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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 4: The Whale’S Penis And The Woman With Three Occupations
September, Two Months Later
To sleep with a woman: it can seem of the utmost importance in your mind, or then again it can seem like nothing much at all. Which only goes to say that there’s sex as therapy (self-therapy, that is) and there’s sex as pastime.
There’s sex for self-improvement start to finish and there’s sex for killing time straight through; sex that is therapeutic at first only to end up as nothing-better-to-do, and vice versa. Our human sex life—how shall I put it?—differs fundamentally from the sex life of the whale.
We are not whales—and this constitutes one great theme underscoring our sex life.
When I was a kid, there was an aquarium thirty minutes by bicycle from where I lived. A chill aquarium-like silence always pervaded the place, with only an occasional splash to be heard. I could almost feel the Creature from the Black Lagoon breathing in some dim corner.
Schools of tuna circled ’round and ’round the enormous pool. Sturgeon plied their own narrow watercourse, piranha set their razor-sharp teeth into chunks of meat, and electric eels sputtered and sparked like shorted-out lightbulbs.
The aquarium was filled with countless other fish as well, all with different names and scales and fins. I couldn’t figure out why on earth there had to be so many kinds of fish.
There were, of course, no whales in the aquarium. One whale would have been too big, even if you knocked out all the walls and made the entire aquarium into one tank. Instead, the aquarium kept a whale penis on display. As a token, if you will.
So it was that my most impressionable years of boyhood were spent gazing at not a whale but a whale’s penis. Whenever I tired of strolling through the chill aisles of the aquarium, I’d steal off to my place on the bench in the hushed, high-ceilinged stillness of the exhibition room and spend hours on end there contemplating this whale’s penis.
At times it would remind me of a tiny shriveled palm tree; at other times, a giant ear of corn. In fact, if not for the plaque—WHALE GENITAL: MALE—no one would have taken it to be a whale’s penis. More likely an artifact unearthed from the Central Asian desert than a product of the Antarctic Ocean. It bore no resemblance to my penis, nor to any penis I’d ever seen. What was worse, the severed penis exuded a singular, somehow unspeakable aura of sadness.
It came back to me, that giant whale’s penis, after having intercourse with a girl for the very first time. What twists of fate, what tortuous circumnavigations, had brought it to that cavernous exhibition room? My heart ached, thinking about it. I felt as if I didn’t have a hope in the world. But I was only seventeen and clearly too young to give up on everything. It was then and there I came to the realization I have borne in mind ever since.
Which is, that I am not a whale.
In bed now with my new girlfriend, running my fingers through her hair, I thought about whales for the longest time.
In the aquarium of my memory, it is always late autumn. The glass of the tanks is cold. I’m wearing a heavy sweater. Through the large picture window of the exhibition room, the sea is dark as lead, the countless whitecaps reminiscent of lace collars on girls’ dresses.
“What’re you thinking about?” she asked.
“Something long ago,” I said.
She was twenty-one, with an attractive slender body and a pair of the most bewitching, perfectly formed ears. She was a part-time proofreader for a small publishing house, a commercial model specializing in ear shots, and a call girl in a discreet intimate-friends-only club. Which of the three she considered her main occupation, I had no idea. Neither did she.
Nonetheless, sizing up her essential attributes, I would have to say her natural gifts ran to ear modeling. She agreed. Which was well and good until you considered how extremely limited are the opportunities for a commercial ear model, how abysmal the status and pay. To your typical P.R. man or makeup artist or cameraman, she was just an “earholder,” someone with ears. Her mind and body, apart from the ears, were completely out of the picture, disregarded, nonexistent.
“But you know, that’s not the real me,” she’d say. “I am my ears, my ears are me.”
Neither her proofreader self nor her call girl self ever, not for one second, showed her ears to others.
“That’s because they’re not really me,” she explained.
The office of her call girl club, registered as a “talent club” for appearances, was located in Akasaka and run by a gray-haired Englishwoman whom everyone called Mrs. X. She’d been living in Japan for thirty years, spoke fluent Japanese, and read most of the basic Chinese characters.
Mrs. X had opened an English-language tutorial school for women not five hundred yards from the call girl office and used the place to scout promising faces for the latter. Conversely, several of the call girls were also going to her English school. At reduced tuition, of course.
Mrs. X called all her call girls “dear.” Soft as a spring afternoon, her “dears.”
“Make sure to wear frilly undies, dear. And no pantyhose.” Or “You take your tea with cream, don’t you, dear?” She had a firm understanding of her market. Her clientele were wealthy businessmen in their forties and fifties. Two-thirds foreigners, the rest Japanese. Mrs. X expressed a dislike for politicians, old men, perverts, and the poor.
A dozen long-stemmed beauties she kept on call, but out of the whole bouquet my new girlfriend was the least attractive bloom. As a call girl, she seemed no more than ordinary. In fact, with her ears hidden, she was plain. I couldn’t figure out how Mrs. X had singled her out. Maybe she’d detected in her plainness some special glimmer, or maybe she thought one plain girl would be an asset. Either way, Mrs. X’s sights had been right on target, and my girlfriend quickly had a number of regular customers. She wore ordinary clothes, ordinary makeup, ordinary underwear, and an ordinary scent as she’d head out to the Hilton or Okura or Prince to sleep with one or two men a week, thereby making enough to live on for a month.
Half the other nights she slept with me for free. The other half I have no idea how she spent.
Her life as a part-time proofreader for the publishing house was more normal. Three days a week she’d commute to Kanda, to the third floor of a small office building, and from nine to five she’d proofread, make tea, run downstairs (no elevator in the building) and buy erasers. She’d be the one sent out, not because anyone held anything against her, but because she was the only unmarried woman in the company. Like a chameleon, she would change with place and circumstance, able, at will, to summon or control that glimmer of hers.
I first became acquainted with her (or rather, her ears) right after I broke up with my wife. It was the beginning of August. I was doing a subcontracted copywriting job for a computer software company, which brought me face-to-face, so to speak, with her ears.
The director of the advertising firm placed a campaign proposal and three large black-and-white photos on my desk, telling me to prepare three head copy options for them within the week. All three photos were giant close-ups of an ear.
An ear?
“Why an ear?” I asked.
“Who knows? What’s the difference? An ear it is. You’ve got a week to think about ears.”
So for one whole week I ear-gazed. I taped the three giant ears to the wall in front of my desk, and all day, while smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, clipping my nails, I immersed myself in those ears.
The job I finished in a week, but the ear shots stayed taped up on my wall. Partly it was too much trouble to take them down, partly I’d grown accustomed to those ears. But the real reason I didn’t take the photos down was that those ears had me in their thrall. They were the dream image of an ear. The quintessence, the paragon of ears. Never had any enlarged part of the human body (genitals included, of course) held such strong attraction for me. They were like some great whirlpool of fate sucking me in.
One astonishingly bold curve cut clear across the picture plane, others curled into delicate filigrees of subtle shadow, while still others traced, like an ancient mural, the legends of a past age. But the supple flesh of the earlobe surpassed them all, transcending all beauty and desire.
A few days later, I rang up the photographer for the name and number of those ears.
“What’s this now?” asked the photographer.
“Just curious, that’s all. They’re such striking ears.”
“Well, I guess as far as the ears go, okay, but the girl herself is nothing special. If it’s a young piece you want, I can introduce you to this bathing-suit model I shot the other day.”
I refused, took down the name and number of the ears, thanked him, and hung up.
Two o’clock, six o’clock, ten o’clock, I kept trying her number, but got no answer. Apparently she was going about her own life.
It was ten the next morning before I finally got ahold of her. I introduced myself briefly, then added that I had to talk to her about some business related to the advertisement and could she see clear to having dinner with me.
“But I was told the job was finished,” she said.
“The job is finished,” I said.
She seemed a bit taken aback, but didn’t inquire further. We set a date for the following evening.
I called for a reservation at the fanciest French restaurant I knew. On Aoyama Boulevard. Then I got out a brand-new shirt, took my time selecting a tie, and put on a jacket I’d only worn twice before.
True to the photographer’s warning, the girl was nothing special. Plain clothes, plain looks. She seemed like a member of the chorus of a second-rate women’s college. But that was beside the point as far as I was concerned. What disappointed me was that she hid her ears under a straight fall of hair.
“You’re hiding your ears,” said I, nonchalantly.
“Yes,” said she, nonchalantly.
We had arrived ahead of schedule and were the first dinner customers at the restaurant. The lights were dimmed, a waiter came around with a long match to light the red taper on our table, and the maître d’hôtel cast fishy eyes over the napkins and dinnerware to be sure all was in place. The herringbone lay of the oak floorboards gleamed to a high polish, and the waiter walked about with a click of his heels. His shoes looked loads more expensive than mine. Fresh bud roses in vases, and modern oils, originals, on white walls.
I glanced over the wine list and chose a crisp white wine, and for hors d’oeuvres pâté de canard, terrine de dorade, and foie de baudroie à crème fraîche. After an intensive study of the menu she ordered potage tortue, salade verte, and mousse de sole, while I ordered potage d’oursin, rôti de veau avec garnie persil, and a salade de tomate. There went half a month’s salary.
“What a lovely place,” she said. “Do you come here often?”
“Only occasionally on business,” I answered. “The truth of the matter is, I don’t usually go to restaurants when I’m alone. Mostly I go to bars where I eat and drink whatever they’ve got. Easier that way. No unnecessary decisions.”
“And what do you usually eat at a bar?”
“All sorts of things. Omelettes and sandwiches often enough.”
“Omelettes and sandwiches,” she repeated. “You eat omelettes and sandwiches every day at bars?”
“Not every day. I cook for myself every three days or so.”
“So you eat omelettes and sandwiches two days out of three.”
“I guess so,” I said.
“Why omelettes and sandwiches?”
“A halfway decent bar can make a pretty good omelette and sandwich.”
“Hmm,” she said. “Pretty strange.”
“Not at all.”
I couldn’t figure how to get out of that, so I sat there quietly admiring the ashes in the ashtray.
She turned on the juice. “Let’s talk business.”
“As I told you yesterday, the job is finished. No problems. So I have nothing to say.”
She fished a slender clove cigarette out of her handbag, lit up with the restaurant matches, and gave me a look that said “So?”
I was about to speak when the maître d’hôtel advanced on our table. He showed me the wine label, all smiles as if showing me a photo of his only son. I nodded. He unscrewed the cork with a pleasant pop, then poured out a small mouthful in my glass. It tasted like the price of the entire dinner.
The maître d’hôtel withdrew and in his place appeared a waiter who set out the three hors d’oeuvres and a small plate before each of us. When the waiter departed, leaving us alone again, I blurted out, “I had to see your ears.”
Speaking not a word, she proceeded to help herself to the pâté and foie de baudroie. She took a sip of wine.
“Sorry to have imposed,” I hedged.
She smiled ever so slightly. “Fine French cuisine is no imposition at all.”
“Does it bother you to have your ears discussed?”
“Not really. It depends on the angle of discussion.” She shook her head as she lifted her fork to her mouth. “Tell me straight, because that’s my favorite angle.”
We silently sipped our wine and continued our meal.
“I turn a corner,” I offered, “just as someone ahead of me turns the next corner. I can’t see what that person looks like. All I can make out is a flash of white coattails. But the whiteness of the coattails is indelibly etched in my consciousness. Ever get that feeling?”
“I suppose so.”
“Well, that’s the feeling I get from your ears.”
Again, we ate in silence. I poured wine for her, then for myself.
“It’s not the scene that comes into your head,” she asked, “but the feeling, right?”
“Right.”
“Ever have that feeling before?”
I gave it some thought, then shook my head. “No, I guess not.”
“Which means it’s all on account of my ears.”
“I couldn’t swear to it. There’s no way I could be that sure. I’ve never heard of the shape of someone’s ears arousing anyone this way.”
“I know someone who sneezed every time he saw Farrah Fawcett’s nose. There’s a big psychological element to sneezing, you know. Once cause and effect link up, there’s no escape.”
“I’m no expert on Farrah Fawcett’s nose,” I said, taking a sip of wine. Then I forgot what I was about to say.
“That’s not quite what you meant, is it?” she said.
“No, not quite,” I said. “The feeling I get is terribly unfocused, yet very solid.” I demonstrated, holding my hands a yard apart, then compressing the span to two inches. “I’m not explaining this well, I’m afraid.”
“A concentrated phenomenon based on vague motives.”
“Exactly,” I said. “You’re seven times smarter than I am.”
“I take correspondence courses.”
“Correspondence courses?”
“That’s right, psychology by mail.”
We split the last of the pâté. Now I was completely lost.
“You still haven’t gotten it? The relationship between my ears and your feelings?”
“In a word, no,” said I. “That is, I have no firm grasp on whether your ears appeal to me directly, or whether something else in you appeals to me through your ears.”
She placed both her hands on the table and shook her head gently. “Is this feeling of yours of the good variety or the bad variety?”
“Neither. Or both. I can’t tell.”
She pinioned her wineglass between her palms and looked me straight in the face. “It seems you need more study in the means of expressing emotions.”
“Can’t say I’m too good at describing them either,” I said.
At that she smiled. “Never mind. I think I have a good idea of what you mean.”
“Well then, what should I do?”
She said nothing for the longest while. She seemed to be thinking of something else entirely. Five dishes lay empty on the table, a constellation of five extinct planets.
“Listen,” she ended the silence. “I think we ought to become friends. That is, of course, if it’s all right with you.”
“Of course it’s all right with me,” I said.
“And I mean very close friends,” she said.
I nodded.
So it was we became very close friends. Not thirty minutes after we’d first met.
“As a close friend, there’re a couple things I want to ask you,” I said.
“Go right ahead.”
“First of all, why is it you don’t show your ears? Second, have your ears ever exerted any special power over anyone besides me?”
Without a word, she trained her eyes on her hands resting on the table.
“Some, yes,” she said quietly.
“Some?”
“Sure. But to put it another way, I’m more accustomed to the self who doesn’t show her ears.”
“Which is to say that the you when you show your ears is different from the you when you don’t show your ears.”
“Right enough.”
Two waiters cleared away our dishes and brought the soup.
“Would you mind telling me about the you who shows her ears.”
“That’s so long ago I doubt I can tell it very well. The truth is, I haven’t shown my ears once since I was twelve.”
“But when you did that modeling job, you showed your ears, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” she said, “but not my real ears.”
“Not your real ears?”
“Those were blocked ears.”
I had two spoonfuls of soup and looked up at her.
“Tell me more about your ‘blocked ears.’”
“Blocked ears are dead ears. I killed my own ears. That is, I consciously cut off the passageway…. Do you follow me?”
No, I didn’t follow her.
“Ask me, then,” she said.
“By killing your ears, do you mean you made yourself deaf?”
“No, I can hear quite fine. But even so, my ears are dead. You can probably do it too.”
She set her soupspoon back down, straightened her back, raised her shoulders two inches, thrust her jaw full out, held that posture for all of ten seconds, and suddenly dropped her shoulders.
“There. My ears are dead. Now you try.”
Three times I repeated the movements she’d made. Slowly, carefully, but nothing left me with the impression that my ears had died. The wine was rapidly circulating through my system.
“I do believe that my ears aren’t dying properly,” I said, disappointed.
She shook her head. “That’s okay. If your ears don’t need to die, there’s nothing wrong with them not dying.”
“May I ask you something else?”
“Go right ahead.”
“If I add up everything you’ve told me, it seems to come down to this: that up to age twelve you showed your ears. Then one day you hid your ears. And from that day on, not once have you shown your ears. But at such times that you must show your ears, you block off the passageway between your ears and your consciousness. Is that correct?”
A winsome smile came to her face. “That is correct.”
“What happened to your ears at age twelve?”
“Don’t rush things,” she said, reaching her right hand across the table, lightly touching the fingers of my left hand. “Please.”
I poured out the rest of the wine into our glasses and slowly drank mine.
“First, I want to know more about you,” she started.
“What about me?”
“Everything. How you were brought up, how old you are, what you do for a living, stuff like that.”
“It’s your ordinary story. So utterly ordinary, you’d probably doze off in the middle of it.”
“I like ordinary stories.”
“Mine is the kind of ordinary story no one could possibly enjoy.”
“That’s okay, give me ten minutes’ worth.”
“I was born in 1948, on December twenty-fourth, Christmas Eve. Now Christmas Eve doesn’t make a very good birthday. I mean, you don’t get separate birthday and Christmas presents. Everyone figures they save money that way. My sign is Capricorn and my blood type is A—a perfect combination for bank tellers and civil servants. I’m not supposed to get along well with Sagittarians and Libras and Aquarians. A boring life, don’t you think?”
“I’m fascinated.”
“I grew up in an ordinary little town, went to an ordinary school. I was a quiet child, but grew into a bored kid. I met this ordinary girl, had an ordinary first romance. When I was eighteen, I came to Tokyo to go to college. When I got out of college, a friend and I set up a small translation service, and somehow we scraped by. Three years ago, we branched out into P.R. newsletters and advertising-related work, and that’s going fairly well. I got involved with one of the women who worked at the firm. We got married four years back and got divorced two months ago. No one reason I can put it all down to. I have an old tomcat for a pet. Smoke forty cigarettes a day. Can’t seem to quit. I own three suits, six neckties, plus a collection of five hundred records that are hopelessly out of style. I’ve memorized all the murderers’ names in every Ellery Queen mystery ever written. I own the complete A la recherche du temps perdus, but have only read half. I drink beer in summer, whiskey in winter.”
“And two days out of three you eat omelettes and sandwiches in bars, right?”
“Uh-huh,” I said.
“What an interesting life.”
“It’s been boring so far. It’ll probably be the same from here on. Not that that bothers me. I mean, I take what I get.”
I looked at my watch. Nine minutes, twenty seconds.
“But what you’ve just told me isn’t everything, no?”
I gazed at my hands on the table. “Of course that’s not everything. There’s no telling every last thing about someone’s life, no matter how boring.”
“May I comment?”
“Certainly.”
“Whenever I meet people for the first time, I get them to talk for ten minutes. Then I size them up from the exact opposite perspective of all they’ve told me. Do you think that’s crazy?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head, “I’d guess your method works quite well.”
A waiter came, set the table with new plates, onto which another waiter served the entrée, topped with sauce by still another waiter. A quick double play, shortstop to second, second to first.
“Applying this method to you, I’ve learned one thing,” she said, putting the knife to her sole mousse. “That your life is not boring. You wish your life was boring. Am I off base?”
“Maybe not. Maybe my life isn’t boring, maybe I don’t really seek a boring life. But effectively it’s the same thing. Either way I’ve already got what’s coming. Most people, they’re trying to escape from boredom, but I’m trying to get into the thick of boredom. That’s why I’m not complaining when I say my life is boring. It was enough to make my wife bail out, though.”
“Is that why you and your wife split up?”
“Like I said before, there’s no one thing I can put it all down to. But as Nietzsche said, ‘The gods furl their flags at boredom.’ Or something like that.”
We took our time eating. She had seconds on the sauce, and I had extra bread. Then our plates were cleared away, we had blueberry sorbet, and about the time they came out with espresso I lit up a cigarette. The smoke drifted about only a short while before it was discreetly whisked away by the noiseless ventilation system.
People had begun to take their places at other tables. A Mozart concerto played from the overhead speakers.
“I’d like to ask you more about your ears, if I may,” I said.
“You want to ask whether or not my ears possess some special power?”
I nodded.
“That is something you’d have to check for yourself,” she said. “If I were to tell you anything, it might not be of any interest to you. Might even cramp your style.”
I nodded once more.
“For you, I’ll show my ears,” she said, after finishing her espresso. “But I don’t know if it will really be to your benefit. You might end up regretting it.”
“How’s that?”
“Your boredom might not be as hard-core as you think.”
“That’s a chance I’ll have to take,” I said.
She reached out across the table and put her hand on mine. “One more thing: for the time being—say, the next few months—don’t leave my side. Okay?”
“Sure.”
With that, she pulled a black hairband out of her handbag. Holding it between her lips, she pulled her hair back with both hands, gave it one full twist, and swiftly tied it back.
“Well?”
I swallowed my breath and gazed at her, transfixed. My mouth went dry. From no part of me could I summon a voice. For an instant, the white plaster wall seemed to ripple. The voices of the other diners and the clinking of their dinnerware grew faint, then once again returned to normal. I heard the sound of waves, recalled the scent of a long-forgotten evening. Yet all this was but a mere fragment of the sensations passing through me in those few hundredths of a second.
“Exquisite,” I managed to squeeze out. “I can’t believe you’re the same human being.”
“See what I mean?” she said.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel