A Slow Boat to China

Her Little Dog in the Ground

Her Little Dog in the Ground

by MURAKAMI Haruki

translated by Christopher Allison

Outside the window, it was raining. It had rained for three days straight. It was monotonous, undifferentiable, relentless rain.

The rain had started at almost exactly the same time that I had arrived here. The following morning when I woke up, the rain was still falling. The rain continued when I went to bed. This pattern had repeated itself for three straight days. The rain hadn’t stopped falling even once. No, that’s probably not right. In truth, it had probably stopped a couple of times. But even if the rain had stopped temporarily, it had been when I was asleep or my eyes were closed. As far as every time I looked outside, the rain had continued without respite. It had been raining every moment that I had been conscious.

On this particular occasion, rain was simply my own personal experience. There are times when—if I may speak somewhat obscurely—the significance of the rain revolves about the rain, while at the same time the rain revolves about its significance. At such times, my mind becomes very confused. Now, as I stare at the rain, I am becoming uncertain which side this rain is on. But anyway, this way of talking is way too individual. In the end, rain is just rain.

On the morning of the fourth day, I shaved, combed my hair, and rode the elevator up to the restaurant on the 4th floor. I had been up drinking whiskey by myself until late, so my stomach was a little rough and I wasn’t particularly interested in eating breakfast, but I couldn’t think of anything else I should be doing. I picked a seat by the window, read the breakfast menu from top to bottom about five times, and finally ordered coffee and a plain omelette. I smoked a cigarette and watched the rain until the food came. The cigarette didn’t have any flavor. It was probably on account of having drunk too much whiskey.

For a Friday morning in June, the restaurant was so unpopular as to seem deserted. No, it wasn’t just unpopular. There were 24 tables and a grand piano, and a huge oil painting the size of an in-ground swimming pool, and I was the only customer. And on top of that, I had only ordered coffee and an omelette. The two white-jacketed waiters were unoccupied and staring idly at the rain.

As I ate my flavorless omelette and sipped my coffee, I read the morning paper. The paper had 24 pages all told, but I didn’t come across a single story that I wanted to read in depth. I tried starting at page 24 and going backwards, but the result was the same. I folded up the newspaper, set it on the table, and drank my coffee.

The sea was visible from the window. Ordinarily, you could see a little green island several hundred yards from the coast, but this morning it was impossible even to see the outline. The boundary between the rain-grey sky and the dark ocean had been completely blotted out. The blurriness may have been due to the fact that I had lost my glasses, however. Closing my eyes, I pressed down on my eyeballs through the lids. My right eye was terribly sluggish. Moments later, when I opened my eyes, the rain was still falling. The green island was still concealed in the background.

As I was pouring a second cup of coffee from the coffee pot, a single young woman entered the restaurant. She was wearing a plain knee-length navy blue skirt, a white blouse, and a thin blue cardigan hung from her shoulders. She made a pleasant clacking sound when she walked. The sound of high-quality high heels striking a high-quality wood floor. With her appearance, the hotel restaurant finally felt like a hotel restaurant. The waiters even looked a little relieved. I felt the same way.

She stood in the doorway and glanced around the room. Then, she seemed to be momentarily confused. That’s what it was. No matter how you look at it, a resort hotel on a rainy Friday with only one customer eating breakfast is pretty pathetic. Without hesitation, the senior waiter guided her to a seat by the window. It was two tables over from mine.

Once she was seated, she inspected the menu briefly and then ordered grapefruit juice, a roll, bacon and eggs, and coffee. It only took her about 15 seconds to decide. Please make sure the bacon is extra crispy, she said. Her manner of speaking seemed to suggest a familiarity with people. There are some people who talk like that.

When she had finished ordering, she rested her chin on her hands on the tabletop and stared at the rain, just like me. Since we were seated opposite each other, I could observe her surreptitiously through the handle of the coffee pot. While she was staring at the rain, I couldn’t tell whether she was really staring at the rain. She looked like she was staring at the rain wondering whether it was coming or going. Having spent the last three days staring at the rain, I had become something of an expert on the subject. I could differentiate between people who were really staring at the rain and people who weren’t.

Her hair was quite perfectly coiffed for it being morning. It was long and supple, and from around her ear it had a slight natural curl. Occasionally, she would chase a stray bang from the center of her forehead with her finger. The finger was always the middle finger of her right hand. Every time after she had done this, she would set the palm of her hand on the table top and glance at it. It must have been a habit of hers. The index finger and the middle finger would be slightly splayed and nestled close to each other, and the ring finger and the little finger were gently bent.

She wasn’t very tall, and a little on the thin side. Its not that one couldn’t call her beautiful, but the unique angular curl of her lips at each corner of her mouth and the thickness of her eyelids—the kinds of things that give rise to strong prejudice—were matters of personal taste. As far as I was concerned, they didn’t elicit a particularly bad feeling from me. Her taste in clothes was good, and she carried herself neatly. The best thing of all was that this young woman, who was eating breakfast by herself in the restaurant of a resort hotel on a rainy Friday morning, didn’t feel the distinct pervading atmosphere of the place at all. She drank her coffee quite normally, quite normally spread butter on her roll, quite normally transported eggs and bacon to her mouth. As if, while there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about it, there wasn’t anything especially boring about it either.

After I had finished with my second cup of coffee, I folded up my napkin and set it on the edge of the table, called the waiter over, and signed for my bill.

“I’m afraid it looks like rain all day again today, sir,” the waiter said. He felt sorry for me. Anyone who saw an overnight guest whose three-day stay had been shot through with rain would be sympathetic.

“Yeah, it sure does,” I said.

As I tucked my newspaper under my arm and got up from my chair, the girl held the coffee cup to her lips, and without moving one eyebrow, cast a glance outside. As if I had never been there at all.

I visit this hotel every year. I usually come during the off-season when the room rates are lower. During the high season, like summer and New Year’s, the rates would be a little too extravagant for my salary, and anyway the place is as hectic as a subway station. April and October are just about perfect. The rate is 40% cheaper, the air is clear, there is hardly anyone on the beach, and the oysters are so fresh and have such beautiful flavor that if I ate them everyday I would never get sick of them. Two hors d’oeuvres, soup, and two entrees, all with oysters.

Of course, there are a couple of reasons beyond just the air and the oysters why I like this hotel. The rooms are big. The ceilings are high, the window large, the beds broad, and they have huge writing desks the size of pool tables. Everything is comfortable. It is a resort hotel of the old type, built to meet the needs of a more peaceful era, when long-term guests made up a majority of the clientele. After the war, when the concept of the leisure class dissipated into the air like smoke, only the hotel remained unchanged, surviving in silence. The marble pillars in the lobby, the stained glass in the ballroom, the chandelier in the restaurant, the silver flatware that had been rubbed smooth, the giant grandfather clock, the mahogany chests, the windows with the handles you had to push to open and shut, the tile mosaic in the bath…I like that kind of stuff. There is no doubt that after a number of years--it might not even take ten--it would all vanish. The building itself was nearing the end of its lifespan. The elevator rattled from side to side, and the winter dining room was as cold as being inside a refrigerator. It was clear that the time for rehabilitation was drawing near. No one can stop time. I just wished there was some way of putting the rehab off for a little while. I was pretty sure that the new rooms in the hotel after the rehab probably wouldn’t preserve the 14-foot ceilings that they had now. I mean, who cares about 14 foot ceilings anymore anyway?

I came to this hotel with my girlfriend many times. Whichever girlfriend it happened to be. We’d eat oysters here, and take walks on the shore, and have sex under those fourteen-foot ceilings, and fall asleep on those enormous beds.

I had never been particularly lucky in life, but at least as far as this hotel was concerned, I was always lucky. Only under the roof of this hotel did our relationships—my relationships with the girls—ever go smoothly. Work went well, too. Luck was on my side. Time always flowed slowly, without ever become stagnant.

My luck had changed fairly recently. Or rather, my luck had probably changed a long time before and I just hadn’t noticed it. I don’t know why that kind of thing happens. But anyway, my luck had changed. There was not denying it.

First, I had a fight with my girlfriend. Then, the rain started. And finally, the lens on my glasses broke. Just that was enough.

Two weeks before, I called the hotel and booked a double room for five days. I planned to do work during the first two days and then to pass the remaining three days hanging out with my girlfriend. But then three days before I was supposed to leave, as if it had been planned, I had a horrible fight with my girlfriend. Like so many other fights, it started over a completely trivial thing.

We were drinking in a bar somewhere. It was Saturday night and the place was packed. We were getting a little annoyed with each other. The movie theater we had gone to had been full, and then the movie wasn’t nearly as interesting as we thought it would be. And the air was completely stale. I was really stressed out about work, and she was in the third day of her period. There were all these things piled up on top of each other. There was a couple in their mid-twenties sitting at the table next to ours. Both of them were getting really drunk. The girl started to stand up suddenly, and knocked over a glass-full of Campari-and-soda onto my girlfriend’s white skirt. The girl didn’t apologize, so I said something to her, and then her companion got up and started yelling at me. He was a big guy and had the advantage of size on me, but I had the advantage of sobriety on him. Five points a piece. All of the patrons in the place turned to look at us. The bartender came over and said to us If you’re going to fight, then pay your bill and get out. The four of us paid our tabs and went outside. Once we were outside, the desire to fight left all of us. The girl apologized, and the guy paid for the dry-cleaning and our cab fare home. I hailed a cab and accompanied my girlfriend home to her apartment.

When we got there, my girlfriend took off her skirt and washed it in the bathroom sink. While she was doing that, I got a beer from the refrigerator and drank it watching the news and sports on TV. I would have preferred whiskey, but there wasn’t any. I could hear the sound of her taking a shower. There was a tin of cookies sitting on the desk, so I ate a couple.

When my girlfriend got out of the shower, she said she was thirsty. I opened another can of beer and we drank beer together. Why do you always wear a jacket? my girlfriend asked. I took off my jacket, my tie, and my socks. When the sports update was over, I flipped through the channels looking for a movie. Not finding one, I settled on a documentary about animals in Australia.

“I can’t go on this way,” she said. This way? “Once a week, a date followed by sex. Then another week passes. Then another date followed by sex…is this how it’s always going to be?”

She was crying. I tried to console her, but it didn’t go very well.

The next day, I tried calling her at work during lunchtime, but she wasn’t there. I called her apartment that night but no one answered. The day after that was the same. So I gave up and left for my trip.

The rain was still falling, same as ever. The curtains and the sheets and the sofa and the wallpaper, everything was damp. The control knob on the air conditioner was broken, so when I flipped the switch it became much too cold, and then when I turned it off, the room was filled with moist air. In the end, the only thing I could do was leave the air conditioner running with the window open halfway, but this didn’t work very well.

I lay down on the bed and smoked a cigarette. I had a lot of work to do. Since arriving here, I hadn’t written a single sentence. I lay in bed reading a detective novel, watching TV, smoking cigarettes. Outside, the rain continued falling.

I tried to call my girlfriend’s apartment from my hotel room many times. No one ever answered. It just kept ringing and ringing. She had probably gone somewhere by herself. Or she had just decided not to answer the phone at all. Whenever I returned the receiver to its cradle, it became deathly silent. Since the ceiling was so high, the silence seemed like a pillar of air.

That afternoon, in the hotel library, I again encountered the young woman whom I had sat across from in the restaurant at breakfast.

The library was located deep inside the first floor lobby. You had to follow a long corridor, and then climb some steps, and go though another corridor out into a small, attached western-style outbuilding. If seen from above, it appeared to be a really strangely shaped building, with the left side exactly half an octagon, and the right side exactly half a square. In the old days, it must have been greatly appreciated by the guests, but now hardly anybody used it. The collection had a decent number of volumes, but almost all of them seemed to be discarded relics of a former time. Unless you had an abundance of curiosity, they probably wouldn’t stir much interest in you. Bookshelves stood in a row in the square, right-hand side, and a large writing desk and sofa set occupied the octagonal left-hand side. There was a vase on the table, adorned with a wild flower I had seen before. There wasn’t a speck of dust in the place.

For about thirty minutes, I searched the musty bookshelves for a thriller by Henry Rider Haggard that I had read a long time ago. It was an old English-language hardcover, with the English name of the original donor (or so I imagined) written on the inside fly-leaf. The book contained illustrations here and there. The image in my mind of the illustrations in the edition that I had read before was quite different.

I took the book and went to sit down in the alcove framed by the bay window, lit a cigarette, and started flipping pages. Fortunately, I had forgotten most of the plot of the story. It was enough to keep me distracted through a day or two of boredom.

Twenty or thirty minutes after I had started reading the book, she came into the library. She appeared to be a little surprised to see me sitting at the bay window reading a book, as if she wasn’t expecting anyone to be there. I was momentarily caught off guard, but after taking a breath, I nodded to her. She nodded back. She was wearing the same clothes she had worn at breakfast.

While she searched for a book, I kept reading mine silently. Her shoes made the same pleasant clacking sound as in the morning, as she walked from shelf to shelf. Although I couldn’t see her directly because of the bookshelves, I could tell by the sound of her feet that she wasn’t finding anything that interested her. I smiled wanly. There wasn’t a single book in this library to appeal to the interests of a young girl.

Eventually, as if giving up, she came away from the row of bookshelves empty-handed, and walked towards me. The sound of her shoes stopped in front of me, and I could smell a fine quality Eau de Cologne.

“Might I have a cigarette?” she asked.

I pulled my pack of cigarettes from my breast pocket, and shaking it two or three times, pointed it in her direction. She took one, and after applying it to her lips, lit it with a lighter. She inhaled the smoke with an air of relief, exhaled slowly, and then looked out the window.

Up close, she looked three or four years older than what my first impression had been. When people who wear glasses all the time lose their glasses, most women look younger than they really are. I closed my book and rubbed my eyes with my fingers. Then, with the middle finger of my right hand, I tried to push up the bridge of my glasses, realizing too late that they weren’t there. You take a person’s glasses away and he’s bound to come undone. Our daily life is made up of little more than the accumulation of trivial, meaningless reflex motions.

Taking occasional drags on her cigarette, she stared out the window silently. She was silent for so long that if you were a serious person you would find the weight of that silence unendurable. At first, she looked as if she was searching for the right thing to say, but then I understood that she wasn’t thinking anything of the sort. It was up to me to speak.

“Did you find anything interesting to read?”

“Not really,” she said.

Then she pressed her lips together and smiled. The corners of her lips rose ever so slightly. “Just books about heaven knows what all. I mean, how old are these books?”

I laughed. “There are a lot of old parlor comedies. From the twenties and thirties, before the war.”

“Who reads them?”

“I don’t think anybody reads them. The book that still has literary value after 30 or 40 years is one in a hundred.”

“Why aren’t there any new books?”

“Because no one would read them. Now, everybody reads the magazines in the lobby or plays computer games or watches TV. Besides, hardly anyone stays here long enough to read an entire book anymore.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” she said. She pulled up a nearby chair, sat down, and crossed her legs. “Are you a fan of those days? When everything was more relaxed, everything was purer...”

“No,” I said. “Not particularly. If I had been born then, it probably would have made me mad too. It’s pointless.”

“You just like things that have disappeared.”

“I guess that’s probably it.”

That’s probably it.

We again smoked in silence.

“But anyway,” she said, “not having anything to read is a bit of a problem. The faded light of the past is fine and all, but it would be nice if they thought a little about guests who were bottled up by the rain and had watched all of the TV they can stand.”

“Are you here alone?”

“Yeah, alone,” she said, staring at the palm of her hand. “Whenever I go on a trip, I always go alone. I don’t really like traveling with anybody else. You?”

“I’m the same way,” I said. I couldn’t say anything about being stood up by my girlfriend.

“If detective novels are ok with you, I’ve got a couple,” I said. “They’re new, so I don’t know whether you’ll like them at all, but you’re welcome to borrow one if you want.”

“Thanks. But I’m planning on leaving here tomorrow afternoon, so I don’t know whether I’d have time to finish it.”

“Don’t worry about it. You can keep it. They’re just cheap paperbacks, and they’d only be baggage, so I was thinking about leaving them here anyway.”

She smiled again, and then glanced at the palm of her hand.

“Well then, I think I’ll take you up on that.”

Bestowing gifts upon people has always been one of my great talents.

She said she would have a cup of coffee while I went to get the books. Then we left the library and headed toward the lobby. I accosted the board looking waiter and ordered two cups of coffee. A giant electric fan hung down from the ceiling and slowly churned the air in the room. It was a fairly ineffectual process, sending damp air up and then back down again.

Before the coffee came, I went in the elevator to the third floor and got two books from my room. By the side of the elevator, there were three well-used leather suitcases standing in a row. It seemed as though another guest had arrived. The suitcases looked like three aged dogs waiting for their master to return.

When I returned to my seat, the waiter poured coffee into a plain coffee cup for me. Fine white bubbles disturbed the surface and then disappeared. I handed her the books across the table. She received the books, glanced at the titles, and said ‘thanks’ in a small voice. At least her lips seemed to make that shape. I had no idea whether she was interested in the two books or not, but it didn’t seem to matter particularly either way. I don’t know why this was so, but I had the feeling that it was pretty much all the same to her.

She set the books down in a pile on the table and took a sip of her coffee. Then she picked up the cup again, lightly stirred in one spoonful of sugar, and poured in a trickle of cream over the rim of the cup. The white line of the cream traced a beautiful eddy. Eventually, that line blurred into a thin, white film. Noiselessly, she dissipated the film.

Her fingers were slender down to her bones. She supported the cup, lightly gripping the handle. Only her little finger stretched out straight into the air. She wore no rings, nor was there evidence of where rings had been.

We sat there silently drinking our coffee and staring out the window. The scent of rain came in through an open window. The rain made no sound. Nor did the wind. At irregular intervals, rain falling outside would not make a sound to anyone. Just the scent of the rain could silently steal into the room. Outside, the hydrangeas stood in rows like small animals, receiving the June rain.

“Are you staying for long?” she asked me.

“Yeah. Probably about five days,” I replied.

She didn’t say anything about that. It didn’t seem to make any impression on her.

“Did you come from Tokyo?”

“Yeah,” I said. “You?”

She laughed. This time, I could see just a tiny bit of teeth. “No, not Tokyo.”

Not knowing how to respond to this, I laughed too. Then I drank the rest of my coffee.

I had no idea what in the world I should do. The most straightforward course of action would have been to promptly return my coffee cup to its saucer, wrap up with some funny remark, pay the bill for the coffee, and then retreat to my room. But inside my head, something was all tangled up. Sometimes that happens. It’s hard to explain. It’s like an intuition. No, it’s not a distinct enough thing to be called an intuition. It’s a subtle something that I can never quite recall after the fact.

At such times, I generally decide not to undertake any action on my part. Despairing of the situation as it is, I resign myself to the course of events. Of course, sometimes it all ends in disappointment. But as it is often said, sometimes the most meaningful things arise from the humblest beginnings.

My mind made up, I gulped down the rest of my coffee and sank deeply into the sofa, crossing my feet. The silence continued endlessly, like a test of endurance. She stared out the window and I stared at her. To tell the truth, I wasn’t staring at her so much as the air immediately in front of her. Since I had lost my glasses I couldn’t focus on one point for very long.

Eventually, she seemed to get kind of flustered. She took my cigarettes off the table and lit one with one of the hotel’s matches.

“You mind if I make a couple of guesses?” I asked, after a carefully measured pause.

“About what?”

“Stuff about you. Where you come from, what you do…that kind of thing.”

“Ok, then,” she said nonchalantly. Then she ashed her cigarette into the center of the ashtray. “Guess away.”

I clasped the fingers of both hands in front of my lips, narrowed my eyes, and acted as if I was concentrating deeply.

“What can you see?” she asked in a mocking tone.

I ignored it and kept staring at her. A nervous smile played across her lips and then disappeared. The pace was beginning to infuriate her. Seizing the moment, I unclasped my hands and sat up.

“You said before that you didn’t come from Tokyo.”

“Yes,” she said. “That’s what I said”

“It wasn’t a lie. But sometime before, you lived in Tokyo for a long time, right? Maybe as much as 20 years, even?”

“22 years,” she said, taking a match from the matchbox, stretching out her arm, and setting it down in front of me. “Score one for you.” Then she took a drag off her cigarette. “This is interesting. Keep going.”

“I can’t do it so quickly,” I said. “It takes time. But if we can proceed slowly…”

“That’s fine.”

For another twenty seconds, I again gave off the appearance of concentrating deeply.

“The place where you live now is…west of here.”

She took a second match from the matchbox and set it down next to other one to form the Roman numeral II.

“Not bad, huh?”

“That’s incredible!” she said, sounding impressed. “Are you a professional?”

“In a certain sense. I’m something like that,” I said. You could certainly say that.

If you have a certain fundamental knowledge of language and an ear for subtle differences in intonation, you understand these things. And if you were talking about this kind of close observation of people, it was no stretch to say that I was a professional. The difficulty was prior to that.

I decided to start with the fundamentals.

“You’re single.”

She rubbed the fingers of her left hand together for a moment and then spread out her hand. “No ring, of course…But it counts. You’re at three points.”

Three match sticks were lined up in front of me like this: III. Then I paused for a little while again. I didn’t feel bad. I just had a slight headache. Whenever I did this, my head would start to hurt. From trying to look like I was concentrating. I know it’s stupid, but looking like you’re concentrating and actually concentrating are equally tiring.

“And?” she egged me on.

“You have played the piano since you were a child,” I said.

“Since I was five.”

“Are you a professional?”

“I’m not a concert pianist but, yeah, I guess I’m a pro. Half of it is giving lessons so I can eat.”

Matchstick number 4.

“How did you know?”

“A professional never reveals his tricks.”

She giggled. I laughed. But once the secret is revealed, it’s a piece of cake. Professional pianists move their fingers unconsciously in certain characteristic ways, and when you see that touch—as, for example, I had when she was tapping on the table at breakfast—you can distinguish right away between a pro and an amateur. I had once long ago been involved with a girl who played the piano, so I knew about these things.

“You live alone, right?” I continued. I had no basis for this. It was just a hunch. Having finished warming up with the general stuff, I decided to try a little intuition.

She pursed her lips and thrust them out slightly, and then took a match stick and lay it diagonally across the others four.

Outside, unnoticed, the rain had tapered off. You couldn’t tell whether it was still raining or not without intense concentration. The sound of car tires digging into gravel could be heard far away. It was the sound of a car turning off the coastal road and climbing the hill that led up to the entrance of the hotel. There were two bellboys on call at the front desk, and at that sound they crossed the lobby with great strides and went out through the entranceway to greet the guests. One of them carried an enormous black umbrella.

At length, the shape of a black taxi appeared in the broad driveway at the entranceway. The guests were a middle-aged couple. The man was wearing a tan jacket, cream colored golf slacks, and had a small green cap on his head. He didn’t have a necktie. The woman was wearing a shiny, delicate one-piece green dress. The man was solidly built and fairly sun-burned. The woman wore high heels, but the man was still taller by a head.

One of the bellboys retrieved two suitcases and a golf bag from the trunk while the other opened the umbrella and held it over the arriving guests. It seemed like the rain was just about finished. Once the taxi disappeared from view, the birds began singing all at once, as if they had been waiting for it.

I noticed that girl was saying something to me.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Do you think those two are married?” she repeated. I laughed.

“Huh. I wonder. It’s no good trying to figure out everybody you see once. I’d rather figure you out a little more.”

“And I am...you find me interesting as a subject?” I stretched my back and heaved a sigh. “People are all pretty much equally interesting. That’s a general rule. But there are things that rules alone can’t adequately explain. And that’s something that I can’t even adequately explain to myself.” I searched around for the right word with which to continue, but ended up not finding it. “It’s that kind of thing. Though I think that’s a kind of roundabout way of putting it.”

“I don’t get it.”

“I don’t get it either. But anyway, let’s keep going.”

I settled myself into the sofa, and once again clasped my hands in front of my lips. She sat looking at me in the same posture as before. The five matchsticks were lined up neatly in front of me. I took a couple of deep breaths and waited for my intuition to return to me. It doesn’t have to be anything big. The most trifling hint would be fine. “You lived in a house with a large garden for many years,” I said. That was simple. You could tell right away from the cut of her clothes and the way she carried herself that she had grown up in luxury. Add to that that it requires a considerable amount if money to raise a child to be a pianist. Then there was the issue of the sound. You couldn’t have a grand piano in condo. It wouldn’t be at all unusual that she had grown up in a house with a large garden. But the instant I had finished speaking, she made an odd response. Her eyes seemed to freeze on me.

“Yes, as a matter of fact...” she started to say, slightly confused. “As a matter of fact, I did live in a house with a big garden.”

I had a feeling that the key point was that there was a garden. I decided to try to dive into it a little more deeply.

“You have some kind of memory attached to the garden,” I said.

She stared at her hand silently for a long time. When she finally looked up, she had already recovered her own pace.

“That’s not very fair, is it? I mean, anybody who lives in a house with a big garden for very long is bound to have some memories attached to it, don’t you think?”

“Yes, of course,” I confirmed. “Perhaps you’d like to talk about something else?” Without saying anything else, I turned to look out the window, and stared at the hydrangeas. The endless rain had dyed the flowers deep colors.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’d like to hear more about that.”

I put a cigarette in my mouth and struck a match. “But that’s your issue. You know much more about it yourself than I do.”

She was silent while I smoked half an inch of my cigarette. The ash fell silently on the tabletop.

“What kind of...what I mean is, how much can you see?” she asked.

“I can’t see anything,” I replied. “That is, if you mean like inspiration or that kind of thing. To put it correctly, I only feel things. It’s like kicking something in the dark. You still don’t what color or shape the thing has.”

“But you said before that you were a professional.”

“I’m a writer. I do interview pieces, reportage, that kind of thing. It’s nothing major as writing goes, but it’s my job to observe people.”

“I see,” she said.

“So anyway, let’s stop for now. The rain has let up, and I’ve given away all my secrets besides. In appreciation of your passing the time with me, I’d like to buy you a beer.”

“But why did you say garden? There must have been many other things that occurred to you. Right? So why the garden?”

“It was just a coincidence. When you’re casting about blindly like that, you’re bound to hit the real thing once in a while. I apologize if I upset you.”

She smiled. “It’s ok. Let’s have a beer.”

I signaled to the waiter and ordered two bottles of beer. He took up the coffee cups and the sugar bowl from the table, replaced the ashtray, and then brought the beers. The glasses were very cold, and frost clung to the sides. The girl poured beer in my glass. We raised our glasses slightly in a token toast. When I drank the ice-cold beer, there was a pain at the hollow at the back of my neck, like I had been shot with an arrow.

“Do you play this...game frequently?” the girl asked. “Is it ok to call it a game?”

“It’s a game,” I said. “Only once in a while. Even this much is pretty exhausting.”

“Why do you do it? To test your powers?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “There’s really nothing that you could call a power. It’s not like I’m guided by divine inspiration or speaking some kind of universal truths or something. I just speak the facts as I see them. Even if there was anything more to it than that, it wouldn’t be worthy of being called a power. I just convert vague inclinations that come to me from out of the darkness to vague words. It’s just a game. A power is something else completely.”

“But what if your subject doesn’t feel like it’s just a game?”

“You mean, what if I draw out some unnecessary thing lurking in my subject’s unconscious?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

I thought about this for a second as I took a sip of my beer.

“I never thought about that before,” I said. “Even if something like that happened, it probably wouldn’t be that big a deal. That kind of thing is a part of everyday human interaction. Wouldn’t you say?”

“I guess so,” she said. “Yeah, I guess that’s probably true.”

We drank our beer in silence. It was just about time for me to go. I was totally exhausted, and my headache was getting worse.

“I’m going to go back to my room and lie down for a little while,” I said. “I’m afraid that I’m always saying too much. So then I always regret it later.”

“It’s ok. Don’t worry about it. I had fun.”

I acknowledged the compliment and stood up, making an attempt to take the check from the edge of the table. The girl stretched out her hand quickly and lay it on top of mine. She had long fingers with a slippery touch. Not too cold, not too hot.

“Let me pay,” she said. “You’re all tired out, and anyway you lent me those books.”

I was confused for a moment, and then once more I confirmed the feeling of her fingers.

“Oh. Well, thanks a lot,” I said. She gently raised her hand. I bowed slightly. There were still five matchsticks lined up neatly at my place at the table. I left it at that and made straight for the elevators, but something stopped me for a moment. It was the same something that I felt towards her at the very beginning. Once again, I was completely undecided what to do about it. I stood there confused for a moment. At length, I decided to resolve the issue once and for all. I returned to the table and stood beside her.

“May I ask you one last question?” I said.

She looked up at me, a little surprised. “Yes, of course. Go ahead.”

“Why are you always staring at your right hand?”

She glanced at her right hand reflexively. Then she promptly returned to look me in the face. The expression on her face seemed to slide off into nothingness. Everything stood still for a moment. Her right hand was turned over, palm-up on the table.

The silence pierced me sharply like needles. The atmosphere had changed completely. I had made a mistake somewhere. But I couldn’t figure out where I had made the mistake in the lines that I was saying. So I didn’t have any idea how I should go about apologizing to her. Lacking other options, I just stood there for a moment with my hands jammed in my pockets.

She continued to gaze at me in exactly the same way, but then turned her face away and looked at the tabletop. The things on the table were the empty beer glasses and her hand. She looked as though she wished I would disappear.

When I came to, the hands on the clock on the night table pointed to 6:00. Between the malfunctioning air-conditioner and the abnormally life-like dream I had just been having, my body was drenched in sweat. It took quite a long time from when I regained consciousness before I was able to move my arms and legs again. I lay there staring out the window, stretched out on the damp sheets like a fish. A drenching rain continued to fall, but here and there gaps were beginning to appear in the pale grey veil of clouds that covered the sky. The clouds were flowing with the wind. They slowly drifted by the window as the shape of the gaps changed shaped subtly. The wind was blowing from the southwest. As the clouds drifted by, the portion of blue sky increased dramatically. As I was watching, the colors began to blur together, so I gave up watching after that. In any event, the weather was getting better.

I craned my neck up from the pillow, and checked the time once more. 6:15. But I couldn’t tell whether it was 6:15 in the evening or 6:15 in the morning. It kind of felt like evening, but it also kind of felt like morning. I figured that if I turned on the TV it would probably straighten me out, but I couldn’t be bothered to get up and walk across the room to where the TV was.

I decided for the time being that it was probably evening. I had gone to bed at just after 3:00, and it seemed unlikely that I would have slept for 15 hours straight. But that was no more than a maybe. There was nothing at all to prove that I hadn’t slept for 15 straight hours. I couldn’t even be sure that I hadn’t slept for 27 hours. That thought made me unbearably sad.

I could hear voices on the other side of the door. It sounded like somebody was chewing somebody else out. Time flowed unbelievably slowly. Thinking about things took longer than normal. I was incredibly thirsty, but it took me a moment to even realize my own thirst. With all my strength, I peeled myself out of bed and drank three straight glasses from the pitcher of cool water. About half a glass trickled down my chest and fell to the floor, where it made a dark stain on the grey carpet. The coolness of the water spread reality through my mind like a stain. Then I smoked a cigarette.

When I looked outside, the shadow of the clouds had become somewhat thicker than before. Of course it was evening. There was no way it couldn’t have been evening.

With the cigarette still between my lips, I got undressed, went into the bathroom, and started the shower running. The hot water made a noise when it hit the tub. There were small fissures and cracks here and there in the ancient tub. The metal fixtures were uniformly yellowing. After checking the temperature of the water, I lowered myself down on to the edge of the tub and stared blankly at the water flowing out of the tap. Eventually, when my cigarette was all the way down to the filter, I put it out in the water. My whole body was incredibly sluggish.

Once I had showered and washed my hair, and then shaved, I felt much improved. I drank another glass of water and watched the news while I dried my hair. It was definitely evening. No mistake about it. There was no way I could have slept for fifteen hours.

Since it was evening, I went to the restaurant and found four of the tables there occupied. The middle-aged couple that had arrived a little while before were there. The other three were filled with suit-and-necktie-clad businessmen. From a distance, they all seemed to be of about equal years and equal appearance. A group of doctors or lawyers or something. That was the first time I had seen a large group of visitors at this hotel. But in any event, their presence helped to restore some of the former spirit to the place.

I sat in the same seat by the window as I had that morning, and ordered a scotch neat before looking over the menu. As soon as I tasted the whiskey, my head started to clear the tiniest bit. Fragments of memory were buried one-by-one in their appropriate places. That it had rained for three days straight; that I had only had an omelette for breakfast this morning; that I had met the girl in the library; that I had broken my glasses...

Once I had drunk my whiskey, I scanned the menu and ordered soup, salad, and fish. I still didn’t have much of an appetite, but a single omelette for an entire day wouldn’t do. With my order complete, I took a drink of cold water to dampen the whiskey on my breath, and looked around the restaurant once more. No sign of the girl. I was a little bit relieved by this, but at the same time a little bit disappointed. I myself didn’t really know whether I wanted to meet that girl again or not. Either way would be ok with me.

Then I started thinking about the girlfriend I had left behind in Tokyo. I tried to add up how many years it had been since we started going out. Two years and three months. Two years and three months seemed somehow like a bad place to break things off. When I really thought about it, it seemed like maybe we had been going out about for three months too long. But we liked each other well enough, and there was no good reason—from my perspective at least—to break up.

She’d probably say that she wanted to break up. Almost certainly. And what would I say to that? Could I say to her Hey, I like you well enough and there’s no good reason to break up? Of course not; that would be idiotic no matter how you looked at it. Just because you like something, that doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. I like the cashmere sweater I bought last Christmas and I like to drink expensive whiskey neat and I like high ceilings and big beds and I like old Jimmy Noon Records…and that’s all there is to it. There wasn’t any meaningful reason for me to stop her from going.

The thought of breaking up with her and then having to look for another new girl was abhorrent to me. I’d have to start everything over from the beginning.

I heaved a sigh and decided not to think about it anymore. No matter how much I thought about it, things would only happen as they happened.

As the sun set, the sea spread out like a dark cloth below the window. The clouds had become sparse and the moonlight shown down on the beach and the white crashing waves. Out at sea, the lights of the ships blurred languidly yellow. The tables of well-dressed men were knocking back bottles of wine, making conversation, and laughing loudly. I silently ate my fish alone. When I had finished eating, only the fish’s head and bones were left. I cleaned my plate, mopping up the cream sauce with a piece of bread. Then I cut the fish head away from skeleton with my knife. I lined up the fish head and fish bones next to each other on top of the clean white plate. There was no particular meaning in this. I just felt like it.

Eventually, the plate was taken away and the coffee arrived.

When I opened the door to my room, a slip of paper fell to the floor. Holding the door open with my shoulder, I bent down and picked it up. It was a piece of green hotel stationary, covered with compact characters made by a black ballpoint pen. Closing the door, I sat down on the sofa, lit a cigarette, and then read the note.

I’m sorry about this afternoon. Now that the rain has stopped, do you want to take a walk or something to kill the time? If you do, I’ll be waiting by the pool at 9:00.

I drank a glass of water and then read the note over again. The message was the same.

The pool?

I knew all about the hotel pool. The pool was on top of the hill in back of the hotel. I had never been swimming in it, but I’d seen it many times. It was big, and trees surrounded it on three sides. The other side looked out onto the ocean. As far as I knew, it wasn’t a particularly suitable place to go for a walk. If you wanted to take a walk, there were plenty of nice paths along the shore.

The clock read 8:20. At least I didn’t need to be worried about making it in time. Somebody wanted to meet me. That was fine. And if the place was to be the pool, then the pool it would be. Come tomorrow, I wouldn’t be here anymore.

I called the front desk and told them that something had come up so I would have to leave the next day, and that I wanted to cancel the remaining day left on my reservation. That’s quite all right, the desk clerk said. There’s no problem with that. Then I took all of my clothes out of the wardrobe and the dresser and folded them up neatly in my suitcase. It was somewhat lighter than previously by the weight of the books. It was 8:45.

I took the elevator down to the lobby and went out through the foyer. It was a quiet night. Nothing was audible other than the sound of the waves. A damp-smelling wind blew from the southwest. When I looked behind me, a number of yellow lights were lit in the windows of the building.

Rolling up the sleeves of my sports shirt up to my elbows, I jammed both hands into the pockets of my trousers and started up the road, covered slackly with fine gravel, that led to the top of the hill. A knee-high hedgerow ran all the way along the road. A giant zelkova tree was bursting with fresh buds.

When I turned left at the corner of the greenhouse, there was a stone staircase. It was pretty long and steep. After I had climbed about thirty steps, I emerged on top of the hill where the pool was. It was 8:50 and there was no sign of the girl. I heaved a sigh and spread out a deck chair that had been leaned against the wall, checked to see if it was damp, and sat down on it.

The pool lights weren’t on, but between the mercury lights that stood halfway up the hill and the light of the moon, it wasn’t too dark at all. There was a diving board and a lifeguard’s tower and a locker room and a snack bar and space on the lawn for people with sunburns. Ropes and a kickboard lay in a heap beside the lifeguard tower. Although the season didn’t start for a little while yet, the pool had been filled with water. They were probably inspecting it or something. The light from the mercury lamp and the light from the moon blended together to tint the surface of the water a peculiar hue. Corpses of moths and leaves from the zelkova tree floated in the center of the pool.

It was neither hot nor cold, and a gentle breeze caused the leaves of the trees to flutter slightly. The trees, greened with ample watering, gave off a delicate aroma. It was a very pleasant night. I lowered the back of the deck chair down so that it was parallel to the ground and lay there, smoking a cigarette, looking up at the moon.

She came when the hand of my watch had turned to point at 9:10. She was wearing white sandals and a one-piece sleeveless dress that fit her perfectly. The dress was a greyish blue checked with pink stripes so narrow that if you didn’t look closely you wouldn’t even know they were there. She appeared from a stand of trees opposite the pool entrance. Since I was paying attention to the entrance, I didn’t notice that she was there for a second even after I had seen her out of the corner of my eye. She walked slowly along the long side of the pool toward me.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I got here a while ago, but as I was wandering around, I lost my way. And I ended up getting a tear in my stockings.”

She opened up a deck chair like mine next to me and pointed the calf of her right leg in my direction. Right in the middle of her calf, there was a run in her stocking about 6 inches long. When she bent over, I could see her white breasts from the deep neckline of her dress.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” I apologized. “I didn’t mean any harm.”

“Oh, that. Don’t worry about it. Let’s just forget about it. It’s no big deal.”

As she said this, she turned both of her hands palm-up, and set them in her lap. “It’s a really nice night, isn’t it.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I like the pool when no one is around. It’s quiet, no one stops, there’s something inorganic about it...What about you?”

I stared at the waves rippling across the surface of the pool. “I don’t know. To me it seems sort of like a corpse. It’s probably on account of the moonlight.”

“Have you ever seen a corpse?”

“Yeah. A drowning victim.”

“What was it like?”

“It was like an unpopular swimming pool.”

She laughed. When she laughed, little wrinkles formed at the corners of her eyes.

“It was a really long time ago,” I said. “When I was a kid. It washed up on the shore. Drowning victims are relatively beautiful corpses.”

She fiddled with the part in her hair. She seemed to have just had a bath, and I could smell hair rinse emanating from her hair. I raised up the back of my deck chair so that it was even with hers.

“Hey, did you ever have a dog?” she asked.

I slowly fixed my eyes on her face. Then I returned my line of sight to the pool once more.

“No, never.”

“Not even once?

“Not even once.”

“Do you dislike them?”

“They’re just a pain in the ass. You have to walk them, you have to play with them, you have to feed them, all that stuff. I don’t particularly dislike them. They’re just a pain in the ass.”

“And you dislike pains in the ass.”

“I dislike that kind of pain in the ass.”

She went quiet, as if she was thinking about something. I shut up, too. The leaves of the zelkova tree were blown slowly around the surface of the pool by the wind.

“A long time ago, I had a Maltese,” she said. “When I was a kid. I begged my dad, so he bought it for me. I was an only child, and since I wasn’t very outgoing I didn’t have many friends, so I wanted a playmate. Do you have any siblings?”

“I have a brother.”

“You’re so lucky.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in seven years.”

She got a cigarette from somewhere and had a smoke. Then she continued her story about the Maltese.

“So anyway, I was completely responsible for taking care of the dog. I was eight years old. I fed him, cleaned up after him when he did his business, took him for walks, took him to get his shots, put on his flea powder, everything. I didn’t skip a day. We slept in the same bad and took baths together...we lived together like that for eight years. We were very close. I could understand what the dog was thinking about, and the dog could understand what I was thinking about. For instance, if I said to him ‘I’ll bring you ice cream when I come home today’ when I left the house in the morning, he’d be waiting for me a hundred yards in front of the house when I came home that evening. So...”

“The dog ate ice cream?” I asked without thinking.

“Yes, of course,” she replied. “I mean, everybody likes ice cream.”

“Right,” I said.

“So, whenever I was sad or morose, the dog would always cheer me up. He’d do all kinds of tricks. We were very close. Very, very close. So when he died eight years ago, I was totally at a loss what to do. I wondered how I could even go on living. It probably would have been the same for the dog. If our positions had been reversed and I had died first, I think he would have felt the same way.”

“What was the cause of death?”

“Intestinal obstruction. His intestines were clogged by a hairball. Just his stomach swelled out, while the rest of his body wasted away. He suffered for three days.”

“Didn’t you take him to a vet?”

“Yes, of course. But it was too late. Once I understood there was nothing they could do, I took him back home so he could die in my lap. He looked me straight in the eye until he died. Even after he died he...kept looking at me.”

She curled her had hands slightly where they lay in her lap, as if she were cradling an invisible dog. “About four hours after he died, rigor mortis began to set it. The warmth gradually vanished from his body, and eventually he became hard as a rock...and that was it.”

She looked at her hands there in her lap, and fell silent for a moment. Not knowing whether she had reached the end of the story, I stared steadfastly at the surface of the pool.

“I decided to bury him in the garden,” she continued. “In a corner of the garden, beside a rose bush. My father dug a hole. It was a night in May. It wasn’t that deep a hole. Maybe two feet deep. I wrapped him up in my favorite sweater and put him in a little wooden box. It was a whiskey crate or something. I put all kinds of other things in there, too: pictures of me and the dog together, cans of dog food, one of my handkerchiefs, the tennis ball we always played with, a lock of my hair, and my bankbook.”

“Your bankbook?”

“Yeah, the bankbook for my savings account. I had been saving money since I was a kid, and I had about ¥30,000 in my account. I was so sad when my dog died that I didn’t feel like I needed money anymore for anything. So I buried it. I think I buried my bankbook because I needed some sort of tangible confirmation of my grief. If we had cremated him instead, I probably would have burned it in the fire. That was really the best way.”

She dabbed the edges of her eyes with a fingertip.

“A completely uneventful year passed. I was unbearably sad, and felt like a gaping hole had opened up in my heart, but somehow I kept on living. It was really like that. I mean, no one kills herself over a dead dog.

“In the end. that was sort of a transitional year for me. How can I put this? I guess you could say that I went from being shy and always shut up at home to having my eyes slowly opened to the outside world. I knew deep down that I couldn’t go on living the way that I had up to then. So when I think about it now, the dog’s death has taken on a deeply symbolic meaning for me.”

I stretched out in the middle of the deck chair and stared up into the sky. A couple of stars were visible. It looked like the next day would be nice.

“This is probably boring the hell out of you, huh?” she said. “I mean, like, this ‘Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a terribly shy girl,’ kind of story right?”

“It’s not particularly boring,” I said. “I just wish I had a beer.”

She laughed. Then she turned her head, lying on the back of the deck chair, to face me. She and I were separated by about 9 inches. She heaved a deep sigh and her beautifully formed breasts bobbed up and down in the center of the deck chair. I stared at the pool. She stared at me without saying anything for a moment.

“But anyway, it was like that,” she continued her story. “Little by little, I thawed to the outside world. Of course I wasn’t very good at it at first, but gradually I began to make some friends and school wasn’t so agonizing anymore. But I don’t know whether this was a result of the loss of my dog or whether it would have happened eventually anyway if the dog had remained alive. I’ve thought about it a lot, but I’ve never come up with an answer.

“But when I was 17, this little problem came up. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but it had to do with my best friend. To put it simply, there was some problem at her dad’s company and he lost his job as a result, so she couldn’t afford tuition, and she came to me with all of this. My school was a private all-girls school and tuition was pretty and high, and, I don’t know whether you’ll really understand this, but when a classmate in an all girls school comes to you with a problem, you have no choice but to see it through to the end. But that didn’t really matter anyway, because I thought her situation was so terrible and I would have given her anything I had. But I didn’t have anything. So what do you think I did?”
“You dug up your bank book?” I ventured.

She shrugged her shoulders. “What choice did I have? I was really confused. But however much I thought about it, that seemed like the thing to do. On one was a friend in real trouble, on the other was a dead dog. The dog certainly didn’t need the money. What would you have done?”

I had no idea. I had never had any friends in trouble nor had I ever had a dead dog. I don’t know, I said.

“So you dug him up by yourself?”

“Yeah, right. I did it myself. I didn’t tell anybody at home. I never told my parents that I had buried my bank book, so before I could explain to them why I had to dig it up, I would have to explain to them why I had buried it in the first place...You see the problem?”
I get it, I said.

“When my parents went out, I got a shovel from the shed and started digging by myself. It had rained recently, so the ground was pretty soft and it wasn’t that difficult. Yeah...it probably didn’t take any more than 15 minutes. After I had dug for about that long, the tip of the shovel struck the wooden box. The box wasn’t as deteriorated as I thought it would be. It looked like it had just been buried the week before. Although it seemed to me like it had been forever...The wood was unbearably white and looked as though it had just been buried. I had expected that after a year in the ground it would be pitch black. So I was...a little surprised. It’s kind of a strange thing. It wasn’t really that big a deal, but I’ll remember that little difference for the rest of my life. Then I got a pair of tongs...and lifted up the lid.”

“And then what happened?” I said, turning toward the water.

“I opened the lid, took out the bank book, put the lid back on, and buried it in the hole,” she said. Then, she fell silent again. This ambiguous silence continued for a while.

“How did you feel?”

“It was a cloudy, gloomy June afternoon, and light rain was falling periodically,” she said. “The whole house and the garden were completely still, and though it was just past 3:00 in the afternoon, it felt like evening. The light was dull and languid, and it was difficult to judge distances. I remember hearing the phone ring in the house as I was taking the nails out of the lid one-by-one. The bell rang and rang and rang and rang--must have been 20 times. The bell rang 20 times. It was a bell like somebody walking slowly down a long corridor. Like it would appear from a horn somewhere, and then vanish into another one.”


“When I opened the lid, I could see the dog’s face. I couldn’t not look at him. The sweater that I had rolled him up in when we buried him had shifted and his front paws and head were sticking out. He was turned sideways, and I could see his nose and his ears and his teeth. And then there was the picture and the tennis ball and the lock of hair, that stuff.”


“The thing that surprised me the most was that I wasn’t at all freaked out by the situation. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, I didn’t hesitate at all. I have a feeling that if I had been a little bit scared then, I would have enjoyed it more. Or if not scared, then guilty or sad or anything like that would have been fine. But there wasn’t anything. The whole thing made no impression on me. I felt like I had gone out to get the mail, picked up the newspaper, and came back. I’m not even completely sure that I did it. I really don’t remember it that well. Just the smell. That’ll stay with me forever.”

“The smell?”

“The smell that had sunk into my bankbook. I don’t know quite how to describe it. Anyway, there was a smell. A smell. When I picked it up, the smell sunk into my hand as well. No matter how much I washed my hands, I couldn’t get rid of that smell. No matter how much I washed my hands, it was still useless. The smell had sunk all the way down to the bone. Even now...I guess...It was like that.”

She raised up her right hand to eye level and then held it there in the moonlight.

“In the end,” she continued, “it all came to nothing. It didn’t help anything at all. The bankbook stank too badly, and I couldn’t take it into the bank, so I burned it. That’s the end of my story.”

I heaved a sigh. I didn’t know what I was supposed to make of this. We were silent, each looking in different directions.

“So,” I said, “what happened to your friend?”

“In the end, she didn’t have to drop out of school. She didn’t even need that much money. Girls are like that. Things in your own immediate surroundings seem much more tragic than they actually are. It’s a stupid story.” She lit a fresh cigarette and turned in my direction. “But let’s stop talking about it. You brought it up. From now on, there’s nothing else to say about it. It would all just be chasing it around in a circle.”

“Aren’t you a little relived to have talked about it?”

“I guess so,” she said, smiling. “I do feel more relaxed.”

I was perplexed for quite a long time. Several time I started to say something, only to think better of it and stop. And then I’d confused again. It had been a long time since I’d been confused like this. The whole time, I was tapping the middle of my finger on the arm of the deck chair. I thought I might like a cigarette, but my pack was empty. Her elbows were on the arms of the deck chair, and she was staring off into the distance.

“I have one request.” I said boldly. “If it offends you, I beg your pardon. Please just forget about it. But somehow...I think it’ll be all right. I’m not really putting this very well.”

Still resting her chin in her hands, she looked in my direction. “It’s ok. Try and say it. If I don’t like it, I’ll forget about it right away. And you forget about it right away too--how about that?”

I nodded. “Would you let me smell your hand?”

She looked at me with bedazzled eyes. Chin still resting on her hands. She closed her eyes for several seconds and then rubbed her eyelids with her fingers.

“Sure,” she said. “Go right ahead.” Then she lifted the hand that she’d been resting her chin on and stretched it out in front of me.

I took her hand and, as if diving her fortune, turned to look at her palm. She relaxed her hand completely. The long fingers were bent slightly inward very naturally. Her hand lying on top of mine, I felt like I was 16 or 17 again. Then I bent my body forward, and gave her palm a good sniff. All I could smell was the soap that the hotel provided for the guests. I weighed her hand in mine for a moment, and then gently returned hers to the lap of her dress.

“So what‘s the verdict?” she asked.

“Just smells like soap,” I said.

After I left her, I went to my room and tried to call my girlfriend one more time. She didn’t answer. There was just the sound of ringing, over and over and over and over again in my hand. Same as before. But that didn’t really bother me. I kept ringing that bell, over and over and over again, however many hundreds of miles away. I could tell without question that she was sitting in front of the phone. There was no doubt that she was there.

After I let it ring 25 times, I returned the receiver to the cradle. The thin curtain over the window was fluttering in the evening breeze. I could hear the sound of the waves, too. Then I took up the receiver and slowly dialed her number one more time.

(Translated by Christopher Allison)