Full Read the Online Chapter 10 PDF of the Norwegian Wood Book by Haruki Murakami for free.
Thinking back on the year 1969, all that comes to mind for me is a swamp – a deep, sticky bog that feels as if it’s going to suck off my shoe each time I take a step. I walk through the mud, exhausted. In front of me, behind me, I can see nothing but the endless darkness of a swamp.
Time itself slogged along in rhythm with my faltering steps. The people around me had gone on ahead long before, while my time and I hung back, struggling through the mud. The world around me was on the verge of great transformations. Death had already taken John Coltrane who was joined now by so many others. People screamed there’d be revolutionary changes – which always seemed to be just ahead, at the curve in the road. But the “changes” that came were just two-dimensional stage sets, backdrops without substance or meaning.
I trudged along through each day in its turn, rarely looking up, eyes locked on the never-ending swamp that lay before me, planting my right foot, raising my left, planting my left foot, raising my right, never sure where I was, never sure I was headed in the right direction, knowing only that I had to keep moving, one step at a time.
I turned 20, autumn gave way to winter, but in my life nothing changed in any significant way. Unexcited, I went to my lectures, worked three nights a week in the record shop reread The Great Gatsby now and then, and when Sunday came I would do my washing and write a long letter to Naoko. Sometimes I would go out with Midori for a meal or to the zoo or to the cinema. The sale of the Kobayashi Bookshop went as planned, and Midori and her sister moved into a two-bedroom flat near Myogadani, a more upmarket neighbourhood. Midori would move out when her sister got married, and rent a flat by herself, she said. Meanwhile, she invited me to their new place for lunch once. It was a sunny, handsome flat, and Midori seemed to enjoy living there far more than she had above the Kobayashi Bookshop.
Every once in a while, Nagasawa would suggest that we go out on one of our excursions, but I always found something else to do instead. I just didn’t want the hassle. Not that I didn’t like the idea of sleeping with girls: it was just that, when I thought about the whole process I had to go through – drinking in town, looking for the right kind of girls, talking to them, going to a hotel – it was all too much effort.
I had to admire Nagasawa all the more for the way he could continue the ritual without ever getting sick and tired of it. Maybe what Hatsumi had said to me had had some effect: I could make myself feel far happier just thinking about Naoko than sleeping with some stupid, anonymous girl. The sensation of Naoko’s fingers bringing me to climax in a grassy field remained vivid inside me.
I wrote to her at the beginning of December to ask if it would be all right for me to come and visit her during the winter holidays. An answer came from Reiko saying they would love to have me. She explained that Naoko was having trouble writing and that she was answering for her. I was not to take this to mean that Naoko was feeling especially bad: there was no need for me to worry. These things came in waves.
When the holidays came, I stuffed my things into my rucksack, put on snow boots and set out for Kyoto. The odd doctor had been right: the winter mountains blanketed in snow were incredibly beautiful. As before, I slept two nights in the flat with Naoko and Reiko, and spent three days with them doing much the same kind of things as before. When the sun went down, Reiko would play her guitar and the three of us would sit around talking. Instead of our picnic, we went cross- country skiing. An hour of tramping through the woods on skis left us breathless and sweaty.
We also joined the residents and staff shovelling snow when there was time. Doctor Miyata popped over to our table at dinner to explain why people’s middle fingers are longer than their index fingers, while with toes it worked the other way. The gatekeeper, Omura, talked to me again about Tokyo pork. Reiko enjoyed the records I brought as gifts from the city. She transcribed a few tunes and worked them out on her guitar.
Naoko was even less talkative than she had been in the autumn. When the three of us were together, she would sit on the sofa, smiling, and hardly say a word. Reiko seemed to be chattering away to make up for her. “But don’t worry,” Naoko told me. “This is just one of those times. It’s a lot more fun for me to listen to you two than to talk myself.”
Reiko gave herself some chores that took her out of the flat so that Naoko and I could get in bed. I kissed her neck and shoulders and breasts, and she used her hands to bring me to climax as before. Afterwards, holding her close, I told her how her touch had stayed with me these two months, that I had thought of her and masturbated. “You haven’t slept with anybody else?” Naoko asked. “Not once,” I said.
“All right, then, here’s something else for you to remember.” She slid down and kissed my penis, then enveloped it in her warm mouth and ran her tongue all over it, her long, straight hair swaying over my belly and groin with each movement of her lips until I came a second time.
“Do you think you can remember that?” she asked. “Of course I can,” I said. “I’ll always remember it.”
I held her tight and slid my hand inside her panties, touching her still- dry vagina. Naoko shook her head and pulled my hand away. We held each other for a time, saying nothing.
“I’m thinking of getting out of the dorm when term ends and looking for a flat,” I said. “I’ve had it with dorm life. If I keep working part- time I can pretty much cover my expenses. How about coming to Tokyo to live with me, the way I suggested before?”
“Oh, Toru, thank you. I’m so happy that you would ask me to do something like that!”
“It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with this place,” I said.
“It’s quiet, the surroundings are perfect, and Reiko is a wonderful person. But it’s not a place to stay for a long time. It’s too specialized for a long stay. The longer you’re here, I’m sure, the harder it is to leave.”
Instead of answering, Naoko turned her gaze to the outside. Beyond the window, there was nothing to see but snow. Snow clouds hung low and heavy in the sky, with only the smallest gap between them and the snow-covered earth.
“Take your time, think it over,” I said. “Whatever happens, I’m going to move by the end of March. Any time you decide you want to join me, you can come.”
Naoko nodded. I wrapped my arms around her as carefully as if I had been holding a work of art delicately fashioned from glass. She put her arms around my neck. I was naked, and she wore only the skimpiest white underwear. Her body was so beautiful, I could have enjoyed looking at it all day.
“Why don’t I get wet?” Naoko murmured. “That one time was the only time it ever happened. The day of my twentieth birthday, that April. The night you held me in your arms. What is wrong with me?”
“It’s strictly psychological, I’m sure,” I said. “Give it time. There’s no hurry.”
“All of my problems are strictly psychological,” said Naoko. “What if I never get better? What if I can never have sex for the rest of my life? Can you keep loving me just the same? Will hands and lips always be enough for you? Or will you solve the sex problem by sleeping with other girls?”
“I’m a born optimist,” I said.
Naoko sat up in bed and slipped on a T-shirt. She put a flannel shirt over this, and then climbed into her jeans. I put my clothes on, too. “Let me think about it,” said Naoko. “And you think about it, too.”
“I will,” I said. “And speaking of lips, what you did with them just now was great.”
She reddened slightly and gave a little smile. “Kizuki used to say that, too.”
“He and I had pretty much the same tastes and opinions,” I said, smiling.
We sat across from each other at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking about the old days. She was beginning to talk more about Kizuki. She would hesitate, and choose her words carefully. Every now and then, the snow would fall for a while and stop. The sky never cleared the whole three days I was there. “I think I can get back here in March,” I said as I was leaving. I gave her one last, heavily padded hug with my winter coat on, and kissed her on the lips. “Goodbye,” she said.
1970 – a year with a whole new sound to it – came along, and that put an end to my teenage years. Now I could step out into a whole new swamp. Then it was time for exams, and these I passed with relative ease. If you have nothing else to do and spend all your time going to lectures, it takes no special skill to get through end-of-year exams.
Some problems arose in the dorm, though. A few guys active in one of the political factions kept their helmets and iron pipes hidden in their rooms. They had a run-in with some of the baseball-players under the wing of the dorm Head, as a result of which two of them were injured and six expelled. The aftershock of the incident was felt for a long time, spawning minor fights on an almost daily basis. The atmosphere that hung over the dorm was oppressive, and people’s nerves were on edge. I myself was on the verge of getting knocked out by one of the baseball-players when Nagasawa intervened and managed to smooth things over. In any case, it was time for me to get out of there.
Once most of my exams were out of the way, I started looking for a flat in earnest. After a week of searching, I came up with the right place way out in the suburbs of Kichijoji. The location was not exactly convenient, but it was a house: an independent house – a real find. Originally a gardener’s shack or some other kind of cottage, it stood by itself in the corner of a good-sized plot of land, separated from the main house by a large stretch of neglected garden. The landlord would use the front gate, and I the back, which would make it possible for me to preserve my privacy. It had one good-sized room, a little kitchen and bathroom, and an unimaginably huge closet.
It even had a veranda facing the garden. A nice old couple were renting the house at way below market value on condition that the tenant was prepared to move out the following year if their grandson decided to come to Tokyo. They assured me that I could live as I pleased there; they wouldn’t make any demands.
Nagasawa helped me with the move. He managed to borrow a van to transfer my stuff, and, as promised, he gave me his fridge, TV, and oversize thermos flask. And he might not need them any more, but for me they were perfect. He himself was scheduled to move out in two days, to a flat in the Mita neighbourhood.
“I guess we won’t be seeing each other for a long time,” he said as he left me, “so keep well. I’m still sure we’ll run across each other in some strange place years from now.”
“I’m already looking forward to it,” I said.
“And that time we switched girls, the funny-looking one was way better.”
“Right on,” I said with a laugh. “But anyway, Nagasawa, take care of Hatsumi. Good ones like her are hard to find. And she’s a lot more fragile than she looks.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, nodding. “That’s why I was hoping you would take her when I was through. The two of you would make a great couple.”
“Yeah, right!” I said.
“Just kidding,” said Nagasawa.
“Anyway, be happy. I get the feeling a lot of shit is going to come your way, but you’re a stubborn bastard, I’m sure you’ll handle it. Mind if I give you one piece of advice?”
“Don’t feel sorry for yourself,” he said. “Only arseholes do that.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” I said. We shook hands and went our separate ways, he to his new world, and I back to my swamp.
Three days after my move, I wrote to Naoko. I described my new house and said how relieved I was to be away from the idiots in the dorm and all their stupid brainstorms. Now I could start my new life with a new frame of mind.
My window looks out on a big garden, which is used as a meeting place by all the neighbourhood cats. I like to stretch out on the veranda and watch them. I’m not sure how many of them get together, but this is one big gang of cats. They sunbathe in groups. I don’t think they’re too pleased to see me living here, but once when I put out an old chunk of cheese a few of them crept over and nibbled it. They’ll probably be friends of mine before too long. There’s one striped tom cat in the bunch with half-eaten ears. It’s amazing how much he looks like my old dorm Head. I expect him to start raising the flag any day now.
I’m kind of far from university here, but once I start my third year I won’t have too many morning lectures, so it shouldn’t be too bad. It may even be better with the time to read on the train. Now all I have to do is find some easy work out here that I can do three or four days a week. Then I can get back to my springwinding life.
I don’t want to rush, but April is a good time of year to start new things, and I can’t help feeling that the best thing for us would be to begin living together then. You could go back to university, too, if it worked out well. If there’s a problem with us actually living together, I could find a flat for you in the neighbourhood. The most important thing is for us to be always near each other. It doesn’t have to be spring, of course. If you think summer is better, that’s fine by me, too. Just let me know what you’re thinking, OK?
I’m planning to put some extra time in at work for a while. To cover my moving expenses. I’m going to need a fair amount of money for one thing or another once I start living alone: pots and pans, dishes, stuff like that. I’ll be free in March, though, and I definitely want to come to see you. What dates work best for you? I’ll plan a trip to Kyoto then. I look forward to seeing you and hearing your answer.
I spent the next few days buying the things I needed in the nearby Kichijoji shopping district and started cooking simple meals for myself at home, I bought some planks at a local timber yard and had them cut to size so I could make a desk for myself. And I thought I could study on it and, for the time being, eat my meals there, too and I made some shelves and got in a good selection of spices. A white cat maybe six months old decided she liked me and started eating at my place. I called her Seagull.
Once I had my place sorted out to some extent, I went into town and found a temporary job as a painter’s assistant. I filled two solid weeks that way. The pay was good, but the work was murder, and the fumes made my head spin. Every day after work I’d eat at a cheap restaurant, wash it down with beer, go home and play with the cat, then sleep like a dead man. No answer came from Naoko during that time.
I was in the thick of painting when Midori popped into my mind, I hadn’t been in touch with her for nearly three weeks, I realized, and hadn’t even told her I had moved. And I had mentioned to her that I was thinking of moving, and she had said, “Oh, really?” and that was the last time we had talked.
I went to a phone box and dialled her number. The woman who answered was probably her sister. When I gave her my name, she said “Just a minute”, but Midori never came to the phone.
Then the sister, or whoever she was, got back on the line. “Midori says she’s too furious to talk to you. You just moved and never said a thing to her, right? Just disappeared and never told her where you were going, right? Well, now you’ve got her boiling mad. And once she gets mad, she stays that way. Like some kind of animal.”
“Look, could you just put her on the phone? I can explain.” “She says she doesn’t want to hear any explanations.”
“Can I explain to you, then? I hate to do this to you, but could you just listen and tell her what I said?”
“Not me! Do it yourself. What kind of man are you? It’s your
responsibility, so you do it, and do it right.”
It was hopeless. I thanked her and hung up. I really couldn’t blame Midori for being angry. What with all the moving and fixing up and working for extra cash, I hadn’t given her a second thought. Not even Naoko had crossed my mind the whole time. This was nothing new for me. Whenever I get involved in something, I shut out everything else.
But then I began to think how I would have felt if the tables had been turned and Midori had moved somewhere without telling me where or getting in touch with me for three weeks. I would have been hurt – hurt badly, no doubt. No, we weren’t lovers, but in a way we had opened ourselves to each other even more deeply than lovers do. The thought caused me a good deal of grief. What a terrible thing it is to wound someone you really care for – and to do it so unconsciously.
As soon as I got home from work, I sat at my new desk and wrote to Midori. I told her how I felt as honestly as I could, I apologized, without explanations or excuses, for having been so careless and insensitive. I miss you, I wrote. And I want to see you as soon as possible. I want you to see my new house. Please write to me, I said, and sent the letter special delivery. The answer never came.
This was the beginning of one weird spring. I spent the whole holiday waiting for letters. I couldn’t take a trip, I couldn’t go home to see my parents, I couldn’t even take a part-time job because there was no telling when a letter might arrive from Naoko saying she wanted me to come and see her on such-and-such a date. Afternoons I would spend in the nearby shopping district in Kichijoji, watching double bills or reading in a jazz café.
I saw no one and talked to almost no one. And once a week I would write to Naoko. I never suggested to her that I was hoping for an answer, I didn’t want to pressure her in any way. And I would tell her about my painting job, about Seagull, about the peach blossom in the garden, about the nice old lady who sold tofu, about the nasty old lady in the local restaurant, about the meals I was making for myself. But still, she never wrote.
Whenever I was fed up reading or listening to records, I would work a little in the garden. From my landlord I borrowed a rake and broom and pruning shears and spent my time pulling weeds and trimming bushes. It didn’t take much to make the garden look good. Once the owner invited me to join him for a cup of tea, so we sat on the veranda of the main house drinking green tea and munching on rice crackers, sharing small talk.
After retirement, he had got a job with an insurance company, he said, but he had left that, too, after a couple of years, and now he was taking it easy. The house and land had been in the family for a long time, his children were grown-up and independent, and he could manage a comfortable old age without working. Which is why he and his wife were always travelling together.
“That’s nice,” I said.
“No it’s not,” he answered. “Travelling is no fun. I’d much rather be working.”
He let the garden grow wild, he said, because there were no decent gardeners in the area and because he had developed allergies that made it impossible for him to do the work himself. Cutting grass made him sneeze.
When we had finished our tea, he showed me a storage shed and told me I could use anything I found inside, more or less by way of thanks for my gardening. “We don’t have any use for any of this stuff,” he said, “so feel free.”
And in fact the place was crammed with all kinds of things – an old wooden bath, a kids’ swimming pool, baseball bats. I found an old bike, a handy-sized dining table with two chairs, a mirror, and a guitar. “I’d like to borrow these if you don’t mind,” I said.
“Feel free,” he said again.
I spent a day working on the bike: cleaning the rust off, oiling the bearings, pumping up the tyres, adjusting the gears, and taking it to a bike repair shop to have a new gear cable installed. It looked like a different bike by the time I had finished. I cleaned a thick layer of dust off the table and gave it a new coat of varnish. I replaced the strings of the guitar and glued a section of the body that was coming apart, I took a wire brush to the rust on the tuning pegs and adjusted those.
It wasn’t much of a guitar, but at least I got it to stay in tune. I hadn’t had a guitar in my hands since school, I realized. And I sat on the porch and picked my way through The Drifters’ “Up on the Roof” as well as I could. I was amazed to find I still remembered most of the chords.
Next I took a few planks of wood and made myself a square letterbox. I painted it red, wrote my name on it, and set it outside my door. Up until 3 April, the only post that found its way to my box was something that had been forwarded from the dorm: a notice from the reunion committee of my school. A class reunion was the last thing I wanted to have anything to do with. That was the class I had been in with Kizuki. I threw it in the bin.
I found a letter in the box on the afternoon of 4 April. It said Reiko Ishida on the back. I made a nice, clean cut across the seal with my scissors and went out to the porch to read it. I had a feeling this was not going to be good news, and I was right.
First Reiko apologized for making me wait so long for an answer. Naoko had been struggling to write me a letter, she said, but she could never seem to write one through to the end.
I offered to send you an answer in her place, but every time I pointed out how wrong it was of her to keep you waiting, she insisted that it was far too personal a matter, that she would write to you herself, which is why I haven’t written sooner. I’m sorry, really. I hope you can forgive me.
I know you must have had a difficult month waiting for an answer, but believe me, the month has been just as difficult for Naoko. Please try to understand what she’s been going through. Her condition is not good, I have to say in all honesty. She was trying her best to stand on her own two feet, but so far the results have not been good.
Looking back, I see now that the first symptom of her problem was her loss of the ability to write letters. That happened around the end of November or beginning of December. Then she started hearing things. Whenever she would try to write a letter, she would hear people talking to her, which made it impossible for her to write.
The voices would interfere with her attempts to choose her words. It wasn’t all that bad until about the time of your second visit, so I didn’t take it too seriously. For all of us here, these kinds of symptoms come in cycles, more or less. In her case, they got quite serious after you left. She is having trouble now just holding an ordinary conversation. She can’t find the right words to speak, and that puts her into a terribly confused state – confused and frightened. Meanwhile, the “things” she’s hearing are getting worse.
We have a session every day with one of the specialists. Naoko and the doctor and I sit around talking and trying to find the exact part of her that’s broken. I came up with the idea that it would be good to add you to one of our sessions if possible, and the doctor was in favour of it, but Naoko was against it. I can tell you exactly what her reason was: “I want my body to be clean of all this when I meet him.” That was not the problem, I said to her; the problem was to get her well as quickly as possible, and I pushed as hard as I could, but she wouldn’t change her mind.
I think I once explained to you that this is not a specialized hospital. We do have medical specialists here, of course, and they provide effective treatments, but concentrated therapy is another matter. The point of this place is to create an effective environment in which the patient can treat herself or himself, and that does not, properly speaking, include medical treatment. Which means that if Naoko’s condition grows any worse, they will probably have to transfer her to some other hospital or medical facility or what have you. Personally, I would find this very painful, but we would have to do it.
That isn’t to say that she couldn’t come back here for treatment on a kind of temporary “leave of absence”. Or, better yet, she could even be cured and finish with hospitals completely. In any case, we’re doing everything we can, and Naoko is doing everything she can. The best thing you can do meanwhile is hope for her recovery and keep sending her those letters.
It was dated 31 March. After I had read it, I stayed on the porch and let my eyes wander out to the garden, full now with the freshness of spring. An old cherry tree stood there, its blossoms nearing the height of their glory. A soft breeze blew, and the light of day lent its strangely blurred, smoky colours to everything. Seagull wandered over from somewhere, and after scratching at the boards of the veranda for a while, she stretched out next to me and fell asleep.
I knew I should be doing some serious thinking, but I had no idea how to go about it. And, to tell the truth, thinking was the last thing I wanted to do. The time would come soon enough when I had no choice in the matter, and when that time came I would take a good, long while to think things over. Not now, though. Not now.
I spent the day staring at the garden, propped against a pillar and stroking Seagull. I felt completely drained. The afternoon deepened, twilight approached, and bluish shadows enveloped the garden. Seagull disappeared, but I went on staring at the cherry blossoms. In the spring gloom, they looked like flesh that had burst through the skin over festering wounds. The garden filled up with the sweet, heavy stench of rotting flesh. And that’s when I thought of Naoko’s flesh. Naoko’s beautiful flesh lay before me in the darkness, countless buds bursting through her skin, green and trembling in an almost imperceptible breeze. Why did such a beautiful body have to be so ill? I wondered. Why didn’t they just leave Naoko alone?
I went inside and drew my curtains, but even indoors there was no escape from the smell of spring. It filled everything from the ground up. But the only thing the smell of spring brought to mind for me now was that putrefying stench. Shut in behind my curtains, I felt a violent loathing for spring. I hated what the spring had in store for me; I hated the dull, throbbing ache it aroused inside me. Had never hated anything in my life with such intensity.
I spent three full days after that all but walking on the bottom of the sea. And I could hardly hear what people said to me, and they had just as much trouble catching anything I had to say. My whole body felt enveloped in some kind of membrane, cutting off any direct contact between me and the outside world. I couldn’t touch “them”, and “they” couldn’t touch me. And I was utterly helpless, and as long as I remained in that state, “they” were unable to reach out to me.
I sat leaning against the wall, staring up at the ceiling. When I felt hungry I would nibble anything within reach, drink some water, and when the sadness of it got to me, I’d knock myself out with whisky. I didn’t bathe, I didn’t shave. This is how the three days went by. A letter came from Midori on 6 April. She invited me to meet her on campus and have lunch on the tenth when we had to enroll for lectures. I put off writing to you as long as I could, which makes us even, so let’s make up. And I have to admit it, I miss you.
I read the letter again and again, four times all together, and still I couldn’t tell what she was trying to say to me. What could it possibly mean? My brain was so fogged over, I couldn’t find the connection from one sentence to the next. How would meeting her on enrolment day make us “even”? Why did she want to have “lunch” with me? I was really losing it. My mind had gone slack, like the soggy roots of a subterranean plant. But somehow I knew I had to snap out of it. And then those words of Nagasawa’s came to mind: “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only arseholes do that.”
“OK, Nagasawa. Right on,” I heard myself thinking. I let out a sigh and got to my feet.
I did my laundry for the first time in weeks, went to the public bath and shaved, cleaned my place up, shopped for food and cooked myself a decent meal for a change, fed the starving Seagull, drank only beer, and did 30 minutes of exercise. Shaving, I discovered in the mirror that I was becoming emaciated. My eyes were popping. I could hardly recognize myself.
I went out the next morning on a longish bike ride, and after finishing lunch at home, I read Reiko’s letter one more time. Then thought seriously about what I ought to do next. The main reason I had taken Reiko’s letter so hard was that it had upset my optimistic belief that Naoko was getting better. Naoko herself had told me, “My sickness is a lot worse than you think: it has far deeper roots.”
And Reiko had warned me there was no telling what might happen. Still, I had seen Naoko twice, and had gained the impression she was on the mend. I had assumed that the only problem was whether she could regain the courage to return to the real world, and that if she managed to, the two of us could join forces and make a go of it.
Reiko’s letter smashed the illusory castle that I had built on that fragile hypothesis, leaving only a flattened surface devoid of feeling. I would have to do something to regain my footing. It would probably take a long time for Naoko to recover. And even then, she would no doubt be more debilitated and would have lost even more of her self confidence than ever. I would have to adapt myself to this new situation. As strong as I might become, though, it would not solve all the problems. I knew that much. But there was nothing else I could do: just keep my own spirits up and wait for her to recover.
Hey, there, Kizuki, I thought. Unlike you, I’ve chosen to live – and to live the best I know how. Sure, it was hard for you. What the hell, it’s hard for me. Really hard. And all because you killed yourself and left Naoko behind. But that’s something I will never do. I will never, ever, turn my back on her. First of all, because I love her, and because I’m stronger than she is.
And I’m just going to keep on getting stronger. I’m going to mature. I’m going to be an adult. Because that’s what I have to do. I always used to think I’d like to stay 17 or 18 if I could. But not any more. I’m not a teenager any more. I’ve got a sense of responsibility now. I’m not the same person I was when we used to hang out together. I’m 20 now. And I have to pay the price to go on living.
“Shit, Watanabe, what happened to you?” Midori asked. “You’re all skin and bones!”
“That bad, huh?”
“Too much you-know-what with that married girlfriend of yours, I bet.”
I smiled and shook my head. “I haven’t slept with a girl since the beginning of October.”
“Whew! That can’t be true. We’re talking six months here!” “You heard me.”
“So how did you lose so much weight?” “By growing up,” I said. Midori put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye with a twisted scowl that soon turned into a sweet smile. “It’s true,” she said. “Something’s kind of different. You’ve changed.”
“I told you, I grew up. I’m an adult now.”
“You’re fantastic, the way your brain works,” she said as though genuinely impressed. “Let’s eat. I’m starving.”
We went to a little restaurant behind the literature department. I ordered the lunch special and she did the same. “Hey, Watanabe, are you mad at me?” “What for?”
“For not answering you, just to get even. Do you think I shouldn’t have done that? I mean, you apologized and everything.”
“Yeah, but it was my fault to begin with. That’s just how it goes.”
“My sister says I shouldn’t have done it. That it was too unforgiving, too childish.”
“Yeah, but it made you feel better, didn’t it, getting even like that?” “Uh-huh.”
“OK, then, that’s that.”
“You are forgiving, aren’t you?” Midori said. “But tell me the truth, Watanabe, you haven’t had sex for six months?”
“So, that time you put me to bed, you must have really wanted it bad.” “Yeah, I guess I did.”
“But you didn’t do it, did you?”
“Look, you’re the best friend I’ve got now,” I said. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“You know, if you had tried to force yourself on me that time, I wouldn’t have been able to resist, I was so exhausted.”
“But I was too big and hard,” I said.
Midori smiled and touched my wrist. “A little before that, I decided I was going to believe in you. A hundred per cent. That’s how I managed to sleep like that with total peace of mind. I knew I’d be all right, I’d be safe with you there. And I did sleep like a log, didn’t I?” “You sure did.”
“On the other hand, if you were to say to me, “Hey, Midori, let’s do it. Then everything’ll be great,’ I’d probably do it with you. Now, don’t think I’m trying to seduce you or tease you. I’m just telling you what’s on my mind, with total honesty.”
“I know, I know.”
While we ate lunch, we showed each other our enrolment cards and found that we had enrolled for two of the same courses. So I’d be seeing her twice a week at least. With that out of the way, Midori told me about her living arrangements. For a while, neither she nor her sister could get used to living in a flat – because it was too easy, she said. They had always been used to running around like mad every day, taking care of sick people, helping out at the bookshop, and one thing or another.
“We’re finally getting used to it, though,” she said. “This is the way we should have been living all along – not having to worry about anyone else’s needs, just stretching out any way we felt like it. It made us both nervous at first, as if our bodies were floating a few inches off the ground. It didn’t seem real, like real life couldn’t actually be like that. We were both tense, as though everything was about to be tipped upside down any minute.”
“A couple of worriers,” I said with a smile.
“Well, it’s just that life has been so cruel to us until now,”
Midori said. “But that’s OK. We’re going to get back every thing it owes us.”
“I bet you are,” I said, “knowing you. But tell me, what’s your sister doing these days?”
“A friend of hers opened this swanky accessory shop a little while ago. My sister helps out there three times a week. Otherwise, she’s studying cookery, going on dates with her fiancé, going to the cinema, vegging out, and just enjoying life.
Midori then asked about my new life. I gave her a description of the layout of the house, and the big garden and Seagull the cat, and my landlord.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” she asked. “Pretty much,” I said. “Could have fooled me,” said Midori.
“Yeah, and it’s springtime, too,” I said.
“And you’re wearing that cool pullover your girlfriend knitted for you.”
With a sudden shock I glanced down at my wine-coloured jumper. “How did you know?”
“You’re as honest as they come,” said Midori. “I’m guessing, of course! Anyway, what’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t know. I’m trying to whip up a little enthusiasm.” “Just remember, life is a box of chocolates.”
I shook my head a few times and looked at her. “Maybe I’m not so smart, but sometimes I don’t know what on earth you’re talking about.”
“You know, they’ve got these chocolate assortments, and you like some but you don’t like others? And you eat all the ones you like, and the only ones left are the ones you don’t like as much? I always think about that when something painful comes up. “Now I just have to polish these off, and everything’ll be OK.’ Life is a box of chocolates.” “I suppose you could call it a philosophy.”
“It’s true, though. I’ve learned it from experience.”
We were drinking our coffee when two girls came in. Midori seemed to know them from university. The three of them compared enrolment cards and talked about a million different things: “What kind of mark did you get in German?” “So-and-so got hurt in the campus riots.” “Great shoes, where did you buy them?” I half-listened, but it felt as though their comments were coming from the other side of the world. I sipped my coffee and watched the scene passing by the shop window.
It was a typical university springtime scene as the new year was getting under way: a haze hanging in the sky, the cherry trees blooming, the new students (you could tell at a glance) carrying armloads of new books. I felt myself drifting off a little and thought about Naoko, unable to return to her studies again this year. A small glass full of anemones stood by the window.
When the other two went back to their table, Midori and I left to walk around the neighbourhood. We visited a few second-hand bookshops, bought some books, went to another café for another cup, played some pinball at an arcade, and sat on a park bench, talking – or, rather, Midori talked while I merely grunted in response. When she said she was thirsty, I ran over to a newsagent’s and bought us two Cokes. I came back to find her scribbling away with her ballpoint pen on some ruled paper.
“What’s that?” I asked. “Nothing,” she said.
“I have to go,” she announced at 3.30. “I’m supposed to meet my sister at the Ginza.”
We walked to the subway station and went off in different directions. As she left, Midori stuffed the piece of paper, now folded in four, into my pocket. “Read this when you get home,” she said. I read it on the train.
I’m writing this letter to you while you’re off buying drinks. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever written a letter to somebody sitting next to me on a bench, but I feel it’s the only way I can get through to you. I mean, you’re hardly listening to anything I say. Am I right?
Do you realize you did something terrible to me today? You never even noticed that my hairstyle had changed, did you? I’ve been working on it forever, trying to grow it out, and finally, at the end of last week, I managed to get it into a style you could actually call girlish, but you never even noticed. It was looking pretty good, so I thought I’d give you a little shock when you saw me for the first time after so long, but it didn’t even register with you.
Don’t you think that’s awful? I bet you can’t even remember what I was wearing today. Hey, I’m a girl! So what if you’ve got something on your mind? You can spare me one decent look! All you had to say was “Cute hair”, and I would have been able to forgive you for being sunk in a million thoughts, but no!
Which is why I’m going to tell you a lie. It’s not true that I have to meet my sister at the Ginza. I was planning to spend the night at your place. I even brought my pajamas with me. It’s true. I’ve got my pajamas and a toothbrush in my bag. I’m such an idiot! I mean, you never even invited me over to see your new place. Oh well, what the hell, you obviously want to be alone, so I’ll leave you alone. Go ahead and think away to your heart’s content!
But don’t get me wrong. I’m not totally mad at you. I’m just sad. You were so nice to me when I was having my problems, but now that you’re having yours, it seems there’s not a thing I can do for you. You’re all locked up in that little world of yours, and when I try knocking on the door, you just sort of look up for a second and go right back inside.
So now I see you coming back with our drinks – walking and thinking. I was hoping you’d trip, but you didn’t. Now you’re sitting next to me drinking your Coke. I was holding out one last hope that you’d notice and say “Hey, your hair’s changed!” but no. If you had, I would have torn up this letter and said: “Let’s go to your place. I’ll make you a nice dinner. And afterward, we can go to bed and cuddle.” But you’re about as sensitive as a steel plate. Goodbye.
PS. Please don’t talk to me next time we meet. I rang Midori’s flat from the station when I got off the train in Kichijoji, but there was no answer. With nothing better to do, I ambled around the neighborhood looking for some part-time work I could take after lectures began. I would be free all day Saturday and Sunday and could work after five o’clock on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; but finding a job that fitted my particular schedule was no easy matter. I gave up and went home. When I went out to buy groceries for dinner, I tried Midori’s place again. Her sister told me that Midori hadn’t come home yet and that she had no idea when she’d be back. I thanked her and hung up.
After eating, I tried to write to Midori, but I gave up after several false starts and wrote to Naoko instead.
Spring was here, I said, and the new university year was starting. I told her I missed her, that I had been hoping, one way or another, to be able to meet her and talk. In any case, I wrote, I’ve decided to make myself strong. As far as I can tell, that’s all I can do.
There’s one other thing. Maybe it’s just to do with me, and you may not care about this one way or another, but I’m not sleeping with anybody any more. It’s because I don’t want to forget the last time you touched me. It meant a lot more to me than you might think. I think about it all of the time.
I put the letter in an envelope, stuck on a stamp, and sat at my desk a long while staring at it. It was a much shorter letter than usual, but I had the feeling that Naoko might understand me better that way. I poured myself an inch-and-a-half of whisky, drank it in two swallows, and went to sleep.
The next day I found a job near Kichijoji Station that I could do on Saturdays and Sundays: waiting on tables at a smallish Italian restaurant. The conditions were pretty poor, but travel and lunch expenses were included. And whenever somebody on the late shift took the day off on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday (which happened often) I could take their place. This was perfect for me. The manager said they would raise my pay when I had stayed for three months, and they wanted me to start that Saturday. He was a much more decent guy than the idiot who ran the record shop in Shinjuku.
I tried phoning Midori’s flat again, and again her sister answered. Midori hadn’t come back since yesterday, she said, sounding tired, and now she herself was beginning to worry: did I have any idea where she might have gone? All I knew was that Midori had her pajamas and a toothbrush in her bag.
I saw Midori at the lecture on Wednesday. She was wearing a deep green pullover and the dark sunglasses she had often worn that summer. She was seated in the last row, talking with a thin girl with glasses I had seen once before. I approached her and said I’d like to talk afterward. The girl with glasses looked at me first, and then Midori looked at me. Her hairstyle was, in fact, somewhat more feminine than it had been before more mature.
“I have to meet someone,” she said, cocking her head slightly. “I won’t take up much of your time,” I said. “Five minutes.”
Midori removed her sunglasses and narrowed her eyes. She might just as well have been looking at a crumbling, abandoned house some hundred yards in the distance.
“I don’t want to talk to you. Sorry,” she said.
The girl with glasses looked at me with eyes that said: She says she doesn’t want to talk to you. Sorry.
I sat at the right end of the front row for the lecture (an overview of the works of Tennessee Williams and their place in American literature), and when it was over, I did a long count to three and turned around. Midori was gone.
April was too lonely a month to spend all alone. In April, everyone around me looked happy. People would throw off their coats and enjoy each other’s company in the sunshine – talking, playing catch, holding hands. But I was always by myself. Naoko, Midori, Nagasawa: all of them had gone away from where I stood. Now I had no one to say “Good morning” to or “Have a nice day”.
I even missed Storm Trooper, I spent the whole month with this hopeless sense of isolation. Tried to speak to Midori a few times, but the answer I got from her was always the same: “I don’t want to talk to you now” – and I knew from the tone of her voice that she meant it. She was always with the girl with glasses, or else I saw her with a tall, short-haired guy. He had these incredibly long legs and always wore white basketball shoes.
April ended and May came along, but May was even worse than April. In the deepening spring of May, I had no choice but to recognize the trembling of my heart. It usually happened as the sun was going down. In the pale evening gloom, when the soft fragrance of magnolias hung in the air, my heart would swell without warning, and tremble, and lurch with a stab of pain. I would try clamping my eyes shut and gritting my teeth, and wait for it to pass. And it would pass – but slowly, taking its own time, and leaving a dull ache in its path.
At those times I would write to Naoko. In my letters to her, I would describe only things that were touching or pleasant or beautiful: the fragrance of grasses, the caress of a spring breeze, the light of the moon, a film I’d seen, a song I liked, a book that had moved me. I myself would be comforted by
letters like this when I would reread what I had written. And I would feel that the world I lived in was a wonderful one. I wrote any number of letters like this, but from Naoko or Reiko I heard nothing.
At the restaurant where I worked I got to know another student my age named Itoh. It took quite a while before this gentle, quiet student from the oil-painting department of an art college would engage me in conversation, but eventually we started going to a nearby bar after work and talking about all kinds of things. He also liked to read and to listen to music, so we’d usually talk about books and records we liked. He was a slim, good-looking guy with much shorter hair and far cleaner clothes than the typical art student. And he never had a lot to say, but he had his definite tastes and opinions. He liked French novels, especially those of Georges Bataille and Boris Vian. For music, he preferred Mozart and Ravel. And, like me, he was looking for a friend with whom he could talk about such things.
Itoh once invited me to his flat. It was not quite as hard to get to as mine: a strange, one-floored house behind Inokashira Park. His room was stuffed with painting supplies and canvases. I asked to see his work, but he said he was too embarrassed to show me anything. We drank some Chivas Regal that he had quietly removed from his father’s place, grilled some smelts on his charcoal stove, and listened to Robert Casadesus playing a Mozart piano concerto.
Itoh was from Nagasaki. He had a girlfriend he would sleep with whenever he went home, he said, but things weren’t going too well with her lately.
“You know what girls are like,” he said. “They turn 20 or 21 and all of a sudden they start having these concrete ideas. They get super-realistic. And when that happens, everything that seemed so sweet and loveable about them begins to look ordinary and depressing. Now when I see her, usually after we do it, she starts asking me, “What are you going to do after you graduate?”‘
“Well, what are you going to do after you graduate?” I asked him. Munching on a mouthful of smelt, he shook his head. “What can I do? I’m in oil painting! Start worrying about stuff like that, and nobody’s going to study oil painting! You don’t do it to feed yourself. So she’s like, “Why don’t you come back to Nagasaki and become an art teacher?’ She’s planning to be an English teacher.”
“You’re not so crazy about her anymore, are you?”
“That just about sums it up,” Itoh admitted. “And who on earth wants to be an art teacher? I’m not gonna spend my whole fuckin’ life teaching teenage monkeys how to draw!”
“That’s beside the point,” I said. “Don’t you think you ought to break up with her? For both your sakes.”
“Sure I do. But I don’t know how to say it to her. She’s planning to spend her life with me. How the hell can I say, “Hey, we ought to split up. I don’t like you anymore’?”
We drank our Chivas straight, without ice, and when we ran out of smelts we cut up some cucumbers and celery and dipped them in miso. When my teeth crunched down on my cucumber slices, I thought of Midori’s father, which reminded me how flat and tasteless my life had become without Midori and this put me in a foul mood. Without my being aware of it, she had become a huge presence inside me.
“Got a girlfriend?” asked Itoh.
“Yeah,” I said, then, after a pause added, “but I can’t be with her at the moment.”
“But you understand each other’s feelings, right?”
“I like to think so. Otherwise, what’s the point?” I said with a chuckle.
Itoh talked in hushed tones about the greatness of Mozart. He knew Mozart inside out, the way a country boy knows his mountain trails. His father loved the music and had exposed him to it ever since he was tiny. I didn’t know so much about classical music, but listening to this Mozart concerto with Itoh’s smart and heartfelt commentary (“There – that part,” “How about that?”), I felt myself calming down for the first time in ages. We stared at the crescent moon hanging over Inokashira Park and drank our Chivas Regal to the last drop. Fantastic whisky.
Itoh said I could spend the night there, but I told him I had to do something, thanked him for the whisky and left his flat before nine. On the way back to my place I called Midori from a phone box. Much to my surprise she actually answered.
“Sorry,” she said, “but I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
“I know, I know. But I don’t want our relationship to end like this. You’re one of the very few friends I have, and it hurts not being able to see you. When am I going to be able to talk to you? I want you to tell me that much, at least.”
“When I feel like talking to you,” she said. “How are you?” I asked.
“Fine,” she said, and hung up.
A letter came from Reiko in the middle of May.
Thanks for writing so often. Naoko enjoys your letters. And so do I. You don’t mind if I read them, do you? Sorry I haven’t been able to answer for such a long time. To tell you the truth, I’ve been feeling a bit exhausted, and there hasn’t been much good news to report. Naoko’s not doing well. Her mother came from Kobe the other day. The four of us – she and Naoko and the doctor and I – had a good, long talk and we reached the conclusion that Naoko should move to a real hospital for a while for some intensive treatment and then maybe come back here depending on the results.
Naoko says she’d like to stay here if possible and make herself well, and I know I am going to miss her and worry about her, but the fact is that it’s getting harder and harder to keep her under control here. She’s fine most of the time, but sometimes her emotions become extremely unstable, and when that happens we can’t take our eyes off her. There’s no telling what she would do. When she has those intense episodes of hearing voices, she shuts down completely and burrows inside herself.
Which is why I myself agree that the best thing for Naoko would be for her to receive therapy at a proper institution for a while. I hate to say it, but it’s all we can do. As I told you once before, patience is the most important thing. We have to go on unravelling the jumbled threads one at a time, without losing hope. No matter how hopeless her condition may appear to be, we are bound to find that one loose thread sooner or later. If you’re in pitch blackness, all you can do is sit tight until your eyes get used to the dark.
Naoko should have moved to that other hospital by the time you receive this. I’m sorry I waited to tell you until the decisions had been made, but it happened very quickly. The new hospital is a really good one,
with good doctors. I’ll write the address below: please write to Naoko there. They will be keeping me informed of her progress, too, so I will let you know what I hear. I hope it will be good news. I know this is going to be hard for you, but keep your hopes up. And even though Naoko is not here any more, please write to me once in a while.
I wrote a huge number of letters that spring: one a week to Naoko, several to Reiko, and several more to Midori. I wrote letters in the lecture hall, I wrote letters at my desk at home with Seagull on my lap, I wrote letters at empty tables during my breaks at the Italian restaurant. It was as if I were writing letters to hold together the pieces of my crumbling life.
To Midori I wrote: April and May were painful, lonely months for me because I couldn’t talk to you. I never knew that spring could be so painful and lonely. Better to have three Februaries than a spring like this. I know it’s too late to be saying this, but your new hairstyle looks great on you. Really cute. I’m working at an Italian restaurant now, and the cook taught me a great way to make spaghetti. I’d like to make it for you soon.
I went to the university every day, worked in the restaurant two or three times a week, talked with Itoh about books and music, read a few Boris Vian novels he lent me, wrote letters, played with Seagull, made spaghetti, worked in the garden, masturbated thinking of Naoko, and saw lots of films.
It was almost the middle of June by the time Midori started talking to me. We hadn’t said a word to each other for two months. After the end of one lecture, she sat down next to me, propped her chin in her hand, and sat there, saying nothing.
Beyond the window, it was raining – a really rainy-season rain, pouring straight down without any wind, soaking every single thing beneath. Long after the other students had filed out of the classroom, Midori went on sitting next to me without a word. Then she took a Marlboro from the pocket of her jeans jacket, put it between her lips, and handed me her matches. I struck a match and lit her cigarette. Midori pursed her lips and blew a gentle cloud of tobacco in my face. “Like my hairstyle?” she asked.
“Great enough to knock down all the trees in all the forests of the world.”
“You really think so?” “I really think so.”
She kept her eyes on mine for a while, then held her right hand out to me. I took it. She looked even more relieved than I felt. She tapped her ashes onto the floor and rose to her feet.
“Let’s eat. I’m starving,” she said. “Where do you want to go?” I asked.
“To the restaurant of the Takashimaya department store in Nihonbashi.”
“Why there of all places?”
“I like to go there sometimes, that’s all.”
And so we took the subway to Nihonbashi. The place was practically empty, maybe because it had been raining all morning. The smell of rain filled the big, cavernous department store, and all the employees had that what-do-we-do-now? kind of look. Midori and I went to the basement restaurant and, after a close inspection of the plastic food in the window, both decided to have an old-fashioned cold lunch assortment with rice and pickles and grilled fish and tempura and teriyaki chicken. Inside, it was far from crowded despite it being midday.
“God, how long has it been since I last had lunch in a department- store restaurant?” I wondered aloud, drinking green tea from one of those slick, white cups you only get in a department store restaurant.
“I like to do stuff like this,” said Midori. “I don’t know, it makes me feel like I’m doing something special. Probably reminds me of when I was a kid. My parents almost never took me to department stores.”
“And I get the sneaking suspicion that’s all mine ever did. My mother was crazy about them.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t particularly like going to department stores.”
“No, I mean, you were lucky they cared enough about you to take you places.’-“
“Well, I was an only child,” I said.
“When I was little I used to dream about going to a department-store restaurant all by myself when I grew up and eating anything I liked. But what an empty dream! What’s the fun of cramming your mouth full of rice all alone in a place like this? The food’s not all that great, and it’s just big and crowded and stuffy and noisy. Still, every once in a while I think about coming here.”
“I’ve been really lonely these past two months,” I said.
“Yeah, I know. You told me in your letters,” Midori said, her voice flat. “Anyway, let’s eat. That’s all I can think about now.”
We finished all the little fried and grilled and pickled items in the separate compartments of our fancy lacquered half-moon lunch boxes, drank our clear soup from lacquered bowls, and our green tea from those white cups. Midori followed lunch with a cigarette. When she had finished smoking, she stood up without a word and took her umbrella. I also stood up and took mine.
“Where do you want to go now?” I asked.
“The roof, of course. That’s the next stop when you’ve had lunch in a department store restaurant.”
There was no one on the roof in the rain, no clerk in the pet department, and the shutters were closed in the kiosks and the children’s rides ticket booth. We opened our umbrellas and wandered among the soaking-wet wooden horses and garden chairs and stalls. It seemed incredible to me that there could be anywhere so devoid of people in the middle of Tokyo. Midori said she wanted to look through a telescope, so I put in a coin and held her umbrella over her while she squinted through the eyepiece.
In one corner of the roof, there was a covered game area with a row of children’s rides. Midori and I sat next to each other on some kind of platform and looked at the rain.
“So talk,” Midori said. “You’ve got something you want to say to me, I know.”
“I’m not trying to make excuses,” I said, “but I was really depressed that time. My brain was all fogged over. Nothing was registering with me. But one thing became crystal clear to me when I couldn’t see you anymore. I realized that the only way I had been able to survive until then was having you in my life. When I lost you, the pain and loneliness really got to me.”
“Don’t you have any idea how painful and lonely it’s been for me without you these past two months?”
This took me completely off guard. “No,” I said. “It never occurred to me. I thought you were angry with me and didn’t want to see me.” “How can you be such an idiot? Of course I wanted to see you! I told you how much I like you! When I like somebody I really like them. It doesn’t turn on and off for me just like that. Don’t you realize at least that much about me?”
“Well, sure, but – “
“That’s why I was so mad at you! I wanted to give you a good kick up the arse. I mean, we hadn’t seen each other that whole time, and you were so spaced out thinking about this other girl you didn’t even look at me! How could I not get angry at you? But apart from all that, I had been feeling for a long time that it would be better for me if I kept away from you for a while. To get things clear in my head.”
“What kind of things?”
“Our relationship, of course. It was getting to the point where I enjoyed being with you far more than being with him. I mean, don’t you think there’s something weird about that? And difficult? Of course I still like him. He’s a little self-centred and narrow-minded and kind of a fascist, but he’s got a lot of good points, and he’s the first man I ever felt serious about. But you, well, you’re special to me. When I’m with you I feel something is just right. I believe in you, I like you, I don’t want to let you go. And I was getting more and more confused, so I went to him and asked him what I should do. He told me to stop seeing you. He said if I was going to see you, I should break up with him.”
“So what did you do?”
“I broke up with him. Just like that.” Midori put a Marlboro in her mouth, shielded it with her hand as she lit up, and inhaled.
“Why?’!” she screamed. “Are you crazy? You know the English subjunctive, you understand trigonometry, you can read Marx, and you don’t know the answer to something as simple as that? Why do you even have to ask? Why do you have to make a girl say something like this? I like you more than I like him, that’s all. I wish I had fallen in love with somebody a little more handsome, of course. But I didn’t. I fell in love with you!”
I tried to speak, but I felt the words catching in my throat. Midori threw her cigarette into a puddle. “Will you please get that look off your face? You’re gonna make me cry. Don’t worry, I know you’re in love with somebody else. I’m not expecting anything from you. But the least you can do is give me a hug. These have been two tough months for me.”
I put up my umbrella, and we went behind the game area and held each other close. Our bodies strained against each other, and our lips met. The smell of the rain clung to her hair and her jeans jacket. Girls’ bodies were so soft and warm! I could feel her breasts pressing against my chest through our clothing. How long had it been since my last physical contact with another human being?
“The day I last saw you, that night I talked to him, and we broke up,” Midori said.
“I love you,” I said to her. “From the bottom of my heart. I don’t ever want to let you go again. But there’s nothing I can do. I can’t make a move.”
“Because of her?” I nodded.
“Tell me, have you slept with her?” “Once. A year ago.”
“And you haven’t seen her since then?”
“I have seen her: twice. But we didn’t do anything.” “Why not? Doesn’t she love you?”
“That’s hard to say,” I said. “It’s really complicated. And
mixed up. And it’s been going on for such a long time, I don’t know what’s what anymore. And neither does she. All I know is, I have a sort of responsibility in all this as a human being, and I can’t just turn my back on it. At least, that’s how I feel about it now. Even if she isn’t in love with me.”
“Let me just tell you this, Watanabe,” said Midori, pressing her cheek against my neck. “I’m a real, live girl, with real, live blood gushing through my veins. You’re holding me in your arms and I’m telling you that I love you. I’m ready to do anything you tell me to do. I may be a little bit mad, but I’m a good girl, and honest, and I work hard, I’m kind of cute, I have nice boobs, I’m a good cook, and my father left me a trust fund. I mean, I’m a real bargain, don’t you think? If you don’t take me, I’ll end up going somewhere else.”
“I need time,” I said. “I need time to think and sort things out, and make some decisions. I’m sorry, but that’s all I can say at this point.” “Yeah, but you do love me from the bottom of your heart, right? And you never want to let me go again, right?”
“I said it and I meant it.”
Midori pulled away from me with a smile on her face. “OK, I’ll wait! I believe in you,” she said. “But when you take me, you take only me. And when you hold me in your arms, you think only about me. Is that clear?”
“I understand exactly.”
“I don’t care what you do to me, but I don’t want you to hurt me. I’ve had enough hurt already in my life. More than enough. Now I want to be happy.”
I drew her close and kissed her on the mouth.
“Drop the damn umbrella and wrap both your arms around me – hard!” she said.
“But we’ll get soaking wet!”
“So what? I want you to stop thinking and hold me tight! I’ve been waiting two whole months for this!”
I set down the umbrella and held her close in the rain. The dull rush of tyres on the highway enveloped us like a fog. The rain fell without a break, without a sound, soaking her hair and mine, running like tears down our cheeks, down to her denim jacket and my yellow nylon windcheater, spreading in dark stains.
“How about going back under the roof?” I said.
“Come to my place. There’s nobody home now. We’ll both catch colds like this.”
“It’s as if we’ve just swum across a river,” Midori said, smiling. “What a great feeling!”
We bought a good-sized towel in the linen department and took turns going into the bathroom to dry our hair. Then we took the subway, with the necessary top-up tickets, to her flat in Myogadani. She let me shower first and then she showered. Lending me a bathrobe to wear while my clothes dried, Midori changed into a polo shirt and skirt. We sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee.
“Tell me about yourself,” Midori said. “What about me?”
“Hmm, I don’t know, what do you hate?” “Chicken and VD and barbers who talk too much.” “What else?”
“Lonely April nights and lacy telephone covers.” “What else?” I shook my head. “I can’t think of anything else.”
“My boyfriend – which is to say, my ex-boyfriend – had all kinds of things he hated. Like when I wore too-short skirts, or when I smoked, or how I got drunk too quickly, or said disgusting things, or criticized his friends. So if there’s anything about me you don’t like, just tell me, and I’ll fix it if I can.”
“I can’t think of anything,” I said after giving it some thought. “There’s nothing.”
“I like everything you wear, and I like what you do and say and how you walk and how you get drunk. Everything.”
“You mean I’m really OK just the way I am?”
“I don’t know how you could change, so you must be fine the way you are.”
“How much do you love me?” Midori asked.
“Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter,” I said. “Far out,” she said with a hint of satisfaction. “Will you hold me again?”
We got into her bed and held each other, kissing as the sound of the rain filled our ears. Then we talked about everything from the formation of the universe to our preferences in the hardness of boiled eggs.
“I wonder what ants do on rainy days?” Midori asked.
“No idea,” I said. “They’re hard workers, so they probably spend the day cleaning house or stock-taking.”
“If they work so hard, why don’t they evolve? They’ve been the same for ever.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe their body structure isn’t suited to evolving – compared with monkeys, say.”
“Hey, Watanabe, there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know. I thought you knew everything.”
“It’s a big world out there,” I said.
“High mountains, deep oceans,” Midori said. She put her hand inside my bathrobe and took hold of my erection. Then, with a gulp, she said, “Hey, Watanabe, joking aside, this isn’t gonna work. I could never get this big, hard thing inside me. No way.”
“You’re kidding,” I said with a sigh.
“Yup,” she said, giggling. “Don’t worry. It’ll be just fine. I’m sure it’ll fit. Er, mind if I have a look?”
Midori burrowed under the covers and groped me all over down there, stretching the skin of my penis, weighing my testicles in the palm of her hand. Then she poked her head out and sighed. “I love it!” she said. “No flattery intended! I really love it!”
“Thank you,” I said with simple gratitude.
“But really, Watanabe, you don’t want to do it with me, do you – until you get all that business straightened out?”
“There’s no way I don’t want to do it with you,” I said. “I’m going crazy I want to do it so bad. But it just wouldn’t be right.”
“You’re so damned stubborn! If I were you, I’d just do it – then think about it afterwards.”
“Only kidding,” Midori said in a tiny voice. “I probably wouldn’t do it, either, if I were you. And that’s what I love about you. That’s what I really really love about you.”
“How much do you love me?” I asked, but she didn’t answer. Instead, she pressed against me, put her lips on my nipple and began to move the hand that was wrapped around my penis. The first thing that occurred to me was how different it was to the way Naoko moved her hand. Both were gentle and wonderful, but something was different about the way they did it, and so it felt like a totally different experience.
“Hey, Watanabe, I bet you’re thinking about that other girl.” “Not true,” I lied.
“Because I would really hate that.”
“I can’t think about anybody else,” I said.
“Want to touch my breasts, or down there?” Midori asked.
“Oh wow, I’d love to, but I’d better not. If we do all those things at once, it’ll be too much for me.”
Midori nodded and rustled around under the covers, pulling
her panties off and holding them against the tip of my penis. “You can come on these,” she said. “But it’ll make a mess of them.”
“Stop it, will you? You’re gonna make me cry,” said Midori, a if on the verge of tears. “All I have to do is wash them. So don’t hold back, just let yourself come all you want. If you’re worried about my panties, buy me a new pair. Or are they going to keep you from coming because they’re mine?”
“No way,” I said. “Go on then, let go.”
When I was through, Midori inspected my semen. “Wow, that’s a huge amount!”
“Nah, it’s OK, silly. Come all you want,” she said with a smile. Then she kissed me.
In the evening, Midori did some shopping in the neighbourhood and made dinner. We ate tempura and rice with green peas at the kitchen table, and washed it all down with beer.
“Eat a lot and make lots of semen,” Midori said. “Then I’ll be nice and help you get rid of it.”
“Thanks very much,” I said.
“I know all sorts of ways to do it. I learned from the women’s magazines when we had the bookshop. Once they had this special edition all about how to take care of your husband so he won’t cheat on you while you’re pregnant and can’t have sex. There’s tons of ways. Wanna try ’em?”
“I can hardly wait,” I said.
After saying goodbye to Midori, I bought a newspaper at the station, but when I opened it on the train, I realized I had absolutely no desire to read a paper and in fact couldn’t understand what it said. All I could do was glare at the incomprehensible page of print and wonder what was going to happen to me from now on, and how the things around me would be changing.
I felt as if the world was pulsating every now and then. I sighed deeply and closed my eyes. As regards what I had done that day, I felt not the slightest regret; I knew for certain that if I had to do it all over again, I would live this day in exactly the same way. I would hold Midori tight on the roof in the rain; I would get soaking wet with her; and I would let her fingers bring me to climax in her bed.
And I had no doubts about those things. Loved Midori, and I was happy that she had come back to me. The two of us could make it, that was certain. As Midori herself had said, she was a real, live girl with blood in her veins, and she was putting her warm body in my arms. It had been all I could do to suppress the intense desire I had to strip her naked, throw open her body, and sink myself in her warmth.
There was no way I could have made myself stop her once she was holding my penis and moving her hand. I wanted her to do it, she wanted to do it, and we were in love. Who could have stopped such a thing? It was true: I loved Midori. And I had probably known as much for a while. I had just been avoiding the conclusion for a very long time.
The problem was that I could never explain these developments to Naoko. It would have been hard enough at any point, but with Naoko in her present condition, there was no way I could tell her I had fallen in love with another girl. And besides, I still loved Naoko. As twisted as that love might be, I did love her. Somewhere inside me there was still preserved a broad, open space, untouched, for Naoko and no one else.
One thing I could do was write a letter to Reiko that confessed everything with total honesty. At home, I sat on the veranda, watching the rain pour down on the garden at night, and assembling phrases in my head. Then I went to my desk and wrote the letter. It is almost unbearable to me that I now have to write a letter like this to you, I began. I summarized my relationship with Midori and explained what had happened that day.
I have always loved Naoko, and I still love her. But there is a decisive finality to what exists between Midori and me. It has an irresistible power that is bound to sweep me into the future. What I feel for Naoko is a tremendously quiet and gentle and transparent love, but what I feel for Midori is a wholly different emotion. It stands and walks on its own, living and breathing and throbbing and shaking me to the roots of my being. I don’t know what to do.
I’m confused. I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, but I do believe that I have lived as sincerely as I know how. I have never lied to anyone, and I have taken care over the years not to hurt other people. And yet I find myself tossed into this labyrinth. How can this be? I can’t explain it. I don’t know what I should do. Can you tell me, Reiko? You’re the only one I can turn to for advice.
I posted the letter that night by special delivery. Reiko’s answer came five days later, dated 17 June.
Let me start with the good news. Naoko has been improving far more rapidly than anyone could have expected. I talked to her once on the phone, and she spoke with real lucidity. She may even be able to come back here before long.
Now, about you.
I think you take everything too seriously. Loving another person is a wonderful thing, and if that love is sincere, no one ends up tossed into a labyrinth. You have to have more faith in yourself.
My advice to you is very simple. First of all, if you are drawn so strongly to this Midori person, it is only natural for you to have fallen in love with her. It might go well, or it might not. But love is like that. When you fall in love, the natural thing to do is give yourself to it. That’s what I think. It’s just a form of sincerity.
Second, as to whether or not you should have sex with Midori, that is for you to work out. I can’t say a thing. Talk it over with Midori and reach your own conclusion, one that makes sense to you.
Third, don’t tell any of this to Naoko. If things should develop to the point where you absolutely have to tell her, then you and I will come up with a good plan together. So now, just keep it quiet. Leave it to me.
The fourth thing I have to say is that you have been such a great source of strength for Naoko that even if you no longer have the feelings of a lover towards her, there is still a lot you can do for her. So don’t brood over everything in that super-serious way of yours. All of us (by which I mean all of us, both normal and not-so-normal) are imperfect human beings living in an imperfect world. We don’t live with the mechanical precision of a bank account or by measuring all our lines and angles with rulers and protractors. Am I right?
My own personal feeling is that Midori sounds like a great girl. I understand just reading your letter why you would be drawn to her. And I understand, too, why you would also be drawn to Naoko. There’s nothing the least bit sinful about it. Things like that happen all the time in this great big world of ours. It’s like taking a boat out on a beautiful lake on a beautiful day and thinking both the sky and the lake are beautiful. So stop eating yourself up. Things will go where they’re supposed to go if you just let them take their natural course.
Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt. Life is like that. I know I sound like I’m preaching from a pulpit, but it’s about time you learned to live like this. You try too hard to make life fit your way of doing things. If you don’t want to spend time in an insane asylum, you have to open up a little more and let yourself go with life’s natural flow. I’m just a powerless and imperfect woman, but still there are times when I think to myself how wonderful life can be! Believe me, it’s true! So stop what you’re doing this minute and get happy. Work at making yourself happy!
Needless to say, I do feel sorry that you and Naoko could not see things through to a happy ending. But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a lifetime, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.
I’m playing the guitar every day for no one in particular. It seems a bit pointless. I don’t like dark, rainy nights, either. I hope I’ll have another chance to play my guitar and eat grapes with you and Naoko in the room with me.
Ah, well, until then – Reiko Ishida
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