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Great book! A captivating plot that evolves thru the windows of reality how people adapts death and mesmerizes the beauty of life both suspended into a masterpiece
27 February 2021 (04:09)
One of Murakami’s classics! Really enchanting read, couldn’t put it down.
11 April 2021 (13:29)
Too sexual stuff .
13 May 2021 (10:00)
Maria Cecilia Vieira Cavalho
(about the file) When using it on the Kindle, it cuts some parts of the book, duplicates some letters, etc. I would recommend downloading another version of this book.
24 June 2021 (18:49)
Otherwise, I might end up taking you with me, and that is the one thing I don't want to do. I don't want to interfere with your life. I don't want to interfere with anybody's life. Like I said before, I want you to come to see me every once in a while, and always remember me. That's all I want." "It's not all want, though," I said. "You're wasting your life being involved with me." "I'm not wasting anything." "But I might never recover. Will you wait for me forever? Can you wait 10 years, 20 years?" "You're letting yourself be scared by too many things," I said. "The dark, bad dreams, the power of the dead. You have to forget them. I'm sure you'll get well if you do." "If I can," said Naoko, shaking her head. "If you can get out of this place, will you live with me?" I asked. "Then I can protect you from the dark and from bad dreams. Then you'd have me instead of Reiko to hold you when things got difficult." Naoko pressed still more firmly against me. "That would be wonderful," she said. We got back to the cafe a little before three. Reiko was reading a book and listening to Brahms' Second Piano Concerto on the radio. There was something wonderful about Brahms playing at the edge of a grassy meadow without a sign of anyone as far as the eye could see. Reiko was whistling along with the cello passage that begins the third movement. "Backhaus and Bohm," she said. "I wore this record out once, a long time ago. Literally. I wore the grooves out listening to every note. I sucked the music right out of it." Naoko and I ordered coffee. "Do a lot of talking?" asked Reiko. "Tons," said Naoko. "Tell me all about his, uh, you know, later." "We didn't do any of that," said Naoko, reddening. "Really?" Reiko asked me. "Nothing?" "Nothing," I said. "Bo-o-o-ring!" she said with a bored look on her face. "True," ; I said, sipping my coffee. The scene in the dining hall was the same as the day before - the mood, the voices, the faces. Only the menu had changed. The balding man in white, who yesterday had been talking about the secretion of gastric juices under weightless conditions, joined the three of us at our table and talked for a long time about the correlation of brain size to intelligence. As we ate our soybean burgers, we heard all about the volume of Bismarck's brain and Napoleon's. He pushed his plate aside and used a ballpoint pen and notepaper to draw sketches of brains. He would start to draw, declare "No, that's not quite it", and begin a new one. This happened several times. When he had finished, he carefully put the remaining notepaper away in a pocket of his white jacket and slipped the pen into his breast pocket, in which he kept a total of three pens, along with pencils and a ruler. Having finished his meal, he repeated what he had told me the day before, "The winters here are really nice. Make sure you come back when it's winter," and left the dining hall. "Is he a doctor or a patient?" I asked Reiko. "Which do you think?" "I really can't tell. In either case, he doesn't seem all that normal." "He's a doctor," said Naoko. "Doctor Miyata." "Yeah," said Reiko, "but I bet he's the craziest one here." "Mr Omura, the gatekeeper, is pretty crazy, too," answered Naoko. "True," said Reiko, nodding as she stabbed her broccoli. "He does these wild callisthenics every morning, screaming nonsense at the top of his lungs. And before you came, Naoko, there was a girl in the business office, Miss Kinoshita, who tried to kill herself. And last year they sacked a male nurse, Tokushima, who had a terrible drinking problem." "Sounds like patients and staff should swap places," I said. "Right on," said Reiko, waving her fork in the air. "You're finally starting to see how things work here." "I suppose so." "What makes us most normal," said Reiko, "is knowing that we're not normal." Back in the room, Naoko and I played cards while Reiko practised Bach on her guitar. "What time are you leaving tomorrow?" Reiko asked me, taking a break and lighting a cigarette. "Straight after breakfast," I said. "The bus comes at nine. That way I can get back in time for tomorrow night's work." "Too bad. It'd be nice if you could stay longer." "If I stayed around too long, I might end up living here," I said, laughing. "Maybe so," Reiko said. Then, to Naoko, she said, "Oh, yeah, I've got to go get some grapes at Oka's. I totally forgot." "Want me to go with you?" asked Naoko. "How about letting me borrow your young Mr Watanabe here?" "Fine," said Naoko. "Good. Let's just the two of us go for another nighttime stroll," said Reiko, taking my hand. "We Yesterday. Let's go all the way tonight." "Fine," said Naoko, tittering. "Do what you like." were almost there. The night air was cool. Reiko wore a pale blue cardigan over her shirt and walked with her hands shoved in her jeans pockets. Looking up at the sky, she sniffed the breeze like a dog. "Smells like rain," she said. I tried sniffing too, but couldn't smell anything. True, there were lots of clouds in the sky obscuring the moon. "If you stay here long enough, you can pretty much tell the weather by the smell of the air," said Reiko. We entered the wooded area where the staff houses stood. Reiko told me to wait a minute, walked over to the front door of one house and rang the bell. A woman came to the door - no doubt the lady of the house - and stood there chatting and chuckling with Reiko. Then she ducked inside and came back with a large plastic bag. Reiko thanked her and said goodnight before returning to the spot where I was waiting. "Look," she said, opening the bag. It held a huge cluster of grapes. "Do you like grapes?" "Love them." She handed me the top bunch. "It's OK to eat them. They're washed." We walked along eating grapes and spitting the skins and seeds on the ground. They were fresh and delicious. "I give their son piano lessons once in a while, and they offer me different stuff. The wine we had was from them. I sometimes ask them to do a little shopping for me in town." "I'd like to hear the rest of the story you were telling me yesterday," I said. "Fine," said Reiko. "But if we keep coming home late, Naoko might start getting suspicious." "I'm willing to risk it." "OK, then. I want a roof, though. It's a little chilly tonight." She turned left as we approached the tennis courts. We went down a narrow stairway and came out at a spot where several storehouses stood like a block of houses. Reiko opened the door of the nearest one, stepped in and turned on the lights. "Come in," she said. "There's not much to see, though." The storehouse contained neat rows of cross-country skis, boots and poles, and on the floor were piled snow removal equipment and bags of rock salt. "I used to come here all the time for guitar practice - when I wanted to be alone. Nice and cosy, isn't it?" Reiko sat on the bags of rock salt and invited me to sit next to her. I did as I was told. "Not much ventilation here, but mind if I smoke?" "Go ahead," I said. "This is one habit I can't seem to break," she said with a frown, but she lit up with obvious enjoyment. Not many people enjoy tobacco as much as Reiko did. I ate my grapes, carefully peeling them one at a time and tossing the skins and seeds into a tin that served as a rubbish bin. "Now, let's see, how far did we get last night?" Reiko asked. "It was a dark and stormy night, and you were climbing the steep cliff to grab the bird's nest." "You're amazing, the way you can joke around with such a straight face," said Reiko. "Let's see, I think I had got to the point where I was giving piano lessons to the girl every Saturday morning." "That's it." "Assuming you can divide everybody in the world into two groups - those who are good at teaching things to people, and those who are not - I pretty much belong to the first group," said Reiko. "I never thought so when I was young, and I suppose I didn't want to think of myself that way, but once I reached a certain age and had attained a degree of selfknowledge I realized it was true after all: I'm good at teaching people things. Really good." "I bet you are." "I have a lot more patience for others than I have for myself, and I'm much better at bringing out the best in others than in myself. That's just the kind of person I am. I'm the scratchy stuff on the side of the matchbox. But that's fine with me. I don't mind at all. Better to be a first-class matchbox than a second-class match. I got this clear in my own mind, I'd say, after I started teaching this girl. I had taught a few others when I was younger, strictly as a sideline, without realizing this about myself. It was only after I started teaching her that I began to think of myself that way. Hey - I'm good at teaching people. That's how well the lessons went. As I said yesterday, the girl was nothing special when it came to technique, and there was no question of her becoming a professional musician, so I could take it easy. Plus she was going to the kind of girls' school where anybody with halfdecent marks automatically got into university, which meant she didn't have to kill herself studying, and her mother was all for going easy with the lessons, too. So I didn't push her to do anything. I knew the first time I met her that she was the kind of girl you couldn't push to do anything, that she was the kind of child who would be all sweetness and say "Yes, yes,' and absolutely refuse to do anything she didn't want to do. So the first thing I did was let her play a piece the way she wanted to - 100 per cent her own way. Then I would play the same piece several different ways for her, and the two of us would discuss which was best or which way she liked most. Then I'd have her play the piece again, and her performance would be ten times better than the first. She would see for herself what worked best and bring those features into her own playing." Reiko paused for a moment, observing the glowing end of her cigarette. I went on eating my grapes without a word. "I know I have a pretty good sense for music, but she was better than me. I used to think it was such a waste! I thought, , if only she had started out with a good teacher and received the proper training, she'd be so much farther along!' But I was wrong. She wasn't the kind of child who could stand proper training. There just happen to be people like that. They're blessed with this marvellous talent, but they can't make the effort to systematize it. They end up squandering it in little bits and pieces. I've seen my share of people like that. At first you think they're amazing. They can sight-read some terrifically difficult piece and do a damn good job playing it all the way through. You see them do it, and you're overwhelmed. You think, "I could never do that in a million years.' But that's as far as it goes. They can't take it any further. And why not? Because they won't put in the effort. They haven't had the discipline pounded into them. They've been spoiled. They have just enough talent so they've been able to play things well without any effort and they've had people telling them how great they are from an early age, so hard work looks stupid to them. They'll take some piece another kid has to work on for three weeks and polish it off in half the time, so the teacher assumes they've put enough into it and lets them go on to the next thing. And they do that in half the time and go on to the next piece. They never find out what it means to be hammered by the teacher; they lose out on a crucial element required for character building. It's a tragedy. I myself had tendencies like that, but fortunately I had a very tough teacher, so I kept them in check. "Anyway, it was a joy to teach her. Like driving down the highway in a high-powered sports car that responds to the slightest touch - responds too quickly, sometimes. The trick to teaching children like that is not to praise them too much. They're so used to praise it doesn't mean anything to them. You've got to dole it out wisely. And you can't force anything on them. You have to let them choose for themselves. And you don't let them rush ahead from one thing to the next: you make them stop and think. But that's about it. If you do those things, you'll get good results." Reiko dropped her cigarette butt on the floor and stamped it out. Then she took a deep breath as if to calm herself. "When her lessons ended, we'd have tea and chat. Sometimes I'd show her certain jazz piano styles - like, this is Bud Powell, or this is Thelonious Monk. But mostly she talked. And what a talker she was! She could draw you right in. As I told you yesterday, I think most of what she said was made up, but it was interesting. She was a keen observer, a precise user of language, sharp-tongued and funny. She could stir your emotions. Yes, really, that's what she was so good at - stirring people's emotions, moving you. And she knew she had this power. She tried to use it as skilfully and effectively as possible. She could make you feel whatever she wanted - angry or sad or sympathetic or disappointed or happy. She would manipulate people's emotions for no other reason than to test her own powers. Of course, I only realized this later. At the time, I had no idea what she was doing to me." Reiko shook her head and ate a few grapes. "It was a sickness," she said. "The girl was sick. She was like the rotten apple that ruins all the other apples. And no one could cure her. She'll have that sickness until the day she dies. In that sense, she was a sad little creature. I would have pitied her, too, if I hadn't been one of her victims. I would have seen her as a victim." Reiko ate a few more grapes. She seemed to be thinking of how best to go on with her story. "Well, anyway, I enjoyed teaching her for a good six months. Sometimes I'd find something she said a little surprising or odd. Or she'd be talking and I'd have this rush of horror when I realised the intensity of her hatred for some person was completely irrational, or it would occur to me that she was just far too clever, and I'd wonder what she was really thinking. But, after all, everyone has their flaws, right? And finally, what business was it of mine to question her personality or character? I was just her piano teacher. All I had to care about was whether she practised or not. And besides, the truth of the matter is that I liked her. I liked her a lot. "Still, I was careful not to tell her anything too personal about myself. I just had this sixth sense that I'd better not talk about such things. She asked me hundreds of questions - she was dying to know more about me - but I only told her the most harmless stuff, like things about my childhood or where I'd gone to school, stuff like that. She said she wanted to know more about me, but I told her there was nothing to tell: I'd had a boring life, I had an ordinary husband, an ordinary child, and a ton of housework. "But I like you so much,' she'd say and look me right in the eye in this clingy sort of way. It sent a thrill through me when she did that - a nice thrill. But even so, I never told her more than I had to. "And then one day - a day in May, I think it was - in the middle of her lesson, she said she felt sick. I saw she was pale and sweating and asked if she wanted to go home, but she said she thought she'd feel better if she could just lie down for a while. So I took her - almost carried her - to the bedroom. We had such a small sofa, the bed was the only place she could lie down. She apologized for being a nuisance, but I assured her it was no bother and asked if she wanted anything to drink. She said no, she just wanted me to stay near her, which I said I'd be glad to do. "A few minutes later she asked me to rub her back. She sounded as though she was really suffering, and she was sweating like mad, so I started to give her a good massage. Then she apologized and asked me if I'd mind taking off her bra, as it was hurting her. So, I don't know, I did it. She was wearing a skin-tight blouse, and I had to unbutton that and reach behind and undo the bra hooks. She had big breasts for a 13-year-old. Twice as big as mine. And she wasn't wearing any starter bra but a real adult model, an expensive one. Of course I'm not paying all that much attention at the time, and like an idiot I just carry on rubbing her back. She keeps apologizing in this pitiful voice as if she's really sorry, and I keep telling her it's OK it's OK." Reiko tapped the ash from her cigarette to the floor. By then I had stopped eating grapes and was giving all my attention to her story. "After a while she starts sobbing. "What's wrong?' I ask her. "Nothing,' she says. "It's obviously not nothing,' I say. "Tell me the truth. What's bothering you?' S o she says, "I just get like this sometimes. I don't know what to do. I'm so lonely and sad, and I can't talk to anybody, and nobody cares about me. And it hurts so much, I just get like this. I can't sleep at night, and I don't feel like eating, and coming here for my lesson is the only thing I have to look forward to.' So I say, "You can talk to me. Tell me why this happens to you.' Things are not going well at home, she says. She can't love her parents, and they don't love her. Her father is seeing another woman and is hardly ever around, and that makes her mother half crazy and she takes it out on the girl; she beats her almost every day and she hates to go home. So now the girl is really wailing, and her eyes are full of tears, those beautiful eyes of hers. The sight is enough to make a god weep. So I tell her, if it's so terrible to go home, she can come to my place any time she likes. When she hears that, the girl throws her arms around me and says, "Oh, I'm so sorry, but if I didn't have you I wouldn't know what to do. Please don't turn your back on me. If you did that, I'd have nowhere to go.' "So, I don't know, I hold her head against me and I'm caressing her and saying "There there,' and she's got her arms around me and she's stroking my back, and soon I'm starting to feel very strange, my whole body is kind of hot. I mean, here's this picture-perfect beautiful girl and I'm on the bed with her, and we're hugging, and her hands are caressing my back in this incredibly sensual way that my own husband couldn't even begin to match, and I feel all the screws coming loose in my body every time she touches me, and before I know it she has my blouse and bra off and she's stroking my breasts. So that's when it finally hits me that she's an absolute dyed-in-the-wool lesbian. This had happened to me once before, at school, one of the sixth-form girls. So then I tell her to stop. "Oh, please,' she says, "just a little more. I'm so lonely, I'm so lonely, please believe me, you're the only one I have, oh please, don't turn your back on me,' and she takes my hand and puts it on her breast - her very nicely shaped breast, and, sure, I'm a woman, but this electric something goes through me when my hand makes contact. I have no idea what to do. I just keep repeating no no no no no, like an idiot. It's as if I'm Paralyzed, I can't move. I had managed to push the girl away at school, but now I can't do a thing. My body won't take orders. She's holding my right hand against her with her left hand, and she's kissing and licking my nipples, and her right hand is caressing my back, my side, my bottom. So here I am in the bedroom with the curtains closed and a 13-year-old girl has me practically naked - she's been taking my clothes off somehow all along - and touching me all over and I'm writhing with the pleasure of it. Looking back on it now, it seems incredible. I mean, it's insane, don't you think? But at the time it was as if she had cast a spell on me." Reiko paused to puff at her cigarette. "You know, this is the first time I've ever told a man about it," she said, looking at me. "I'm telling it to you because I think I ought to, but I'm finding it really embarrassing." "I'm sorry," I said, because I didn't know what else to say. "This went on for a while, and then her right hand started to move down, and she touched me through my panties. By then, I was absolutely soaking wet. I'm ashamed to say it, but I've never been so wet before or since. I had always thought of myself as sort of indifferent to sex, so I was astounded to be getting so worked up. So then she puts these slim, soft fingers of hers inside my panties, and... well, you know, I can't bring myself to put it into words. I mean, it was totally different from when a man puts his clumsy hands on you there. It was amazing. Really. Like feathers or down. I thought all the fuses in my head were going to pop. Still, somewhere in my fogged- over brain, the thought occurred to me that I had to put a stop to this. If I let it happen once, I'd never stop, and if I had to carry around a secret like that inside me, my head was going to get completely messed up again. I thought about my daughter, too. What if she saw me like this? She was supposed to be at my parents' house until three on Saturdays, but what if something happened and she came home unexpectedly? This helped me to gather my strength and raise myself on the bed. "Stop it now, please stop!' I shouted. "But she wouldn't stop. Instead, she yanked my panties down and started using her tongue. I had rarely let even my husband do that, I found it so embarrassing, but now I had a 13-year-old girl licking me all over down there. I just gave up. All I could do was cry. And it was absolute paradise. "Stop it!' I yelled one more time and slapped her on the side of the face as hard as I could. She finally stopped, raised herself up and looked into my eyes. The two of us were stark naked, on our knees, in bed, staring at each other. She was 13, I was 31, but, I don't know, looking at that body of hers, I felt totally overwhelmed. The image is still so vivid in my mind. I could hardly believe I was looking at the body of a 13-year-old girl, and I still can't believe it. By comparison, what I had for a body was enough to make you cry. Believe me." There was nothing I could say, and so I said nothing. "What's wrong?' she says to me. "You like it this way, don't you? I knew you would the first time I met you. I know you like it. It's much better than doing it with a man - isn't it? Look how wet you are. I can make you feel even better if you'll let me. It's true. I can make you feel like your body's melting away. You want me to, don't you?' And she was right. She was much better than my husband. And I did want her to do it even more! But I couldn't let it happen. "Let's do this once a week,' she said. "Just once a week. Nobody will find out. It'll be our little secret'." "But I got out of bed and put on my dressing-gown and told her to leave and never come back. She just looked at me. Her eyes were absolutely flat. I had never seen them like that before. It was as if they were painted on cardboard. They had no depth. After she stared at me for a while, she gathered up her clothes without a word and, as slowly as she could, as though she were making a show of it, she put on each item, one at a time. Then she went back into the piano room and took a brush from her bag. She brushed her hair and wiped the blood from her lips with a handkerchief, put on her shoes, and left. As she went out, she said, "You're a lesbian, you know. It's true. You may try to hide it, but you'll be a lesbian until the day you die'." "Is it true?" I asked. Reiko curved her lips and thought for a while. "Well, it is and it isn't. I definitely felt better with her than with my husband. That's a fact. I had a time there when I really agonized over the question. Maybe I really was a lesbian and just hadn't noticed until then. But I don't think so any more. Which is not to say I don't have the tendencies. I probably do have them. But I'm not a lesbian in the proper sense of the term. I never feel desire when I look at a woman. Know what I mean?" I nodded. "Certain kinds of girls, though, do respond to me, and I can feel it when that happens. Those are the only times it comes out in me. I can hold Naoko in my arms, though, a nd feel nothing special. We go around in the flat practically naked when the weather's hot, and we take baths together, sometimes even sleep in the same bed, but nothing happens. I don't feel a thing. I can see that she has a beautiful body, but that's all. Actually, Naoko and I played a game once. We made believe we were lesbians. Want to hear about it?" "Sure. Tell me." "When I told her the story I just told you - we tell each other everything, you know - Naoko tried an experiment. The two of us got undressed and she tried caressing me, but it didn't work at all. It just tickled. I thought I was going to die laughing. Just thinking about it makes me itchy. She was so clumsy! I'll bet you're glad to hear that." "Yes I am, to tell the truth." "Well, anyway, that's about it," said Reiko, scratching near an eyebrow with the tip of her little finger. "After the girl left my house, I found a chair and sat there spacing out for a while, wondering what to do. I could hear the dull beating of my heart from deep inside my body. My arms and legs seemed to weigh a ton, and my mouth felt as though I'd eaten a moth or something, it was so dry. But I dragged myself to the bathroom, knowing my daughter would be back soon. I wanted to clean those places where the girl had touched and licked me. I scrubbed myself with soap, over and over, but I couldn't seem to get rid of the slimy feeling she had left behind. I knew I was probably imagining it, but that didn't help. That night, I asked my husband to make love to me, almost as a way to get rid of the defilement. Of course, I didn't tell him anything - I couldn't. All I said to him was that I wanted him to take it slow, to give it more time than usual. And he did. He concentrated on every little detail, he really took a long, long time, and the way I came that night, oh yes, it was like nothing I had ever experienced before, never once in all our married life. And why do you think that was? Because the touch of that girl's fingers was still there in my body. That's all it was. "Oh, man, is this embarrassing! Look, I'm sweating! I can't believe I'm saying these things - he "made love' to me, I "came'!" Reiko smiled, her lips curved again. "But even this didn't help. Two days went by, three, and her touch was still there. And her last words were echoing and echoing in my head. "She didn't come to my house the following Saturday. My heart was pounding all day long while I waited, wondering what I would do if she showed up. I couldn't concentrate on anything. She never did come, though. Of course. She was a proud little thing, and she had failed with me in the end. She didn't come the next week, either, nor the week after that, and soon a month went by. I decided that I would be able to forget about what had happened when enough time had passed, but I couldn't forget. When I was alone in the house, I would feel her presence and my nerves would be on edge. I couldn't play the piano, I couldn't think, I couldn't do anything during that first month. And then one day I realized that something was wrong whenever I left the house. The neighbours were looking at me in a strange way. There was a new distance in their eyes. They were as polite as ever with their greetings, but there was something different in their tone of voice and in their behaviour towards me. The woman next door, who used to pay me an occasional visit, seemed to be avoiding me. I tried not to let these things bother me, though. Start noticing things like that, and you've got the first signs of illness. "Then one day I had a visit from another housewife I was on friendly terms with. We were the same age, and she was the daughter of a friend of my mother's, and her child went to the same kindergarten as mine, so we were fairly close. She just showed up one day and asked me if I knew about a terrible rumour that was going around about me. "What kind of rumour?' I asked. "I almost can't say it, it's so awful,' she said. "Well, you've got this far, you have to tell me the rest.' "Still she resisted telling me, but I finally got it all out of her. I mean, her whole purpose in coming to see me was to tell me what she had heard, so of course she was going to spit it out eventually. According to her, people were saying that I was a card-carrying lesbian and had been in and out of mental hospitals for it. They said that I had stripped the clothes off my piano pupil and tried to do things to her and when she had resisted I had slapped her so hard her face swelled up. They had turned the story on its head, of course, which was bad enough, but what really shocked me was that people knew I had been hospitalized. "My friend said she was telling everyone that she had known me for ever and that I was not like that, but the girl's parents believed her version and were spreading it around the neighbourhood. In addition, they had investigated my background and found that I had a history of mental problems. "The way my friend heard it, the girl had come home from her lesson one day - that day, of course - with her face all bloated, her lip split and bloody, buttons missing from her blouse, and even her underwear torn. Can you believe it? She had done all this to back up her story, of course, which her mother had to drag out of her. I can just see her doing it - putting blood on her blouse, tearing buttons off, ripping the lace on her bra, making herself cry until her eyes were red, messing up her hair, telling her mother a pack of lies. "Not that I'm blaming people for believing her. I would have believed her, too, this beautiful doll with a devil's tongue. She comes home crying, she refuses to talk because it's too embarrassing, but then she spills it out. Of course people are going to believe her. And to make matters worse, it's true, I do have a history of hospitalization for mental problems, I did hit her in the face as hard as I could. Who's going to believe me? Probably just my husband. A few more days went by while I wrestled with the question of whether to tell him or not, but when I did, he believed me. Of course. I told him everything that had happened that day - the kind of lesbian things she did to me, the way I slapped her in the face. Of course, I didn't tell him what I had felt. I couldn't have told him that. So anyway, he was furious and insisted that he was going to go straight to the girl's family. He said, "You're a married woman, after all. You're married to me. And you're a mother. There's no way you're a lesbian. What a joke!' "But I wouldn't let him go. All he could do was make things worse. I knew. I knew she was sick. I had seen hundreds of sick people, so I knew. The girl was rotten inside. Peel off a layer of that beautiful skin, and you'd find nothing but rotten flesh. I know it's a terrible thing to say, but it's true. And I knew that ordinary people could never know the truth about her, that there was no way we could win. She was an expert at manipulating the emotions of the adults around her, and we had nothing to prove our case. First of all, who's going to believe that a 13-year-old girl set a homosexual trap for a woman in her thirties? No matter what we said, people would believe what they wanted to believe. The more we struggled, the more vulnerable we'd be. "There was only one thing for us to do, I said: we had to move. If I stayed in that neighbourhood any longer, the stress would get to me; my mind would snap again. It was happening already. We had to get out of there, go somewhere far away where nobody knew me. My husband wasn't ready to go, though. It hadn't dawned on him yet how critical I was. And the timing was terrible: he loved his work, and he had finally succeeded in getting us settled in our own house (we lived in a little prefab), and our daughter was comfortable in her kindergarten. "Wait a minute,' he said, "we can't just up sticks and go. I can't find a job just like that. We'd have to sell the house, and we'd have to find another kindergarten. It'll take two months at least." "I can't wait two months," I told him. "This is going to finish me off once and for all. I'm not kidding. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about.' The symptoms were starting already: my ears were ringing, and I was hearing things, and I couldn't sleep. So he suggested that I leave first, go somewhere by myself, and he would follow after he had taken care of what had to be done. "No,' I said, "I don't want to go alone. I'll fall apart if I don't have you. I need you. Please, don't leave me alone.' He held me and pleaded with me to hang on a little longer. Just a month, he said. He would take care of everything - leave his job, sell the h ouse, make arrangements for kindergarten, find a new job. There might be a position he could take in Australia, he said. He just wanted me to wait one month, and everything would be OK. What could I say to that? If I tried to object, it would only isolate me even more." Reiko sighed and looked at the ceiling light. "I couldn't hold on for a month, though. One day, it happened again: snap! And this time it was really bad. I took sleeping pills and turned on the gas. I woke up in a hospital bed, and it was all over. It took a few months before I had calmed down enough to think, and then I asked my husband for a divorce. I told him it would be the best thing for him and for our daughter. He said he had no intention of divorcing me. "We can make a new start,' he said. "We can go somewhere new, just the three of us, and begin all over again.' "It's too late,' I told him. "Everything ended when you asked me to wait a month. If you really wanted to start again, you shouldn't have said that to me. Now, no matter where we go, no matter how far away we move, the same thing will happen all over again. And I'll ask you for the same thing, and make you suffer. I don't want to do that any more.' "And so we divorced. Or I should say I divorced him. He married again two years ago, though. I'm still glad I made him leave me. Really. I knew I'd be like this for the rest of my life, and I didn't want to drag anyone down with me. I didn't want to force anyone to live in constant fear that I might lose my mind at any moment. "He had been wonderful to me: an ideal husband, faithful, strong and patient, someone I could put my complete trust in. He had done everything he could to heal me, and I had done everything I could to be healed, both for his sake and for our daughter's. And I had believed in my recovery. I was happy for six years from the time we were married. He got me 99 per cent of the way there, but the other one per cent went crazy. Snap! Everything we had built up came crashing down. In one split second, everything turned into nothing. And that girl was the one who did it." Reiko collected the cigarette butts she had crushed underfoot and tossed them into the tin can. "It's a terrible story. We worked so hard, so hard, building our world one brick at a time. And when it fell apart, it happened just like that. Everything was gone before you knew it." She stood up and thrust her hands in her pockets. "Let's go back. It's late." The sky was darker, the cloud cover thicker than before, the moon invisible. Now, I realized, like Reiko I could smell the rain. And with it mixed the fresh smell of the grapes in the bag I was holding. "That's why I can't leave this place," she said. "I'm afraid to get involved with the outside world. I'm afraid to meet new people and feel new feelings." "I understand," I said. "But I think you can do it. I think you can go outside and make it." Reiko smiled, but said nothing. Naoko was on the sofa with a book. She had her legs crossed and pressed her hand against her temple as she read. Her fingers almost seemed to be touching and testing each word that entered her head. Scattered drops of rain were beginning to tap on the roof. The lamplight enveloped her, hovering around her like fine dust. After my long talk with Reiko, Naoko's youthfulness struck me in a new way. "Sorry we're so late," said Reiko, patting Naoko's head. "Enjoy yourselves?" asked Naoko, looking up. "Of course," said Reiko. "Doing what?" Naoko asked me, - just the two of you." "Not at liberty to say, Miss," I answered. Naoko chuckled and set down her book. Then the three of us ate grapes to the sound of the rain. "When it's raining like this," said Naoko, "it feels as if we're the only ones in the world. I wish it would just keep raining so the three of us could stay together." "Oh, sure," said Reiko, "and while the two of you are going at it, I'm supposed to be fanning you or playing background music on my guitar like some dumb geisha? No, thanks!" "Oh, I'd let you have him once in a while," said Naoko, laughing. "OK, then, count me in," said Reiko. "Come on, rain, pour down!" The rain did pour down, and kept pouring. Thunder shook the place from time to time. When we had finished the grapes, Reiko went back to her cigarettes and pulled out the guitar from under her bed and started to play - first, "Desafinado" and "The Girl from Ipanema", then some Bacharach and a few Lennon and Mc Cartney songs. Reiko and I sipped wine again, and when that was gone we shared the brandy that was left in my flask. A warm, intimate mood took hold as the three of us talked into the night, and I began to wish, with Naoko, that the rain would keep on falling. "Will you come to see me again?" she asked, looking at me. "Of course I will," I said. "And will you write?" "Every week." "And will you add a few lines for me?" asked Reiko. "That I will," I said. "I'd be glad to." At eleven o'clock, Reiko unfolded the sofa and made a bed for me as she had the night before. We said goodnight and turned out the lights. Unable to sleep, I took The Magic Mountain and a torch from my rucksack and read for a while. Just before midnight, the bedroom door edged open and Naoko came and crawled in next to me. Unlike the night before, Naoko was the usual Naoko. Her eyes were in focus, her movements brisk. Bringing her mouth to my ear, she whispered, "I don't know, I can't sleep." "I can't either," I said. Setting my book down and turning out the torch, I took her in my arms and kissed her. The darkness and the sound of the rain enfolded us. "How about Reiko?" "Don't worry, she's sound asleep. And when she sleeps, she sleeps." Then Naoko asked, "Will you really come to see me again?" "Of course I will." "Even if I can't do anything for you?" I nodded in the darkness. I could feel the full shape of her breasts against me. I traced the outline of her body through her gown with the flat of my hand. From shoulder to back to hips, I ran my hand over her again and again, driving the line and the softness of her body into my brain. After we had been in this gentle embrace for a while, Naoko touched her lips to my forehead and slipped out of bed. I could see her pale blue gown flash in the darkness like a fish. "Goodbye," she called in a tiny voice. Listening to the rain, I dropped into a gentle sleep. It was still raining the following morning - a fine, almost invisible autumn rain unlike the previous night's downpour. You knew it was raining only because of the ripples on puddles and the sound of dripping from the eaves. I woke to see a milky white mist enclosing the window, but as the sun rose a breeze carried the mist away, and the surrounding woods and hills began to emerge. As we had done the day before, the three of us ate breakfast then went out to attend to the aviary. Naoko and Reiko wore yellow plastic raincapes with hoods. I put on a jumper and a waterproof windcheater. Outside the air was damp and chilly. The birds, too, were avoiding the rain, huddled together at the back of the cage. "Gets cold here when it rains, doesn't it?" I said to Reiko. "Every time it rains it'll be a little colder now, until it turns to snow," she said. "The clouds from the Sea of Japan dump tons of snow when they pass through here." "What do you do with the birds in the winter?" "Bring them inside, of course. What are we supposed to do - dig them out of the snow in spring all frozen? We defrost 'em and bring 'em back to life and yell, OK, everybody, come and get it!" I poked the wire mesh and the parrot flapped its wings and squawked "Shithead!" "Thank you!" "Crazy!" "Now, that one I'd like to freeze," Naoko said with a melancholy look. "I really think I will go crazy if I have to hear that every morning." After cleaning the aviary, we went back to the flat. While I packed my things, the women put on their farm clothes. We left the building together and parted just beyond the tennis court. They turned right and I continued straight ahead. We called goodbye to each other, and I promised I would come again. Naoko gave a little smile and disappeared around a corner. On my way to the gate I passed several people, all wearing the same yellow raincapes that Naoko and Reiko wore, all with their hoods up. Colours shone with an exceptional clarity in the rain: the ground was a deep black, the pine branches a brilliant green, and the people wrapped in yellow looking like otherworldly spirits that were only allowed to wander the earth on rainy mornings. They floated over the ground in silence, carrying farm tools, baskets and sacks. The gatekeeper remembered my name and marked it on the list of visitors as I left. "I see you're here from Tokyo," the old fellow said. "I went there once. Just once. They serve great pork." "They do?" I asked, uncertain how to answer him. "I didn't like much of what I ate in Tokyo, but the pork was delicious. I expect they have some special way of rearing 'em, eh?" I said I didn't know, it was the first I'd heard of it. "When was that, by the way, when you went to Tokyo?" "Hmm, let's see," he said, cocking his head, "was it the time His Majesty the Crown prince got married? My son was in Tokyo and said I ought to see the place at least once. That must have been 1959." "Oh, well then, sure, pork must have been good in Tokyo back then," I said. "How about these days?" he asked. I wasn't sure, I said, but I hadn't heard anything special about it. This seemed to disappoint him. He gave every sign of wanting to continue our conversation, but I told him I had to catch a bus and started walking in the direction of the road. Patches of fog remained floating on the path where it skirted the stream, but the breeze carried them over to the steep flanks of a nearby mountain. Every now and then as I walked along I would stop, turn, and heave a deep sigh for no particular reason. I felt as though I had arrived on a planet where the gravity was a little different. Yes, of course, I told myself, feeling sad: I was in the outside world now. Back at the dorm by 4.30, I changed straight away and left for the record shop in Shinjuku to put in my hours. I looked after the shop from six o'clock to 10.30 and sold a few records, but mainly I sat there in a daze, watching an incredible variety of people streaming by outside. There were families and couples and drunks and gangsters and lively-looking girls in short skirts and bearded hippies and bar hostesses and some indefinable types. Whenever I put on hard rock, hippies and runaway kids would gather outside to dance and sniff paint thinner or just sit on the ground doing nothing in particular, and when I put on Tony Bennett, they would disappear. Next door was a shop where a middle-aged, sleepy-eyed man sold "adult toys". I couldn't imagine why anyone would want the kind of sex paraphernalia he had there, but he seemed to do a roaring trade. In the alley diagonally across from the record shop I saw a drunken student vomiting. In the game arcade across from us at another angle, the cook from a local restaurant was killing time on his break with a game of bingo that took cash bets. Beneath the eaves of a shop that had closed for the night, a swarthy homeless guy was crouching, motionless. A girl with pale pink lipstick who couldn't have been more than 12 or 13 came in and asked me to play the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash". When I found the record and put it on for her, she started snapping her fingers to the rhythm and shaking her hips as she danced around the shop. Then she asked me for a cigarette. I gave her one of the manager's, which she smoked gratefully, and when the record ended she left the shop without so much as a "thank you". Every 15 minutes or so I would hear the siren of an ambulance or police car. Three drunk company executives in suits and ties came by, laughing at the top of their voices every time they yelled "Nice arse!" at a pretty, long-haired girl in a phone box. The more I watched, the more confused I became. What the hell was this all about? I wondered. What could it possibly mean? The manager came back from dinner and said to me, "Hey, know what, Watanabe? Night before last I made it with the boutique chick." For some time now he had had his eye on the girl who worked at a boutique nearby, and every once in a while he would take a record from the shop as a gift for her. "Good for you," I said to him, whereupon he told me every last detail of his conquest. "If you really wanna make a chick, here's what ya gotta do," he began, very pleased with himself. "First, ya gotta give 'er presents. Then ya gotta get 'er drunk. I mean really drunk. Then ya just gotta do it. It's easy. See what I mean?" Head mixed up as ever, I boarded the commuter train and went back to my dorm. Closing the curtains, I turned off the lights, stretched out in bed, and felt as if Naoko might come crawling in beside me at any moment. With my eyes closed, I could feel the soft swell of her breasts on my chest, hear her whispering to me, and feel the outline of her body in my hands. In the darkness, I returned to that small world of hers. I smelled the meadow grass, heard the rain at night. I thought of her naked, as I had seen her in the moonlight, and pictured her cleaning the aviary and tending to the vegetables with that soft, beautiful body of hers wrapped in the yellow raincape. Clutching my erection, I thought of Naoko until I came. This seemed to clear my brain a little, but it didn't help me sleep. I felt exhausted, desperate for sleep, but it simply refused to cooperate. I got out of bed and stood at the window, my unfocused eyes wandering out towards the flagpole. Without the national flag attached to it, the pole looked like a gigantic white bone thrusting up into the darkness of night. What was Naoko doing now? I wondered. Of course, she must be sleeping, sleeping deeply, shrouded in the darkness of that curious little world of hers. Let her be spared from anguished dreams, I found myself hoping. In P. E. class the next morning, 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 caf�here she had a plate of curry and I had a cup of coffee. She wore a white, longsleeved shirt under a yellow woollen 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." "I see." "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." "I see." "Hey, do you have "German and R. E. "Can you skip 'en: "Not German. I've "When's it over?" "Two." "OK. How about going into the city with me after that 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 German 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 own special little problems." "Like what?" "Like family, like boyfriends, like irregular periods. Stuff." "So have another drink." "I will." 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. Really nice." "That's nice." "That's nice'," she mimicked. "The way you talk is so weird!" "It is?" "Anyway, I was thinking, that time. I was thinking how great it would be if that had been the first time in my life a boy had kissed me. If I could switch around the order of my life, I would absolutely, absolutely make that my first kiss. And then I would live the rest of my life thinking stuff like: Hey, I wonder whatever 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 really, really 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 really 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?" "Yes, 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. Sooo softly." "Hmm..." "And I'm just spacing out and feeling really nice until, all of a sudden I realize what's happening and I yell at you "Stop it, Watanabe!' And then I say "I really 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?" "That's it." "Oh boy." 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 absolutely 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?" "That's it." "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 really 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?" "For example." "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. I grew up surrounded by nothing but girls in a girls' school, you know that. I 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, 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." "Uh-huh." "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 really 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." "What?" "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 at 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 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 every 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 travelling 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 t he 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 and 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 really 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, even 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 goose-bumps 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 m ean, 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 really 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?" "You're right." "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. And when they graduate, they cut their hair short and march off to work for Mitsubishi or 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? Afterwards 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 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 on city hall. But those guys don't know that - those guys with their big words. Tell me, Watanabe, have you ever seen a taxman?" "Never." "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's 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 tumour. Can you believe it? It's hardly been two years since she died of a brain tumour, 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 have 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 pyjamas, 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 b ed 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 pyjamas were also smoking there and watching some kind of political discussion programme. "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 pyjamas." "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 really loved my mother. In his own way, he's lived life with all the intensity he could muster. He's a little weak, maybe, and he has absolutely 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 round 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." "You do?" "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 really 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 any more. 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 favourite." "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 pyjamas 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 every now and then and perch on them. Midori talked to her father and wiped the sweat from his brow and helped him spit phlegm into a tissue and chatted with the neighbouring patient's wife and the nurse and 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!" "Nice, huh?" "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 favour 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 up 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 in fact 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 aluminium tray. Croquettes with cream sauce, potato salad, shredded cabbage, boiled vegetables, rice and miso soup: these 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 really 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 its 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 actually 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 really 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. I can get as exhausted as anyone else. I can feel so bad I want to cry, too. I mean, 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 every 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." "Why?" "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 p retty 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 really 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. I wished I had something to read, but there were no books or magazines or newspapers in the room, just a calendar on the wall. I thought about Naoko. I thought 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 sleep-walking? 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 actually 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 apparently 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, 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 own situations and reasons and excuses, and each one is pursuing his or her own idea of justice or happiness. As a result, nobody can do anything. Obviously. I mean, it's basically 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 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 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 t o 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 sickroom 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. Afterwards I emptied the jar into the toilet and washed it out. Then I went back to the sickroom and finished my tea. "How are you feeling?" I asked. <My.... head> he said. "Hurts?" <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, t he 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 on 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 own 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 really vicious all of a sudden. It was the same with my m other. 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 w hat you mean," I said. Then I remembered the strange fragments that Midori's father had mumbled to me. "Ticket? Ueno Station?" Midori said. "I w