Read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (5 page)

OK, I told myself, stay cool, keep it simple and low key and natural. Don’t get excited.

“I’m so sorry,” Kumiko said. “This one job wouldn’t go right. I thought of calling you, but things just kept getting in the way.”

“Never mind, it’s all right, don’t let it bother you,” I said as casually as I could. And in fact, I wasn’t feeling bad about it. I had had the same experience any number of times. Going out to work can be tough, not something sweet and peaceful like picking the prettiest rose in your garden for your sick grandmother and spending the day with her, two streets
away. Sometimes you have to do unpleasant things with unpleasant people, and the chance to call home never comes up. Thirty seconds is all it would take to say, “I’ll be home late tonight,” and there are telephones everywhere, but you just can’t do it.

I started cooking: turned on the gas, put oil in the wok. Kumiko took a beer from the refrigerator and a glass from the cupboard, did a quick inspection of the food I was about to cook, and sat at the kitchen table without a word. Judging from the look on her face, she was not enjoying the beer.

“You should have eaten without me,” she said.

“Never mind. I wasn’t that hungry.”

While I fried the meat and vegetables, Kumiko went to wash up. I could hear her washing her face and brushing her teeth. A little later, she came out of the bathroom, holding something. It was the toilet paper and tissues I had bought at the supermarket.

“Why did you buy
stuff?” she asked, her voice weary.

Holding the wok, I looked at her. Then I looked at the box of tissues and the package of toilet paper. I had no idea what she was trying to say.

“What do you mean? They’re just tissues and toilet paper. We need those things. We’re not exactly out, but they won’t rot if they sit around a little while.”

“No, of course not. But why did you have to buy
tissues and
toilet paper?”

“I don’t get it,” I said, controlling myself. “They were on sale. Blue tissues are not going to turn your nose blue. What’s the big deal?”

a big deal. I hate blue tissues and flower-pattern toilet paper. Didn’t you know that?”

“No, I didn’t,” I said. “Why do you hate them?”

“How should I know why I hate them? I just do.
hate telephone covers, and thermos bottles with flower decorations, and bell-bottom jeans with rivets, and me having my nails manicured. Not even
can say why. It’s just a matter of taste.”

In fact, I could have explained my reasons for all those things, but of course I did not. “All right,” I said. “It’s just a matter of taste. But can you tell me that in the six years we’ve been married you never once bought blue tissues or flower-pattern toilet paper?”

“Never. Not once.”


“Yes, really. The tissues I buy are either white or yellow or pink. And
I absolutely
buy toilet paper with patterns on it. I’m just shocked that you could live with me all this time and not be aware of that.”

It was shocking to me, too, to realize that in six long years I had never once used blue tissues or patterned toilet paper.

“And while I’m at it, let me say this,” she continued. “I absolutely detest beef stir fried with green peppers. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t,” I said.

“Well, it’s true. And don’t ask me why. I just can’t stand the smell of the two of them cooking in the same pan.”

“You mean to say that in six years you have never once cooked beef and green peppers together?”

She shook her head. “I’ll eat green peppers in a salad. I’ll fry beef with onions. But I have never once cooked beef and green peppers together.”

I heaved a sigh.

“Haven’t you ever thought it strange?” she asked.

“Thought it strange? I never even noticed,” I said, taking a moment to consider whether, since marrying, I had in fact ever eaten anything stir fried containing beef and green peppers. Of course, it was impossible for me to recall.

“You’ve been living with me all this time,” she said, “but you’ve hardly paid any attention to me. The only one you ever think about is yourself.”

“Now wait just a minute,” I said, turning off the gas and setting the wok down on the range. “Let’s not get carried away here. You may be right. Maybe I haven’t paid enough attention to things like tissues and toilet paper and beef and green peppers. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t paid any attention to
. I don’t give a
what color my tissues are. OK, black I’d have a little trouble with, but white, blue—it just doesn’t matter. It’s the same with beef and green peppers. Together, apart—who cares? The act of stir frying beef and green peppers could disappear from the face of the earth and it wouldn’t matter to me. It has nothing to do with you, your essence, what makes Kumiko Kumiko. Am I wrong?”

Instead of answering me, she polished off her beer in two big gulps and stared at the empty bottle.

I dumped the contents of the wok into the garbage. So much for the beef and green peppers and onions and bean sprouts. Weird. Food one minute, garbage the next. I opened a beer and drank from the bottle.

“Why’d you do that?” she asked.

“You hate it so much.”

could have eaten it.”

“I suddenly didn’t want beef and green peppers anymore.”

She shrugged. “Whatever makes you happy.”

She put her arms on the table and rested her face on them. For a while, she stayed like that. I could see she wasn’t crying or sleeping. I looked at the empty wok on the range, looked at Kumiko, and drank my beer down. Crazy. Who gives a damn about toilet paper and green peppers?

But I walked over and put my hand on her shoulder. “OK,” I said. “I understand now. I’ll never buy blue tissues or flowered toilet paper again. I promise. I’ll take the stuff back to the supermarket tomorrow and exchange it. If they won’t give me an exchange, I’ll burn it in the yard. I’ll throw the ashes in the sea. And no more beef and green peppers. Never again. Pretty soon the smell will be gone, and we’ll never have to think about it anymore. OK?”

But still she said nothing. I wanted to go out for an hour’s walk and find her cheery when I got back, but I knew there was no chance of that happening. I’d have to solve this one myself.

“Look, you’re tired,” I said. “So take a little rest and we’ll go out for a pizza. When’s the last time we had a pizza? Anchovies and onions. We’ll split one. It wouldn’t kill us to eat out once in a while.”

This didn’t do it, either. She kept her face pressed against her arms.

I didn’t know what else to say. I sat down and stared at her across the table. One ear showed through her short black hair. It had an earring that I had never seen before, a little gold one in the shape of a fish. Where could she have bought such a thing? I wanted a smoke. I imagined myself taking my cigarettes and lighter from my pocket, putting a filter cigarette between my lips, and lighting up. I inhaled a lungful of air. The heavy smell of stir-fried beef and vegetables struck me hard. I was starved.

My eye caught the calendar on the wall. This calendar showed the phases of the moon. The full moon was approaching. Of course: it was about time for Kumiko’s period.

Only after I became a married man had it truly dawned on me that I was an inhabitant of earth, the third planet of the solar system. I lived on the earth, the earth revolved around the sun, and around the earth revolved the moon. Like it or not, this would continue for eternity (or what could be called eternity in comparison with my lifetime). What induced me to see things this way was the absolute precision of my wife’s twenty-nine-day menstrual cycle. It corresponded perfectly with the waxing and waning of the moon. And her periods were always difficult. She would
become unstable—even depressed—for some days before they began. So her cycle became my cycle. I had to be careful not to cause any unnecessary trouble at the wrong time of the month. Before we were married, I hardly noticed the phases of the moon. I might happen to catch sight of the moon in the sky, but its shape at any given time was of no concern to me. Now the shape of the moon was something I always carried around in my head.

I had been with a number of women before Kumiko, and of course each had had her own period. Some were difficult, some were easy, some were finished in three days, others took over a week, some were regular, others could be ten days late and scare the hell out of me; some women had bad moods, others were hardly affected. Until I married Kumiko, though, I had never lived with a woman. Until then, the cycles of nature meant the changing of the seasons. In winter I’d get my coat out, in summer it was time for sandals. With marriage I took on not only a cohabitant but a new concept of cyclicity: the phases of the moon. Only once had she missed her cycle for some months, during which time she had been pregnant.

“I’m sorry,” she said, raising her face. “I didn’t mean to take it out on you. I’m tired, and I’m in a bad mood.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “Don’t let it bother you. You should take it out on somebody when you’re tired. It makes you feel better.”

Kumiko took a long, slow breath, held it in awhile, and let it out.

“What about you?” she asked.

“What about me?”

“You don’t take it out on anybody when
tired. I do. Why is that?”

I shook my head. “I never noticed,” I said. “Funny.”

“Maybe you’ve got this deep well inside, and you shout into it, ‘The king’s got donkey’s ears!’ and then everything’s OK.”

I thought about that for a while. “Maybe so,” I said.

Kumiko looked at the empty beer bottle again. She stared at the label, and then at the mouth, and then she turned the neck in her fingers.

“My period’s coming,” she said. “I think that’s why I’m in such a bad mood.”

“I know,” I said. “Don’t let it bother you. You’re not the only one. Tons of horses die when the moon’s full.”

She took her hand from the bottle, opened her mouth, and looked at me.

“Now, where did
come from all of a sudden?”

“I read it in the paper the other day. I meant to tell you about it, but I forgot. It was an interview with some veterinarian. Apparently, horses are tremendously influenced by the phases of the moon—both physically and emotionally. Their brain waves go wild as the full moon approaches, and they start having all kinds of physical problems. Then, on the night itself, a lot of them get sick, and a huge number of those die. Nobody really knows why this happens, but the statistics prove that it does. Horse vets never have time to sleep on full-moon nights, they’re so busy.”

“Interesting,” said Kumiko.

“An eclipse of the sun is even worse, though. Nothing short of a tragedy for the horses. You couldn’t begin to imagine how many horses die on the day of a total eclipse. Anyhow, all I want to say is that right this second, horses are dying all over the world. Compared with that, it’s no big deal if you take out your frustrations on somebody. So don’t let it bother you. Think about the horses dying. Think about them lying on the straw in some barn under the full moon, foaming at the mouth, gasping in agony.”

She seemed to take a moment to think about horses dying in barns.

“Well, I have to admit,” she said with a note of resignation, “you could probably sell anybody anything.”

“All right, then,” I said. “Change your clothes and let’s go out for a pizza.”

That night, in our darkened bedroom, I lay beside Kumiko, staring at the ceiling and asking myself just how much I really knew about this woman. The clock said 2:00 a.m. She was sound asleep. In the dark, I thought about blue tissues and patterned toilet paper and beef and green peppers. I had lived with her all this time, unaware how much she hated these things. In themselves they were trivial. Stupid. Something to laugh off, not make a big issue out of. We’d had a little tiff and would have forgotten about it in a couple of days.

But this was different. It was bothering me in a strange new way, digging at me like a little fish bone caught in the throat. Maybe—just maybe—it was more crucial than it had seemed. Maybe this was it: the fatal blow. Or maybe it was just the beginning of what would be the fatal blow. I might be standing in the entrance of something big, and inside lay a world that belonged to Kumiko alone, a vast world that I had never known. I saw it as a big, dark room. I was standing there holding a cigarette lighter, its tiny flame showing me only the smallest part of the room.

Would I ever see the rest? Or would I grow old and die without ever really knowing her? If that was all that lay in store for me, then what was the point of this married life I was leading? What was the point of my life at all if I was spending it in bed with an unknown companion?

This was what I thought about that night and what I went on thinking about long afterward from time to time. Only much later did it occur to me that I had found my way into the core of the problem.

Malta Kano’s Hat

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and the Crusaders

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