Thất bại đến với ta không phải làm ta buồn mà giúp ta thêm tỉnh táo, không làm ta hối tiếc mà khiến ta trở nên sáng suốt.

Henry Ward Beecher

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Tác giả: Haruki Murakami
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Truong Ngoc Tuan
Upload bìa: Minh Khoa
Language: English
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Chapter 2: Sixteen Steps
July, Eight Years Later
I waited for the compressed-air hiss of the elevator doors shutting behind me before closing my eyes. Then, gathering up the pieces of my mind, I started off on the sixteen steps down the hall to my apartment door. Eyes closed, exactly sixteen steps. No more, no less. My head blank from the whiskey, my mouth reeking from cigarettes.
Drunk as I get, I can walk those sixteen steps straight as a ruled line. The fruit of many years of pointless self-discipline. Whenever drunk, I’d throw back my shoulders, straighten my spine, hold my head up, and draw a deep lungful of the cool morning air in the concrete hallway. Then I’d close my eyes and walk sixteen steps straight through the whiskey fog.
Within the bounds of that sixteen-step world, I bear the title of “Most Courteous of Drunks.” A simple achievement. One has only to accept the fact of being drunk at face value.
No ifs, ands, or buts. Only the statement “I am drunk,” plain and simple.
That’s all it takes for me to become the Most Courteous Drunk. The Earliest to Rise, the Last Boxcar over the Bridge.
Five, six, seven, …
Stopping on the eighth step, I opened my eyes and took a deep breath. A slight humming in my ears. Like a sea breeze whistling through a rusty wire screen. Come to think of it, when was the last time I was at the beach?
Let’s see. July 24, 6:30 A.M. Ideal time of year for the beach, ideal time of day. The beach still unspoiled by people. Seabird tracks scattered about the surf’s edge like pine needles after a brisk wind.
The beach, hmm …
I began walking again. Forget the beach. All that’s ages past.
On the sixteenth step, I halted, opened my eyes, and found myself planted square in front of my doorknob, as always. Taking two days’ worth of newspapers and two envelopes from the mailbox, I tucked the lot under my arm. Then I fished my keys out of the recesses of my pocket and leaned forward, forehead against the icy iron door. From somewhere behind my ears, a click. Me, a wad of cotton soaked through with alcohol. With only a modicum of control of my senses.
Just great.
The door maybe one-third open, I slid my body in, shutting the door behind me. The entryway was dead silent. More silent than it ought to be.
That’s when I noticed the red pumps at my feet. Red pumps I’ve seen before. Parked in between my mud-caked tennis shoes and a pair of cheap beach sandals, like some out-of-season Christmas present. A silence hovered about them, fine as dust.
She was slumped over the kitchen table, forehead on her arms, profile hidden by straight black hair. A patch of untanned white neckline showed between the strands of hair, through the open sleeve of her print dress—one I’d never seen before—a glimpse of a brassiere strap.
I removed my jacket, undid my black tie, took off my watch, with not a flinch from her the whole while. Looking at her back called up memories. Memories of times before I’d met her.
“Well then,” I spoke up in a voice not quite my own, the sound piped in.
As expected, there was no reply. She could have been asleep, could have been crying, could have been dead.
I sat down opposite her and rubbed my eyes. A short ray of sunlight divided the table, me in light, her in shadow. Colorless shadow. A withered potted geranium sat on the table. Outside, someone was watering down the street. Splash on the pavement, smell of wet asphalt.
“Want some coffee?”
No reply.
So I got up and went over to grind coffee for two cups. It occurred to me after I ground the coffee that what I really wanted was ice tea. I’m forever realizing things too late.
The transistor radio played a succession of innocuous pop songs. A perfect morning sound track. The world had barely changed in ten years. Only the singers and song titles. And my age.
The water came to a boil. I shut off the gas, let the water cool thirty seconds, poured it over the coffee. The grounds absorbed all they could and slowly swelled, filling the room with aroma.
“Been here since last night?” I asked, kettle in hand.
An ever so slight nod of her head.
“You’ve been waiting all this time?”
No answer.
The room had steamed up from the boiling water and strong sun. I shut the window and switched on the air conditioner, then set the two mugs of coffee on the table.
“Drink,” I said, reclaiming my own voice.
Silence.
“Be better if you drank something.”
It was thirty seconds before she raised her head slowly, evenly, and gazed absently at the potted plant. A few fine strands of hair lay plastered against her dampened cheeks, an aura of wetness about her.
“Don’t mind me,” she said. “I didn’t mean to cry.”
I held out a box of tissues to her. She quietly blew her nose, then brushed the hair from her cheek.
“Actually, I planned on being gone by the time you returned. I didn’t want to see you.”
“But you changed your mind, I see.”
“Not at all. I didn’t have anywhere else I wanted to go. But I’m going now, don’t worry.”
“Well, have some coffee anyway.”
I tuned in to the radio traffic report as I sipped my coffee and slit open the two pieces of mail. One was an announcement from a furniture store where everything was twenty percent off. The second was a letter from someone I didn’t want to think about, much less read a letter from. I crumpled them up and tossed them into the wastebasket, then nibbled on leftover cheese crackers. She cupped her hands around the coffee cup as if to warm herself and fixed her eyes on me, her lip lightly riding the rim of the mug.
“There’s salad in the fridge,” she said.
“Salad?”
“Tomatoes and string beans. There wasn’t anything else. The cucumbers had gone bad, so I threw them out.”
“Oh.”
I went to the refrigerator and took out the blue Okinawa glass salad bowl and sprinkled on the last drops from the bottle of dressing. The tomatoes and string beans were but chilled shadows. Tasteless shadows. Nor was there any taste to the coffee or crackers. Maybe because of the morning sun? The light of morning decomposes everything. I gave up on the coffee midway, dug a bent cigarette out of my pocket, and lit up with matches that I’d never seen before. The tip of the cigarette crackled dryly as its lavender smoke formed a tracery in the morning light.
“I went to a funeral. When it was over, I went to Shinjuku, by myself.”
The cat appeared out of nowhere, yawned at length, then sprang into her lap. She scratched him behind the ears.
“You don’t need to explain anything to me,” she said. “I’m out of the picture already.”
“I’m not explaining. I’m just making conversation.”
She shrugged and pushed her brassiere strap back inside her dress. Her face had no expression, like a photograph of a sunken city on the ocean floor.
“An acquaintance of sorts from years back. No one you knew.”
“Oh really?”
The cat gave his legs a good stretch, topped it off with a puff of a breath.
I glanced at the burning tip of the cigarette in my mouth.
“How did this acquaintance die?”
“Hit by a truck. Thirteen bones fractured.”
“Female?”
“Uh-huh.”
The seven o’clock news and traffic report came to an end, and light rock returned to the airwaves. She set her coffee back down and looked me in the face.
“Tell me, if I died, would you go out drinking like that?”
“The funeral had nothing to do with my drinking. Only the first one or two rounds, if that.”
A new day was beginning. Another hot one. A cluster of skyscrapers glared through the window.
“How about something cool to drink?”
She shook her head.
I got a can of cola out of the refrigerator and downed it in one go.
“She was the kind of girl who’d sleep with anyone.” What an obituary: the deceased was the kind of girl who would sleep with anyone.
“Why are you telling me this?”
Why indeed? I had no idea.
“Very well,” she picked up where I trailed off, “she was the kind of girl who’d sleep with anyone, right?”
“Right.”
“But not with you, right?”
There was an edge to her voice. I glanced up from the salad bowl.
“You think not?”
“Somehow, no,” she said quietly. “You, you’re not the type.”
“What type?”
“I don’t know, there’s something about you. Say there’s an hourglass: the sand’s about to run out. Someone like you can always be counted on to turn the thing over.”
“That so?”
She pursed her lips, then relaxed.
“I came to get the rest of my things. My winter coat, hats, things I left behind. I packed them up in boxes. When you have time, could you take them to the parcel service?”
“I can drop them by.”
She shook her head. “That’s all right. I don’t want you to come. You understand, don’t you?”
Of course I did. I talk too much, without thinking.
“You have the address?”
“Yes.”
“That’s all that’s left to do. Sorry for staying so long.”
“And the paperwork, was that it?”
“Uh-huh. All done.”
“I can’t believe it’s that easy. I thought there’d be a lot more to it.”
“People who don’t know anything about it all think so, but it really is simple. Once it’s over and done with.” Saying that, she went back to scratching the cat’s head. “Get divorced twice, and you’re a veteran.”
The cat did a back stretch, eyes closed, then quickly nestled his head into the crook of her arm. I tossed the coffee mugs and salad bowl into the sink, then swept up the cracker crumbs with a bill. My eyes were throbbing from the glare of the sun.
“I made out a list of details. Where papers are filed, trash days, things like that. Anything you can’t figure out, give me a call.”
“Thanks.”
“Had you wanted children?” she suddenly asked.
“Nah, can’t say I ever wanted kids.”
“I wondered about that for a while there. But seeing how it ended up like this, I guess it was just as well. Or maybe if we’d had a child it wouldn’t have come to this, what do you think?”
“There’re lots of couples with kids who get divorced.”
“You’re probably right,” she said, toying with my lighter. “I still love you. But I guess that’s not the point now, is it? I know that well enough myself.”
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel