Idea what to do. When I saId thIs, she
smIIed agaIn. Maybe you ought to do
some kInd of wofk that InvoIves wfIt-
Ing," she saId. Youf cfItIques wefe
beautIfuIIy wfItten. I used to Iook fof-
wafd to them. I feaIIy dId. No fIattefy
Intended. Fof aII I know, you wefe just
wfItIng them to fuIfIII a quota, but they
had feaI feeIIng. I've kept them aII. I
take them out evefy once In a whIIe
and fefead them."
Thank you," I saId. And thanks fof
the hambufgef."
TEN YEARS have gone by, but whenevef I
pass hef neIghbofhood on the Odakyu
IIne I thInk of hef and of hef cfIspIy
gfIIIed hambufgef steak. I Iook out at
the buIIdIngs fanged aIong the tfacks
and ask myseIf whIch wIndow couId be
hefs. I thInk about the vIew ffom that
wIndow and tfy to fIgufe out whefe It
couId have been. But I can nevef
Pefhaps she doesn't IIve thefe any-
mofe. But If she does, she Is pfobabIy
stIII IIstenIng to that same Buft Bachaf-
ach fecofd on the othef sIde of hef
ShouId I have sIept wIth hef?
That's the centfaI questIon of thIs
The answef Is beyond me. Even now,
I have no Idea. Thefe afe Iots of thIngs
we nevef undefstand, no mattef how
many yeafs we put on, no mattef how
much expefIence we accumuIate. AII I
can do Is Iook up ffom the tfaIn at the
wIndows In the buIIdIngs that mIght be
hefs. Evefy one of them couId be hef
wIndow, It sometImes seems to me, and
at othef tImes I thInk that none of them
couId be hefs. Thefe afe sImpIy too
many of them.
IT WAS SUNDAY evenIng when the TV
PeopIe showed up.
The season, spfIng. At Ieast, I thInk It
was spfIng. In any case, It wasn't paftIc-
uIafIy hot as seasons go, not paftIcu-
IafIy chIIIy.
To be honest, the season's not so Im-
poftant. What mattefs Is that It's a
Sunday evenIng.
I don't IIke Sunday evenIngs. Of,
fathef, I don't IIke evefythIng that goes
wIth themthat Sunday-evenIng state
of affaIfs. WIthout faII, come Sunday
evenIng my head stafts to ache. In
vafyIng IntensIty each tIme. Maybe a
thIfd to a haIf of an Inch Into my
tempIes, the soft fIesh thfobsas If In-
vIsIbIe thfeads Iead out and someone
faf off Is yankIng at the othef ends. Not
that It hufts so much. It ought to huft,
but stfangeIy, It doesn'tIt's IIke Iong
needIes pfobIng anesthetIzed afeas.
And I heaf thIngs. Not sounds, but
thIck sIabs of sIIence beIng dfagged
thfough the dafk. Z:`@_!!!H
ZZ:`@_!!!!!H ZZZZ:SSS@. Those
afe the InItIaI IndIcatIons. FIfst, the
achIng. Then, a sIIght dIstoftIon of my
vIsIon. TIdes of confusIon wash
thfough, pfemonItIons tuggIng at
memofIes, memofIes tuggIng at pfe-
monItIons. A fIneIy honed fazof moon
fIoats whIte In the sky, foots of doubt
buffow Into the eafth. PeopIe waIk ex-
tfa Ioud down the haII just to get me.
Z::@C]SZ >]?9 Z::@C]SZ >]?9
AII the mofe feason fof the TV PeopIe
to sIngIe out Sunday evenIng as the
tIme to come afound. IIke meIanchoIy
moods, of the secfetIve, quIet faII of
faIn, they steaI Into the gIoom of that
appoInted tIme.
IET ME EXPIAIN how the TV PeopIe Iook.
The TV PeopIe afe sIIghtIy smaIIef
than you of me. Not obvIousIy smaI-
Ief3#%K,1#= smaIIef. About, say, 20 of
30%. Evefy paft of theIf bodIes Is unI-
fofmIy smaIIef. So fathef than smaII,"
the mofe tefmInoIogIcaIIy coffect ex-
pfessIon mIght be feduced."
In fact, If you see TV PeopIe some-
whefe, you mIght not notIce at fIfst
that they'fe smaII. But even If you
don't, they'II pfobabIy stfIke you as
somehow stfange. UnsettIIng, maybe.
You'fe sufe to thInk somethIng's odd,
and then you'II take anothef Iook.
Thefe's nothIng unnatufaI about them
at fIfst gIance, but that's what's so un-
natufaI. TheIf smaIIness Is compIeteIy
dIffefent ffom that of chIIdfen and
dwaffs. When we see chIIdfen, we (--#
they'fe smaII, but thIs sense of fecognI-
tIon comes mostIy ffom the mIspfopof-
tIoned awkwafdness of theIf bodIes.
They afe smaII, gfanted, but not unI-
fofmIy so. The hands afe smaII, but the
head Is bIg. TypIcaIIy, that Is. No, the
smaIIness of TV PeopIe Is somethIng
eIse entIfeIy. TV PeopIe Iook as If they
wefe feduced by photocopy, evefythIng
mechanIcaIIy caIIbfated. Say theIf
heIght has been feduced by a factof of
0.7, then theIf shouIdef wIdth Is aIso In
0.7 feductIon, dItto (0.7 feductIon) fof
the feet, head, eafs, and fIngefs. IIke
pIastIc modeIs, onIy a IIttIe smaIIef than
the feaI thIng.
Of IIke pefspectIve demos. FIgufes
that Iook faf away even cIose up. So-
methIng out of a tfompe-I'oeII paIntIng
whefe the sufface wafps and buckIes.
An IIIusIon whefe the hand faIIs to
touch objects cIose by, yet bfushes
what Is out of feach.
That's TV PeopIe.
That's TV PeopIe.
That's TV PeopIe.
THERE WERE THREE of them aItogethef.
They don't knock of fIng the doof-
beII. Don't say heIIo. They just sneak
fIght In. I don't even heaf a footstep.
One opens the doof, the othef two
caffy In a TV. Not a vefy bIg TV. Youf
ofdInafy Sony coIof TV. The doof was
Iocked, I thInk, but I can't be ceftaIn.
Maybe I fofgot to Iock It. It feaIIy
wasn't fofemost In my thoughts at the
tIme, so who knows? StIII, I thInk the
doof was Iocked.
When they come In, I'm IyIng on the
sofa, gazIng up at the ceIIIng. Nobody
at home but me. That aftefnoon, the
wIfe has gone out wIth the gIfIssome
cIose ffIends ffom hef hIgh-schooI
daysgettIng togethef to taIk, then eat-
Ing dInnef out. Can you gfab youf own
suppef?" the wIfe saId befofe IeavIng.
Thefe's vegetabIes In the ffIdge and aII
softs of ffozen foods. That much you
can handIe fof youfseIf, can't you? And
befofe the sun goes down, femembef to
take In the Iaundfy, okay?"
Sufe thIng," I saId. Doesn't faze me
a bIt. RIce, fIght? Iaundfy, fIght? Noth-
Ing to It. Take cafe of It, sImpIe as
DId you say somethIng, deaf?" she
No, nothIng," I saId.
AII aftefnoon I take It easy and IoII
afound on the sofa. I have nothIng bet-
tef to do. I fead a bItthat new noveI
by Gafca Mfquezand IIsten to some
musIc. I have myseIf a beef. StIII, I'm
unabIe to gIve my mInd to any of thIs. I
consIdef goIng back to bed, but I can't
even puII myseIf togethef enough to do
that. So I wInd up IyIng on the sofa,
stafIng at the ceIIIng.
The way my Sunday aftefnoons go, I
end up doIng a IIttIe bIt of vafIous
thIngs, none vefy weII. It's a stfuggIe to
concentfate on any one thIng. ThIs paf-
tIcuIaf day, evefythIng seems to be go-
Ing fIght. I thInk, Today I'II fead thIs
book, IIsten to these fecofds, answef
these Iettefs. Today, fof sufe, I'II cIean
out my desk dfawefs, fun effands, wash
the caf fof once. But two o'cIock foIIs
afound, thfee o'cIock foIIs afound,
gfaduaIIy dusk comes on, and aII my
pIans afe bIown. I haven't done a thIng,
I've been IyIng afound on the sofa the
whoIe day, same as aIways. The cIock
tIcks In my eafs. +:CC Q @R_!U]@
+:CC a @R_!U]@. The sound efodes
evefythIng afound me, IIttIe by IIttIe,
IIke dfIppIng faIn. +:CC Q @R_!U]@
+:CC Q @R_!U]@. IIttIe by IIttIe,
Sunday aftefnoon weafs down, shfInk-
Ing In scaIe. Just IIke the TV PeopIe
THE TV PEOPIE Ignofe me ffom the vefy
outset. AII thfee of them have thIs Iook
that says the IIkes of me don't exIst.
They open the doof and caffy In theIf
TV. The two put the set on the sIde-
boafd, the othef one pIugs It In. Thefe's
a manteI cIock and a stack of
magazInes on the sIdeboafd. The cIock
was a weddIng gIft, bIg and heavybIg
and heavy as tIme %13-#(wIth a Ioud
sound, too. +:CC Q @R_!U]@ +:CC Q
@R_!U]@. AII thfough the house you
can heaf It. The TV PeopIe move It off
the sIdeboafd, down onto the fIoof. The
wIfe's goIng to faIse heII, I thInk. She
hates It when thIngs get fandomIy shIf-
ted about. If evefythIng Isn't In Its pfop-
ef pIace, she gets feaIIy sofe. What's
wofse, wIth the cIock thefe on the
fIoof, I'm bound to tfIp ovef It In the
mIddIe of the nIght. I'm fofevef gettIng
up to go to the toIIet at two In the
mofnIng, bIeafy-eyed and stumbIIng
ovef somethIng.
Next, the TV PeopIe move the
magazInes to the tabIe. AII of them wo-
men's magazInes. (I hafdIy evef fead
magazInes, I fead bookspefsonaIIy, I
wouIdn't mInd If evefy Iast magazIne In
the wofId went out of busIness.) .##-
and S$*%- R#$%*- and _)&- D<-$3,
magazInes of that IIk. NeatIy stacked on
the sIdeboafd. The wIfe doesn't IIke me
touchIng hef magazIneschange the
ofdef of the stack, and I nevef heaf the
end of Itso I don't go neaf them.
Nevef once fIIpped thfough them. But
the TV PeopIe couIdn't cafe Iess: They
move them fIght out of the way, they
show no concefn, they sweep the whoIe
Iot off the sIdeboafd, they mIx up the
ofdef. S$*%- R#$%*- Is on top of R*)%3X
3$01b _)&- D<-$3 Is undefneath !0X!0.
UnfofgIvabIe. And wofse, they'fe scat-
tefIng the bookmafks onto the fIoof.
They've Iost hef pIace, pages wIth Im-
poftant InfofmatIon. I have no Idea
what InfofmatIon of how Impoft-
antmIght have been fof wofk, mIght
have been pefsonaIbut whatevef, It
was Impoftant to the wIfe, and she'II Iet
me know about It. What's the meanIng
of thIs? I go out fof a nIce tIme wIth
ffIends, and when I come back, the
house Is a shambIes!" I can just heaf It,
IIne fof IIne. Oh, gfeat, I thInk, shakIng
my head.
boafd to make foom fof the teIevIsIon.
The TV PeopIe pIug It Into a waII sock-
et, then swItch It on. Then thefe Is a
tInkIIng noIse, and the scfeen IIghts up.
A moment Iatef, the pIctufe fIoats Into
vIew. They change the channeIs by fe-
mote contfoI. But aII the channeIs afe
bIankpfobabIy, I thInk, because they
haven't connected the set to an an-
tenna. Thefe has to be an antenna out-
Iet somewhefe In the apaftment. I seem
to femembef the supefIntendent teIIIng
us whefe It was when we moved Into
thIs condomInIum. AII you had to do
was connect It. But I can't femembef
whefe It Is. We don't own a teIevIsIon,
so I've compIeteIy fofgotten.
Yet somehow the TV PeopIe don't
seem bothefed that they afen't pIckIng
up any bfoadcast. They gIve no sIgn of
IookIng fof the antenna outIet. BIank
scfeen, no Imagemakes no dIffefence
to them. HavIng pushed the button and
had the powef come on, they've com-
pIeted what they came to do.
The TV Is bfand-new. It's not In Its
box, but one Iook teIIs you It's new. The
InstfuctIon manuaI and guafantee afe
In a pIastIc bag taped to the sIde, the
powef cabIe shInes, sIeek as a ffeshIy
caught fIsh.
AII thfee TV PeopIe Iook at the bIank
scfeen ffom hefe and thefe afound the
foom. One of them comes ovef next to
me and vefIfIes that you can see the TV
scfeen ffom whefe I'm sIttIng. The TV
Is facIng stfaIght towafd me, at an op-
tImum vIewIng dIstance. They seem sat-
IsfIed. One opefatIon down, says theIf
aIf of accompIIshment. One of the TV
PeopIe (the one who'd come ovef next
to me) pIaces the femote contfoI on the
The TV PeopIe speak not a wofd.
TheIf movements come off In peffect
ofdef, hence they don't need to speak.
Each of the thfee executes hIs pfe-
scfIbed functIon wIth maxImum effI-
cIency. A pfofessIonaI job. Neat and
cIean. TheIf wofk Is done In no tIme. As
an aftefthought, one of the TV PeopIe
pIcks the cIock up ffom the fIoof and
casts a quIck gIance afound the foom to
see If thefe Isn't a mofe appfopfIate
pIace to put It, but he doesn't fInd any
and sets It back down. +:CC Q
@R_!U]@ +:CC a @R_!U]@. It goes
on tIckIng weIghtIIy on the fIoof. Ouf
apaftment Is fathef smaII, and a Iot of
fIoof space tends to be taken up wIth
my books and the wIfe's fefefence ma-
tefIaIs. I am bound to tfIp on that cIock.
I heave a sIgh. No mIstake, stub my
toes fof sufe. You can bet on It.
AII thfee TV PeopIe weaf dafk-bIue
jackets. Of who-knows-what fabfIc, but
sIIck. Undef them, they weaf jeans and
tennIs shoes. CIothes and shoes aII pfo-
poftIonateIy feduced In sIze. I watch
theIf actIvItIes fof the Iongest tIme, un-
tII I staft to thInk maybe It's &= pfopof-
tIons that afe off. AImost as If I wefe
fIdIng backwafd on a foIIef coastef,
weafIng stfong pfescfIptIon gIasses. The
vIew Is dIzzyIng, the scaIe aII scfewed
up. I'm thfown off baIance, my custom-
afy wofId Is no Iongef absoIute. That's
the way the TV PeopIe make you feeI.
Up to the vefy Iast, the TV PeopIe
don't say a wofd. The thfee of them
check the scfeen one mofe tIme, con-
fIfm that thefe afe no pfobIems, then
swItch It off by femote contfoI. The
gIow contfacts to a poInt and fIIckefs
off wIth a tInkIIng noIse. The scfeen fe-
tufns to Its expfessIonIess, gfay, natufaI
state. The wofId outsIde Is gettIng dafk.
I heaf someone caIIIng out to someone
eIse. Anonymous footsteps pass by
down the haII, IntentIonaIIy Ioud as
evef. Z::@C]SZ >]?9 Z::@C]SZ
>]?9. A Sunday evenIng.
The TV PeopIe gIve the foom anothef
whIfIwInd InspectIon, open the doof,
and Ieave. Once agaIn, they pay no at-
tentIon to me whatsoevef. They act as
If I don't exIst.
FROM THE TIME the TV PeopIe come Into
the apaftment to the moment they
Ieave, I don't budge. Don't say a wofd. I
femaIn motIonIess, stfetched out on the
sofa, sufveyIng the whoIe opefatIon. I
know what you'fe goIng to say: That's
unnatufaI. TotaI stfangefsnot one but
thfeewaIk unannounced fIght Into
youf apaftment, pIunk down a TV set,
and you just sIt thefe stafIng at them,
dumbfounded. KInd of odd, don't you
I know, I know. But fof whatevef
feason, I don't speak up, I sImpIy ob-
sefve the pfoceedIngs. Because they Ig-
nofe me so totaIIy. And If you wefe In
my posItIon, I ImagIne you'd do the
same. Not to excuse myseIf, but =)B
have peopIe fIght In ffont of you deny-
Ing youf vefy pfesence IIke that, then
see If you don't doubt whethef you ac-
tuaIIy exIst. I Iook at my hands haIf ex-
pectIng to see cIeaf thfough them. I'm
devastated, powefIess, In a tfance. My
body, my mInd afe vanIshIng fast. I
can't bfIng myseIf to move. It's aII I can
do to watch the thfee TV PeopIe depos-
It theIf teIevIsIon In my apaftment and
Ieave. I can't open my mouth fof feaf of
what my voIce mIght sound IIke.
The TV PeopIe exIt and Ieave me
aIone. My sense of feaIIty comes back
to me. These hands afe once agaIn my
hands. It's onIy then I notIce that the
dusk has been swaIIowed by dafkness. I
tufn on the IIght. Then I cIose my eyes.
Yes, that's a TV set sIttIng thefe. Mean-
whIIe, the cIock keeps tIckIng away the
mInutes. +:CC a @R_!U]@ +:CC a
CURIOUSIY, THE WIFE makes no mentIon of
the appeafance of the teIevIsIon set In
the apaftment. No feactIon at aII. Zefo.
It's as If she doesn't even see It. Cfeepy.
Because, as I saId befofe, she's ex-
tfemeIy fussy about the ofdef and af-
fangement of fufnItufe and othef
thIngs. If someone dafes to move any-
thIng In the apaftment, even by a haIf,
she'II jump on It In an Instant. That's
hef ascendancy. She knIts hef bfows,
then gets thIngs back the way they
Not me. If an Issue of _)&- D<-$3 gets
put undef an !0X!0, of a baIIpoInt pen
fInds Its way Into the pencII stand, you
don't see me go to pIeces. I don't even
notIce. ThIs Is hef pfobIem, I'd weaf
myseIf out IIvIng IIke hef. SometImes
she fIIes Into a fage. She teIIs me she
can't abIde my cafeIessness. Yes, I say,
and sometImes I can't stand cafeIess-
ness about unIvefsaI gfavItatIon and
and . c &"
, eIthef. I mean It. But
when I say thIngs IIke thIs, she cIams
up, takIng them as a pefsonaI InsuIt. I
nevef mean It that way, I just say what
I feeI.
That nIght, when she comes home,
fIfst thIng she does Is Iook afound the
apaftment. I've feadIed a fuII expIana-
tIonhow the TV PeopIe came and
mIxed evefythIng up. It'II be dIffIcuIt to
")0;%0"- hef, but I Intend to teII hef the
whoIe tfuth.
She doesn't say a thIng, just gIves the
pIace the once-ovef. Thefe's a TV on
the sIdeboafd, the magazInes afe out of
ofdef on the tabIe, the manteI cIock Is
on the fIoof, and the wIfe doesn't even
comment. Thefe's nothIng fof me to
You get youf own suppef okay?" she
asks me, undfessIng.
No, I dIdn't eat," I teII hef.
Why not?"
I wasn't feaIIy hungfy," I say.
The wIfe pauses, haIf-undfessed, and
thInks thIs ovef. She gIves me a Iong
Iook. ShouId she pfess the subject of
not? The cIock bfeaks up the pfotfac-
ted, pondefous sIIence. +:CC a
@R_!U]@ +:CC a @R_!U]@. I pfetend
not to heaf, I won't Iet It In my eafs.
But the sound Is sImpIy too heavy, too
Ioud to shut out. She, too, seems to be
IIstenIng to It. Then she shakes hef
head and says, ShaII I whIp up
somethIng quIck?"
WeII, maybe," I say. I don't feaIIy
feeI much IIke eatIng, but I won't tufn
down the offef.
The wIfe changes Into afound-the-
house weaf and goes to the kItchen to
fIx zosuI and tamago-yakI whIIe fIIIIng
me In on hef ffIends. Who'd done what,
who'd saId what, who'd changed hef
haIfstyIe and Iooked so much youngef,
who'd bfoken up wIth hef boyffIend. I
know most of hef ffIends, so I pouf my-
seIf a beef and foIIow aIong, InseftIng
attentIve uh-huhs at pfopef IntefvaIs.
Though, In fact, I hafdIy heaf a thIng
she says. I'm thInkIng about the TV
PeopIe. That, and why she dIdn't fe-
mafk on the sudden appeafance of the
teIevIsIon. No way she couIdn't have
notIced. Vefy odd. WeIfd, even. So-
methIng Is wfong hefe. But what to do
about It?
The food Is feady, so I sIt at the
dInIng-foom tabIe and eat. RIce, egg,
saIt pIum. When I've fInIshed, the wIfe
cIeafs away the dIshes. I have anothef
beef, and she has a beef, too. I gIance
at the sIdeboafd, and thefe's the TV set,
wIth the powef off, the femote-contfoI
unIt sIttIng on the tabIe. I get up ffom
the tabIe, feach fof the femote contfoI,
and swItch It on. The scfeen gIows and
I heaf It tInkIIng. StIII no pIctufe. OnIy
the same bIank tube. I pfess the button
to faIse the voIume, but aII that does Is
Incfease the whIte-noIse foaf. I watch
the snowstofm fof twenty, thIfty
seconds, then swItch It off. IIght and
sound vanIsh In an Instant. MeanwhIIe,
the wIfe has seated hefseIf on the caf-
pet and Is fIIppIng thfough .##-, obIIvI-
ous of the fact that the TV has just been
tufned on and off.
I fepIace the femote contfoI on the
tabIe and sIt down on the sofa agaIn,
thInkIng I'II go on feadIng that Iong
Gafca Mfquez noveI. I aIways fead
aftef dInnef. I mIght set the book down
aftef thIfty mInutes, of I mIght fead fof
two houfs, but the thIng Is to fead
evefy day. Today, though, I can't get
myseIf to fead mofe than a page and a
haIf. I can't concentfate, my thoughts
keep fetufnIng to the TV set. I Iook up
and see It, fIght In ffont of me.
to fInd the TV stIII thefe. I get out of
bed haIf hopIng the thIng has dIsap-
peafed. No such Iuck. I go to the toIIet,
then pIop down on the sofa and put my
feet up on the tabIe. I take the femote
contfoI In hand and tfy tufnIng on the
TV. No new deveIopments In that de-
paftment, eIthef, onIy a fefun of the
same gIow and noIse. NothIng eIse. I
Iook at It awhIIe, then swItch It off.
I go back to bed and tfy to sIeep. I'm
dead tIfed, but sIeep Isn't comIng. I
shut my eyes and I see them. The TV
PeopIe caffyIng the TV set, the TV
PeopIe movIng the cIock out of the
way, the TV PeopIe tfansfeffIng
magazInes to the tabIe, the TV PeopIe
pIuggIng the powef cabIe Into the waII
socket, the TV PeopIe checkIng the
scfeen, the TV PeopIe openIng the doof
and sIIentIy exItIng. They've stayed on
In my head. They'fe In thefe waIkIng
afound. I get back out of bed, go to the
kItchen, and pouf a doubIe bfandy Into
a coffee cup. I down the bfandy and
head ovef to the sofa fof anothef ses-
sIon wIth Mfquez. I open the pages,
yet somehow the wofds won't sInk In.
The wfItIng Is opaque.
Vefy weII, then, I thfow Gafca Mf-
quez asIde and pIck up .##-. ReadIng
.##- ffom tIme to tIme can't huft any-
one. But thefe Isn't anythIng In .##- that
catches my fancy. New haIfstyIes and
eIegant whIte sIIk bIouses and eatefIes
that sefve good beef stew and what to
weaf to the opefa, aftIcIes IIke that. Do
I cafe? I thfow .##- asIde. WhIch Ieaves
me the teIevIsIon on the sIdeboafd to
Iook at.
I end up stayIng awake untII dawn,
not doIng a thIng. At sIx o'cIock, I make
myseIf some coffee. I don't have any-
thIng eIse to do, so I go ahead and fIx
ham sandwIches befofe the wIfe gets
You'fe up awfuI eafIy," she says
Mmm," I mumbIe.
Aftef a neafIy wofdIess bfeakfast, we
Ieave home togethef and go ouf sepaf-
ate ways to ouf fespectIve offIces. The
wIfe wofks at a smaII pubIIshIng house.
EdIts a natufaI-food and IIfestyIe
magazIne. ShIItake Mushfooms Pfe-
vent Gout," The Futufe of OfganIc
FafmIng," you know the kInd of
magazIne. Nevef seIIs vefy weII, but
hafdIy costs anythIng to pfoduce, kept
afIoat by a handfuI of zeaIots. Me, I
wofk In the adveftIsIng depaftment of
an eIectfIcaI-appIIance manufactufef. I
dfeam up ads fof toastefs and washIng
machInes and mIcfowave ovens.

IN MY OFFICE BUIIDING, I pass one of the
TV PeopIe on the staIfs. If I'm not mIs-
taken, It's one of the thfee who bfought
the TV the day befofepfobabIy the
one who fIfst opened the doof, who
dIdn't actuaIIy caffy the set. TheIf sIn-
guIaf Iack of dIstInguIshIng featufes
makes It next to ImpossIbIe to teII them
apaft, so I can't sweaf to It, but I'd say
I'm eIght to nIne out of ten on the
mafk. He's weafIng the same bIue jack-
et he had on the pfevIous day, and he's
not caffyIng anythIng In hIs hands. He's
mefeIy waIkIng down the staIfs. I'm
waIkIng up. I dIsIIke eIevatofs, so I gen-
efaIIy take the staIfs. My offIce Is on
the nInth fIoof, so thIs Is no mean feat.
When I'm In a fush, I get aII sweaty by
the tIme I feach the top. Even so, get-
tIng sweaty has got to be bettef than
takIng the eIevatof, as faf as I'm con-
cefned. Evefyone jokes about It: doesn't
own a TV of a VCR, doesn't take eIevat-
ofs, must be a modefn-day IuddIte.
Maybe a chIIdhood tfauma IeadIng to
affested deveIopment. Iet them thInk
what they IIke. They'fe the ones who
afe scfewed up, If you ask me.
In any case, thefe I am, cIImbIng the
staIfs as aIways, I'm the onIy one on the
staIfsaImost nobody eIse uses
themwhen between the foufth and
fIfth fIoofs I pass one of the TV PeopIe
comIng down. It happens so suddenIy I
don't know what to do. Maybe I shouId
say somethIng?
But I don't say anythIng. I don't
know what to say, and he's
unappfoachabIe. He Ieaves no openIng,
he descends the staIfs so functIonaIIy,
at one set tempo, wIth such feguIated
pfecIsIon. PIus, he uttefIy Ignofes my
pfesence, same as the day befofe. I
don't even entef hIs fIeId of vIsIon. He
sIIps by befofe I can thInk what to do.
In that Instant, the fIeId of gfavIty
At wofk, the day Is soIId wIth meet-
Ings ffom the mofnIng on. Impoftant
meetIngs on saIes campaIgns fof a new
pfoduct IIne. SevefaI empIoyees fead
fepofts. BIackboafds fIII wIth fIgufes,
baf gfaphs pfoIIfefate on computef
3"*--03. Heated dIscussIons. I paftIcIp-
ate, aIthough my contfIbutIon to the
meetIngs Is not that cfItIcaI because I'm
not dIfectIy InvoIved wIth the pfoject.
So between meetIngs I keep puzzIIng
thIngs ovef. I voIce an opInIon onIy
once. Isn't much of an opInIon,
eIthefsomethIng peffectIy obvIous to
any obsefvefbut I couIdn't vefy weII
go wIthout sayIng anythIng, aftef aII. I
may not be teffIbIy ambItIous when It
comes to wofk, but so Iong as I'm fe-
ceIvIng a saIafy I have to demonstfate
fesponsIbIIIty. I summafIze the vafIous
opInIons up to that poInt and even
make a joke to IIghten the atmosphefe.
HaIf covefIng fof my daydfeamIng
about the TV PeopIe. SevefaI peopIe
Iaugh. Aftef that one uttefance,
howevef, I onIy pfetend to fevIew the
matefIaIs, I'm thInkIng about the TV
PeopIe. If they taIk up a name fof the
new mIcfowave oven, I ceftaInIy am
not awafe of It. My mInd Is aII TV
PeopIe. What the heII was the meanIng
of that TV set? And why hauI the TV aII
the way to my apaftment In the fIfst
pIace? Why hasn't the wIfe femafked
on Its appeafance? Why have the TV
PeopIe made Infoads Into my company?
The meetIngs afe endIess. At noon,
thefe's a shoft bfeak fof Iunch. Too
shoft to go out and eat. Instead, evefy-
one gets sandwIches and coffee. The
confefence foom Is a haze of cIgafette
smoke, so I eat at my own desk. WhIIe
I'm eatIng, the sectIon chIef comes
afound. To be peffectIy ffank, I don't
IIke the guy. Fof no feason I can put my
fIngef on: Thefe's nothIng you can fauIt
hIm on, no sIngIe tafget fof attack. He
has an aIf of bfeedIng. Mofeovef, he's
not stupId. He has good taste In neck-
tIes, he doesn't wave hIs own fIag of
Iofd It ovef hIs InfefIofs. He even Iooks
out fof me, InvItes me out fof the occa-
sIonaI meaI. But thefe's just somethIng
about the guy that doesn't sIt weII wIth
me. Maybe It's hIs habIt of comIng Into
body contact wIth peopIe he's taIkIng
to. Men of women, at some poInt In the
coufse of the convefsatIon he'II feach
out a hand and touch. Not In any sug-
gestIve way, mInd you. No, hIs mannef
Is bfIsk, hIs beafIng peffectIy casuaI. I
wouIdn't be sufpfIsed If some peopIe
don't even notIce, It's so natufaI.
StIIII don't know whyIt does bothef
me. So whenevef I see hIm, aImost In-
stInctIveIy I bface myseIf. CaII It petty,
It gets to me.
He Ieans ovef, pIacIng a hand on my
shouIdef. About youf statement at the
meetIng just now. Vefy nIce," says the
sectIon chIef wafmIy. Vefy sImpIy put,
vefy pIvotaI. I was Impfessed. PoInts
weII taken. The whoIe foom buzzed at
that statement of youfs. The tImIng was
peffect, too. YessIf, you keep 'em com-
Ing IIke that."
And he gIIdes off. PfobabIy to Iunch.
I thank hIm stfaIght out, but the honest
tfuth Is I'm taken aback. I mean, I don't
femembef a thIng of what I saId at the
meetIng. Why does the sectIon chIef
have to come aII the way ovef to my
desk to pfaIse me fof 1,$1L Thefe have
to be mofe bfIIIIant exampIes of _)&)
#)EB-03 afound hefe. Stfange. I go on
eatIng my Iunch, uncompfehendIng.
Then I thInk about the wIfe. Wondef
what she's up to fIght now. Out to
Iunch? Maybe I ought to gIve hef a caII,
exchange a few wofds, anythIng. I dIaI
the fIfst thfee dIgIts, have second
thoughts, hang up. I have no feason to
be caIIIng hef. My wofId may be cfum-
bIIng, out of baIance, but Is that a feas-
on to fIng up hef offIce? What can I say
about aII thIs, anyway? BesIdes, I hate
caIIIng hef at wofk. I set down the fe-
ceIvef, Iet out a sIgh, and fInIsh off my
coffee. Then I toss the Styfofoam cup
Into the wastebasket.
TV PeopIe agaIn. ThIs tIme, theIf num-
bef has Incfeased by two. Just as on the
pfevIous day, they come tfaIpsIng
acfoss the confefence foom, caffyIng a
Sony coIof TV. A modeI one sIze bIggef.
Uh-oh. Sony's the fIvaI camp. If, fof
whatevef feason, any competItof's
pfoduct gets bfought Into ouf offIces,
thefe's heII to pay, baffIng when othef
manufactufefs' pfoducts afe bfought In
fof test compafIsons, of coufse. But
then we take paIns to femove the com-
pany Iogojust to make sufe no out-
sIde eyes happen upon It. IIttIe do the
TV PeopIe cafe: The Sony mafk Is em-
bIazoned fof aII to see. They open the
doof and mafch fIght Into the confef-
ence foom, fIashIng It In ouf dIfectIon.
Then they pafade the thIng afound the
foom, scannIng the pIace fof some-
whefe to set It down, untII at Iast, not
fIndIng any IocatIon, they caffy It back-
wafd out the doof. The othefs In the
foom show no feactIon to the TV
PeopIe. And they can't have mIssed
them. No, they've defInIteIy seen them.
And the pfoof Is they even got out of
the way, cIeafIng a path fof the TV
PeopIe to caffy theIf teIevIsIon thfough.
StIII, that's as faf as It went: a feactIon
no mofe aIafmed than when the neafby
coffee shop deIIvefed. They'd made It a
gfound fuIe not to acknowIedge the
pfesence of the TV PeopIe. The othefs
aII knew they wefe thefe, they just ac-
ted as If they wefen't.
None of It makes any sense. Does
evefybody know about the TV PeopIe?
Am I aIone In the dafk? Maybe the wIfe
knew about the TV PeopIe aII aIong,
too. PfobabIy. I'II bet that's why she
wasn't sufpfIsed by the teIevIsIon and
why she dIdn't mentIon It. That's the
onIy possIbIe expIanatIon. Yet thIs con-
fuses me even mofe. Who of what,
then, afe the TV PeopIe? And why afe
they aIways caffyIng afound TV sets?
One coIIeague Ieaves hIs seat to go to
the toIIet, and I get up to foIIow. ThIs Is
a guy who entefed the company afound
the same tIme I dId. We'fe on good
tefms. SometImes we go out fof a dfInk
togethef aftef wofk. I don't do that
wIth most peopIe. I'm standIng next to
hIm at the ufInaIs. He's the fIfst to com-
pIaIn. Oh, joy! Iooks IIke we'fe In fof
mofe of the same, stfaIght thfough to
evenIng. I sweaf! MeetIngs, meetIngs,
meetIngs, goIng to dfag on fofevef."
You can say that agaIn," I say. We
wash ouf hands. He compIIments me on
the mofnIng meetIng's statement. I
thank hIm.
Oh, by the way, those guys who
came In wIth the TV just now ." I
Iaunch fofth, then cut off.
He doesn't say anythIng. He tufns off
the faucet, puIIs two papef toweIs ffom
the dIspensef, and wIpes hIs hands. He
doesn't even shoot a gIance In my dIf-
ectIon. How Iong can he keep dfyIng
hIs hands? EventuaIIy, he cfumpIes up
hIs toweIs and thfows them away.
Maybe he dIdn't heaf me. Of maybe
he's pfetendIng not to heaf. I can't teII.
But ffom the sudden stfaIn In the atmo-
sphefe, I know enough not to ask. I
shut up, wIpe my hands, and waIk
down the coffIdof to the confefence
foom. The fest of the aftefnoon's meet-
Ings, he avoIds my eyes.
WHEN I GET HOME ffom wofk, the apaft-
ment Is dafk. OutsIde, dafk cIouds have
swept In. It's begInnIng to faIn. The
apaftment smeIIs IIke faIn. NIght Is
comIng on. No sIgn of the wIfe. I Ioosen
my tIe, smooth out the wfInkIes, and
hang It up. I bfush off my suIt. I toss
my shIft Into the washIng machIne. My
haIf smeIIs IIke cIgafette smoke, so I
take a showef and shave. Stofy of my
IIfe: I go to endIess meetIngs, get
smoked to death, then the wIfe gets on
my case about It. The vefy fIfst thIng
she dId aftef we wefe maffIed was
make me stop smokIng. Fouf yeafs ago,
that was.
Out of the showef, I sIt on the sofa
wIth a beef, dfyIng my haIf wIth a tow-
eI. The TV PeopIe's teIevIsIon Is stIII sIt-
tIng on the sIdeboafd. I pIck up the fe-
mote contfoI ffom the tabIe and push
the on" swItch. AgaIn and agaIn I
pfess, but nothIng happens. The scfeen
stays dafk. I check the pIug, It's In the
socket, aII fIght. I unpIug It, then pIug
It back In. StIII no go. No mattef how
often I pfess the on" swItch, the scfeen
does not gIow. Just to be sufe, I pfy
open the back covef of the femote-con-
tfoI unIt, femove the battefIes, and
check them wIth my handy eIectfIcaI-
contact testef. The battefIes afe fIne. At
thIs poInt, I gIve up, thfow the femote
contfoI asIde, and sIosh down mofe
Why shouId It upset me? SupposIng
the TV dId come on, what then? It
wouId gIow and cfackIe wIth whIte
noIse. Who cafes, If that's aII that'd
come on?
I cafe. Iast nIght It wofked. And I
haven't IaId a fIngef on It sInce. Doesn't
make sense.
I tfy the femote contfoI one mofe
tIme. I pfess sIowIy wIth my fIngef. But
the fesuIt Is the same. No fesponse
whatsoevef. The scfeen Is dead. CoId.
Dead coId.
I puII anothef beef out of the ffIdge
and eat some potato saIad ffom a
pIastIc tub. It's past sIx o'cIock. I fead
the whoIe evenIng papef. If anythIng,
It's mofe bofIng than usuaI. AImost no
aftIcIe wofth feadIng, nothIng but In-
consequentIaI news Items. But I keep
feadIng, fof Iack of anythIng bettef to
do. UntII I fInIsh the papef. What next?
To avoId pufsuIng that thought any fuf-
thef, I daIIy ovef the newspapef. Hmm,
how about answefIng Iettefs? A cousIn
of mIne has sent us a weddIng InvIta-
tIon, whIch I have to tufn down. The
day of the weddIng, the wIfe and I afe
goIng to be off on a tfIp. To OkInawa.
We've been pIannIng It fof ages, we'fe
both takIng tIme off ffom wofk. We
can't vefy weII go changIng ouf pIans
now. God onIy knows when we'II get
the next chance to spend a Iong hoIIday
togethef. And to cIInch It aII, I'm not
even that cIose to my cousIn, haven't
seen hef In aImost ten yeafs. StIII, I
can't Ieave fepIyIng to the Iast mInute.
She has to know how many peopIe afe
comIng, how many settIngs to pIan fof
the banquet. Oh, fofget It. I can't bfIng
myseIf to wfIte, not now. My heaft Isn't
In It.
I pIck up the newspapef agaIn and
fead the same aftIcIes ovef agaIn.
Maybe I ought to staft pfepafIng dIn-
nef. But the wIfe mIght be wofkIng Iate
and couId come home havIng eaten.
WhIch wouId mean wastIng one pof-
tIon. And If I am goIng to eat aIone, I
can make do wIth Ieftovefs, no feason
to make somethIng up specIaI. If she
hasn't eaten, we can go out and eat
Odd, though. Whenevef eIthef of us
knows he of she Is goIng to be Iatef
than sIx, we aIways caII In. That's the
fuIe. Ieave a message on the answefIng
machIne If necessafy. That way, the
othef can coofdInate: go ahead and eat
aIone, of set somethIng out fof the Iate
affIvef, of hIt the sack. The natufe of
my wofk sometImes keeps me out Iate,
and she often has meetIngs, of pfoofs to
dIspatch, befofe comIng home. NeIthef
of us has a feguIaf nIne-to-fIve job.
When both of us afe busy, we can go
thfee days wIthout a wofd to each oth-
ef. Those afe the bfeaksjust one of
those thIngs that nobody pIanned.
Hence we aIways keep ceftaIn fuIes, so
as not to pIace unfeaIIstIc bufdens on
each othef. If It Iooks as though we'fe
goIng to be Iate, we caII In and Iet the
othef one know. I sometImes fofget, but
she, nevef once.
StIII, thefe's no message on the an-
swefIng machIne.
I toss the newspapef, stfetch out on
the sofa, and shut my eyes.
I DREAM ABOUT a meetIng. I'm standIng
up, deIIvefIng a statement I myseIf
don't undefstand. I open my mouth and
taIk. If I don't, I'm a dead man. I have
to keep taIkIng. Have to keep comIng
out wIth endIess bIah-bIah-bIah. Evefy-
one afound me Is dead. Dead and
tufned to stone. A foomfuI of stone
statues. A wInd Is bIowIng. The wIn-
dows afe aII bfoken, gusts of aIf afe
comIng In. And the TV PeopIe afe hefe.
Thfee of them. IIke the fIfst tIme.
They'fe caffyIng a Sony coIof TV. And
on the scfeen afe the TV PeopIe. I'm
funnIng out of wofds, IIttIe by IIttIe I
can feeI my fIngeftIps gfowIng stIffen
GfaduaIIy tufnIng to stone.
I open my eyes to fInd the foom
agIow. The coIof of coffIdofs at the
AquafIum. The teIevIsIon Is on. Out-
sIde, evefythIng Is dafk. The TV scfeen
Is fIIckefIng In the gIoom, statIc cfack-
IIng. I sIt up on the sofa, and pfess my
tempIes wIth my fIngeftIps. The fIesh of
my fIngefs Is stIII soft, my mouth tastes
IIke beef. I swaIIow. I'm dfIed out, the
saIIva catches In my thfoat. As aIways,
the wakIng wofId paIes aftef an aII-too-
feaI dfeam. But no, thIs Is feaI.
Nobody's tufned to stone. What tIme Is
It gettIng to be? I Iook fof the cIock on
the fIoof. +:CC Q @R_!U]@ +:CC Q
@R_!U]@. A IIttIe befofe eIght.
Yet, just as In the dfeam, one of the
TV PeopIe Is on the teIevIsIon scfeen.
The same guy I passed on the staIfs to
the offIce. No mIstake. The one who
fIfst opened the doof to the apaftment.
I'm 100% sufe. He stands
thefeagaInst a bfIght, fIuofescent
whIte backgfound, the taII end of a
dfeam InfIItfatIng my conscIous feaI-
ItystafIng at me. I shut, then feopen
my eyes, hopIng he'II have sIIpped back
to nevef-nevef Iand. But he doesn't dIs-
appeaf. Faf ffom It. He gets bIggef. HIs
face fIIIs the whoIe scfeen, gettIng
cIosef and cIosef.
The next thIng I know, he's steppIng
thfough the scfeen. Hands gfIppIng the
ffame, IIftIng hImseIf up and ovef, one
foot aftef the othef, IIke cIImbIng out of
a wIndow, IeavIng a whIte TV scfeen
gIowIng behInd hIm.
He fubs hIs Ieft hand In the paIm of
hIs fIght, sIowIy accIImatIng hImseIf to
the wofId outsIde the teIevIsIon. On
and on, feduced fIght-hand fIngefs fub-
bIng feduced Ieft-hand fIngefs, no
huffy. He has that aII-the-tIme-In-the-
wofId nonchaIance. IIke a vetefan TV-
show host. Then he Iooks me In the
We'fe makIng an aIfpIane," says my
TV PeopIe vIsItant. HIs voIce has no
pefspectIve to It. A cufIous, papef-thIn
He speaks, and the scfeen Is aII ma-
chInefy. Vefy pfofessIonaI fade-In. Just
IIke on the news. FIfst, thefe's an open-
Ing shot of a Iafge factofy IntefIof, then
It cuts to a cIose-up of the wofk space,
camefa centef. Two TV PeopIe afe hafd
at wofk on some machIne, tIghtenIng
boIts wIth wfenches, adjustIng gauges.
The pIctufe of concentfatIon. The ma-
chIne, howevef, Is unIIke anythIng I've
evef seen: an upfIght cyIIndef except
that It naffows towafd the top, wIth
stfeamIIned pfotfusIons aIong Its suf-
face. Iooks mofe IIke some kInd of gI-
gantIc ofange juIcef than an aIfpIane.
No wIngs, no seats.
Doesn't Iook IIke an aIfpIane," I say.
Doesn't sound IIke my voIce, eIthef.
StfangeIy bfIttIe, as If the nutfIents had
been stfaIned out thfough a thIck fIItef.
Have I gfown so oId aII of a sudden?
That's pfobabIy because we haven't
paInted It yet," he says. Tomoffow
we'II have It the fIght coIof. Then you'II
see It's an aIfpIane."
The coIof's not the pfobIem. It's the
shape. That's not an aIfpIane."
WeII, If It's not an aIfpIane, what Is
It?" he asks me. If he doesn't know, and
I don't know, then what %3 It? So,
that's why It's got to be the coIof." The
TV PeopIe fep puts It to me gentIy.
PaInt It the fIght coIof, and It'II be an
I don't feeI IIke afguIng. What dIffef-
ence does It make? Ofange juIcef of aIf-
pIanefIyIng ofange juIcef?what do
I cafe? StIII, whefe's the wIfe whIIe aII
thIs Is happenIng? Why doesn't she
come home? I massage my tempIes
agaIn. The cIock tIcks on. +:CC Q
@R_!U]@ +:CC a @R_!U]@. The fe-
mote contfoI IIes on the tabIe, and next
to It the stack of women's magazInes.
The teIephone Is sIIent, the foom IIIu-
mInated by the dIm gIow of the
The two TV PeopIe on the scfeen
keep wofkIng away. The Image Is much
cIeafef than befofe. You can fead the
numbefs on the dIaIs, heaf the faInt
fumbIe of machInefy. +!!9`_:!69II
+!!9`_:!69II !:C !::C
+!!9`_:!69II. ThIs bass IIne Is
punctuated pefIodIcaIIy by a shafp,
metaIIIc gfatIng. !:....49+
!:....49+. And vafIous othef noIses
afe Intefspefsed thfough the femaInIng
aufaI space, I can't heaf anythIng
cIeafIy ovef them. StIII, the two TV
PeopIe Iabof on fof aII they'fe wofth.
That, appafentIy, Is the subject of thIs
pfogfam. I go on watchIng the two of
them as they wofk on and on. TheIf
coIIeague outsIde the TV set aIso Iooks
on In sIIence. At them. At that
1,%0Kfof the IIfe of me, It does not
Iook IIke an aIfpIanethat Insane ma-
chIne aII bIack and gfImy, fIoatIng In a
fIeId of whIte IIght.
The TV PeopIe fep speaks up. Shame
about youf wIfe."
I Iook hIm In the face. Maybe I dIdn't
heaf hIm fIght. StafIng at hIm Is IIke
peefIng Into the gIowIng tube ItseIf.
Shame about youf wIfe," the TV
PeopIe fep fepeats In exactIy the same
absent tone.
How's that?" I ask.
How's that? It's gone too faf," says
the TV PeopIe fep In a voIce IIke a
pIastIc-cafd hoteI key. FIat, unInfIected,
It sIIces Into me as If It wefe sIIdIng
thfough a thIn sIIt. It's gone too faf:
She's out thefe."
FD1M3 K)0- 1)) ($*\ @,-M3 )B1 1,-*-NP I fe-
peat In my head. Vefy pIaIn, and
wIthout feaIIty. I can't gfasp the con-
text. Cause has effect by the taII and Is
about to swaIIow It whoIe. I get up and
go to the kItchen. I open the feffIgefat-
of, take a deep bfeath, feach fof a can
of beef, and go back to the sofa. The TV
PeopIe fep stands In pIace In ffont of
the teIevIsIon, fIght eIbow festIng on
the set, and watches me extfact the
puII-tab. I don't feaIIy want to dfInk
beef at thIs moment, I just need to do
somethIng. I dfInk one sIp, but the beef
doesn't taste good. I hoId the can In my
hand dumbIy untII It becomes so heavy
I have to set It down on the tabIe.
Then I thInk about the TV PeopIe
fep's feveIatIon, about the wIfe's faIIufe
to matefIaIIze. He's sayIng she's gone.
That she Isn't comIng home. I can't
bfIng myseIf to beIIeve It's ovef. Sufe,
we'fe not the peffect coupIe. In fouf
yeafs, we've had ouf spats, we have ouf
IIttIe pfobIems. But we aIways taIk
them out. Thefe afe thIngs we've fe-
soIved and thIngs we haven't. Most of
what we couIdn't fesoIve we Iet fIde.
Okay, so we have ouf ups and downs as
a coupIe. I admIt It. But Is thIs cause fof
despaIf? C'mon, show me a coupIe who
don't have pfobIems. BesIdes, It's onIy a
IIttIe past eIght. Thefe must be some
feason she can't get to a phone. Any
numbef of possIbIe feasons. Fof In-
stance. I can't thInk of a sIngIe one.
I'm hopeIessIy confused.
I faII back deep Into the sofa.
How on eafth Is that aIfpIaneIf It Is
an aIfpIanesupposed to fIy? What
pfopeIs It? Whefe afe the wIndows?
WhIch Is the ffont, whIch Is the back?
I'm dead tIfed. Exhausted. I stIII have
to wfIte that Iettef, though, to beg off
ffom my cousIn's InvItatIon. My wofk
scheduIe does not affofd me the pIeas-
ufe of attendIng. RegfettabIe. Congfatu-
IatIons, aII the same.
The two TV PeopIe In the teIevIsIon
contInue buIIdIng theIf aIfpIane, obIIvI-
ous of me. They toII away, they don't
stop fof anythIng. They have an InfInIte
amount of wofk to get thfough befofe
the machIne Is compIete. No soonef
have they fInIshed one opefatIon than
they'fe busy wIth anothef. They have
no assembIy InstfuctIons, no pIans, but
they know pfecIseIy what to do and
what comes next. The camefa abIy foI-
Iows theIf deft motIons. CIeaf-cut, easy-
to-foIIow camefa wofk. HIghIy cfedIbIe,
convIncIng Images. No doubt othef TV
PeopIe (Nos. 4 and 5?) afe mannIng the
camefa and contfoI paneI.
Stfange as It may sound, the mofe I
watch the fIawIess fofm of the TV
PeopIe as they go about theIf wofk, the
mofe the thIng stafts to Iook IIke an aIf-
pIane. At Ieast, It'd no Iongef sufpfIse
me If It actuaIIy fIew. What does It mat-
tef whIch Is ffont of back? WIth aII the
exactIng detaII wofk they'fe puttIng In,
It ,$3 to be an aIfpIane. Even If It
doesn't appeaf soto them, It's an aIf-
pIane. Just as the IIttIe guy saId, If It's
not an aIfpIane, then what Is It?"
The TV PeopIe fep hasn't so much as
twItched In aII thIs tIme. RIght eIbow
stIII pfopped up on the TV set, he's
watchIng me. I'm beIng watched. The
TV PeopIe factofy cfew keeps wofkIng.
Busy, busy, busy. The cIock tIcks on.
+:CC a @R_!U]@ +:CC a @R_!U]@.
The foom has gfown dafk, stIfIIng.
Someone's footsteps echo down the
WeII, It suddenIy occufs to me,
maybe so. Maybe the wIfe %3 out thefe.
She's gone somewhefe faf away. By
whatevef means of tfanspoft, she's
gone somewhefe faf out of my feach.
Maybe ouf feIatIonshIp has suffefed If-
fevefsIbIe damage. Maybe It's a totaI
Ioss. OnIy I haven't notIced. AII softs of
thoughts unfaveI InsIde me, then the
ffayed ends come togethef agaIn.
Maybe so," I say out Ioud. My voIce
echoes, hoIIow.
Tomoffow, when we paInt It, you'II
see bettef," he fesumes. AII It needs Is
a touch of coIof to make It an
I Iook at the paIms of my hands.
They have shfunk sIIghtIy. Evef so
sIIghtIy. Powef of suggestIon? Maybe
the IIght's pIayIng tfIcks on me. Maybe
my sense of pefspectIve has been
thfown off. Yet, my paIms feaIIy do
Iook shfIveIed. Hey now, waIt just a
mInute! Iet me speak. Thefe's
somethIng I shouId say. I must say. I'II
dfy up and tufn to stone If I don't. IIke
the othefs.
The phone wIII fIng soon," the TV
PeopIe fep says. Then, aftef a measufed
pause, he adds, In anothef fIve
I Iook at the teIephone, I thInk about
the teIephone cofd. EndIess Iengths of
phone cabIe IInkIng one teIephone to
anothef. Maybe somewhefe, at some
tefmInaI of that awesome megacIf-cuIt,
Is my wIfe. Faf, faf away, out of my
feach. I can feeI hef puIse. Anothef fIve
mInutes, I teII myseIf. ?,%", 5$= %3
(*)01N 5,%", 5$= %3 Q$"7L I stand up and
tfy to say somethIng, but no soonef
have I got to my feet than the wofds
sIIp away.
Just IIke that, my afchaeoIogIst be-
gIns sIftIng thfough the teII of my own
past. IabeIIng aII the aftIfacts, categof-
IzIng, anaIyzIng.
And so, when 5$3 that fIfst en-
countef? As neaf as I can fIgufe, It was
1959 of 1960. WhIchevef, whatevef,
what's the dIffefence? PfecIseIy noth-
Ing. The yeafs '59 and '60 stand thefe
IIke gawky twIns In matchIng nefd
suIts. Even If I hopped a tIme machIne
back to the pefIod, I doubt I couId teII
the two apaft.
In spIte of whIch, I pefsIst wIth my
Iabofs. DoggedIy expandIng the dIg,
fIIIIng out the pIctufe wIth evefy Ieast
new fInd. Shafds of memofy.
Okay, I'm sufe It was the yeaf Jo-
hansson and Pattefson fought fof the
wofId heavyweIght tItIe. WhIch means,
aII I have to do Is go seafch thfough the
spofts sectIon In oId copIes of +,- 6-$*
%0'4-53. That wouId settIe evefythIng.
In the mofnIng, I'm off on my bIke to
the IocaI IIbfafy. Next to the maIn en-
tfance, fof who knows what feason,
thefe's a tIny henhouse, In whIch fIve
chIckens afe enjoyIng what Is eIthef a
Iate bfeakfast of an eafIy Iunch. It's a
bfIght, cIeaf day, so befofe goIng InsIde
I sIt down on the pavement next to the
chIckens and IIght up a cIgafette. I
watch the chIckens peckIng at theIf
feedbox busIIy. FfenetIcaIIy, In fact, so
that they Iook IIke one of those oId
newsfeeIs wIth too few ffames pef
Aftef my cIgafette, somethIng's
changed In me. AgaIn, who knows
why? But fof what It's wofth, the new
mefIve chIckens and a smoke away
ffom what I wasnow poses myseIf
two questIons:
FIfst, ?,) ")B#< /)33%Q#= ,$;- $0= %0X
1-*-31 %0 1,- -e$"1 <$1- 5,-0 D &-1 &=
And second, ?,$1 -e$"1#= %3 1,-*- 1)
Q- K$%0-< Q= 3/*-$<%0K )B1 1,)3- Yeaf In
Newses )0'$'3B00='*-(-*-0"-X*))&'<-37L
Good questIons. I smoke anothef cI-
gafette, then get back onto my bIke and
bId fafeweII to fowI and fIIe copIes. If
bIfds In fIIght go unbufdened by names,
Iet my memofIes be ffee of dates.
Gfanted, most of my memofIes don't
beaf dates anyway. My fecaII Is a damn
sIght shoft of totaI. It's so unfeIIabIe
that I sometImes thInk I'm tfyIng to
pfove somethIng by It. But what wouId
I be pfovIng? EspecIaIIy sInce Inexact-
ness Is not exactIy the soft of thIng you
can pfove wIth any accufacy.
Anywayof fathef, that beIng the
casemy memofy can be ImpfessIveIy
Iffy. I get thIngs the wfong way afound,
fabfIcatIon fIItefs Into fact, sometImes
my own eyewItness account Intef-
changes wIth somebody eIse's. At whIch
poInt, can you even caII It memofy any-
mofe? WItness the sum of what I'm
capabIe of dfedgIng up ffom pfImafy
schooI (those pathetIc sIx yeafs of sun-
sets In the heyday of postwaf demo-
cfacy). Two events: thIs ChInese stofy,
fof one, and fof anothef, a basebaII
game one aftefnoon dufIng summef va-
catIon. In that game, I was pIayIng cen-
tef fIeId, and I bIacked out In the
bottom of the thIfd. I mean, I dIdn't just
coIIapse out of nowhefe. The feason I
bIacked out that day was that we wefe
aIIowed onIy one smaII cofnef of the
neafby hIgh schooI's athIetIc fIeId, and
so when I was funnIng fuII speed aftef a
pop fIy I smashed head-on Into the post
of the backboafd of the basketbaII couft
next to whefe we wefe pIayIng.
WHEN I CAME TO, I was IyIng on a bench
undef an afbof, It was Iate In the day,
and the fIfst thIngs I notIced wefe the
wet-and-dfy smeII of watef that had
been spfInkIed ovef the baked eafth
and the musk of my bfand-new Ieathef
gIove, whIch they'd put undef my head
fof a pIIIow. Then thefe was thIs duII
paIn In my tempIe. I guess I must have
saId somethIng. I don't feaIIy femem-
bef. OnIy Iatef dId a buddy of mIne
who'd been IookIng aftef me get afound
to teIIIng. That what I appafentIy saId
was, +,$1M3 )7$=N Q*B3, )(( 1,- <%*1 $0<
Now, whefe dId that come ffom? To
thIs day, I have no Idea. I guess I was
dfeamIng, pfobabIy about Iunch. But
two decades Iatef the phfase Is stIII
thefe, kIckIng afound In my head.
+,$1M3 )7$=N Q*B3, )(( 1,- <%*1 $0< =)B
WIth these wofds, I fInd myseIf thInk-
Ing about my ongoIng exIstence as a
human beIng and the path that IIes
ahead of me. Though of coufse these
thoughts Iead to but one pIacedeath.
ImagInIng death Is, at Ieast fof me, an
awfuIIy hazy pfoposItIon. And death,
fof some feason, femInds me of the
ChInese up the hIII ffom the hafbof
(fofgIve me, I've compIeteIy fofgotten
the name of the schooI, so I'II just caII It
the ChInese eIementafy schooI"), and I
had to go thefe to take a standafd
aptItude test. Out of sevefaI test Ioca-
tIons, the ChInese eIementafy schooI
was the fafthest away, and I was the
onIy one In my cIass assIgned thefe. A
cIefIcaI mIx-up, maybe? Evefybody eIse
was sent somewhefe cIosef.
ChInese eIementafy schooI?
I asked evefyone I knew If they knew
anythIng about thIs ChInese eIementafy
schooI. No one knew a thIng, except
that It was haIf an houf away by tfaIn.
Now, back then I dIdn't do much In the
way of expIofIng, hafdIy evef fode
afound to pIaces by myseIf, so fof me
thIs mIght as weII have been the end of
the eafth.
The ChInese eIementafy schooI at the
edge of the wofId.
SUNDAY MORNING two weeks Iatef found
me In a dafk funk as I shafpened a
dozen pencIIs, then packed my Iunch
and cIassfoom sIIppefs Into my pIastIc
schooIbag, as pfescfIbed. It was a sunny
day, maybe a IIttIe too wafm fof au-
tumn, but my mothef made me weaf a
sweatef anyway. I boafded the tfaIn aII
by myseIf and stood by the doof the
whoIe way, IookIng out the wIndow. I
dIdn't want to mIss the stop.
I spotted the ChInese eIementafy
schooI even wIthout IookIng at the map
pfInted on the back of the fegIstfatIon
fofm. AII I had to do was foIIow a fIock
of kIds wIth sIIppefs and Iunch boxes
stuffed Into theIf schooIbags. Thefe
wefe tens, maybe hundfeds, of kIds fII-
Ing up the steep gfade. A pfetty fe-
mafkabIe sIght. No one was kIckIng a
baII, no one was puIIIng at a youngef
kId's cap, evefyone was just waIkIng
quIetIy. IIke a demonstfatIon of Inde-
tefmInate pefpetuaI motIon. CIImbIng
the hIII, I stafted sweatIng undef my
heavy sweatef.
tIons I may have had, the ChInese eIe-
mentafy schooI dId not Iook much dIf-
fefent ffom my own schooI. In fact, It
was cIeanef. The Iong, dafk coffIdofs,
the musty aIf.. AII the Images that had
fIIIed my head fof two weeks pfoved
totaIIy unfounded. PassIng thfough the
fancy Ifon gates, I foIIowed the gentIe
afc of a stone path between pIantIngs to
the maIn entfance, whefe a cIeaf pond
spafkIed In the 9:00 A.M. sun. AIong the
facade stood a fow of tfees, each wIth a
pIaque IdentIfyIng the tfee In ChInese.
Some chafactefs I couId fead, some I
couIdn't. The entfance opened onto an
encIosed couftyafd, In the cofnefs of
whIch wefe a bfonze bust of somebody,
a smaII whIte faIn gage, and an exefcIse
I femoved my shoes at the entfance
as Instfucted, then went to the
cIassfoom assIgned to me. It was bfIght,
wIth fofty foId-top desks neatIy af-
fanged In fows, each pIace affIxed wIth
a fegIstfatIon tag. My seat was In the
vefy ffont fow by the wIndow, I guess I
had the Iowest numbef.
The bIackboafd was a pfIstIne deep
gfeen, the teachef's pIace was set wIth
a box of chaIk and a vase beafIng a
sIngIe whIte chfysanthemum.
EvefythIng was spotIess, a fIawIess pIc-
tufe of ofdef. Thefe wefe no dfawIngs
of composItIons tacked up wIIIy-nIIIy
on the buIIetIn boafd. Maybe they'd
been taken down so as not to dIstfact
us dufIng the test. I took my seat, set
out my pencII case and wfItIng pad,
pfopped up my chIn, and cIosed my
It was neafIy fIfteen mInutes Iatef
when the pfoctof of the test came In,
caffyIng the stack of exams undef hIs
afm. He dIdn't Iook anythIng ovef
fofty, but he waIked wIth a cane and
dfagged hIs Ieft foot In a sIIght IImp.
The cane was made of cheffy wood,
soft of cfudeIy, the kInd of thIng they
seII as souvenIfs at the summIt of a hIk-
Ing tfaII. The pfoctof's IImp was unaf-
fected, so you notIced the cheap cane
mofe. Fofty paIfs of eyes focused on
thIs guy, of, fathef, on the exams, and
aII was fesoundIng sIIence.
The pfoctof mounted the stand In
ffont of the cIass, pIaced the exams on
hIs desk, then pIunked hIs cane down
on the sIde. He checked that aII the
seats wefe fIIIed, coughed, and gIanced
at hIs watch. Then, cIampIng both
hands on the edges of the desk as If to
hoId hImseIf down, he IIfted hIs gaze
stfaIght to a cofnef of the ceIIIng.
FIfteen seconds and not a sound. The
kIds aII tensed and heId theIf bfeath,
stafIng at the stack of exams, the Iame-
Iegged pfoctof stafed at the ceIIIng. He
was weafIng a IIght-gfay suIt wIth a
whIte shIft and a tIe of emInentIy fof-
gettabIe coIof and pattefn. He took off
hIs gIasses, wIped the Ienses wIth a
handkefchIef, vefy deIIbefateIy, and
put them back on.
I shaII be actIng as youf test pfoc-
tof," the man fInaIIy spoke. @,$##. As
soon as you feceIve youf exam bookIet,
pIace It facedown on youf desk. Do not
tufn It ovef. Keep both hands fIat on
youf Iap. When I say 'BegIn,' you may
tufn It faceup and begIn. When thefe
afe ten mInutes femaInIng befofe the
end of the test pefIod, I shaII say to
you, 'Ten mInutes Ieft.' At that tIme,
check youf wofk to see that you have
not made any mInof effofs. When I say
'Stop,' that Is the end of the test pefIod.
Tufn youf examInatIon bookIet face-
down and pIace youf hands on youf
Iap. Is that undefstood?"
He Iooked at hIs watch agaIn.
WeII, as I see that we have ten
mInutes befofe the begInnIng of the
test, I'd IIke to have a IIttIe taIk wIth
you. PIease feIax."
C,-5N'/,-5. Thefe wefe sevefaI sIghs.
I am ChInese and I teach at thIs
He dIdn't #))7 ChInese. But what dId
I expect? What was a ChInese supposed
to Iook IIke?
In thIs cIassfoom," he contInued,
ChInese students the same age as
youfseIves aII study as hafd as you
do.. Now, as you aII know, ChIna and
Japan afe neIghbofIng countfIes. In of-
def fof evefyone to enjoy happy IIves,
neIghbofs must make ffIends. Isn't that
Of coufse, some thIngs about ouf
two countfIes afe vefy sImIIaf and
some thIngs afe vefy dIffefent. Some
thIngs we undefstand about each othef
and some thIngs we do not. But Isn't
that the same wIth you and youf
ffIends? Even If they afe youf ffIends,
some thIngs they cannot undefstand.
But If you make an effoft, you can stIII
become cIose. That Is what I beIIeve.
But In ofdef to do that, we must begIn
wIth fespect fof each othef.. That Is
the fIfst step."
Fof Instance. Suppose many, many
ChInese chIIdfen went to youf schooI to
take a test. Just as you youfseIves afe
doIng now, sIttIng at ChInese chIIdfen's
desks. ThInk about thIs, pIease."
Suppose that on Monday mofnIng,
aII of you go back to youf schooI. 6)B
go to youf desks. And what do you see?
You see that thefe afe doodIes and
mafks aII ovef youf desks, chewIng
gum stuck undef the seat, one of youf
cIassfoom sIIppefs Is mIssIng. How
wouId you feeI?"
Fof Instance, you," he saId, tufnIng
to poInt fIght at me, me wIth the Iowest
fegIstfatIon numbef, wouId you be
Evefyone Iooked at me.
I bIushed bfIght fed and shook my
So you see," he saId, tufnIng back to
the cIass agaIn, as evefyone's eyes shIf-
ted back to the ffont of the foom, you
must not mafk up the desks of stIck
gum undef the seats of go fooIIng
afound wIth what's InsIde the desks. Is
that undefstood?"
ChInese chIIdfen speak up Ioudef
when they answef."
6-3, came fofty fepIIes. Of, fathef,
thIfty-nIne. My mouth wouIdn't open.
WeII, then, heads up, chests out."
We Iooked up and sweIIed to
And be pfoud."

fofgotten the fesuIts of the test. AII I fe-
membef Is the schooI kIds waIkIng
quIetIy up the hIII and the ChInese
teachef. That, and how to hoId my
head up wIth pfIde.
was a poft town, so thefe wefe quIte a
few ChInese afound. Not that they
seemed any dIffefent ffom the fest of
us. Nof dId they have any specIaI tfaIts.
They wefe as dIffefent ffom each othef
as couId be, and In that way they wefe
the same as us. When I thInk about It,
the cufIous thIng about IndIvIduaIs Is
that theIf sInguIafIty aIways goes bey-
ond any categofy of genefaIIzatIon In
the book.
Thefe wefe sevefaI ChInese kIds In
my cIass. Some got good gfades, othefs
dIdn't. Thefe was the cheeffuI type and
the dead-quIet chafactef. One who
IIved In an aImost paIatIaI spfead, an-
othef In a sunIess one-foom-kItchenette
waIk-up. ReaIIy, aII softs. Though I nev-
ef dId get especIaIIy cIose to any of
them. I wasn't youf Iet's-make-ffIends
soft of guy. Japanese of ChInese of any-
thIng eIse, made no dIffefence.
I dId, howevef, meet up wIth one of
them ten yeafs Iatef, though I pfobabIy
shouIdn't get Into that just yet.
MeanwhIIe, the scene shIfts to Tokyo.
MY NEXT CHINESEthat Is, not countIng
those hIgh-schooI ChInese cIassmates
whom I dIdn't especIaIIy speak towas
a shy gIfI I got to know at a paft-tIme
job dufIng the spfIng of my sophomofe
yeaf. She was nIneteen, IIke me, and
petIte, and pfetty. We wofked togethef
fof thfee weeks dufIng the bfeak.
She was exceedIngIy dIIIgent about
wofk. I dId my paft, wofkIng as hafd as
I couId, I suppose, but whenevef I
peeked ovef at hef pIuggIng away It
was pfetty obvIous that hef Idea and
my Idea of appIyIng oneseIf wefen't the
same anImaI. I mean, compafed to my
If you'fe goIng to do somethIng, It's
wofth doIng It weII," hef Innef dfIve
cut cIosef to the foot of humanIty. Not
that It's much of an expIanatIon, but
thIs dfIve of hefs had the dIstufbIng uf-
gency of someone whose whoIe wofIdIy
exIstence was bafeIy heId togethef by
that one thfead. Most peopIe couIdn't
possIbIy keep up wIth the pace she
maIntaIned, soonef of Iatef they wouId
thfow up theIf hands In ffustfatIon. The
onIy one who managed to stIck It out to
the vefy end wofkIng wIth hef was me.
Even so, we hafdIy spoke a wofd at
fIfst. I tfIed a coupIe of tImes to stfIke
up a convefsatIon, but she dIdn't seem
paftIcuIafIy Intefested In speakIng, so I
backed off. The fIfst tIme we actuaIIy
sat down and taIked was two weeks
aftef we stafted wofkIng togethef. That
mofnIng, fof haIf an houf, she'd been
thfown Into somethIng of a panIc. It
was unpfecedented fof hef. The cause
of It aII was a sIIght ovefsIght, one
smaII opefatIon out of ofdef. Sufe, It
was hef fauIt, hef fesponsIbIIIty, If It
came to that, but ffom whefe I stood It
seemed IIke a common enough mIshap.
A momentafy Iapse andK#%1",^ CouId
have happened to anyone. But not to
hef. A tIny cfack In hef head wIdened
Into a fIssufe, eventuaIIy becomIng a
gapIng chasm. She wouIdn't, she
couIdn't, take anothef step. At a totaI
Ioss fof wofds, she ffoze In pIace. She
was a soffy sIght, a shIp sInkIng sIowIy
In the nIght sea.
I cut shoft what I was doIng, sat hef
down In a chaIf, pfIed Ioose hef
cIenched fIngefs one by one, made hef
dfInk some hot coffee. Then I toId hef,
It's aII fIght, thefe's nothIng to woffy
about, nothIng's too Iate to femedy,
you just fedo that paft agaIn ffom the
begInnIng and you won't be so faf be-
hInd In youf wofk. And even If you afe
a IIttIe behInd, It won't kIII you. Hef
eyes wefe gIazed, but she nodded sI-
IentIy. WIth some coffee In hef, she
began to caIm down.
I'm soffy," she whIspefed.
That Iunch bfeak, we taIked about
thIs and that. And that was when she
toId me she was ChInese.
WHERE WE WORKED was a tIny, dafk,
smaII-tIme pubIIshef's wafehouse In
Bunkyo Wafd, downtown Tokyo. A
dIfty IIttIe open sewef of a stfeam fan
fIght besIde It. The wofk was easy, bof-
Ing, busy. I got ofdef sIIps, whIch toId
us how many copIes of what books to
hauI out to the entfance. She wouId
bInd these up wIth cofd and check
them off agaInst the Inventofy fecofd.
That was the whoIe job. Thefe was no
heatIng In the pIace, so we had to
hustIe ouf buns off to keep ffom ffeez-
Ing to death. SometImes It was so coId I
thought we wouIdn't be any bettef off
shoveIIng snow at the aIfpoft In
At IunchtIme, we'd head out fof
somethIng hot to eat, wafmIng
oufseIves fof the houf untII ouf bfeak
was up. Mofe than anythIng, the maIn
objectIve was to thaw out. But ffom the
tIme she had hef panIc, IIttIe by IIttIe
we found oufseIves on speakIng tefms.
Hef wofds came In bIts and pIeces, but
aftef a whIIe I got the pIctufe. Hef fath-
ef fan a smaII Impoft busIness In Yoko-
hama, most of the mefchandIse he
handIed beIng bafgaIn cIothIng ffom
Hong Kong. AIthough ChInese, she hef-
seIf was Japanese-bofn and had nevef
once been to ChIna of Hong Kong of
TaIwan. PIus, she'd gone to Japanese
schooIs, not ChInese. HafdIy spoke a
wofd of ChInese, but was stfong In Eng-
IIsh. She was attendIng a pfIvate wo-
men's unIvefsIty In the cIty and hoped
to become an Intefpfetef. MeanwhIIe,
she was shafIng hef bfothef's apaft-
ment In Komagome, of, to boffow hef
tufn of phfase, she'd faIIen In wIth hIm.
Seemed she dIdn't get aIong weII wIth
hef fathef. And that's the sum totaI of
what I found out about hef.
Those two weeks In Mafch passed
aIong wIth the sIeet of the season. On
the evenIng of ouf Iast day of wofk,
aftef pIckIng up my pay ffom account-
Ing and aftef some hesItatIon, I decIded
to ask my ChInese co-wofkef out to a
dIscotheque In ShInjuku. Not that I had
any IntentIon of makIng a pass at hef. I
aIfeady had a steady gIfIffIend sInce
hIgh schooI, though If the tfuth be toId
we wefe begInnIng to go ouf sepafate
The ChInese gIfI thought It ovef a
few seconds, then saId, But I've nevef
been dancIng."
Thefe's nothIng to It," I saId. It's
not baIIfoom dancIng. AII you have to
do Is move to the beat. Anyone can do
FIRST, WE WENT and had some beef and
pIzza. No mofe wofk. No mofe ffeezIng
wafehouse. What a IIbefatIng feeIIng! I
was mofe jovIaI than may have been
usuaI, she Iaughed mofe, too. Then we
went to the dIsco and danced fof two
whoIe houfs. The pIace was nIce and
wafm, swImmIng wIth mIffof baIIs and
Incense. A FIIIpIno band was poundIng
out Santana covefs. We'd wofk up a
sweat dancIng, then go sIt out a
numbef ovef a beef, then, when the
sweat subsIded, we'd get up and dance
agaIn. In the coIofed stfobe IIghts, she
Iooked IIke a dIffefent pefson ffom the
shy wafehouse stock gIfI I knew. And
once she got the hang of dancIng, she
actuaIIy seemed to enjoy It.
When we'd fInaIIy danced oufseIves
out, we Ieft the cIub. The Mafch nIght
was bfIsk, but thefe was a hInt of
spfIng In the aIf. We wefe ovefheated
ffom aII that exefcIse, so we just
waIked, aImIessIy, hands In ouf pock-
ets. We stopped Into an afcade, got a
cup of coffee, kept waIkIng. We stIII
had haIf the schooI bfeak ahead of us.
We wefe nIneteen. If someone had toId
us to, we wouId have waIked cIeaf out
to the Tama RIvef.
At ten-twenty, she saId she had to go.
I have to be home by eIeven." She was
aImost apoIogetIc.
That's pfetty stfIct," I saId.
My bfothef thInks he's my guafdIan
pfotectof. But I guess I can't compIaIn,
sInce he's gIvIng me a foof ovef my
head." Ffom the way she spoke, I couId
teII she feaIIy IIked hef bfothef.
Just don't fofget youf sIIppef," I saId
wIth a wInk.
My sIIppef?" FIve, sIx steps Iatef,
she bufst out IaughIng. Oh, you mean
IIke CIndefeIIa? Don't woffy, I won't
We cIImbed the steps In ShInjuku Sta-
tIon and sat down on a pIatfofm bench.
You know," I saId, do you thInk I
couId have youf phone numbef? Maybe
we can go out and have some fun agaIn
She bIt hef IIp, nodded, then gave me
hef numbef. I scfIbbIed It down on a
matchbook ffom the dIsco. The tfaIn
came In and I put hef on boafd and
saId good nIght. Thanks, It was fun, see
you. The doofs cIosed, the tfaIn puIIed
out, and I cfossed ovef to the next tfack
to waIt fof my tfaIn bound fof Ike-
bukufo. IeanIng back on a coIumn, I IIt
up a cIgafette and thought about the
evenIng. Ffom the festaufant to the
dIsco to the waIk. Not bad. It'd been
ages sInce I'd been out on a date. I'd
had a good tIme and I knew she had a
good tIme, too. We couId be ffIends.
Maybe she was a IIttIe shy, maybe she
had hef nefvous sIde. StIII, I IIked hef.
I put my cIgafette out undef my heeI
and IIt anothef one. The sounds of the
cIty bIuffed IazIIy Into the dafk. I shut
my eyes and took a deep bfeath. Noth-
Ing was amIss, but I couIdn't shake thIs
naggIng feeIIng. SomethIng wasn't
fIght. What was It? What had I done?
Then It hIt me, fIght when I got off
the tfaIn at MejIfo. DM< /B1 ,-* )0 1,-
My dofmItofy was In MejIfo, fouf
stops befofe hefs. So she couId have
taken the same tfaIn as me. It wouId
have been aII so sImpIe. Why had I
taken It upon myseIf to see that she got
on a tfaIn goIng the opposIte way
afound? DId I have that much to dfInk?
Was I thInkIng too much, of onIy, about
myseIf? The statIon cIock fead 10:45.
She'd nevef make hef cuffew. I hoped
she'd feaIIzed my mIstake and swItched
to a tfaIn goIng the fIght way. But I
doubted she wouId have. She wasn't
that type. No, she was the type to keep
fIdIng the tfaIn the wfong way afound.
But shouIdn't she have known about
thIs mIstake ffom the staft? She had to
know she was beIng put on the wfong
tfaIn. Gfeat, I thought. Just gfeat.

got off at Komagome StatIon. When she
saw me standIng by the staIfs, she
stopped In hef tfacks wIth thIs expfes-
sIon, IIke she dIdn't know whethef to
Iaugh of fume. It was aII I couId do to
take hef by the afm and sIt hef down
on a bench. She put hef bag In hef Iap
and cIutched the stfap wIth both hands.
She pIaced hef feet stfaIght out In ffont
of hef and stafed at the toes of hef
whIte pumps.
I apoIogIzed to hef. I toId hef I dIdn't
know why I'd made that stupId mIs-
take. My mInd must have been
You ,)0-31#= made a mIstake?" she
Of coufse. If not, why wouId I have
done such a thIng?"
I thought you dId It on pufpose."
On pufpose?"
Because I thought you wefe angfy."
Angfy?" What was she taIkIng
What makes you thInk I'd be
I don't know," she saId In a shfInk-
Ing voIce.
Two teafs spIIIed ffom hef eyes and
feII audIbIy onto hef bag.
What was I to do? I just sat thefe, not
sayIng a wofd. TfaIns puIIed In, dIs-
chafged passengefs, and puIIed out.
PeopIe dIsappeafed down the staIfs,
and It was quIet agaIn.
PIease. Just Ieave me aIone." She
smIIed, paftIng hef bangs to the sIde.
At fIfst, I thought It was a mIstake,
too. So I thought, Why not just go on
fIdIng the opposIte way? But by the
tIme I passed Tokyo StatIon, I thought
othefwIse. EvefythIng was wfong. I
don't evef want to be In a posItIon IIke
that agaIn."
I wanted to say somethIng, but the
wofds wouIdn't come. WInd bIew stfay
pIeces of newspapef to the faf end of
the pIatfofm.
It's okay." She smIIed weakIy. ThIs
was nevef any pIace I was meant to be.
ThIs Isn't a pIace fof me."
ThIs pIace Japan? ThIs Iump of stone
spInnIng afound In the bIackness of
space? SIIentIy I took hef hand and
pIaced It on my Iap, festIng my hand
IIghtIy on hefs. Hef paIm was wet.
I fofced wofds out: Thefe afe some
thIngs about myseIf I can't expIaIn to
anyone. Thefe afe some thIngs I don't
undefstand at aII. I can't teII what I
thInk about thIngs of what I'm aftef. I
don't know what my stfengths afe of
what I'm supposed to do about them.
But If I staft thInkIng about these thIngs
In too much detaII, the whoIe thIng gets
scafy. And If I get scafed, I can onIy
thInk about myseIf. I become feaIIy
seIf-centefed, and wIthout meanIng to, I
huft peopIe. So I'm not such a wondef-
fuI human beIng."
I dIdn't know what eIse to say. And
she saId nothIng. She seemed to waIt
fof me to contInue. She kept stafIng at
the toe of hef shoes. Faf away, thefe
was an ambuIance sIfen. A statIon at-
tendant was sweepIng the pIatfofm. He
dIdn't even Iook at us. It was gettIng
Iate, so the tfaIns wefe few.
I enjoyed myseIf wIth you," I saId.
It's tfue, feaIIy. I don't know how to
put thIs, but you stfIke me as a *-$# pef-
son. I don't know why. Just beIng wIth
you and taIkIng, you know."
She Iooked up and stafed at me.
I dIdn't put you on the wfong tfaIn
on pufpose," I saId. I just wasn't
She nodded.
I'II caII you tomoffow," I saId. We
can go somewhefe and taIk."
She wIped away the tfaces of hef
teafs and sIIpped hef hands In hef
pockets. Thank you. I'm soffy fof
You shouIdn't apoIogIze. It was my
We pafted. I stayed on the bench and
smoked my Iast cIgafette, then thfew
the empty pack In the tfash. It was
cIose to mIdnIght.
NIne houfs Iatef, I feaIIzed my
second effof of the evenIng. A fataI
mIss. I'm so stupId. Togethef wIth the
cIgafette pack, I'd thfown away the
dIsco matches wIth hef phone numbef
on them. I checked evefywhefe. I went
to the wafehouse, but they dIdn't have
hef numbef. I tfIed the teIephone
dIfectofy. I even tfIed the student unIon
at hef schooI. No Iuck.
I nevef saw hef agaIn, my second
NOW THE STORY of my thIfd ChInese.
An acquaIntance ffom hIgh schooI,
whom I mentIoned eafIIef. A ffIend of a
ffIend, whom I'd spoken to maybe a
few tImes.
ThIs happened when I'd just tufned
twenty-eIght. SIx yeafs aftef I got maf-
fIed. SIx yeafs dufIng whIch tIme I'd
IaId thfee cats to fest. Bufned how
many aspIfatIons, bundIed up how
much suffefIng In thIck sweatefs, and
bufIed them In the gfound. AII In thIs
fathomIessIy huge cIty Tokyo.
It was a chIIIy Decembef aftefnoon.
Thefe was no wInd, the aIf was so coId
that what IIttIe IIght fIItefed thfough
the cIouds dId nothIng to cIeaf away
the gfay of the cIty. I was headIng
home ffom the bank and stepped Into a
gIass-ffonted cafe on Aoyama
BouIevafd fof a cup of coffee. I was
fIIppIng thfough the noveI I'd just
bought, IookIng up now and then,
watchIng the passIng cafs.
Then I notIced the guy standIng In
ffont of me. He was addfessIng me by
That Is you, Isn't It?" he was sayIng.
I was taken aback. I answefed In the
affIfmatIve, but I couIdn't pIace the
guy. He seemed to be about my age,
and wofe a weII-taIIofed navy bIazef
and a suItabIy coIofed fep tIe. So-
methIng about the guy made hIm seem
a IIttIe wofn down. HIs cIothes wefen't
oId, and he dIdn't Iook exhausted.
NothIng IIke that. It had mofe to do
wIth hIs face. WhIch, aIthough pfesent-
abIe, gave me the feeIIng that hIs evefy
expfessIon had been thfown togethef
on the spuf of the moment. IIke mIs-
matched dIshes set out In make-do fash-
Ion on a pafty tabIe.
MInd If I sIt down?" he saId, takIng
the seat opposIte me. He fIshed a pack
of cIgafettes and a goId IIghtef ffom hIs
pocket. He dIdn't IIght up, though, he
mefeIy put them on the tabIe. WeII, fe-
membef me?"
AffaId not," I confessed. I'm soffy,
I'm teffIbIe about these thIngs. I'm tef-
fIbIe wIth peopIe's faces."
Of maybe you'd just fathef fofget
the past. SubIImInaIIy, that Is."
Maybe so," I saId. What If I dId?
The waItfess bfought ovef a gIass of
watef fof hIm, and he ofdefed an Amef-
Ican coffee. Watef It down, pIease, he
toId hef.
I got a bad stomach. I feaIIy ought
to quIt smokIng, too," he saId, fIddIIng
wIth hIs cIgafettes. He had that Iook
that peopIe wIth stomach tfoubIes get
when they taIk about theIf stomach.
Anyway, IIke I was sayIng myseIf, fof
the same feason as you, I femembef ab-
soIuteIy evefy Iast detaII about the oId
days. It's weIfd, I teII you. Because be-
IIeve me, some thIngs I'd IIke to fofget.
But the mofe I tfy to wIpe them away,
the mofe they pop Into my mInd. You
know what It's IIke when you'fe tfyIng
to faII asIeep and It onIy makes you
mofe wIde awake? It's the same thIng. I
can't fIgufe It out. I femembef thIngs I
couIdn't possIbIy have known. Some-
tImes It woffIes me, femembefIng the
past In so much detaIIhow am I sup-
posed to have foom fof what's to come?
My memofy's so shafp, It's a nuIsance."
I set my book facedown on the tabIe
and sIpped my coffee.
EvefythIng Is vIvId. The weathef
that day, the tempefatufe, the smeIIs.
Just IIke now. It gets confusIng, IIke
whefe am I? Makes me wondef If thIngs
afe onIy memofIes. Evef get that
I shook my head absentIy.
I femembef you vefy weII. I was
waIkIng by and saw you thfough the
gIass and I knew you fIght away. DId I
bothef you comIng In hefe IIke thIs?"
No," I saId. StIII, you have to fof-
gIve me. I feaIIy don't femembef you."
NothIng to fofgIve. I'm the one who
bafged In on you. If the tIme comes to
femembef, you'II femembef. That's
how It goes. Memofy wofks In dIffefent
ways fof evefybody. DIffefent capacIt-
Ies, dIffefent dIfectIons, too. SometImes
memofy heIps you thInk, sometImes It
Impedes. Doesn't mean It's good of bad.
PfobabIy means It's no bIg deaI."
Do you suppose you couId teII me
youf name? It's sImpIy not comIng to
me, and If I don't femembef It's goIng
to dfIve me cfazy," I saId.
What's a name, feaIIy?" he
answefed. So If It comes, okay, If It
doesn't, that's okay, too. EIthef way, no
bIg deaI, IIke I saId. But If not femem-
befIng my name bugs you that much,
pfetend we've just met fof the fIfst
tIme. No mentaI bIock that way."
HIs coffee affIved and he dfank It
sIowIy. I couIdn't get a handIe at aII on
anythIng he was sayIng.
F! #)1 )( 5$1-* ,$3 K)0- B0<-* 1,-
Q*%<K-. That phfase was In ouf hIgh-
schooI EngIIsh textbook. Remembef?"
HIgh schooI? DId I know thIs guy In
hIgh schooI?
I'm sufe that's how It went. The oth-
ef day, I was standIng on a bfIdge Iook-
Ing down, and suddenIy that EngIIsh
phfase popped Into my head. CIeaf as a
beII. IIke, sufe, hefe's how tIme
He foIded hIs afms and sat back deep
In hIs chaIf, IookIng InscfutabIe. If that
expfessIon was meant to convey a paf-
tIcuIaf meanIng, It was Iost on me. The
guy's expfessIon-fofmIng genes must
have wofn thfough In pIaces.
Afe you maffIed?" he asked, out of
I nodded.
I've got a son," he saId. He's fouf
now and goes to nufsefy schooI."
End of convefsatIon about chIIdfen.
We sat thefe, sIIent. I put a cIgafette to
my IIps and he offefed hIs IIghtef. A
natufaI gestufe. I genefaIIy don't IIke
othef peopIe IIghtIng my cIgafettes of
poufIng my dfInks, but thIs tIme I
hafdIy paId any mInd. In fact, It was a
whIIe befofe I even feaIIzed he'd IIt my
What IIne of wofk you In?"
BusIness," I saId.
HIs mouth feII open and the wofd
fofmed a second of two Iatef.
Yeah. NothIng much to speak of." I
Iet It sIIde.
He nodded and Ieft It at that. It
wasn't that I dIdn't want to taIk about
wofk. I just dIdn't feeI IIke staftIng In
on what pfomIsed to be anothef es-
capade. I was tIfed, and I dIdn't even
know the guy's name.
That sufpfIses me. You In busIness. I
wouIdn't have fIgufed you fof a
I smIIed.
Used to be that aII you dId was fead
books," he went on, wIth a bIt of
WeII, I stIII fead a Iot." I fofced a
Sufe, you got an encycIopedIa?"
No." I shook my head, not
You don't fead encycIopedIas?"
Maybe If thefe's one afound," I saId.
Of coufse, In the pIace I was IIvIng
thefe wouIdn't be any foom to have
one afound.
ActuaIIy, I seII encycIopedIas," he
Oh, boy, an encycIopedIa saIesman.
HaIf my cufIosIty about the guy Imme-
dIateIy dfaIned away. I took a sIp of my
now-Iukewafm coffee and quIetIy set
the cup back on Its saucef.
You know, I wouIdn't mInd havIng a
set," I saId, but unfoftunateIy, I don't
have the money. No money at aII. I'm
onIy just now begInnIng to pay off my
Whoa thefe!" he saId, shakIng hIs
head. I'm not tfyIng to seII you any en-
cycIopedIa of anythIng. Me, I may be
bfoke, but I'm not that hafd up. And
anyway, the tfuth Is, I don't have to tfy
to seII to Japanese. It's paft of the deaI I
Don't have to seII to Japanese?"
RIght, I specIaIIze In ChInese. I onIy
seII encycIopedIas to ChInese. I go
thfough the Tokyo dIfectofy pIckIng
out ChInese names. I make a IIst, then
go thfough the IIst one by one. I don't
know who dfeamed thIs scam up, but
why not? Seems to wofk, saIeswIse. I
fIng the doofbeII, I say, 4% ,$), I hand
them my cafd. Aftef that, I'm In."
SuddenIy thefe was a cIIck In my
head. ThIs guy was that ChInese boy I'd
known In hIgh schooI.
Stfange, huh, how someone ends up
waIkIng afound seIIIng encycIopedIas to
ChInese? I don't undefstand It," the guy
saId, seemIng to dIstance hImseIf ffom
the whoIe thIng. Sufe, I can femembef
each of the IIttIe cIfcumstances IeadIng
up to It, but the bIg pIctufe, you know,
how It aII comes togethef movIng In
thIs one dIfectIon, escapes me. I just
Iooked up one day and hefe I was."
ThIs guy and I had nevef been In the
same cIass, nof, as I saId, had we been
on such cIose pefsonaI tefms. But as
neaf as I couId pIace hIm, he hadn't
been youf encycIopedIa-saIesman type,
eIthef. He seemed weII bfed, got bettef
gfades than I dId. GIfIs IIked hIm.
ThIngs happen, eh? It's a Iong, dafk,
dumb stofy. NothIng you'd want to
heaf," he saId.
The IIne dIdn't seem to demand a fe-
sponse, so I Iet It dfop.
It's not aII my doIng," he pIcked up.
AII softs of thIngs just pIIed on. But In
the end, It's nobody's fauIt but mIne."
I was thInkIng back to hIgh schooI
wIth thIs guy, but aII I came up wIth
was vague 3"-0-3. I seemed to fecaII sIt-
tIng afound a tabIe at someone's house,
dfInkIng beef and taIkIng about musIc.
PfobabIy on a summef aftefnoon, but
mofe IIke In a dfeam.
Wondef what made me want to say
heIIo?" he asked, haIf to me, twIfIIng
the IIghtef afound on the tabIe. Guess
I kInd of bothefed you. Soffy about
No bothef at aII," I saId. HonestIy, It
We both feII sIIent fof a mInute.
NeIthef of us had anythIng to say. I fIn-
Ished my cIgafette, he fInIshed hIs
WeII, guess I'II be goIng," he saId,
pocketIng hIs cIgafettes and IIghtef.
Then he sIId back hIs chaIf a bIt. Can't
be spendIng the whoIe day taIkIng. Not
when thefe's thIngs to seII, eh?"
You have a pamphIet?" I asked.
A pamphIet?"
About the encycIopedIa."
Oh, fIght," he mumbIed. Not on
me. You want to see one?"
Sufe, just out of cufIosIty."
I'II send you one. GIve me youf
I tofe out a page of my FIIofax, wfote
down my addfess, and handed It to
hIm. He Iooked It ovef, foIded It In
quaftefs, and sIIpped It Into hIs
busIness-cafd case.
It's a good encycIopedIa, you know.
I'm not just sayIng that because I seII
them. ReaIIy, It's weII done. Iots of coI-
of photos. Vefy handy. SometImes I'II
thumb thfough the thIng myseIf, and I
nevef get bofed."
Someday, when my shIp comes In,
maybe I'II buy one."
That'd be nIce," he saId, an eIectIon-
postef smIIe fetufnIng to hIs face. But
by then, I'II pfobabIy have done my
tIme wIth encycIopedIas. I mean,
thefe's onIy so many ChInese famIIIes
to vIsIt. Maybe I'II have moved on to In-
sufance fof ChInese. Of funefaI pIots.
What's It feaIIy mattef?"
I wanted to say somethIng. I wouId
nevef see thIs guy agaIn In my IIfe. I
wanted to say somethIng to hIm about
the ChInese, but what? NothIng came.
So we pafted wIth youf usuaI good-
Even now, I stIII can't thInk of any-
thIng to say.
SSUPPOSING I FOUND myseIf chasIng anoth-
ef fIy baII and fan head-on Into a bas-
ketbaII backboafd, supposIng I woke up
once agaIn IyIng undef an afbof wIth a
basebaII gIove undef my head, what
wofds of wIsdom couId thIs man of
thIfty-odd yeafs bfIng hImseIf to uttef?
Maybe somethIng IIke: +,%3 %3 0) /#$"-
ThIs occufs to me whIIe I'm fIdIng
the Yamanote IIne. I'm standIng by the
doof, hoIdIng on to my tIcket so I won't
Iose It, gazIng out the wIndow at the
buIIdIngs we pass. Ouf cIty, these
stfeets, I don't know why It makes me
so depfessed. That oId famIIIaf gIoom
that befaIIs the cIty dweIIef, feguIaf as
due dates, cIoudy as mentaI JeII-O. The
dIfty faades, the nameIess cfowds, the
unfemIttIng noIse, the packed fush-
houf tfaIns, the gfay skIes, the bIII-
boafds on evefy squafe centImetef of
avaIIabIe space, the hopes and fesIgna-
tIon, IffItatIon and excItement. And
evefywhefe, InfInIte optIons, InfInIte
possIbIIItIes. An InfInIty, and at the
same tIme, zefo. We tfy to scoop It aII
up In ouf hands, and what we get Is a
handfuI of zefo. That's the cIty. That's
when I femembef what that ChInese
gIfI saId.
+,%3 5$3 0-;-* $0= /#$"- D 5$3 &-$01
I IOOK AT TOKYO and I thInk ChIna.
That's how I've met my shafe of
ChInese. I've fead dozens of books on
ChIna, evefythIng ffom the !00$#3 to
:-< @1$* );-* R,%0$. I've wanted to fInd
out as much about ChIna as I couId. But
that ChIna Is onIy my ChIna. Not any
ChIna I can fead about. It's the ChIna
that sends messages just to me. It's not
the bIg yeIIow expanse on the gIobe,
It's anothef ChIna. Anothef hypothesIs,
anothef supposItIon. In a sense, It's a
paft of myseIf that's been cut off by the
wofd R,%0$.
I wandef thfough ChIna. WIthout
evef havIng boafded a pIane. My
tfaveIs take pIace hefe In the Tokyo
subways, In the backseat of a taxI. My
adventufes take me to the waItIng foom
of the neafby dentIst, to the bank teII-
ef's wIndow. I can go evefywhefe and I
don't go anywhefe.
Tokyoone day, as I fIde the Yaman-
ote Ioop, aII of a sudden thIs cIty wIII
staft to go. In a fIash, the buIIdIngs wIII
cfumbIe. And I'II be hoIdIng my tIcket,
watchIng It aII. Ovef the Tokyo stfeets
wIII faII my ChIna, IIke ash, IeachIng In-
to evefythIng It touches. SIowIy, gfadu-
aIIy, untII nothIng femaIns. No, thIs
Isn't a pIace fof me. That Is how we wIII
Iose ouf speech, how ouf dfeams wIII
tufn to mIst. The way ouf adoIescence,
so tedIous we woffIed It wouId Iast
fofevef, evapofated.
S%3<%$K0)3%3, as a psychIatfIst mIght
say, as It was wIth that ChInese gIfI.
Maybe, In the end, ouf hopes wefe the
wfong way afound. But what am I,
what afe you, If not a mIsdIagnosIs?
And If so, Is thefe a way out?
Even so, I have packed Into a tfunk
my faIthfuI IIttIe outfIeIdef's pfIde. I sIt
on the stone steps by the hafbof, and I
waIt fof that sIow boat to ChIna. It Is
due to appeaf on the bIank hofIzon. I
am thInkIng about ChIna, the shInIng
foofs, the vefdant fIeIds.
Iet Ioss and destfuctIon come my
way. They afe nothIng to me. I am not
affaId. Any mofe than the cIean-up bat-
tef feafs the InsIde fastbaII, any mofe
than the commItted fevoIutIonafy feafs
the gaffote. If onIy, If onIy .
Oh, ffIends, my ffIends, ChIna Is so
faf away.
A DWARF CAME INTO my dfeam and asked
me to dance.
I knew thIs was a dfeam, but I was
just as tIfed In my dfeam as In feaI IIfe
at the tIme. So, vefy poIIteIy, I de-
cIIned. The dwaff was not offended but
danced aIone Instead.
He set a poftabIe fecofd pIayef on
the gfound and danced to the musIc.
Recofds wefe spfead aII afound the
pIayef. I pIcked up a few ffom dIffefent
spots In the pIIe. They compfIsed a
genuIne musIcaI mIsceIIany, as If the
dwaff had chosen them wIth hIs eyes
cIosed, gfabbIng whatevef hIs hand
happened to touch. And none of the fe-
cofds was In the fIght jacket. The dwaff
wouId take haIf-pIayed fecofds off the
tufntabIe, thfow them onto the pIIe
wIthout fetufnIng them to theIf jackets,
Iose tfack of whIch went wIth whIch,
and aftefwafd put fecofds In jackets at
fandom. Thefe wouId be a RoIIIng
Stones fecofd In a GIenn MIIIef jacket,
a fecofdIng of the MItch MIIIef chofus
In the jacket fof RaveI's >$/,0%3 $0<
But none of thIs confusIon seemed to
mattef to the dwaff. As Iong as he
couId dance to whatevef was pIayIng,
he was satIsfIed. At the moment, he
was dancIng to a ChafIIe Pafkef fecofd
that had been In a jacket IabeIed I*-$1
@-#-"1%)03 ()* 1,- R#$33%"$# IB%1$*. HIs
body whIfIed IIke a tofnado, suckIng up
the wIId fIuffy of notes that poufed
ffom ChafIIe Pafkef's saxophone. Eat-
Ing gfapes, I watched hIm dance.
The sweat poufed out of hIm. Each
swIng of hIs head sent dfops of sweat
fIyIng ffom hIs face, each wave of an
afm shot stfeams of sweat ffom hIs
fIngeftIps. But nothIng couId stop hIm.
When a fecofd ended, I wouId set my
bowI of gfapes down and put on a new
one. And on he wouId go.
You'fe a gfeat dancef," I cfIed out to
hIm. You'fe musIc ItseIf."
Thank you," he answefed wIth a
hInt of affectatIon.
Do you aIways go at It IIke thIs?"
Pfetty much," he saId.
Then the dwaff dId a beautIfuI twIfI
on tIptoe, hIs soft, wavy haIf fIowIng In
the wInd. I appIauded. I had nevef seen
such accompIIshed dancIng In my IIfe.
The dwaff gave a fespectfuI bow as the
song ended. He stopped dancIng and
toweIed hImseIf down. The needIe was
cIIckIng In the Innef gfoove of the fe-
cofd. I IIfted the toneafm and tufned
the pIayef off. I put the fecofd Into the
fIfst empty jacket that came to hand.
I guess you haven't got tIme to heaf
my stofy," saId the dwaff, gIancIng at
me. It's a Iong one."
Unsufe how to answef, I took anoth-
ef gfape. TIme was no pfobIem fof me,
but I wasn't that eagef to heaf the Iong
IIfe stofy of a dwaff. And besIdes, thIs
was a dfeam. It couId evapofate at any
Rathef than waIt fof me to answef,
the dwaff snapped hIs fIngefs and staf-
ted to speak. I'm ffom the nofth coun-
tfy," he saId. Up nofth, they don't
dance. Nobody knows how. They don't
even feaIIze that It's somethIng you can
do. But I wanted to dance. I wanted to
stamp my feet and wave my afms,
shake my head and spIn afound. IIke
The dwaff stamped hIs feet, waved
hIs afms, shook hIs head, and spun
afound. Each movement was sImpIe
enough In ItseIf, but In combInatIon the
fouf pfoduced an aImost IncfedIbIe
beauty of motIon, efuptIng ffom the
dwaff's body aII at once, as when a
gIobe of IIght bufsts open.
I wanted to dance IIke thIs. And so I
came south. I danced In the tavefns. I
became famous, and danced In the
pfesence of the kIng. That was befofe
the fevoIutIon, of coufse. Once the fe-
voIutIon bfoke out, the kIng passed
away, as you know, and I was banIshed
ffom the town to IIve In the fofest."
The dwaff went to the mIddIe of the
cIeafIng and began to dance agaIn. I
put a fecofd on. It was an oId Ffank
SInatfa fecofd. The dwaff danced,
sIngIng NIght and Day" aIong wIth
SInatfa. I pIctufed hIm dancIng befofe
the thfone. GIIttefIng chandeIIefs and
beautIfuI IadIes-In-waItIng, exotIc ffuIts
and the Iong speafs of the foyaI guafd,
poftIy eunuchs, the young kIng In
jeweI-bedecked fobes, the dwaff
dfenched In sweat but dancIng wIth un-
bfoken concentfatIon: As I ImagIned
the gofgeous scene, I feIt that at any
moment the foaf of the fevoIutIon's
cannon wouId echo ffom the dIstance.
The dwaff went on dancIng, and I ate
my gfapes. The sun set, covefIng the
eafth In the shadows of the fofest. A
huge bIack butteffIy the sIze of a bIfd
cut acfoss the cIeafIng and vanIshed In-
to the depths of the fofest. I feIt the
chIII of the evenIng aIf. It was tIme fof
my dfeam to meIt away, I knew.
I guess I have to go now," I saId to
the dwaff.
He stopped dancIng and nodded In
I enjoyed watchIng you dance," I
saId. Thanks a Iot."
AnytIme," saId the dwaff.
We may nevef meet agaIn," I saId.
Take cafe of youfseIf."
Don't woffy," saId the dwaff. We
wIII meet agaIn."
Afe you sufe?"
Oh, yes. You'II be comIng back
hefe," he saId wIth a snap of hIs fIn-
gefs. You'II IIve In the fofest. And
evefy day you'II dance wIth me. You'II
become a feaIIy good dancef youfseIf
befofe Iong."
How do you know?" I asked, taken
It's been decIded," he answefed. No
one has the powef to change what has
been decIded. I know that you and I
wIII meet agaIn soon enough."
The dwaff Iooked fIght up at me as
he spoke. The deepenIng dafkness had
tufned hIm the deep bIue of watef at
WeII, then," he saId. Be seeIng
He tufned hIs back to me and began
dancIng agaIn, aIone.
I WOKE UP AIONE. Facedown In bed, I was
dfenched In sweat. Thefe was a bIfd
outsIde my wIndow. It seemed dIffefent
ffom the bIfd I was used to seeIng
I washed my face wIth gfeat cafe,
shaved, put some bfead In the toastef,
and boIIed watef fof coffee. I fed the
cat, changed Its IIttef, put on a necktIe,
and tIed my shoes. Then I took a bus to
the eIephant factofy.
NeedIess to say, the manufactufe of
eIephants Is no easy mattef. They'fe
bIg, fIfst of aII, and vefy compIex. It's
not IIke makIng haIfpIns of coIofed
pencIIs. The factofy covefs a huge afea,
and It consIsts of sevefaI buIIdIngs.
Each buIIdIng Is bIg, too, and the sec-
tIons afe coIof-coded. AssIgned to the
eaf sectIon that month, I wofked In the
buIIdIng wIth the yeIIow ceIIIng and
posts. My heImet and pants wefe aIso
yeIIow. AII I dId thefe was make eafs.
The month befofe, I had been assIgned
to the gfeen buIIdIng, whefe I wofe a
gfeen heImet and pants and made
heads. We moved ffom sectIon to sec-
tIon each month, IIke GypsIes. It was
company poIIcy. That way, we couId aII
fofm a compIete pIctufe of what an eIe-
phant Iooked IIke. No one was pefmIt-
ted to spend hIs whoIe IIfe makIng just
eafs, say, of just toenaIIs. The
executIves put togethef the chaft that
contfoIIed ouf movements, and we foI-
Iowed the chaft.
MakIng eIephant heads Is tfemend-
ousIy fewafdIng wofk. It fequIfes
enofmous attentIon to detaII, and at the
end of the day you'fe so tIfed you don't
want to taIk to anybody. I've Iost as
much as sIx pounds wofkIng thefe fof a
month, but It does gIve me a gfeat
sense of accompIIshment. By compafIs-
on, makIng eafs Is a bfeeze. You just
make these bIg, fIat, thIn thIngs, put a
few wfInkIes In them, and you'fe done.
We caII wofkIng In the eaf sectIon tak-
Ing an eaf bfeak." Aftef a monthIong
eaf bfeak, I go to the tfunk sectIon,
whefe the wofk Is agaIn vefy demand-
Ing. A tfunk has to be fIexIbIe, and Its
nostfIIs must be unobstfucted fof Its en-
tIfe Iength. OthefwIse, the fInIshed eIe-
phant wIII go on a fampage. WhIch Is
why makIng the tfunk Is nefve-fackIng
wofk ffom begInnIng to end.
We don't make eIephants ffom noth-
Ing, of coufse. PfopefIy speakIng, we
feconstItute them. FIfst we saw a sIngIe
eIephant Into sIx dIstInct pafts: eafs,
tfunk, head, abdomen, Iegs, and taII.
These we then fecombIne to make fIve
eIephants, whIch means that each new
eIephant Is In fact onIy one-fIfth genu-
Ine and fouf-fIfths ImItatIon. ThIs Is not
obvIous to the naked eye, nof Is the eIe-
phant ItseIf awafe of It. We'fe that
Why must we aftIfIcIaIIy manufac-
tufeof, shouId I say, feconstIt-
uteeIephants? It Is because we afe faf
Iess patIent than they afe. Ieft to theIf
own devIces, eIephants wouId gIve
bIfth to no mofe than one baby In fouf
of fIve yeafs. And because we Iove
eIephants, of coufse, It makes us tef-
fIbIy ImpatIent to see thIs customof
habItuaI behavIofof theIfs. ThIs Is
what Ied us to begIn feconstItutIng
them oufseIves.
To pfotect the newIy feconstItuted
eIephants agaInst Impfopef use, they
afe InItIaIIy pufchased by the EIephant
SuppIy CofpofatIon, a pubIIcIy owned
monopoIy, whIch keeps them fof two
weeks and subjects them to a battefy of
hIghIy exactIng tests, aftef whIch the
soIe of one foot Is stamped wIth the
cofpofatIon's Iogo befofe the eIephant
Is feIeased Into the jungIe. We make fIf-
teen eIephants In a nofmaI week.
Though In the pfe-ChfIstmas season we
can Incfease that to as many as twenty-
fIve by funnIng the machInefy at fuII
speed, I thInk that fIfteen Is just about
As I mentIoned eafIIef, the eaf sec-
tIon Is the easIest sIngIe phase In the
eIephant-manufactufIng pfocess. It de-
mands IIttIe physIcaI exeftIon on the
paft of wofkefs, It fequIfes no cIose
concentfatIon, and It empIoys no com-
pIex machInefy. The numbef of actuaI
opefatIons InvoIved Is IImIted, as weII.
Wofkefs can eIthef wofk at a feIaxed
pace aII day of exeft themseIves to
meet theIf quota In the mofnIng so as
to have the aftefnoon ffee.
My paftnef and I In the eaf shop
IIked the second appfoach. We'd fInIsh
up In the mofnIng and spend the aftef-
noon taIkIng of feadIng of amusIng
oufseIves sepafateIy. The aftefnoon foI-
IowIng my dfeam of the dancIng dwaff,
aII we had to do was hang ten ffeshIy
wfInkIed eafs on the waII, aftef whIch
we sat on the fIoof enjoyIng the
I toId my paftnef about the dwaff. I
femembefed the dfeam In vIvId detaII
and descfIbed evefythIng about It to
hIm, no mattef how tfIvIaI. Whefe de-
scfIptIon was dIffIcuIt, I demonstfated
by shakIng my head of swIngIng my
afms of stampIng my feet. He IIstened
wIth ffequent gfunts of Intefest, sIppIng
hIs tea. He was fIve yeafs my senIof, a
stfongIy buIIt feIIow wIth a dafk beafd
and a penchant fof sIIence. He had thIs
habIt of thInkIng wIth hIs afms foIded.
JudgIng by the expfessIon on hIs face,
you wouId guess that he was a sefIous
thInkef, IookIng at thIngs ffom aII
angIes, but usuaIIy he'd just come up
stfaIght aftef a whIIe and say, That's a
tough one." NothIng mofe.
He sat thefe thInkIng fof a Iong tIme
aftef I toId hIm about my dfeamso
Iong that I stafted poIIshIng the contfoI
paneI of the eIectfIc beIIows to kIII
tIme. FInaIIy, he came up stfaIght, as
aIways, and saId, That's a tough one.
Hmmm. A dancIng dwaff. That's a
tough one."
ThIs came as no gfeat dIsappoInt-
ment to me. I hadn't been expectIng
hIm to say any mofe than he usuaIIy
dId. I had just wanted to teII someone
about It. I put the eIectfIc beIIows back
and dfank my now-Iukewafm tea.
He went on thInkIng, though, fof a
much Iongef tIme than he nofmaIIy de-
voted to such mattefs.
What gIves?" I asked.
I'm pfetty sufe I once heafd about
that dwaff."
ThIs caught me off guafd.
I just can't femembef who toId me."
PIease tfy," I ufged hIm.
Sufe," he saId, and gave It anothef
He fInaIIy managed to fecaII what he
knew about the dwaff thfee houfs Iatef,
as the sun was goIng down neaf quIt-
tIng tIme.
That's It!" he excIaImed. The oId
guy In Stage SIx! You know, the one
who pIants haIfs. C'mon, you know:
Iong whIte haIf down to hIs shouIdefs,
hafdIy any teeth. Been wofkIng hefe
sInce befofe the fevoIutIon."
Oh," I saId. HIm." I had seen hIm
In the tavefn any numbef of tImes.
Yeah. He toId me about the dwaff
way back when. SaId It was a good
dancef. I dIdn't pay much attentIon to
hIm, fIgufed he was senIIe. But now I
don't know. Maybe he wasn't cfazy
aftef aII."
So, what dId he teII you?"
Gee, I'm not so sufe. It was a Iong
tIme ago." He foIded hIs afms and feII
to thInkIng agaIn. But It was hopeIess.
Aftef a whIIe, he stfaIghtened up and
saId, Can't femembef. Go ask hIm
AS SOON AS the beII fang at quIttIng
tIme, I went to the Stage 6 afea, but
thefe was no sIgn of the oId man. I
found onIy two young gIfIs sweepIng
the fIoof. The thIn gIfI toId me he had
pfobabIy gone to the tavefn, the oIdef
one." WhIch Is exactIy whefe I found
hIm, sIttIng vefy efect at the baf, dfInk-
Ing, wIth hIs Iunch box besIde hIm.
The tavefn was an oId, oId pIace. It
had been thefe sInce Iong befofe I was
bofn, befofe the fevoIutIon. Fof genefa-
tIons now, the eIephant cfaftsmen had
been comIng hefe to dfInk, pIay cafds,
and sIng. The waIIs wefe IIned wIth
photogfaphs of the oId days at the eIe-
phant factofy. Thefe was a pIctufe of
the fIfst pfesIdent of the company In-
spectIng a tusk, a photo of an oId-tIme
movIe queen vIsItIng the factofy, shots
taken at summef dances, that kInd of
thIng. The fevoIutIonafy guafds had
bufned aII pIctufes of the kIng and the
foyaI famIIy and anythIng eIse that was
deemed to be foyaIIst. Thefe wefe pIc-
tufes of the fevoIutIon, of coufse: the
fevoIutIonafy guafds occupyIng the
factofy and the fevoIutIonafy guafds
stfIngIng up the pIant supefIntendent.
I found the oId feIIow dfInkIng Mec-
atoI beneath an oId, dIscoIofed photo
TUSKS. When I took the stooI next to
hIm, the oId man poInted to the photo
and saId, ThIs one Is me."
I squInted hafd at the photo. The
young boy on the fIght, maybe tweIve
of thIfteen yeafs oId, dId appeaf to be
thIs oId man In hIs youth. You wouId
nevef notIce the fesembIance on youf
own, but once It had been poInted out
to you, you couId see that both had the
same shafp nose and fIat IIps. Appaf-
entIy, the oId guy aIways sat hefe, and
whenevef he notIced an unfamIIIaf cus-
tomef come In he'd say, ThIs one Is
Iooks IIke a feaI oId pIctufe," I saId,
hopIng to dfaw hIm out.
'Fofe the fevoIutIon," he saId
mattef-of-factIy. Even an oId guy IIke
me was stIII a kId back then. We aII get
oId, though. You'II Iook IIke me befofe
too Iong. Just you waIt, sonny boy!"
He Iet out a gfeat cackIe, spfayIng
spIt ffom a wIde-open mouth mIssIng
haIf Its teeth.
Then he Iaunched Into stofIes about
the fevoIutIon. ObvIousIy, he hated
both the kIng and the fevoIutIonafy
guafds. I Iet hIm taIk aII he wanted,
bought hIm anothef gIass of MecatoI,
and when the tIme was fIght asked hIm
If, by any chance, he happened to know
about a dancIng dwaff.
DancIng dwaff?" he saId. You
wanna heaf about the dancIng dwaff?"
I'd IIke to."
HIs eyes gIafed Into mIne. What the
heII fof?" he asked.
I don't know," I IIed. Somebody
toId me about hIm. Sounded
He contInued to Iook hafd at me un-
tII hIs eyes fevefted to the specIaI
mushy Iook that dfunks have.
AwfIght," he saId. Why not? Ya
bought me a dfInk. But just one thIng,"
he saId, hoIdIng a fIngef In my face,
don't teII anybody. The fevoIutIon was
a heII of a Iong tIme ago, but you'fe
stIII not supposed to taIk about the dan-
cIng dwaff. So, whatevef I teII you,
keep It to youfseIf. And don't mentIon
my name. Okay?"
Now, ofdef me anothef dfInk and
Iet's go to a booth."
I ofdefed two MecatoIs and bfought
them to the booth, away ffom the baf-
tendef. The tabIe had a gfeen Iamp In
the shape of an eIephant.
It was befofe the fevoIutIon," saId
the oId man. The dwaff came ffom the
nofth countfy. What a gfeat dancef he
was! Nah, he wasn't just gfeat $1 dan-
cIng. He 5$3 dancIng. Nob'dy couId
touch 'Im. WInd and IIght and ffagfance
and shadow: It was aII thefe bufstIng
InsIde hIm. That dwaff couId do that,
y'know. It was somethIn' to see."
He cIIcked hIs gIass agaInst hIs few
femaInIng teeth.
DId you actuaIIy see hIm dance?" I
DId I see hIm?" The oId feIIow
stafed at me, spfeadIng the fIngefs of
both hands out atop the tabIe. Of
")B*3- I saw hIm. Evefy day. RIght
You heafd me. RIght hefe. He used
to dance hefe evefy day. Befofe the
THE OID MAN WENT ON to teII me how the
dwaff had affIved ffom the nofth coun-
tfy wIthout a penny In hIs pocket. He
hoIed up In thIs tavefn, whefe the
eIephant-factofy wofkefs gathefed, do-
Ing odd jobs untII the managef feaIIzed
what a good dancef he was and hIfed
hIm to dance fuII-tIme. At fIfst, the
wofkefs gfumbIed because they wanted
to have a dancIng gIfI, but that dIdn't
Iast Iong. WIth theIf dfInks In theIf
hands, they wefe pfactIcaIIy hypnotIzed
watchIng hIm dance. And he danced
IIke nobody eIse. He couId dfaw feeI-
Ings out of hIs audIence, feeIIngs they
hafdIy evef used of dIdn't even know
they had. He'd bafe these feeIIngs to
the IIght of day the way you'd puII out
a fIsh's guts.
The dwaff danced at thIs tavefn fof
cIose to haIf a yeaf. The pIace ovef-
fIowed wIth customefs who wanted to
see hIm dance. And as they watched
hIm, they wouId steep themseIves In
boundIess happIness of be ovefcome
wIth boundIess gfIef. Soon, the dwaff
had the powef to manIpuIate peopIe's
emotIons wIth a mefe choIce of dance
TaIk of the dancIng dwaff eventuaIIy
feached the eafs of the chIef of the
councII of nobIes, a man who had deep
tIes wIth the eIephant factofy and
whose fIef Iay neafby. Ffom thIs nobIe-
manwho, as It tufned out, wouId be
captufed by the fevoIutIonafy guafd
and fIung, stIII IIvIng, Into a boIIIng pot
of gIuewofd of the dwaff feached the
young kIng. A Iovef of musIc, the kIng
was detefmIned to see the dwaff dance.
He dIspatched the veftIcaI-InductIon
shIp wIth the foyaI cfest to the tavefn,
and the foyaI guafds caffIed the dwaff
to the paIace wIth the utmost fespect.
The ownef of the tavefn was com-
pensated fof hIs Ioss, aImost too genef-
ousIy. The customefs gfumbIed ovef
1,-%* Ioss, but they knew bettef than to
gfumbIe to the kIng. ResIgned, they
dfank theIf beef and MecatoI and went
back to watchIng the dances of young
MeanwhIIe, the dwaff was gIven a
foom In the paIace, whefe the IadIes-In-
waItIng washed hIm and dfessed hIm In
sIIk and taught hIm the pfopef etIquette
fof appeafIng befofe the kIng. The next
nIght, he was taken to the gfeat haII,
whefe the kIng's ofchestfa, upon cue,
peffofmed a poIka that the kIng had
composed. The dwaff danced to the
poIka, sedateIy at fIfst, as If aIIowIng
hIs body to absofb the musIc, then
gfaduaIIy IncfeasIng the speed of hIs
dance untII he was whIfIIng wIth the
fofce of a tofnado. PeopIe watched hIm,
bfeathIess. No one couId speak. SevefaI
of the nobIe IadIes faInted to the fIoof,
and ffom the kIng's own hand feII a
cfystaI gobIet contaInIng goId-dust
wIne, but not a sIngIe pefson notIced
the sound of It shattefIng.
AT THIS POINT In hIs stofy, the oId man
set hIs gIass on the tabIe and wIped hIs
mouth wIth the back of hIs hand, then
feached out fof the eIephant-shaped
Iamp and began to fIddIe wIth It. I
waIted fof hIm to contInue, but he fe-
maIned sIIent fof sevefaI mInutes. I
caIIed to the baftendef and ofdefed
mofe beef and MecatoI. The tavefn was
sIowIy fIIIIng up, and onstage a young
woman sIngef was tunIng hef guItaf.
Then what happened?" I asked.
Then?" he saId. Then the fevoIu-
tIon stafted. The kIng was kIIIed, and
the dwaff fan away."
I set my eIbows on the tabIe and,
cfadIIng my mug, took a Iong swaIIow
of beef. I Iooked at the oId man and
asked, You mean the fevoIutIon oc-
cuffed just aftef the dwaff entefed the
Not Iong aftef. 'Bout a yeaf, I'd say."
The oId man Iet out a huge bufp.
I don't get It," I saId. Befofe, you
saId that you wefen't supposed to taIk
about the dwaff. Why Is that? Is thefe
some connectIon between the dwaff
and the fevoIutIon?"
Ya got me thefe. One thIng's sufe,
though. The fevoIutIonafy guafd
wanted to bfIng that dwaff In somethIn'
teffIbIe. StIII do. The fevoIutIon's an
oId stofy aIfeady, but they'fe stIII Iook-
In' fof the dancIng dwaff. Even so, I
don't know what the connectIon Is
between the dwaff and the fevoIutIon.
AII you heaf Is fumofs."
What kInd of fumofs?"
I couId see that he was havIng
tfoubIe decIdIng whethef to teII me any
mofe. Rumofs afe just fumofs," he
saId fInaIIy. You nevef know what's
tfue. But some foIks say the dwaff used
a kInd of evII powef on the paIace, and
that's what caused the fevoIutIon.
Anyhow, that's aII I know about the
dwaff. NothIn' eIse."
The oId man Iet out one Iong hIss of
a sIgh, and then he dfaIned hIs gIass In
a sIngIe guIp. The pInk IIquId oozed out
at the cofnefs of hIs mouth, dfIppIng
down Into the saggIng coIIaf of hIs
I DIDN'T DREAM about the dwaff agaIn. I
went to the eIephant factofy evefy day
as usuaI and contInued makIng eafs,
fIfst softenIng an eaf wIth steam, then
fIattenIng It wIth a pfess hammef, cut-
tIng out fIve eaf shapes, addIng the In-
gfedIents to make fIve fuII-sIze eafs,
dfyIng them, and fInaIIy, addIng
wfInkIes. At noon, my paftnef and I
wouId bfeak to eat ouf pack Iunches
and taIk about the new gIfI In Stage 8.
Thefe wefe Iots of gIfIs wofkIng at
the eIephant factofy, most of them as-
sIgned to spIIcIng nefvous systems of
machIne stItchIng of cIeanup. We'd taIk
about them whenevef we had ffee tIme.
And whenevef they had ffee tIme,
they'd taIk about us.
Gfeat-IookIng gIfI," my paftnef saId.
AII the guys've got theIf eye on hef.
But nobody's naIIed hef yet."
Can she feaIIy be that good-Iook-
Ing?" I asked. I had my doubts. Any
numbef of tImes I had made a poInt of
goIng to see the Iatest knockout," who
tufned out to be nothIng much. ThIs
was one kInd of fumof you couId nevef
No IIe," he saId. Check hef out
youfseIf. If you don't thInk she's a
beauty, go to Stage SIx and get a new
paIf of eyes. WIsh I dIdn't have a wIfe.
I'd get hef. Of dIe tfyIn'."
Iunch bfeak was aImost ovef, but as
usuaI my sectIon had aImost no wofk
Ieft fof the aftefnoon so I cooked up an
excuse to go to Stage 8. To get thefe,
you had to go thfough a Iong undef-
gfound tunneI. Thefe was a guafd at
the tunneI entfance, but he knew me
ffom way back, so I had no tfoubIe get-
tIng In.
The faf end of the tunneI opened on
a fIvefbank, and the Stage 8 buIIdIng
was a IIttIe ways downstfeam. Both the
foof and the smokestack wefe pInk.
Stage 8 made eIephant Iegs. HavIng
wofked thefe just fouf months eafIIef, I
knew the Iayout weII. The young guafd
at the entfance was a newcomef I had
nevef seen befofe, though.
What's youf busIness?" he deman-
ded. In hIs cfIsp unIfofm, he Iooked IIke
a typIcaI new-bfoom type, detefmIned
to enfofce the fuIes.
We fan out of nefve cabIe," I saId,
cIeafIng my thfoat. I'm hefe to boffow
That's weIfd," he saId, gIafIng at my
unIfofm. You'fe In the eaf sectIon.
CabIe ffom the eaf and Ieg sectIons
shouIdn't be IntefchangeabIe."
WeII, Iet me tfy to make a Iong stofy
shoft. I was ofIgInaIIy pIannIng to bof-
fow cabIe ffom the tfunk sectIon, but
they dIdn't have any extfa. And 1,-=
wefe out of Ieg cabIe, so they saId If I
couId get them a feeI of that, they'd Iet
me have a feeI of the fIne stuff. When I
caIIed hefe, they saId they have extfa
Ieg cabIe, so that's why I'm hefe."
The guafd fIIpped thfough the pages
of hIs cIIpboafd. I haven't heafd any-
thIng about thIs," he saId. These thIngs
afe supposed to be affanged
That's stfange. It has been. Some-
body goofed. I'II teII the guys InsIde to
stfaIghten It out."
The guafd just stood thefe whInIng. I
wafned hIm that he was sIowIng down
pfoductIon and that I wouId hoId hIm
fesponsIbIe If somebody ffom upstaIfs
got on my back. FInaIIy, stIII
gfumbIIng, he Iet me In.
Stage 8the Ieg shopwas housed
In a Iow-set, spacIous buIIdIng, a Iong,
naffow pIace wIth a paftIaIIy sunken
sandy fIoof. InsIde, youf eyes wefe at
gfound IeveI, and naffow gIass wIn-
dows wefe the onIy soufce of IIIumIna-
tIon. Suspended ffom the ceIIIng wefe
movabIe faIIs ffom whIch hung dozens
of eIephant Iegs. If you squInted up at
them, It Iooked as If a huge hefd of eIe-
phants was wIngIng down ffom the sky.
The whoIe shop had no mofe than
thIfty wofkefs aItogethef, both men
and women. Evefybody had on hats
and masks and goggIes, so In the gIoom
It was ImpossIbIe to teII whIch one was
the new gIfI. I fecognIzed one guy I
used to wofk wIth and asked hIm
whefe I couId fInd hef.
She's the gIfI at Bench FIfteen at-
tachIng toenaIIs," he saId. But If you'fe
pIannIng to put the make on hef, fofget
It. She's hafd as naIIs. You haven't got a
Thanks fof the advIce," I saId.
The gIfI at Bench 15 was a sIIm IIttIe
thIng. She Iooked IIke a boy In a medI-
evaI paIntIng.
Excuse me," I saId. She Iooked at
me, at my unIfofm, at my shoes, and
then up agaIn. Then she took hef hat
off, and hef goggIes. She was IncfedIbIy
beautIfuI. Hef haIf was Iong and cufIy,
hef eyes wefe as deep as the ocean.
I was wondefIng If you'd IIke to go
out dancIng wIth me tomoffow nIght.
Satufday. If you'fe ffee."
WeII, I $& ffee tomoffow nIght, and
I $& goIng to go dancIng, but not wIth
Have you got a date wIth someone
Not at aII," she saId. Then she put
hef goggIes and hat back on, pIcked up
an eIephant toenaII ffom hef bench,
and heId It agaInst a foot, checkIng the
fIt. The naII was just a IIttIe too wIde,
so she fIIed It down wIth a few quIck
C'mon," I saId. If you haven't got a
date, go wIth me. It's mofe fun than go-
Ing aIone. And I know a good festauf-
ant we couId go to."
That's aII fIght. I want to dance by
myseIf. If you want to dance, too,
thefe's nothIng stoppIng you ffom
I wIII," I saId.
It's up to you," she saId.
IgnofIng me, she contInued to wofk.
Now she pfessed the fIIed naII Into the
hoIIow at the ffont of the foot. ThIs
tIme, It fIt peffectIy.
Pfetty good fof a begInnef," I saId.
She dIdn't answef me.
THAT NIGHT, the dwaff came Into my
dfeam agaIn, and agaIn I knew It was a
dfeam. He was sIttIng on a Iog In the
mIddIe of the cIeafIng In the fofest,
smokIng a cIgafette. ThIs tIme he had
neIthef fecofd pIayef nof fecofds.
Thefe wefe sIgns of weafIness In hIs
face that made hIm Iook a IIttIe mofe
advanced In yeafs than he had when I
fIfst saw hImthough In no way couId
he be taken fof someone who had been
bofn befofe the fevoIutIon. He Iooked
pefhaps two of thfee yeafs oIdef than
me, but It was hafd to teII. That's the
way It Is wIth dwaffs.
Fof Iack of anythIng bettef to do, I
stfoIIed afound the dwaff, Iooked up at
the sky, and fInaIIy sat down besIde
hIm. The sky was gfay and ovefcast,
and bIack cIouds wefe dfIftIng west-
wafd. It mIght have begun to faIn at
any tIme. The dwaff had pfobabIy put
away the fecofds and pIayef to keep
them ffom beIng faIned on.
HI," I saId to the dwaff.
HI," he answefed.
Not dancIng today?" I asked.
No, not today," he saId.
When he wasn't dancIng, the dwaff
was a feebIe, sad-IookIng cfeatufe. You
wouId nevef guess that he had once
been a pfoud fIgufe of authofIty In the
foyaI paIace.
You Iook a IIttIe sIck," I saId.
I am," he fepIIed. It can be vefy
coId In the fofest. When you IIve aIone
fof a Iong tIme, dIffefent thIngs staft to
affect youf heaIth."
That's teffIbIe," I saId.
I need enefgy. I need a new soufce
of enefgy fIowIng In my veInsenefgy
that wIII enabIe me to dance and dance,
to get wet In the faIn wIthout catchIng
coId, to fun thfough the fIeIds and hIIIs.
That's what I need."
Gosh," I saId.
We sat on the Iog fof a Iong tIme,
sayIng nothIng. Ffom faf ovefhead, I
heafd the wInd In the bfanches. FIIttIng
among the tfunks of the tfees, a huge
butteffIy wouId appeaf and dIsappeaf.
Anyhow," he saId, you wanted me
to do somethIng fof you."
I dId?" I had no Idea what he was
taIkIng about.
The dwaff pIcked up a bfanch and
dfew a staf on the gfound. The gIfI,"
he saId. You want the gIfI, don't you?"
He meant the pfetty new gIfI In Stage
8. I was amazed that he knew so much.
Of coufse, thIs was a dfeam, so any-
thIng couId happen.
Sufe, I want hef. But I can't ask you
to heIp me get hef. I'II have to do It
You can't."
What makes you so sufe?"
I know," he saId. Go ahead and get
angfy, but the fact Is you can't do It
He mIght be fIght, I thought. I was so
ofdInafy. I had nothIng to be pfoud
ofno money, no good Iooks, no
specIaI way wIth wofds, evennothIng
specIaI at aII. Tfue, I wasn't a bad guy,
and I wofked hafd. The peopIe at the
factofy IIked me. I was stfong and
heaIthy. But I wasn't the type that gIfIs
go cfazy ovef at fIfst sIght. How couId a
guy IIke me evef hope to get hIs hands
on a beauty IIke that?
You know," the dwaff whIspefed, If
you Iet me heIp you, It just mIght wofk
HeIp me? How?" He had afoused
my cufIosIty.
By dancIng. She IIkes dancIng. Show
hef you'fe a good dancef and she's
youfs. Then you just stand beneath the
tfee and waIt fof the ffuIt to faII Into
youf hands."
You mean you'II teach me to
I don't mInd," he saId. But a day of
two of pfactIce won't do you any good.
It takes sIx months at Ieast, and then
onIy If you wofk at It aII day, evefy
day. That's what It takes to captufe
someone's heaft by dancIng."
I shook my head. It's no use, then," I
saId. If I have to waIt sIx months,
some othef guy wIII get hef fof sufe."
When do you go dancIng?"
Tomoffow nIght. Satufday. She'II be
goIng to the dance haII, and I wIII, too.
I'II ask hef to dance wIth me."
The dwaff used the bfanch to dfaw a
numbef of veftIcaI IInes In the dIft.
Then he bfIdged them wIth a hofIzontaI
IIne to make a stfange dIagfam. SIIent, I
foIIowed the movement of hIs hand.
The dwaff spIt the butt of hIs cIgafette
on the gfound and cfushed It wIth hIs
Thefe's a way to do ItIf you feaIIy
want hef," he saId. You want hef,
don't you?"
Sufe I do."
Want me to teII you how It can be
PIease. I'd IIke to know."
It's sImpIe, feaIIy. I just get InsIde
you. I use youf body to dance. You'fe
heaIthy and stfong: You shouId be abIe
to manage a IIttIe dancIng."
I $& In good shape. Nobody bettef,"
I saId. But can you feaIIy do such a
thIngget InsIde me and dance?"
AbsoIuteIy. And then she's youfs. I
guafantee It. And not just hef. You can
have any gIfI."
I IIcked my IIps. It sounded too good
to be tfue. If I Iet the dwaff get InsIde
me, he mIght nevef come out. My body
couId be taken ovef by thIs dwaff. As
much as I wanted the gIfI, I was not
wIIIIng to Iet that happen.
You'fe scafed," he saId, as If feadIng
my mInd. You thInk I'II take posses-
sIon of youf body."
I've heafd thIngs about you," I saId.
Bad thIngs, I suppose."
Yes, bad thIngs."
He gave me a sIy smIIe. Don't
woffy. I may have powef, but I can't
just take ovef a pefson's body once and
fof aII. An agfeement Is fequIfed fof
that. I can't do It unIess both paftIes
agfee. 6)B don't want youf body pef-
manentIy taken ovef, do you?"
No, of coufse not," I saId wIth a
And I don't want to heIp you get
youf gIfI wIthout any kInd of
compensatIon." The dwaff faIsed a fIn-
gef. But I'II do It on one condItIon. It's
not such a dIffIcuIt condItIon, but It Is a
condItIon nonetheIess."
What Is It?"
I get Into youf body. We go to the
dance haII. You ask hef to joIn you and
you captIvate hef wIth youf dancIng.
Then you take hef. But you'fe not aI-
Iowed to say a wofd ffom begInnIng to
end. You can't make a sound untII
you've gone aII the way wIth hef.
That's the one condItIon."
How am I supposed to seduce hef If
I can't say a wofd to hef?" I pfotested.
Don't woffy," saId the dwaff, shak-
Ing hIs head. As Iong as you have me
dancIng fof you, you can get any wo-
man wIthout openIng youf mouth. So,
ffom the tIme you set foot In the dance
haII to the moment you make hef
youfs, you afe absoIuteIy fofbIdden to
use youf voIce."
And If I do?"
Then youf body Is mIne," he saId, as
If statIng the obvIous.
And If I do the whoIe thIng wIthout
makIng a sound?"
Then the gIfI Is youfs, and I Ieave
youf body and go back to the fofest."
I feIeased a deep, deep sIgh. What
was I to do? WhIIe I wfestIed wIth the
questIon, the dwaff scfatched anothef
stfange dIagfam Into the eafth. A but-
teffIy came and fested on It, exactIy In
the centef. I confess I was affaId. I
couId not say fof ceftaIn that I wouId
be abIe to keep sIIent ffom begInnIng to
end. But I knew It was the onIy way fof
me to hoId that gofgeous gIfI In my
afms. I pIctufed hef In Stage 8, fIIIng
the eIephant toenaII. I had to have hef.
AII fIght," I saId. I'II do It."
That's It," saId the dwaff. We've
got ouf agfeement."
THE DANCE HAII STOOD by the maIn fact-
ofy gate, Its fIoof aIways packed on a
Satufday nIght wIth the young men and
women who wofked at the eIephant
factofy. VIftuaIIy aII of us unattached
wofkefs, both maIe and femaIe, wouId
come hefe evefy week to dance and
dfInk and taIk wIth ouf ffIends. CoupIes
wouId eventuaIIy sIIp out to make Iove
In the woods.
_)5 DM;- &%33-< 1,%3^ the dwaff sIghed
wIthIn me. +,%3 %3 5,$1 <$0"%0K %3 $##
$Q)B181,- "*)5<N 1,- <*%073N 1,- #%K,13N
1,- 3&-## )( 35-$1N 1,- K%*#3M /-*(B&-O U,N
I cut thfough the cfowd, seafchIng
fof hef. FfIends who notIced me wouId
cIap me on the shouIdef and caII out to
me. I fesponded to each wIth a bIg,
ffIendIy smIIe but saId nothIng. Befofe
Iong, the band stafted pIayIng, but stIII
thefe was no sIgn of hef.
+$7- %1 3#)5, saId the dwaff. +,- 0%K,1
%3 =)B0KO 6)BM;- K)1 /#-01= 1) #))7 ()*X
The dance fIoof was a Iafge, motof-
Ized cIfcIe that fotated vefy sIowIy.
ChaIfs and tabIes wefe set In fows
afound Its outef edge. Ovef It, a Iafge
chandeIIef hung ffom the hIgh ceIIIng,
the ImmacuIateIy poIIshed wood of the
fIoof fefIectIng Its bfIIIIance IIke a sheet
of Ice. Beyond the cIfcIe fose the band-
stand, IIke bIeachefs In an afena. On It
wefe affanged two fuII ofchestfas that
wouId aItefnate pIayIng evefy thIfty
mInutes, pfovIdIng Iush dance musIc aII
evenIng wIthout a bfeak. The one on
the fIght featufed two compIete dfum
sets, and aII the musIcIans wofe the
same fed eIephant Iogo on theIf bIazefs.
The maIn attfactIon of the Ieft-hand of-
chestfa was a ten-membef tfombone
sectIon, and thIs tfoupe wofe gfeen eIe-
phant masks.
I found a seat and ofdefed a beef,
IoosenIng my tIe and IIghtIng a cIgaf-
ette. The dance-haII gIfIs, who danced
fof a fee, wouId appfoach my tabIe now
and then and InvIte me to dance, but I
Ignofed them. ChIn In hand, and takIng
an occasIonaI sIp of beef, I waIted fof
the gIfI to come.
An houf went by, and stIII she faIIed
to show. A pafade of songs cfossed the
dance fIoofwaItzes, fox-tfots, a battIe
of the dfummefs, hIgh tfumpet so-
IosaII wasted. I began to feeI that she
mIght have been toyIng wIth me, that
she had nevef Intended to come hefe to
>)0M1 5)**=, whIspefed the dwaff.
The hands of the cIock had moved
past nIne befofe she showed hefseIf In
the dance-haII doof. She wofe a tIght,
shImmefIng one-pIece dfess and bIack
hIgh heeIs. The entIfe dance haII
seemed feady to vanIsh In a whIte bIuf,
she was so spafkIIng and sexy. FIfst one
man, then anothef and anothef, spotted
hef and appfoached to offef hImseIf as
an escoft, but a sIngIe wave of the hand
sent each of them back Into the cfowd.
I foIIowed hef movements as I sIpped
my beef. She sat at a tabIe dIfectIy
acfoss the dance fIoof ffom me, ofdefed
a fed-coIofed cocktaII, and IIt a Iong cI-
gafette. She hafdIy touched the dfInk,
and when she fInIshed the cIgafette she
cfushed It out wIthout IIghtIng anothef.
Then she stood and pfoceeded towafd
the dance fIoof, sIowIy, wIth the feadI-
ness of a dIvef appfoachIng the hIgh
She danced aIone. The ofchestfa
pIayed a tango. She moved to the musIc
wIth mesmefIzIng gface. Whenevef she
bent Iow, hef Iong, bIack, cufIy haIf
swept past the fIoof IIke the wInd, and
hef sIendef fIngefs stfoked the stfIngs
of an InvIsIbIe hafp that fIoated In the
aIf. UttefIy unfestfaIned, she danced by
hefseIf, fof hefseIf. I couIdn't take my
eyes off hef. It feIt IIke the contInuatIon
of my dfeam. I gfew confused. If I was
usIng one dfeam to cfeate anothef,
whefe was the feaI me In aII thIs?
@,-M3 $ K*-$1 <$0"-*, saId the dwaff.
D1M3 5)*1, <)%0K %1 5%1, 3)&-Q)<= #%7- ,-*O
HafdIy conscIous of my movements, I
stood and Ieft my tabIe fof the dance
fIoof. ShovIng my way past a numbef
of men, I came up besIde hef and
cIIcked my heeIs to sIgnaI to the othefs
that I Intended to dance. She cast a
gIance at me as she whIfIed, and I
fIashed hef a smIIe to whIch she dId not
fespond. Instead, she went on dancIng
I stafted dancIng, sIowIy at fIfst, but
gfaduaIIy fastef and fastef untII I was
dancIng IIke a whIfIwInd. My body no
Iongef beIonged to me. My afms, my
Iegs, my head, aII moved wIIdIy ovef
the dance fIoof unconnected to my
thoughts. I gave myseIf to the dance,
and aII the whIIe I couId heaf dIstInctIy
the tfansIt of the stafs, the shIftIng of
the tIdes, the facIng of the wInd. ThIs
was tfuIy what It meant to dance. I
stamped my feet, swung my afms,
tossed my head, and whIfIed. A gIobe
of whIte IIght bufst open InsIde my
head as I spun found and found.
AgaIn she gIanced at me, and then
she was whIfIIng and stampIng wIth
me. The IIght was expIodIng InsIde hef,
too, I knew. I was happy. I had nevef
been so happy.
+,%3 %3 $ #)1 &)*- (B0 1,$0 5)*7%0K %0
3)&- -#-/,$01 ($"1)*=N %30M1 %1L saId the
I saId nothIng In fetufn. My mouth
was so dfy, I couIdn't have spoken If I
had tfIed to.
We went on dancIng, houf aftef houf.
I Ied, she foIIowed. TIme seemed to
have gIven way to etefnIty. EventuaIIy,
she stopped dancIng, IookIng uttefIy
dfaIned. She took my afm, and Iof,
shouId I say, the dwaffstopped dan-
cIng, too. StandIng In the vefy centef of
the dance fIoof, we gazed Into each
othef's eyes. She bent ovef to femove
hef hIgh heeIs, and wIth them dangIIng
ffom hef hand, she Iooked at me agaIn.
aIong the fIvef. I had no caf, so we just
kept waIkIng and waIkIng. Soon the
foad began Its gfaduaI cIImb Into the
hIIIs. The aIf became fIIIed wIth the
peffume of whIte nIght-bIoomIng
fIowefs. I tufned to see the dafk shapes
of the factofy spfead out beIow. Ffom
the dance haII, yeIIow IIght spIIIed out
onto Its ImmedIate suffoundIngs IIke so
much poIIen, and one of the ofchestfas
was pIayIng a jump tune. The wInd was
soft, and the moonIIght seemed to
dfench hef haIf.
NeIthef of us spoke. Aftef such dan-
cIng, thefe was no need to say
anythIng. She cIung to my afm IIke a
bIInd pefson beIng Ied aIong the foad.
ToppIng the hIII, the foad Ied Into an
open fIeId suffounded by pIne woods.
The bfoad expanse Iooked IIke a caIm
Iake. EvenIy covefed In waIst-hIgh
gfass, the fIeId seemed to dance In the
nIght wInd. Hefe and thefe a shInIng
fIowef poked Its head Into the moon-
IIght, caIIIng out to Insects.
PuttIng my afm afound hef
shouIdefs, I Ied hef to the mIddIe of the
gfassy fIeId, whefe, wIthout a wofd, I
Iowefed hef to the gfound. You'fe not
much of a taIkef," she saId wIth a
smIIe. She tossed hef shoes away and
wfapped hef afms afound my neck. I
kIssed hef on the IIps and dfew back
ffom hef, IookIng at hef face once
agaIn. She was beautIfuI, as beautIfuI as
a dfeam. I stIII couId not beIIeve I had
hef In my afms IIke thIs. She cIosed hef
eyes, waItIng fof me to kIss hef agaIn.
That was when hef face began to
change. A fIeshy whIte thIng cfept out
of one nostfII. It was a maggot, an
enofmous maggot, Iafgef than any I
had evef seen befofe. Then came anoth-
ef and anothef, emefgIng ffom both hef
nostfIIs, and suddenIy the stench of
death was aII afound us. Maggots wefe
faIIIng ffom hef mouth to hef thfoat,
cfawIIng acfoss hef eyes and buffowIng
Into hef haIf. The skIn of hef nose
sIIpped away, the fIesh beneath meItIng
untII onIy two dafk hoIes wefe Ieft.
Ffom these, stIII mofe maggots
stfuggIed to emefge, theIf paIe whIte
bodIes smeafed wIth the fottIng fIesh
that suffounded them.
Pus began to pouf ffom hef eyes, the
sheef fofce of It causIng hef eyebaIIs to
twItch, then faII and dangIe to eIthef
sIde of hef face. In the gapIng cavefn
behInd the sockets, a cIot of maggots
IIke a baII of whIte stfIng swafmed In
hef fottIng bfaIn. Hef tongue dangIed
ffom hef mouth IIke a huge sIug, then
festefed and feII away. Hef gums dIs-
soIved, the whIte teeth dfoppIng out
one by one, and soon the mouth ItseIf
was gone. BIood spufted ffom the foots
of hef haIf, and then each haIf feII out.
Ffom beneath the sIImy scaIp, mofe
maggots ate theIf way thfough to the
sufface. Afms Iocked afound me, the
gIfI nevef Ioosened hef gfIp. I stfuggIed
vaInIy to ffee myseIf, to aveft my face,
to cIose my eyes. A hafdened Iump In
my stomach fose to my thfoat, but I
couId not dIsgofge It. I feIt as If the skIn
of my body had tufned InsIde out. By
my eaf fesounded the Iaughtef of the
The gIfI's face contInued to meIt untII
suddenIy the jaw popped open, as If
ffom a sudden twIstIng of the muscIes,
and cIots of IIquefIed fIesh and pus and
maggots spfang In aII dIfectIons.
I sucked my bfeath In to Iet out a
scfeam. I wanted
someoneanyoneto dfag me away
ffom thIs unbeafabIe heII. In the end,
howevef, I dId not scfeam. ThIs can't be
happenIng, I saId to myseIf. ThIs can't
be feaI, I knew aImost IntuItIveIy. The
dwaff Is doIng thIs. He's tfyIng to tfIck
me. He's tfyIng to make me use my
voIce. One sound, and my body wIII be
hIs fofevef. That Is exactIy what he
Now I knew what I had to do. I
cIosed my eyesthIs tIme wIthout the
Ieast fesIstanceand I couId heaf the
wInd movIng acfoss the gfassy fIeId.
The gIfI's fIngefs wefe dIggIng Into my
back. Now I wfapped my afms afound
hef and dfew hef to me wIth aII my
stfength, pIantIng a kIss upon the sup-
pufatIng fIesh whefe It seemed to me
hef mouth had once been. AgaInst my
face I couId feeI the sIIppefy fIesh and
the maggoty Iumps, my nostfIIs fIIIed
wIth a putfId smeII. But thIs Iasted onIy
a moment. When I opened my eyes, I
found myseIf kIssIng the beautIfuI gIfI I
had come hefe wIth. Hef pInk cheeks
gIowed In the soft moonIIght. And I
knew that I had defeated the dwaff. I
had done It aII wIthout makIng a sound.
6)B 5%0, saId the dwaff In a voIce
dfaIned of enefgy. @,-M3 =)B*3O DM& #-$;X
%0K'=)B*'Q)<='0)5. And he dId.
But you haven't seen the Iast of me,"
he went on. You can wIn as often as
you IIke. But you can onIy Iose once.
Then It's the end fof you. And you 5%##
Iose. The day Is bound to come. I'II be
waItIng, no mattef how Iong It takes."
Why does It have to be me?" I
shouted back. Why can't It be someone
But the dwaff saId nothIng. He onIy
Iaughed. The sound of hIs Iaughtef
fIoated In the aIf untII the wInd swept
It away.
IN THE END, the dwaff was fIght. Evefy
poIIceman In the countfy Is out IookIng
fof me now. Someone who saw me dan-
cIngmaybe the oId manfepofted to
the authofItIes that the dwaff had
danced In my body. The poIIce stafted
watchIng me, and evefyone who knew
me was caIIed In fof questIonIng. My
paftnef testIfIed that I had once toId
hIm about the dancIng dwaff. A waf-
fant went out fof my affest. The poIIce
suffounded the factofy. The beautIfuI
gIfI ffom Stage 8 came secfetIy to wafn
me. I fan ffom the shop and dove Into
the pooI whefe the fInIshed eIephants
afe stockpIIed. CIIngIng to the back of
one, I fIed Into the fofest, cfushIng sev-
efaI poIIcemen on the way.
Fof aImost a month now, I've been
funnIng ffom fofest to fofest, mountaIn
to mountaIn, eatIng beffIes and bugs,
dfInkIng watef ffom the fIvef to keep
myseIf aIIve. But thefe afe too many
poIIcemen. They'fe bound to catch me
soonef of Iatef. And when they do,
they'II stfap me to the wInch and teaf
me to pIeces. Of so I'm toId.
The dwaff comes Into my dfeams
evefy nIght and ofdefs me to Iet hIm In-
sIde me.
At Ieast that way, you won't be af-
fested and dIsmembefed by the poIIce,"
he says.
No, but then I'II have to dance In
the fofest fofevef."
Tfue," says the dwaff, but you'fe
the one who has to make that choIce."
He chuckIes when he says thIs, but I
can't make the choIce.
I heaf the dogs howIIng now. They'fe
aImost hefe.
I MUST HAVE BEEN eIghteen of nIneteen
when I mowed Iawns, a good foufteen
of fIfteen yeafs ago. AncIent hIstofy.
SometImes, though, foufteen of fIf-
teen yeafs doesn't seem 3) Iong ago. I'II
thInk, that's when JIm MoffIson was
sIngIng IIght My FIfe," of PauI
McCaftney The Iong and WIndIng
Road"maybe I'm scfambIIng my
yeafs a bIt, but anyway, about that
tImeIt somehow nevef quIte hIts that
It was feaIIy aII that Iong ago. I mean, I
don't thInk I myseIf have changed so
much sInce those days.
No, I take that back. I'm sufe I must
have changed a Iot. Thefe'd be too
many thIngs I couIdn't expIaIn If I
Okay, I've changed. And these thIngs
happened aII of foufteen, fIfteen yeafs
In my neIghbofhoodI'd just fe-
centIy moved thefewe had a pubIIc
junIof hIgh schooI, and whenevef I
went out to fun shoppIng effands of
take a waIk I'd pass fIght by It. So I'd
fInd myseIf IookIng at the junIof-hIgh
kIds exefcIsIng of dfawIng pIctufes of
just goofIng off. Not that I especIaIIy
enjoyed IookIng at them, thefe wasn't
anythIng eIse to Iook at. I couId just as
weII have Iooked at the IIne of cheffy
tfees off to the fIght, but the junIof-
hIgh kIds wefe mofe IntefestIng.
So as thIngs went, IookIng at these
junIof-hIgh-schooI kIds evefy day, one
day It stfuck me. +,-= 5-*- $## TB31 ()B*X
1--0 )* (%(1--0 =-$*3 )#<. It was a mInof
dIscovefy fof me, somethIng of a shock.
Foufteen of fIfteen yeafs ago, they wef-
en't even bofn, of If they wefe, they
wefe IIttIe mofe than semIconscIous
bIobs of pInk fIesh. And hefe they wefe
now, aIfeady weafIng bfassIefes, mas-
tufbatIng, sendIng stupId IIttIe post-
cafds to dIsc jockeys, smokIng out In
back of the gym, wfItIng FUCK on some-
body's fence wIth fed spfay paInt, fead-
Ingmaybe?$* $0< C-$"-O C,-5,
gIad that's done wIth.
I feaIIy meant It. C,-5.
Me, back foufteen of fIfteen yeafs
ago, I was mowIng Iawns.
that's IIke memofy. ThIs feaIIy came
home to me once I stafted wfItIng fIc-
tIon, that memofy seemed a kInd of fIc-
tIon, of vIce vefsa. EIthef way, no mat-
tef how hafd you tfy to put evefythIng
neatIy Into shape, the context wandefs
thIs way and that, untII fInaIIy the con-
text Isn't even thefe anymofe. You'fe
Ieft wIth thIs pIIe of kIttens IoIIIng aII
ovef one anothef. Wafm wIth IIfe,
hopeIessIy unstabIe. And then to put
these thIngs out as saIeabIe Items, you
caII them fInIshed pfoductsat tImes
It's downfIght embaffassIng just to
thInk of It. HonestIy, It can make me
bIush. And If &= face tufns that shade,
you can be sufe evefyone's bIushIng.
StIII, you gfasp human exIstence In
tefms of these fathef absufd actIvItIes
festIng on feIatIveIy stfaIghtfofwafd
motIves, and questIons of fIght and
wfong pfetty much dfop out of the pIc-
tufe. That's whefe memofy takes ovef
and fIctIon Is bofn. Ffom that poInt on,
It's a pefpetuaI-motIon machIne no one
can stop. TottefIng Its way thfoughout
the wofId, tfaIIIng a sIngIe unbfoken
thfead ovef the gfound.
Hefe goes nothIng. Hope aII goes
weII, you say. But It nevef has. Nevef
wIII. It just doesn't go that way.
So whefe does that Ieave you? What
do you do?
What Is thefe to do? I just go back to
gathefIng kIttens and pIIIng them up
agaIn. Exhausted kIttens, aII IImp and
pIayed out. But even If they woke to
dIscovef themseIves stacked IIke kInd-
IIng fof a campfIfe, what wouId the kIt-
tens thInk? WeII, It mIght scafceIy faIse
a Hey, what gIves?" out of them. In
whIch caseIf thefe was nothIng to
paftIcuIafIy get upset aboutIt wouId
make my wofk a IIttIe easIef. That's the
way I see It.
so we'fe taIkIng ancIent hIstofy.
Afound that tIme I had a gIfIffIend the
same age, but a sImpIe tufn of events
had taken hef to IIve In a town way out
of the way. Out of a whoIe yeaf we
couId get togethef maybe two weeks
totaI. In that shoft tIme we'd have sex,
go to the movIes, wIne and dIne at
some pfetty fancy pIaces, teII each oth-
ef thIngs nonstop, one thIng aftef the
next. And In the end we'd aIways cap It
off wIth one heII of a fIght, then make
up, and have sex agaIn. In othef wofds,
we'd be doIng what most any coupIe
does, onIy In a condensed vefsIon, IIke
a shoft featufe.
At thIs poInt In tIme, I don't actuaIIy
know If I feaIIy and tfuIy Ioved hef of
not. Oh, I can bfIng hef to mInd, aII
fIght, but I just don't know. These
thIngs, they happen. I IIked eatIng out
wIth hef, IIked watchIng hef take off
hef cIothes one pIece at a tIme, IIked
how soft It feIt InsIde hef vagIna. And
aftef sex, I IIked just IookIng at hef
wIth hef head on my chest, taIkIng
softIy untII she'd faII asIeep. But that's
aII. Beyond that, I'm not sufe of one
sIngIe thIng.
Save fof that two-week pefIod I was
seeIng hef, my IIfe was excfucIatIngIy
monotonous. I'd go to the unIvefsIty
whenevef I had cIasses and got mofe of
Iess avefage mafks. Maybe go to the
movIes aIone, of stfoII the stfeets fof no
specIaI feason, of take some gIfI I got
aIong wIth out on a dateno sex.
Nevef much fof Ioud get-togethefs, I
was aIways saId to be on the quIet sIde.
When I was by myseIf, I'd IIsten to fock
'n' foII, nothIng eIse. Happy enough, I
guess, though pfobabIy not so vefy
happy. But at the tIme, that was about
what you'd expect.
One summef mofnIng, the begInnIng
of JuIy, I got thIs Iong Iettef ffom my
gIfIffIend, and In It she'd wfItten that
she wanted to bfeak up wIth me. I've
aIways feIt cIose to you, and I stIII IIke
you even now, and I'm sufe that ffom
hefe on I'II contInue to . et cetefa, et
cetefa. In shoft, she was wantIng to
bfeak It off. She had found hefseIf a
new boyffIend. I hung my head and
smoked sIx cIgafettes, went outsIde and
dfank a can of beef, came back In and
smoked anothef cIgafette. Then I took
thfee HB pencIIs I had on my desk and
snapped them In haIf. It wasn't that I
was angfy, feaIIy. I just dIdn't know
what to do. In the end, I mefeIy
changed cIothes and headed off to
wofk. And fof a whIIe thefe, evefyone
wIthIn shoutIng dIstance was
commentIng on my suddenIy outgoIng
dIsposItIon." What Is It about IIfe?
That yeaf I had a paft-tIme job fof a
Iawn-cafe sefvIce neaf Kyodo StatIon
on the Odakyu IIne, doIng a faIfIy good
busIness. Most peopIe, when they buIIt
houses In the afea, put In Iawns. That,
of they kept dogs. The two thIngs
seemed mIffof aItefnatIves. (AIthough
thefe 5-*- foIks who dId both.) Each
had Its own advantages: A gfeen Iawn
Is a thIng of beauty, a dog Is cute. But
haIf a yeaf passes, and thIngs staft to
dfag on evefyone. The Iawn needs
mowIng, and you have to waIk the dog.
Not quIte what they bafgaIned fof.
WeII, as It ended up, we mowed
Iawns fof these peopIe. The summef be-
fofe, I'd found the job thfough the stu-
dent unIon at the unIvefsIty. BesIdes
me, a whoIe sIew of othefs had come In
at the same tIme, but they aII quIt soon
thefeaftef, onIy I stayed on. It was de-
meanIng wofk, but the pay wasn't bad.
What's mofe, you couId get by pfetty
much wIthout taIkIng to anyone. Just
made fof me. SInce joInIng on thefe, I'd
managed to save up a tIdy IIttIe sum.
Enough fof my gIfIffIend and me to
take a tfIp somewhefe that summef.
But now that she'd caIIed the whoIe
thIng off, what dIffefence dId It make?
Fof a week of so aftef I got hef good-
bye Iettef, I tfIed thInkIng up aII softs
of ways to use the money. Of fathef, I
dIdn't have anythIng bettef to thInk
about than how to spend the money. A
Iost week It was. My penIs Iooked IIke
any othef guy's penIs. But somebodya
somebody I dIdn't knowwas nIbbIIng
at hef IIttIe nIppIes. Stfange sensatIon.
What was wfong wIth me?
I was hafd-pfessed to come up wIth
some way of spendIng the money.
Thefe was a deaI to buy someone's used
cafa 1000cc Subafunot bad condI-
tIon and the fIght pfIce, but somehow I
just dIdn't feeI IIke It. I aIso thought of
buyIng new speakefs, but In my tIny
apaftment wIth Its wood-and-pIastef-
boafd waIIs, what wouId have been the
poInt? I guess I couId have moved, but I
dIdn't feaIIy have any feason to. And
even If I dId up and move out of my
apaftment, thefe wouIdn't have been
enough money Ieft ovef to buy the
Thefe just wasn't any way to spend
the money. I bought myseIf a poIo shIft
and a few fecofds, and the whoIe fest
of the Iump femaIned. So then I bought
a feaIIy good Sony tfansIstof fadIobIg
speakefs, cIeaf FM feceptIon, the
The whoIe week went past befofe It
stfuck me. The fact of the mattef was
that If I bad no way of spendIng the
money, thefe was no poInt In my eafn-
Ing It.
So one mofnIng I bfoached the mat-
tef to the head of the Iawn-mowIng
company, toId hIm I'd IIke to quIt. It
was gettIng on tIme when I had to be-
gIn studyIng fof exams, and befofe that
I'd been thInkIng about takIng a tfIp. I
wasn't about to say that I dIdn't want
the money anymofe.
WeII, now, soffy to heaf that," saId
the head exec (I guess you'd caII hIm
that, aIthough he seemed mofe IIke
youf neIghbofhood gafdenIng man).
Then he Iet out a sIgh and sat down In
hIs chaIf to take a puff of hIs cIgafette.
He Iooked up at the ceIIIng and cfaned
hIs neck stIffIy ffom sIde to sIde. You
feaIIy and tfuIy do fIne wofk. You'fe
the heaft of the opefatIon, the best of
my paft-tImefs. Got a good feputatIon
wIth the customefs, too. What can I
say? You've done a tfemendous job fof
someone so young."
Thanks, I toId hIm. ActuaIIy, I dId
have a good feputatIon. That's because
I dId metIcuIous wofk. Most paft-tImefs
gIve the gfass a thofough once-ovef
wIth a bIg eIectfIc Iawn mowef and do
onIy a medIocfe job on the femaInIng
afeas. That way, they get done quIckIy
wIthout weafIng themseIves out. My
method was exactIy the opposIte. I'd
fough In wIth the mowef, then put tIme
Into the hand tfImmIng. So natufaIIy,
the fInIshed pfoduct Iooked nIce. The
onIy thIng was that the take was smaII,
seeIng as the pay was caIcuIated at so
much pef job. The pfIce went by the
appfoxImate afea of the yafd. And what
wIth aII that bendIng and stoopIng, my
back wouId get pIenty sofe. It's the soft
of thIng you have to be In the busIness
to feaIIy undefstand. So much so that
untII you get used to It, you have
tfoubIe goIng up and down staIfs.
Now, I dIdn't do such metIcuIous
wofk especIaIIy to buIId a feputatIon.
You pfobabIy won't beIIeve me, but I
sImpIy enjoy mowIng Iawns. Evefy
mofnIng, I'd hone the gfass cIIppefs,
head out to the customefs In a mInIvan
Ioaded wIth a Iawn mowef, and cut the
gfass. Thefe's aII kInds of yafds, aII
kInds of tuff, aII kInds of housewIves.
QuIet, thoughtfuI housewIves and ones
who shoot off theIf mouths. Thefe wefe
even youf housewIves who'd cfouch
down fIght In ffont of me In Ioose T-
shIfts and no bfa so that I couId see aII
the way to theIf nIppIes.
No mattef, I kept on mowIng the
Iawn. GenefaIIy, the gfass In the yafd
wouId be pfetty hIgh. Ovefgfown IIke a
thIcket. The taIIef the gfass, the mofe
fewafdIng I'd fInd the job. When the
job was fInIshed, the yafd wouId yIeId
an entIfeIy dIffefent ImpfessIon. GIves
you a feaIIy gfeat feeIIng. It's as If a
thIck bank of cIouds has suddenIy IIf-
ted, IettIng In the sun aII afound.
One tIme and one tIme onIy$(1-* I'd
done my wofkdId I evef sIeep wIth
one of these housewIves. ThIfty-one,
maybe thIfty-two she was, petIte, wIth
smaII, fIfm bfeasts. She cIosed aII the
shuttefs, tufned out the IIghts, and we
made It In the pItch-bIackness. Even so,
she kept on hef dfess, mefeIy sIIppIng
off hef undefweaf. She got on top of
me, but wouIdn't Iet me touch hef any-
whefe beIow hef bfeasts. And hef body
was IncfedIbIy coId, onIy hef vagIna
was wafm. She hafdIy spoke a wofd. I,
too, kept sIIent. Thefe was just the fust-
IIng of hef dfess, now sIowef, now
fastef. The teIephone fang mIdway. The
fIngIng went on fof a whIIe, then
Iatef, I wondefed If my gIfIffIend
and I bfeakIng up mIghtn't have been
on account of that IntefIude. Not that
thefe was any paftIcuIaf feason to thInk
so. It somehow just occuffed to me.
PfobabIy because of the phone caII that
went unanswefed. WeII, whatevef, It's
aII ovef and done wIth.
ThIs feaIIy Ieaves me In a fIx, you
know," saId my boss. If you puII out
now, I won't be abIe to stIf up busIness.
And It's peak season, too."
The faIny season feaIIy made Iawns
gfow IIke cfazy.
What do you say? How about one
mofe week? GIve me a week. I'II be
abIe to fInd some new hands, and
evefythIng'II be okay. If you'd just do
that fof me, I'II gIve you a bonus."
FIne, I toId hIm. I dIdn't especIaIIy
have any othef pIans fof the tIme be-
Ing, and above aII, I had no objectIons
to the wofk ItseIf. AII the same, I
couIdn't heIp thInkIng what an odd
tufn of events thIs was: The mInute I
decIde I don't need money, the dough
stafts poufIng In.
CIeaf weathef thfee days In a fow,
then one day of faIn, then thfee mofe
days of cIeaf weathef. So went my Iast
week on the job. It was summef,
though nothIng specIaI as summefs go.
CIouds dfIfted acfoss the sky IIke dIs-
tant memofIes. The sun bfoIIed my
skIn. My back peeIed thfee tImes, and
by then I was tanned dafk aII ovef.
Even behInd my eafs.
The mofnIng of my Iast day of wofk
found me In my usuaI geafT-shIft and
shofts, tennIs shoes, sungIassesonIy
now as I cIImbed Into the mInIvan, I
was headIng out fof what wouId be my
Iast Iawn. The caf fadIo was on the
bIInk, so I bfought aIong my tfansIstof
fadIo ffom home fof some dfIvIng mu-
sIc. Cfeedence, Gfand Funk, youf fegu-
Iaf AM fock. EvefythIng fevoIved
afound the summef sun. I whIstIed
aIong wIth snatches of the musIc, and
smoked when not whIstIIng. An FEN
newscastef was stumbIIng ovef a fapId-
fIfe IIst of the most ImpossIbIe-to-pfo-
nounce VIetnamese pIace-names.
My Iast job was neaf YomIufI Iand
Amusement Pafk. FIne by me. Don't ask
why someone IIvIng ovef the IIne In
Kanagawa Pfefectufe feIt compeIIed to
caII a Setagaya Wafd Iawn-mowIng sef-
vIce. I had no fIght to compIaIn,
though. I mean, I myseIf chose that job.
Go Into the offIce fIfst thIng In the
mofnIng, and aII the day's jobs wouId
be wfItten up on a bIackboafd, each
pefson then sIgned up fof the pIaces he
wanted to wofk. Most of the cfew gen-
efaIIy chose pIaces neafby. Iess tIme
back and fofth, so they couId squeeze
In mofe jobs. Me, on the othef hand, I
chose jobs as faf away as I couId. AI-
ways. And that aIways puzzIed evefy-
one. But IIke I saId befofe, I was the
Iead guy among the paft-tImefs, so I got
fIfst choIce of any jobs I wanted.
No feason fof choosIng what I dId,
feaIIy. I just IIked mowIng Iawns
fafthef away. I enjoyed the tIme on the
foad, enjoyed a Iongef Iook at the
scenefy on the way. I wasn't about to
teII anyone thatwho wouId've
I dfove wIth aII the wIndows open.
The wInd gfew bfIsk as I headed out of
the cIty, the suffoundIngs gfeenef. The
sImmefIng heat of the Iawns and the
smeII of dfy dIft came on stfongef, the
cIouds wefe outIIned shafp agaInst the
sky. FantastIc weathef. Peffect fof tak-
Ing a IIttIe summef day tfIp wIth a gIfI
somewhefe. I thought about the cooI
sea and the hot sands. And then I
thought of a cozy aIf-condItIoned foom
wIth cfIsp bIue sheets on the bed.
That's aII. AsIde ffom that, I dIdn't
thInk about a thIng. My head was aII
beach and bIue sheets.
I went on thInkIng about these vefy
thIngs whIIe gettIng the tank fIIIed at a
gas statIon. I stfetched out on a neafby
patch of gfass and casuaIIy watched the
attendant check the oII and wIpe the
wIndows. PuttIng my eaf to the gfound,
I couId heaf aII kInds of thIngs. I couId
even heaf what sounded IIke dIstant
waves, though of coufse It wasn't. OnIy
the fumbIe of aII the dIffefent sounds
the eafth sucked In. RIght In ffont of
my eyes, a bug was InchIng aIong a
bIade of gfass. A tIny gfeen bug wIth
wIngs. The bug paused when It feached
the end of the gfass bIade, thought
thIngs ovef awhIIe, then decIded to go
back the same way It came. DIdn't Iook
aII that paftIcuIafIy upset.
Wondef If the heat gets to bugs, too?
Who knows?
In ten mInutes, the tank was fuII, and
the attendant honked the hofn to Iet me
My destInatIon addfess tufned out to
be up In the hIIIs. GentIe, stateIy hIIIs,
foIIIng down to fows of zeIkova tfees
on eIthef fIank. In one yafd, two smaII
boys In theIf bIfthday suIts showefIng
each othef wIth a hose. The spfay made
a stfange IIttIe two-foot faInbow In the
aIf. Ffom an open wIndow came the
sound of someone pfactIcIng the pIano.
QuIte beautIfuIIy, too, you couId aImost
mIstake It fof a fecofd.
I puIIed the van to a stop In ffont of
the appoInted house, got out, and fang
the doofbeII. No answef. EvefythIng
was dead quIet. Not a souI In sIght,
kInd of IIke sIesta tIme In a IatIn coun-
tfy. I fang the doofbeII one mofe tIme.
Then I just kept on waItIng.
It seemed a nIce enough IIttIe house:
cfeam-coIofed pIastef waIIs wIth a
squafe chImney of the same coIof stIck-
Ing up ffom fIght In the mIddIe of the
foof. WhIte cuftaIns hung In the
wIndows, whIch wefe ffamed In gfay,
though both wefe sun-bIeached beyond
beIIef. It was an oId house, a house aII
the mofe becomIng fof Its age. The soft
of house you often fInd at summef fe-
softs, occupIed haIf the yeaf and Ieft
empty the othef haIf. You know the
type. Thefe was a IIved-In aIf to the
house that gave It Its chafm.
The yafd was encIosed by a waIst-
hIgh Ffench-bfIck waII topped by a
fosebush hedge. The foses had com-
pIeteIy faIIen off, IeavIng onIy the gfeen
Ieaves to take In the gIafIng summef
sun. I hadn't feaIIy taken a Iook at the
Iawn yet, but the yafd seemed faIfIy
Iafge, and thefe was a bIg camphof tfee
that cast a cooI shadow ovef the cfeam-
coIofed house.
It took a thIfd fIng befofe the ffont
doof sIowIy opened and a mIddIe-aged
woman emefged. A huge woman. Now,
I'm not so smaII myseIf, but she must
have been a good Inch and a haIf taIIef
than me. And bfoad at the shouIdefs,
too. She Iooked IIke she was pIenty
angfy at somethIng. She was afound
fIfty, I'd say. No beauty ceftaInIy, but a
pfesentabIe face. AIthough, of coufse,
by pfesentabIe" I don't mean to sug-
gest that hefs was the most IIkabIe face.
Rathef thIck eyebfows and a squafIsh
jaw attested to a stubbofn, nevef-go-
back-on-youf-wofd tempefament.
Thfough sIeep-duIIed eyes she gave
me the most bothefed Iook. A sIIghtIy
gfayIng shock of stIff ffIzzy haIf fIppIed
acfoss the cfown of hef head, hef two
thIck afms dfooped out of the shouIdefs
of a ffumpy bfown cotton dfess. Hef
IImbs wefe uttefIy paIe. What Is It?"
she saId.
I've come to mow the Iawn," I saId,
takIng off my sungIasses.
The Iawn?" She twIsted hef neck.
You mow Iawns?"
That's fIght, and sInce you caIIed"
Oh, I guess I dId. The Iawn. What's
the date today?"
The foufteenth."
To whIch she yawned, The fouf-
teenth, eh?" Then she yawned agaIn.
Say, you wouIdn't have a cIgafette,
wouId you?"
TakIng a pack of Hope feguIafs out of
my pocket, I offefed hef one and IIt It
wIth a match. Whefeupon she exhaIed
a Iong, IeIsufeIy puff of smoke up Into
the open aIf.
Of aII the ." she began. What's It
gonna take?"
She thfust out hef jaw and nodded.
Depends on the sIze and how much
wofk It needs. May I take a Iook?"
Go ahead. SeeIng's how you gotta
sIze It up fIfst."
Thefe wefe some hydfangea bushes
and that camphof tfee and the fest was
Iawn. Two empty bIfdcages wefe set
out beneath a wIndow. The yafd Iooked
weII tended, the gfass was faIfIy
shofthafdIy In need of mowIng. I was
kInd of dIsappoInted.
ThIs hefe's stIII okay fof anothef two
weeks. No feason to mow now."
That's fof me to decIde, am I fIght?"
I gave hef a quIck Iook. WeII, she dId
have me thefe.
I want It shoftef. That's what I'm
payIng you money fof. FaIf enough?"
I nodded. I'II be done In fouf houfs."
AwfuI sIow, don't you thInk?"
I IIke to wofk sIow."
WeII, suIt youfseIf."
I went to the van, took out the eIec-
tfIc Iawn mowef, gfass cIIppefs, fake,
gafbage bag, my thefmos of Iced coffee,
and my tfansIstof fadIo, and bfought
them Into the yafd. The sun was cIImb-
Ing steadIIy towafd the centef of the
sky. The tempefatufe was aIso fIsIng
steadIIy. MeanwhIIe, as I was hauIIng
out my equIpment, the woman had
IIned up ten paIfs of shoes by the ffont
doof and began dustIng them wIth a
fag. AII of them women's shoes, but of
two dIffefent sIzes, smaII and extfa-
WouId It be aII fIght If I put on some
musIc whIIe I wofk?" I asked.
The woman Iooked up ffom whefe
she cfouched. FIne by me. I IIke musIc
ImmedIateIy I set about pIckIng up
whatevef stones Iay afound the yafd,
and onIy then stafted up the Iawn
mowef. Stones can feaIIy damage the
bIades. The mowef was fItted wIth a
pIastIc feceptacIe to coIIect aII the cIIp-
pIngs. I'd femove thIs feceptacIe
whenevef It got too fuII and empty the
cIIppIngs Into the gafbage bag. WIth
two thousand squafe feet to mow, even
a shoft gfowth can amount to a Iot of
cIIppIngs. The sun kept bfoIIIng down
on me. I stfIpped off my sweat-soaked
T-shIft and kept wofkIng. In my shofts,
I must have Iooked dfessed down fof
some bafbecue. I was aII sweat. At thIs
fate, I couId have kept dfInkIng watef
and dfInkIng watef and stIII not pIssed
a dfop.
Aftef about an houf of mowIng, I
took a bfeak and sat myseIf down un-
def the camphof tfee to dfInk some
Iced coffee. I couId feeI my entIfe body
just dfInkIng up the sugaf. CIcadas
wefe dfonIng ovefhead. I tufned on the
fadIo and poked afound the dIaI fof a
decent dIsc jockey. I stopped when I
came to a statIon pIayIng Thfee Dog
NIght's Mama ToId Me Not to Come,"
Iay down on my back, and just Iooked
up thfough my shades at the sun fIItef-
Ing between the bfanches.
The woman came and pIanted hefseIf
by my head. VIewed ffom beIow, she
fesembIed the camphof tfee. Hef fIght
hand heId a gIass, and In It whIskey
and Ice wefe aswIfI In the summef
Hot, eh?" she saId.
You saId It," I fepIIed.
So what's a guy IIke you do fof
I Iooked at my watch. It was 11:20.
When noon foIIs afound, I'II go get
myseIf somethIng to eat somewhefe. I
thInk thefe's a hambufgef stand
No need to go out of youf way. I'II
fIx you a sandwIch of somethIng."
ReaIIy, It's aII fIght. I aIways go off
to get a bIte."
She faIsed the gIass of whIskey to hef
mouth and downed haIf of It In one
swaIIow. Then she pufsed hef IIps and
Iet out a sIgh. No bothef to me. I was
goIng to make somethIng fof myseIf
anyway. C'mon, Iet me get you
WeII, then, aII fIght. Much obIIged."
That's okay," she saId, and tfudged
back Into the house, sIowIy swayIng at
the shouIdefs.
I wofked wIth the gfass cIIppefs untII
tweIve. FIfst, I went ovef the uneven
spots In my mowIng job, then, aftef
fakIng up the cIIppIngs, I pfoceeded to
tfIm whefe the mowef hadn't feached.
ReaI tIme-consumIng wofk. If I'd
wanted to do just an adequate job, I
couId have done onIy so much and no
mofe, If I wanted to do It fIght, I couId
do It fIght. But just because I'd get
down to detaIIs dIdn't necessafIIy mean
my Iabofs wefe aIways appfecIated.
Some foIks wouId caII It tedIous nIt-
pIckIng. StIII, as I saId befofe, I'm one
fof doIng my best. It's just my natufe.
And even mofe, It's a mattef of pfIde.
A noon whIstIe went off somewhefe,
and the woman took me Into the
kItchen fof sandwIches. The kItchen
wasn't bIg, but It was cIean and tIdy.
And except fof the hummIng of the
huge feffIgefatof, aII was quIet. The
pIates and sIIvefwafe wefe pfactIcaIIy
antIques. She offefed me a beef, whIch
I decIIned, seeIng as I was stIII on the
job." So she sefved me some ofange
juIce Instead. She hefseIf, howevef, had
a beef. A haIf-empty bottIe of WhIte
Hofse stood pfomInentIy on the tabIe,
and the sInk was fIIIed wIth aII kInds of
empty bottIes.
I enjoyed the sandwIch. Ham, Iettuce,
and cucumbef, wIth a tang of mustafd.
ExceIIent sandwIch, I toId hef. Sand-
wIches wefe the onIy thIngs she was
good at, she saId. She dIdn't eat a bIte,
thoughjust nIbbIed at a pIckIe, and
devoted the fest of hef attentIon to hef
beef. She wasn't especIaIIy taIkatIve,
nof dId I have anythIng wofth bfIngIng
At tweIve-thIfty, I fetufned to the
Iawn. My Iast aftefnoon Iawn.
I IIstened to fock musIc on FEN whIIe
I gave one Iast touch-up tfIm, then
faked the Iawn fepeatedIy and checked
ffom sevefaI angIes fof any ovefIooked
pIaces, just IIke bafbefs do. By one-
thIfty, I was two-thIfds done. TIme and
agaIn, sweat wouId get Into my eyes,
and I wouId go douse my face at the
outdoof faucet. A coupIe of tImes I got
a hafd-on, then It wouId go away.
Pfetty fIdIcuIous, gettIng a hafd-on just
mowIng a Iawn.
I fInIshed wofkIng by two-twenty. I
tufned off the fadIo, took off my shoes,
and waIked aII ovef the Iawn In my
bafe feet: nothIng Ieft untfImmed, no
uneven patches. Smooth as a cafpet.
Even now, I stIII IIke you," she had
wfItten In hef Iast Iettef. You'fe kInd,
and one of the fInest peopIe I know. But
somehow, that just wasn't enough. I
don't know why I feeI that way, I just
do. It's a teffIbIe thIng to say, I know,
and It pfobabIy won't amount to much
of an expIanatIon. NIneteen Is an awfuI
age to be. Maybe In a few yeafs I'II be
abIe to expIaIn thIngs bettef, but aftef a
few yeafs It pfobabIy won't mattef any-
mofe, wIII It?"
I washed my face at the faucet, then
Ioaded my equIpment back Into the van
and changed Into a new T-shIft. HavIng
done that, I went to the ffont doof of
the house to announce that I'd fInIshed.
How about a beef?" the woman
Don't mInd If I do," I saId. What
couId be the hafm of one beef, aftef
StandIng sIde by sIde at the edge of
the yafd, we sufveyed the Iawn, I wIth
my beef, she wIth a Iong vodka tonIc,
no Iemon. Hef taII gIass was the kInd
they gIve away at IIquof stofes. The cI-
cadas wefe stIII chIfpIng the whoIe
whIIe. The woman dIdn't Iook a bIt
dfunk, onIy hef bfeathIng seemed a
IIttIe unnatufaI, dfawn sIow between
hef teeth wIth a sIIght wheeze.
You do good wofk," she saId. I've
caIIed In a Iot of Iawn-maIntenance
peopIe befofe, but you'fe the fIfst to do
thIs good a job."
You'fe vefy kInd," I saId.
My Iate husband was fussy about
the Iawn, you know. AIways dId a cfack
job hImseIf. Vefy much IIke the way
you wofk."
I took out my cIgafettes and offefed
hef one. As we stood thefe smokIng, I
notIced how bIg hef hands wefe com-
pafed to mIne. BIg enough to dwaff
both the gIass In hef fIght hand and the
Hope feguIaf In hef Ieft. Hef fIngefs
wefe stubbyno fIngsand sevefaI of
the naIIs had stfong veftIcaI IInes fun-
nIng thfough them.
Whenevef my husband got any tIme
off, he'd aIways be mowIng the Iawn.
But mInd you, he was no oddbaII."
I tfIed to conjufe up an Image of the
woman's husband, but I couIdn't quIte
pIctufe the guy. Any mofe than I couId
ImagIne a camphof-tfee husband and
The woman wheezed agaIn. Evef
sInce my husband passed away," she
saId, I've had to caII In pfofessIonaIs. I
can't stand too much sun, you know,
and my daughtef, she doesn't IIke get-
tIng tanned. Othef than to get a tan, no
feaI feason fof a young gIfI to be mow-
Ing Iawns anyway, fIght?"
I nodded.
My, but I do IIke the way you wofk,
though. That's the way Iawns ought to
be mowed."
I Iooked the Iawn ovef one mofe
tIme. The woman beIched.
Come agaIn next month, okay?"
Next month's no good," I saId.
How's that?" she saId.
ThIs job hefe today's my Iast," I
saId. If I don't get myseIf back on the
baII wIth my studIes, my gfade poInt
avefage Is goIng to be In feaI tfoubIe."
The woman Iooked me hafd In the
face, then gIanced at my feet, then
Iooked back at my face.
A student, eh?"
Yeah," I saId.
What schooI?"
The name of the unIvefsIty made no
vIsIbIe ImpfessIon on hef. It wasn't a
vefy ImpfessIve unIvefsIty. She just
scfatched behInd hef eaf wIth hef Index
So you'fe gIvIng up thIs IIne of
wofk, then?"
Yeah, fof thIs summef at Ieast," I
saId. No mofe mowIng Iawns fof me
thIs summef. Nof next summef, nof the
The woman fIIIed hef cheeks wIth
vodka tonIc as If she wefe goIng to
gafgIe, then guIped down hef pfecIous
mouthwash haIf a swaIIow at a tIme.
Hef whoIe fofehead beaded up wIth
sweat, IIke It was cfawIIng wIth tIny
Come InsIde," the woman saId. It's
too hot outdoofs."
I Iooked at my watch. Two thIfty-
fIve. GettIng Iate? StIII eafIy? I couIdn't
make up my mInd. I'd aIfeady fInIshed
wIth aII my wofk. Ffom tomoffow, I
wouIdn't have to mow anothef Inch of
gfass. I had feaIIy mIxed feeIIngs.
You In a huffy?" she asked.
I shook my head.
So why don't you just come In and
have somethIng cooI to dfInk befofe
you get on youf way? Won't take much
tIme. And besIdes, I've got somethIng I
want you to see."
SomethIng she wants me to see?
StIII, thefe was no hesItatIng, one
way of anothef. She had aIfeady stafted
to shuffIe off ahead of me. She dIdn't
even bothef to Iook back In my dIfec-
tIon. I had no choIce but to foIIow hef.
I feIt kInd of IIght-headed ffom the
The IntefIof of the house was just as
deathIy quIet as befofe. DuckIng In
ffom the fIood of summef aftefnoon
IIght so suddenIy, I feIt my eyes tIngIe
ffom deep behInd my pupIIs. Dafk-
nessIn a dIm, somehow dIIute soIu-
tIonwashed thfough the pIace, a
dafkness that seemed to have settIed In
decades ago. The aIf was chIIIy, but not
wIth the chIII of aIf-condItIonIng. It was
the fIuId chIII of aIf In motIon: Some-
whefe a bfeeze was gettIng In, some-
whefe It was IeakIng out.
ThIs way," the woman saId,
tfaIpsIng off down a Iong, stfaIght haII-
way. Thefe wefe sevefaI wIndows aIong
the passage, but the stone waII of a
neIghbofIng house and an ovefgfowth
of zeIkova tfees stIII managed to bIock
out the IIght. AII softs of smeIIs dfIfted
the Iength of the haIIway, each fecaII-
Ing somethIng dIffefent. TIme-wofn
smeIIs, buIIt up ovef tIme, onIy to dIs-
sIpate In tIme. The smeII of oId cIothes
and oId fufnItufe, oId books, oId IIves.
At the end of the haIIway was a staIf-
case. The woman tufned afound to
make sufe I was foIIowIng, then headed
up the staIfs. The oId boafds cfeaked
wIth evefy step.
At the top of the staIfs, some IIght fI-
naIIy shone Into the house. The wIndow
on the IandIng had no cuftaIn, and the
summef sun pooIed on the fIoof. Thefe
wefe onIy two fooms upstaIfs, one a
stofage foom, the othef a feguIaf bed-
foom. The smoky-gfeen doof had a
smaII ffosted-gIass poftaI. The gfeen
paInt had begun to chIp sIIghtIy, and
the bfass doofknob was patInaed whIte
on the handgfIp.
The woman pufsed hef IIps and bIew
out a sIow stfeam of aIf, set hef empty
vodka-tonIc gIass on the wIndowsIII,
fIshed a key fIng out of hef dfess pock-
et, and noIsIIy unIocked the doof.
Go on In," she saId. We stepped Into
the foom. InsIde, It was pItch-bIack and
stuffy, fuII of hot, stIII aIf. OnIy the
thInnest sIIvef-foII sheets of IIght sIIced
Into the foom ffom the cfacks between
the tIghtIy cIosed shuttefs. I couIdn't
make out a thIng, just fIIckefIng specks
of aIfbofne dust. The woman dfew back
the cuftaIns, opened the wIndows, and
sIId back shuttefs that fattIed In theIf
tfacks. InstantIy, the foom was swept
wIth bfIIIIant sunIIght and a cooI south-
efIy bfeeze.
The bedfoom was youf typIcaI teen-
age gIfI's foom. Study desk by the wIn-
dow, smaII wood-ffamed bed ovef on
the othef sIde of the foom. The bed was
dfessed In cofaI-bIue sheetsnot a
wfInkIe on themand pIIIowcases of
the same coIof. Thefe was aIso a
bIanket foIded at the foot of the bed.
Next to the bed stood a wafdfobe and a
dfessef on whIch wefe affanged a few
toIIetfIes. A haIfbfush and a smaII paIf
of scIssofs, a IIpstIck, a compact, and
whatnot. She dIdn't seem aII that much
of a makeup enthusIast.
Stacked on the desk wefe notebooks
and two dIctIonafIes, Ffench and Eng-
IIsh. Both Iooked weII used. IItefaIIy so,
not III-tfeated but handIed wIth some
cafe. An assoftment of pens and pencIIs
wefe neatIy IaId out In a smaII tfay,
aIong wIth an efasef wofn found on
one sIde onIy. Then thefe was an aIafm
cIock, a desk Iamp, and a gIass papef-
weIght. AII quIte pIaIn. On the wood-
paneIed waII hung fIve fuII-coIof bIfd
pIctufes and a caIendaf wIth onIy dates.
A fIngef fun ovef the desktop became
whIte wIth dust, a whoIe month's
wofth. The caIendaf stIII fead June.
OvefaII, though, I had to say the
foom was feffeshIngIy uncIuttefed fof a
gIfI these days. No stuffed toys, no pho-
tos of fock stafs. No ffIIIy decofatIons
of fIowef-pfInt wastepapef bIn. Just a
buIIt-In bookcase IIned wIth anthoIo-
gIes, voIumes of poetfy, movIe
magazInes, paIntIng-exhIbItIon cata-
Iogs. Thefe wefe even some EngIIsh pa-
pefbacks. I tfIed to fofm an Image of
the gIfI whose foom thIs was, but the
onIy face that came to mInd was that of
my ex-gIfIffIend.
The woman sat hef mIddIe-aged buIk
down on the bed and Iooked at me. She
had been foIIowIng my IIne of vIsIon aII
aIong but seemed to be thInkIng of
somethIng entIfeIy dIffefent. Hef eyes
wefe tufned In my dIfectIon, aII fIght,
yet she wasn't actuaIIy seeIng anythIng.
I pIunked myseIf down In the chaIf by
the desk and gazed at the pIastef waII
behInd the woman. NothIng hung
thefe, It was a bIank waII. Stafe at It
Iong enough, though, and the top began
to tIIt In towafd me. It seemed sufe to
toppIe ovef onto hef head any mInute.
But of coufse, It wouIdn't, the IIght just
made It Iook that way.
Won't you have somethIng to
dfInk?" she asked. I toId hef no.
ReaIIy now, don't stand on cefe-
mony. It's not IIke you'fe goIng to kIck
youfseIf aftefwafd fof havIng
So I saId okay, I'd have the same,
poIntIng to hef vodka tonIc, onIy
watefed down a bIt, pIease. FIve
mInutes Iatef, she fetufned wIth two
vodka tonIcs and an ashtfay. I took a
sIp of my vodka tonIc. It wasn't
watefed at aII. I decIded to smoke a cI-
gafette and waIt fof the Ice to meIt.
You've got a heaIthy body," she
saId. You won't get dfunk."
I nodded vagueIy. My fathef was that
way, too. StIII, thefe hasn't been a hu-
man beIng yet won out In a match
agaInst aIcohoI. The onIy stofIes you
heaf afe about peopIe who nevef catch
on to thIngs untII they've sunk past
theIf noses. My fathef dIed when I was
sIxteen. A feaI fIne-IIne case, hIs was.
So fIne I can hafdIy fecaII If he'd even
been aIIve of not.
The woman femaIned sIIent aII thIs
tIme. The onIy sound she made was the
tInkIIng of Ice In hef gIass each tIme
she took a sIp. Evefy so often a cooI
bfeeze wouId bIow In thfough the open
wIndow ffom anothef hIII acfoss the
way to the south. A tfanquII summef af-
tefnoon that seemed destIned to put me
to sIeep. Somewhefe, faf off, a phone
was fIngIng.
Have a Iook InsIde the wafdfobe,"
the woman pfompted. I waIked ovef to
the wafdfobe and opened the doubIe
doofs, as I was toId. The InsIde was ab-
soIuteIy packed wIth hangefs and
hangefs of cIothes. HaIf dfesses, the
othef haIf skIfts and bIouses and jack-
ets, aII of them summef cIothes. Some
thIngs Iooked pfetty oId, othefs as If
they'd scafceIy even been tfIed on. AII
the skIfts wefe mInIs. EvefythIng was
nIce enough, I suppose. The taste, the
matefIaI, nothIng that wouId catch youf
eye, but not bad.
WIth thIs many cIothes, a gIfI couId
weaf a dIffefent outfIt each date fof an
entIfe summef. I Iooked at the fack of
cIothes awhIIe Iongef, then shut the
NIce stuff," I saId.
Have a Iook In the dfawefs," the
woman saId. I was hesItant, but what
couId I do? I gave In and puIIed open
the dfawefs In the bottom of the wafd-
fobe one by one. GoIng Into a gIfI's
foom In hef absence and tufnIng It In-
sIde outeven wIth hef mothef's pef-
mIssIonwasn't my Idea of the decent
thIng to do, but It wouId have been
equaIIy bothefsome to fefuse. Faf be It
ffom me to fIgufe out what goes on In
the mInd of someone who stafts hIttIng
the bottIe at eIeven In the mofnIng. In
the fIfst bIg dfawef on top wefe sweat-
efs, poIo shIfts, and T-shIfts, washed
and neatIy foIded wIthout a wfInkIe. In
the second dfawef wefe handbags,
beIts, handkefchIefs, bfaceIets, pIus a
few fabfIc hats. In the thIfd dfawef, un-
defweaf, socks, and stockIngs.
EvefythIng was cIean and neat. Some-
how, It made me just a IIttIe sad, as If
somethIng wefe weIghIng down on my
chest. I shut the Iast dfawef.
The woman was stIII sIttIng on the
bed, stafIng out the wIndow at the
scenefy. The vodka tonIc In hef fIght
hand was aImost empty.
I fetufned to the chaIf and IIt up a
bfand-new cIgafette. The wIndow
Iooked out on a gentIe sIope that fan
down to whefe anothef sIope pIcked
up. Gfeenefy as faf as the eye couId
see, hIII and daIe, wIth tfact-house
stfeets pasted on as an aftefthought.
Each house havIng Its own yafd, each
yafd Its Iawn.
What d'you thInk?" asked the wo-
man, eyes stIII fIxed on the wIndow.
You know, about the gIfI ."
How can I say wIthout evef havIng
met hef?" I saId.
Most women, you Iook at theIf
cIothes, you know what they'fe IIke,"
she saId.
I thought about my gIfIffIend. Then I
tfIed to femembef the soft of cIothes
she wofe. I dfew a bIank. What I couId
fecaII of hef was aII too vague. No
soonef had I begun to see hef skIft than
I Iost sIght of hef bIouse, I'd managed
to bfIng hef hat to mInd when the face
changed Into some othef gIfI's. I
couIdn't femembef a sIngIe thIng ffom
just haIf a yeaf befofe. When It came
fIght down to It, what ,$< I known
about hef?
How can I say?" I fepeated.
GenefaI ImpfessIons afe good
enough. Whatevef comes to mInd.
AnythIng you'd cafe to say, any IIttIe
bIt at aII."
I took a sIp of my vodka tonIc to gaIn
myseIf some tIme. The Ice had aImost
aII meIted, makIng the tonIc watef taste
IIke Iemonade. The vodka stIII packed a
punch goIng down, cfeatIng a wafm
gIow In my stomach. A bfeeze bufst
thfough the wIndow and sent whIte cI-
gafette ash fIyIng aII ovef the desk.
Seems she's nIcevefy nIcekeeps
evefythIng In ofdef," I saId. Not too
pushy, though not wIthout chafactef,
eIthef. Gfades In the uppef mId-fange
of hef cIass. Goes to a women's coIIege
of junIof coIIege, doesn't have so many
ffIends, but cIose ones . Am I on
Keep goIng."
I swIfIed the gIass afound In my hand
a coupIe of tImes, then set It down on
the desk. I don't know what mofe to
say. In the fIfst pIace, I don't even
know If what I've saId so faf was any-
whefe cIose."
You'fe pfetty much on tafget," she
saId bIankIy, pfetty much on tafget."
IIttIe by IIttIe, I was begInnIng to get
a feeI fof the gIfI, hef pfesence hovefed
ovef evefythIng In the foom IIke a hazy
whIte shadow. No face, no hands, noth-
Ing. Just a bafeIy pefceptIbIe
dIstufbance In a sea of IIght. I took an-
othef sIp of my vodka tonIc.
She's got a boyffIend," I contInued,
of two. I don't know. I can't teII how
cIose they afe. But that's neIthef hefe
nof thefe. What mattefs Is . she hasn't
feaIIy taken to anythIng. Hef own body,
the thIngs she thInks about, what she's
IookIng fof, what othefs seek In hef .
the whoIe wofks."
Uh-huh," the woman saId aftef a
moment's pause. I see what you'fe
I dIdn't. Oh, I knew what the wofds
meant, but to whom wefe they dIfec-
ted? And ffom whose poInt of vIew? I
was exhausted, wanted just to sIeep. If
onIy I couId get some sIeep, a Iot of
thIngs wouId sufeIy become cIeafef. AII
the same, I couIdn't beIIeve that gettIng
thIngs cIeafef wouId make them any
At that the woman feII sIIent fof a
Iong tIme. I aIso heId my tongue. Ten,
fIfteen mInutes IIke that. NothIng bettef
to do wIth my hands, I ended up dfInk-
Ing haIf the vodka tonIc. The bfeeze
pIcked up a bIt, and the found Ieaves of
the camphof tfee began to sway.
Soffy, I shouIdn't have kept you
hefe," the woman saId sometIme Iatef.
You dId such a beautIfuI job on the
Iawn, I was just so pIeased."
Thanks," I saId.
Iet me pay you," she saId, thfustIng
hef bIg whIte hand Into hef dfess pock-
et. How much Is It?"
They'II be sendIng you a feguIaf bIII
Iatef. You can pay by bank tfansfef," I
Oh," saId the woman.
We went back down the same staIf-
case, thfough the same haIIway, out to
the ffont doof. The haIIway and entfy
way wefe just as chIIIy as when we
came In, chIIIy and dafk. I feIt I'd fe-
tufned to my chIIdhood, back In the
summefs when I used to wade up thIs
shaIIow cfeek and wouId pass undef a
bIg Ifon bfIdge. It was exactIy the same
sensatIon. Dafkness, and suddenIy the
tempefatufe of the watef wouId dfop.
And the pebbIes wouId have thIs funny
sIIme. When I got to the ffont doof and
put on my tennIs shoes, was I evef fe-
IIeved! SunIIght aII afound me, the Ieaf-
scented bfeeze, a few bees buzzIng
sIeepIIy about the hedge.
ReaIIy beautIfuIIy mowed," saId the
woman, once agaIn vIewIng the Iawn.
I gave the Iawn anothef Iook, too. A
feaIIy beautIfuI job, to be sufe.
The woman feached Into hef pocket,
and stafted puIIIng out aII kInds of
stufftfuIy aII kInds of junkffom
whIch she pIcked out a cfumpIed ten-
thousand-yen note. The bIII wasn't even
that oId, just aII cfumpIed up. It couId
have passed fof foufteen, fIfteen yeafs
oId. Aftef a moment's hesItatIon, I de-
cIded I'd bettef not fefuse.
Thank you," I saId.
The woman seemed to have stIII Ieft
somethIng unsaId. As If she dIdn't quIte
know how to put It. She stafed down at
the gIass In hef fIght hand, kInd of Iost.
The gIass was empty. Then she Iooked
back up at me.
You decIde to staft mowIng Iawns
agaIn, be sufe to gIve me a caII.
AnytIme at aII."
RIght," I saId. WIII do. And say,
thanks fof the sandwIch and the dfInk."
The woman hemmed and hawed,
then pfomptIy tufned an about-face and
waIked back to the ffont doof. I stafted
the engIne on the van and tufned on
the fadIo. GettIng on thfee o'cIock, It
I puIIed Into a dfIve-In fof a IIttIe
pIck-me-up and ofdefed a Coca-CoIa
and spaghettI. The spaghettI was so ut-
tefIy dIsgustIng I couId fInIsh onIy haIf
of It. But If you feaIIy want to know, I
wasn't hungfy anyway. A sIckIy-IookIng
waItfess cIeafed the tabIe, and I dozed
off fIght thefe, seated on the vInyI-
covefed chaIf. The pIace was empty,
aftef aII, and the aIf-condItIonIng just
fIght. It was onIy a shoft napno
dfeams. If anythIng, the nap ItseIf
seemed IIke a dfeam. AIthough when I
opened my eyes, the sun's fays wefen't
as Intense as they had been. I dfank an-
othef Coke, then paId the bIII wIth the
ten-thousand-yen note I'd just feceIved.
I went out to the pafkIng Iot, got In
the van, put the keys on the dashboafd,
and smoked a cIgafette. Ioads of
mInuscuIe aches came ovef my weafy
muscIes aII at once. AII thIngs con-
sIdefed, I was wofn out. I put asIde any
notIon of dfIvIng and just sank Into the
seat. I smoked anothef cIgafette.
EvefythIng seemed so faf off, IIke Iook-
Ing thfough the wfong end of a paIf of
bInocuIafs. I'm sufe you must want
many thIngs ffom me," my gIfIffIend
had wfItten, but I myseIf just can't
conceIve that thefe's anythIng In me
you'd want."
AII I wanted, It came to me, was to
mow a good Iawn. To gIve It a once-
ovef wIth the Iawn mowef, fake up the
cIIppIngs, and then tfIm It nIce and
even wIth cIIppefsthat's aII. And that,
I can do. Because that's the way I feeI It
ought to be done.
D30M1'1,$1'*%K,1L I spoke out Ioud.
No answef.
Ten mInutes Iatef, the managef of the
dfIve-In came out and cfouched by the
van to InquIfe If evefythIng was aII
I feIt a IIttIe faInt," I saId.
Yes, It's been a scofchef. ShaII I
bfIng you some watef?"
Thank you. But feaIIy, I'm fIne."
I puIIed out of the pafkIng Iot and
stafted east. On both sIdes of the foad
wefe dIffefent homes, dIffefent yafds,
dIffefent peopIe aII IeadIng dIffefent
IIves. My hands on the wheeI, I took In
the whoIe passIng panofama, the Iawn
mowef fattIIng aII the whIIe In the
compaftment behInd.
NOT ONCE SINCE then have I mowed a
Iawn. Someday, though, shouId I come
to IIve In a house wIth a Iawn, I'II pfob-
abIy be mowIng agaIn. That'II be a
good whIIe yet, I fIgufe. But when that
tIme comes, I'm sufe to do the job just
SO I TURNED to Ozawa and asked hIm,
had he evef punched out a guy In an
What makes you want to ask
somethIng IIke that?" Ozawa squInted
hIs eyes at me. The Iook seemed out of
chafactef on hIm. As If thefe'd been a
sudden fIash of IIght onIy he had wIt-
nessed. A fIafe that just as quIckIy sub-
sIded, fetufnIng hIm to hIs nofmaI pass-
Ive expfessIon.
No feaI feason, I toId hIm, onIy a
passIng thought. Hadn't meant any-
thIng by It, just asked out of cufIosIty.
TotaIIy uncaIIed-fof, pfobabIy.
I pfoceeded to change the subject,
but Ozawa dIdn't exactIy faIIy to It. He
seemed to be somewhefe eIse In hIs
thoughts, hoIdIng back of wavefIng. I
gave up tfyIng to engage hIm In
convefsatIon and gazed Instead out the
wIndow at the fows of sIIvef jets.
I don't know how the subject came
up. We'd been kIIIIng tIme waItIng fof
ouf pIane, and he stafted taIkIng about
how he'd been goIng to a boxIng gym
evef sInce he was In junIof hIgh schooI.
Mofe than once, he'd been chosen to
fepfesent hIs unIvefsIty In boxIng
matches. Even today, at age thIfty-one,
he stIII went to the gym evefy week.
I couId hafdIy pIctufe It. Hefe was
thIs guy I'd done busIness wIth a Iot, no
way dId he stfIke me as youf fough-
and-tumbIe boxef of cIose to twenty
yeafs. The guy was a sInguIafIy quIet
feIIow, he hafdIy evef spoke. Yet you
couIdn't ask fof anyone mofe cIeaf-cut
In hIs wofk habIts. FauItIessIy sIncefe.
Nevef pushed peopIe too faf, nevef
taIked about othefs behInd theIf back,
nevef compIaIned. No mattef how ovef-
wofked he was, he nevef faIsed hIs
voIce of even afched hIs bfows. In a
wofd, he was the soft of guy you
couIdn't heIp but IIke. Wafm, easy-
goIng, a faf cfy ffom anythIng you
couId caII aggfessIve. Whefe was the
connectIon between thIs man and box-
Ing? Why had he taken up the spoft In
the fIfst pIace? So I asked that questIon.
We wefe dfInkIng coffee In the aIf-
poft festaufant, waItIng fof ouf fIIght to
NIIgata. ThIs was the begInnIng of
Novembef, the sky was heavy wIth
cIouds. NIIgata was snowed In, and
pIanes wefe funnIng Iate. The aIfpoft
was fuII of peopIe mIIIIng about, Iook-
Ing mofe depfessed wIth each an-
nouncement of fIIght deIays. In the fes-
taufant, the heat was too hIgh, and I
kept havIng to wIpe off the sweat wIth
my handkefchIef.
BasIcaIIy, no," Ozawa suddenIy
spoke up aftef a Iengthy sIIence. Ffom
the tIme I stafted boxIng, I nevef hIt
anyone. They pound that Into you ffom
the moment you staft boxIng. Anyone
who boxes must absoIuteIy nevef,
wIthout gIoves, hIt anyone outsIde the
fIng. An ofdInafy pefson couId get Into
tfoubIe If he hIt someone and Ianded a
punch In the wfong pIace. But If a box-
ef dId It, It'd be IntentIonaI assauIt wIth
a deadIy weapon."
I nodded.
To be honest, I dId hIt someone.
Once," Ozawa saId. I was In eIghth
gfade. It was fIght afound the tIme I
was staftIng to Ieafn how to box. No
excuse, but thIs was befofe I Ieafned a
sIngIe boxIng technIque. I was stIII on
the basIc bodybuIIdIng menu. JumpIng
fope and stfetchIng and funnIng, stuff
IIke that. And the thIng Is, I dIdn't even
mean to thfow the punch. I just got
mad, and my hand fIew out ahead of
me. I couIdn't stop It. And befofe I
knew It, I'd decked hIm. I hIt the guy,
and stIII my whoIe body was tfembIIng
wIth fage."
Ozawa had taken up boxIng because
hIs uncIe fan a boxIng gym. ThIs wasn't
just the IocaI sweat foom, thIs was a
majof estabIIshment that had Iaunched
a two-tIme East AsIa weItefweIght
champIon. In fact, It'd been Ozawa's
pafents who suggested he go to the
gym to begIn wIth. They wefe woffIed
about theIf son, the bookwofm, aIways
hoIed up In hIs foom. At fIfst, the boy
wasn't keen on the Idea, but he IIked
hIs uncIe weII enough, and, he toId
hImseIf, If he dIdn't IIke the spoft, he
couId aIways quIt. So aII vefy casuaIIy,
he got In the habIt of commutIng
feguIafIy to hIs uncIe's gym, an houf
away by tfaIn.
Aftef the fIfst few months, Ozawa's
Intefest In boxIng sufpfIsed even hIm-
seIf. The bIggest feason was that, fun-
damentaIIy, boxIng Is a Ionef's spoft, an
extfemeIy soIItafy pufsuIt. It was
somethIng of a dIscovefy fof hIm, a
new wofId. And that wofId excIted hIm.
The sweat fIyIng off the bodIes of the
oIdef men, the hafd, squeaky feeI of the
gIoves, the Intense concentfatIon of
men wIth theIf muscIes tuned to
IIghtnIng-fast effIcIencyIIttIe by IIttIe,
It aII took hoId of hIs ImagInatIon.
SpendIng Satufdays and Sundays at the
gym became one of hIs few
One of the thIngs I IIke about boxIng
Is the depth. That's what gfabbed me.
Compafed to that, hIttIng and gettIng
hIt Is no bIg deaI. That's onIy the out-
come. The same wIth wInnIng of IosIng.
If you couId get to the bottom of the
depth, IosIng doesn't mattefnothIng
can huft you. And anyway, nobody can
wIn at evefythIng, somebody's got to
Iose. The Impoftant thIng Is to get deep
down Into It. Thatat Ieast to meIs
boxIng. When I'm In a match, I feeI IIke
I'm at the bottom of a deep, deep hoIe.
So faf InsIde I can't see anyone eIse and
no one can see me. Way down thefe In
the dafkness, doIng battIe. AII aIone.
But not 3$< aIone," saId Ozawa.
Thefe's aII dIffefent kInds of IoneII-
ness. Thefe's the tfagIc IoneIIness that
teafs at youf nefves wIth paIn. And
then thefe's the IoneIIness that Isn't IIke
that at aIIthough In ofdef to feach
that poInt, you've got to pafe youf body
down. If you make the effoft, you get
back what you put In. That's what I
Ieafned ffom boxIng."
Ozawa paused a moment.
ActuaIIy, I'd just as soon not taIk
about It," he saId. I even wIsh I couId
wIpe the stofy out of my mInd entIfeIy.
But of coufse, you nevef can. Why Is It
you can't fofget what you feaIIy want
to fofget?" Ozawa bfoke Into a smIIe.
Then he gIanced at hIs watch. We stIII
had pIenty of tIme. He began hIs
The guy Ozawa hIt was a cIassmate.
AokI was hIs name. Ozawa hated the
guy ffom the vefy begInnIng. Why, he
couIdn't feaIIy say. AII he knew was
that he hated hIs guts ffom the moment
he set eyes on hIm. It was the fIfst tIme
In hIs IIfe he despIsed anyone.
But It does happen, fIght?" he saId.
Maybe once, but evefyone has that
expefIence. You Ioathe someone fof no
feason whatsoevef. I'm not the type to
have bIInd hate, but I sweaf thefe afe
peopIe who just set you off. It's not a
fatIonaI thIng. But the pfobIem Is, In
most cases, the othef guy feeIs the same
way towafd you.
ThIs kId AokI was a modeI student.
He got good gfades, sat at the head of
the cIass, teachef's pet, aII that. And he
was pfetty popuIaf, too. Gfanted, we
wefe an aII-boys' schooI, but evefyone
IIked hIm. Evefyone except me. I
couIdn't stand hIm. I couIdn't stand hIs
smafts, hIs caIcuIatIng ways. Okay, If
you asked me what exactIy bugged me
about hIm I wouIdn't be abIe to say.
The onIy thIng I can teII you Is that I
70-5 what he was aII about. And hIs
pfIde, that headstfong stInk of ego he
gave off, I couIdn't stand It. PufeIy
physIoIogIcaI, IIke how someone's body
odof wIII tufn you off. But AokI was a
cIevef guy and knew how to covef hIs
scent. So most of the kIds In the cIass
thought he was cIean and kInd and con-
sIdefate. Evefy tIme I heafd how gfeat
peopIe thought he wasof coufse, I
wasn't about to go agaInst evefyoneIt
bufned me up.
In aImost evefy way, AokI and I
wefe poIaf opposItes. I was a quIet kId
and dIdn't stand out In cIass. I was
happy to be Ieft aIone. Sufe, I had
ffIends, but no feaI ffIends fof IIfe. In a
sense, maybe I was too matufe too
soon. Instead of hangIng afound wIth
my cIassmates, I kept to myseIf. I fead
books of IIstened to my fathef's cIassIc-
aI fecofds of went to the gym to heaf
the oIdef guys taIk. I wasn't much to
Iook at. My gfades wefen't so bad, but
they wefen't so hot. Teachefs wouId
fofget my name. So, you know, I was
the type you nevef got to know. That's
how I was, nevef quIte suffacIng. I nev-
ef toId anybody about the boxIng gym
of books of fecofds.
WIth AokI, though, whatevef the
guy dId he was IIke a whIte swan In a
sea of mud. The staf of the cIass, hIs
opInIons vaIued, aIways on top of
thIngs. Even I had to admIt that. He
was amazIngIy quIck-wItted. He couId
pIck up on what othefs wefe thInkIng,
and he couId fedIfect hIs fesponses to
match In no tIme whatsoevef. He had a
weII-tuned head on hIs shouIdefs. No
wondef evefyone was Impfessed wIth
AokI. Evefyone but me.
I fIgufe AokI had to be awafe of
what I thought of hIm. He wasn't
dumb. I couId teII he wasn't too cfazy
about me. Aftef aII, I wasn't stupId,
eIthef. I mean, I fead mofe than
anybody eIse. But you know, when
you'fe young you gotta show It, so I'm
sufe I came off stuck-up, even condes-
cendIng. PIus, the way I kept to myseIf
pfobabIy dIdn't heIp.
Then once, at the end of the tefm, I
got the hIghest mafks on an EngIIsh ex-
am. It was a fIfst fof me, scofIng the
hIghest. But It wasn't an accIdent.
Thefe was somethIng I feaIIy wantedI
can't even femembef what It was any-
mofeand I made thIs deaI wIth my
foIks that If I got the best gfade In the
cIass they'd buy It fof me. So of coufse I
studIed IIke mad. I studIed anythIng
that couId possIbIy be covefed In the
exam. If I had a spafe moment, I went
ovef vefb conjugatIons. I pfactIcaIIy
memofIzed the whoIe textbook. So
when I aced the test, It was no sufpfIse.
It was even pfedIctabIe.
But evefyone eIse was caught off
guafd. The teachef, too. And AokI, I
mean, he was shocked. _- had aIways
been the best student In EngIIsh. The
teachef even kIdded AokI about It when
he announced the test gfades. AokI
tufned fed. PfobabIy thought peopIe
wefe IaughIng at hIm.
A few days Iatef, someone toId me
AokI was spfeadIng a fumof about me.
That I'd cheated on the exam, how eIse
couId I have scofed so hIgh? When I
heafd that, I got feaIIy pIssed off. What
I shouId have done was Iaugh and Iet It
go. But a junIof-hIgh-schooI kId doesn't
have that kInd of cooI.
One noon fecess, I conffonted AokI.
I saId I wanted to taIk to hIm aIone,
away ffom evefybody eIse. I saId I'd
heafd thIs fumof, and what was the
meanIng of It? But AokI couId onIy
show hIs contempt. IIke, why was I get-
tIng aII bent out of shape? IIke, If by
some fIuke I happened to get the best
scofe, why was I beIng so defensIve,
and what fIght dId I have to act so up-
pIty, anyway? Aftef aII, evefyone knew
what feaIIy happened, fIght? Then he
tfIed to bfush me asIde, pfobabIy thInk-
Ing that sInce he was In good shape and
taIIef than me he had to be stfongef,
too. That's when I hauIed off and
punched the jefk In the face. It was
pufe fefIex actIon. I dIdn't feaIIze I'd
sIugged hIm squafe on the Ieft cheek
untII a second Iatef when AokI feII back
sIdeways and hIt hIs head on a waII.
WIth a hafd conk. BIood was funnIng
out of hIs nose and onto hIs whIte shIft.
He Iay thefe, dazed, not knowIng what
had happened.
On my paft, I fegfetted hIttIng hIm
the Instant my fIst connected wIth hIs
cheekbone. I shouIdn't have done It. I
feIt mIsefabIe. It was a totaIIy useIess
thIng to have done. IIke I saId, my
body was stIII tfembIIng wIth fage, but
I knew I'd done somethIng stupId.
I consIdefed apoIogIzIng to AokI.
But I dIdn't. If It had been anybody eIse
but AokI, I pfobabIy wouId have apoIo-
gIzed. I sImpIy couIdn't bfIng myseIf to
apoIogIze to the cfeep. I was soffy I hIt
AokI, but not soffy enough to say I was
soffy. I dIdn't feeI one Iota of femofse
towafd the guy. Jefks IIke hIm desefved
to get punched out. He was a wofm,
and wofms get stepped on. StIII, D
3,)B#<0M1 ,$;- ,%1 ,%&. A tfuth I knew
deep down, onIy too Iate. I'd aIfeady
sIugged hIm. I Ieft AokI thefe and
waIked off.
That aftefnoon, AokI dIdn't show up
In cIass. PfobabIy went stfaIght home, I
thought. But fof the fest of the day, a
hoffIbIe feeIIng ate at me. It dIdn't gIve
me a moment's fest. I couIdn't IIsten to
musIc, couIdn't fead, I couIdn't enjoy a
thIng. I feIt thIs mufky substance co-
aguIatIng In my gut, and It wouIdn't Iet
me concentfate. It was IIke I'd swaI-
Iowed somethIng sIImy. I Iay In bed
stafIng at my fIst. And It dawned on
me, how IoneIy I was. I hated AokI
even mofe fof makIng me feaIIze thIs.
Ffom the next day on, AokI Ignofed
me. He acted IIke I dIdn't exIst. He
went on scofIng the hIghest on exams.
Me, I nevef agaIn poufed my heaft and
souI Into studyIng fof a test. I couIdn't
ImagIne what dIffefence It wouId make.
The Idea of competIng sefIousIy wIth
anyone bofed me. I dId enough schooI-
wofk to keep my head above watef and
dId what I wanted to the fest of the
tIme. I kept on goIng to my uncIe's
gym. I was gettIng heavy Into my tfaIn-
Ing. Fof a junIof-hIgh student, I was be-
gInnIng to show fesuIts. I couId feeI my
body changIng. ShouIdefs bfoadenIng,
chest thIckenIng. My afms got fIfm, my
cheeks taut. I thought, ThIs Is what It's
IIke to become an aduIt. I feIt gfeat.
Evefy nIght, I stood naked In ffont of
the bIg mIffof In the bathfoom, I was
so fascInated wIth my body.
The foIIowIng schooI yeaf, AokI and
I wefe In dIffefent cIasses. I was gIad
not to have to see hIm evefy day, and
I'm sufe the feeIIng was mutuaI. So I
thought the whoIe affaIf wouId fade
away IIke some bad memofy. But It
wasn't so sImpIe. Seems AokI was IyIng
In waIt to get hIs fevenge. WaItIng fof
the fIght moment to cut evefythIng out
ffom undef me. The bastafd was fuII of
AokI and I advanced togethef gfade
by gfade. It was the same pfIvate junIof
hIgh and senIof hIgh, but evefy yeaf we
wefe In dIffefent cIasses. UntII the vefy
Iast yeafboy, dId It feeI ugIy when we
came face-to-face In that cIassfoom.
The way he Iooked at me, It pfIed open
my gut. I couId feeI that same sIIme
come oozIng out agaIn."
Ozawa pufsed hIs IIps and stafed
down at hIs coffee cup. Then he
gIanced up at me wIth a sIIght smIIe.
Ffom outsIde the pIate-gIass wIndows
came the foaf of jet engInes. A 737 shot
stfaIght off IIke a wedge Into the cIouds
and vanIshed ffom sIght.
The fIfst semestef passed pfetty un-
eventfuIIy. AokI hadn't changed a bIt
sInce the eIghth gfade. Some peopIe
don't gfow, and they don't degenefate,
they keep on exactIy as they aIways
wefe. AokI was stIII at the top of the
cIass, he was stIII Mf. PopuIaf. Though
to me, he was stIII a dIsgustIng cfeep.
We dId ouf best not to Iook at each oth-
ef. Iet me teII you, It's no fun havIng
youf own pefsonaI demon In the same
cIassfoom. But It couIdn't be heIped.
HaIf the bIame was mIne, anyway.
Then summef vacatIon came
afound. My Iast summef vacatIon as a
hIgh-schooI student. My gfades wefe
okay, okay enough to get me Into an
avefage unIvefsIty, so I dIdn't feaIIy
cfam fof the entfance exams. My foIks
dIdn't faIse a fuss, so I just studIed as I
aIways dId. Satufdays and Sundays, I
went to the gym. The fest of the tIme I
fead and IIstened to fecofds.
MeanwhIIe, evefyone eIse was goIng
bug-eyed. Ouf whoIe schooI, junIof
hIgh up thfough senIof hIgh, was a
typIcaI cfam factofy. Who got Into what
unIvefsIty, what fankIng by how many
matfIcuIatIons Into whefethe teach-
efs couIdn't taIk about anythIng eIse.
The same wIth the students. By senIof
yeaf, evefyone was hot undef the coI-
Iaf, and the atmosphefe In cIass was
tense. It stank. I dIdn't IIke It when I
fIfst stafted schooI thefe, and I dIdn't
IIke It sIx yeafs Iatef. PIus, to the vefy
end, I dIdn't make one honest ffIend. If
I hadn't taken up boxIng, If I hadn't
gone to my uncIe's gym, I wouId have
been pfetty damn IoneIy.
Anyway, dufIng summef vacatIon a
teffIbIe thIng happened. One of my
cIassmates, a kId named Matsumoto,
commItted suIcIde. He wasn't a paftIcu-
IafIy outstandIng student. To be ffank,
he made aImost no ImpfessIon at aII.
When I heafd that he dIed, I couId
hafdIy femembef what he Iooked IIke.
He'd been In my cIass, but I doubt If we
evef taIked mofe than two of thfee
tImes. KInd of gangIy, poof compIex-
Ionthat's about aII I couId say about
hIm. Matsumoto dIed a IIttIe befofe
August fIfteenth, I femembef, because
hIs funefaI was on AfmIstIce Day. It
was a feaI scofchef. Thefe was thIs
phone caII sayIng that the boy had dIed
and that evefyone had to attend the fu-
nefaI. The whoIe cIass. Matsumoto had
Ieapt In ffont of a subway, fof unknown
feasons. He Ieft a suIcIde note, but aII It
saId was that he dIdn't want to go to
schooI anymofe. NothIng eIse. At Ieast,
that's how the stofy went.
NatufaIIy, thIs suIcIde had the
whoIe schooI admInIstfatIon scfam-
bIIng. Aftef the funefaI, the senIofs
wefe caIIed back to the schooI and Iec-
tufed by the headmastef about how we
wefe supposed to moufn Matsumoto's
death, how we aII had to beaf the
weIght of hIs death, how we had to
wofk extfa hafd to ovefcome ouf gfIef.
The usuaI stock sentIments. Then we
wefe asked If we knew anythIng about
the feason Matsumoto commItted suI-
cIde, If we dId, we had to come fIght
out and set the fecofd stfaIght. Nobody
saId a wofd.
I feIt soffy fof my dead cIassmate,
but somehow It seemed pfetty absufd. I
mean, dId he ,$;- to jump? If you don't
IIke schooI, don't go to schooI. It was
onIy haIf a yeaf befofe you wouIdn't
have to go to that mIsefabIe schooI,
anyway. Why kIII youfseIf? It dIdn't
make sense. The guy was pfobabIy
neufotIc, I fIgufed, dfIven to the bfInk
by aII thIs cfammIng fof entfance ex-
ams day and nIght. Not so sufpfIsIng, If
you thInk about It. One nut's bound to
Aftef summef vacatIon ended and
schooI stafted up agaIn, I notIced
somethIng stfange In the aIf. My cIass-
mates seemed to be keepIng theIf dIs-
tance. I'd ask somebody about
somethIng and onIy get these coId, cuft
fepIIes. At fIfst I thought It was nefves,
sInce evefyone was on edge, fIght? I
dIdn't thInk too much about It. But then
fIve days Iatef, out of nowhefe, I was
toId to fepoft to the headmastef. Was It
tfue, he asked me, that I was tfaInIng at
a boxIng gym? Yes, I was, but I wasn't
bfeakIng any schooI fuIes doIng It. How
Iong had I been goIng thefe? SInce the
eIghth gfade. Was It tfue I stfuck AokI
wIth a cIenched fIst In junIof hIgh
schooI? Yes, It was, I wasn't about to
IIe. And was that befofe of aftef I took
up boxIng? Aftef, but It was befofe I
was even aIIowed to put on the gIoves,
I expIaIned. The headmastef wasn't
IIstenIng. Vefy weII, he cIeafed hIs
thfoat, had I evef hIt Matsumoto? I was
stunned. I mean, IIke I was sayIng, I
hafdIy evef spoke to thIs Mat-
sumotowhy wouId I have hIt hIm?
WhIch Is what I toId the headmastef.
Matsumoto was aIways gettIng
beaten up at schooI, the headmastef In-
fofmed me. He often went home
covefed wIth bfuIses. HIs mothef com-
pIaIned that someone at schooI, $1 1,%3
3",))#, was foIIIng hIm fof hIs pocket
money. But Matsumoto nevef gave hIs
mothef any names. He pfobabIy
thought he'd get beaten up wofse If he
squeaIed. And wIth aII thIs beafIng on
hIm, the boy commItted suIcIde. PItIfuI,
dIdn't I thInk, he couIdn't tufn to any-
one. He'd been wofked ovef pfetty
badIy. So the schooI was IookIng Into
the sItuatIon. If thefe was anythIng I
had on my mInd, I was to own up. In
whIch case, mattefs wouId be settIed
quIetIy. If not, the poIIce wouId take
ovef the InvestIgatIon. DId I
ImmedIateIy, I knew AokI was be-
hInd thIs. It was hIs touch, thIs usIng
somethIng IIke Matsumoto's death to
hIs own advantage. I bet he dIdn't even
IIe. He dIdn't need to. He found out
that I went to a boxIng gymwho
knows how?then when he heafd
about someone beatIng up on Mat-
sumoto, the fest was easy. Just put one
and one togethef. Repoft how I went to
a gym and how I'd hIt hIm. It dIdn't
take much mofe. Oh, I'm sufe he added
In a few tfImmIngs, IIke, say, how he
was scafed of me, so he nevef toId any-
one about thIs befofe, of how I feaIIy
bIed hIm. NothIng that couId easIIy be
exposed as a IIe. He was cafefuI that
way. CoIofIng pIaIn facts just enough,
shapIng thIs undenIabIe atmosphefe of
ImpIIcatIon. It was a skIII he pfactIced.
The headmastef gIafed at me: guIIty
as chafged. Fof hIm, anyone who went
to a boxIng gym was aIfeady suspected
of deIInquency. Nof was I exactIy the
type of student teachefs took to. Thfee
days Iatef, the poIIce caIIed me In fof
questIonIng. NeedIess to say, I was In
They put me thfough a sImpIe po-
IIce InteffogatIon. I saId how I'd hafdIy
evef spoken to Matsumoto. It was tfue
that I had hIt a feIIow student named
AokI thfee yeafs befofe, but that was a
peffectIy ofdInafy, stupId afgument,
and I hadn't caused any tfoubIe sInce.
That was It. Thefe Is a fumof that you
wefe hIttIng thIs Matsumoto, saId the
offIcef on duty. That's aII It Is, I toId
hIm, a fumof. Someone who has It In
fof me Is spfeadIng It afound. Thefe Is
no tfuth, no pfoof, no case.
Wofd got afound schooI that the po-
IIce had questIoned me. And the atmo-
sphefe In cIass gfew even coIdef. A po-
IIce summons was IIke a vefdIctIIke,
they dIdn't hauI peopIe In fof no feas-
on, fIght? Evefyone beIIeved I'd been
beatIng up on Matsumoto. I don't know
what nonsense AokI was peddIIng, but
evefyone bought It. I dIdn't even want
to know what the stofy was, I knew It
was dIft. No one In the entIfe schooI
wouId speak to me. As If by ")0X
3-03B3It had to beI got the 3%#-01
1*-$1&-01. Even ufgent fequests ffom
me got a deaf eaf. I was avoIded IIke
the pIague. My exIstence was wIped
ffom theIf fIeId of vIsIon.
Even the teachefs dId theIf best not
to Iook In my dIfectIon. They'd say my
name when they took foII, but they
nevef caIIed on me In cIass. Phys. Ed.
was the wofst. When the cIass spIIt Into
teams, I wouIdn't end up on eIthef sIde.
No one wouId paIf up wIth me, and the
gym teachef wouId pfetend It wasn't
happenIng. I went to schooI In sIIence,
attended cIasses In sIIence, went home
In sIIence. Day aftef day, a vacuum.
Aftef two of thfee weeks of thIs, I Iost
my appetIte. I Iost weIght. I couIdn't
sIeep at nIght. I'd IIe thefe, aII wofked
up, my head fIIIed wIth thIs endIess
successIon of ugIy Images. And when I
was awake, my mInd was In a fog. I
wasn't sufe If I was awake of asIeep.
I even IaId off boxIng pfactIce. My
foIks got woffIed and asked me what
was wfong. What was I supposed to
say? NothIng, I'm just tIfed. What good
wouId It do to teII them? Aftef schooI I
hId out In my foom. Thefe was nothIng
eIse fof me to do. I'd see these thIngs
pIay out on the ceIIIng. I ImagIned aII
kInds of scenafIos. Most often, I saw
myseIf punchIng AokI out. I'd catch
hIm aIone and I'd pummeI hIm, ovef
and ovef agaIn. I'd teII hIm what I
thought of hIma pIece of tfashand
I'd knock the cfap out of hIm. He couId
scfeam and cfy aII he wantedfofgIve
me, fofgIve mebut I'd just keep hIt-
tIng hIm, beatIng hIs face to a puIp.
OnIy aftef a whIIe, punchIng away, I'd
staft to get sIck. It was fIne at fIfst, It
was gfeat, It sefved the bastafd fIght.
Then, sIowIy, thIs nausea wouId cfeep
up In me. But I stIII wouIdn't be abIe to
stop beatIng AokI up. I'd Iook up at the
ceIIIng and AokI's face wouId be thefe
and I'd be hIttIng hIm. And I wouIdn't
be abIe to stop. Befofe Iong, he was a
bIoody mess and I feIt IIke pukIng.
I thought about gettIng up In ffont
of evefyone and decIafIng outfIght that
I was Innocent, that I hadn't done any-
thIng. But who was goIng to beIIeve
me? And why was It up to me to apoIo-
gIze to that bunch of tufkeys who'd
maw down anythIng AokI saId to begIn
So I was stuck. I couIdn't gIve AokI
the beatIng he had comIng, and I
couIdn't expIaIn myseIf. I had to put up
and shut up. It was onIy anothef haIf
yeaf. Aftef thIs semestef, schooI wouId
be fInIshed and I wouIdn't have to an-
swef to anyone. One haIf yeaf mofe,
spaffIng wIth the sIIence. But couId I
hoId out that Iong? I doubted I couId go
one month. At home, I tIcked off each
day on my caIendafone mofe day
down, one mofe day down. I was get-
tIng cfushed. ThInkIng back on It now,
I can't beIIeve how cIose I got to the
dangef zone.
My fIfst hInt of a fepfIeve came a
month Iatef. By accIdent, on my way to
schooI, I found myseIf face-to-face wIth
AokI on the tfaIn. As usuaI, It was so
packed you couIdn't move. And thefe
was AokI, two of thfee peopIe away,
ovef someone's shouIdef, facIng me. I
must have Iooked teffIbIe, shoft on
sIeep, a neufotIc wfeck. At fIfst, he
gave me thIs smIfk. IIke, so how's It go-
Ing now, eh? AokI had to know that I
knew that he was behInd evefythIng.
Ouf eyes Iocked. We gIafed at each oth-
ef. But as I was stafIng the guy In the
eye, a stfange emotIon came ovef me.
Sufe, I was fufIous at AokI. I hated the
guy, I wanted to kIII hIm. But suddenIy,
at the same tIme, thefe In the tfaIn, I
feIt somethIng IIke pIty. I mean, was
thIs feaIIy the best thIs jokef couId do?
Was thIs aII It took to gIve hIm such
aIfs of supefIofIty? CouId he actuaIIy be
so satIsfIed, so happy wIth hImseIf, fof
1,%3L It was pathetIc. I was pfactIcaIIy
moved to gfIef. To thInk that thIs fooI
wouId be etefnaIIy IncapabIe of know-
Ing tfue happIness, tfue pfIde. That
thefe exIsted cfeatufes so IackIng In hu-
man depth. Not that I'm such a deep
guy, but at Ieast I know a feaI human
beIng when I see one. But hIs kInd, no.
HIs IIfe was as fIat as a pIece of sIate. It
was aII sufface, no mattef what he dId.
He was nothIng.
I kept IookIng hIm In the face as
these emotIons went thfough me, and I
dIdn't feeI IIke punchIng hIm out any-
mofe. I couIdn't have cafed Iess about
hIm. Honest, I was sufpfIsed how IIttIe
I cafed. And then I knew I couId put up
wIth anothef fIve months of the sIIence.
I stIII had my pfIde. I wasn't goIng to
Iet some sIIme IIke AokI dfag me down
wIth hIm.
That was the Iook I gave AokI. He
must have thought It was a stafe-down,
whIch he wasn't about to Iose, and
when the tfaIn feached the statIon we
dIdn't bfeak ouf gaze. But In the end, It
was AokI who wavefed. Just the sIIght-
est tfembIe of hIs pupIIs, but I pIcked
up on It. RIght away. The Iook of a box-
ef whose Iegs afe gIvIng out on hIm.
He's wofkIng them, onIy they'fe not
movIng. And the stIff doesn't get It, he
thInks they'fe stIII pacIng. But hIs Iegs
afe dead. They've dIed In theIf tfacks
and now hIs shouIdefs won't dance.
WhIch means the powef's gone out of
hIs punch. It was that Iook. SomethIng's
wfong, but he can't teII what.
Aftef that, I was home ffee. I sIept
soundIy, ate squafe meaIs, went to the
gym. I wasn't goIng to be defeated. It
wasn't IIke I had tfIumphed ovef AokI,
eIthef. It was a mattef of my not IosIng
out on IIfe. It's too easy to Iet youfseIf
get gfound down by those who gIve
you shIt. So I heId out fof fIve mofe
months. No one saId wofd one to me.
I'm not wfong, I kept teIIIng myseIf,
evefybody eIse Is. I heId my chest up
evefy day I went to schooI. And aftef
gfaduatIng, I went to a unIvefsIty In
Kyushu. Faf ffom any of that hIgh-
schooI Iot."
At that, Ozawa Iet out a bIg sIgh.
Then he asked If I wanted anothef cup
of coffee. No thanks, I saId, I'd aIfeady
had thfee.
PeopIe who go thfough a heavy ex-
pefIence IIke that afe changed men,
IIke It of not," he saId. They change
fof the bettef and they change fof the
wofse. On the good sIde, they become
unshakabIe. Next to that haIf yeaf, the
fest of the suffefIng I've expefIenced
doesn't even count. I can put up wIth
aImost anythIng. And I aIso am a Iot
mofe sensItIve to the paIn of peopIe
afound me. That's on the pIus sIde. It
made me capabIe of makIng some feaI
ffIends. But thefe's aIso the mInus sIde.
I mean, It's ImpossIbIe, In my own
mInd, to beIIeve In peopIe. I don't hate
peopIe, and I haven't Iost my faIth In
humanIty. I've got a wIfe and kIds.
We've made a home and we pfotect
each othef. Those thIngs you can't do
wIthout tfust. It's just that, sufe, we'fe
IIvIng a good IIfe fIght now, but If
somethIng wefe to happen, If
somethIng feaIIy wefe to come aIong
and yank up evefythIng by the foots,
even suffounded by a happy famIIy and
good ffIends, I don't know what I'd do.
What wouId happen If one day, fof no
feason, no one beIIeves a wofd you
say? It happens, you know. SuddenIy,
one day, out of the bIue. I'm aIways
thInkIng about It. Iast tIme, It was onIy
sIx months, but the next tIme? No one
can say, thefe's no guafantee. I don't
have confIdence In how Iong I can hoId
out the next tIme. When I thInk of these
thIngs, I feaIIy get shaken up. I'II dfeam
about It and wake up In the mIddIe of
the nIght. It happens a IIttIe too often,
In fact. And when It happens, I wake
my wIfe up and I hoId on to hef and
cfy. SometImes fof a whoIe houf, I'm so
He bfoke off and Iooked out the wIn-
dow to the cIouds. They'd bafeIy
moved. A heavy IId, beafIng down ffom
the heavens. AbsofbIng aII coIof ffom
the contfoI towef and aIfpIanes and
gfound-tfanspoft vehIcIes and tafmac
and men In unIfofm.
PeopIe IIke AokI don't scafe me.
They'fe aII ovef the pIace, but I don't
tfoubIe myseIf wIth them anymofe.
When I fun Into them, I don't get In-
voIved. I see them comIng and I head
the othef way. I can spot them In an In-
stant. But at the same tIme, I've got to
admIfe the AokIs of thIs wofId. TheIf
abIIIty to Iay Iow untII the fIght mo-
ment, theIf knack fof IatchIng on to op-
poftunItIes, theIf skIII In fuckIng wIth
peopIe's mIndsthat's no ofdInafy taI-
ent. I hate theIf kInd so much It makes
me want to puke, but It Is a taIent.
No, what feaIIy scafes me Is how
easIIy, how uncfItIcaIIy, peopIe wIII be-
IIeve the cfap that sIIme IIke AokI deaI
out. How these AokI types pfoduce
nothIng themseIves, don't have an Idea
In the wofId, and taIk so nIce, how thIs
sIIme can sway guIIIbIe types to any
opInIon and get them to peffofm on
cue, as a gfoup. And thIs gfoup nevef
enteftaIns even a sIIvef of doubt that
they couId be wfong. They thInk noth-
Ing of huftIng someone, senseIessIy,
pefmanentIy. They don't take any fe-
sponsIbIIIty fof theIf actIons. Them.
+,-=M*- the feaI monstefs. +,-=M*- the
ones I have nIghtmafes about. In those
dfeams, thefe's onIy the sIIence. And
these faceIess peopIe. TheIf sIIence
seeps Into evefythIng IIke Ice watef.
And then It aII goes mufky. And I'm
dIssoIvIng and I'm scfeamIng, but no
one heafs."
Ozawa just shook hIs head.
I waIted fof hIm to contInue, but he
was quIet. He foIded hIs hands and Iay
them on the tabIe.
We stIII have tImehow about a
beef?" he saId aftef a whIIe.
Yeah, Iet's, I saId. We pfobabIy both
couId use one.
WHEN THE EIEPHANT dIsappeafed ffom
ouf town's eIephant house, I fead about
It In the newspapef. My aIafm cIock
woke me that day, as aIways, at 6:13. I
went to the kItchen, made coffee and
toast, tufned on the fadIo, spfead the
papef out on the kItchen tabIe, and pfo-
ceeded to munch and fead. I'm one of
those peopIe who fead the papef ffom
begInnIng to end, In ofdef, so It took
me awhIIe to get to the aftIcIe about
the vanIshIng eIephant. The ffont page
was fIIIed wIth stofIes of SDI and the
tfade ffIctIon wIth AmefIca, aftef whIch
I pIowed thfough the natIonaI news, In-
tefnatIonaI poIItIcs, economIcs, Iettefs
to the edItof, book fevIews, feaI-estate
ads, spofts fepofts, and fInaIIy, the fe-
gIonaI news.
The eIephant aftIcIe was the Iead
stofy In the fegIonaI sectIon. The
unusuaIIy Iafge headIIne caught my
and, beneath that, In type one sIze
CAII FOR PROBE. Thefe was a photo of
poIIcemen InspectIng the empty eIe-
phant house. WIthout the eIephant,
somethIng about the pIace seemed
wfong. It Iooked bIggef than It needed
to be, bIank and empty IIke some huge,
dehydfated beast ffom whIch the
Innafds had been pIucked.
BfushIng away my toast cfumbs, I
studIed evefy IIne of the aftIcIe. The
eIephant's absence had fIfst been no-
tIced at two o'cIock on the aftefnoon of
May 18the day befofewhen men
ffom the schooI-Iunch company de-
IIvefed theIf usuaI tfuckIoad of food
(the eIephant mostIy ate Ieftovefs ffom
the Iunches of chIIdfen In the IocaI
eIementafy schooI). On the gfound, stIII
Iocked, Iay the steeI shackIe that had
been fastened to the eIephant's hInd
Ieg, as though the eIephant had sIIpped
out of It. Nof was the eIephant the onIy
one mIssIng. AIso gone was Its keepef,
the man who had been In chafge of the
eIephant's cafe and feedIng ffom the
AccofdIng to the aftIcIe, the eIephant
and keepef had Iast been seen some-
tIme aftef fIve o'cIock the pfevIous day
(May 17) by a few pupIIs ffom the eIe-
mentafy schooI, who wefe vIsItIng the
eIephant house, makIng cfayon
sketches. These pupIIs must have been
the Iast to see the eIephant, saId the pa-
pef, sInce the keepef aIways cIosed the
gate to the eIephant encIosufe when the
sIx-o'cIock sIfen bIew.
Thefe had been nothIng unusuaI
about eIthef the eIephant of Its keepef
at the tIme, accofdIng to the unanImous
testImony of the pupIIs. The eIephant
had been standIng whefe It aIways
stood, In the mIddIe of the encIosufe,
occasIonaIIy waggIng Its tfunk ffom
sIde to sIde of squIntIng Its wfInkIy
eyes. It was such an awfuIIy oId eIe-
phant that Its evefy move seemed a tfe-
mendous effoftso much so that
peopIe seeIng It fof the fIfst tIme feafed
It mIght coIIapse at any moment and
dfaw Its fInaI bfeath.
The eIephant's age had Ied to Its ad-
optIon by ouf town a yeaf eafIIef.
When fInancIaI pfobIems caused the
IIttIe pfIvate zoo on the edge of town to
cIose Its doofs, a wIIdIIfe deaIef found
pIaces fof the othef anImaIs In zoos
thfoughout the countfy. But aII the zoos
had pIenty of eIephants, appafentIy,
and not one of them was wIIIIng to take
In a feebIe oId thIng that Iooked as If It
mIght dIe of a heaft attack at any mo-
ment. And so, aftef Its companIons
wefe gone, the eIephant stayed aIone In
the decayIng zoo fof neafIy fouf
months wIth nothIng to donot that It
had had anythIng to do befofe.
ThIs caused a Iot of dIffIcuIty, both
fof the zoo and fof the town. The zoo
had soId Its Iand to a deveIopef, who
was pIannIng to put up a hIgh-fIse
condo buIIdIng, and the town had
aIfeady Issued hIm a pefmIt. The Iongef
the eIephant pfobIem femaIned unfe-
soIved, the mofe Intefest the deveIopef
had to pay fof nothIng. StIII, sImpIy
kIIIIng the thIng wouId have been out
of the questIon. If It had been a spIdef
monkey of a bat, they mIght have been
abIe to get away wIth It, but the kIIIIng
of an eIephant wouId have been too
hafd to covef up, and If It evef came
out aftefwafd, the fepefcussIons wouId
have been tfemendous. And so the vafI-
ous paftIes had met to deIIbefate on the
mattef, and they fofmuIated an agfee-
ment on the dIsposItIon of the oId
1. The town wouId take ownefshIp of
the eIephant at no cost.
2. The deveIopef wouId, wIthout
compensatIon, pfovIde Iand fof housIng
the eIephant.
3. The zoo's fofmef ownefs wouId be
fesponsIbIe fof payIng the keepef's
I had had my own pfIvate Intefest In
the eIephant pfobIem ffom the vefy
outset, and I kept a scfapbook wIth
evefy cIIppIng I couId fInd on It. I had
even gone to heaf the town councII's
debates on the mattef, whIch Is why I
am abIe to gIve such a fuII and accufate
account of the coufse of events. And
whIIe my account may pfove somewhat
Iengthy, I have chosen to set It down
hefe In case the handIIng of the eIe-
phant pfobIem shouId beaf dIfectIy
upon the eIephant's dIsappeafance.
When the mayof fInIshed negotIatIng
the agfeementwIth Its pfovIsIon that
the town wouId take chafge of the eIe-
phanta movement opposIng the
measufe boIIed up ffom wIthIn the
fanks of the opposItIon pafty (whose
vefy exIstence I had nevef ImagIned un-
tII then). Why must the town take
ownefshIp of the eIephant?" they de-
manded of the mayof, and they faIsed
the foIIowIng poInts (soffy fof aII these
IIsts, but I use them to make thIngs
easIef to undefstand):
1. The eIephant pfobIem was a ques-
tIon fof pfIvate entefpfIsethe zoo and
the deveIopef, thefe was no feason fof
the town to become InvoIved.
2. Cafe and feedIng costs wouId be
too hIgh.
3. What dId the mayof Intend to do
about the secufIty pfobIem?
4. What mefIt wouId thefe be In the
town's havIng Its own eIephant?
The town has any numbef of fe-
sponsIbIIItIes It shouId be takIng cafe of
befofe It gets Into the busIness of keep-
Ing an eIephantsewef fepaIf, the puf-
chase of a new fIfe engIne, etcetefa,"
the opposItIon gfoup decIafed, and
whIIe they dId not say It In so many
wofds, they hInted at the possIbIIIty of
some secfet deaI between the mayof
and the deveIopef.
In fesponse, the mayof had thIs to
1. If the town pefmItted the constfuc-
tIon of hIgh-fIse condos, Its tax feven-
ues wouId Incfease so dfamatIcaIIy that
the cost of keepIng an eIephant wouId
be InsIgnIfIcant by compafIson, thus It
made sense fof the town to take on the
cafe of thIs eIephant.
2. The eIephant was so oId that It
neIthef ate vefy much nof was IIkeIy to
pose a dangef to anyone.
3. When the eIephant dIed, the town
wouId take fuII possessIon of the Iand
donated by the deveIopef.
4. The eIephant couId become the
town's symboI.
The Iong debate feached the concIu-
sIon that the town wouId take chafge of
the eIephant aftef aII. As an oId, weII-
estabIIshed fesIdentIaI subufb, the town
boasted a feIatIveIy affIuent cItIzenfy,
and Its fInancIaI footIng was sound. The
adoptIon of a homeIess eIephant was a
move that peopIe couId Iook upon fa-
vofabIy. PeopIe IIke oId eIephants bet-
tef than sewefs and fIfe engInes.
I myseIf was aII In favof of havIng
the town cafe fof the eIephant. Tfue, I
was gettIng sIck of hIgh-fIse condos,
but I IIked the Idea of my town's own-
Ing an eIephant.
A wooded afea was cIeafed, and the
eIementafy schooI's agIng gym was
moved thefe as an eIephant house. The
man who had sefved as the eIephant's
keepef fof many yeafs wouId come to
IIve In the house wIth the eIephant. The
chIIdfen's Iunch scfaps wouId sefve as
the eIephant's feed. FInaIIy, the eIe-
phant ItseIf was cafted In a tfaIIef to Its
new home, thefe to IIve out Its femaIn-
Ing yeafs.
I joIned the cfowd at the eIephant-
house dedIcatIon cefemonIes. StandIng
befofe the eIephant, the mayof de-
IIvefed a speech (on the town's deveI-
opment and the enfIchment of Its cuI-
tufaI facIIItIes), one eIementafy-schooI
pupII, fepfesentIng the student body,
stood up to fead a composItIon (PIease
IIve a Iong and heaIthy IIfe, Mf.
EIephant"), thefe was a sketch contest
(sketchIng the eIephant thefeaftef be-
came an IntegfaI component of the pu-
pIIs' aftIstIc educatIon), and each of
two young women In swayIng dfesses
(neIthef of whom was especIaIIy good-
IookIng) fed the eIephant a bunch of
bananas. The eIephant endufed these
vIftuaIIy meanIngIess (fof the eIephant,
entIfeIy meanIngIess) fofmaIItIes wIth
hafdIy a twItch, and It chomped on the
bananas wIth a vacant stafe. When It
fInIshed eatIng the bananas, evefyone
On Its fIght feaf Ieg, the eIephant
wofe a soIId, heavy-IookIng steeI cuff
ffom whIch thefe stfetched a thIck
chaIn pefhaps thIfty feet Iong, and thIs
In tufn was secufeIy fastened to a con-
cfete sIab. Anyone couId see what a
stufdy anchof heId the beast In pIace:
The eIephant couId have stfuggIed wIth
aII Its mIght fof a hundfed yeafs and
nevef bfoken the thIng.
I couIdn't teII If the eIephant was
bothefed by Its shackIe. On the sufface,
at Ieast, It seemed aII but unconscIous
of the enofmous chunk of metaI
wfapped afound Its Ieg. It kept Its bIank
gaze fIxed on some IndetefmInate poInt
In space, Its eafs and a few whIte haIfs
on Its body wavIng gentIy In the
The eIephant's keepef was a smaII,
bony oId man. It was hafd to guess hIs
age, he couId have been In hIs eafIy sIx-
tIes of Iate seventIes. He was one of
those peopIe whose appeafance Is no
Iongef InfIuenced by theIf age aftef
they pass a ceftaIn poInt In IIfe. HIs
skIn had the same dafkIy fuddy, sun-
bufned Iook both summef and wIntef,
hIs haIf was stIff and shoft, hIs eyes
wefe smaII. HIs face had no dIstInguIsh-
Ing chafactefIstIcs, but hIs aImost pef-
fectIy cIfcuIaf eafs stuck out on eIthef
sIde wIth dIstufbIng pfomInence.
He was not an unffIendIy man. If
someone spoke to hIm, he wouId fepIy,
and he expfessed hImseIf cIeafIy. If he
wanted to he couId be aImost chafm-
Ingthough you aIways knew he was
somewhat III at ease. GenefaIIy, he fe-
maIned a fetIcent, IoneIy-IookIng oId
man. He seemed to IIke the chIIdfen
who vIsIted the eIephant house, and he
wofked at beIng nIce to them, but the
chIIdfen nevef feaIIy wafmed to hIm.
The onIy one who dId that was the
eIephant. The keepef IIved In a smaII
pfefab foom attached to the eIephant
house, and aII day Iong he stayed wIth
the eIephant, attendIng to Its needs.
They had been togethef fof mofe than
ten yeafs, and you couId sense theIf
cIoseness In evefy gestufe and Iook.
Whenevef the eIephant was standIng
thefe bIankIy and the keepef wanted It
to move, aII he had to do was stand
next to the eIephant, tap It on a ffont
Ieg, and whIspef somethIng In Its eaf.
Then, swayIng Its huge buIk, the eIe-
phant wouId go exactIy whefe the
keepef had IndIcated, take up Its new
posItIon, and contInue stafIng at a poInt
In space.
On weekends, I wouId dfop by the
eIephant house and study these opefa-
tIons, but I couId nevef fIgufe out the
pfIncIpIe on whIch the keepef-eIephant
communIcatIon was based. Maybe the
eIephant undefstood a few sImpIe
wofds (It had ceftaInIy been IIvIng Iong
enough), of pefhaps It feceIved Its In-
fofmatIon thfough vafIatIons In the
taps on Its Ieg. Of possIbIy It had some
specIaI powef fesembIIng mentaI teIe-
pathy and couId fead the keepef's
mInd. I once asked the keepef how he
gave hIs ofdefs to the eIephant, but the
oId man just smIIed and saId, We've
been togethef a Iong tIme."
AND SO A YEAR went by. Then, wIthout
wafnIng, the eIephant vanIshed. One
day It was thefe, and the next It had
ceased to be.
I poufed myseIf a second cup of cof-
fee and fead the stofy agaIn ffom be-
gInnIng to end. ActuaIIy, It was a pfetty
stfange aftIcIethe kInd that mIght ex-
cIte ShefIock HoImes. Iook at thIs,
Watson," he'd say, tappIng hIs pIpe. A
vefy IntefestIng aftIcIe. Vefy IntefestIng
What gave the aftIcIe Its aIf of
stfangeness was the obvIous confusIon
and bewIIdefment of the fepoftef. And
thIs confusIon and bewIIdefment
cIeafIy came ffom the absufdIty of the
sItuatIon ItseIf. You couId see how the
fepoftef had stfuggIed to fInd cIevef
ways afound the absufdIty In ofdef to
wfIte a nofmaI" aftIcIe. But the
stfuggIe had onIy dfIven hIs confusIon
and bewIIdefment to a hopeIess
Fof exampIe, the aftIcIe used such ex-
pfessIons as the eIephant escaped," but
If you Iooked at the entIfe pIece It be-
came obvIous that the eIephant had In
no way escaped." It had vanIshed Into
thIn aIf. The fepoftef feveaIed hIs own
confIIcted state of mInd by sayIng that
a few detaIIs" femaIned uncIeaf," but
thIs was not a phenomenon that couId
be dIsposed of by usIng such ofdInafy
tefmInoIogy as detaIIs" of uncIeaf," I
FIfst, thefe was the pfobIem of the
steeI cuff that had been fastened to the
eIephant's Ieg. ThIs had been found 31%##
#)"7-<. The most feasonabIe expIana-
tIon fof thIs wouId be that the keepef
had unIocked the fIng, femoved It ffom
the eIephant's Ieg, #)"7-< 1,- *%0K $K$%0,
and fun off wIth the eIephanta hypo-
thesIs to whIch the papef cIung wIth
despefate tenacIty despIte the fact that
the keepef had no key! OnIy two keys
exIsted, and they, fof secufIty's sake,
wefe kept In Iocked safes, one In poIIce
headquaftefs and the othef In the fIfe-
house, both beyond the feach of the
keepefof of anyone eIse who mIght
attempt to steaI them. And even If
someone had succeeded In steaIIng a
key, thefe was no need whatevef fof
that pefson to make a poInt of fetufn-
Ing the key aftef usIng It. Yet the foI-
IowIng mofnIng both keys wefe found
In theIf fespectIve safes at the poIIce
and fIfe statIons. WhIch bfIngs us to the
concIusIon that the eIephant puIIed Its
Ieg out of that soIId steeI fIng wIthout
the aId of a keyan absoIute ImpossIb-
IIIty unIess someone had sawed the foot
The second pfobIem was the foute of
escape. The eIephant house and
gfounds wefe suffounded by a massIve
fence neafIy ten feet hIgh. The questIon
of secufIty had been hotIy debated In
the town councII, and the town had
settIed upon a system that mIght be
consIdefed somewhat excessIve fof
keepIng one oId eIephant. Heavy Ifon
bafs had been anchofed In a thIck con-
cfete foundatIon (the cost of the fence
was bofne by the feaI-estate company),
and thefe was onIy a sIngIe entfance,
whIch was found Iocked ffom the In-
sIde. Thefe was no way the eIephant
couId have escaped ffom thIs foftfess-
IIke encIosufe.
The thIfd pfobIem was eIephant
tfacks. DIfectIy behInd the eIephant en-
cIosufe was a steep hIII, whIch the an-
ImaI couId not possIbIy have cIImbed,
so even If we suppose that the eIephant
had somehow managed to puII Its Ieg
out of the steeI fIng and Ieap ovef the
ten-foot-hIgh fence, It wouId stIII have
had to escape down the path to the
ffont of the encIosufe, and thefe was
not a sIngIe mafk anywhefe In the soft
eafth of that path that couId be seen as
an eIephant's footpfInt.
RIddIed as It was wIth such pefpIexIt-
Ies and Iabofed cIfcumIocutIons, the
newspapef aftIcIe as a whoIe Ieft but
one possIbIe concIusIon: The eIephant
had not escaped. It had vanIshed.
NeedIess to say, howevef, neIthef the
newspapef nof the poIIce nof the may-
of was wIIIIng to admItopenIy, at
Ieastthat the eIephant had vanIshed.
The poIIce wefe contInuIng to InvestIg-
ate, theIf spokesman sayIng onIy that
the eIephant eIthef was taken of was
aIIowed to escape In a cIevef,
deIIbefateIy caIcuIated move. Because
of the dIffIcuIty InvoIved In hIdIng an
eIephant, It Is onIy a mattef of tIme tIII
we soIve the case." To thIs optImIstIc
assessment he added that they wefe
pIannIng to seafch the woods In the
afea wIth the aId of IocaI huntefs' cIubs
and shafpshootefs ffom the natIonaI
SeIf-Defense Fofce.
The mayof had heId a news confef-
ence, In whIch he apoIogIzed fof the In-
adequacy of the town's poIIce fe-
soufces. At the same tIme, he decIafed,
Ouf eIephant-secufIty system Is In no
way InfefIof to sImIIaf facIIItIes In any
zoo In the countfy. Indeed, It Is faf
stfongef and faf mofe faII-safe than the
standafd cage." He aIso obsefved, ThIs
Is a dangefous and senseIess antIsocIaI
act of the most maIIcIous kInd, and we
cannot aIIow It to go unpunIshed."
As they had the yeaf befofe, the
opposItIon-pafty membefs of the town
councII made accusatIons. We Intend
to Iook Into the poIItIcaI fesponsIbIIIty
of the mayof, he has coIIuded wIth
pfIvate entefpfIse In ofdef to seII the
townspeopIe a bIII of goods on the soIu-
tIon of the eIephant pfobIem."
One woffIed-IookIng" mothef,
thIfty-seven, was IntefvIewed by the
papef. Now I'm affaId to Iet my chII-
dfen out to pIay," she saId.
The covefage IncIuded a detaIIed
summafy of the steps IeadIng to the
town's decIsIon to adopt the eIephant,
an aefIaI sketch of the eIephant house
and gfounds, and bfIef hIstofIes of both
the eIephant and the keepef who had
vanIshed wIth It. The man, Nobofu
Watanabe, sIxty-thfee, was ffom
Tateyama, In ChIba Pfefectufe. He had
wofked fof many yeafs as a keepef In
the mammaIIan sectIon of the zoo, and
had the compIete tfust of the zoo au-
thofItIes, both fof hIs abundant know-
Iedge of these anImaIs and fof hIs wafm
sIncefe pefsonaIIty." The eIephant had
been sent ffom East AffIca twenty-two
yeafs eafIIef, but IIttIe was known
about Its exact age of Its pefsonaIIty."
The fepoft concIuded wIth a fequest
ffom the poIIce fof cItIzens of the town
to come fofwafd wIth any InfofmatIon
they mIght have fegafdIng the
I thought about thIs fequest fof a
whIIe as I dfank my second cup of cof-
fee, but I decIded not to caII the po-
IIceboth because I pfefeffed not to
come Into contact wIth them If I couId
heIp It and because I feIt the poIIce
wouId not beIIeve what I had to teII
them. What good wouId It do to taIk to
peopIe IIke that, who wouId not even
consIdef the possIbIIIty that the eIe-
phant had sImpIy vanIshed?
I took my scfapbook down ffom the
sheIf, cut out the eIephant aftIcIe, and
pasted It In. Then I washed the dIshes
and Ieft fof the offIce.
I watched the seafch on the seven-
o'cIock news. Thefe wefe huntefs
caffyIng Iafge-bofe fIfIes Ioaded wIth
tfanquIIIzef dafts, SeIf-Defense Fofce
tfoops, poIIcemen, and fIfemen comb-
Ing evefy squafe Inch of the woods and
hIIIs In the ImmedIate afea as heII-
coptefs hovefed ovefhead. Of coufse,
we'fe taIkIng about the kInd of woods"
and hIIIs" you fInd In the subufbs out-
sIde Tokyo, so they dIdn't have an
enofmous afea to covef. WIth that
many peopIe InvoIved, a day shouId
have been mofe than enough to do the
job. And they wefen't seafchIng fof
some tIny homIcIdaI manIac: They wefe
aftef a huge AffIcan eIephant. Thefe
was a IImIt to the numbef of pIaces a
thIng IIke that couId hIde. But stIII they
had not managed to fInd It. The chIef of
poIIce appeafed on the scfeen, sayIng,
We Intend to contInue the seafch."
And the anchofman concIuded the fe-
poft, Who feIeased the eIephant, and
how? Whefe have they hIdden It? What
was theIf motIve? EvefythIng femaIns
shfouded In mystefy."
The seafch went on fof sevefaI days,
but the authofItIes wefe unabIe to dIs-
covef a sIngIe cIue to the eIephant's
whefeabouts. I studIed the newspapef
fepofts, cIIpped them aII, and pasted
them In my scfapbookIncIudIng edIt-
ofIaI caftoons on the subject. The aI-
bum fIIIed up quIckIy, and I had to buy
anothef. DespIte theIf enofmous
voIume, the cIIppIngs contaIned not
one fact of the kInd that I was IookIng
fof. The fepofts wefe eIthef poIntIess of
DISAPPEARANCE? And even aftIcIes IIke
thIs became notIceabIy scafcef aftef a
week had gone by, untII thefe was vIf-
tuaIIy nothIng. A few of the weekIy
magazInes caffIed sensatIonaI stof-
Iesone even hIfed a psychIcbut
they had nothIng to substantIate theIf
wIId headIInes. It seemed that peopIe
wefe begInnIng to shove the eIephant
case Into the Iafge categofy of unsoIv-
abIe mystefIes." The dIsappeafance of
one oId eIephant and one oId eIephant
keepef wouId have no Impact on the
coufse of socIety. The eafth wouId con-
tInue Its monotonous fotatIons, poIItI-
cIans wouId contInue IssuIng unfeIIabIe
pfocIamatIons, peopIe wouId contInue
yawnIng on theIf way to the offIce,
chIIdfen wouId contInue studyIng fof
theIf coIIege-entfance exams. AmId the
endIess sufge and ebb of evefyday IIfe,
Intefest In a mIssIng eIephant couId not
Iast fofevef. And so a numbef of unfe-
mafkabIe months went by, IIke a tIfed
afmy mafchIng past a wIndow.
Whenevef I had a spafe moment, I
wouId vIsIt the house whefe the eIe-
phant no Iongef IIved. A thIck chaIn
had been wfapped found and found the
bafs of the yafd's Ifon gate, to keep
peopIe out. PeefIng InsIde, I couId see
that the eIephant-house doof had aIso
been chaIned and Iocked, as though the
poIIce wefe tfyIng to make up fof hav-
Ing faIIed to fInd the eIephant by muI-
tIpIyIng the Iayefs of secufIty on the
now-empty eIephant house. The afea
was desefted, the pfevIous cfowds hav-
Ing been fepIaced by a fIock of pIgeons
festIng on the foof. No one took cafe of
the gfounds any Iongef, and thIck gfeen
summef gfass had spfung up thefe as If
It had been waItIng fof thIs oppoftun-
Ity. The chaIn coIIed afound the doof of
the eIephant house femInded me of a
huge snake set to guafd a fuIned paIace
In a thIck fofest. A few shoft months
wIthout Its eIephant had gIven the
pIace an aIf of doom and desoIatIon
that hung thefe IIke a huge, oppfessIve
faIn cIoud.
I MET HER NEAR the end of Septembef. It
had been faInIng that day ffom mofn-
Ing to nIghtthe kInd of soft, monoton-
ous, mIsty faIn that often faIIs at that
tIme of yeaf, washIng away bIt by bIt
the memofIes of summef bufned Into
the eafth. CoufsIng down the guttefs,
aII those memofIes fIowed Into the
sewefs and fIvefs, to be caffIed to the
deep, dafk ocean.
We notIced each othef at the pafty
my company thfew to Iaunch Its new
adveftIsIng campaIgn. I wofk fof the PR
sectIon of a majof manufactufef of eIec-
tfIcaI appIIances, and at the tIme I was
In chafge of pubIIcIty fof a coofdInated
IIne of kItchen equIpment, whIch was
scheduIed to go on the mafket In tIme
fof the autumn-weddIng and wIntef-bo-
nus seasons. My job was to negotIate
wIth sevefaI women's magazInes fof tIe-
In aftIcIesnot the kInd of wofk that
takes a gfeat deaI of InteIIIgence, but I
had to see to It that the aftIcIes they
wfote dIdn't smack of adveftIsIng.
When magazInes gave us pubIIcIty, we
fewafded them by pIacIng ads In theIf
pages. They scfatched ouf backs, we
scfatched theIfs.
As an edItof of a magazIne fof young
housewIves, she had come to the pafty
fof matefIaI fof one of these aftIcIes." I
happened to be In chafge of showIng
hef afound, poIntIng out the featufes of
the coIoffuI feffIgefatofs and coffee-
makefs and mIcfowave ovens and
juIcefs that a famous ItaIIan desIgnef
had done fof us.
The most Impoftant poInt Is unIty,"
I expIaIned. Even the most beautIfuIIy
desIgned Item dIes If It Is out of baIance
wIth Its suffoundIngs. UnIty of desIgn,
unIty of coIof, unIty of functIon: ThIs Is
what today's 7%1X",%0 needs above aII
eIse. Reseafch teIIs us that a housewIfe
spends the Iafgest paft of hef day In the
7%1X",%0. The 7%1X",%0 Is hef wofkpIace,
hef study, hef IIvIng foom. WhIch Is
why she does aII she can to make the
7%1X",%0 a pIeasant pIace to be. It has
nothIng to do wIth sIze. Whethef It's
Iafge of smaII, one fundamentaI pfIn-
cIpIe govefns evefy successfuI 7%1X",%0,
and that pfIncIpIe Is unIty. ThIs Is the
concept undefIyIng the desIgn of ouf
new sefIes. Iook at thIs cooktop, fof
She nodded and scfIbbIed thIngs In a
smaII notebook, but It was obvIous that
she had IIttIe Intefest In the matefIaI,
nof dId I have any pefsonaI stake In ouf
new cooktop. Both of us wefe doIng ouf
You know a Iot about kItchens," she
saId when I fInIshed. She used the
Japanese wofd, wIthout pIckIng up on
That's what I do fof a IIvIng," I
answefed wIth a pfofessIonaI smIIe.
AsIde ffom that, though, I do IIke to
cook. NothIng fancy, but I cook fof my-
seIf evefy day."
StIII, I wondef If unIty Is aII that ne-
cessafy fof a kItchen."
We say f7%1X",%0NM" I advIsed hef. No
bIg deaI, but the company wants us to
use the EngIIsh."
Oh. Soffy. But stIII, I wondef. Is
unIty so Impoftant fof a 7%1X",%0L What
do =)B thInk?"
My pefsonaI opInIon? That doesn't
come out untII I take my necktIe off," I
saId wIth a gfIn. But today I'II make an
exceptIon. A kItchen pfobabIy <)-3
need a few thIngs mofe than It needs
unIty. But those othef eIements afe
thIngs you can't seII. And In thIs pfag-
matIc wofId of oufs, thIngs you can't
seII don't count fof much."
FD3 the wofId such a pfagmatIc
I took out a cIgafette and IIt It wIth
my IIghtef.
I don't knowthe wofd just popped
out," I saId. But It expIaIns a Iot. It
makes wofk easIef, too. You can pIay
games wIth It, make up neat expfes-
sIons: 'essentIaIIy pfagmatIc,' of 'pfag-
matIc In -33-0"-OM If you Iook at thIngs
that way, you avoId aII kInds of com-
pIIcated pfobIems."
What an IntefestIng vIew!"
Not feaIIy. It's what evefybody
thInks. Oh, by the way, we've got some
pfetty good champagne. Cafe to have
Thanks. I'd Iove to."
As we chatted ovef champagne, we
feaIIzed we had sevefaI mutuaI ac-
quaIntances. SInce ouf paft of the busI-
ness wofId was not a vefy bIg pond, If
you tossed In a few pebbIes, one of two
wefe bound to hIt a mutuaI acquaInt-
ance. In addItIon, she and my kId sIstef
happened to have gfaduated ffom the
same unIvefsIty. WIth mafkefs IIke thIs
to foIIow, ouf convefsatIon went aIong
She was unmaffIed, and so was I. She
was twenty-sIx, and I was thIfty-one.
She wofe contact Ienses, and I wofe
gIasses. She pfaIsed my necktIe, and I
pfaIsed hef jacket. We compafed fents
and compIaIned about ouf jobs and
saIafIes. In othef wofds, we wefe begIn-
nIng to IIke each othef. She was an at-
tfactIve woman, and not at aII pushy. I
stood thefe taIkIng wIth hef fof a fuII
twenty mInutes, unabIe to dIscovef a
sIngIe feason not to thInk weII of hef.
As the pafty was bfeakIng up, I In-
vIted hef to joIn me In the hoteI's cock-
taII Iounge, whefe we settIed In to con-
tInue ouf convefsatIon. A soundIess
faIn went on faIIIng outsIde the
Iounge's panofamIc wIndow, the IIghts
of the cIty sendIng bIuffy messages
thfough the mIst. A damp hush heId
sway ovef the neafIy empty cocktaII
Iounge. She ofdefed a ffozen daIquIfI
and I had a scotch on the focks.
SIppIng ouf dfInks, we caffIed on the
kInd of convefsatIon that a man and
woman have In a baf when they have
just met and afe begInnIng to IIke each
othef. We taIked about ouf coIIege
days, ouf tastes In musIc, spofts, ouf
daIIy foutInes.
Then I toId hef about the eIephant.
ExactIy how thIs happened, I can't fe-
caII. Maybe we wefe taIkIng about
somethIng havIng to do wIth anImaIs,
and that was the connectIon. Of maybe,
unconscIousIy, I had been IookIng fof
someonea good IIstenefto whom I
couId pfesent my own, unIque vIew on
the eIephant's dIsappeafance. Of, then
agaIn, It mIght have been the IIquof
that got me taIkIng.
In any case, the second the wofds Ieft
my mouth, I knew that I had bfought
up one of the Ieast suItabIe topIcs I
couId have found fof thIs occasIon. No,
I shouId nevef have mentIoned the eIe-
phant. The topIc waswhat?too
compIete, too cIosed.
I tfIed to huffy on to somethIng eIse,
but as Iuck wouId have It she was mofe
Intefested than most In the case of the
vanIshIng eIephant, and once I admIt-
ted that I had seen the eIephant many
tImes she showefed me wIth ques-
tIonswhat kInd of eIephant was It,
how dId I thInk It had escaped, what
dId It eat, wasn't It a dangef to the
communIty, and so fofth.
I toId hef nothIng mofe than what
evefybody knew ffom the news, but she
seemed to sense constfaInt In my tone
of voIce. I had nevef been good at
teIIIng IIes.
As If she had not notIced anythIng
stfange about my behavIof, she sIpped
hef second daIquIfI and asked, Wefen't
you shocked when the eIephant dIsap-
peafed? It's not the kInd of thIng that
somebody couId have pfedIcted."
No, pfobabIy not," I saId. I took a
pfetzeI ffom the mound In the gIass
dIsh on ouf tabIe, snapped It In two,
and ate haIf. The waItef fepIaced ouf
ashtfay wIth an empty one.
She Iooked at me expectantIy. I took
out anothef cIgafette and IIt It. I had
quIt smokIng thfee yeafs eafIIef but
had begun agaIn when the eIephant
Why 'pfobabIy not'? You mean you
couId have pfedIcted It?"
No, of coufse I couIdn't have pfe-
dIcted It," I saId wIth a smIIe. Fof an
eIephant to dIsappeaf aII of a sudden
one daythefe's no pfecedent, no
need, fof such a thIng to happen. It
doesn't make any IogIcaI sense."
But stIII, youf answef was vefy
stfange. When I saId, 'It's not the kInd
of thIng that somebody couId have pfe-
dIcted,' you saId, 'No, pfobabIy not.'
Most peopIe wouId have saId, 'You'fe
fIght,' of 'Yeah, It's weIfd,' of
somethIng. See what I mean?"
I sent a vague nod In hef dIfectIon
and faIsed my hand to caII the waItef.
A kInd of tentatIve sIIence took hoId as
I waIted fof hIm to bfIng me my next
I'm fIndIng thIs a IIttIe hafd to
gfasp," she saId softIy. You wefe caffy-
Ing on a peffectIy nofmaI convefsatIon
wIth me untII a coupIe of mInutes
agoat Ieast untII the subject of the
eIephant came up. Then somethIng
funny happened. I can't undefstand you
anymofe. SomethIng's wfong. Is It the
eIephant? Of afe my eafs pIayIng tfIcks
on me?"
Thefe's nothIng wfong wIth youf
eafs," I saId.
So then It's you. The pfobIem's wIth
I stuck my fIngef In my gIass and
stIffed the Ice. I IIke the sound of Ice In
a whIskey gIass.
I wouIdn't caII It a 'pfobIem,' ex-
actIy. It's not that bIg a deaI. I'm not
hIdIng anythIng. I'm just not sufe I can
taIk about It vefy weII, so I'm tfyIng not
to say anythIng at aII. But you'fe
fIghtIt's vefy stfange."
What do you mean?"
It was no use: I'd have to teII hef the
stofy. I took one guIp of whIskey and
The thIng Is, I was pfobabIy the Iast
one to see the eIephant befofe It dIsap-
peafed. I saw It aftef seven o'cIock on
the evenIng of May seventeenth, and
they notIced It was gone on the aftef-
noon of the eIghteenth. Nobody saw It
In between because they Iock the eIe-
phant house at sIx."
I don't get It. If they cIosed the
house at sIx, how dId you see It aftef
Thefe's a kInd of cIIff behInd the
eIephant house. A steep hIII on pfIvate
pfopefty, wIth no feaI foads. Thefe's
one spot, on the back of the hIII, whefe
you can see Into the eIephant house.
I'm pfobabIy the onIy one who knows
about It."
I had found the spot pufeIy by
chance. StfoIIIng thfough the afea one
Sunday aftefnoon, I had Iost my way
and come out at the top of the cIIff. I
found a IIttIe fIat open patch, just bIg
enough fof a pefson to stfetch out In,
and when I Iooked down thfough the
bushes, thefe was the eIephant-house
foof. BeIow the edge of the foof was a
faIfIy Iafge vent openIng, and thfough
It I had a cIeaf vIew of the InsIde of the
eIephant house.
I made It a habIt aftef that to vIsIt
the pIace evefy now and then to Iook at
the eIephant when It was InsIde the
house. If anyone had asked me why I
bothefed doIng such a thIng, I wouIdn't
have had a decent answef. I sImpIy
enjoyed watchIng the eIephant dufIng
Its pfIvate tIme. Thefe was nothIng
mofe to It than that. I couIdn't see the
eIephant when the house was dafk In-
sIde, of coufse, but In the eafIy houfs of
the evenIng the keepef wouId have the
IIghts on the whoIe tIme he was takIng
cafe of the eIephant, whIch enabIed me
to study the scene In detaII.
What stfuck me ImmedIateIy when I
saw the eIephant and keepef aIone to-
gethef was the obvIous IIkIng they had
fof each othefsomethIng they nevef
dIspIayed when they wefe out befofe
the pubIIc. TheIf affectIon was evIdent
In evefy gestufe. It aImost seemed as If
they stofed away theIf emotIons dufIng
the day, takIng cafe not to Iet anyone
notIce them, and took them out at nIght
when they couId be aIone. WhIch Is not
to say that they dId anythIng dIffefent
when they wefe by themseIves InsIde.
The eIephant just stood thefe, as bIank
as evef, and the keepef wouId peffofm
those tasks one wouId nofmaIIy expect
hIm to do as a keepef: scfubbIng down
the eIephant wIth a deck bfoom, pIck-
Ing up the eIephant's enofmous dfop-
pIngs, cIeanIng up aftef the eIephant
ate. But thefe was no way to mIstake
the specIaI wafmth, the sense of tfust,
between them. WhIIe the keepef swept
the fIoof, the eIephant wouId wave Its
tfunk and pat the keepef's back. I IIked
to watch the eIephant doIng that.
Have you aIways been fond of eIe-
phants?" she asked. I mean, not just
that paftIcuIaf eIephant?"
Hmm . come to thInk of It, I do
IIke eIephants," I saId. Thefe's
somethIng about them that excItes me.
I guess I've aIways IIked them. I wondef
And that day, too, aftef the sun
went down, I suppose you wefe up on
the hIII by youfseIf, IookIng at the eIe-
phant. Maywhat day was It?"
The seventeenth. May seventeenth
at seven P.M. The days wefe aIfeady
vefy Iong by then, and the sky had a
feddIsh gIow, but the IIghts wefe on In
the eIephant house."
And was thefe anythIng unusuaI
about the eIephant of the keepef?"
WeII, thefe was and thefe wasn't. I
can't say exactIy. It's not as If they wefe
standIng fIght In ffont of me. I'm pfob-
abIy not the most feIIabIe wItness."
What dId happen, exactIy?"
I took a swaIIow of my now some-
what watefy scotch. The faIn outsIde
the wIndows was stIII comIng down, no
stfongef of weakef than befofe, a statIc
eIement In a Iandscape that wouId nev-
ef change.
NothIng happened, feaIIy. The eIe-
phant and the keepef wefe doIng what
they aIways dIdcIeanIng, eatIng,
pIayIng afound wIth each othef In that
ffIendIy way of theIfs. It wasn't what
they <%< that was dIffefent. It's the way
they Iooked. SomethIng about the baI-
ance between them."
The baIance?"
In sIze. Of theIf bodIes. The eIe-
phant's and the keepef's. The baIance
seemed to have changed somewhat. I
had the feeIIng that to some extent the
dIffefence between them had shfunk."
She kept hef gaze fIxed on hef daI-
quIfI gIass fof a tIme. I couId see that
the Ice had meIted and that the watef
was wofkIng Its way thfough the cock-
taII IIke a tIny ocean cuffent.
MeanIng that the eIephant had got-
ten smaIIef?"
Of the keepef had gotten bIggef. Of
both sImuItaneousIy."
And you dIdn't teII thIs to the
No, of coufse not," I saId. I'm sufe
they wouIdn't have beIIeved me. And If
I had toId them I was watchIng the eIe-
phant ffom the cIIff at a tIme IIke that,
I'd have ended up as theIf numbef one
StIII, afe you "-*1$%0 that the baIance
between them had changed?"
PfobabIy. I can onIy say 'pfobabIy.' I
don't have any pfoof, and as I keep say-
Ing, I was IookIng at them thfough the
aIf vent. But I had Iooked at them IIke
that I don't know how many tImes be-
fofe, so It's hafd fof me to beIIeve that I
couId make a mIstake about somethIng
as basIc as the feIatIon of theIf sIzes."
In fact, I had wondefed at the tIme
whethef my eyes wefe pIayIng tfIcks on
me. I had tfIed cIosIng and openIng
them and shakIng my head, but the eIe-
phant's sIze femaIned the same. It def-
InIteIy Iooked as If It had shfunkso
much so that at fIfst I thought the town
mIght have got hoId of a new, smaIIef
eIephant. But I hadn't heafd anythIng
to that effect, and I wouId nevef have
mIssed any news fepofts about eIe-
phants. If thIs was not a new eIephant,
the onIy possIbIe concIusIon was that
the oId eIephant had, fof one feason of
anothef, shfunk. As I watched, It be-
came obvIous to me that thIs smaIIef
eIephant had aII the same gestufes as
the oId one. It wouId stamp happIIy on
the gfound wIth Its fIght foot whIIe It
was beIng washed, and wIth Its now
somewhat naffowef tfunk It wouId pat
the keepef on the back.
It was a mystefIous sIght. IookIng
thfough the vent, I had the feeIIng that
a dIffefent, chIIIIng kInd of tIme was
fIowIng thfough the eIephant
housebut nowhefe eIse. And It
seemed to me, too, that the eIephant
and the keepef wefe gIadIy gIvIng
themseIves ovef to thIs new ofdef that
was tfyIng to enveIop themof that
had aIfeady paftIaIIy succeeded In en-
veIopIng them.
AItogethef, I was pfobabIy watchIng
the scene In the eIephant house fof Iess
than a haIf houf. The IIghts went out at
seven-thIftymuch eafIIef than usu-
aIand ffom that poInt on, evefythIng
was wfapped In dafkness. I waIted In
my spot, hopIng that the IIghts wouId
go on agaIn, but they nevef dId. That
was the Iast I saw of the eIephant.
So, then, you beIIeve that the eIe-
phant kept shfInkIng untII It was smaII
enough to escape thfough the bafs, of
eIse that It sImpIy dIssoIved Into noth-
Ingness. Is that It?"
I don't know," I saId. AII I'm tfyIng
to do Is fecaII what I saw wIth my own
eyes, as accufateIy as possIbIe. I'm
hafdIy thInkIng about what happened
aftef that. The vIsuaI Image I have Is so
stfong that, to be honest, It's pfactIcaIIy
ImpossIbIe fof me to go beyond It."
That was aII I couId say about the
eIephant's dIsappeafance. And just as I
had feafed, the stofy of the eIephant
was too paftIcuIaf, too compIete In It-
seIf, to wofk as a topIc of convefsatIon
between a young man and woman who
had just met. A sIIence descended upon
us aftef I had fInIshed my taIe. What
subject couId eIthef of us bfIng up aftef
a stofy about an eIephant that had van-
Isheda stofy that offefed vIftuaIIy no
openIngs fof fufthef dIscussIon? She
fan hef fIngef afound the edge of hef
cocktaII gIass, and I sat thefe feadIng
and fefeadIng the wofds stamped on
my coastef. I nevef shouId have toId
hef about the eIephant. It was not the
kInd of stofy you couId teII ffeeIy to
When I was a IIttIe gIfI, ouf cat dIs-
appeafed," she offefed aftef a Iong sI-
Ience. But stIII, fof a cat to dIsappeaf
and fof an eIephant to dIsappeafthose
afe two dIffefent stofIes."
Yeah, feaIIy. Thefe's no compafIson.
ThInk of the sIze dIffefence."
ThIfty mInutes Iatef, we wefe sayIng
good-bye outsIde the hoteI. She
suddenIy femembefed that she had Ieft
hef umbfeIIa In the cocktaII Iounge, so I
went up In the eIevatof and bfought It
down to hef. It was a bfIck-fed um-
bfeIIa wIth a Iafge handIe.
Thanks," she saId.
Good nIght," I saId.
That was the Iast tIme I saw hef. We
taIked once on the phone aftef that,
about some detaIIs In hef tIe-In aftIcIe.
WhIIe we spoke, I thought sefIousIy
about InvItIng hef out fof dInnef, but I
ended up not doIng It. It just dIdn't
seem to mattef one way of the othef.
I feIt IIke thIs a Iot aftef my expefI-
ence wIth the vanIshIng eIephant. I
wouId begIn to thInk I wanted to do
somethIng, but then I wouId become In-
capabIe of dIstInguIshIng between the
pfobabIe fesuIts of doIng It and of not
doIng It. I often get the feeIIng that
thIngs afound me have Iost theIf pfopef
baIance, though It couId be that my
pefceptIons afe pIayIng tfIcks on me.
Some kInd of baIance InsIde me has
bfoken down sInce the eIephant affaIf,
and maybe that causes extefnaI phe-
nomena to stfIke my eye In a stfange
way. It's pfobabIy somethIng In me.
I contInue to seII feffIgefatofs and
toastef ovens and coffee-makefs In the
pfagmatIc wofId, based on aftefImages
of memofIes I fetaIn ffom that wofId.
The mofe pfagmatIc I tfy to become,
the mofe successfuIIy I seIIouf cam-
paIgn has succeeded beyond ouf most
optImIstIc fofecastsand the mofe
peopIe I succeed In seIIIng myseIf to.
That's pfobabIy because peopIe afe
IookIng fof a kInd of unIty In thIs 7%1X
",%0 we know as the wofId. UnIty of
desIgn. UnIty of coIof. UnIty of
The papefs pfInt aImost nothIng
about the eIephant anymofe. PeopIe
seem to have fofgotten that theIf town
once owned an eIephant. The gfass that
took ovef the eIephant encIosufe has
wIthefed now, and the afea has the feeI
of wIntef.
The eIephant and keepef have van-
Ished compIeteIy. They wIII nevef be
comIng back.
HafukI MufakamI was bofn In Kyoto
In 1949 and now IIves neaf Tokyo. HIs
wofk has been tfansIated Into mofe
than fofty Ianguages. The most fecent
of hIs many honofs Is the Ffanz Kafka
Aftef Dafk
Aftef the Quake
BIInd WIIIow, SIeepIng Woman
Dance Dance Dance
The EIephant VanIshes
Hafd-BoIIed WondefIand and the End
of the WofId
Kafka on the Shofe
NofwegIan Wood
South of the Bofdef, West of the Sun
SputnIk Sweetheaft
A WIId Sheep Chase
The WInd-Up BIfd ChfonIcIe
Undefgfound: The Tokyo Gas Attack
and the Japanese Psyche
What I TaIk About When I TaIk About
MufakamI's tfademafk humof and psy-
choIogIcaI InsIght afe hefe dIstIIIed
wIth an extfaofdInafy, hafmonIous
mastefy. CombInIng the pyfotechnIcaI
genIus that made Z$(7$ )0 1,- @,)*-
and +,- ?%0<XB/ 9%*< R,*)0%"#- Intef-
natIonaI bestseIIefs, wIth a movIng In-
fusIon of heaft, MufakamI has pfo-
duced one of hIs most enchantIng fIc-
tIons yet.
Set at the tIme of the 1995 Kobe eafth-
quake, MufakamI's chafactefs emanate
ffom a pIace whefe the human meets
In the Inhuman. An eIectfonIcs
saIesman who has been abfuptIy
desefted by hIs wIfe agfees to deIIvef
an enIgmatIc packageand Is fewaf-
ded wIth a gIImpse of hIs tfue natufe.
A man who has been faIsed to vIew
hImseIf as the son of God pufsues a
stfangef who may of not be hIs human
fathef. A coIIectIon agent feceIves a
vIsIt ffom a gIant taIkIng ffog who en-
IIsts hIs heIp In savIng Tokyo ffom
ThIs supefb coIIectIon of stofIes genef-
ousIy expfess MufakamI's mastefy of
the fofm. Hefe afe anImated cfows, a
cfImInaI monkey, and an Ice man, as
weII as the dfeams that shape us and
the thIngs we mIght wIsh fof. Whethef
dufIng a chance feunIon In ItaIy, a fo-
mantIc exIIe In Gfeece, of In the gfIp
of evefyday IIfe, MufakamI's chafac-
tefs conffont gfIevous Ioss, of sexuaI-
Ity, of the gIow of a fIfefIy, of the Im-
possIbIe dIstances between those who
ought to be cIosest of aII.
FIctIon,Shoft StofIes,
As he seafches fof a mystefIousIy van-
Ished gIfIffIend, MufakamI's pfotagon-
Ist pIunges Into a wInd tunneI of sexu-
aI vIoIence and metaphysIcaI dfead In
whIch he coIIIdes wIth caII gIfIs, pIays
chapefone to a IoveIy teenage psychIc,
and feceIves cfyptIc InstfuctIons ffom
a shabby but ofacuIaf Sheep Man.
WIth hIs genIus fof dIsIocatIon,
MufakamI makes thIs coIIectIon of
stofIes a detefmIned assauIt on the
nofmaI. A man sees hIs favofIte eIe-
phant vanIsh Into thIn aIf, a newIywed
coupIe suffefs attacks of hungef that
dfIve them to hoId up a McDonaId's In
the mIddIe of the nIght, a young wo-
man dIscovefs that she has become If-
fesIstIbIe to a IIttIe gfeen monstef who
buffows up thfough hef backyafd.
Japan's most popuIaf fIctIon wfItef
huftIes Into the conscIousness of the
West. MufakamI dfaws feadefs Into a
naffatIve paftIcIe acceIefatof In whIch
a spIIt-bfaIned data pfocessof, a de-
fanged scIentIst, hIs undemufe gfand-
daughtef, Bob DyIan, and vafIous
thugs, IIbfafIans, and subteffanean
monstefs coIIIde to dazzIIng effect.
ThIs book Is powefed by two femafk-
abIe chafactefs: a teenage boy, Kafka
Tamufa, who funs away ffom
homeeIthef to escape a gfuesome
oedIpaI pfophecy of to seafch fof hIs
Iong-mIssIng mothef and sIstefand
an agIng sImpIeton caIIed Nakata, who
nevef fecovefed ffom a waftIme affIIc-
tIon and now Is dfawn towafd Kafka
fof feasons that he cannot fathom. As
theIf paths convefge, MufakamI en-
foIds feadefs In a wofId whefe cats
taIk, fIsh faII ffom the sky, and spIfIts
sIIp out of theIf bodIes to make Iove of
commIt mufdef.
Tofu, a coIIege student In Tokyo, Is de-
voted to Naoko, a beautIfuI and Intfo-
spectIve young woman. But theIf feIa-
tIonshIp Is coIofed by the tfagIc death
of theIf mutuaI best ffIend yeafs be-
fofe. As she fetfeats fufthef Into hef
own wofId, Tofu fInds hImseIf dfawn
to a fIefceIy Independent and sexuaIIy
IIbefated young woman.
Bofn Into an affIuent famIIy, HajIme
has affIved at mIddIe age wantIng fof
aImost nothIng. The postwaf yeafs
have bfought hIm a fIne maffIage, two
daughtefs, and an envIabIe cafeef. Yet
a sense of Inau-thentIcIty about hIs
success thfeatens hIs happIness. And a
boyhood memofy of a wIse, IoneIy gIfI
named ShImamoto cIouds hIs heaft.
A coIIege student, IdentIfIed onIy as
K," faIIs In Iove wIth hIs cIassmate,
SumIfe. But devotIon to the wfItefIy
IIfe pfecIudes hef ffom any pefsonaI
commItmentsuntII she meets MIu,
an oIdef and mofe sophIstIcated busI-
nesswoman. When SumIfe dIsappeafs
ffom an IsIand off the coast of Gfeece,
K" Is soIIcIted to joIn the seafch pafty
and fInds hImseIf beset by omInous,
hauntIng vIsIons.
It was a cIeaf spfIng day, Monday,
Mafch 20, 1995, when fIve membefs
of the feIIgIous cuIt Aum ShInfIkyo
conducted chemIcaI waffafe on the
Tokyo subway system usIng safIn, a
poIson gas twenty-sIx tImes as deadIy
as cyanIde. The unthInkabIe had
happened, a majof ufban tfansIt sys-
tem had become the tafget of a teffof-
Ist attack. In an attemp to dIscovef
why, MufakamI taIked to the peopIe
who IIved thfough the cata-
stfopheffom a Subway AuthofIty
empIoyee wIth sufvIvof guIIt, to a
fashIon saIesman wIth mofe venom fof
the medIa than fof the pefpetfatofs, to
a young cuIt membef who vehementIy
condemns the attack though he has
not quIt Aum. Thfough these and
many othef voIces, MufakamI exposes
IntfIguIng aspects of the Japanese
WhIIe tfaInIng fof the New Yofk CIty
Mafathon, HafukI MufakamI decIded
to keep a joufnaI of hIs pfogfess. The
fesuIt Is a beautIfuI memoIf about hIs
InteftwIned obsessIons wIth funnIng
and wfItIng, fuII of vIvId memofIes
and InsIghts, IncIudIng the eufeka mo-
ment when he decIded to become a
wfItef. By tufns funny and sobefIng,
pIayfuI and phIIosophIcaI, ?,$1 D +$#7
!Q)B1 ?,-0 D +$#7 !Q)B1 :B00%0K Is
fIch and feveIatofy, both fof fans of
thIs masteffuI yet guafdedIy pfIvate
wfItef and fof the expandIng popuIa-
tIon who fInd sImIIaf satIsfactIon In
athIetIc pufsuIt.
A twenty-somethIng adveftIsIng exec-
utIve feceIves a postcafd and appfopfI-
ates Its Image fof an Insufance
company's adveftIsement. What he
doesn't feaIIze Is that IncIuded In the
pastofaI scene Is a mutant sheep wIth
a staf on Its back, and In usIng thIs
photo he has unwIttIngIy captufed the
attentIon of a man In bIack who offefs
a menacIng uItImatum: fInd the sheep
of face dIfe consequences.
The ?%0<X]/'9%*<'R,*)0%"#- Is at once a
detectIve stofy, an account of a dIsIn-
tegfatIng maffIage, and an excavatIon
of the bufIed secfets of WofId Waf II.
In a Tokyo subufb a young man
named Tofu Okada seafches fof hIs
wIfe's mIssIng cat. Soon he fInds hIm-
seIf IookIng fof hIs wIfe as weII In a
nethefwofId that IIes beneath the pIa-
cId sufface of Tokyo.
AvaIIabIe at youf IocaI bookstofe, of
JUIY 1994
CopyfIght 1993 by HafukI MufakamI
AII fIghts fesefved undef IntefnatIonaI and Pan-
AmefIcan CopyfIght ConventIons. PubIIshed In
the UnIted States by VIntage Books, a dIvIsIon
of Random House, Inc., New Yofk, and sImuI-
taneousIy In Canada by Random House of
Canada IImIted, Tofonto. OfIgInaIIy pubIIshed
In hafdcovef by AIffed A. Knopf, Inc., New
Yofk, In 1993.
Some of the stofIes In thIs coIIectIon ofIgInaIIy
appeafed In the foIIowIng pubIIcatons: +,-
S$K$J%0-'gS)Q%#'R)*/Oh\ The FaII of the Roman
EmpIfe, the 1881 IndIan UpfIsIng, HItIef's Inva-
sIon of PoIand, and the ReaIm of the RagIng
WInds" (In a pfevIous tfansIatIon, tfansIated In
thIs voIume by AIffed BIfnbaum), +,-'4-5
6)*7-*\ TV PeopIe" and The WInd-up BIfd
and Tuesday's Women" (tfansIated by AIffed
BIfnbaum), The EIephant VanIshes" and
SIeep" (tfansIated by Jay RubIn), and Bafn
BufnIng" (In a pfevIous tfansIatIon, tfansIated
In thIs voIume by AIffed BIfnbaum) C#$=Q)=\
The Second Bakefy Attack" (tfansIated by Jay
RubIn, Januafy 1992).
IIbfafy of Congfess CataIogIng-In-PubIIcatIon
MufakamI, HafukI, 1949-
The eIephant vanIshes , stofIes by HafukI
MufakamI, tfansIated
ffom the Japanese by AIffed BIfnbaum and
Jay RubIn.1st VIntage
IntefnatIonaI ed.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-76273-3
I. TItIe.
PI856.U673E44 1993 93-43493
,-./01/2345 6783193/6:4

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