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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 7: Before The Strange Man
A Wild Sheep Chase, I
There are various reasons why an individual might habitually consume large quantities of alcohol, but they all effectively boil down to the same thing.
Five years ago, my business partner was a happy drunk. Three years later, he had become a moody drunk. And by last summer, he was fumbling at the knob of the door to alcoholism. As with most habitual drinkers, he was a nice-enough, regular-if-not-exactly-sharp kind of guy when sober. Everyone thought of him as a nice-enough, regular-if-not-exactly-sharp kind of guy. He thought so too. That’s why he drank. Because it seemed that with alcohol in his system, he could more fully embody this idea of being that kind of guy.
Things were fine at first. But as time went on and the quantity of alcohol increased, subtle changes occurred, and these subtle changes gradually wore into a deep rut. His regularity and nice-enoughness got ahead of him, excessively so. A typical case. Typically, however, people don’t think of themselves as typical cases. And not-exactly-sharp types even less so. The attempt to regain sight of what he’d lost sent him wandering in an even thicker alcoholic fog.
Still, at least for the time being, he was a regular guy until the sun went down. And since for years now I had made a conscious effort not to meet up with him after sunset, as far as I was concerned he was regular enough. Even so, I knew full well that after sunset he became not quite regular, and he himself knew it too. As neither of us would ever broach the subject, we got along the same as always. We just weren’t the friends we had once been.
While I can’t say I understood him one hundred percent (even seventy percent would have been doing well), for what it was worth, he had been my only friend in college, and it wasn’t easy watching him deteriorate from close up. Ultimately, I guess, that’s what age does.
By the time I’d get to the office he’d already had one shot of whiskey. As long as it was one shot, he could be mister regular, but there was no telling when he’d up his regular to two. When that happened, I knew we’d have to go our separate ways.
I was standing in the gust of the air conditioner, letting my sweat dry as I sipped a cool glass of barley tea. I wasn’t saying anything. He wasn’t saying anything. The harsh afternoon sun spilled across the linoleum floor in hallucinatory sprays. Below, on the park’s expanse of greenery, people lay on the grass sunning themselves. My partner tapped at the palm of his right hand with the tip of a ballpoint pen.
“I hear you got divorced,” he started.
“That was news two weeks ago,” I said, still staring out the window. I took off my sunglasses, and my eyes hurt.
“So why’d you get divorced?”
“Personal reasons.”
“I know that,” he said. “Never heard of a divorce for other than personal reasons.”
I said nothing. Didn’t we have a long-standing unspoken agreement never to touch upon each other’s private affairs?
“I don’t mean to pry,” he said, “but she was a friend of mine too. It came as a shock. I thought you two were always so close.”
“We always were close. It’s not like we parted on bad terms.”
My partner smirked, continuing to tap the palm of his hand with the pen. He was wearing a deep-blue shirt with a black tie, hair neatly combed, cologne. While I was in a T-shirt with Snoopy carrying a surfboard, old Levi’s that had been washed colorless, and dirty tennis shoes. To anyone else, he clearly was the regular one.
“You remember when she and the two of us worked together?”
“I remember very well,” I said.
“Those were happy times,” my partner said.
I moved away from the air conditioner, walked over to the center of the room, and dropped myself down on the plush sky-blue Swedish sofa. I extracted a filter-tip Pall Mall from the special visitors’ cigarette case and lit up with the heavy tabletop lighter.
“So?” I said.
“So what I’m saying is maybe we’ve overextended ourselves.”
“You talking about the ads and magazine work?”
My partner nodded, though it must have been hard for him to admit it. I weighed the lighter in my hand, turned the screw to adjust the flame, and felt sorry for him.
“Okay, I know what you’re trying to say,” I said, returning the lighter to the table, “but remember, I wasn’t the one who brought in the business, and it wasn’t my idea to do this work. You walked in with it. You’re the one who wanted to give it a go.”
“There were pressing circumstances. We had nothing …”
“It made money.”
“Sure it made money. Let us move to a larger office and take on more staff. I got a new car, bought a condo, sent two kids to an expensive private school. Not bad for thirty years old, I suppose.”
“You earned it. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Who’s ashamed?” said my partner, retrieving the ballpoint pen that had flown across his desk and taking another few pokes at the middle of his palm. “But you know, it doesn’t seem real. There we were, the two of us with nothing but debts, trying to scrounge up translation work, passing out handbills down by the station.”
“What’s to stop us from passing out handbills now if we wanted?”
My partner looked up at me. “Hey, I’m not joking.”
“Neither am I.”
A silence fell between us.
“A lot of things have changed,” my partner said. “The pace of our lives, our thinking. Above all, we don’t even know ourselves how much we really make. A tax accountant comes in and does all that awful paperwork, with exemptions and depreciations and write-offs and what not.”
“The same as everywhere else.”
“I know, I know. That’s what we’ve got to do and that’s what we’re doing. But it was more fun in the old days.”
“For lo the shadows of a gaol untold, Do grow about our days now many fold.” Lines from a poem suddenly popped out of my mouth.
“How’s that again?”
“Nothing, sorry. You were saying?”
“I just feel like we’re engaged in some kind of exploitation.”
“Exploitation?” I looked up in surprise.
There were two yards between us, and with the different heights of our seats his head rose ten inches above mine. A lithograph hung behind him. A new lithograph I’d not seen before, of a fish with wings. The fish didn’t look too happy about its wings. Probably wasn’t sure how to use them either.
“Exploitation?” I muttered to myself.
“Exploitation.”
“And who, pray tell, is doing the exploiting?”
“Different interests, little by little.”
I crossed my legs on the sky-blue sofa and fixed my gaze at the drama of his hand and ballpoint pen, now exactly at eye level.
“In any case, don’t you think we’ve changed?” asked my partner.
“We’re still the same. Not anyone or anything has changed.”
“You really think so?”
“I really do. Exploitation doesn’t exist. It’s a fairy tale. Even you don’t believe that Salvation Army trumpets can actually save the world, do you? I think you think too much.”
“Well all right, maybe I do think too much,” my partner said. “Last week you—I mean we—wrote the copy for that magazine ad. And it wasn’t bad copy. It went over real well. But tell me, have you eaten margarine even once in the past couple years?”
“No, I hate margarine.”
“Same here. That’s what I mean. At the very least, in the old days we did work we believed in, and we took pride in it. There’s none of that now. We’re just tossing out fluff.”
“Margarine is good for you. It’s vegetable fat, low in cholesterol. It guards against heart problems, and lately it doesn’t taste bad. It’s cheap and keeps well too.”
“So eat the stuff.”
I sank back into the sofa, stretching out my arms and legs.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “It’s the same whether we eat margarine or don’t. Dull translation jobs or fraudulent copy, it’s basically the same. Sure we’re tossing out fluff, but tell me, where does anyone deal in words with substance? C’mon now, there’s no honest work anywhere. Just like there’s no honest breathing or honest pissing.”
“You were more innocent in the old days.”
“Maybe so,” I said, crushing out a cigarette in the ashtray. “And no doubt there’s an innocent town somewhere where an innocent butcher slices innocent ham. So if you think that drinking whiskey from the middle of the morning is innocent, go ahead and drink as much as you want.”
The room was treated to an extended pen-on-desktop staccato solo.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that.”
“That’s okay,” said my partner. “I certainly can’t deny it.”
The air conditioner thermostat made a funny noise. This was a terribly quiet afternoon.
“Have some confidence in yourself,” I said. “Haven’t we made it this far on our own? With just the two of us. The only thing that separates us from all those precious success stories is they have backers and titles.”
“And to think we used to be friends,” said my partner.
“We’re still friends,” I said. “We’ve come all this way together.”
“I didn’t want to see you get divorced.”
“I know,” I said. “But what do you say we start talking about sheep?”
He nodded. He placed the ballpoint pen back in its tray and rubbed his eyes.
“It was eleven o’clock this morning when the man came,” my partner began.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel