Unformatted text preview: A Wild Sheep Chase
by Haruki Murakami P A R T O N E A PRELUDE 1
Wednesday Afternoon Picnic
It was a short one-paragraph item in the morning
edition. A friend rang me up and read it to me.
Nothing special. Something a rookie reporter fresh
out of college might've written for practice.
The date, a street corner, a person driving a truck,
a pedestrian, a casualty, an investigation of possible
Sounded like one of those poems on the inner flap
of a magazine.
"Where's the funeral?" I asked.
"You got me," he said. "Did she even have family?"
Of course she had a family.
I called the police department to track down her
family's address and telephone number, after which I
gave them a call to get details of the funeral.
Her family lived in an old quarter of Tokyo. I got
out my map and marked the block in red. There were
subway and train and bus lines everywhere,
overlapping like some misshapen spiderweb, the
whole area a maze of narrow streets and drainage
The day of the funeral, I took a streetcar from
Waseda. I got off near the end of the line. The map proved about as helpful as a globe would have been. I
ended up buying pack after pack of cigarettes, asking
directions each time.
It was a wood-frame house with a brown board
fence around it. A small yard, with an abandoned
ceramic brazier filled with standing rainwater. The
ground was dark and damp.
She'd left home when she was sixteen. Which may
have been reason why the funeral was so somber.
Only family present, nearly everyone older. It was
presided over by her older brother, barely thirty, or
maybe it was her brother-in-law.
Her father, a shortish man in his mid-fifties, wore
a black arm-band of mourning. He stood by the
entrance and scarcely moved. Reminded me of a
street washed clean after a downpour.
On leaving, I lowered my head in silence, and he
lowered his head in return, without a word.
I met her in autumn nine years ago, when I was
twenty and she was seventeen.
There was a small coffee shop near the university
where I hung out with friends. It wasn't much of
anything, but it offered certain constants: hard rock
and bad coffee.
She'd always be sitting in the same spot, elbows
planted on the table, reading. With her glasses—
which resembled orthodontia— and skinny hands,
she seemed somehow endearing. Always her coffee would be cold, always her ashtray full of cigarette
The only thing that changed was the book. One
time it'd be Mickey Spillane, another time Kenzaburo
Oe, another time Allen Ginsberg. Didn't matter what
it was, as long as it was a book. The students who
drifted in and out of the place would lend her books,
and she'd read them clean through, cover to cover.
Devour them, like so many ears of corn. In those
days, people lent out books as a matter of course, so
she never wanted for anything to read.
Those were the days of the Doors, the Stones, the
Byrds, Deep Purple, and the Moody Blues. The air
was alive, even as everything seemed poised on the
verge of collapse, waiting for a push.
She and I would trade books, talk endlessly, drink
cheap whiskey, engage in unremarkable sex. You
know, the stuff of every day. Meanwhile, the curtain
was creaking down on the shambles of the sixties.
I forget her name.
I could pull out the obituary, but what difference
would it make now. I've forgotten her name.
Suppose I meet up with old friends and mid-swing
the conversation turns to her. No one ever
remembers her name either. Say, back then there was
this girl who'd sleep with anyone, you know, what'sher-face, the name escapes me, but I slept with her
lots of times, wonder what she's doing now, be funny
to run into her on the street. "Back then, there was this girl who'd sleep with
anyone." That's her name.
Of course, strictly speaking, she didn't sleep with
just anyone. She had standards.
Still, the fact of the matter is, as any cursory
examination of the evidence would suffice to show,
that she was quite willing to sleep with almost any
Once, and only once, I asked her about these
standards of hers.
"Well, if you must know . . .," she began. A pensive
thirty seconds went by. "It's not like anybody will do.
Sometimes the whole idea turns me off. But you
know, maybe I want to find out about a lot of
different people. Or maybe that's how my world
comes together for me."
"By sleeping with someone?"
It was my turn to think things over.
"So tell me, has it helped you make sense of
"A little," she said.
From the winter through the summer I hardly saw
her. The university was blockaded and shut down on
several occasions, and in any case, I was going
through some personal problems of my own.
When I visited the coffee shop again the next
autumn, the clientele had completely changed, and she was the only face I recognized. Hard rock was
playing as before, but the excitement in the air had
vanished. Only she and the bad coffee were the same.
I plunked down in the chair opposite her, and we
talked about the old crowd.
Most of the guys had dropped out, one had
committed suicide, one had buried his tracks. Talk
"What've you been up to this past year?" she asked
"Different things," I said.
"Wiser for it?"
That night, I slept with her for the first time.
About her background I know almost nothing.
What I do know, someone may have told me; maybe
it was she herself when we were in bed together. Her
first year of high school she had a big falling out with
her father and flew the coop (and high school too).
I'm pretty sure that's the story. Exactly where she
lived, what she did to get by, nobody knew.
She would sit in some rock-music cafe all day long,
drink cup after cup of coffee, chain-smoke, and leaf
through books, waiting for someone to come along to
foot her coffee and cigarette bills (no mean sum for us
types in those days), then typically end up sleeping
with the guy.
There. That's everything I know about her. From the autumn of that year on into the spring of
the next, once a week on Tuesday nights, she'd drop
in at my apartment outside Mitaka. She'd put away
whatever simple dinner I cooked, fill my ashtrays,
and have sex with me with the radio tuned full blast
to an FEN rock program. Waking up Wednesday
mornings, we'd go for a walk through the woods to
the ICU campus and have lunch in the dining hall. In
the afternoon, we'd have a weak cup of coffee in the
student lounge, and if the weather was good, we'd
stretch out on the grass and gaze up at the sky.
Our Wednesday afternoon picnic, she called it.
"Everytime we come here, I feel like we're on a
"Really? A picnic?"
"Well, the grounds go on and on, everyone looks so
happy . .." She sat up and fumbled through a few
matches before lighting a cigarette.
"The sun climbs high in the sky, then starts down.
People come, then go. The time breezes by. That's like
a picnic, isn't it?"
I was twenty-one at the time, about to turn twentytwo. No prospect of graduating soon, and yet no
reason to quit school. Caught in the most curiously
depressing circumstances. For months I'd been stuck,
unable to take one step in any new direction. The
world kept moving on; I alone was at a standstill. In
the autumn, everything took on a desolate cast, the
colors swiftly fading before my eyes. The sunlight, the smell of the grass, the faintest patter of rain,
everything got on my nerves.
How many times did I dream of catching a train at
night? Always the same dream. A nightliner stuffy
with cigarette smoke and toilet stink. So crowded
there was hardly standing room. The seats all caked
with vomit. It was all I could do to get up and leave
the train at the station. But it was not a station at all.
Only an open field, with not a house light anywhere.
No stationmaster, no clock, no timetable, no
nothing—so went the dream.
I still remember that eerie afternoon. The twentyfifth of November. Gingko leaves brought down by
heavy rains had turned the footpaths into dry
riverbeds of gold. She and I were out for a walk,
hands in our pockets. Not a sound to be heard except
for the crunch of the leaves under our feet and the
piercing cries of the birds.
"Just what is it you're brooding over?" she blurted
out all of a sudden. "Nothing really," I said.
She kept walking a bit before sitting down by the
side of the path and taking a drag on her cigarette.
"You always have bad dreams?"
"I often have bad dreams. Generally, trauma about
vending machines eating my change."
She laughed and put her hand on my knee, but
then took it away again.
"You don't want to talk about it, do you?"
"Not today. I'm having trouble talking." She flicked her half-smoked cigarette to the dirt
and carefully ground it out with her shoe. "You can't
bring yourself to say what you'd really like to say, isn't
that what you mean?"
"I don't know," I said.
Two birds flew off from nearby and were
swallowed up into the cloudless sky. We watched
them until they were out of sight. Then she began
drawing indecipherable patterns in the dirt with a
"Sometimes I get real lonely sleeping with you."
"I'm sorry I make you feel that way," I said.
"It's not your fault. It's not like you're thinking of
some other girl when we're having sex. What
difference would that make anyway? It's just that—"
She stopped mid-sentence and slowly drew three
straight lines on the ground. "Oh, I don't know."
"You know, I never mean to shut you out," I broke
in after a moment. "I don't understand what gets into
me. I'm trying my damnedest to figure it out. I don't
want to blow things out of proportion, but I don't
want to pretend they're not there. It takes time."
"How much time?"
"Who knows? Maybe a year, maybe ten."
She tossed the twig to the ground and stood up,
brushing the dry bits of grass from her coat. "Ten
years? C'mon, isn't that like forever?"
"Maybe," I said.
We walked through the woods to the ICU campus,
sat down in the student lounge, and munched on hot dogs. It was two in the afternoon, and Yukio
Mishima's picture kept flashing on the lounge TV.
The volume control was broken so we could hardly
make out what was being said, but it didn't matter to
us one way or the other. A student got up on a chair
and tried fooling with the volume, but eventually he
gave up and wandered off.
"I want you," I said.
"Okay," she said.
So we thrust our hands back into our coat pockets
and slowly walked back to the apartment.
I woke up to find her sobbing softly, her slender
body trembling under the covers. I turned on the
heater and checked the clock. Two in the morning. A
startlingly white moon shone in the middle of the sky.
I waited for her to stop crying before putting the
kettle on for tea. One teabag for the both of us. No
sugar, no lemon, just plain hot tea. Then lighting up
two cigarettes, I handed one to her. She inhaled and
spat out the smoke, three times in rapid succession,
before she broke down coughing.
"Tell me, have you ever thought of killing me?" she
"Why're you asking me such a thing?"
Her cigarette still at her lips, she rubbed her eyelid
with her fingertip. "No special reason." "No, never," I
said. "Honest?" "Honest. Why would I want to kill you?"
"Oh, I guess you're right," she said. "I thought for a
second there that maybe it wouldn't be so bad to get
murdered by someone. Like when I'm sound asleep."
"I'm afraid I'm not the killer type."
"As far as I know."
She laughed. She put her cigarette out, drank down
the rest of her tea, then lit up again. "I'm going to live
to be twenty-five," she said, "then die."
July, eight years later, she was dead at twenty-six. P A R T T W O JULY,
EIGHT YEARS LATER 2
I waited for the compressed-air hiss of the elevator
doors shutting behind me before closing my eyes.
Then, gathering up the pieces of my mind, I started
off on the sixteen steps down the hall to my
apartment door. Eyes closed, exactly sixteen steps.
No more, no less. My head blank from the whiskey,
my mouth reeking from cigarettes.
Drunk as I get, I can walk those sixteen steps
straight as a ruled line. The fruit of many years of
pointless self-discipline. Whenever drunk, I'd throw
back my shoulders, straighten my spine, hold my
head up, and draw a deep lungful of the cool morning
air in the concrete hallway. Then I'd close my eyes
and walk sixteen steps straight through the whiskey
Within the bounds of that sixteen-step world, I
bear the title of "Most Courteous of Drunks." A
simple achievement. One has only to accept the fact
of being drunk at face value.
No ifs, ands, or buts. Only the statement "I am
drunk," plain and simple.
That's all it takes for me to become the Most
Courteous Drunk. The Earliest to Rise, the Last
Boxcar over the Bridge. Five, six, seven,. Stopping on the eighth step, I
opened my eyes and took a deep breath. A slight
humming in my ears. Like a sea breeze whistling
through a rusty wire screen. Come to think of it, when
was the last time I was at the beach?
Let's see. July 24, 6:30 A.M. Ideal time of year for
the beach, ideal time of day. The beach still unspoiled
by people. Seabird tracks scattered about the surf's
edge like pine needles after a brisk wind.
The beach, hmm . . .
I began walking again. Forget the beach. All
that's ages past.
On the sixteenth step, I halted, opened my eyes,
and found myself planted square in front of my
doorknob, as always. Taking two days' worth of
newspapers and two envelopes from the mailbox, I
tucked the lot under my arm. Then I fished my keys
out of the recesses of my pocket and leaned forward,
forehead against the icy iron door. From somewhere
behind my ears, a click. Me, a wad of cotton soaked
through with alcohol. With only a modicum of control
of my senses.
The door maybe one-third open, I slid my body in,
shutting the door behind me. The entryway was dead
silent. More silent than it ought to be.
That's when I noticed the red pumps at my feet.
Red pumps I've seen before. Parked in between my
mud-caked tennis shoes and a pair of cheap beach sandals, like some out-of-season Christmas present.
A silence hovered about them, fine as dust.
She was slumped over the kitchen table, forehead
on her arms, profile hidden by straight black hair. A
patch of untanned white neckline showed between
the strands of hair, through the open sleeve of her
print dress—one I'd never seen before—a glimpse of a
I removed my jacket, undid my black tie, took off
my watch, with not a flinch from her the whole while.
Looking at her back called up memories. Memories of
times before I'd met her.
"Well then," I spoke up in a voice not quite my
own, the sound piped in.
As expected, there was no reply. She could have
been asleep, could have been crying, could have been
I sat down opposite her and rubbed my eyes. A
short ray of sunlight divided the table, me in light, her
in shadow. Colorless shadow. A withered potted
geranium sat on the table. Outside, someone was
watering down the street. Splash on the pavement,
smell of wet asphalt.
"Want some coffee?"
So I got up and went over to grind coffee for two
cups. It occurred to me after I ground the coffee that
what I really wanted was ice tea. I'm forever realizing
things too late. The transistor radio played a succession of
innocuous pop songs. A perfect morning sound track.
The world had barely changed in ten years. Only the
singers and song titles. And my age.
The water came to a boil. I shut off the gas, let the
water cool thirty seconds, poured it over the coffee.
The grounds absorbed all they could and slowly
swelled, filling the room with aroma.
"Been here since last night?" I asked, kettle in
An ever so slight nod of her head.
"You've been waiting all this time?"
The room had steamed up from the boiling water
and strong sun. I shut the window and switched on
the air conditioner, then set the two mugs of coffee on
"Drink," I said, reclaiming my own voice.
"Be better if you drank something."
It was thirty seconds before she raised her head
slowly, evenly, and gazed absently at the potted plant.
A few fine strands of hair lay plastered against her
dampened cheeks, an aura of wetness about her.
"Don't mind me," she said. "I didn't mean to cry."
I held out a box of tissues to her. She quietly blew
her nose, then brushed the hair from her cheek.
"Actually, I planned on being gone by the time you
returned. I didn't want to see you."
"But you changed your mind, I see." "Not at all. I didn't have anywhere else I wanted to
go. But I'm going now, don't worry." "Well, have
some coffee anyway."
I tuned in to the radio traffic report as I sipped my
coffee and slit open the two pieces of mail. One was
an announcement from a furniture store where
everything was twenty percent off. The second was a
letter from someone I didn't want to think about,
much less read a letter from. I crumpled them up and
tossed them into the wastebasket, then nibbled on
leftover cheese crackers. She cupped her hands
around the coffee cup as if to warm herself and fixed
her eyes on me, her lip lightly riding the rim of the
"There's salad in the fridge," she said.
"Tomatoes and string beans. There wasn't
anything else. The cucumbers had gone bad, so I
threw them out." "Oh."
I went to the refrigerator and took out the blue
Okinawa glass salad bowl and sprinkled on the last
drops from the bottle of dressing. The tomatoes and
string beans were but chilled shadows. Tasteless
shadows. Nor was there any taste to the coffee or
crackers. Maybe because of the morning sun? The
light of morning decomposes everything. I gave up on
the coffee midway, dug a bent cigarette out of my
pocket, and lit up with matches that I'd never seen
before. The tip of the cigarette crackled dryly as its lavender smoke formed a tracery in the morning
"I went to a funeral. When it was over, I went to
Shinjuku, by myself."
The cat appeared out of nowhere, yawned at
length, then sprang into her lap. She scratched him
behind the ears.
"You don't need to explain anything to me," she
said. "I'm out of the picture already."
"I'm not explaining. I'm just making conversation."
She shrugged and pushed her brassiere strap back
inside her dress. Her face had no expression, like a
photograph of a sunken city on the ocean floor.
"An acquaintance of sorts from years back. No one
The cat gave his legs a good stretch, topped it off
with a puff of a breath.
I glanced at the burning tip of the cigarette in my
"How did this acquaintance die?"
"Hit by a truck. Thirteen bones fractured."
The seven o'clock news and traffic report came to
an end, and light rock returned to the airwaves. She
set her coffee back down and looked me in the face.
"Tell me, if I died, would you go out drinking like
that?" "The funeral had nothing to do with my drinking.
Only the first one or two rounds, if that."
A new day was beginning. Another hot one. A
cluster of skyscrapers glared through the window.
"How about something cool to drink?"
She shook her head.
I got a can of cola out of the refrigerator and
downed it in one go"She was the kind of girl who'd sleep with anyone."
What an obituary: the deceased was the kind of girl
who would sleep with anyone.
"Why are you telling me this?" Why indeed? I had
"Very well," she picked up where I trailed off, "she
was the kind of girl who'd sleep with anyone, right?"
"But not with you, right?"
There was an edge to her voice. I glanced up from
the salad bowl. "You think not?"
"Somehow, no," she said quietly. "You, you're not
the type." "What type?"
"I don't know, there's something about you. Say
there's an hourglass: the sand's about to run out.
Someone like you can always be counted on to turn
the thing over."
She pursed her lips, then relaxed.
"I came to get the rest of my things. My winter
coat, hats, things I left behind. I packed them up in boxes. When you have time, could you take them to
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