Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.

John LeCarre

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Ebook "A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel"
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Tác giả: Haruki Murakami
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Chapter 32: An Unlucky Bend In The Road
he morning was hazy and cool. I sympathized with those sheep. Swimming though the cold disinfectant on a day like this could be brutal. Maybe sheep don’t feel cold? Maybe they don’t feel anything.
Hokkaido’s short autumn season was drawing to a close. The thick gray clouds in the north were intimations of the snows to come. Flying from September Tokyo to October Hokkaido, I’d lost my autumn. There’d been the beginning and the end, but none of the heart of autumn.
I woke at six and washed my face. I sat alone in the corridor, looking out the window until breakfast was ready. The waters of the river had subsided somewhat since the day before and were now running clear. Rice fields spread out on the opposite bank, where irregular morning breezes traced random waves through the ripened, tall grassiness, as far as the eye could see. A tractor crossed the concrete bridge, heading toward the hills, its puttering engine faintly audible in the wind. Three crows flew out of the now-golden birch woods. Making a full circle above the river and landing on a railing of the building. Perched there, the crows acted the perfect bystanders from an avant-garde drama. Soon tiring of even that role, however, the crows flew off one by one and disappeared upstream.
The sheep caretaker’s old jeep was parked outside the inn at eight o’clock sharp. The jeep had a box-shaped roof, apparently a surplus job if the Self-Defense Forces issue number legible on the front fender was any indication.
“You know, there’s something funny going on,” the caretaker said as soon as he saw me. “I tried to telephone ahead up on the mountain, but I couldn’t get through.”
She and I climbed into the backseat. It smelled of gasoline. “When was the last time you tried calling?” I asked.
“Well, around the twentieth of last month, I guess. I haven’t gotten in touch once since then. A call generally comes in from him whenever there’s something he needs. A shopping list or something.”
“Did you get the phone to ring?”
“Not even a busy signal. Must be a line down somewhere. Not unlikely if there’s been a big snow.”
“But there hasn’t been any snow.”
The caretaker looked up at the roof of the jeep and rolled his head around to crack his neck. “Then we’ll just have to go take a look, won’t we?”
I nodded. The gasoline fumes were starting to get to me.
We crossed the concrete bridge and started up the hill by the same road I’d taken yesterday. Passing the Municipal Sheep Farm, all three of us turned to look at the two poles with the sign over the entrance. The farm was stillness itself. I could picture the sheep: each staring off into its own silent space with limpid blue eyes.
“You leave the disinfecting to the afternoon?”
“Yeah, well, no real hurry or nothin’. So long’s it gets done before it snows.”
“When does it start to snow?”
“Wouldn’t be surprised if it snowed next week,” said the caretaker. With one hand on the steering wheel, he looked down and coughed. “It’ll be into November before it gets to piling up, though. Ever know a winter in these parts?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, once it starts to collect, it piles up nonstop as if a dam’s burst through. By then, there’s nothin’ you can do but crawl indoors and hang your head. People were never meant to live in these parts in the first place.”
“But you’ve been living here all this time.”
“That’s because I like sheep. Sheep are good-natured creatures. They even remember people by their face. A year looking after sheep is over before you know it, and then it starts to add up. In the autumn they mate, spring they lamb, summer they graze. When the lambs get big, in the autumn they’re mating. ’Round and ’round. It all repeats itself. The sheep change every year, it’s only me getting older. And the older I get, the less I want to live in town again.”
“What do sheep do over the winter?” asked my girlfriend.
His hands still on the steering wheel, the caretaker turned around and gazed at her, practically drinking in her face, as if he hadn’t noticed her before. The road was paved and straight and there wasn’t another car in sight; even so, I broke into a nervous sweat.
“They stay put indoors all winter long,” said the caretaker, at last turning his eyes back to the road.
“Don’t they get bored?”
“Do you get so bored with your own life?”
“I can’t really say.”
“Well, the same with sheep,” said the caretaker. “They don’t think about stuff like that, and it wouldn’t do ’em any good if they did. They just pass the winter eating hay, pissing, getting into spats, thinking about the babies in their bellies.”
The hills grew steeper and steeper, and the road started to curve into switchbacks. Pastoral scenery gradually gave way to sheer walls of dark primal forest on both sides of the road. Occasionally, there’d be an opening to a glimpse of the flatlands below.
“Under snow, we wouldn’t be getting through here,” said the caretaker. “Not that there’s any need to.”
“Aren’t there any ski areas or mountaineering courses?” I asked.
“Not here, nothing. And that’s why there’s no tourists. Which is why the town’s going nowhere fast. Up until the early sixties, the town was fairly active as a model for cold-zone agriculture. But ever since the rice surplus, everybody’s lost interest in farming in an icebox. Stands to reason.”
“What happened to the lumber mills?”
“Weren’t enough hands to go around, so they moved to more convenient places. You can still find small mills in a few towns today, but not many. Now, trees cut here in the mountains pass right through town and are taken to Nayoro and Asahikawa. That’s why the roads are in top shape while the town’s going to pieces. A large truck with snow tires’ll get through most any snowblock.”
Unconsciously, I brought a cigarette to my lips, but before lighting up I remembered the gasoline fumes and returned it to the pack. So I sucked on a lemon drop instead. The result: the uncommon taste of lemon gasoline.
“Do sheep quarrel?” asked my girlfriend.
“You bet they quarrel,” said the caretaker. “It’s the same with any animal that goes around in groups. Each and every sheep has a pecking order in the sheep society. If there’s fifty sheep in a pen, then there’s number one sheep right down to number fifty sheep. And each one knows exactly where it belongs.”
“Amazing,” she said.
“It makes managing ’em that much easier for me too. You pull on number one sheep, and the rest just follow along, no questions asked.”
“But if they all know their place, why should they fight?”
“Say one sheep gets hurt and loses its strength, its position becomes unstable. So the sheep under it get feisty and try for better position. When that happens, they’re at it for three days.”
“Poor things.”
“Well, it all evens out. The sheep that gets the boot, when it was young, gave some other sheep the boot, after all. And when it all comes down to the butcher block, there’s no number one or number fifty. Just one happy barbecue.”
“Humph,” she said.
“But the real pitiful one is the stud ram. You know all about sheep harems, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t,” I said.
“When you’re raising sheep, the most important thing you got to keep an eye on is mating. So you keep ’em separate, the males with the males, the females with the females. Then you throw one male into the pen with the females. Generally, it’s the strongest number one male. In other words, you’re serving up the best seed. After a month, when all the business is done, this stud ram gets returned to the males-only pen. But during the time the stud’s been busy, the other males have worked out a new pecking order. And thanks to all that servicing, the stud is down to half his weight and there’s no way he can win a fight. So all the other males gang up on him. Now there’s a sad story.”
“How do sheep fight?”
“They bump heads. Sheep foreheads are hard as steel and all hollow inside.”
She said nothing, but seemed to be deep in thought. Probably trying to picture angry sheep beating their heads together.
After thirty minutes’ drive, the paved surface suddenly disappeared, and the road narrowed to half its width. From both sides, dark primal forests rushed in like giant waves at our jeep. The temperature dropped.
The road was terrible. It bounced the jeep around like a seismographic needle, agitating the gasoline in the plastic tank at our feet. The gas made ominous sounds, as if someone’s brains were sloshing about, ready to come flying out of their skull. Was I nervous about it? You bet.
The road went on like this for twenty or thirty minutes. I couldn’t steady myself even to read my watch. The whole while nobody said a word. I held tight to the belt attached to the seat, as she clung to my right arm. The caretaker concentrated on holding on to the steering wheel.
“Left,” the caretaker suddenly spoke up. Not knowing what to expect, I turned to see a wall in the dark forest torn wide open, the ground falling away. The valley was vast, and the view was spectacular. But without a hint of warmth. The rock face was sheer, stripped of every bit of life. You could smell its menacing breath.
Back straight ahead on the road a slick, conical mountain now appeared. At the tip, a tremendous force had twisted the cone out of shape.
Hands tight on the steering wheel, the caretaker jutted his chin forward in the direction of the cove.
“We’re headed ’round the other side of that.”
The strong wind that climbed the right slope from the valley sent the thick foliage sweeping upward, lightly spraying sand against the windows.
At some point near the top of the cone, the switchbacks came to an end, the slope on the right changing into volcanic crags, then eventually into a steep stone face. Squeezed on a narrow ledge chiseled into a featureless expanse of rock, the jeep crept along.
Suddenly, the weather took a turn for the worse. The blue-tinged patches of light-gray sky wearied of their fickle subtleties and turned dark, mixing in an uneven sooty black. Imparting a grim cast to the mountains.
In this caldron of a mountain, the winds whirled around, wheezing and moaning awfully. I wiped the sweat from my brow. Under my sweater, I was all cold sweat too.
The caretaker pursed his lips with each cut of the wheel, pulling right, right again. Then he leaned forward as if straining to hear something, slowing the jeep gradually until, where the road widened slightly, he stepped on the brake. He turned off the engine, and we sat, delivered into the midst of a frozen silence. There was only the wind taking its survey of the land.
The caretaker rested both hands on the wheel. A half hour seemed to pass before he got out of the jeep and tapped the ground with the sole of his work shoe. I climbed out of the jeep after him and stood beside him, looking down at the road surface.
“No good,” said the caretaker. “It rained a lot harder than I thought.”
The road did not seem all that damp to me. On the contrary, it looked hard-packed and dry.
“The core is damp,” he explained. “It fools everyone. Things are different in these parts.”
“Different?”
Instead of answering, he took a cigarette out of his pocket and lit up. “How about taking a short walk with me?”
We walked two hundred yards to the next bend. I could feel the nasty chill. I zipped my windbreaker all the way up and turned my collar, but the cold insisted.
Right where the road began to curve, the caretaker stopped. Facing the cliff on the right, cigarette still at his lips, he grimaced. Water, a light clayey brown, was trickling out of the middle of the cliff, flowing down the rock, and slowly crossing the road. I swiped my finger across the rock face. It was more porous than it seemed, the surface crumbling at the slightest touch.
“This here’s one hell of a curve,” said the caretaker. “The surface is loose, but that’s not all. It’s, well, bad luck. Even the sheep are afraid of it.”
The caretaker coughed and tossed his cigarette to the ground. “I hate to do this to you, but I don’t want to chance it.”
I nodded.
“Think you can walk it the rest of the way?”
“Walking isn’t the question. The point is the vibration.”
The caretaker gave one more good hard stamp of his shoe. A split second later came a dull, depressing retort. “It’s okay for walking.”
We returned to the jeep.
“It’s about another three miles from here,” said the caretaker. “Even with the woman, you’ll get there in an hour and a half. One straight road, not much of a rise. Sorry I can’t take you the whole way.”
“That’s all right. Thanks for everything.”
“You thinking to stay up there?”
“I don’t know. I might be back down tomorrow. It might take a week. Depends on how things go.”
He put another cigarette to his lips, but this time before he could even light up he started coughing. “You better watch out, though. The way things look, it’ll probably be an early snow. And once the snow sets in, you’re not gettin’ out.”
“I’ll keep an eye out,” I said.
“There’s a mailbox by the front door. The key’s wedged in the bottom. If nobody’s there, use that.”
We unloaded the jeep under the lead-gray skies. I took my windbreaker off and slipped on a heavy mountaineering parka. I was still cold.
With great difficulty, the caretaker managed to turn the jeep around, bumping into the cliff repeatedly. Each time he hit the cliff, it would crumble. Finally, he succeeded in turning completely around, honked his horn, and waved. I waved back. The jeep swung around the bend and was gone.
We were totally alone. As if we’d been dropped off at the edge of the world.
We set our backpacks on the ground and stood there saying nothing, trying to get our bearings. Below us a slender ribbon of silver river wound its way through the valley, both banks covered in dense green forest. Across the valley broke waves of low, autumn-tinged hills and beyond that a hazy view of the flatlands. Thin columns of smoke rose from the fields where rice straw was being burned after the harvest. A breathtaking panorama, but it made me feel no better. Everything seemed so remote, so … alien.
The sky was weighed down with a moist, uniform gray—clouds that seemed, as one, to blanket all light. Below, lumps of dense black cloud matter blew by, almost within touching distance. The clouds raced eastward from the direction of the Asian continent, cutting across the Japan Sea to Hokkaido on their way to the Sea of Okhotsk with remarkable speed. It all contributed to making us aware of the utter precariousness of where we stood. One passing gust and this whole crumbling curve plastered against the cliff could easily drag us to the bottom of the abyss.
“Let’s get moving,” I said, shouldering my monster backpack. Something awful, whether rain or sleet, was in the air, and I wanted to be near someplace with a roof. I sure didn’t want to get drenched out here in the cold.
We hoofed it away from that “dead man’s curve” on the double. The caretaker was right: the place was bad luck. There was a feeling of doom that first came over my body, then went on to strike a warning signal in my head. The sort of feeling you get when you’re crossing a river and all of a sudden you sink your feet into mud of a different temperature.
In just the three hundred yards we walked, the sound of our footsteps on the road surface went through any number of changes. Time and again, spring-fed rivulets snaked across our path.
Even after we cleared the curve, we did not slow down, trying to create as much distance from the spot as we could. Only after thirty minutes did we relax as the cliff eased back into a less precipitous slope and trees came into view.
Having made it this far, we had no problem with the rest of the way. The road flattened out, and the mountains lost their sharp ridges. Gradually, we were in the midst of a peaceful highland scene.
In another thirty minutes, the cone was completely behind us, and we came onto a plateau surrounded by mountains that looked like cutouts. It was as if the top half of a gigantic volcano had collapsed. A sea of birch trees in their autumn foliage stretched forever. Among the birches were brilliantly hued shrubs and undergrowth, here and there a toppled birch, brown and rotting.
“Seems like a nice enough place,” said my girlfriend.
After that curve, it looked like a nice place indeed.
The road led us straight up through this sea of birches. It was barely wide enough for a jeep and absolutely straight. Not one bend, no steep slopes. If you looked ahead, everything was sucked into one point. Even the black clouds passed directly over that point.
And it was quiet. The sound of the wind itself was swallowed by the grand expanse of forest. The air was split by the cry of a fat blackbird. Once the bird was out of sight, the silence flowed back in, a viscous fluid filling every opening. The leaves that had fallen on the road were saturated from the rain of two days before. The road seemed endless, like the birch forest around it. The low clouds, which had been terrifying only a short while before, now seemed surreal through the woods.
After another fifteen minutes, we came to a clear stream. There was a sturdy birch-trunk bridge with handrails, and nearby, a small clearing. We set down our packs, went down to the stream, and helped ourselves to a drink. It was the best-tasting water I’d ever had. Cold enough to redden my hands, and sweet, with a scant trace of earth.
The clouds kept on their appointed course, but unaccountably the weather was bearing up. She adjusted the laces of her mountain shoes, I sat back on the handrail and smoked a cigarette. Downstream, I could hear a waterfall. Not a very big waterfall from the sound of it. A playful breeze blew in from the left, sending a ripple through the piles of leaves and scattering them.
I finished my cigarette and ground it out with my shoe, only to find another butt right next to my foot. I picked it up. A flattened Seven Stars. Not wet, so it had been from after the rains. Which meant either yesterday or today.
I tried to recall what brand of cigarette the Rat smoked. But I couldn’t remember if he even smoked. I gave up and tossed the cigarette butt into the stream. The current whisked it off downstream in an instant.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I found a fresh cigarette butt, so somebody must have been sitting here having a smoke like me not too long ago.”
“Your friend?”
“I wish I could say.”
She sat herself down next to me and pulled back her hair, giving me the first view of her ears in a long time. The sound of the waterfall grew faint, then came back.
“You still like my ears?” she asked.
I smiled and quickly reached out my hand to touch them.
“You know I do,” I said.
After yet another fifteen minutes, the road suddenly came abruptly to an end, just as the sea of birches suddenly stopped. Before us was a vast lake of a pasture.
Posts set at five-yard intervals surrounded the pasture. Wire connecting them, old, rusty wire. We had, it seemed, found our way to the sheep pasture. I pushed open the well-worn double gate and entered. The grass was soft, the soil dark and moist.
Black clouds were passing over the pasture. In the direction of their flight, a tall, jagged line of mountains. The angle was different, to be sure, but there was no mistaking: these were the same mountains in the Rat’s photograph. I didn’t need to pull out the photograph to check.
Still, it was unsettling seeing with my very own eyes a scene I had by now seen hundreds of times in a photograph. The depth of the actual place seemed artificial. Less my being there than the sense that the scene had been temporarily thrown together in order to match the photograph.
I leaned on the gate and heaved a sigh. This was it, what we’d been searching for. And whatever meaning that search might have had, we’d found it.
“We made it, eh?” she said, touching my arm.
“We made it,” I said. Nothing more to say.
Straight on across the pasture stood an old American-style two-story wood-frame house. The house that the Sheep Professor had built forty years before and the Rat’s father had then bought. Nothing was nearby to compare it to, so from a distance it was difficult to tell how big it was. It was, in any case, squat and expressionless. Painted white, beneath the overcast skies it looked a foreboding gray. From the middle of the mustard, almost rust-colored gabled roof a rectangular brick chimney protruded. Instead of a fence around the house, there was a stand of evergreens which protected it from the elements. The place seemed curiously uninhabited. An odd house the more I looked at it. It wasn’t particularly inhospitable or cold, nor built in any unusual way, nor even much in disrepair. It was just… odd. As if a great creature had grown old without being able to express its feelings. Not that it didn’t know how to express them, but rather that it didn’t know what to express.
The smell of rain was suddenly everywhere. Time to get moving. We made a beeline across the pasture for the house. The clouds blowing in from the west were no longer gentle passing puffs; big threatening rain clouds were on the approach.
The pasture was huge. No matter how fast we walked, we seemed to make no progress. I couldn’t get any feeling for the distance. Come to think of it, this was the first level ground we’d walked on, so even things far off seemed within reach.
A flock of birds crossed the course of the clouds on their way north.
When, after hours it seemed, we finally made it to the house, the patter of rain had already started. Up close, the house was bigger and older than it had appeared from a distance. The white paint was blistered and peeling, the flakes on the ground long since brown from the rain. At this point, you’d have to strip off all the dead layers of paint before you could think about putting on a new coat. The prospect of painting such a house—why was I even thinking of this?—made me wince. A house where no one lives goes to pieces, and this house, without a doubt, was on its way there.
The trees, in contrast to the ailing house, were thriving, enveloping it like the treehouse in The Swiss Family Robinson. Long untrimmed, their branches spread wildly.
With the road up the mountain so tortuous, what a feat it must have been for the Sheep Professor to build this house. Hauling the lumber, doing all the work, sinking his entire savings into it, no doubt. To think that this same Sheep Professor was now holed up in a dark room at the Dolphin Hotel! You couldn’t ask for a better (or worse) personification of an unrewarded life.
I stood in the cold rain staring up at the house. Even up close, it showed no signs of habitation. Layers of fine sand had accumulated on the wooden shutters of the high, narrow double-hung windows. Rain had fixed the sand into configurations onto which another layer of sand had been blown, to be fixed in place by yet new rain.
In the middle of the front door at eye level was a four-inch-square windowpane covered on the inside with a cloth. The brass doorknob had been blasted with sand too, and grit crumbled off to the touch. The knob was as loose as an old molar, yet the door wouldn’t open. Made of three planks of oak, it was sturdier than it looked. I knocked loudly on it a couple of times for the hell of it. As expected, no answer. All I did was hurt my hand. The boughs of the huge pin oak swayed in a gust of wind, producing a virtual sandslide.
As the caretaker had said, the key was in the bottom of the mailbox. An old-fashioned brass key, tarnished white where hands had touched it.
“Don’t you think they’re a little careless leaving the key like that?” asked my girlfriend.
“Know any burglars who’d come all this way, steal something, and haul it back down?”
The key fit the keyhole remarkably well. I turned it, there was a loud click, and the bolt unlocked.
It was dim, unnaturally dim. The shutters had been drawn for a long time, and it took a while for my eyes to adjust. There was gloom everywhere.
The room was large. Large, quiet, and smelling like an old barn. A smell I remembered from childhood. Old furniture and cast-off carpets. We closed the door behind us, shutting the sound of the wind out entirely.
“Hello?” I shouted. “Anybody home?”
Of course not. It was clear no one was there. Only the presence of a grandfather clock ticking away beside the fireplace.
For a brief instant, I felt a sense of vertigo. There in the darkness, time turned on its head. Moments overlapped. Memories crumbled. Then it was over. I opened my eyes and everything fell back into place. Before my eyes was a plain gray space, nothing more.
“Are you all right?” she asked worriedly.
“I’m all right,” I said. “Let’s check upstairs.”
While she searched for a light switch, I checked the grandfather clock. It was the kind that had three weights you wound up on chains. Although all three had hit bottom, the clock was eking out its last increments of motion. Given the length of the chains, it would have taken about a week for the weights to hit bottom. Which meant that sometime during the week someone had been here to wind the clock.
I wound the three weights up to the top, then sat down on the sofa and stretched out my legs. An old prewar sofa, but quite comfortable. Not too soft, not too hard, and smelling like the palm of your hand.
A click, and the lights came on. She emerged from the kitchen, sat on the chaise, and lit up a clove cigarette. I lit up one myself. I’d learned to like them from her.
“Seems your friend was planning to spend the winter here,” she said. “There’s a whole winter’s worth of fuel and food in the kitchen. A regular supermarket.”
“But no sign of him.”
“What about upstairs?”
We climbed the stairs next to the kitchen. They careened off at an angle halfway up. Emerging onto the second floor, we seemed to have entered a different atmospheric layer.
“My head aches,” she said.
“Is it bad?”
“Oh, I’m all right. Don’t worry about it. I’m used to this.”
There were three bedrooms on the second floor. One big room to the left of a hallway and two smaller rooms to the right. Each room had a bare minimum of furniture, each room on the gloomy side. The big room had twin beds and a dresser. The beds were stripped down to their frames. Time was dead in the air.
Only in the farther small bedroom was there any lingering scent of human occupation. The bed was neatly made, the pillow with a slight indentation, and a pair of blue pajamas was folded at the head of the bed. An old-model lamp sat on the side table next to an overturned book. A Conrad novel.
Beside the bed was a heavy oak chest of drawers. In it an inventory of men’s sweaters, shirts, slacks, socks, and underwear. The sweaters and slacks were well worn, invariably frayed somewhere, but good clothes. I could swear I’d seen some of them before. They were the Rat’s, all right. Shirts with a fifteen-inch neck, slacks with a twenty-nine-inch waist.
Next to the window were an old table and chair of a singularly simple design you don’t see often anymore. In the desk drawer, a cheap fountain pen, three boxes of ink cartridges, and a letter set, the stationery unused. In the second drawer, a half-used supply of cough drops and various and sundry small items. The third drawer, empty. No diary, no notebook, nothing. He’d done away with all extras. Everything was squared away. Too much. I ran my finger over the desktop, and it came up white with dust. Not a whole lot of dust. Maybe a week’s worth.
I lifted up the double-hung window and pushed open the shutters. Low black clouds were swooping in. The wind had gathered strength, and you could almost see it cavorting through the pasture like a wild animal. Beyond that were the birches and beyond them the mountains. It was the exact same vista as in the photograph. Except there were no sheep.
We went back downstairs and sat on the sofa. The grandfather clock gave a command chime performance, then struck twelve times. We were silent until the last note was swallowed into the air.
“What do we do now?” she asked.
“We wait. What else?” I said. “The Rat was here a week ago. His things are still here. He’s got to come back.”
“But if the snow sets in before that, we’ll be here all winter and our time will run out.”
True enough.
“Don’t your ears tell you anything?”
“They’re out of commission. If I open my ears, I get a headache.”
“Well, then, I guess we stretch out and wait for the Rat,” I said.
Which was to say we’d run out of options.
While she went into the kitchen and made coffee, I took a quick once-around the big living room, inspecting it corner to corner. The fireplace, a real working fireplace set in the middle of the main wall, was clean and ready for use. But it had not been used recently. A few oak leaves, having gotten in through the chimney, sat in the hearth. A large kerosene heater stood nearby. The fuel gauge read full.
Next to the fireplace was a built-in glass-paneled bookcase completely filled with old books. I pulled out a few volumes and leafed through them. All were prewar editions, almost none of any value. Geography and science and history and philosophy and politics. Utterly useless, the lot of them, except maybe as documents of an intellectual’s required reading forty years ago. There were postwar editions too, of similar worth. Only Plutarch’s Lives and Selected Greek Tragedies and a handful of novels had managed to survive the erosion of years. This was a first for me: never before had I set eyes on so grand a collection of useless tomes.
To the side of the bookcase was a display shelf, likewise built-in, and on it a stereo hi-fi—bookshelf speakers, amplifier, turntable—the kind popular in the mid-sixties. Some two hundred old records, every one scratched beyond reckoning, but at least not worthless. The musical taste was not as eroded as the ideology. I switched on the vacuum-tube amplifier, picked a record at random, and lowered the needle. Nat King Cole’s South of the Border. All at once the room felt transported back to the 1950s.
The wall opposite had four six-foot double-hung windows, equidistantly spaced. You could see the rain coming down in torrents now. A gray rain, which obscured the line of mountains in the distance.
The room was wood-floored, with an eight-by-twelve-foot carpet in the middle, on which were arranged a set of drawing-room furniture and a floor lamp. A dining table stood in one corner of the room, covered with dust.
The vacant aftermath of a room.
A door, set inconspicuously into the wall, opened into a fair-sized trunk room. It was stacked high and tight with surplus furniture, carpets, dishes, a set of golf clubs, a guitar, a mattress, overcoats, mountaineering boots, old magazines. Even junior high school exam reference books and a radio-controlled airplane. Mostly products of the fifties and sixties.
The house kept its own time, like the old-fashioned grandfather clock in the living room. People who happened by raised the weights, and as long as the weights were wound, the clock continued ticking away. But with people gone and the weights unattended, whole chunks of time were left to collect in deposits of faded life on the floor.
I took a few old screen magazines back to the living room. The photo feature of one was The Alamo. John Wayne’s directorial debut with the all-out support of John Ford. I want to make a grand epic that lingers in the hearts of all Americans, John Wayne said. He looked corny as hell in a beaver cap.
My girlfriend appeared with coffee, and we faced each other as we drank. Drops of rain tapped intermittently on the windows. The time passed slowly as chill infiltrated the room. The yellow glow of the light bulbs drifted about the room like pollen.
“Tired?” she asked.
“I guess,” I said, gazing absently out the window. “We’ve been running around searching like crazy all this time, and now we’ve ground to a halt. Can’t quite get used to it. After all we did to find the scene in the photograph, there’s no Rat and no sheep.”
“Get some sleep. I’ll make dinner.”
She brought a blanket down from upstairs and covered me. Then she readied the kerosene heater, placed a cigarette between my lips, and lit it for me.
“Show a little spirit. Everything’s going to be fine.”
“Thanks,” I said.
At that, she disappeared into the kitchen.
All alone, my body felt heavy. I took two puffs of the cigarette, put it out, pulled the blanket up to my neck, and shut my eyes. It only took a few seconds before I fell asleep.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel