Read Sputnik Sweetheart Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami

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

Sputnik Sweetheart (12 page)




Fate has led me to a conclusion—an ad hoc conclusion, mind you (is there any other kind? interesting question, but I’ll leave it for some other time)—and here I am on an island in Greece. A small island whose name I’d never even heard of until recently. The time is . . . a little past four in the morning. Still dark out, of course. Innocent goats have slipped into their peaceful, collective sleep. The line of olive trees outside in the field is sipping at the nourishment the darkness provides. And the moon, like some melancholy priest, rests above the rooftop, stretching out its hands to the barren sea.

No matter where I find myself, this is the time of day I love the best. The time that’s mine alone. It’ll be dawn soon, and I’m sitting here writing. Like Buddha, born from his mother’s side (the right or the left, I can’t recall), the new sun will lumber up and peek over the edge of the hills. And the ever discreet Miu will quietly wake up. At six we’ll make a simple breakfast together, and afterward go over the hills to our ever lovely beach. Before this routine begins, I want to roll up my sleeves and finish a bit of work.

Except for a few letters, it’s been a long time since I’ve written something purely for myself, and I’m not very confident I can express myself the way I’d like to. Not that I’ve ever had that confidence. Somehow, though, I always feel
to write.

Why? It’s simple, really. In order for me to think about something, I have to first put it into writing.

It’s been that way since I was little. When I didn’t understand something, I gathered up the words scattered at my feet, and lined them up into sentences. If that didn’t help, I’d scatter them again, rearrange them in a different order. Repeat that a number of times, and I was able to think about things like most people. Writing for me was never difficult. Other children gathered pretty stones or acorns, and I
As naturally as breathing, I’d scribble down one sentence after another. And I’d

No doubt you think it’s a time-consuming process to reach a conclusion, seeing as how every time I thought about something I had to go through all those steps. Or maybe you wouldn’t think that. But in
actual practice
it did take time. So much so that by the time I entered elementary school people thought I was retarded. I couldn’t keep up with the other kids.

When I finished elementary school the feeling of alienation this gave me had lessened considerably. By then I’d found a way to keep pace with the world around me. Still, until I quit college and broke off any relations with officialdom, this gap existed inside me—like a silent snake in the grass.

My provisional theme here: On a day-to-day basis I use writing to figure out who I am.


Right you are!

I’ve written an incredible amount up till now. Nearly every day. It’s like I was standing in a huge pasture, cutting the grass all by myself, and the grass grows back almost as fast as I can cut it. Today I’d cut over here, tomorrow over there. . . . By the time I make one complete round of the pasture the grass in the first spot is as tall as it was in the beginning.

But since I met Miu I’ve barely written. Why is that? The Fiction = Transmission theory K told me does make sense. On one level there’s some truth to it. But it doesn’t explain everything. I’ve got to simplify my thinking here.

Simplify, simplify.

What happened after I met Miu was, I stopped
(Of course I’m using my own individual definition of
here.) Miu and I were always together, two interlocking spoons, and with her I was swept away somewhere—someplace I couldn’t fathom—and I just thought, OK, go with the flow.

In other words, I had to get rid of a lot of baggage to get closer to her. Even the act of thinking became a burden. I think that explains it. No matter how tall the grass got, I couldn’t be bothered. I sprawled on my back, gazing up at the sky, watching the billowy clouds drift by. Consigning my fate to the clouds. Giving myself up to the pungent aroma of the grass, the murmur of the wind. And after a time I couldn’t have cared less about the difference between what I knew and what I didn’t know.

No, that’s not true.
From day one
I couldn’t have cared less. I have to be a bit more precise in my account here.

Precision, precision.

I see now that my basic rule of thumb in writing has always been to write about things as if I
know them—and this would include things that I did know or thought I knew about. If I said from the beginning,
Oh, I know that, no need to spend my precious time writing about it,
my writing never would have gotten off the ground. For example, if I think about somebody,
I know that guy, no need to spend time thinking about him, I’ve got him down,
I run the risk of being betrayed (and this would apply to you as well). On the flip side of everything we think we absolutely have pegged lurks an equal amount of the

Understanding is but the sum of our misunderstandings.

Just between us, that’s my way of comprehending the world. In a nutshell.

In the world we live in, what we
and what we
don’t know
are like Siamese twins, inseparable, existing in a state of confusion.

Confusion, confusion.

Who can really distinguish between the sea and what’s reflected in it? Or tell the difference between the falling rain and loneliness?

Without any fuss, then, I gave up worrying about the difference between knowing and
knowing. That became my point of departure. A terrible place to start, perhaps—but people need a makeshift jumping-off point, right? All of which goes to explain how I started seeing dualisms such as theme and style, object and subject, cause and effect, the joints of my hand and the rest of me, not as black-and-white pairs, but as indistinguishable one from the other. Everything had spilled on the kitchen floor—the salt, pepper, flour, starch. All mixed into one fine blob.

The joints of my hand and the rest of me . . . I notice sitting here in front of the computer that I’m back to my old bad habit of cracking my knuckles. This bad habit made quite a comeback after I quit smoking. First I crack the joints of the five fingers of my right hand
—crack crack—
then the joints of my left hand. I’m not trying to brag, but I can crack my joints so loud you’d think someone’s neck’s getting broken. I was the champion knuckle cracker in elementary school. Put the boys to shame.

When I was in college K let me know in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t exactly a skill I should be proud of. When a girl reaches a certain age she can’t be snapping her knuckles all over the place. Especially in front of other people. Otherwise you’ll end up like Lotte Lenya in
From Russia with Love.
Now why hadn’t anybody ever told me that before? I tried to break myself of the habit. I mean, I really like Lotte Lenya, but not enough to want to
her. Once I quit smoking, though, I realized that whenever I sat down to write, unconsciously I was cracking my knuckles all over again.
Snap crackle pop.

The name’s Bond. James Bond.

Let me get back to what I was saying. Time’s limited—no room for detours. Forget Lotte Lenya. Sorry, metaphors—gotta split. As I said before, inside of us what we know and what we don’t know share the same abode. For convenience’ sake most people erect a wall between them. It makes life easier. But I just swept that wall away. I
to. I hate walls. That’s just the kind of person I am.

To use the image of the Siamese twins again, it’s not like they always get along. They don’t always try to understand each other. In fact the opposite is more often true. The right hand doesn’t try to know what the left hand’s doing—and vice versa. Confusion reigns, we end up lost—and we crash smack-dab right into something.

What I’m getting at is that people have to come up with a clever strategy if they want what they know and what they don’t know to live together in peace. And that strategy—yep, you’ve got it!—is
We have to find a secure anchor. Otherwise, no mistake about it, we’re on an awful
collision course.

A question.

So what are people supposed to do if they want to avoid a collision (
) but still lie in the field, enjoying the clouds drifting by, listening to the grass grow—not thinking, in other words? Sound hard? Not at all. Logically, it’s easy.
C’est simple.
The answer is
Dreaming on and on. Entering the world of dreams, and never coming out. Living in dreams for the rest of time.

In dreams you don’t need to make any distinctions between things. Not at all. Boundaries don’t exist. So in dreams there are hardly ever collisions. Even if there are, they don’t hurt. Reality is different. Reality bites.

Reality, reality.

Way back when the Sam Peckinpah movie
The Wild Bunch
premiered, a woman journalist raised her hand at the press conference and asked the following: “Why in the world do you have to show so much blood all over the place?” She was pretty worked up about it. One of the actors, Ernest Borgnine, looked a bit perplexed and fielded the question. “Lady, did you ever see anyone shot by a gun without bleeding?” This film came out at the height of the Vietnam War.

I love that line. That’s gotta be one of the principles behind reality. Accepting things that are hard to comprehend, and leaving them that way. And bleeding. Shooting and bleeding.

Did you ever see anyone shot by a gun without bleeding?

Which explains my stance as a writer. I think—in a very ordinary way—and reach a point where, in a realm I cannot even give a name to, I conceive a dream, a sightless fetus called
floating in the universal, overwhelming amniotic fluid of incomprehension. Which must be why my novels are absurdly long and, up till now at least, never reach a proper conclusion. The technical, and moral, skills needed to maintain a supply line on that scale are beyond me.

Of course I’m not writing a novel here. I don’t know what to call it. Just writing. I’m thinking aloud, so there’s no need to wrap things up neatly. I have no moral obligations. I’m merely—hmm
I haven’t done any real thinking for the longest time, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future. But right now, at this very moment, I
thinking. And that’s what I’m going to do until morning. Think.

That being said, though, I can’t rid myself of my old familiar dark doubts. Aren’t I spending all my time and energy in some useless pursuit? Hauling a bucket of water to a place that’s on the verge of flooding? Shouldn’t I give up any useless effort and just go with the flow?

Collision? What’s that?

Let me put it a different way.

OK—what different way was I going to use?

Oh, I remember—this is what it is.

If I’m going to merely ramble, maybe I should just snuggle under the warm covers, think of Miu, and play with myself. That’s what I meant.

I love the curve of Miu’s rear end. The exquisite contrast between her jet-black pubic hair and snow-white hair, the nicely shaped butt, clad in tiny black panties. Talk about sexy. Inside her black panties, her T-shaped pubic hair, every bit as black.

I’ve got to stop thinking about that. Switch off the circuit of pointless sexual fantasies (
) and concentrate on writing. Can’t let these precious predawn moments slip away. I’ll let somebody else, in some other context, decide what’s effective and what isn’t. Right now I don’t have a glass of barley tea’s worth of interest in what they might say.


Right you are!

So—onward and upward.

They say it’s a dangerous experiment to include dreams (actual dreams or otherwise) in the fiction you write. Only a handful of writers—and I’m talking the most talented—are able to pull off the kind of irrational synthesis you find in dreams. Sounds reasonable. Still, I want to relate a dream, one I had recently. I want to record this dream simply as a fact that concerns me and my life. Whether it’s literary or not, I don’t care. I’m just the keeper of the warehouse.

I’ve had the same type of dream many times. The details differ, including the setting, but they all follow the same pattern. And the pain I feel upon waking is always the same. A single theme is repeated there over and over, like a train blowing its whistle at the same blind curve night after night.


(I’ve written this in the third person. It feels more authentic that way.)

Sumire is climbing a long spiral staircase to meet her mother, who died a long time ago. Her mother is waiting at the top of the stairs. She has something she wants to tell Sumire, a critical piece of information Sumire desperately needs in order to live. Sumire’s never met a dead person before, and she’s afraid. She doesn’t know what kind of person her mother is. Maybe—for some reason Sumire can’t imagine—her mother hates her. But she has to meet her. This is her one and only chance.

The stairs go on forever. Climb and climb and she still doesn’t reach the top. Sumire rushes up the stairs, out of breath. She’s running out of time. Her mother won’t always be here, in this building. Sumire’s brow breaks out in a sweat. And finally the stairs come to an end.

At the top of the staircase there’s a broad landing, a thick stone wall at the very end facing her. Right at eye level there’s a kind of round hole like a ventilation shaft. A small hole about twenty inches in diameter. And Sumire’s mother, as if she’d been pushed inside feet first, is crammed inside that hole. Sumire realizes that her time is nearly up.

In that cramped space, her mother faces outward, toward her. She looks at Sumire’s face as if appealing to her. Sumire knows at a glance that it’s her mother. She’s the person who gave me life and flesh, she realizes. But somehow the woman here is not the mother in the family photo album. My real mother is beautiful, and youthful. So that person in the album wasn’t really my mother after all, Sumire thinks. My father tricked me.

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