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J. Harold Smith

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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 36: The Winds’ Own Private Thoroughfare
hree uneventful days passed. Not one thing happened. The Sheep Man didn’t show. I fixed meals, ate them, read my book, and when the sun went down, I drank whiskey and went to sleep.
The morning air of the pasture turned steadily cooler. Day by day, the bright golden leaves of the birches turned more spotted as the first winds of winter slipped between the withered branches and across the highlands toward the southeast. Stopping in the center of the pasture, I could hear the winds clearly. No turning back, they pronounced. The brief autumn was gone.
Without exercise and without smoking, I had quickly gained six pounds. So I started to get up at six and jog a crescent halfway around the pasture. That took off a couple of pounds. It was tough not smoking, but with no store around for twenty miles, what was one to do? Each time I felt like smoking, I thought about her and her ears. Compared to everything I’d lost this far, losing smoking was trivial. And indeed it was.
With all this free time, I cooked up a storm. I made a roast beef. I defrosted a salmon and marinated it. I searched the pasture for edible vegetables and simmered my findings with bonito flakes and soy sauce. I made simple cabbage pickles. I prepared a number of snacks in case the Sheep Man showed up for a drink. The Sheep Man, however, never came.
Most of the afternoons I would pass looking out at the pasture. I soon began seeing things. A figure emerging from the birch woods and running straight in my direction. Usually it was the Sheep Man, but sometimes it was the Rat, sometimes my girlfriend. Other times it was the sheep with the star on its back.
In the end, though, nobody ever materialized. Only the winds blowing across the pasture. It was as if the pasture were the winds’ own private thoroughfare. The winds raced across the pasture, never looking back, on missions of utmost urgency.
On the seventh day after my arrival on the mountain, the first snow fell. The winds had been unusually calm from morning, the skies overcast with dense lead-gray clouds. After my morning run and shower, as I settled down to coffee and records, the snow started. A hard snow. It struck the windowpanes with a battery of dull thuds. The wind had picked up, driving the snow down at a thirty-degree angle. Rather like the slanting lines of some department-store wrapping-paper pattern. Soon the storm intensified and everything outside was awash in white. The entire mountain range and woods were obscured. This was no pitiful snow as sometimes falls in Tokyo. This was the real thing, an honest-to-goodness north-country snow. A snow to blanket everything and freeze deep into the heart of the earth.
The snow was blinding. I drew the curtain and curled up to read by the heater. The record ended, the needle lifted, and all was silence. The sort of silence that follows in the wake of the death of all living things. I set down my book and for no particular reason felt the urge to walk through the house. From the living room into the kitchen, checking the storeroom, bath and cellar, upstairs to open the doors of each room. There was no one, of course. Only silence which rolled like oil into every corner. Only silence which changed ever so slightly from room to room.
I was all alone. Probably more alone than I’d been in all my life.
I’d been dying for a smoke the past two days, but as there were no cigarettes, I’d been drinking whiskey straight. One winter like this and I’d end up an alcoholic. Not that there was enough liquor around to do the trick, though. Three bottles of whiskey, one bottle of brandy, twelve cases of canned beer, and no more. Obviously, the same thought had occurred to the Rat.
Was my partner, my former partner, that is, still hitting the bottle? Had he managed to put the company in order, turn it back into a small translation firm, as I suggested? Maybe he’d done exactly that. But could he really make a go of it without me, as he worried? Our time together was up. Six years together, and now back to square one.
The snow let up by early afternoon. Abruptly, just as it had begun. The thick clouds tore off in places as grand columns of sunlight thrust down to play in the pasture. It was magnificent.
The hard snow lay sprinkled on the ground like candy. Solidified into pellets as if to defy melting away. Yet by the time the clock struck three, the snow had all but melted. The ground was thoroughly wet, the twilight sun enfolding the pasture in a soft light. The birds sang as if set free.
After dinner, I borrowed two books from the Rat’s room, Bread Baking and the Conrad novel, then made myself comfortable on the living-room sofa. One-third of the way into the novel, I came across a four-inch-square newspaper clipping the Rat had been using for a bookmark. No date, but from the color of the paper it must have been recent. It was local news, a symposium on aging and society to be held at a Sapporo hotel, a rally at a train station near Asahikawa, a lecture on the Middle East crisis. Nothing to grab the Rat’s interest, or mine. On the reverse, classified ads. I yawned, shut the book, went to heat up the leftover coffee.
I suddenly realized that this was the first time, in what now seemed like years, that I had seen a newspaper, and that I’d been left behind an entire week from the goings-on of the world. No radio or television, no newspapers, no magazines. A nuclear missile could have destroyed Tokyo, an epidemic could have swept the world, Martians could have occupied Australia, I wouldn’t have known. Of course, the Land Cruiser in the garage had a radio, but I discovered that I had no pressing desire to go listen after all. If something could take place without my knowing, it was just as well. I had no real need to know. I, in any case, had plenty on my mind already.
Something gnawed at me. Something that had passed before my eyes but which I’d been too dense to notice. All the same, on an unconscious level, it had registered. I deposited my coffee cup in the sink and returned to the living room. I took another look at the newspaper clipping. There it was on the reverse:
Attention: Rat
Get in touch. Urgent!
Dolphin Hotel, Room 406
I put the clipping back in the book and sank into the sofa.
So the Rat knew I was looking for him. Question: how had he found the item? By accident, when he’d come down off the mountain? Or maybe he’d been searching for something through several weeks’ worth of papers?
And why didn’t he contact me? Had I already checked out of the Dolphin Hotel by the time he came across it? Had his telephone line already gone dead?
No. The Rat could have gotten in touch if he wanted to, he just didn’t want to. Because I was at the Dolphin Hotel, he figured I’d find my way up here, so that if he wanted to see me, he had only to wait, or at least leave me a note.
What it boiled down to was this: for some reason the Rat didn’t want to face me. Even so, he wasn’t rejecting me. If he didn’t want me here, he could have shut me out any number of ways. It was his house, after all.
Grappling with these two propositions, I watched the second hand sweep slowly around the face of the clock. After one full circumgyration, my reasoning had made no progress. I couldn’t figure out what lay at the center of all this.
The Sheep Man knew something. That much was certain. Someone who had monitored my arrival on the scene was sure to know about the Rat’s living here for six months.
The more I thought about it, the more difficult I found it to escape the feeling that the Sheep Man’s actions reflected the Rat’s will. The Sheep Man had driven my girlfriend from the mountain and left me here alone. His showing up here was undoubtedly a harbinger of something. Something was progressing all around me. The area was being swept clean and purified. Something was about to happen.
I turned out the lights and went upstairs, climbed into bed, and looked out at the moon and pasture. Stars peeked through a tear in the clouds. I opened the window and smelled the night air. Among the rustling leaves I could hear a call in the distance. A strange cry, neither bird nor beast.
I woke and went for my run in the pasture, showered, and ate breakfast. A morning like the others. The sky was overcast like the day before, but the temperature had risen a bit. Not much chance of snow.
Into jeans and a sweater and a jacket over that, then tennis shoes, and I was off across the pasture. Heading for the woods to the east where I’d seen the Sheep Man disappear, I made my way into the thicket. There was no real path to speak of, no sign of human life. Occasionally, there’d be an old birch toppled over.
The forest floor was flat, except for a long, yard-wide trough, like a dried-up streambed or an abandoned trench. The trough wound its way through the woods for miles. Sometimes sunken deep, sometimes shallow, ankle-deep in dead leaves.
The ditch gave on to a ridge trail, both sides of which sloped down to dry hollows. Plump birds shuffled across the path through the leaves, losing themselves in the undergrowth. Here and there, brush azaleas blazed bright red.
I walked around for an hour and lost all sense of direction. At this rate, I was hardly going to find the Sheep Man. I roamed the bottom of one dry hollow until I heard the sound of water. I sought out the river, then followed it downstream. If my memory served me correctly, there had to be a waterfall and near it, the road we’d walked up.
After another ten minutes, I came across the waterfall. Splashing as it struck the rocks in the gorge below, lapping into frozen pools. There was no sign of fish, though a few fallen leaves traced slow circles on the surface of the pools. I crossed from rock to rock, made my way down below the falls, then crawled up the slippery opposite bank. I had reached the road.
Seated on the edge of a bridge, watching me, was the Sheep Man. A big sailcloth bag of firewood was slung over his shoulder.
“Wanderaroundtoomuchyou’llbebearbait,” said the Sheep Man. “There’sboundtobeoneaboutinthesepartsyouknow.
Yesterdayafter noonIfoundtraces.
Ifyouhavetowalkaroundyououghttoputabellon yourhiplikeus.”
The Sheep Man shook a little bell fastened to his hip with a safety pin.
“I’ve been looking for you,” I said after catching my breath.
“Iknow,” said the Sheep Man. “I’veseenyousearching.”
“Well then, why didn’t you call out?”
“You’retheonewhowantedtosearchmeout. So I held back.”
The Sheep Man took a cigarette out of his pocket and smoked it with great pleasure. I sat down next to him.
“You live around here?”
“Hmm,” said the Sheep Man. “Butdon’ttellanybody.Nobody knows.”
“But my friend knows all about you.”
Silence.
“You know, it’s a very important matter.”
Silence.
“And if you’re friends with my friend, that makes us friends, no?”
“Iguessso,” said the Sheep Man cautiously. “Iguessitprobably does.”
“And if you’re my friend, you wouldn’t lie to me, would you? Think about it.”
“Errno,” answered one perplexed Sheep Man. He licked his parched lips. “Ican’ttellyouI’mrealsorryIcan’ttellyouIcan’t.I’mnot supposedto.”
“Someone’s put it to you to keep quiet?”
The Sheep Man clammed up. The wind whistled through the barren trees.
“Nobody’s around to hear,” I whispered.
The Sheep Man looked me in the eye. “Youdon’tknowathing aboutourwaysheredoyou?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Welllistenthisisnoordinaryplacewegothere.
Thatmuchyoushould keepinmind.”
“But just the other day you told me this was such nice country.”
“Forusyes,” said the Sheep Man. “Forusthisistheonlyplacetolive. Ifwewerechasedoutofherewe’dhavenoplacetogo.”
At that, the Sheep Man shut up. He would not say another word on the subject. I looked at his sailcloth bag filled with firewood.
“That your heating for the winter?”
The Sheep Man nodded silently.
“But I didn’t see any smoke.”
“Nofireyet.Nottillthesnowsetsin.Butevenafteritsnows
youwouldn’t beabletoseethesmokefromourfire.
Wegotaspecialwayofbuildingfires.” He grinned, self-satisfied.
“So when will the snow begin to pile up around here?”
The Sheep Man looked up at the sky, then looked at me. “The snow’llcomeearlythisyear.Maybeanothertendays.”
“In another ten days the road will freeze over?”
“Probably.Nobodycomingupandnobodygoingdown.
Wonderful timeofyear.”
“And you’ve been living here how long?”
“Longtime,” said the Sheep Man. “Reallongtime.”
“What do you eat?”
“Tubersshootsnutsbirdswhateverlittlefishandcrabs
Icancatch.”
“Don’t you get cold?”
“Winter’ssupposedtobecold.”
“If you need something, I’d be glad to share whatever I’ve got.”
“ThanksbutI’mfinejustnow.”
The Sheep Man suddenly stood up and started walking off in the direction of the pasture. So I got up to follow him.
“Why’d you take to hiding out up here?”
“You’dlaughifItoldyou,” said the Sheep Man.
“No, I wouldn’t laugh, I swear,” I said. I couldn’t imagine what there’d be to laugh about.
“Youwon’ttellanyone?”
“I won’t tell anyone.”
“Ididn’twanttogoofftowar.”
For the next few minutes, we walked on without a word between us.
“War with whom?” I asked.
“Dunno,” coughed out the Sheep Man. “ButIdidn’twanttogo. Anywaythat’swhyI’masheep.
Asheepwhostayswherehebelongsup here.”
“You from Junitaki-cho?”
“Uhhuhbutdon’ttellanyone.”
“I won’t,” I said. “You don’t like the town?”
“Thetowndownthere?”
“Yeah.”
“Don’tlikeitatall.Toofullofsoldiers,” the Sheep Man coughed again. “Whereyoufrom?”
“Tokyo.”
“Heardaboutthewar?”
“Nope.”
At that the Sheep Man seemed to lose all interest in me. He remained silent until we reached the entrance to the pasture.
“Care to stop by the house?” I asked the Sheep Man.
“Gottalayinwintersupplies,” he said. “Realbusy.Maybenext time.”
“I’d like to see my friend,” I said. “I’ve got something I have to see him about next week.”
The Sheep Man shook his head forlornly. His ears flapped. “Sorry butlikeIsaidbeforeit’snotuptous.”
“Well, then, pass the word on if you can.”
“Hmm,” said the Sheep Man.
“Thanks a lot,” I said. I turned to leave.
“Ifyougooutwalking,” the Sheep Man called out as he departed, “makesureyoudon’tforgetthebell.”
I headed straight back for the house as the Sheep Man disappeared into the woods to the east, the same as before. A winter-dark wordless green pasture stretched between us.
That afternoon I baked bread. The Rat’s Bread Baking proved to be a thoughtfully written cookbook. On the cover was written: “If you can read, then you can bake bread.” It was no exaggeration. The smell of bread filled the house, making it warm all over. For a fledgling effort, it didn’t taste too bad either. There was plenty of flour and yeast in the kitchen, enough for bread the whole winter long, if it turned out I had to stay. And more rice and spaghetti than I cared to think about.
That evening, I had bread and salad and ham and eggs, with canned peaches for dessert.
The next morning I cooked rice and made a pilaf of canned salmon and seaweed and mushrooms.
For lunch, it was cheesecake from the freezer and strong milk tea.
At snacktime, I treated myself to hazelnut ice cream topped with Cointreau.
In the evening, broiled chicken and a can of Campbell’s soup.
I was putting on weight again.
Early in the afternoon of the ninth day, as I was looking through the bookcase, I noticed one volume that seemed like it may have been read recently. It was the only one without dust on it, its spine protruding a bit farther out than the rest.
I pulled it out and sat on the chaise longue to flip through it. The Heritage of Pan-Asianism. A wartime edition. The paper was cheap and gave off a stink when I turned the pages. The contents, as expected from a wartime publication, terribly one-sided. Real boring too; stuff to yawn over every three pages. On some pages, words had been crossed out. There was not a single line on the February 26th Incident.
Tucked into the book, toward the end, was a sheet of white notepaper. After the yellowing pages, that white sheet came as some kind of miracle. It marked, on the right page, an addendum to the book. A list of names, birthdates, and permanent residences of all the so-called Pan-Asianists famous and unknown. I scanned the list from top to bottom, and there around the middle was the Boss. The very same “sheeped” Boss in whose name I had been brought here. His permanent residence, Hokkaido—Junitaki-cho.
In a daze, I set the book down in my lap. Words did not even form in my head. It was as if someone, or something, had given me a solid whack from behind.
How could I not have figured it out? It should have occurred to me first thing. The moment I learned that the Boss was from a poor farming background in Hokkaido I should have checked up on it. No matter how skillfully the Boss had managed to rub out his past, there would have been some way to search out the facts. That black-suited secretary would surely have looked it up for me.
Well no, maybe not.
I shook my head.
No way he wouldn’t have looked that up himself. The man was not so careless. He would have checked every possible angle, complicated or not. Just as he had done his homework on me.
So he already knew everything.
That was indisputable. And yet, he had gone to great lengths to convince me, or rather to blackmail me, in order to get me up here. Why? If it was something that needed doing, surely he was in a better position to do it and to do a crack job of it. And if I were for some reason to be a pawn, why wouldn’t he have told me the name of the place from the beginning?
As I sorted through my confusion, I started to get mad. More and more, this had turned into one grotesque comedy of mishaps, and I didn’t think it was funny. How much did the Rat know? And while we’re at it, how much did the man in the black suit know? Here I was, smack in the center of everything without a clue. At every turn, I’d been way off base, way off the mark. Of course, you could probably say the same thing about my whole life. In that sense, I suppose I had no one to blame. All the same, what gave them the right to treat me like this? I’d been used, I’d been beaten, I’d been wrung dry.
I was ready to get the hell off the mountain, but somehow that offered no satisfaction. I had gotten in too deep. It would have been so easy if only I could have cried. But crying wasn’t an option, because I felt that far ahead of me there was something really worth crying about.
I went into the kitchen and got the bottle of whiskey. I could think of nothing to do but drink.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel