Read Sputnik Sweetheart Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami

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

Sputnik Sweetheart (15 page)

Miu bit lightly at her fingernails.

“I guess
is too strong a word. Maybe someday, somewhere, we’ll meet again, and merge back into one. A very important question remains unanswered, however. Which
side of the mirror, is the
me? I have no idea. Is the real me the one who held Ferdinando? Or the one who detested him? I don’t have the confidence to figure that one out.”

*   *   *

After summer vacation was over, Miu didn’t return to school. She quit her studies abroad and went back to Japan. And never again did she touch a keyboard. The strength to make music had left her, never to return. A year later her father died and she took over his company.

“Not being able to play the piano anymore was definitely a shock, but I didn’t brood about it. I had a faint idea that, sooner or later, it was bound to happen. One of these days . . .” Miu smiled. “The world is filled with pianists. Twenty active world-class pianists are more than enough. Go to a record store and check out all the versions of ‘Waldstein,’ the ‘Kreisleriana,’ whatever. There are only so many classical pieces to record, only so much space on the CD shelves at stores. As far as the recording industry’s concerned, twenty top-notch pianists are plenty. No one was going to care if I wasn’t one of them.”

Miu spread her ten fingers out before her, and turned them over again and again. As if she were making sure of her memory.

“After I’d been in France for about a year I noticed a strange thing. Pianists whose technique was worse than mine, and who didn’t practice nearly half as much as I did, were able to move their audiences more than I ever could. In the end they defeated me. At first I thought it was just a misunderstanding. But the same thing happened so many times it made me mad. It’s so unfair! I thought. Slowly but surely, though, I understood—that something was missing from me. Something absolutely critical, though I didn’t know what. The kind of depth of emotion a person needs to make music that will inspire others, I guess. I hadn’t noticed this when I was in Japan. In Japan I never lost to anyone, and I certainly didn’t have the time to critique my own performance. But in Paris, surrounded by so many talented pianists, I finally understood that. It was entirely clear—like when the sun rises and the fog melts away.”

Miu sighed. She looked up and smiled.

“Ever since I was little I’ve enjoyed making my own private rules and living by them. I was a very independent, super-serious type of girl. I was born in Japan, went to Japanese schools, grew up playing with Japanese friends. Emotionally I was completely Japanese, but by nationality I was a foreigner. Technically speaking, Japan will always be a foreign country. My parents weren’t the type to be strict about things, but that’s one thing they drummed into my head since I can remember. You are a
here. I decided that in order to survive, I needed to make myself stronger.”

Miu continued in a calm voice.

“Being tough isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. Looking back on it, though, I can see I was too used to being strong, and never tried to understand those who were weak. I was too used to being fortunate, and didn’t try to understand those less fortunate. Too used to being healthy, and didn’t try to understand the pain of those who weren’t. Whenever I saw a person in trouble, somebody paralyzed by events, I decided it was entirely his fault—he just wasn’t trying hard enough. People who complained were just plain lazy. My outlook on life was unshakable, and practical, but lacked any human warmth. And not a single person around me pointed this out.

“I lost my virginity at seventeen, and slept with quite a few men. I had a lot of boyfriends, and if the mood struck me, I didn’t mind one-night stands. But never once did I truly love someone. I didn’t have the time. All I could think about was becoming a world-class pianist, and deviating from that path was not an option. Something was missing in me, but by the time I noticed that gap, it was too late.”

Again she spread out both hands in front of her, and thought for a while.

“In that sense, what happened in Switzerland fourteen years ago may well have been something I created myself. Sometimes I believe that.”

Miu got married when she was twenty-nine. Ever since the incident in Switzerland, she was totally frigid, and couldn’t manage sex with anyone. Something inside her had vanished forever. She shared this fact—and this fact alone—with the man she ended up marrying. That’s why I can’t marry anyone, she explained. But the man loved Miu, and even if it meant a platonic relationship, he wanted to share the rest of his life with her. Miu couldn’t come up with a valid reason for turning down his proposal. She’d known him since she was a child, and had always been fond of him. No matter what form the relationship might take, he was the only person she could picture sharing her life with. Also, on the practical side, being married was important as far as carrying on her family business was concerned.

Miu continued.

“My husband and I see each other only on weekends, and generally get along well. We’re like good friends, life partners able to pass some pleasant time together. We talk about all sorts of things, and we trust each other implicitly. Where and how he has a sex life I don’t know, and I don’t really care. We never make love, though—never even touch each other. I feel bad about it, but I don’t want to touch him. I just don’t want to.”

Worn out with talking, Miu quietly covered her face with her hands. Outside, the sky had turned light.

“I was alive in the past, and I’m alive now, sitting here talking to you. But what you see here isn’t really me. This is just a shadow of who I was.
are really living. But I’m not. Even these words I’m saying right now sound empty, like an echo.”

Wordlessly I put my arm around Miu’s shoulder. I couldn’t find the right words, so I just held her.

I’m in love with Miu. With the Miu on
this side,
needless to say. But I also love the Miu on the other side just as much. The moment this thought struck me it was like I could hear—with an audible creak—myself splitting in two. As if Miu’s own split became a rupture that had taken hold of me. The feeling was overpowering, and I knew there was nothing I could do to fight it.

One question remains, however. If
side, where Miu is, is not the real world—if
side is actually the
side—what about me, the person who shares the same temporal and spatial plane with her?

Who in the world am


read both documents twice, a quick run-through at first, then slowly, paying attention to the details, engraving them on my mind. The documents were definitely Sumire’s; the writing was filled with her one-of-a-kind phrasing. There was something different about the overall tone, though, something I couldn’t pin down. It was more restrained, more distanced. Still, there was no doubt about it—Sumire had written both.

After a moment’s hesitation, I slipped the floppy disk into the pocket of my bag. If Sumire were to return without incident, I’d just put it back where it belonged. The problem was what to do if she
return. If somebody went through her belongings, they were bound to run across the disk, and I couldn’t abide the thought of other eyes prying into what I had just read.

After I read the documents, I had to get out of the house. I changed into a clean shirt, left the cottage, and clambered down the staircase to town. I exchanged a hundred dollars’ worth of traveler’s checks, bought an English-language tabloid at the kiosk, and sat under a parasol at a café, reading. A sleepy waiter took my order for lemonade and melted cheese on toast. He wrote down the order with a stubby pencil, taking his own sweet time. Sweat had seeped through the back of his shirt, forming a large stain. The stain seemed to be sending out a message, but I couldn’t decipher it.

I mechanically leafed through half the paper, then gazed absently at the harbor scene. A skinny black dog came out of nowhere, sniffed my legs, then, losing interest, padded away. People passed the languid summer afternoon, each in their own spot. The only ones who seemed to be moving were the waiter and the dog, though I had my doubts about how long they’d keep at it. The old man at the kiosk where I’d bought the paper had been fast asleep under a parasol, legs spread wide apart. The statue of the hero in the square stood impassively as always, back turned to the intense sunlight.

I cooled my palms and forehead with the cold glass of lemonade, turning over and over in my mind any connections there might be between Sumire’s disappearance and what she’d written.

For a long time Sumire had not written. When she first met Miu at the wedding reception, her desire to write had flown out the window. Still, here on this little island, she’d managed those two pieces in a short space of time. No mean feat to complete that much in a few days. Something must have driven Sumire to sit at her desk and write. Where was the motivation?

More to the point, what theme tied these two pieces of writing together? I looked up, gazed at the birds resting on the wharf, and gave it some thought.

It was far too hot to think about complicated matters. Admittedly I was confused and tired. Still, as if marshaling together the remnants of a defeated army—minus any drums and trumpets—I rallied my scattered thoughts. My mind focused, I began to piece it together.

“What’s really important here,” I whispered aloud to myself, “is not the big things other people have thought up, but the small things you, yourself, have.” My standard maxim I taught my own students. But was it really true? It’s easy to say, but putting it into practice isn’t. One’s hard put to start with even the small things, let alone the Big Picture. Or maybe the smaller the notion, the harder it is to grasp? Plus it didn’t help that I was so far from home.

Sumire’s dream. Miu’s split.

hese are two different worlds, I realized.
the common element here.

ocument 1: This relates a dream Sumire had. She’s climbing a long staircase to go see her dead mother. But the moment she arrives, her mother is already returning to the other side. And Sumire can’t stop her. And she’s left standing on the spire of a tower, surrounded by objects from a different world. Sumire’s had many similar dreams.

ocument 2: This one concerns the strange experiences Miu had fourteen years ago. She was stuck inside a Ferris wheel overnight in an amusement park in a small Swiss town, and looking through binoculars at her own room she saw a second self there. A doppelgänger. And this experience destroyed Miu as a person—or at least made this destruction tangible. As Miu put it, she was split in two, with a mirror between each self. Sumire had persuaded Miu to tell the story and wrote it down as best she could.

his side—the other side.
That was the common thread. The movement from one side to the other. Sumire must have been drawn by this motif and motivated enough to spend so much time writing it all down. To borrow her own word, writing all this helped her

The waiter came to clear away the remnants of my toast, and I ordered a refill of lemonade. Put in lots of ice, I asked him. When he brought the drink over I took a sip and used it again to cool my forehead.

“And if Miu doesn’t accept me, then what?” Sumire had written. “I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes. Blood must be shed. I’ll sharpen my knife, ready to slit a dog’s throat somewhere.”

What was she trying to convey? Was she hinting that she might kill herself? I couldn’t buy that. Her words didn’t have the acrid smell of death. What I sensed in them was rather the will to move forward, the struggle to make a new start. Dogs and blood are just metaphors, like I’d explained to her on that bench at Inogashira Park. They get their meaning from magical life-giving forces. The story about the Chinese gates was a metaphor of how a story captures that magic.

Ready to slit a dog’s throat somewhere.


My thoughts slammed into a solid wall. A total dead end.

Where could Sumire have gone? Is there someplace she had to go to on this island?

couldn’t shake the image of Sumire falling down a well in some remote area and waiting, alone, for help to arrive. Injured, lonely, starving, and thirsty. The thought of this nearly drove me crazy.

The police had made clear that there wasn’t a single well on the island. They’d never heard of any holes either anywhere near town. If there were, we’d be the first to know, they declared. I had to grant them that.

I decided to venture a theory.

Sumire went over to the
other side.

That would explain a lot. Sumire broke through the mirror and journeyed to the other side. To meet the other Miu who was there. If the Miu on this side rejected her, wouldn’t that be the logical thing to do?

I dredged up from memory what she’d written: “So what should we do to avoid a collision? Logically, it’s easy. The answer is
Dreaming on and on. Entering the world of dreams, and never coming out. Living there for the rest of time.”

One question remains, however. A major question. How are you supposed to go there?

Put in simple logical terms, it’s easy. Though explaining it isn’t.

I was right back where I started.

thought about Tokyo. About my apartment, the school where I taught, the kitchen garbage I’d stealthily tossed in a trash can at the station. I’d only been away from Japan for two days, but already it seemed like a different world. The new term was going to start in a week. I pictured myself standing in front of thirty-five pupils. Seen from this distance, the thought of my teaching anyone—even ten-year-old kids—seemed absurd.

I removed my sunglasses, wiped my sweaty brow with a handkerchief, and put them on again. And gazed at the seabirds.

I thought about Sumire. About the colossal hard-on I had the time I sat beside her when she moved into her new place. The kind of awesome, rock-hard erection I’d never experienced before. Like my whole body was about to explode. At the time, in my imagination—something like the
world of dreams
Sumire wrote of—I made love to her. And the sensation was far more real than any sex I’d ever had.

I gulped down some lemonade to clear my throat.

returned to my hypothesis, taking it one step further. Sumire somehow found an exit. What kind of exit that was, and how she discovered it, I had no way of knowing. I’ll put that on hold. Suppose it’s a kind of door. I closed my eyes and conjured up a mental image—an elaborate image of what this door looked like. Just an ordinary door, part of an ordinary wall. Sumire happened to find this door, turned the knob, and slipped outside—from
side to the
Clad only in thin silk pj’s and a pair of floppy sandals.

What lay beyond that door was beyond my powers of imagination. The door closed, and Sumire wouldn’t be coming back.

returned to the cottage and made a simple dinner from things I found in the fridge. Tomato and basil pasta, a salad, an Amstel beer. I went out to sit on the veranda, lost in thought. Or maybe thinking of nothing. Nobody phoned. Miu might be trying to call from Athens, but you couldn’t count on the phones to work.

Moment by moment the blue of the sky turned deeper, a large circular moon rising up from the sea, a handful of stars piercing holes in the sky. A breeze blew up the slopes, rustling the hibiscus. The unmanned lighthouse at the tip of the pier blinked off and on with its ancient-looking light. People were slowly heading down the slope, leading donkeys as they went. Their loud conversation got closer, then faded into the distance. I silently took it all in, this foreign scene seeming entirely natural.

In the end the phone didn’t ring, and Sumire didn’t appear. Quietly, gently, time slipped by, the evening deepening. I took a couple of cassettes from Sumire’s room and played them on the living room stereo. One of them was a collection of Mozart songs.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Walter Gieseking (p),
the handwritten label said. I don’t know much about classical music, but one listen told me how lovely this music was. The singing style was a bit dated, but it reminded me of reading some beautiful, memorable prose—it demanded that you sit up straight and pay attention. The performers were right there in front of me, it seemed, their delicate phrasing swelling up, then retreating, then swelling up again. One of the songs in the collection must be “Sumire.” I sank back in my chair, closed my eyes, and shared this music with my missing friend.

was awakened by music. Far-off music, barely audible. Steadily, like a faceless sailor hauling in an anchor from the bottom of the sea, the faint sound brought me to my senses. I sat up in bed, leaned toward the open window, and listened carefully. It was definitely music. The wristwatch next to my bed showed it was past one o’clock. Music? At this time of night?

I put on my trousers and a shirt, slipped on my shoes, and went outside. The lights in the neighborhood were all out, the streets deserted. No wind, not even the sound of waves. Just the moonlight bathing the earth. I stood there, listening again. Strangely, the music seemed to be coming from the top of the hills. There weren’t any villages on the steep mountains, just a handful of shepherds and monasteries where monks lived their cloistered lives. It was hard to imagine either group putting on a festival at this time of night.

Outside, the music was more audible. I couldn’t make out the melody, but by the rhythm it was clearly Greek. It had the uneven, sharp sound of live music, not something played through speakers.

y then I was wide awake. The summer night air was pleasant, with a mysterious depth to it. If I hadn’t been worried about Sumire, I might very well have felt a sense of celebration. I rested my hands on my hips, stretched, looking up at the sky, and took a deep breath. The coolness of the night washed into me. Suddenly a thought struck me—maybe, at this very moment, Sumire was listening to the same music.

I decided to walk for a while in the direction of the music. I had to find out where it was coming from, who was playing it. The road to the hilltop was the same one I’d taken that morning to go to the beach, so I knew the way. I’ll go as far as I can, I decided.

The brilliant moonlight lit everything, making walking easy. It created complex shadows between the cliffs, dyeing the ground with unlikely shades. Every time the soles of my running shoes crushed a pebble on the road, the sound was amplified. The music grew more pronounced as I made my way farther up the slope. As I’d surmised, it was coming from the top of the hill. I could make out some kind of percussion instrument, a bouzouki, an accordion, and a flute. Possibly a guitar. Other than that, I couldn’t hear a thing. No singing, no people’s shouts. Just that music, playing endlessly at a detached, almost monotonous pace.

I wanted to see what was taking place on top of the mountain, yet at the same time I thought I should keep my distance. Irrepressible curiosity vied with an instinctive fear. Still, I had to go forward. I felt like I was in a dream. The principle that made other choices possible was missing. Or was it the choice that made that principle possible that was missing?

For all I knew, a few days before, Sumire had awakened to the same music, her curiosity getting the better of her as she clambered up the slope in her pajamas.

stopped and turned to look behind me. The slope twisted palely down toward the town like the tracks of some gigantic insect. I looked up at the sky then, under the moonlight, and glanced at my palm. With a rush of understanding I knew this wasn’t my hand anymore. I can’t explain it. But at a glance I
My hand was no longer my hand, my legs no longer my legs.

Bathed in the pallid moonlight, my body, like some plaster puppet, had lost all living warmth. As if a voodoo magician had put a spell on me, blowing my transient life into this lump of clay. The spark of life had vanished. My real life had fallen asleep somewhere, and a faceless someone was stuffing it in a suitcase, about to leave.

An awful chill swept through me and I felt choked. Someone had rearranged my cells, untied the threads that held my mind together. I couldn’t think straight. All I was able to do was retreat as fast as I could to my usual place of refuge. I took a huge breath, sinking in the sea of consciousness to the very bottom. Pushing aside the heavy water I plunged down quickly and grabbed a huge rock there with both arms. The water crushed my eardrums. I squeezed my eyes tightly closed, held my breath, resisting. Once I made up my mind, it wasn’t that difficult. I grew used to it all—the water pressure, the lack of air, the freezing darkness, the signals the chaos emitted. It was something I’d mastered again and again as a child.

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