You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.

Paul Sweeney

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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 40: The Rat Who Wound The Clock
hanged myself from a beam in the kitchen,” said the Rat. “The Sheep Man buried me next to the garage. Dying itself wasn’t all that painful, if you worry about that sort of thing. But really, that hardly matters.”
“A week before you got here.”
“You wound the clock then, didn’t you?”
The Rat laughed. “Damn, if that’s not a mystery. I mean the very, very last thing I did in my thirty-year life was to wind a clock. Now why should anyone who’s about to die wind a clock? Makes no sense.”
The Rat stopped speaking, and everything was still, except for the ticking of the clock. The snow absorbed all other sound. We were like two castaways in outer space.
“What if …”
“Stop it,” the Rat cut me short. “There are no more ifs. You know that, right?”
I shook my head. No, I didn’t.
“If you had come here a week earlier, I still would have died. Maybe we could’ve met under warmer, brighter circumstances. But it’s all the same. I would have had to die. Otherwise things would have only gotten harder. And I guess I didn’t want to bear that kind of hardship.”
“So why did you have to die?”
There was the sound of his rubbing the palms of his hands together.
“I don’t want to talk too much about that. It would only turn into a self-acquittal. And there’s nothing more inappropriate than a dead man coming to his own defense, don’t you think?”
“But if you don’t tell me, I’ll never know.”
“Have some more beer.”
“I’m cold,” I said.
“It’s not that cold.”
With trembling hands, I opened another beer and drank a sip. And with the drink in me, it really didn’t seem as cold.
“Okay, if you promise not to tell this to anyone.”
“Even if I did tell someone, who’d believe me?”
“You got me there,” said the Rat with a chuckle. “I doubt anyone would believe it. It’s so crazy.”
The clock struck nine-thirty.
“Mind if I stop the clock?” asked the Rat. “It makes such a racket.”
“Help yourself. It’s your clock.”
The Rat stood up, opened the door to the grandfather clock, and grabbed the pendulum. All sound, all time, vanished.
“What happened was this,” said the Rat. “I died with the sheep in me. I waited until the sheep was fast asleep, then I tied a rope over the beam in the kitchen and hanged myself. There wasn’t enough time for the sucker to escape.”
“Did you have to go that far?”
“Yes, I had to go that far. If I waited, the sheep would have controlled me absolutely. It was my last chance.”
The Rat rubbed his palms together again. “I wanted to meet you when I was myself, with everything squared away. My own self with my own memories and my own weaknesses. That’s why I sent you that photograph as a kind of code. If by some accident it steered you this way, I thought I would be saved in the end.”
“And have you been saved?”
“Yeah, I’ve been saved all right,” said the Rat, quietly.
“The key point here is weakness,” said the Rat. “Everything begins from there. Can you understand what I’m getting at?”
“People are weak.”
“As a general rule,” said the Rat, snapping his fingers a couple of times. “But line up all the generalities you like and you still won’t get anywhere. What I’m talking about now is a very individual thing. Weakness is something that rots in the body. Like gangrene. I’ve felt that ever since I was a teenager. That’s why I was always on edge. There’s this something inside you that’s rotting away and you feel it all along. Can you understand what that’s like?”
I sat silent, wrapped up in the blanket.
“Probably not,” the Rat continued. “There isn’t that side to you. But, well, anyway, that’s weakness. It’s the same as a hereditary disease, weakness. No matter how much you understand it, there’s nothing you can do to cure yourself. It’s not going to go away with a clap of the hand. It just keeps getting worse and worse.”
“Weakness toward what?”
“Everything. Moral weakness, weakness of consciousness, then there’s the weakness of existence itself.”
I laughed. This time the laugh came off. “You start talking like that and there’s not a human alive who isn’t weak.”
“Enough generalities. Like I said before. Of course, it goes without saying that everybody has his weaknesses. But real weakness is as rare as real strength. You don’t know the weakness that is ceaselessly dragging you under into darkness. You don’t know that such a thing actually exists in the world. Your generalities don’t cover everything, you know.”
I could say nothing.
“That’s why I left town. I didn’t want others to see me sinking any lower. Traveling around alone in unknown territory, at least I wouldn’t cause problems for anyone. And ultimately …,” the Rat trailed off for a bit.
“Ultimately, because of this weakness, I couldn’t escape the specter of the sheep. There was nothing I myself could do about it. Probably even if you had shown up at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it. Even if I’d made up my mind to go down from the mountain, it would have been the same. I probably still would have come back up in the end. That’s what weakness is.”
“What did the sheep want of you?”
“Everything. The whole lock, stock, and barrel. My body, my memory, my weakness, my contradictions … That’s the sort of stuff the sheep really goes for. The bastard’s got all sorts of feelers. It sticks them down your ears and nose like straws and sucks you dry. Gives me the creeps even now.”
“And for what in return?”
“Things far too good for the likes of me. Not that the sheep got around to showing me anything in real form. All I ever saw was one tiny slice of the pie. And …”
The Rat trailed off again.
“And it was enough to draw me in. More than I’d care to confess. It’s not something I can explain in words. It’s like, well, like a blast furnace that smelts down everything it touches. A thing of such beauty, it drives you out of your mind. But it’s hair-raising evil. Give your body over to it and everything goes. Consciousness, values, emotions, pain, everything. Gone. What it comes closest to is a dynamo manifesting the vital force at the root of all life in one solitary point of the universe.”
“Yet you were able to reject it.”
“Yes. Everything was buried along with my body. There remains only one last thing to do in order to see it buried forever.”
“One last thing?”
“One last thing. And that I have to ask you to do. But let’s not talk about it now.”
We both took sips of beer. I was warming up.
“The blood cyst works kind of like a whip, doesn’t it?” I asked. “For the sheep to manipulate the host.”
“Exactly. Once that forms, there’s no escaping the sheep.”
“So what on earth was the Boss after, doing what he was doing?”
“He went mad. He probably couldn’t take the heat of that blast furnace. The sheep used him to build up a supreme power base. That’s why the sheep entered him. He was, in a word, disposable. The man was zero as a thinker, after all.”
“So when the Boss died, you were earmarked to take over that power base.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And what lay ahead after that?”
“A realm of total conceptual anarchy. A scheme in which all opposites would be resolved into unity. With me and the sheep at the center.”
“So why did you reject it?”
Time trailed off into death. And over this dead time, a silent snow was falling.
“I guess I felt attached to my weakness. My pain and suffering too. Summer light, the smell of a breeze, the sound of cicadas—if I like these things, why should I apologize. The same with having a beer with you …” The Rat swallowed his words. “I don’t know why.”
What could I say.
“Somehow or other, we have created two completely different entities out of the same ingredients,” said the Rat. “Do you believe the world is getting better?”
“Better or worse, who can tell?”
The Rat laughed. “I swear, in the kingdom of generalities, you could be imperius rex.”
“You bet, sheeplessly.” The Rat threw back his third beer in one chug, then clunked the empty can down on the floor.
“You’d better be heading down the mountain as soon as you can. Before you get snowed in. You don’t want to spend the whole winter here. Another four, maybe five days, the snow’ll start to collect, and listen, it’s a real trick traveling down frozen mountain roads.”
“And what will you do from now on?”
The Rat let go a good, jolly laugh from off in the dark. “For me there is no ‘from now on.’ I just fade away over the winter. How long it takes depends on how long this one winter is. I don’t know. But one winter is one winter. I’m glad I got to see you. A brighter, warmer place would have been nicer, of course.”
“J sends his regards.”
“Give him my regards, too, would you?”
“I also saw her.”
“How was she?”
“All right. Still working for the same firm.”
“Then she’s not married?”
“No. She wanted to hear directly from you whether it was over or not.”
“It’s over,” said the Rat, “as you know. Even if I was unable to end it on my own, the fact is it’s over. My life had no meaning. Of course, to borrow upon your venerable generalities, this is to say that everyone’s life has no meaning. Am I right?”
“So be it,” I said. “Just two last questions.”
“First, about our Sheep Man.”
“The Sheep Man’s a good guy.”
“But the Sheep Man, the one who came visiting here, was you, right?”
The Rat rolled his neck around to crack it a couple of times. “Right. I took his form. So you could tell, could you?”
“Midway on,” I said. “Up until then, though, I had no idea.”
“To be absolutely honest, you surprised me, breaking the guitar. It was the first time I’d seen you so angry, and what’s more, that was the first guitar I ever bought. A cheapie, but still …”
“Sorry about that. I was only trying to shake you up enough to show yourself.”
“That’s all right. Come tomorrow, everything’ll be gone anyway,” said the Rat dryly. “So now your other question is about your girlfriend, right?”
The Rat said nothing for a long while. I could hear him rub his palms together and sigh. “I didn’t want to deal with her. She was an extra factor I hadn’t counted on.”
“An extra factor?”
“Uh-huh. I meant this to be an in-group party. But she stumbled into the middle of it. We should never have allowed her to get mixed up in this. As you know very well, the girl’s got amazing powers. Still, she wasn’t meant to come here. The place is far beyond even her powers.”
“What happened to her?”
“She’s okay. Perfectly well,” said the Rat. “Only there’s nothing that you’d find attractive in her anymore. Sad, but that’s how it is.”
“How’s that?”
“It’s gone. Evaporated. Whatever it was she had, it’s not there anymore.”
I couldn’t bring myself to say anything.
“I know how you must feel,” continued the Rat. “But sooner or later, it was bound to disappear. Me and you, these girls with their certain somethings, we’ve all got to go sometime.”
I thought about his words.
“I better be going,” said the Rat. “It’s getting on time. But we’ll meet again, I just know it.”
“Sure thing,” I said.
“Preferably somewhere brighter, maybe in summer,” said the Rat. “But for now, one last request. Tomorrow morning at nine, I want you to set the grandfather clock, then connect the cords behind the clock. Connect the green cord to the green cord and the red cord to the red cord. Then at nine-thirty I want you to get the hell out of here and go down the mountain. I’ve got a rendezvous with a fellow at twelve o’clock sharp. Got it?”
“Good as done.”
“Glad I got to see you.”
A moment’s pause came between us.
“Goodbye,” said the Rat.
“See you,” said I.
Still snug in the blanket, I closed my eyes and listened. The Rat’s shoes scuffed across the floor, the door opened. Freezing cold air entered the room. Not a breeze, but a slow-spreading, sinking chill.
The Rat stood in the open doorway for a moment. He seemed to be staring at something, not the scenery outside, not the room interior, not me, some completely other thing. The doorknob or the tip of his shoe, something. Then, as if closing the door of time, the door swung shut with a click.
Afterward all was silent. There was nothing else left but silence.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel