A Fine Day for Kangarooing

A Window

A Window

by MURAKAMI Haruki
translated by Kiki


As winter daily softens her grip I can sense spring in the warmth of the sunlight. Thank you again for yesterday’s interesting letter.

I enjoyed the part of your essay about spicing your hamburger steaks with nutmeg. It seemed real to me. I can clearly hear the “chop-chop” of your kitchen knife as it attacks the leeks. I can feel the warmth of your kitchen. I can smell it too.

Reading your letter really made me hungry for a hamburger steak. So I went directly to a restaurant to have one. At this restaurant they had eight different kinds of hamburger steaks. Believe it or not! A Texas style and a California style, a Hawaiian flavor, and a Japanese style. The Texas steak was just big, nothing else. That was all there was to it. The Hawaiian steak came garnished with a slice of pineapple. I don’t remember what the California style was. The Japanese steak was served with grated radish. This restaurant struck me as rather trendy. All of the waitresses were really cute, and they were also wearing short skirts.

However I didn’t go to that restaurant to check out its interior or to stare at the waitresses. No, I went there to taste their basic hamburger steak. That’s what I told the waitress. But she apologized and said that they didn’t have just a plain steak. Of course I can’t blame the waitress. After all she didn’t decide the menu. But she also wasn’t wearing such a short skirt that somebody could drop his silverware to look up at her panties. So I ordered a Hawaiian style hamburger steak. While I was eating it the waitress suggested that I just remove the pineapple. The world is such a strange place. All I really wanted was just a simple, ordinary hamburger steak. By the way how do you make your hamburger steaks? After reading your letter, someday I really want to try one of your steaks.

I liked what you wrote about the automatic ticket machine, and I thought it showed some improvement. The point of view was interesting. But I couldn’t really see the scenery or the situation. Maybe you are trying too hard. After all you can’t change the world with a sentence.

Considering all of your writing I’d give it about a 70. And I do think it is improving. Don’t rush it, be patient. Good luck. I’m looking forward to your next letter. By the way, it looks like spring is just around the corner, doesn’t it?

P.S. Thanks for that box of assorted cookies. They were really good. However since personal fraternization outside of our letters is prohibited, please be more careful in the future and don’t send me any more packages. Thank you nonetheless.

P.S.S. In your letter before last I thought you explained your husband’s nervous problem very well.

And that was my job for a year when I was 22. I signed a contract with a small company called “Pen Society.” I don’t know why it was called that. I got 2000 yen for each letter I wrote, and soon I was writing more than 30 letters every month. “You too will write letters that will echo in the bottom of your friend’s heart”--that was our company’s motto.” After paying a monthly fee and a sign-up fee, the clients write four letters every month. The “Pen Master”?that is what we were called?proceeds to edit the letters, offering feedback, guidance, and impressions.

Female “Pen Masters” write to men, and male “Pen Masters” write to women. All of my clients were older than me. About 15 were between the ages of 40 to 53, but most of my clients were between 25 and 35. I had a rough first month of writing letters. Why did all of my clients write better than me? Because they were used to writing letters. Up to that point in my life I really hadn’t taken letter writing seriously.

However my reputation grew. My clients told me this. After three months my writing power had nearly improved to a “leadership” role. It felt strange to get credit for helping these women. They trusted me and my guidance.  At that time I didn’t really understand, but later I realized that these women were all lonely. It didn’t matter who wrote to them. Nor did it matter what they wrote in their letters. Maybe we all need to be needed. Maybe we all need to be forgiven. Maybe we all need somebody to share such feelings with.

Anyway that’s how I spent the winter and spring when I was 21 going on 22. Surrounded by this harem of letters like a sea lion with a bad leg.

I answered many different kinds of letters. I answered boring letters. I answered pleasing letters and sad letters. I worked there for only one year but it felt like three. When I gave my notice my clients expressed their regrets. To be honest I had become tired of the job. It didn’t have any point. But I had my own misgivings about quitting. I realized that I might never have a second chance to meet so many honest people.

Speaking of hamburger steaks, I finally did eat one cooked by that woman (from my first letter). She was 32, married but no kids. Her husband worked for the fifth most famous commercial firm in the world. When I wrote to tell her that I’d be quitting at the end of the month, she invited me to her apartment for lunch. She promised to make me a basic hamburger steak. Even though such contact was against the company’s fraternization policy I accepted readily. I just couldn’t suppress my curiosity. Her apartment was near the Otachu train line. It was a neat, tidy, apartment, quite appropriate for a couple with no children. The furniture and the interior, even her sweater, they weren’t so expensive but they looked nice. She looked younger than I expected. She was surprised at how young I looked. Company policy also prohibited us from disclosing our ages.

Even though at first we were caught off guard, soon we loosened up and relaxed. It felt like we were two people who had become friends after just missing the same train and waiting together for the next one. We ate our steak and drank our coffee. The atmosphere was good. You could see the train from her 3rd story window. That day the weather was great. A lot of futons were being aired out on verandas. You could hear the whap-whap-whap of housewives beating them with bamboo brooms. The sound seemed to be coming from the bottom of a dry well, yet you couldn’t really tell how far away it was. The hamburger steak tasted great. It was spiced just right, and it was really juicy too. It was also covered with the just the right amount of gravy. After our coffee while listening to Burt Bacharach we started to tell our life stories. I didn’t really have any life to talk about, so she did most of the talking. She told me that when she was a student she wanted to be a writer. She was a fan of the books of Franciose Sagan. Her story “Do you like Brahms?” was one of her favorites. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Sagan. She’s ok. People say she’s boring but I don’t really agree.

“But I can’t write anything,” she complained.

“It’s never too late to start,” I suggested.

“But you are the one who told me that I can’t write very well,” she said smiling.

I blushed. I used to blush often when I was 22.

“But I think there’s a lot of truth in your writing.” She didn’t say anything, but a wisp of a smile slipped across her face. “Your letter made me want to try one of your hamburger steaks.”

“You were probably just hungry,” she said, smiling.

Maybe so I thought.

A train passed under the window, with its dry clack-clack sound.

I suddenly realized that it was 5:00. I had to go. I apologized to her and started to leave. “Your husband will be home soon, so I suppose you have to start dinner.”

“He always comes home very late,” she said, resting her head in her hands. “He generally doesn’t get home until after midnight.”  

“He sounds busy.”

“I guess so.” She hesitated for a moment. “As I mentioned in my letters we don’t get along that well.” I didn’t have an answer for that.

“But that’s ok,” she said softly. I thought it was ok too. “Thanks again for writing me all those letters. I really enjoyed them.”

“Me too,” I said. “And thank you for the hamburger steak.”

Ten years later whenever I take the Otakyu line close to her apartment I think of her hamburger steak. I don’t remember which window is hers. But I wonder if she’s still alone, in that apartment, listening to Burt Bacharach.

Do you think I should have slept with her?

That is the point of this story. I don’t know either.

As the years go by there are more and more things that I don’t understand.