Full Read the Online Chapter 7 PDF of the Norwegian Wood Book by Haruki Murakami for free.
In P.E. class the next Thursday, I swam several lengths of the 50-metre pool. The vigorous exercise cleared my head some more and gave me an appetite. After eating a good-sized lunch at a student restaurant known for its good-sized lunches, I was on my way to the literature department library to do some research when I bumped into Midori Kobayashi. She had someone with her, a petite girl with glasses, but when she spotted me, she approached me alone.
“Where you going?” she asked. “Lit. library,” I said.
“Why don’t you forget it and come have lunch with me?”
“I’ve already eaten.”
“So what? Eat again.”
We ended up going to a nearby café where she had a plate of curry and I had a cup of coffee. She wore a white, long-sleeved shirt under a yellow woolen vest with a fish knitted into the design, a narrow gold necklace, and a Disney watch. She seemed to enjoy the curry and drank three glasses of water with it.
“Where’ve you been?” Midori asked. “I don’t know how many times I called.”
“Was there something you wanted to talk about?” “Nothing special. I just called.”
“You see what?”
“Nothing. Just “I see’,” I said. “Any fires lately?”
“That was fun, wasn’t it? It didn’t do much damage, but that smoke made it feel real. Great stuff.”
Midori gulped another glass of water, took a breath, and studied my face for a while. “Hey, what’s wrong with you?” she asked.
“You’ve got this spaced-out face. Your eyes aren’t focused.”
“I’m OK,” I said. “I just came back from a trip and I’m tired.”
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“Hey, do you have “German and R.E. “Can you skip ‘en: “Not German. I’ve “When’s it over?”
“OK. How about going into the city with me after that for some drinks?”
“At two in the afternoon?!”
“For a change, why not? You look so spaced. Come on, come drinking with me and get a little life into you. That’s what I want to do – drink with you and get some life into myself. What do you say?”
“OK, let’s go,” I said with a sigh. “I’ll look for you in the Lit. quad at two.”
After Germany, we caught a bus to Shinjuku and went to an underground bar called DUG behind the Kinokuniya bookshop. We each started with two vodka and tonics.
“I come here once in a while,” she said. “They don’t make you feel embarrassed to be drinking in the afternoon.”
“Do you drink in the afternoon a lot?”
“Sometimes,” she said, rattling the ice in her glass. “Sometimes, when the world gets too hard to live in, I come here for a vodka and tonic.”
“Does the world get hard to live in?”
“Sometimes,” said Midori. “I’ve got my special little problems.”
“Like family, like boyfriends, like irregular periods. Stuff.”
“So have another drink.”
I beckoned to the waiter and ordered two more vodka and tonics. “Remember how, when you came over that Sunday, you kissed me?” Midori asked. “I’ve been thinking about it. It was nice. Nice.”
“That’s nice’,” she mimicked. “The way you talk is so weird!”
“Anyway, I was thinking, that time. I wondered how great it would be if that had been the first time a boy had kissed me in my life. If I could switch around the order of my life, I would make that my first kiss. And then I would live the rest of my life thinking: Hey, I wonder what happened to that boy named Watanabe I gave my first kiss to on the laundry deck, now that he’s 58? Wouldn’t that be great?”
“Yeah, really,” I said, cracking a pistachio nut.
“Hey, what is it with you? Why are you so spaced out? You still haven’t answered me.”
I probably still haven’t completely adapted to the world.’ I said after giving it some thought. “I don’t know, I feel like this isn’t the real world. The people, the scene: they just don’t seem real to me.”
Midori rested an elbow on the bar and looked at me. “There was something like that in a Jim Morrison song, I’m pretty sure.”
“People are strange when you’re a stranger.”
“Peace,” said Midori. Peace,” I said. “You really ought to go to Uruguay with me,” Midori said, still leaning on the bar. “Girlfriend, family, university – just dump ’em all.”
“Not a bad idea,” I said, laughing.
“Don’t you think it would be wonderful to get rid of everything and everybody and just go somewhere where you don’t know a soul? Sometimes I feel like doing that. I want to do it sometimes. Like, suppose you whisked me somewhere far, far away, I’d make lots of babies for you as tough as little bulls. And we’d all live happily ever after, rolling on the floor.”
I laughed and drank my third vodka and tonic.
“I guess you don’t want lots of babies as tough as little bulls yet,” said Midori.
“I’m intrigued,” I said. “I’d like to see what they look like.”
“That’s OK, you don’t have to want them,” said Midori, eating a pistachio.
“Here I am, drinking in the afternoon, saying whatever pops into my head: “I wanna dump everything and run off somewhere.’ What’s the point of going to Uruguay? All they’ve got there is donkey shit.”
“You may be right.”
“Donkey shit everywhere. Here a shit, there a shit, the whole world is donkey shit. Hey, I can’t open this. You take it.” Midori handed me a pistachio nut. I struggled with it until I cracked it open. “But oh, what a relief it was last Sunday! Going up to the laundry deck with you, watching the fire, drinking beer, singing songs. I don’t know how long it’s been since I had such a total sense of relief. People are always trying to force stuff on me. The minute they see me they start telling me what to do. At least you don’t try to force stuff on me.”
“I don’t know you well enough to force stuff on you.”
“You mean, if you knew me better, you’d force stuff on me like everyone else?”
“It’s possible,” I said. “That’s how people live in the real world: forcing stuff on each other.”
“You wouldn’t do that. I can tell. I’m an expert when it comes to forcing stuff and having stuff forced on you. You’re not the type. That’s why I can relax with you. Do you have any idea how many people there are in the world who like to force stuff on people and have stuff forced on them? Tons! And then they make a big fuss, like “I forced her’, “You forced me!’ That’s what they like. But I don’t like it. I just do it because I have to.”
“What kind of stuff do you force on people or they force on you?” Midori put an ice cube in her mouth and sucked on it for a while. “Do you want to get to know me better?” she asked. “Yeah, kind of.”
“Hey, look, I just asked you, “Do you want to get to know me better?’ What sort of answer is that?”
“Yes, Midori, I would like to get to know you better,” I said. “Really?”
“Even if you had to turn your eyes away from what you saw? ‘Are you that bad?”
“Well, in a way,” Midori said with a frown. “I want another drink.”
I called the waiter and ordered a fourth round of drinks. Until they came, Midori cupped her chin in her hand with her elbow on the bar. I kept quiet and listened to Thelonious Monk playing “Honeysuckle Rose”. There were five or six other customers in the place, but we were the only ones drinking alcohol. The rich smell of coffee gave the gloomy interior an intimate atmosphere.
“Are you free this Sunday?” Midori asked.
“I think I told you before, I’m always free on Sunday. Until I go to work at six.”
“OK, then, this Sunday, will you hang out with me?”
“Sure,” I said.
“I’ll pick you up at your dorm Sunday morning. I’m not sure exactly what time, though. Is that OK?”
“Fine,” I said. “No problem.”
“Now, let me ask you: do you have any idea what I would like to do right now?”
“I can’t imagine.”
“Well, first of all, I want to lie down in a big, wide, fluffy bed. I want to get all comfy and drunk and not have any donkey shit anywhere nearby, and I want to have you lying down next to me. And then, little by little, you take off my clothes. Sooo tenderly. The way a mother undresses a little child. So softly.”
“And I’m just spacing out and feeling nice until, all of a sudden I realize what’s happening and I yell at you “Stop it, Watanabe!’ And then I say “I like you, Watanabe, but I’m seeing someone else. I can’t do this. I’m very proper about these things, believe it or not, so please stop.’ But you don’t stop.”
“But I would stop,” I said.
“I know that. Never mind, this is just my fantasy,” said Midori. “So then you show it to me. Your thing. Sticking right up. I immediately cover my eyes, of course, but I can’t help seeing it for a split second. And I say, “Stop it! Don’t do that! I don’t want anything so big and hard!”‘
“It’s not so big. Just ordinary.”
“Never mind, this is a fantasy. So then you put on this really sad face, and I feel sorry for you and try to comfort you. There there, poor thing.”
“And you’re telling me that’s what you want to do now?”
We left the bar after five rounds of vodka and tonic. When I tried to pay, Midori slapped my hand and paid with a brand-new #10,000 note she took from her purse.
“It’s OK,” she said. “I just got paid, and I invited you. Of course, if you’re a card-carrying fascist and you refuse to let a woman buy you a drink. ..”
“No no, I’m OK.”
“And I didn’t let you put it in, either.”
“Because it’s so big and hard,” I said.
“Right,” said Midori. “Because it’s so big and hard.”
A little drunk, Midori missed one step, and we almost fell back down the stairs. The layer of clouds that had darkened the sky was gone now, and the late afternoon sun poured its gentle light on the city streets. Midori and I wandered around for a while. She said she wanted to climb a tree, but unfortunately, there were no climbable trees in Shinjuku, and the Shinjuku Imperial Gardens were closing.
“Too bad,” said Midori. “I love climbing trees.”
We continued walking and window-shopping, and soon the street scene seemed more real to me than it had before.
“I’m glad I ran into you,” I said. “I think I’m a little more adapted to the world now.”
Midori stopped short and peered at me. “It’s true,” she said. “Your eyes are much more in focus than they were. See? Hanging out with me does you good.”
“No doubt about it,” I said.
At 5.30 Midori said she had to go home and make dinner. I said I would take a bus back to my dorm, and saw her as far as the station. “Know what I want to do now?” Midori asked me as she was leaving. “I have no idea what you could be thinking,” I said.
“I want you and me to be captured by pirates. Then they strip us and press us together face to face all naked and wind these ropes around us.”
“Why would they do a thing like that?”
“Perverted pirates,” she said.
“You’re the perverted one,” I said.
“So then they lock us in the hold and say, “In one hour, we’re gonna throw you into the sea, so have a good time until then’.”
“And … ?”
“So we enjoy ourselves for an hour, rolling all over the place and twisting our bodies.”
“And that’s the main thing you want to do now?”
“Oh boy,” I said, shaking my head.
Midori came for me at 9.30 on Sunday morning. I had just woken up and hadn’t washed my face. Somebody pounded on my door, yelling “Hey, Watanabe, it’s a woman!” I went down to the lobby to find Midori sitting there with her legs crossed wearing an incredibly short denim skirt, yawning. Every student passing by on his way to breakfast slowed down to stare at her long, slim legs. She did have nice legs.
“Am I too early?” she asked. “I bet you just woke up.”
“Can you give me 15 minutes? I’ll wash my face and shave.”
“I don’t mind waiting, but all these guys are staring at my legs.”
“What d’you expect, coming into a men’s dorm in such a short skirt? Of course, they’re going to stare.”
“Oh, well, it’s OK. I’m wearing really cute panties today – all pink and frilly and lacy.”
“That just makes it worse,” I said with a sigh. I went back to my room and washed and shaved as fast as I could, put on a blue button-down shirt and a grey tweed sports coat, then went back down and ushered Midori out through the dorm gate. I was in a cold sweat.
“Tell me, Watanabe,” Midori said, looking up at the dorm buildings, “do all the guys in here wank – rub-a-dub-dub?”
“Probably,” I said.
“Do guys think about girls when they do that?”
“I suppose so. I kind of doubt that anyone thinks about the stock market or verb conjugations or the Suez Canal when they wank. Nope, I’m pretty sure just about everybody thinks about girls.”
“The Suez Canal?”
“So I suppose they think about particular girls, right?”
“Shouldn’t you be asking your boyfriend about that?” I said. “Why should I have to explain stuff like this to you on a Sunday morning?”
“I was just curious,” she said. “Besides, he’d get angry if I asked him about stuff like that. He’d say girls aren’t supposed to ask all those questions.”
“A perfectly normal point of view, I’d say.”
“But I want to know. This is pure curiosity. Do guys think about particular girls when they wank?”
I gave up trying to avoid the question. “Well, I do at least. I don’t know about anybody else.”
“Have you ever thought about me while you were doing it? Tell me the truth. I won’t be angry.”
“No, I haven’t, to tell the truth,” I answered honestly. “Why not? Aren’t I attractive enough?”
“Oh, you’re attractive, all right. You’re cute, and sexy outfits look great on you.”
“So why don’t you think about me?”
“Well, first of all, I think of you as a friend, so I don’t want to involve you in my sexual fantasies, and second – “
“You’ve got somebody else you’re supposed to be thinking about.”
“That’s about the size of it,” I said.
“You have good manners even when it comes to something like this,” Midori said. “That’s what I like about you. Still, couldn’t you allow me just one brief appearance? I want to be in one of your sexual fantasies or daydreams or whatever you call them. I’m asking you because we’re friends. Who else can I ask for something like that? I can’t just walk up to anyone and say, “When you wank tonight, will you please think of me for a second?’ It’s because I think of you as a friend that I’m asking. And I want you to tell me later what it was like. You know, what you did and stuff.”
I let out a sigh.
“You can’t put it in, though. Because we’re just friends. Right? As long as you don’t put it in, you can do anything you like, think anything you want.”
“I don’t know, I’ve never done it with so many restrictions before,” I said.
“Will you just think about me?”
“All right, I’ll think about you.”
“You know, Watanabe, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression – that I’m a nymphomaniac or frustrated or a tease or anything. I’m just interested in that stuff. I want to know about it. Grew up surrounded by nothing but girls in a girls’ school, you know that. Want to find out what guys are thinking and how their bodies are put together. And not just from pull-out sections in the women’s magazines but actual case studies.”
“Case studies?” I groaned.
“But my boyfriend doesn’t like it when I want to know things or try things. He gets angry and calls me a nympho or crazy. He won’t even let me give him a blow job. Now, that’s one thing I’m dying to study.”
“Do you hate getting blow jobs?”
“No, not really, I don’t hate it.”
“Would you say you like it?”
“Yeah, I’d say that. But can we talk about this next time? Here it is, a nice Sunday morning, and I don’t want to ruin it talking about wanking and blow jobs. Let’s talk about something else. Is your boyfriend at the same university as us?”
“Nope, he goes to another one, of course. We met at school during a club activity. I was in the girls’ school, he was in the boys’, and you know how they do those things, joint concerts, and stuff. We got serious after our exams, though. Hey, Watanabe.”
“You only have to do it once. Just think about me, OK?”
“OK, I’ll give it a try, next time,” I said, throwing in the towel.
We took a commuter train to Ochanomizu. When we transferred to Shinjuku I bought a thin sandwich at a stand in the station to make up for the breakfast I hadn’t eaten. The coffee I had with it tasted like a boiled printer’s ink. The Sunday morning trains were filled with couples and families on outings. A group of boys with baseball bats and matching uniforms scampered around inside the carriage. Several of the girls on the train had short skirts on, but none as short as Midori’s. Midori would pull on hers now and then as it rode up. Some of the men stared at her thighs, which made me feel uneasy, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Know what I’d like to do right now?” she whispered when we had been traveling for a while.
“No idea,” I said. “But please, don’t talk about that stuff here. Somebody’ll hear you.”
“Too bad. This one’s kind of wild,” Midori said with obvious disappointment. “Anyway, why are we going to Ochanomizu?”
“Just come along, you’ll see.”
With all the cram schools around Ochanomizu Station, on Sunday the area was full of school kids on their way to classes or exam practice. Midori barged through the crowds clutching the strap of her shoulder bag with one hand and my hand with the other.
Without warning, she asked me, “Hey, Watanabe, can you explain the difference between the English present subjunctive and past subjunctive?”
“I think I can,” I said.
“Let me ask you, then, what possible use is stuff like that for everyday life?”
“None at all,” I said. “It may not serve any concrete purpose, but it does give you some kind of training to help you grasp things in general more systematically.”
Midori gave that a moment’s serious thought. “You’re amazing,” she said. “That never occurred to me before. I always thought of things like the subjunctive case differential calculus and chemical symbols as totally useless. A pain in the neck. So I’ve always ignored them. Now I have to wonder if my whole life has been a mistake.”
“You’ve ignored them?”
“Yeah. Like, for me, they didn’t exist. I don’t have the slightest idea what “sine’ and “cosine’ mean.”
“That’s incredible! How did you pass your exams? How did you get into university?”
“Don’t be silly,” said Midori. “You don’t have to know anything to pass entrance exams! All you need is a little intuition – and I have great intuition. “Choose the correct answer from the following three.’ I know immediately which one is right.”
“My intuition’s not as good as yours, so I have to be systematic to some extent. Like the way a magpie collects bits of glass in a hollow tree.”
“Does it serve some purpose?”
“I wonder. It probably makes it easier to do some things.”
“What kind of things? Give me an example.”
“Metaphysical thought, say. Mastering several languages.”
“What good does that do?”
“It depends on the person who does it. It serves a purpose for some, and not for others. But mainly it’s training. Whether it serves a purpose or not is another question. Like I said.”
“Hmm,” said Midori, seemingly impressed. She led me by the hand down the hill. “You know, Watanabe, you’re good at explaining things to people.”
“I wonder,” I said.
“It’s true. I’ve asked hundreds of people what use the English subjunctive is, and not one of them gave me a good, clear answer like yours. Not even English teachers. They either got confused or angry or laughed it off. Nobody ever gave me a decent answer. If somebody like you had been around when I asked my question and had given me a proper explanation, I might have been interested in the subjunctive. Damn!” “Hmm,” I said.
“Have you ever read Das Kapital?”
“Yeah. Not the whole thing, of course, but parts, like most people.”
“Did you understand it?”
“I understood some bits, not others. You have to acquire the necessary intellectual apparatus to read a book like Das Kapital. I think I understand the general idea of Marxism, though.”
“Do you think a first-year student who hasn’t read books like that can understand Das Kapital just by reading it?”
“That’s pretty nigh impossible, I’d say.”
“You know, when I went to university I joined a folk-music club. I just wanted to sing songs. But the members were a load of frauds. I get goosebumps just thinking about them. The first thing they tell you when you enter the club is you have to read Marx.” Read page so-and-so to such-and-such for next time.’ Somebody gave a lecture on how folk songs have to be deeply involved with society and the radical movement. So, what the hell, I went home and tried as hard as I could to read it, but I didn’t understand a thing. It was worse than the subjunctive. I gave up after three pages.
So I went to the next week’s meeting like a good little scout and said I had read it, but I couldn’t understand it. From that point on they treated me like an idiot. I had no critical awareness of the class struggle, they said, I was a social cripple. I mean, this was serious. And all because I said I couldn’t understand a piece of writing. Don’t you think they were terrible?”
“Uh-huh,” I said.
“And their so-called discussions were terrible, too. Everybody would use big words and pretend they knew what was going on. But I would ask questions whenever I didn’t understand something. “What is this imperialist exploitation stuff you’re talking about? Is it connected somehow to the East India Company?’ “Does smashing the educational-industrial complex mean we’re not supposed to work for a company after we graduate?’ And stuff like that. But nobody was willing to explain anything to me. Far from it – they got really angry. Can you believe it?”
“Yeah, I can,” I said.
“One guy yelled at me, “You stupid bitch, how do you live like that with nothing in your brain?’ Well, that did it. I wasn’t going to put up with that. OK, so I’m not so smart. I’m working class. But it’s the working class that keeps the world running, and it’s the working classes that get exploited. What kind of revolution is it that just throws out big words that working-class people can’t understand? What kind of crap social revolution is that? I mean, I’d like to make the world a better place, too. If somebody’s being exploited, we’ve got to put a stop to it. That’s what I believe, and that’s why I ask questions. Am I right, or what?”
“So that’s when it hit me. These guys are fakes. All they’ve got on their minds is impressing the new girls with the big words they’re so proud of while sticking their hands up their skirts. When they graduate, they cut their hair short and march off to work for Mitsubishi IBM or Fuji Bank. They marry pretty wives who’ve never read Marx and have kids they give fancy new names to that are enough to make you puke. Smash what educational-industrial complex? Don’t make me laugh! And the new members were just as bad. They didn’t understand a thing either, but they pretended to and they were laughing at me. After the meeting, they told me, “Don’t be silly! So what if you don’t understand? Just agree with everything they say.’ Hey, Watanabe, I’ve got stuff that made me even madder than that. Wanna hear it?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Well, one time they called a late-night political meeting, and they told each girl to make 20 rice balls for midnight snacks. I mean, talk about sex discrimination! I decided to keep quiet for a change, though and showed up like a good girl with my 20 rice balls, complete with umeboshi inside and nori outside. And what do you think I got for my efforts? Afterward, people complained because my rice balls had only umeboshi inside, and I hadn’t brought anything along to go with them! The other girls stuffed theirs with cod roe and salmon, and they included nice, thick slices of fried egg. I got so furious I couldn’t talk! Who the hell do these,revolution’-mongers think they are making a fuss over rice balls? They should be grateful for Umeboshi and nori. Think of the children starving in India!”
I laughed. “So then what happened with your club?”
“I left in June, I was so furious,” Midori said. “Most of these student types are total frauds. They’re scared to death somebody’s gonna find out they don’t know something. They all read the same books and they all spout the same slogans, and they love listening to John Coltrane and seeing Pasolini movies. You call that “revolution?”‘
“Hey, don’t ask me, I’ve never actually seen a revolution.”
“Well, if that’s a revolution, you can stick it. They’d probably shoot me for putting umeboshi in my rice balls. They’d shoot you, too, for understanding the subjunctive.”
“It could happen.”
“Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. I’m working class. Revolution or not, the working class will just keep on scraping a living in the same old shitholes. And what is a revolution? It sure as hell isn’t just changing the name of city hall. But those guys don’t know that – those guys with their big words. Tell me, Watanabe, have you ever seen a taxman?”
“Well, I have. Lots of times. They come barging in and acting big. “What’s this ledger for?’ “Hey, you keep pretty sloppy records.’ “You call this a business expense?’ “I want to see all your receipts right now.’ Meanwhile, we’re crouching in the corner, and when suppertime comes we have to treat them to sushi deluxe – home-delivered. Let me tell you, though, my father never once cheated on his taxes. That’s just how he is, a real old-fashioned straight arrow. But tell that to the taxman. All he can do is dig and dig and dig and dig. “Income’s a little low here, don’t you think?’ Well, of course, the income is low when you’re not making any money! I wanted to scream: “Go do this where they’ve got some money!’ Do you think the taxman’s attitude would change if there was a revolution?”
“Highly doubtful, highly doubtful.”
“That does it, then. I’m not going to believe in any damned revolution. Love is all I’m going to believe in.”
“Peace,” I said. “Peace,” said Midori.
“Hey, where are we going?” I asked.
“The hospital,” she said. “My father’s there. It’s my turn to stay with him all day.”
“Your father?! I thought he was in Uruguay!”
“That was a lie,” said Midori in a matter-of-fact tone. “He’s been screaming about going to Uruguay forever, but he could never do that. He can hardly get himself out of Tokyo.”
“How bad is he?” I asked.
“It’s just a matter of time,” she said. We walked on in silence.
“I know what I’m talking about. It’s the same thing my mother had. A brain tumor. Can you believe it? It’s hardly been two years since she died of a brain tumor, and now he’s got one.”
The University Hospital corridors were noisy and crowded with weekend visitors and patients who had less serious symptoms and everywhere hung that special hospital smell, a cloud of disinfectant and visitors’ bouquets, and urine and mattresses, while nurses surged back and forth with a dry clattering of heels.
Midori’s father was in a semi-private room in the bed nearest the door. Stretched out, he looked like some tiny creature with a fatal wound. He lay on his side, limp, the drooping left arm inert, jabbed with an intravenous needle. He was a small, skinny man who gave the impression that he would only get smaller and thinner. A white bandage encircled his head, and his pasty white arms were dotted with the holes left by injections or intravenous drips. His half-open eyes stared at a fixed point in space, bloodshot spheres that twitched in our direction when we entered the room. For some ten seconds, they stayed focused on us, then drifted back to that fixed point in space.
You knew when you saw those eyes he was going to die soon. There was no sign of life in his flesh, just the barest trace of what had once been a life. His body was like a dilapidated old house from which all the fixtures and fittings had been removed, awaiting its final demolition. Around the dry lips clumps of whiskers sprouted like weeds. So, I thought, even after so much of a man’s life force has been lost, his beard continues to grow.
Midori said hello to a fat man in the bed by the window. He nodded and smiled, apparently unable to talk. He coughed a few times and, after sipping some water from a glass by his pillow, he shifted his weight and rolled on his side, turning to gaze out of the window. Beyond the window could be seen only a pole and some power lines, nothing more, not even a cloud in the sky.
“How are you feeling, Daddy?” said Midori, speaking into her father’s ear as if testing a microphone. “How are you today?”
Her father moved his lips. <Not good> he said, not so much speaking the words as forming them from dried air at the back of his throat.
<Head> he said.
“You have a headache?” Midori asked.
<Yuh > he said, apparently unable to pronounce more than a syllable or two at a time.
“Well, no wonder,” she said, “you’ve just had your head cut open. Of course, it hurts. Too bad, but try to be brave. This is my friend, Watanabe.”
“Glad to meet you,” I said. Midori’s father opened his lips halfway, then closed them again. Midori gestured towards a plastic stool near the foot of the bed and suggested I sit down. I did as I was told. Midori gave her father a drink of water and asked if he’d like a piece of fruit or some jellied fruit dessert. <No> he said, and when Midori insisted that he had to eat something, he said <I ate).
A water bottle, a glass, a dish, and a small clock stood on a night table near the head of the bed. From a large paper bag under the table, Midori took some fresh pajamas, underwear, and other things, straightened them out, and put them into the locker by the door. There was food for the patient at the bottom of the bag: two grapefruits, fruit jelly, and three cucumbers.
“Cucumbers?! What are these doing in here?” Midori asked. “I can’t imagine what my sister was thinking. I told her on the phone exactly what I wanted her to buy, and I’m sure I never mentioned cucumbers! She was supposed to bring kiwi fruit.”
“Maybe she misunderstood you,” I suggested.
“Yeah, maybe, but if she had thought about it she would have realized that cucumbers couldn’t be right. I mean, what’s a patient supposed to do? Sit in bed chewing on raw cucumbers? Hey, Daddy, want a cucumber?”
<No> said Midori’s father.
Midori sat by the head of the bed, telling her father snippets of news from home. The TV picture had gone fuzzy and she had called the repairman; their aunt from Takaido would visit in a few days; the chemist, Mr Miyawaki, had fallen off his bike: stuff like that. Her father responded with grunts.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?”
<No> her father answered.
“How about you, Watanabe? Some grapefruit?” “No,” I answered.
A few minutes later, Midori took me to the TV room and smoked a cigarette on the sofa. Three patients in pajamas were also smoking there and watching some kind of political discussion program. “Hey,” whispered Midori with a twinkle in her eye. “That old guy with the crutches has been looking at my legs ever since we came in. The one with glasses in the blue pajamas.”
“What do you expect, wearing a skirt like that?”
“It’s nice, though. I bet they’re all bored. It probably does them good. Maybe the excitement helps them get better faster.”
“As long as it doesn’t have the opposite effect.” Midori stared at the smoke rising from her cigarette.
“You know,” she said, “my father’s not such a bad guy. I get angry with him sometimes because he says terrible things, but deep down he’s honest and he loved my mother. In his way, he’s lived life with all the intensity he could muster. He’s a little weak, maybe, and he has no head for business, and people don’t like him very much, but he’s a hell of a lot better than the cheats and liars who go around smoothing things over because they’re so slick. I’m as bad as he is about not backing down once I’ve said something, so we fight a lot, but really, he’s not a bad guy.”
Midori took my hand as if she were picking up something someone had dropped in the street, and placed it on her lap. Half my hand lay on the skirt, the rest touching her thigh. She looked into my eyes for some time.
“Sorry to bring you to a place like this,” she said, “but would you mind staying with me a little longer?”
“I’ll stay with you all day if you want,” I said. “Until five.” I like spending time with you, and I’ve got nothing else to do.”
“How do you usually spend your Sundays?” “Doing my laundry,” I said. “And ironing.”
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me too much about her … your girlfriend?”
“No, I guess not. It’s complicated, and I, kind of, don’t think I could explain it very well.”
“That’s OK. You don’t have to explain anything,” said Midori. “But do you mind if I tell you what I imagine is going on?”
“No, go ahead. I suspect anything you’d imagine would have to be interesting.”
“I think she’s a married woman.”
“Yeah, she’s thirty-two or -three and she’s rich and beautiful and she wears fur coats and Charles Jourdan shoes and silk underwear and she’s hungry for sex and she likes to do yucky things. The two of you meet on weekday afternoons and devour each other’s bodies. But her husband’s home on Sundays, so she can’t see you. Am I right?”
“Very, very interesting.”
“She has you tie her up and blindfold her and lick every square inch of her body. Then she makes you put weird things inside her and she gets into these incredible positions like a contortionist and you take pictures of her with a Polaroid camera.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“She’s dying for it all the time, so she does everything she can think of. And she thinks about it every day. She’s got nothing but free time, so she’s always planning: Hmm, next time Watanabe comes, we’ll do this, or we’ll do that. You get in bed and she goes crazy, trying all these positions and coming three times in each one. And she says to you, “Don’t I have a sensational body? You can’t be satisfied with young girls anymore. Young girls won’t do this for you, will they? Or this. Feel good? But don’t come yet!”‘
“You’ve watched too many porno movies,” I said with a laugh. “You think so? I was kind of worried about that. But I love porn films. Take me to one next time, OK?”
“Fine,” I said. “Next time you’re free.”
“Really? I can hardly wait. Let’s go to a real S&M one, with whips and, like, they make the girl pee in front of everyone.
That’s my favorite.” “We’ll do it.”
“You know what I like best about porn cinemas?” “I couldn’t begin to guess.”
“Whenever a sex scene starts, you can hear this “Gulp!’ sound when everybody swallows all at once,” said Midori. “I love that “Gulp!’ It’s so sweet!”
Back in the hospital room, Midori aimed a stream of talk at her father again, and he would either grunt in response or say nothing. Around eleven the wife of the man in the other bed came to change her husband’s pajamas and peel fruit for him and so on. She had a round face and seemed like a nice person, and she and Midori shared a lot of small talk. A nurse showed up with a new intravenous drip and talked a little while with Midori and the wife before she left.
I let my eyes wander around the room and out the window to the power lines. Sparrows would turn up now and then and perch on them. Midori talked to her father wiped the sweat from his brow helped him spit phlegm into a tissue chatted with the neighboring patient’s wife and the nurse sent an occasional remark my way and checked the intravenous contraption.
The doctor did his rounds at 11.30, so Midori and I stepped outside to wait in the corridor. When he came out, Midori asked him how her father was doing.
“Well, he’s just come out of surgery, and we’ve got him on painkillers so, well, he’s pretty drained,” said the doctor. “I’ll need another two or three days to evaluate the results of the operation. If it went well, he’ll be OK, and if it didn’t, we’ll have to make some decisions at that point.”
“You’re not going to open his head up again, are you?”
“I really can’t say until the time comes,” said the doctor. “Wow, that’s some short skirt you’re wearing!”
“What do you do on stairways?” the doctor asked.
“Nothing special. I let it all hang out,” said Midori. The nurse chuckled behind the doctor.
“Incredible. You ought to come and let us open your head one of these days to see what’s going on in there. Do me a favor and use the lifts while you’re in the hospital. I can’t afford to have any more patients. I’m way too busy as it is.”
Soon after the doctor’s rounds, it was lunchtime. A nurse was circulating from room to room pushing a trolley loaded with meals. Midori’s father was given pottage, fruit, boiled, deboned fish, and vegetables that had been ground into some kind of jelly. Midori turned him on his back and raised him using the handle at the foot of the bed. She fed him the soup with a spoon. After five or six swallows, he turned his face aside and said (No more>.
You’ve got to eat at least this much.” Midori san <Later> he said. “You’re hopeless – if you don’t eat properly, you’ll never get your strength back,” she said. “Don’t you have to pee yet?” <No> he said. “Hey, Watanabe, let’s go down to the cafeteria.”
I agreed to go, but I didn’t much feel like eating. The cafeteria was packed with doctors, nurses, and visitors. Long lines of chairs and tables filled the huge, windowless underground cavern where every mouth seemed to be eating or talking – about sickness, no doubt, the voices echoing and re-echoing as in a tunnel. Now and then the PA system would break through the reverberation with calls for a doctor or nurse. While I laid claim to a table, Midori bought two set meals and carried them over on an aluminum tray. Croquettes with cream sauce, potato salad, shredded cabbage, boiled vegetables, rice, and miso soup: were lined up in the tray in the same white plastic dishes they used for patients. I ate about half of mine and left the rest. Midori seemed to enjoy her meal to the last mouthful.
“Not hungry?” she asked, sipping hot tea. “Not really,” I said.
“It’s the hospital,” she said, scanning the cafeteria. “This always happens when people aren’t used to the place. The smells, the sounds, the stale air, patients’ faces, stress, irritation, disappointment, pain, fatigue – that’s what does it. It grabs you in the stomach and kills your appetite. Once you get used to it, though, it’s no problem at all. Plus, you can’t take care of a sick person unless you eat properly. It’s true. I know what I’m talking about because I’ve done it with my grandfather, my grandmother, my mother, and now my father. You never know when you’re going to have to, so it’s important to eat when you can “I see what you mean,” I said.
“Relatives come to visit and they eat with me here, and they always leave half their food, just like you. And they always say, “Oh, Midori, it’s wonderful you’ve got such a healthy appetite. I’m too upset to eat.’ But get serious, I’m the one who’s here taking care of the patient! They just have to drop by and show a little sympathy. I’m the one who wipes up the shit and collects the phlegm and mops the brows.
If sympathy was all it took to clean up shit, I’d have 50 times as much sympathy as anybody else! Instead, they see me eating all my food and they give me this look and say, “Oh Midori, you’ve got such a healthy appetite.’ What do they think I am, a donkey pulling a cart? They’re old enough to know how the world works, so why are they so stupid? It’s easy to talk big, but the important thing is whether or not you clean up the shit.
I can be hurt, you know. Get as exhausted as anyone else. I can feel so bad I want to cry, too. You try watching a gang of doctors get together and cut open somebody’s head when there’s no hope of saving them, and stirring things up in there and doing it again and again, and every time they do it it makes the person worse and a little bit crazier, and see how you like it! And on top of it, you see your savings disappear. I don’t know if I can keep going to university for another three-and-a-half years, and there’s no way my sister can afford a wedding ceremony at this rate.”
“How many days a week do you come here?” I asked.
“Usually four,” said Midori. “This place claims to offer total nursing care, and the nurses are great, but there’s just too much for them to do. Some member of the family has to be around to take up the slack. My sister’s watching the shop, and I’ve got my studies. Still, she manages to get here three days a week, and I come four. And we sneak in now and then. Believe me, it’s a full schedule!”
“How can you spend time with me if you’re so busy?”
“I like spending time with you,” said Midori, playing with a plastic cup.
“Get out of here for a couple of hours and go for a walk,” I said. “I’ll take care of your father for a while.”
“You need to get away from the hospital and relax by yourself – not talk to anybody, just clear your mind.”
Midori thought about it for a minute and nodded. “Hmm, you may be right. But do you know what to do? How to take care of him?”
“I’ve been watching. I’ve pretty much got it. You check the intravenous thing, give him water, wipe the sweat off, and help him spit phlegm. The bedpan’s under the bed, and if he gets hungry I feed him the rest of his lunch. Anything I can’t work out I’ll ask the nurse.” “I think that should do it,” said Midori with a smile. “There’s just one thing, though. He’s starting to get a little funny in the head, so he says weird things once in a while – things that nobody can understand.
Don’t let it bother you if he does that.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said.
Back in the room, Midori told her father she had some business to take care of and that I would be watching him while she was out. He seemed to have nothing to say to this. It might have meant nothing to him. He just lay there on his back, staring at the ceiling. If he hadn’t been blinking every once in a while, he could have passed for dead. His eyes were bloodshot as if he had been drinking, and each time he took a deep breath his nostrils flared a little. Other than that, he didn’t move a muscle and made no effort to reply to Midori. I couldn’t begin to grasp what he might be thinking or feeling in the murky depths of his consciousness.
After Midori left, I thought I might try speaking to her father, but I had no idea what to say to him or how to say it, so I just kept quiet. Before long, he closed his eyes and went to sleep. I sat on the stool by the head of the bed and studied the occasional twitching of his nose, hoping all the while that he wouldn’t die now. How strange it would be, I thought if this man were to breathe his last with me by his side. After all, I had just met him for the first time in my life, and the only thing binding us together was Midori, a girl I happened to know from my History of Drama class.
He was not dying, though, just sleeping peacefully. Bringing my ear close to his face, I could hear his faint breathing. I relaxed and chatted to the wife of the man in the next bed. She talked of nothing but Midori, assuming I was her boyfriend.
“She’s a wonderful girl,” she said. “She takes great care of her father; she’s kind and gentle and sensitive and solid, and on top of all that, she’s pretty. You’d better treat her right. Don’t ever let her go. You won’t find another one like her.”
“I’ll treat her right,” I said without elaborating.
“I have a son and daughter at home. He’s 17, she’s 21, and neither of them would ever think of coming to the hospital. The minute school finishes, they’re off surfing or dating or whatever. They’re terrible. They squeeze me for all the pocket money they can get and then they disappear.”
At 1.30 she left the hospital to do some shopping. Both men were sound asleep. Gentle afternoon sunlight flooded the room, and I felt as though I might drift off at any moment perching on my stool. Yellow and white chrysanthemums in a vase on the table by the window reminded people it was autumn. In the air floated the sweet smell of boiled fish left over from lunch. The nurses continued to clip-clop up and down the hall, talking to each other in clear, penetrating voices. They would peep into the room now and then and flash me a smile when they saw that both patients were sleeping. Wished I had something to read, but there were no books magazines, or newspapers in the room, just a calendar on the wall.
I thought about Naoko, about her naked, wearing only her hairslide, I thought about the curve of her waist and the dark shadow of her pubic hair. Why had she shown herself to me like that? Had she been sleepwalking? Or was it just a fantasy of mine? As time went by and that little world receded into the distance, I grew increasingly uncertain whether the events of that night had happened. If I told myself they were real, I believed they were, and if I told myself they were a fantasy, they seemed like a fantasy. They were too clear and detailed to have been a fantasy, and too whole and beautiful to have been real: Naoko’s body and the moonlight.
Midori’s father woke suddenly and started coughing, which put a stop to my daydreaming. I helped him spit his phlegm into a tissue and wiped the sweat from his brow with a towel.
“Would you like some water?” I asked, to which he gave a four-millimetre nod. I held the small glass water bottle so that he could sip a little bit at a time, dry lips trembling, throat twitching. He drank every bit of the lukewarm water in the bottle.
“Would you like some more?” I asked. He seemed to be trying to speak, so I brought my ear closer.
<That’s enough> he said in a small, dry voice – a voice even smaller and dryer than before. “Why don’t you eat something? You must be hungry.” He answered with a slight nod. As Midori had done, I cranked his bed up and started feeding him alternating spoonfuls of vegetable jelly and boiled fish. It took an incredibly long time to get through half his food, at which point he shook his head a little to signal he had had enough. The movement was almost imperceptible; it hurt him to make larger gestures.
“What about the fruit?” I asked him.
<No> he said. I wiped the corners of his mouth with a towel and made the bed level again before taking the dishes to the corridor.
“Was that good?” I asked him.
<Awful> he answered.
“Yeah,” I said with a smile. “It looked pretty bad.” Midori’s father could not seem to decide whether to open his eyes further or close them as he lay there silently, staring at me. I wondered if he knew who I was. He seemed more relaxed when alone with me than when Midori was around. He had probably mistaken me for someone else. Or at least that was how I preferred to think of it.
“Beautiful day out there,” I said, perching on the stool and crossing my legs. “It’s autumn, Sunday, great weather, and crowded everywhere you go. Relaxing indoors like this is the best thing you can do on such a nice day. It’s exhausting in those crowds. And the air is bad. I mostly do laundry on Sundays – wash the stuff in the morning, hang it out on the roof of my dorm, take it in before the sun goes down, and do a good job of ironing it. I don’t mind ironing at all.
There’s a special satisfaction in making wrinkled things smooth. And I’m pretty good at it, too. Of course, I was terrible at it at first. I put creases in everything. After a month of practice, though, I knew what I was doing. So Sunday is my day for laundry and ironing. I couldn’t do it today, of course. Too bad: wasted a perfect laundry day.
“That’s OK, though. I’ll wake up early and take care of it tomorrow. Don’t worry. I’ve got nothing else to do on a Sunday.
“After I do my laundry tomorrow morning and hang it out to dry, I’ll go to my ten o’clock class. It’s the one I’m in with Midori: History of Drama. I’m working on Euripides. Are you familiar with Euripides? He was an ancient Greek – one of the “Big Three’ of Greek tragedy along with Aeschylus and Sophocles. He supposedly died when a dog bit him in Macedonia, but not everybody believes this. Anyway, that’s Euripides. I like Sophocles better, but I suppose it’s a matter of taste. I really can’t say which is better.
“What marks his plays is the way things get so mixed up the characters are trapped. Do you see what I mean? Lots of different people appear, and they all have their situations and reasons and excuses, and each one is pursuing his or her idea of justice or happiness. As a result, nobody can do anything. Obviously. I mean, it’s impossible for everybody’s justice to prevail or everybody’s happiness to triumph, so chaos takes over.
And then what do you think happens? Simple – a god appears at the end and starts directing the traffic. “You go over there, and you come here, and you get together with her, and you just sit still for a while.’ Like that. He’s a kind of fixer, and in the end, everything works out perfectly. They call this ‘deus ex machina’. There’s almost always a deus ex machina in Euripides, and that’s where critical opinion divides over him.
“But think about it – what if there were a deus ex machina in real life? Everything would be so easy! If you felt stuck or trapped, some god would swing down from up there and solve all your problems. What could be easier than that? Anyway, that’s the History of Drama. This is more or less the kind of stuff we study at university.”
Midori’s father said nothing, but he kept his vacant eyes on me the whole time I was talking. Of course, I couldn’t tell from those eyes whether he understood anything I was saying.
“Peace,” I said.
After all that talk, I felt starved. I had had next to nothing for breakfast and had eaten only half my lunch. Now I was sorry I hadn’t eaten more at lunch, but feeling sorry wasn’t going to help. I looked in a cabinet for something to eat, but found only a can of nori, some Vicks cough drops, and soy sauce. The paper bag was still there with the cucumbers and grapefruit.
“I’m going to eat some cucumbers if you don’t mind,” I said to Midori’s father. He didn’t answer. I washed three cucumbers in the sink and dribbled a little soy sauce into a dish. Then I wrapped a cucumber in nori, dipped it in soy sauce, and gobbled it down.
“Mmm, great!” I said to Midori’s father. “Fresh, simple, smells like life. Really good cucumbers. A far more sensible food than kiwi fruit.”
I polished off one cucumber and attacked the next. The sick room echoed with the sound of me munching cucumbers. Only after I had finished the second whole cucumber was I ready to take a break. I boiled some water on the gas burner in the hall and made tea.
“Would you like something to drink? Water? Juice?” I asked Midori’s father.
<Cucumber> he said.
“Great,” I said with a smile. “With nori?”
He gave a little nod. I cranked the bed up again. Then I cut a bite-sized piece of cucumber, wrapped it with a strip of nori, stabbed the combination with a toothpick, dipped it in soy sauce, and delivered it to the patient’s waiting mouth. With almost no change of expression, Midori’s father crunched down on the piece again and again and finally swallowed it.
“How was that? Good, huh?”
<Good> he said.
“It’s good when food tastes good,” I said. “It’s kind of like proof you’re alive.”
He ended up eating the entire cucumber. When he had finished it, he wanted water, so I gave him a drink from the bottle. A few minutes later, he said he needed to pee, so I took the urine jar from under the bed and held it by the tip of his penis. Afterward, I emptied the jar into the toilet and washed it out. Then I went back to the sick room and finished my tea.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
<My. head> he said.
<A little> he said with a slight frown.
“Well, no wonder, you’ve just had an operation. Of course, I’ve never had one, so I don’t know what it’s like.” <Ticket> he said.
“Ticket? What ticket?”
<Midori> he said. <Ticket>.
I had no idea what he was talking about and just kept quiet. He stayed silent for a time, too. Then he seemed to say <Please>. He opened his eyes wide and looked at me hard. I guessed that he was trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t begin to imagine what it was.
<Ueno> he said. <Midori>. “Ueno Station?”
He gave a little nod.
I tried to summarize what he was getting at: “Ticket, Midori, please, Ueno Station,” but I had no idea what it meant. I assumed his mind was muddled, but compared with before his eyes now had a terrible clarity. He raised the arm that was free of the intravenous contraption and stretched it towards me. This must have been a major effort for him, the way the hand trembled in mid-air. I stood and grasped his frail, wrinkled hand. He returned my grasp with what little strength he could muster and said again <Please>.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll take care of the ticket and Midori, too.” He let his hand drop back to the bed and closed his eyes. Then, with a loud rush of breath, he fell asleep. I checked to make sure he was still alive, then went out to boil more water for tea. As I was sipping the hot liquid, I realized that I had developed a kind of liking for this little man on the verge of death. The wife of the other patient came back a few minutes later and asked if everything was OK. I assured her it was. Her husband, too, was sound asleep, breathing deeply.
Midori came back after three.
“I was in the park, spacing out,” she said. “I did what you told me, didn’t talk to anybody, just let my head go empty.”
“How was it?”
“Thanks, I feel much better. I still have that draggy, tired feeling, but my body feels much lighter than before. I guess I was more tired than I realized.”
With her father sound asleep, there was nothing for us to do, so we bought coffee from a vending machine and drank it in the TV room. I reported to Midori what had happened in her absence – that her father had had a good sleep, then woke up and ate some of what was left of his lunch, then saw me eating a cucumber and asked for one himself, ate the whole thing, and peed.
“Watanabe, you’re amazing,” said Midori. “We’re all going crazy trying to get him to eat anything, and you got him to eat a whole cucumber! Incredible!”
“I don’t know, I think he just saw me enjoying my cucumber.”
“Or maybe you just have this knack for relaxing people.” “No way,” I said with a laugh. “A lot of people will tell you just the opposite about me.”
“What do you think about my father?”
“I like him. Not that we had all that much to say to each other. But, I don’t know, he seems nice.” “Was he quiet?” “Very.”
“You should have seen him a week ago. He was awful,” Midori said, shaking her head. “Kind of lost his marbles and went wild. Threw a glass at me and yelled terrible stuff – ‘I hope you die, you stupid bitch!’ This sickness can do that to people. They don’t know why, but it can make people get vicious all of a sudden. It was the same with my mother.
What do you think she said to me? “You’re not my daughter! I hate your guts!’ The whole world turned black for me for a second when she said that. But that kind of thing is one of the features of this particular sickness. Something presses on a part of the brain and makes people say all kinds of nasty things. You know it’s just part of the sickness, but still, it hurts. What do you expect? Here I am, working my fingers to the bone for them, and they’re saying all this terrible stuff to me-“
“I know what you mean,” I said. Then I remembered the strange fragments that Midori’s father had mumbled to me.
“Ticket? Ueno Station?” Midori said. “I wonder what that’s all about?” “And then he said, Please, and Midori.”, “Please take care of Midori?”‘
“Or maybe he wants you to go to Ueno and buy a ticket. The order of the four words is such a mess, who knows what he means? Does Ueno Station mean anything special to you?”
“Hmm, Ueno Station.” Midori thought about it for a while. “The only thing I can think of is the two times I ran away, when I was eight and when I was ten. Both times I took a train from Ueno to Fukushima. Bought the tickets with money I took from the till. Somebody at home made me angry, and I did it to get even. I had an aunt in Fukushima, I kind of liked her, so I went to her house. My father was the one who brought me home.
Came to Fukushima to get me – a hundred miles! We ate boxed lunches on the train to Ueno. My father told me all kinds of stuff while we were traveling, just little bits and pieces with long spaces in between. Like about the big earthquake of 1923 or about the war or about the time I was born, stuff he didn’t usually talk about. Come to think of it, those were the only times my father and I had something like a good, long talk, just the two of us. Hey, can you believe this? – my father was smack bang in the middle of Tokyo during one of the biggest earthquakes in history and he didn’t even notice it!”
“It’s true! He was riding through Koishikawa with a cart on the back of his bike, and he didn’t feel a thing. When he got home, all the tiles had fallen off the roofs in the neighborhood, and everyone in the family was hugging pillars and quaking in their boots. He still didn’t get it and, the way he tells it, he asked, “What the hell’s going on here?’ That’s my father’s “fond recollection’ of the Great Kanto Earthquake!” Midori laughed.
“All his stories of the old days are like that. No drama whatsoever. They’re all just a little bit off-center. I don’t know when he tells those stories, you kind of get the feeling that nothing important has happened in Japan for the past 50 or 60 years. The young officers’ uprising of 1936, the Pacific War, they’re all kind of “Oh yeah, now that you mention it, I guess something like that once happened’ kind of things. It’s so funny!
“So, anyway, on the train, he’d tell me these stories in bits and pieces while we were riding from Fukushima to Ueno. And at the end, he’d always say, “So that goes to show you, Midori, it’s the same wherever you go.’ I was young enough to be impressed by stuff like that.”
“So is that your “fond recollection’ of Ueno Station?” I asked. “Yeah,” said Midori. “Did you ever run away from home, Watanabe?”
“Lack of imagination. It never occurred to me to run away.” “You are so weird!” Midori said, cocking her head as though truly impressed.
“I wonder,” I said.
“Well, anyway, I think my father was trying to say he wanted you to look after me.”
“Really! I understand things like that. Intuitively. So tell me, what was your answer to him?”
“Well, I didn’t understand what he was saying, so I just said OK, don’t worry, I’ll take care of both you and the ticket.”
“You promised my father that? You said you’d take care of me?” She looked me straight in the eye with a dead-serious expression on her face.
“Not like that,” I hastened to correct her. “I didn’t know what he was saying, and – “
“Don’t worry, I’m just kidding,” she said with a smile. “I love that about you.”
Midori and I finished our coffee and went back to the room. Her father was still sound asleep. If you leaned close you could hear his steady breathing. As the afternoon deepened, the light outside the hospital window changed to the soft, gentle color of autumn. A flock of birds rested on the electric wire outside, then flew on. Midori and I sat in a corner of the room, talking quietly the whole time. She read my palm and predicted that I would live to 105, marry three times, and die in a traffic accident. “Not a bad life,” I said.
When her father woke just after four o’clock, Midori went to sit by his pillow, wiped the sweat from his brow, gave him water, and asked him about the pain in his head. A nurse came and took his temperature, recorded the number of his urinations, and checked the intravenous equipment. I went to the TV room and watched a little football.
At five I told Midori I would be leaving. To her father, I explained, “I have to go to work now. I sell records in Shinjuku from six to 10.30.” He turned his eyes to me and gave a little nod.
“Hey, Watanabe, I don’t know how to put this, but I want to thank you for today,” Midori said to me when she saw me at reception.
“I didn’t do that much,” I said. “But if I can be of any help, I’ll come next week, too. I’d like to see your father again.”
“Well, there’s not that much for me to do in the dorm, and if I come here I get to eat cucumbers.”
Midori folded her arms and tapped the linoleum with the heel of her shoe.
“I’d like to go drinking with you again,” she said, cocking her head slightly.
“How about the porno movies?”
“We’ll do that first and then go drinking. And we’ll talk about all the usual disgusting things.”
“I’m not the one who talks about disgusting things,” I protested. “It’s
“Anyway, we’ll talk about things like that and get plastered and go to bed.”
“And you know what happens next,” I said with a sigh. “I try to do it, and you don’t let me. Right?” She laughed through her nose.
“Anyway,” I said, “pick me up again next Sunday morning. We’ll come here together.”
“With me in a little longer skirt?” “Definitely,” I said.
I didn’t go to the hospital that next Sunday, though. Midori’s father died on Friday morning.
She called at 6.30 in the morning to tell me that. The buzzer letting me know I had a phone call went off and I ran down to the lobby with a cardigan thrown over my pajamas. A cold rain was falling silently.
“My father died a few minutes ago,” Midori said in a small, quiet voice. I asked her if there was anything I could do. “Thanks,” she said. “There’s nothing. We’re used to funerals. I just wanted to let you know.”
A kind of sigh escaped her lips.
“Don’t come to the funeral, OK? I don’t want to see you there since I despise things like that.
“I get it,” I said. “Will you take me to a porno movie?” “Of course I will.” “A disgusting one.”
“I’ll research the matter thoroughly.” “Good. I’ll call you,” she said and hung up.
A week went by without a word from Midori. No calls, no sign of her in the lecture hall. I kept hoping for a message from her whenever I went back to the dorm, but there were never any. One night, I tried to keep my promise by thinking of her when I masturbated, but it didn’t work. I tried switching over to Naoko, but not even Naoko’s image was any help at that time. It seemed so ridiculous I gave up. I took a swig of whisky, brushed my teeth, and went to bed.
I wrote a letter to Naoko on Sunday morning. One thing I told her about was Midori’s father. I went to the hospital to visit the father of a girl in one of my lectures and ate some cucumbers in his room. When he heard me crunching on them, he wanted some too, and he ate his with the same crunching sound. Five days later, though, he died. I still have a vivid memory of the tiny crunching he made when he chewed his pieces of cucumber. People leave strange, little memories of themselves behind when they die. My letter went on:
I think of you and Reiko and the aviary while I lie in bed after waking up in the morning.I consider the peacock, pigeons, parrots, turkeys, and rabbits, among other animals. On that wet morning, you and Reiko were wearing yellow raincapes with the hoods up. It feels good to think about you when I’m warm in bed. I feel as if you’re curled up there beside me, fast asleep. And I think how great it would be if it were true.
I miss you sometimes, but in general, I go on living with all the energy I can muster. Just as you take care of the birds and the fields every morning, every morning I wind my spring. I give it some 36 good twists by the time I’ve got up, brushed my teeth, shaved, eaten breakfast, changed my clothes, left the dorm, and arrived at the university. “OK, let’s make this day another good one.”, talk to myself. I hadn’t noticed before, but they tell me I talk to myself a lot these days. Probably mumble to myself while I wind my spring.
It’s hard not being able to see you, but my life in Tokyo would be a lot worse if it weren’t for you. It’s because I think of you when I’m in bed in the morning that I can wind my spring and tell myself I have to live another good day. I know I have to give it my best here just as you are doing there.
Today’s Sunday, though, a day I don’t wind my spring. I’ve done my laundry, and now I’m in my room, writing to you. Once I’ve finished this letter put a stamp on it and dropped it into the postbox, there’s nothing for me to do until the sun goes down. I don’t study on Sundays, either.
I do a good enough job on weekdays studying in the library between lectures, so I don’t have anything left to do on Sundays. Sunday afternoons are quiet, peaceful, and, for me, lonely. I read books or listen to music. Sometimes I think back on the different routes we used to take in our Sunday walks around Tokyo. I can come up with a pretty clear picture of the clothes you were wearing on any particular walk. I remember all kinds of things on Sunday afternoons. Say “Hi” to me to Reiko. I miss her guitar at night.
When I had finished the letter, I walked a couple of blocks to a postbox, then bought an egg sandwich and a Coke at a nearby bakery. I had these for lunch while I sat on a bench and watched some boys playing baseball in a local playground. The deepening of autumn had brought an increased blueness and depth to the sky. I glanced up to find two vapor trails heading off to the west in perfect parallel like tram tracks. A foul ball came rolling my way, and when I threw it back to them the young players doffed their caps with a polite “Thank you, sir”. As in most junior baseball, there were lots of walks and stolen bases.
After noon I went back to my room to read but couldn’t concentrate. Instead, I found myself staring at the ceiling and thinking about Midori. I wondered if her father had been trying to ask me to look after her when he was gone, but I had no way of telling what had been on his mind.
He had probably confused me with somebody else. In any case, he had died on a Friday morning when a cold rain was falling, and now it was impossible to know the truth.
I imagined that, in death, he had shriveled up smaller than ever. And then they had burned him in an oven until he was nothing but ashes. And what had he left behind? A nothing-much bookshop in a nothing-much neighborhood and two daughters, at least one of whom was more than a little strange. What kind of life was that? I wondered. Lying in that hospital bed with his cut-open head and his muddled brain, what had been on his mind as he looked at me?
Thinking thoughts like this about Midori’s father put me into such a miserable mood that I had to bring the laundry down from the roof before it was really dry and set off for Shinjuku to kill time walking the streets. The Sunday crowds gave me some relief. The Kinokuniya bookshop was as jampacked as a rush-hour train. I bought a copy of Faulkner’s Light in August and went to the noisiest jazz café I could think of, reading my new book while listening to Ornette Coleman and Bud Powell and drinking hot, thick, foul-tasting coffee. At 5.30 I closed my book, went outside, and ate a light supper. How many Sundays – how many hundreds of Sundays like this – lay ahead of me? “Quiet, peaceful, and lonely,” I said aloud to myself. On Sundays, I didn’t wind my spring.
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