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Authors: Haruki Murakami

The Elephant Vanishes

BOOK: The Elephant Vanishes
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Acclaim for
HARUKI MURAKAMI’S
THE ELEPHANT VANISHES

“Charming, humorous and frequently puzzling …
The Elephant Vanishes
[is] fun to read. “


The New York Times

“These stories show us Japan as it’s experienced from the inside…. [They] take place in parallel worlds not so much remote from ordinary life as hidden within its surfaces…. Even in the slipperiest of Mr. Murakami’s stories, pinpoints of detail flash out … warm with life, hopelessly — and wonderfully — unstable.”

— The New York Times Book Review

“A stunning writer at work in an era of international literature.”

— Newsday

“Murakami is one of the great Japanese masters, and his style is sexy, funny, mysterious, and always coolly deadpan.”

— Details

“Enchanting … intriguing … all of these tales have a wonderfully surreal quality and a hip, witty tone. Mr. Murakami has pulled off a tricky feat, writing stories about people who are bored but never boring. He left me lying awake at night, hungry for more.”

— Wall Street Journal

“What’s unique to Murakami’s stories is that they manage to kindle up all sorts of feelings at once…. Reading
The Elephant Vanishes
leaves you wanting more.”


Philadelphia Inquirer

“The Elephant Vanishes
, through [its] bold originality and charming surrealism, should win the author new readers in this country.”


Detroit Free Press

CONTENTS

THE WIND-UP BIRD AND TUESDAY’S WOMEN

THE SECOND BAKERY ATTACK

THE KANGAROO COMMUNIQUÉ

ON SEEING THE 100% PERFECT GIRL ONE BEAUTIFUL APRIL MORNING

SLEEP

THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
,
THE 1881 INDIAN UPRISING, HITLER’S INVASION OF POLAND, AND THE REALM OF RAGING WINDS

LEDERHOSEN

BARN BURNING

THE LITTLE GREEN MONSTER

FAMILY AFFAIR

A WINDOW

TV PEOPLE

A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA

THE DANCING DWARF

THE LAST LAWN OF THE AFTERNOON

THE SILENCE

THE ELEPHANT VANISHES

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR

ALSO BY HARUKI MURAKAMI

I
’M IN THE KITCHEN
cooking spaghetti when the woman calls. Another moment until the spaghetti is done; there I am, whistling the prelude to Rossini’s
La Gazza Ladra
along with the FM radio. Perfect spaghetti-cooking music.

I hear the telephone ring but tell myself, Ignore it. Let the spaghetti finish cooking. It’s almost done, and besides, Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra are coming to a crescendo. Still, on second thought, I figure I might as well turn down the flame and head into the living room, cooking chopsticks in hand, to pick up the receiver. It might be a friend, it occurs to me, possibly with word of a new job.

“I want ten minutes of your time,” comes a woman’s voice out of the blue.

“Excuse me?” I blurt back in surprise. “How’s that again?”

“I said, just ten minutes of your time, that’s all I want,” the woman repeats.

I have absolutely no recollection of ever hearing this woman’s
voice before. And I pride myself on a near-perfect ear for voices, so I’m sure there’s no mistake. This is the voice of a woman I don’t know. A soft, low, nondescript voice.

“Pardon me, but what number might you have been calling?” I put on my most polite language.

“What difference does that make? All I want is ten minutes of your time. Ten minutes to come to an understanding.” She cinches the matter quick and neat.

“Come to an understanding?”

“Of our feelings,” says the woman succinctly.

I crane my neck back through the door I’ve left open to peer into the kitchen. A plume of white steam rising cheerfully from the spaghetti pot, and Abbado is still conducting his
Gazza
.

“If you don’t mind, I’ve got spaghetti on right now. It’s almost done, and it’ll be ruined if I talk with you for ten minutes. So I’m going to hang up, all right?”

“Spaghetti?” the woman sputters in disbelief. “It’s only ten-thirty in the morning. What are you doing cooking spaghetti at ten-thirty in the morning? Kind of strange, don’t you think?”

“Strange or not, what’s it to you?” I say. “I hardly had any breakfast, so I was getting hungry right about now. And as long as I do the cooking, when and what I eat is my own business, is it not?”

“Well, whatever you say. Hang up, then,” says the woman in a slow, sappy trickle of a voice. A peculiar voice. The slightest emotional shift and her tone switches to another frequency. “I’ll call back later.”

“Now, wait just one minute,” I stammer. “If you’re selling something, you can forget right now about calling back. I’m unemployed at present and can’t afford to buy anything.”

“I know that, so don’t give it another thought,” says the woman.

“You know that? You know what?”

“That you’re unemployed, of course. That much I knew. So cook your spaghetti and let’s get on with it, okay?”

“Hey, who the—” I launch forth, when suddenly the phone
goes dead. Cut me off. Too abruptly to have set down the receiver; she must have pressed the button with her finger.

I’m left hanging. I stare blankly at the receiver in my hand and only then remember the spaghetti. I put down the receiver and return to the kitchen. Turn off the gas, empty the spaghetti into a colander, top it with tomato sauce I’ve heated in a saucepan, then eat. It’s overcooked, thanks to that pointless telephone call. No matter of life-and-death, nor am I in any mood to fuss over the subtleties of cooking spaghetti—I’m too hungry. I simply listen to the radio playing send-off music for two hundred fifty grams of spaghetti as I eagerly dispatch every last strand to my stomach.

I wash up plate and pans while boiling a kettle of water, then pour a cup for a tea bag. As I drink my tea, I think about that phone call.

So we could come to an understanding?

What on earth did that woman mean, calling me up like that? And who on earth was she?

The whole thing is a mystery. I can’t recall any woman ever telephoning me before without identifying herself, nor do I have the slightest clue what she could have wanted to talk about.

What the hell, I tell myself, what do I care about understanding some strange woman’s
feelings
, anyway? What possible good could come of it? What matters now is that I find a job. Then I can settle into a new life cycle.

Yet even as I return to the sofa to resume the Len Deighton novel I took out of the library, the mere glimpse out of the corner of my eye of the telephone sets my mind going. Just what were those
feelings
that would take ten minutes to come to an understanding about? I mean, really,
ten minutes to come to an understanding of our feelings?

Come to think of it, the woman specified precisely ten minutes right from the start. Seems she was quite certain about that exact amount of time. As if nine minutes would have been too short, eleven minutes maybe too long. Just like for spaghetti al dente.

What with these thoughts running through my head, I lose track of the plot of the novel. So I decide to do a few quick exercises, perhaps iron a shirt or two. Whenever things get in a muddle, I always iron shirts. A habit of long standing with me.

I divide the shirt-ironing process into twelve steps total: from (1) Collar , to (12) Cuff . Absolutely no deviation from that order. One by one, I count off the steps. The ironing doesn’t go right if I don’t.

So there I am, ironing my third shirt, enjoying the hiss of the steam iron and the distinctive smell of hot cotton, checking for wrinkles before hanging up each shirt in the wardrobe. I switch off the iron and put it away in the closet with the ironing board.

I’m getting thirsty by now and am heading to the kitchen for some water when once more the telephone rings. Here we go again, I think. And for a moment I wonder whether I shouldn’t just ignore it and keep on going into the kitchen. But you never know, so I retrace my steps back to the living room and pick up the receiver. If it’s that woman again, I’ll say I’m in the middle of ironing and hang up.

The call, however, is from my wife. By the clock atop the TV, it’s eleven-thirty.

“How’re things?” she asks.

“Fine,” I answer, relieved.

“What’ve you been up to?”

“Ironing.”

“Is anything wrong?” my wife asks. A slight tension invades her voice. She knows all about my ironing when I’m unsettled.

“Nothing at all. I just felt like ironing some shirts. No particular reason,” I say, switching the receiver from right hand to left as I sit down on a chair. “So, is there something you wanted to tell me about?”

“Yes, it’s about work. There’s the possibility of a job.”

“Uh-huh,” I say.

“Can you write poetry?”

“Poetry?” I shoot back in surprise. What’s this about poetry?

“A magazine company where someone I know works puts out this popular fiction monthly for young girls and they’re looking for someone to select and brush up poetry submissions. Then they want one leadoff poem each month for the section. The work’s easy and the pay’s not bad. Of course it’s only part-time, but if things go well they might string you on for editorial work and—”

“Easy?” I say. “Now hold on just one minute. I’ve been looking for a position with a law firm. Just where do you come up with this brushing up of poetry?”

“Well, didn’t you say you used to do some writing in high school?”

“In a newspaper. The high-school newspaper. Such-and-such team won the soccer meet; the physics teacher fell down the stairs and had to go to the hospital. Dumb little articles like that I wrote. Not poetry. I can’t write poetry.”

“Not real poetry, just the kind of poems high-school girls might read. They don’t even have to be that good. It’s not like they’re expecting you to write like Allen Ginsberg. Just whatever you can make do.”

“I absolutely cannot write make-do poetry,” I snap. The very idea.

“Hmph,” pouts my wife. “This talk of legal work, though. Nothing seems to be materializing, does it?”

“Several prospects have come my way already. The final word’ll be in sometime this week. If those fall through, maybe then I’ll consider it.”

“Oh? Have it your way, then. But say, what day is it today?”

“Tuesday,” I tell her after a moment’s thought.

“Okay, then, could you stop by the bank and pay the gas and phone bills?”

“Sure thing. I was going out to shop for dinner soon, anyway. I can take care of it at the same time.”

“And what are we having for dinner?”

BOOK: The Elephant Vanishes
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ads

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