Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.

Attributed to Groucho Marx

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Ebook "A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel"
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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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Cập nhật: 2017-04-13 11:16:02 +0700
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Chapter 25: Transit Completed At Movie Theater; On To The Dolphin Hotel
he entire flight, she sat by the window and looked down at the scenery. I sat next to her reading my Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Not a single cloud in the sky the whole time, the airplane riding on its shadow over the earth. Or more accurately, since we were in the plane, our shadows figured as well inside the shadow of the airplane skimming over mountain and field. Which would mean we too were imprinted into the earth.
“I really liked that guy,” she said after drinking her orange juice.
“That guy who?”
“The chauffeur.”
“Hmm,” I said, “I liked him too.”
“And what a great name, ‘Kipper.’”
“For sure. A great name. The cat might be better off with him than he ever was with me.”
“Not ‘the cat,’ ‘Kipper.’”
“Right. ‘Kipper.’”
“Why didn’t you give the cat a name all this time?”
“Why indeed,” I puzzled. Then I lit up a cigarette with the sheep-engraved lighter. “I think I just don’t like names. Basically, I can’t see what’s wrong with calling me ‘me’ or you ‘you’ or us ‘us’ or them ‘them.’”
“Hmm,” she said. “I do like the word ‘we,’ though. It has an Ice Age ring to it.”
“Ice Age?”
“Like ‘We go south’ or ‘We hunt mammoth’ or …”
When we stepped outside at Chitose Airport, the air was chillier than we’d expected. I pulled a denim shirt over my T-shirt, she a knit vest over her shirt. Autumn had come over this land one whole month ahead of Tokyo.
“We weren’t supposed to run into an Ice Age, were we?” she asked on the bus to Sapporo. “You hunting mammoths, me raising children.”
“Sounds positively inviting,” I said.
She soon fell asleep, leaving me gazing through the bus windows at the endless procession of deep forest on both sides of the road.
We hit a coffee shop first thing on arriving in the city.
“Right off, let’s set our prime directives,” I said. “We’ll have to divide up. That is, I go after the scene in the photograph. You go after the sheep. That way we save time.”
“Very pragmatic.”
“If things go well,” I amended. “In any case, you can cover the major former sheep ranches of Hokkaido and study up on sheep breeds. You can probably find what you need at a government office or the local library.”
“I like libraries,” she said.
“I’m glad.”
“Do I start right away?”
I looked at my watch. Three-thirty. “Nah, it’s already getting late. Let’s start tomorrow. Today we’ll take it easy, find a place to stay, have dinner, take a bath, and get some sleep.”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing a movie,” she said.
“A movie?”
“What with all that time we saved by flying.”
“Good point,” I said. So we popped into the first movie theater that caught our eye.
What we ended up seeing was a crime-occult double feature. There was hardly a soul in the place. It’d been ages since I’d been in a theater that empty. I counted the people in the audience to pass the time. Eight, including ourselves. There were more characters in the films.
The films were exemplars of the dreadful. The sort of films where you feel like turning around and walking out the instant the title comes on after the roaring MGM lion. Amazing that films like that exist.
The first was the occult feature. The devil, who lives in the dripping, dank cellar of the town church and manipulates things through the weak preacher, takes over the town. The real question, though, was why the devil wanted to take over the town to begin with. All it was was a miserable nothing of a few blocks surrounded by cornfields.
Nonetheless, the devil had this terrible obsession with the town and grew furious that one last little girl refused to fall under his spell. When the devil got mad, his body shook like quivering green jelly. Admittedly, there was something endearing about that rage.
In front of us a middle-aged man was snoring away like a foghorn. To the extreme right there was some heavy petting in progress. Behind, someone let out a huge fart. Huge enough to stop the middle-aged man’s snoring for a moment. A pair of high school girls giggled.
By reflex, I thought of Kipper. And it was only when I did that it came to me that we’d really left Tokyo and were now in Sapporo.
Funny about that.
Amid these thoughts I fell asleep. In my dreams, I encountered that green devil, but he wasn’t endearing in the least. He remained silent and I just observed his machinations.
Meanwhile, the film ended, the lights came on, and I woke up. Each member of the audience yawned as if in predetermined order. I went to the snack bar and bought ice cream for us. It was hard as a rock, probably left over from last summer.
“You slept through the whole thing?”
“Uh-huh,” I said. “How was it?”
“Pretty interesting. In the end, the whole town explodes.”
“Wow.”
The movie theater was deathly quiet. Or rather everything around us was deathly quiet. Not a common occurrence.
“Say,” she said, “doesn’t it seem like your body’s in a state of transit or something?”
Now that she mentioned it, it actually did.
She held my hand. “Let’s just stay like this. I’m worried.”
“Okay.”
“Unless we stay like this, we might get transported somewhere else. Someplace crazy.”
As the theater interior grew dark again and the coming attractions began, I brushed her hair aside and kissed her ear. “It’s all right. Don’t worry.”
“You’re probably right,” she said softly. “I guess we should have ridden in transportation with names after all.”
For the next hour and a half, from the beginning to the end of the film, we stayed in a state of quiet transport in the darkness. Her head resting on my shoulder the whole time. My shoulder became warm and damp from her breath.
We came out of the movie theater and strolled the twilit streets, my arm around her shoulder. We felt closer than ever before. The commotion of passersby was comforting; faint stars were shining through in the sky.
“Are we really in the right city, the two of us?” she asked.
I looked up at the sky. The polestar was in the right position, but somehow it looked like a fake polestar. Too big, too bright.
“I wonder,” I said.
“I feel like something’s out of place,” she said.
“That’s what it’s like, coming to a new city. Your body can’t quite get used to it.”
“But after a while you do get used to it, don’t you?”
“After two or three days, you’ll be fine,” I said.
When we tired of walking, we went into the first restaurant we saw, drank draft beer, and ordered some salmon and potatoes. We’d walked in willy-nilly off the street and gotten lucky. The beer really hit the spot, and the food was actually good.
“Well then,” I said after coffee, “what say we settle on a place to stay?”
“I’ve already got an image of a place,” she said.
“Like what?”
“Never mind. Get a list of hotels and read off the names in order.”
I asked a waiter to bring over the yellow pages and started reading the names listed in the “Hotels, Inns” section. After forty names, she stopped me.
“That’s the one.”
“Which one?”
“The last one you read.”
“Dolphin Hotel,” I said.
“That’s where we’re staying.”
“Never heard of it.”
“But I can’t see us staying at any other hotel.”
I returned the phone book, then called the Dolphin Hotel. A man with an indistinct voice answered, indicating they had double and single rooms available. And did they have other types of rooms besides doubles and singles? No. Doubles and singles were all. Confused, I reserved a double. The price: forty percent less than what I’d expected.
The Dolphin Hotel was located three blocks west and one block south of the movie theater we’d gone to. A small place, totally undistinguished. Its undistinguishedness was metaphysical. No neon sign, no large signboard, not even a real entryway. The glass front door, which resembled an employees’ kitchen entrance, had next to it only a copper plate engraved with DOLPHIN HOTEL. Not even a picture of a dolphin.
The building was five stories tall, but it might as well have been a giant matchbox stood on end. It wasn’t particularly old; still it was strikingly run-down. Most likely it was run-down when it was built.
This was our Dolphin Hotel.
Yet she apparently fell in love with the place the moment she set eyes on it.
“Not a bad hotel, eh?” she said.
“Not bad?” I tossed back her words.
“Cozy, no frills.”
“No frills,” I repeated. “By frills, I’m sure you mean clean sheets or a sink that doesn’t leak or an air conditioner that works or reasonably soft toilet paper or fresh soap or curtains that prevent sunstroke.”
“You always look at the dark side of things,” she laughed. “Anyway, we didn’t come here as tourists.”
On opening the door, I found the lobby bigger than expected. In the middle of it was a set of parlor furniture and a large color TV; there was a quiz show on. Not a soul was in sight.
Large potted ornamentals sat on both sides of the front door, their leaves faded, nearly brown. I stood there taking everything in. The lobby was actually a lot less spacious than it had initially seemed. It appeared large because there were so few pieces of furniture. The parlor set, a grandfather clock, and a mirror. Nothing else.
I walked over and checked out the clock and mirror. Both were commemorative presents of some event or another. The clock was seven minutes off; the mirror made my head crooked on my body.
The parlor set was about as run-down as the hotel itself. The sofa was an unappealing orange, the sort of orange you’d get by leaving a choicely sunburnt weaving out in the rain for a week, then throwing it into the cellar until it mildewed. This was an orange from the early days of Technicolor.
On closer inspection, a balding middle-aged man lay, stretched out like a dried fish, asleep on the parlor set chaise longue. At first, I thought he was dead, but his nose twitched. There were the indentations of eyeglasses on the bridge of his nose, but no glasses anywhere. Which would mean that he hadn’t fallen asleep while watching television. It didn’t make sense.
I stood at the front desk and peeked over the counter. Nobody there. She rang the bell. It chimed across the expanse of lobby.
We waited thirty seconds and got no response. The man on the chaise longue didn’t stir.
She rang the bell again.
Now the man on the chaise longue grunted. A self-accusing grunt. Then he opened his eyes and looked us over vacantly.
She gave the bell a third, serious ring.
The man sprang up and dashed across the lobby. He edged by me and went behind the counter. He was the desk clerk.
“Terrible of me,” he said. “Really terrible of me. Fell asleep waiting for you.”
“Sorry to wake you,” I said.
“Not at all,” said the desk clerk. He brought out a registration card and a ballpoint pen. He was missing the tips of the little and middle fingers on his left hand.
I wrote my name on the card but had second thoughts and crumpled it up and stuffed it in my pocket. I took another card and wrote a fake name and a fake address. An ordinary name and address, but not bad for a spur-of-the-moment name and address. I put down my occupation as real estate.
The desk clerk picked up his thick celluloid-rimmed glasses from beside the telephone and peered intently at the registration card.
“Suginami, Tokyo, … 29 years old, realtor.”
I took a tissue from my pocket and wiped the ink from my fingers.
“Here on business?” asked the clerk.
“Uh, sort of,” I said.
“How many nights?”
“One month,” I said.
“One month?” He gave me a blank-white-sheet-of-drawing-paper look. “You’ll be staying here one whole month?”
“Is there something wrong with that?”
“No, uh, nothing wrong, but well, we like to settle up payment three days at a time.”
I set my satchel on the floor, counted out twenty ten-thousand-yen notes, and laid them on the counter.
“There’s more if that runs out,” I said.
The clerk scooped up the bills with the three fingers of his left hand and counted them with his right. Then he made out a receipt. “Would there be anything special you might care to see in the way of a room?”
“A corner room away from the elevator, if possible.”
The clerk turned around and squinted at the keyboard. After much ado, he chose room 406. The keyboard was almost entirely full. A real success story, the Dolphin Hotel.
There was no such thing as a bellboy, so we carried our bags to the elevator. As she said, no frills. The elevator shook like a large dog with lung disease.
“For an extended stay, there’s nothing like your small, basic hotel.”
“Your small, basic hotel”—not a bad turn of phrase. Like something from the travel pages of a women’s fashion magazine: “After a long trip, your small, basic hotel is just the thing.”
Nonetheless, the first thing I did upon opening the door to our small, basic hotel room was to grab a slipper to smash a cockroach that was creeping along the window frame. Then I picked up two pubic hairs lying by the foot of the bed and disposed of them in the trash. A new experience for me, seeing a cockroach in Hokkaido. Meanwhile, she ran the bath to temperature. And believe me, it was one noisy faucet.
“I tell you, we should’ve stayed in a better hotel,” I opened the bathroom door and yelled in her direction. “We’ve got more than enough money.”
“It’s not a question of money. Our sheep hunt begins here. No argument, it had to be here.”
I stretched out on the bed and smoked a cigarette, switched on the television and ran through all the channels, then turned it off. The only thing decent was the reception. Presently, the bathwater stopped and her clothes came flying out, followed by the sound of the hand shower.
Parting the window curtains, I looked out across the way onto a sordid menagerie of buildings every bit as incomprehensible as our Dolphin Hotel. Each one a dingy ash gray and reeking of piss just by their looks. Although it was already nine o’clock, I could see people in the few lit windows, busily working away. I couldn’t tell what line of work it was, but none of them looked terribly happy. Of course, to their eyes, I probably looked a bit forlorn too.
I drew the curtains shut and returned to the bed, rolled over on the hard-as-asphalt starched sheets, and thought about my ex-wife. I thought about the man she was living with now. I knew almost everything there was to know about him. He’d been my friend, after all, so why shouldn’t I know? Twenty-seven years old. A not very well-known jazz guitarist, but regular enough as not very well-known jazz guitarists go. Not a bad guy. No style, though. One year he’d drift between Kenny Burrell and B.B. King, another year between Larry Coryell and Jim Hall.
Why she’d up and choose him after me, I couldn’t figure. Granted, you can pick out certain characteristics among individuals. Yet the only thing he had over me was that he could play guitar, and the only thing I had over him was that I could wash dishes. Most guitarists can’t wash dishes. Ruin their fingers and there goes everything.
Then I found myself thinking about sex with her. By default, I tried to calculate the number of times we’d had sex in our four years of married life. An approximate count at best, and admittedly, what would be the point of an approximate count? I should have kept a diary. Or at least made some mark in a notebook. That way I’d have an accurate figure. Accurate figures give things a sense of reality.
My ex-wife kept precise records about sex. Not that she kept a diary per se. She recorded in a notebook exact data about her periods from her first year on and included sex as a supplementary reference. Altogether there were eight of these notebooks, all kept in a locked drawer together with important papers and photographs. These she showed to no one. That she kept records about sex is the full extent of my knowledge. What and how much she wrote, I have no idea. And now that we’re no longer together, I’ll probably never know.
“If I die,” she told me, “burn these notebooks. Douse them in kerosene and let them burn till ash, then bury them. I’d never forgive you if one word remained.”
“But I’m the one who’s been sleeping with you. I pretty much know every inch of your body. What’s there to be ashamed of at this late date?”
“Body cells replace themselves every month. Even at this very moment,” she said, thrusting a skinny back of her hand before my eyes. “Most everything you think you know about me is nothing more than memories.”
The woman—save for the month or so prior to our divorce—was singularly methodical in her thinking. She had an absolutely realistic grasp on her life. Which is to say that no door once closed ever opened again, nor as a rule was any door left wide open.
Now all I know about her is my memories of her. And these memories fade further and further into the distance like displaced cells. Now I have no way of knowing precisely how many times she and I had sex.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel