Read Sputnik Sweetheart Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami

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

Sputnik Sweetheart (13 page)

“Mother!” Sumire bravely shouts. She feels a wall of sorts melt away inside her. No sooner does she utter this word than her mother is pulled deeper into that hole, as if sucked by some giant vacuum on the other side. Her mother’s mouth is open, and she’s shouting something to Sumire. But the hollow sound of the wind rushing out of the hole swallows up her words. In the next instant her mother is yanked into the darkness of the hole and vanishes.

Sumire looks back, and the staircase is gone. She’s surrounded by stone walls. Where the staircase had been there’s a wooden door. She turns the knob and opens the door, and beyond is the sky. She’s at the top of a tall tower. So high it makes her dizzy to look down. Lots of tiny objects, like airplanes, are buzzing around the sky. Simple little planes anybody could make, constructed of bamboo and light pieces of lumber. In the rear of each plane there’s a tiny fist-sized engine and propeller. Sumire yells out to one of the passing pilots to come rescue her. But none of the pilots pays any attention.

It must be because I’m wearing these clothes, Sumire decides. Nobody can see me. She has on an anonymous white hospital gown. She takes it off, and is naked—there’s nothing on underneath. She discards the gown on the ground next to the door, and like a soul now unfettered it catches an updraft and sails out of sight. The same wind caresses her body, rustles the hair between her legs. With a start she notices that all the little airplanes have changed into dragonflies. The sky is filled with multicolored dragonflies, their huge bulbous eyes glistening as they gaze around. The buzz of their wings grows steadily louder, like a radio being turned up. Finally it’s an unbearable roar. Sumire crouches down, eyes closed, and stops up her ears.

And she wakes up.

Sumire could recall every last detail of the dream. She could have painted a picture of it. The only thing she couldn’t recall was her mother’s face as it was sucked into that black hole. And the critical words her mother spoke, too, were lost forever in that vacant void. In bed, Sumire violently bit her pillow and cried and cried.


After this dream I came to an important decision. The tip of my somewhat industrious pickax will finally begin to chip away at the solid cliff.
I decided to make it clear to Miu what I want. I can’t stay like this forever, hanging. I can’t be like a spineless little barber digging a hole in his backyard, revealing to no one the fact that I love Miu. Act that way and slowly but surely I will fade away. All the dawns and all the twilights will rob me, piece by piece, of myself, and before long my very life will be shaved away completely—and I would end up

Matters are as clear as crystal.

Crystal, crystal.

I want to make love to Miu, and be held by her. I’ve already surrendered so much that’s important to me. There’s nothing more I can give up. It’s not too late. I have to
with Miu, enter her. And she must enter me. Like two greedy, glistening snakes.

And if Miu doesn’t accept me, then what?

I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes.

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

Blood must be shed.
I’ll sharpen my knife, ready to slit a dog’s throat somewhere.


Right you are!

What I’ve written here is a message to myself. I toss it into the air like a boomerang. It slices through the dark, lays the little soul of some poor kangaroo out cold, and finally comes back to me.

But the boomerang that returns is not the same one I threw.

Boomerang, boomerang.



It’s two-thirty in the afternoon. Outside it’s as bright and hot as hell. The cliffs, the sky, and the sea are sparkling. Look at them long enough and the boundaries between them dissolve, everything melting into a chaotic ooze. Consciousness sinks into the sleepy shadows to avoid the light. Even the birds have given up flying. Inside the house, though, it’s pleasantly cool. Miu is in the living room listening to Brahms. She’s wearing a blue summer dress with thin straps, her pure-white hair pulled back simply. I’m at my desk, writing these words.

“Does the music bother you?” Miu asks me.

Brahms never bothers me, I answer.

I’ve been searching my memory, trying to reproduce the story Miu told me a few days ago in the village in Burgundy. It’s not easy. She told the story in fits and starts, the chronology thoroughly mixed up. Sometimes I couldn’t unravel which events happened first, and which came later, what was cause, what was effect. I don’t blame her, though. The cruel conspiratorial razor buried in her memory slashed out at her, and as the stars faded with the dawn above the vineyard, so the life force drained from her cheeks as she told me her tale.

Miu told the story only after I insisted on hearing it. I had to run through a whole gamut of appeals to get her to talk—alternately encouraging her, bullying her, indulging, praising, enticing her to continue. We drank red wine and talked till dawn. Hands clasped together, we followed the traces of her memories, piecing them together, analyzing the results. Still there were places Miu couldn’t dredge up from her memory. Whenever she tried to delve into them, she grew quietly confused and downed more wine. These were the danger zones of memory. Whenever we ran across these, we’d give up the search and gingerly withdraw to higher ground.

I persuaded Miu to tell me the story after I became aware that she dyed her hair. Miu is such a careful person that only a very few people around her have any idea she dyes her hair. But I noticed it. Traveling together for so long, spending each day together, you tend to pick up on things like that. Or maybe Miu wasn’t trying to hide it. She could have been much more discreet if she’d wanted to. Maybe she thought it was inevitable I’d find out, or maybe she
me to find out. (Hmm—pure conjecture on my part.)

I asked her straight out. That’s me—never beat around the bush. How much of your hair is white? I asked. How long have you been dyeing it? Fourteen years, she answered. Fourteen years ago my hair turned entirely white, every single strand. Were you sick? No, that wasn’t it, Miu said. Something happened, and all my hair turned pure white. Overnight.

I’d like to hear the story, I said, imploring her. I want to know everything about you. You know I wouldn’t hide a thing from
But Miu quietly shook her head. She’d never once told anyone the story; even her husband didn’t know what had happened. For fourteen years it had been her own private secret.

But in the end we talked all night. Every story has a time to be told, I convinced her. Otherwise you’ll forever be a prisoner to the secret inside you.

Miu looked at me as if gazing at some far-off scene. Something floated to the surface of her eyes, then slowly settled to the bottom again. “I have nothing I have to clear up,” she said. “
have accounts to settle—not me.”

I couldn’t understand what she was driving at.

“If I do tell you the story,” Miu said, “the two of us will always share it. And I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do. If I lift open the lid now, you’ll be implicated. Is that what you want? You really want to know something I’ve sacrificed so much trying to forget?”

Yes, I said. No matter what it is, I want to share it with you. I don’t want you to hide a thing.

Miu took a sip of wine and, obviously confused, closed her eyes. A silence followed, in which time itself seemed to bend and buckle.

In the end, though, she began to tell the story. Bit by bit, one fragment at a time. Some elements of the story took on a life of their own, while others never even quivered into being. There were the inevitable gaps and elisions, some of which themselves had their own special significance. My task now, as narrator, is to gather—ever so carefully—all these elements into a whole.


One summer Miu stayed alone in a small town in Switzerland near the French border. She was twenty-five and lived in Paris, where she studied the piano. She came to this little town at her father’s request to take care of some business negotiations. The business itself was a simple matter, basically just having dinner once with the other party and having him sign a contract. Miu liked the little town the first time she laid eyes on it. It was such a cozy, lovely place, with a lake and a medieval castle beside it. She thought it would be fun to live there, and took the plunge. Besides, a music festival was being held in a nearby village, and if she rented a car she could attend every day.

She was lucky enough to find a furnished apartment on a short-term lease in a pleasant, tidy little building on top of a hill on the outskirts of town. The view was superb. Nearby was a place where she could practice piano. The rent wasn’t cheap, but if she found herself strapped she could always rely on her father to help out.

Thus Miu began her temporary but placid life in the town. She attended concerts at the music festival and took walks in the neighborhood, and before long she’d made a few acquaintances. She found a nice little restaurant and café, which she began to frequent. From the window of her apartment she could see an amusement park outside town. There was a giant Ferris wheel in the park. Colorful boxes with doors forever wed to the huge wheel, all of which would slowly rotate through the sky. Once one reached its upward limits, it began to descend. Naturally. Ferris wheels don’t go anywhere. The gondolas go up, they come back down, a roundabout trip that, for some strange reason, most people find pleasant.

In the evenings the Ferris wheel was speckled with countless lights. Even after it shut down for the night and the amusement park closed, the wheel twinkled all night long, as if vying with the stars in the sky. Miu would sit near her window, listening to music on the radio, and gaze endlessly at the up-and-down motion of the Ferris wheel. Or, when it was stopped, at the monument-like stillness of it.

She got to know a man who lived in the town. A handsome, fiftyish Latin type. He was tall, with a handsome nose and dark straight hair. He introduced himself to her at the café. Where are you from? he asked. I’m from Japan, she answered. And the two of them began talking. His name was Ferdinando. He was from Barcelona, and had moved there five years before to work in furniture design.

He spoke in a relaxed way, often joking. They chatted for a while, then said goodbye. Two days later they ran across each other at the same café. He was single, divorced, she found out. He told her he had left Spain to begin a new life. Miu didn’t have a very good impression of the man. She could sense he was trying to put the moves on her. She sniffed a hint of sexual desire, and it frightened her. She decided to avoid the café.

Still, she ran across Ferdinando many times in town—often enough to make her feel he was following her. Perhaps it was just a silly delusion. It was a small town, so running across the same person wasn’t so strange. Every time he saw her, he smiled broadly and said hello in a friendly way. Yet ever so slowly, Miu became irritated and uneasy. She started to see Ferdinando as a threat to her peaceful life. Like a dissonant symbol at the beginning of a musical score, an ominous shadow began to cloud her pleasant summer.

Ferdinando, though, turned out to be just a glimpse of a greater shadow. After living there ten days, she started to feel a kind of impediment attaching itself to her life in the town. The thoroughly lovely, neat-as-a-pin town now seemed narrow-minded, self-righteous. The people were friendly and kind enough, but she started to feel an invisible prejudice against her as an Asian. The wine she drank in restaurants suddenly had a bad aftertaste. She found worms in the vegetables she bought. The performances at the music festival sounded listless. She couldn’t concentrate on her music. Even her apartment, which she had thought quite comfortable, began to look to her like a poorly decorated, squalid place. Everything lost its initial luster. The ominous shadow spread. And she couldn’t escape it.

The phone would ring at night, and she’d pick it up. “Allo,” she’d say. But the phone would go dead. This happened over and over. It had to be Ferdinando, she thought. But she had no proof. How would he know her number? The phone was an old model, and she couldn’t just unplug it. She had trouble sleeping, and started taking sleeping pills. Her appetite was gone.

I’ve got to get out of here, she decided. But for some reason she couldn’t fathom, she couldn’t drag herself away from the town. She made up a list of reasons to stay. She’d already paid a month’s rent, and bought a pass to the music festival. And she’d already let out her apartment in Paris for the summer. She couldn’t just up and leave now, she told herself. And besides, nothing had actually happened. She hadn’t been hurt in any real way, had she? No one had treated her badly. I must just be getting overly sensitive to things, she convinced herself.

One evening, about two weeks after she began living there, she went out for dinner as usual at a nearby restaurant. After dinner she decided to enjoy the night air for a change, and took a long stroll. Lost in thought, she wandered from one street to the next. Before she realized it, she was at the entrance to the amusement park. The park with the Ferris wheel. The air was filled with lively music, the sound of carnival barkers, and children’s happy shouts. The visitors were mostly families, and a few couples from town. Miu remembered her father taking her to an amusement park once when she was little. She could remember even now the scent of her father’s tweed coat as they rode the whirling teacups. The whole time they were on the ride, she clung to her father’s sleeve. To young Miu that odor was a sign of the far-off world of adults, a symbol of security. She found herself missing her father.

Just for fun, she bought a ticket and went inside the park. The place was filled with different little shops and stands—a shooting gallery, a snake show, a fortune-teller’s booth. Crystal ball in front of her, the fortune-teller, a largish woman, beckoned to Miu: “Mademoiselle, come here, please. It’s very important. Your fate is about to change.” Miu just smiled and passed by.

Miu bought some ice cream and sat on a bench to eat it, watching the people passing by. She felt herself far removed from the bustling crowds around her. A man started to talk to her in German. He was about thirty, small, with blond hair and a mustache, the kind of man who’d look good in a uniform. She shook her head and smiled and pointed to her watch. “I’m waiting for somebody,” she said in French. Her voice sounded higher, and remote to her. The man said nothing further, grinned sheepishly, gave her a brief wave of the hand, and was gone.

Miu stood up and wandered around. Somebody was throwing darts, and a balloon burst. A bear was stomping around in a dance. An organ played “The Blue Danube Waltz.” She looked up, and saw the Ferris wheel leisurely turning through the air. It would be fun to see my apartment from the Ferris wheel, she suddenly thought, instead of the other way around. Fortunately she had a small pair of binoculars in her shoulder bag. She’d had them in there since the last time she was at the music festival, where they came in handy for seeing the stage from her far-off seat on the lawn. They were light, and strong enough. With these she should be able to see right into her room.

She went to buy a ticket at the booth in front of the Ferris wheel. “We’ll be closing pretty soon, Mademoiselle,” the ticket seller, an old man, told her. He looked down as he mumbled this, as if talking to himself. And he shook his head. “We’re almost finished for the day. This will be the last ride. One time around and we’re finished.” White stubble covered his chin, his whiskers stained by tobacco smoke. He coughed. His cheeks were as red as if buffeted for years in a north wind.

“That’s all right. Once is enough,” Miu replied. She bought a ticket and stepped up on the platform. She was the only person waiting to board, and as far as she could make out, the little gondolas were all empty. Empty boxes swung idly through the air as they revolved, as if the world itself were fizzling out toward its end.

She got inside the red gondola and sat on the bench. The old man came over, closed the door, and locked it from the outside. For safety’s sake, no doubt. Like some ancient animal coming to life, the Ferris wheel clattered and began to turn. The assorted throng of booths and attractions shrank below her. As they did, the lights of the city rose up before her. The lake was on her left-hand side, and she could see lights from excursion boats reflected gently on the surface of the water. The distant mountainside was dotted with lights from tiny villages. Her chest tightened at the beauty of it all.

The area where she lived, on the hilltop, came into view. Miu focused her binoculars and searched for her apartment, but it wasn’t easy to find. The Ferris wheel steadily turned, bringing her higher and higher. She’d have to hurry. She swept the binoculars back and forth in a frantic search. But there were too many buildings that looked alike. She reached the top of the Ferris wheel and began the downward turn. Finally she spotted the building. That’s it! But somehow it had more windows than she remembered. Lots of people had their windows open to catch the summer breeze. She moved her binoculars from one window to the next, and finally located the second apartment from the right on the third floor. But by then she was getting close to ground level. The walls of other buildings got in the way. It was a shame—just a few more seconds and she could have seen right inside her place.

Her gondola approached the ground ever so slowly. She tried to open the door to get out, but it wouldn’t budge. Of course—it was locked from the outside. She looked around for the old man in the ticket booth, but he was nowhere to be seen. The light in the booth was already out. She was about to call to someone, but there wasn’t anyone to yell to. The Ferris wheel began rising once more. What a mess, she thought. How could this happen? She sighed. Maybe the old man had gone to the bathroom and missed the timing. She’d have to make one more circuit.

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