Read Sputnik Sweetheart Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami

Tags: #Literary, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Teachers, #Missing persons, #Japan, #Unrequited love, #Fiction, #Women novelists, #Businesswomen

Sputnik Sweetheart (6 page)

“Commune? Do you mean the places Lenin made?”

“Those are called kolkhoz. There aren’t any left, though.”

“It’s not like I want to give up writing,” Sumire said. She thought for a moment. “It’s just that when I try to write, I can’t. I sit down at my desk and nothing comes—no ideas, no words, no scenes.
Zip.
Not too long ago I had a million things to write about. What in the world’s happening to me?”

“You’re asking me?”

Sumire nodded.

I took a sip of my cold beer and gathered my thoughts. “I think right now it’s like you’re positioning yourself in a newfictional framework. You’re preoccupied with that, so there’s no need to put your feelings into writing. Besides, you’re too busy to.”

“Do
you
do that? Put yourself inside a fictional framework?”

“I think most people live in a fiction. I’m no exception. Think of it in terms of a car’s transmission. It’s like a transmission that stands between you and the harsh realities of life. You take the raw power from outside and use gears to adjust it so everything’s all nicely in sync. That’s how you keep your fragile body intact. Does this make any sense?”

Sumire gave a small nod. “And I’m still not completely adjusted to that new framework. That’s what you’re saying?”

“The biggest problem right now is that you don’t know what sort of fiction you’re dealing with. You don’t know the plot; the style’s still not set. The only thing you do know is the main character’s name. Nevertheless, this new fiction is reinventing who you are. Give it time, it’ll take you under its wing, and you may very well catch a glimpse of a brand-new world. But you’re not there yet. Which leaves you in a precarious position.”

“You mean I’ve taken out the old transmission but haven’t quite finished bolting down the new one. And the engine’s still running. Right?”

“You could put it that way.”

Sumire made her usual sullen face and tapped her straw on the hapless ice in her drink. Finally she looked up.

“I understand what you mean by
precarious.
Sometimes I feel so—I don’t know—lonely. The kind of helpless feeling when everything you’re used to has been ripped away. Like there’s no more gravity, and I’m left to drift in outer space. With no idea where I’m headed.”

“Like a little lost Sputnik?”

“I guess so.”

“But you do have Miu,” I said.

“At least for now.”

For a while silence reigned.

“Do you think Miu is seeking that, too?” I asked.

Sumire nodded. “I believe she is. Probably as much as I am.”

“Physical aspects included?”

“It’s a tough call. I can’t get a handle on it yet. What her feelings are, I mean. Which makes me feel lost and confused.”

“A classical conundrum,” I said.

In place of an answer, Sumire screwed up her lips again.

“But as far as you’re concerned,” I said, “you’re ready to go.”

Sumire nodded once, unequivocally. She couldn’t have been more serious. I sank back deep into my chair and clasped my hands behind my head.

“After all this, don’t start to hate me, OK?” Sumire said. Her voice was like a line from an old black-and-white Jean-Luc Godard movie, filtering in just beyond the frame of my consciousness.

“After all this, I won’t start to hate you,” I replied.

T
he next time I saw Sumire was two weeks later, on a Sunday, when I helped her move. She’d decided to move all of a sudden, and I was the only one who came to help. Other than books, she owned very little, and the whole procedure was over before we knew it. One good thing about being poor, at least.

I borrowed a friend’s Toyota minivan and transported her things over to her new place in Yoyogi-Uehara. The apartment wasn’t so new or much to look at, but compared with her old wooden building in Kichijoji—a place that should be on a list of designated historical sites—it was definitely a step up. A real-estate-agent friend of Miu’s had located the place for her; despite its convenient location, the rent was reasonable, and it boasted a nice view. It was also twice as big as the old place. Definitely worth the move. Yoyogi Park was nearby, and she could walk to work if the spirit moved her.

“Starting next month I’ll be working five days a week,” Sumire said. “Three days a week seems neither here nor there, and it’s easier to stand commuting if you do it every day. I have to pay more rent now, and Miu told me it’d be better all around if I became a full-time employee. I mean, if I stay home, I still won’t be able to write.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” I commented.

“My life will get more organized if I work every day, and I probably won’t be calling you up at three-thirty in the morning. One good point about it.”

“One
very
good point,” I said. “But it’s sad to think you’ll be living so far away from me.”

“You really feel that way?”

“Of course. Want me to rip out my pure heart and show you?”

I was sitting on the bare floor of the new apartment, leaning against the wall. Sumire was so bereft of household goods the new place looked deserted. There weren’t any curtains in the windows, and the books that didn’t fit into the bookshelf lay piled on the floor like a bunch of intellectual refugees. The full-length mirror on the wall, a moving present from Miu, was the only thing that stood out. The caws of crows filtered in from the park on the twilight breeze. Sumire sat down next to me. “You know what?” she said.

“What?”

“If I were some good-for-nothing lesbian, would you still be my friend?”

“Whether you’re a good-for-nothing lesbian or not doesn’t matter. Imagine
The Greatest Hits of Bobby Darin
minus ‘Mack the Knife.’ That’s what my life would be like without you.”

Sumire narrowed her eyes and looked at me. “I’m not sure I follow your metaphor, but what you mean is you’d feel really lonely?”

“That’s about the size of it,” I said.

Sumire rested her head on my shoulder. Her hair was held back by a hair clip, and I could see her small, nicely formed ears. Ears so pretty you’d think they had just been created. Soft, easily injured ears. I could feel her breath on my skin. She had on a pair of short pink pants and a faded, plain navy-blue T-shirt. The outline of her small nipples showed through the shirt. There was a faint odor of sweat. Her sweat and mine, the two odors subtly mixed.

I wanted to hold her so badly. I was seized by a violent desire to push her down on the floor right then and there. But I knew it would be wasted effort. Suddenly I found it hard to breathe, and my field of vision narrowed. Time stood still, spinning its wheels. Desire swelled up in my trousers, hard as a rock. I was confused, bewildered. I tried to get a grip. I breathed in a lungful of fresh air, closed my eyes, and in that incomprehensible darkness I slowly began counting. My urges were so overpowering that tears came to my eyes.

“I like you, too,” Sumire said. “In this whole big world, more than anyone else.”

“After Miu, you mean,” I said.

“Miu’s a little different.”

“How so?”

“The feelings I have for her are different from how I feel about you. What I mean is . . . hmm. How should I put it?”

“We good-for-nothing heterosexuals have a term for it,” I said. “We say you get a hard-on.”

Sumire laughed. “Other than wanting to be a novelist, I’ve never wanted anything so much. I’ve always been satisfied with exactly what I have. But now, right at this moment, I want Miu. Very, very much. I want to have her. Make her mine. I just
have
to. There’re no other choices. Not a one. I have no idea why things worked out like this. Does that . . . make sense?”

I nodded. My penis still maintained its overpowering rigidity, and I prayed that Sumire wouldn’t notice.

“There’s a great line by Groucho Marx,” I said. “ ‘She’s so in love with me she doesn’t know anything. That’s why she’s in love with me.’ ”

Sumire laughed.

“I hope things work out,” I said. “But try your best to stay alert. You’re still vulnerable. Remember that.”

W
ithout a word, Sumire took my hand and gently squeezed it. Her small, soft hand had a faint sheen of sweat. I imagined her hand stroking my rock-hard penis. I tried not to think that but couldn’t help it. As Sumire had said, there were no other choices. I imagined taking off her T-shirt, her shorts, her panties. Feeling her tight, taut nipples under my tongue. Spreading her legs wide, entering that wetness. Slowly, into the deep darkness within. It enticed me in, enfolded me, then pushed me out. . . . The illusion grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I closed my eyes tight again and let a concentrated clump of time wash over me. My face turned down, I waited patiently for the overheated air to blow above me and away.

W
hy don’t we have dinner together? Sumire asked. But I had to take the minivan I’d borrowed back to Hino by the end of the day. More than anything else, though, I had to be alone with my violent urges. I didn’t want Sumire to get involved any more than she already was. I didn’t know how far I could control myself if she was beside me. Past the point of no return, and I might completely lose control.

“Well, let me treat you to a nice dinner sometime soon, then. Tablecloths, wine. The works. Maybe next week,” Sumire promised as we said goodbye. “Keep your schedule open for me next week.”

“OK,” I said.

I
glanced at the full-length mirror as I passed by, at my face reflected in it. A strange expression was on my face. That was my face, all right, but where did that look come from? I didn’t feel like retracing my steps and investigating further.

Sumire stood at the entrance to her new place to see me off. She waved goodbye, something she rarely did.

In the end, like so many beautiful promises in our lives, that dinner date never came to be. In the beginning of August I received a long letter from her.

CHAPTER 6

T
he envelope had a large, colorful Italian stamp on it and was postmarked Rome, though I couldn’t make out when it had been sent.

The day the letter arrived, I’d gone out to Shinjuku for the first time in quite a while, picked up a couple of new books at the Kinokuniya bookstore, and taken in a Luc Besson movie. Afterward I stopped by a beer hall and enjoyed an anchovy pizza and a mug of dark beer. Barely beating the rush hour, I boarded the Chuo Line and read one of my new books until I arrived home at Kunitachi. I planned to make a simple dinner and watch a soccer match on TV. The ideal way to spend a summer vacation. Hot, alone, and free, not bothering anyone, and nobody bothering me.

When I got back home, there was a letter in the mailbox. The sender’s name wasn’t on the envelope, but one glance at the handwriting told me it was from Sumire. Hieroglyphic writing, compact, hard, uncompromising. Writing that reminded me of the beetles they discovered inside the pyramids of Egypt. Like it’s going to start crawling and disappear back into the darkness of history.

Rome?

I
put the food I’d bought at a supermarket in the fridge and poured myself a tall glass of iced tea. I sat down in a chair in the kitchen, slit open the envelope with a paring knife, and read the letter. Five pages of stationery, from the Rome Excelsior Hotel, crammed full of tiny writing in blue ink. Must have taken a lot of time to write that much. On the last page, in one corner, was some sort of stain—coffee, perhaps.

How are you?

I can imagine how surprised you must be to all of a sudden get a letter from me from Rome. You’re so cool, though, it’d probably take more than Rome to surprise you. Rome’s a bit too touristy. It’d have to be someplace like Greenland, Timbuktu, or the Strait of Magellan, wouldn’t it? Though I can tell you I find it hard to believe that here I am in Rome.

Anyhow, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to take you out to dinner like we planned. This Europe trip came about out of the blue, right after I moved. After that it was utter madness for a few days—running out to apply for a passport, buying suitcases, finishing up some work I’d begun. I’m not very good at remembering things—I don’t need to tell you, do I?—but I do try my best to keep my promises. The ones I remember, that is. Which is why I want to apologize for not keeping our dinner date.

I really enjoy my new apartment. Moving is certainly a pain (I know you did most of the work, for which I’m grateful; still, it’s a pain), but once you’re all moved in it’s pretty nice. There’re no roosters crowing in my new place, as in Kichijoji, instead a lot of crows making a racket like some old wailing women. At dawn flocks of them assemble in Yoyogi Park, and make such a ruckus you’d think the world was about to end. No need for an alarm clock, since the racket always wakes me up. Thanks to which I’m now like you, living an early-to-bed-early-to-rise farmer’s lifestyle. I’m beginning to understand how it feels to have someone call you at three-thirty in the morning.
Beginning
to understand, mind you.

I’m writing this letter at an outdoor café on a side street in Rome, sipping espresso as thick as the devil’s sweat, and I have this strange feeling that I’m not
myself
anymore. It’s hard to put it into words, but I guess it’s like I was fast asleep, and some-one came, disassembled me, and hurriedly put me back to-gether again. That sort of feeling. Can you understand what I’m getting at?

My eyes tell me I’m the same old me, but something’s
different
from usual. Not that I can clearly recall what “usual” was. Ever since I stepped off the plane I can’t shake this very real, deconstructive illusion.
Illusion?
I guess that’s the word. . . .

Sitting here, asking myself, “Why am I in Rome, of all places?” everything around me starts to look unreal. Of course if I trace the details of how I got here I can come up with an explanation, but on a gut level I’m still not convinced. The me sitting here and the image of me I have are out of sync. To put it another way, I don’t particularly
need
to be here, but nonetheless here I am. I know I’m being vague, but you understand me, don’t you?

There’s one thing I
can
say for sure: I wish you were here. Even though I have Miu with me, I’m lonely being so far away from you. If we were even farther apart, I know I’d feel even more lonely. I’d like to think you feel the same way.

So anyhow, here Miu and I are, traipsing around Europe. She had some business to take care of and was planning originally to go around Italy and France by herself for two weeks, but asked me to come along as her personal secretary. She just blurted this out one morning, took me by complete surprise. My title might be “personal secretary,” but I don’t think I’m much use to her; still, the experience will do me good, and Miu tells me the trip’s her present to me for quitting smoking. So all the agony I went through paid off in the end.

We landed first in Milan, went sightseeing, then rented a blue Alfa Romeo and headed south on the autostrada. We went around a few wineries in Tuscany, and after taking care of business stayed a few nights in a charming little hotel, and then arrived in Rome. Business is always conducted in either English or French, so I don’t have much of a role to play, though my Italian has come in handy in day-to-day things as we travel. If we went to Spain (which unfortunately won’t happen on this trip), I might be of more use to Miu.

The Alfa Romeo we rented was a manual shift, so I was no help at all. Miu did all the driving. She can drive for hours and never seems to mind. Tuscany is all hills and curves, and it was amazing how smoothly she shifted gears up and down; watching her made me (and I’m not joking here) shiver all over. Being away from Japan, and simply being by her side, are quite enough to satisfy me. If only we could stay this way forever.

Next time I’ll write about all the wonderful meals and wine we’ve had in Italy; it’d take too much time to do so now. In Milan we walked from store to store shopping. Dresses, shoes, underwear. Other than some pajamas (I’d forgotten to take mine), I didn’t buy anything. I didn’t have much money, and besides there were so many beautiful things I had no idea where to start. That’s the situation where my sense of judgment blows a fuse. Just being with Miu as she shopped was sufficient. She’s an absolute master shopper, choosing only the most exquisite things, and buying only a select few. Like taking a bite of the tastiest part of a dish. Very smart and charming. When I watched her select some expensive silk stockings and underwear I found it hard to breathe. Drops of sweat popped out on my forehead. Which is pretty strange when you think about it. I’m a girl, after all. I guess that’s enough about shopping—writing about all that, too, will make this too long.

At hotels we stay in separate rooms. Miu seems very insistent on this. One time only, in Florence, our reservation got messed up somehow and we ended up having to share a room. The room had twin beds, but just being able to sleep in the same room with her made my heart leap. I caught a glimpse of her coming out of the bath with a towel wrapped around her, and of her changing her clothes. Naturally I pretended not to look and read my book, but I did manage a peek. Miu has a truly gorgeous figure. She wasn’t completely nude, but wore some tiny underwear; still her body was enough to take my breath away. Very slim, tight buns, a thoroughly attractive woman. I wish you could have seen it—though it’s a little weird for me to say that.

I imagined being held by that lithe, slim body. All sorts of obscene images came to mind as I lay in bed, in the same room with her, and I felt these thoughts gradually pushing me to some other place. I think I got a little too worked up—my period started that same night, way ahead of schedule. What a pain
that
was. Hmm. I know telling you this isn’t going to get me anywhere. But I’ll go ahead anyway—just to get the facts down on paper.

Last night we attended a concert in Rome. I wasn’t expecting much, it being the off-season, but we managed to enjoy an incredible performance. Martha Argerich playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto no.
1
. I adore that piece. The conductor was Giuseppe Sinopoli. What a performance! Can’t slouch when you listen to that kind of music—it was absolutely the most expansive, fantastic music I’ve ever heard. Come to think of it, maybe it was a bit too perfect for my taste. Liszt’s piece needs to be a bit slippery, and furtive—like music at a village festival. Take out the difficult parts and let me feel the thrill—that’s what I like. Miu and I agreed on this point. There’s a Vivaldi festival in Venice, and we’re talking about going. Like when you and I talk about literature, Miu and I can talk about music till the cows come home.

This letter’s getting pretty long, isn’t it? It’s like once I take hold of a pen and start to write I can’t stop halfway. I’ve always been like that. They say well-brought-up girls don’t overstay their welcome, but when it comes to writing (maybe not just writing?) my manners are hopeless. The waiter, with his white jacket, sometimes looks over at me with this disgusted look on his face. But even my hand gets tired, I’ll admit. Besides, I’ve run out of paper.

Miu is out visiting an old friend in Rome, and I wandered the streets near the hotel, decided to take a break in this café I ran across, and here I am busily writing away to you. Like I’m on a desert island and I’m sending out a message in a bottle. Strange thing is, when I’m not with Miu I don’t feel like going anywhere. I’ve come all this way to Rome (and most likely won’t get back again), but I just can’t rouse myself to get up and see those ruins—what do they call those?—or those famous fountains. Or even to go shopping. It’s enough just to sit here in a café, sniff the smell of the city, like a dog might, listen to voices and sounds, and gaze at the faces of the people passing by.

And suddenly I just got the feeling, while writing this letter to you, that what I described in the beginning—the strange sense of being disassembled—is starting to fade. It doesn’t bother me so much now. It’s like the way I feel when I’ve called you up in the middle of the night and just finished the call and stepped out of the phone booth. Maybe you have that kind of effect on me?

What do you think? At any rate, please pray for my happiness and good fortune. I need your prayers.

Bye for now.

P.S. I’ll probably be back home around the fifteenth of August. Then we can have dinner together—I promise!—before the summer’s over.

Five days later a second letter came, posted from some obscure French village. A shorter letter than the first. Miu and Sumire had turned in their rental car in Rome and taken a train to Venice. There they listened to two full days of Vivaldi. Most of the concerts were held at the church where Vivaldi had served as a priest. “If I don’t hear any more Vivaldi for six months that’s fine by me,” Sumire wrote. Her descriptions of the delicious paper-wrapped grilled seafood in Venice were so realistic they made me want to dash over there to try some for myself.

After Venice, Miu and Sumire returned to Milan and then flew to Paris. They took a break in Paris, shopping some more, then boarded a train to Burgundy. One of Miu’s good friends owned a huge house, a manor really, where they stayed. As in Italy, Miu made the rounds of several small wineries on business. On free afternoons they took a picnic-basket lunch and went walking in the woods nearby. With a couple of bottles of wine to complement the meal, of course. “The wine here is simply out of this world,” Sumire wrote.

Somehow, though, it looks like our original plan of returning to Japan on the fifteenth of August is going to change. After our work is done in France we may be taking a short vacation on a Greek island. This English gentleman we happened to meet here—a real gentleman, mind you—owns a villa on the island and invited us to use it for as long as we like. Great news! Miu likes the idea, too. We need a break from work, some time to just kick back and relax. The two of us lying on the pure white beaches of the Aegean, two beautiful sets of breasts pointed toward the sun, sipping wine with a scent of pine resin in it, just watching the clouds drift by. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

It certainly does, I thought.

That afternoon I went to the public pool and paddled around, stopped by a nicely air-conditioned coffee shop on the way home, and read for an hour. When I got back to my place I listened to both sides of an old Ten Years After LP while ironing three shirts. Ironing done, I drank some cheap wine I’d gotten on sale, mixed with Perrier, and watched a soccer match I’d videotaped. Every time I saw a pass I thought I wouldn’t have done myself, I shook my head and sighed. Judging the mistakes of strangers is an easy thing to do—and it feels pretty good.

After the soccer match I sank back into my chair, stared at the ceiling, and imagined Sumire in her village in France. By now she was already on that Greek island. Lying on the beach, gazing at the passing clouds. Either way, she was a long way away from me. Rome, Greece, Timbuktu, Aruanda—it didn’t matter. She was far far away. And most likely that was the future in a nutshell, Sumire growing ever more distant. It made me sad. I felt like I was a meaningless bug clinging for no special reason to a high stone wall on a windy night, with no plans, no beliefs. Sumire said she missed me. But she had Miu beside her. I had no one. All I had was—me. Same as always.

S
umire didn’t come back on August 15. Her phone still just had a curt
I’m away on a trip
recording on it. One of her first purchases after she moved was a phone with an answering machine. So she wouldn’t have to go out on rainy nights, umbrella in hand, to a phone booth. An excellent idea all around. I didn’t leave a message.

I
called her again on the eighteenth but got the same recording. After the lifeless beep I left my name and a simple message for her to call me when she got back. Most likely she and Miu found their Greek island too much fun to want to leave.