I would never read a book if it were possible for me to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it.

Woodrow Wilson

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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 24: One For The Kipper
t ten in the morning, that ridiculous submarine of an automobile was waiting outside my apartment building. From my third-story window, the limo looked more like an upside-down metal cookie cutter than a submarine. You could make a gigantic cookie that would take three hundred kids two weeks to eat. She and I sat on the windowsill looking down at the car.
The sky was appallingly clear. A sky from a prewar expressionist movie. Utterly cloudless, like a monumental eye with its eyelid cut off. A helicopter flying high off in the distance looked minuscule.
I locked all the windows, switched off the refrigerator, and checked the gas cock. The laundry brought in, bed covered with spread, ashtrays rinsed out, and an absurd number of medicinal items put in proper order by the washbasin. The rent paid two months in advance, the newspaper canceled. I looked back from the doorway into the lifeless apartment. For a moment, I thought about the four years of married life spent there, thought about the kids my wife and I never had.
The elevator door opened, and she called to me. I shut the steel door.
The chauffeur was intently polishing the windshield with a dry cloth as he waited for us. The car, not one single mark anywhere, gleamed in the sun to a burning, unearthly brilliance. The slightest touch of the hand and you’d get burned.
“Good morning,” said the chauffeur. The very same religious chauffeur from two days ago.
“Good morning,” said I.
“Good morning,” said my girlfriend.
She held the cat. I carried the cat food and bag of kitty litter.
“Fabulous weather, isn’t it?” said the chauffeur, looking up at the sky. “It’s—how can I put it?—crystal clear.”
I nodded.
“When it gets this clear, God’s messages must have no trouble getting through at all,” I offered.
“Nothing of the kind,” said the chauffeur with a grin. “There are messages already in all things. In the flowers, in the rocks, in the clouds …”
“And cars?”
“In cars too.”
“But cars are made by factories.” Typical me.
“Whosoever makes it, God’s will is worked into it.”
“As in ear lice?” Her contribution.
“As in the very air,” corrected the chauffeur.
“Well then, I suppose that cars made in Saudi Arabia have Allah in them.”
“They don’t produce cars in Saudi Arabia.”
“Really?” Again me.
“Really.”
“Then what about cars produced in America for export to Saudi Arabia? What god’s in them?” queried my girlfriend.
A difficult question.
“Say now, we have to tell him about the cat,” I launched a lifeboat.
“Cute cat, eh?” said the chauffeur, also relieved.
The cat was anything but cute. Rather, he weighed in at the opposite end of the scale, his fur was scruffy like an old, threadbare carpet, the tip of his tail was bent at a sixty-degree angle, his teeth were yellowed, his right eye oozed pus from a wound three years before so that by now he could hardly see. It was doubtful that he could distinguish between a tennis shoe and a potato. The pads of his feet were shriveled-up corns, his ears were infested with ear lice, and from sheer age he farted at least twenty times a day. He’d been a fine young tom the day my wife found him under a park bench and brought him home, but in the last few years he’d rapidly gone downhill. Like a bowling ball rolling toward the gutter. Also, he didn’t have a name. I had no idea whether not having a name reduced or contributed to the cat’s tragedy.
“Nice kitty-kitty,” said the chauffeur, hand not outstretched. “What’s his name?”
“He doesn’t have a name.”
“So what do you call the fella?”
“I don’t call it,” I said. “It’s just there.”
“But he’s not a lump just sitting there. He moves about by his own will, no? Seems mighty strange that something that moves by its own will doesn’t have a name.”
“Herring swim around of their own will, but nobody gives them names.”
“Well, first of all, there’s no emotional bond between herring and people, and besides, they wouldn’t know their name if they heard it.”
“Which is to say that animals that not only move by their own will and share feelings with people but also possess sight and hearing qualify as deserving of names then?”
“There, you got it.” The chauffeur nodded repeatedly, satisfied. “How about it? What say I go ahead and give the little guy a name?”
“Don’t mind in the least. But what name?”
“How about ‘Kipper’? I mean you were treating him like a herring after all.”
“Not bad,” I said.
“You see?” said the chauffeur.
“What do you think?” I asked my girlfriend.
“Not bad,” she said. “It’s like being witness to the creation of heaven and earth.”
“Let there be Kipper,” I said.
“C’mere, Kipper,” said the chauffeur, picking up the cat. The cat got frightened, bit the chauffeur’s thumb, then farted.
The chauffeur took us to the airport. The cat rode quietly up front next to the driver. Farting from to time to time. The driver kept opening the window, so we knew. Meanwhile, I cranked out instructions to the chauffeur about the cat. How to clean his ears, stores that sold litter-box deodorant, the amount of food to give him, things like that.
“Don’t worry,” said the chauffeur. “I’ll take good care of him. I’m his godfather, you know.”
The roads were surprisingly empty. The car raced to the airport like a salmon shooting upstream to spawn.
“Why do boats have names, but not airplanes?” I asked the chauffeur. “Why just Flight 971 or Flight 326, and not the Bell-flower or the Daisy?”
“Probably because there’re more planes than boats. Mass production.”
“I wonder. Lots of boats are mass-produced, and they may outnumber planes.”
“Still…,” said the chauffeur, then nothing for a few seconds. “Realistically speaking, nobody’s going to put names on each and every city bus.”
“I think it’d be wonderful if each city bus had a name,” said my girlfriend.
“But wouldn’t that lead to passengers choosing the buses they want to ride? To go from Shinjuku to Sendagaya, say, they’d ride the Antelope but not the Mule.”
“How about it?” I asked my girlfriend.
“For sure, I’d think twice about riding the Mule,” she said.
“But hey, think about the poor driver of the Mule,” the chauffeur spoke up for drivers everywhere. “The Mule’s driver isn’t to blame.”
“Well put,” said I.
“Maybe,” said she, “but I’d still ride the Antelope.”
“Well there you are,” said the chauffeur. “That’s just how it’d be. Names on ships are familiar from times before mass production. In principle, it amounts to the same thing as naming horses. So that airplanes treated like horses are actually given names too. There’s the Spirit of St. Louis and the Enola Gay. We’re looking at a full-fledged conscious identification.”
“Which is to say that life is the basic concept here.”
“Exactly.”
“And that purpose, as such, is but a secondary element in naming.”
“Exactly. For purpose alone, numbers are enough. Witness the treatment of the Jews at Auschwitz.”
“Fine so far,” I said. “So let’s just say that the basis of naming is this act of conscious identification with living things. Why then do train stations and parks and baseball stadiums have names, if they’re not living?”
“Why? Because it’d be chaos if stations didn’t have names.”
“No, we’re not talking on the purposive level. I’d like you to explain it to me in principle.”
The chauffeur gave this serious thought. He failed to notice that the traffic light had turned green. The camper van behind us honked its horn to the overture to the The Magnificent Seven.
“Because they’re not interchangeable, I suppose. For instance, there’s only one Shinjuku Station and you can’t just replace it with Shibuya Station. This non-interchangeability is to say that they’re not mass-produced. Are we clear on these two points?”
“Sure would be fun to have Shinjuku Station in Ekoda, though,” said my girlfriend.
“If Shinjuku Station were in Ekoda, it would be Ekoda Station,” countered the chauffeur.
“But it’d still have the Odakyu Line attached,” she said.
“Back to the original line of discussion,” I said. “If stations were interchangeable, what would that mean? If, for instance, all national railway stations were mass-produced fold-up type buildings and Shinjuku Station and Tokyo Station were absolutely interchangeable?”
“Simple enough. If it’s in Shinjuku, it’d be Shinjuku Station; if it’s in Tokyo, it’d be Tokyo Station.”
“So what we’re talking about here is not the name of a physical object, but the name of a function. A role. Isn’t that purpose?”
The chauffeur fell silent. Only this time he didn’t stay silent for very long.
“You know what I think?” said the chauffeur. “I think maybe we ought to cast a warmer eye on the subject.”
“Meaning?”
“I mean towns and parks and streets and stations and ball fields and movie theaters all have names, right? They are all given names in compensation for their fixity on the earth.”
A new theory.
“Well,” said I, “suppose I utterly obliterated my consciousness and became totally fixed, would I merit a fancy name?”
The chauffeur glanced at my face in the rearview mirror. A suspicious look, as if I were laying some trap. “Fixed?”
“Say I froze in place, or something. Like Sleeping Beauty.”
“But you already have a name.”
“Right you are,” I said. “I nearly forgot.”
We received our boarding passes at the airport check-in counter and said goodbye to the chauffeur. He would have waited to see us off, but as there was an hour and a half before departure time, he capitulated and left.
“A real character, that one,” she said.
“There’s a place I know with no one but people like that,” I said. “The cows there go around looking for pliers.”
“Sounds like ‘Home on the Pampas.’”
“Maybe so,” I said.
We went into the airport restaurant and had an early lunch. Shrimp au gratin for me, spaghetti for her. I watched the 747s and Tristars take flight and swoop down to earth with a gravity that seemed fated. Meanwhile, she dubiously inspected each strand of spaghetti she ate.
“I thought that they always served meals on planes,” she said, disgruntled.
“Nope,” I said, waiting for the hot lump of gratin in my mouth to cool down, then gulping down some water. No taste but hot. “Meals only on international flights. They give you something to eat on longer domestic routes. Not exactly what you’d call a special treat, though.”
“And movies?”
“No way. C’mon, it’s only an hour to Sapporo.”
“Then they give you nothing.”
“Nothing at all. You sit in your seat, read your book, and arrive at your destination. Same as by bus.”
“But no traffic lights.”
“No traffic lights.”
“Just great,” she said with a sigh. She put down her fork, leaving half the spaghetti untouched.
“The thing is you get there faster. It takes twelve hours if you go by train.”
“And where does the extra time go?”
I also gave up halfway through my meal and ordered two coffees. “Extra time?”
“You said planes save you over ten hours. So where does all that time go?”
“Time doesn’t go anywhere. It only adds up. We can use those ten hours as we like, in Tokyo or in Sapporo. With ten hours we could see four movies, eat two meals, whatever. Right?”
“But what if I don’t want to go to the movies or eat?”
“That’s your problem. It’s no fault of time.”
She bit her lip as we looked out at the squat bodies of the 747s on the tarmac. 747s always remind me of a fat, ugly old lady in the neighborhood where I used to live. Huge sagging breasts, swollen legs, dried-up neckline. The airport, a likely gathering place for the old ladies. Dozens of them, coming and going, one after the other. The pilots and stewardesses, strutting back and forth in the lobby with heads held high, seemed quaintly planar. I couldn’t help thinking how it wasn’t like the DC-7 and Friendship-7 days, but maybe it was.
“Well,” she went on, “does time expand?”
“No, time does not expand,” I answered. I had spoken, but why didn’t it sound like my voice? I coughed and drank my coffee. “Time does not expand.”
“But time is actually increasing, isn’t it? You yourself said that time adds up.”
“That’s only because the time needed for transit has decreased. The sum total of time doesn’t change. It’s only that you can see more movies.”
“If you wanted to see movies,” she added.
As soon as we arrived in Sapporo, we actually did see a double feature.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel