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
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
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
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
“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
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
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 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
“You mind if I make a couple of guesses?” I asked, after a carefully
“Stuff about you. Where you come from, what you do…that kind of
“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.
“I can’t do it so quickly,” I said. “It takes time. But if we can
For another twenty seconds, I again gave off the appearance of
“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
“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.
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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.
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
“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.”
“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
“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
“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
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
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 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
“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）