The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Tuesday's Wind-Up Bird
Six Fingers and Four Breasts
When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potrul of
spaghetti and whistling along
with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini's The Thieving
Magpie, which has to be the
perfect music for cooking pasta.
I wanted to ignore the phone, not only because the spaghetti was
nearly done, but because
Claudio Abbado was bringing the London Symphony to its musical
climax. Finally, though, I
had to give in. It could have been somebody with news of a job
opening. I lowered the flame,
went to the living room, and picked up the receiver.
"Ten minutes, please," said a woman on the other end.
I'm good at recognizing people's voices, but this was not one I
"Excuse me? To whom did you wish to speak?"
"To you, of course. Ten minutes, please. That's all we need to
understand each other." Her
voice was low and soft but otherwise nondescript.
"Understand each other?"
"Each other's feelings."
I leaned over and peeked through the kitchen door. The spaghetti pot
was steaming nicely,
and Claudio Abbado was still conducting The Thieving Magpie.
"Sorry, but you caught me in the middle of making spaghetti. Can I
ask you to call back
"Spaghetti!? What are you doing cooking spaghetti at ten-thirty in
"That's none of your business," I said. "I decide what I eat and
when I eat it."
"True enough. I'll call back," she said, her voice now flat and
expressionless. A little
change in mood can do amazing things to the tone of a person's
"Hold on a minute," I said before she could hang up. "If this is
some new sales gimmick,
you can forget it. I'm out of work. I'm not in the market for
"Don't worry. I know."
"You know? You know what?"
"That you're out of work. I know about that. So go cook your
"Who the hell-"
She cut the connection.
With no outlet for my feelings, I stared at the phone in my hand
until I remembered the
spaghetti. Back in the kitchen, I turned off the gas and poured the
contents of the pot into a
colander. Thanks to the phone call, the spaghetti was a little
softer than al dente, but it had not
been dealt a mortal blow. I started eating-and thinking.
Understand each other? Understand each other's feelings in ten
minutes? What was she
talking about? Maybe it was just a prank call. Or some new sales
pitch. In any case, it had
nothing to do with me.
After lunch, I went back to my library novel on the living room
sofa, glancing every now
and then at the telephone. What were we supposed to understand about
each other in ten
minutes? What can two people understand about each other in ten
minutes? Come to think of
it, she seemed awfully sure about those ten minutes: it was the
first thing out of her mouth. As
if nine minutes would be too short or eleven minutes too long. Like
cooking spaghetti al
I couldn't read anymore. I decided to iron shirts instead. Which is
what I always do when
I'm upset. It's an old habit. I divide the job into twelve precise
stages, beginning with the
collar (outer surface) and ending with the left-hand cuff. The order
is always the same, and I
count off each stage to myself. Otherwise, it won't come out right.
I ironed three shirts, checking them over for wrinkles and putting
them on hangers. Once I
had switched off the iron and put it away with the ironing board in
the hall closet, my mind
felt a good deal clearer.
I was on my way to the kitchen for a glass of water when the phone
rang again. I hesitated
for a second but decided to answer it. If it was the same woman, I'd
tell her I was ironing and
This time it was Kumiko. The wall clock said eleven-thirty. "How are
you?" she asked.
"Fine," I said, relieved to hear my wife's voice.
"What are you doing?"
"Just finished ironing."
"What's wrong?" There was a note of tension in her voice. She knew
what it meant for me
to be ironing.
"Nothing. I was just ironing some shirts." I sat down and shifted
the receiver from my left
hand to my right. "What's up?"
"Can you write poetry?" she asked.
"Poetry!?" Poetry? Did she mean ... poetry?
"I know the publisher of a story magazine for girls. They're looking
for somebody to pick
and revise poems submitted by readers. And they want the person to
write a short poem every
month for the frontispiece. Pay's not bad for an easy job. Of
course, it's part-time. But they
might add some editorial work if the person-"
"Easy work?" I broke in. "Hey, wait a minute. I'm looking for
something in law, not
"I thought you did some writing in high school."
"Yeah, sure, for the school newspaper: which team won the soccer
championship or how
the physics teacher fell down the stairs and ended up in the
hospital-that kind of stuff. Not
poetry. I can't write poetry."
"Sure, but I'm not talking about great poetry, just something for
high school girls. It
doesn't have to find a place in literary history. You could do it
with your eyes closed. Don't
"Look, I just can't write poetry-eyes open or closed. I've never
done it, and I'm not going
to start now."
"All right," said Kumiko, with a hint of regret. "But it's hard to
find legal work."
"I know. That's why I've got so many feelers out. I should be
hearing something this
week. If it's no go, I'll think about doing something else."
"Well, I suppose that's that. By the way, what's today? What day of
I thought a moment and said, "Tuesday."
"Then will you go to the bank and pay the gas and telephone?"
"Sure. I was just about to go shopping for dinner anyway."
"What are you planning to make?"
"I don't know yet. I'll decide when I'm shopping."
She paused. "Come to think of it," she said, with a new seriousness,
"there's no great
hurry about your finding a job."
This took me off guard. "Why's that?" I asked. Had the women of the
world chosen today
to surprise me on the telephone? "My unemployment's going to run out
sooner or later. I
can't keep hanging around forever."
"True, but with my raise and occasional side jobs and our savings,
we can get by OK if
we're careful. There's no real emergency. Do you hate staying at
home like this and doing
housework? I mean, is this life so wrong for you?"
"I don't know," I answered honestly. I really didn't know.
"Well, take your time and give it some thought," she said. "Anyhow,
has the cat come
The cat. I hadn't thought about the cat all morning. "No," I said.
"Can you please have a look around the neighborhood? It's been gone
over a week now."
I gave a noncommittal grunt and shifted the receiver back to my left
hand. She went on:
"I'm almost certain it's hanging around the empty house at the other
end of the alley. The
one with the bird statue in the yard. I've seen it in there several
"The alley? Since when have you been going to the alley? You've
never said anything-"
"Oops! Got to run. Lots of work to do. Don't forget about the cat."
She hung up. I found myself staring at the receiver again. Then I
set it down in its cradle.
I wondered what had brought Kumiko to the alley. To get there from
our house, you had
to climb over the cinder-block wall. And once you'd made the effort,
there was no point in
I went to the kitchen for a glass of water, then out to the veranda
to look at the cat's dish.
The mound of sardines was untouched from last night. No, the cat had
not come back. I stood
there looking at our small garden, with the early-summer sunshine
streaming into it. Not that
ours was the kind of garden that gives you spiritual solace to look
at. The sun managed to find
its way in there for the smallest fraction of each day, so the earth
was always black and moist,
and all we had by way of garden plants were a few drab hydrangeas in
one corner-and I don't
like hydrangeas. There was a small stand of trees nearby, and from
it you could hear the
mechanical cry of a bird that sounded as if it were winding a
spring. We called it the wind-up
bird. Kumiko gave it the name. We didn't know what it was really
called or what it looked
like, but that didn't bother the wind-up bird. Every day it would
come to the stand of trees in
our neighborhood and wind the spring of our quiet little world.
So now I had to go cat hunting. I had always liked cats. And I liked
this particular cat. But
cats have their own way of living. They're not stupid. If a cat
stopped living where you
happened to be, that meant it had decided to go somewhere else. If
it got tired and hungry, it
would come back. Finally, though, to keep Kumiko happy, I would have
to go looking for our
cat. I had nothing better to do.
I had quit my job at the beginning of April- the law job I had had
since graduation. Not
that I had quit for any special reason. I didn't dislike the work.
It wasn't thrilling, but the pay
was all right and the office atmosphere was friendly.
My role at the firm was-not to put too fine a point on it-that of
professional gofer. And I
was good at it. I might say I have a real talent for the execution
of such practical duties. I'm a
quick study, efficient, I never complain, and I'm realistic. Which
is why, when I said I wanted
to quit, the senior partner (the father in this father-and-son law
firm) went so far as to offer me
a small raise.
But I quit just the same. Not that quitting would help me realize
any particular hopes or
prospects. The last thing I wanted to do, for example, was shut
myself up in the house and
study for the bar exam. I was surer than ever that I didn't want to
become a lawyer. I knew,
too, that I didn't want to stay where I was and continue with the
job I had. If I was going to
quit, now was the time to do it. If I stayed with the firm any
longer, I'd be there for the rest of
my life. I was thirty years old, after all.
I had told Kumiko at the dinner table that I was thinking of
quitting my job. Her only
response had been, "I see." I didn't know what she meant by that,
but for a while she said
I kept silent too, until she added, "If you want to quit, you should
quit. It's your life, and
you should live it the way you want to." Having said this much, she
then became involved in
picking out fish bones with her chopsticks and moving them to the
edge of her plate.
Kumiko earned pretty good pay as editor of a health food magazine,
and she would
occasionally take on illustration assignments from editor friends at
other magazines to earn
substantial additional income. (She had studied design in college
and had hoped to be a
freelance illustrator.) In addition, if I quit I would have my own
income for a while from un-
employment insurance. Which meant that even if I stayed home and
took care of the house,
we would still have enough for extras such as eating out and paying
the cleaning bill, and our
lifestyle would hardly change. And so I had quit my job.
I was loading groceries into the refrigerator when the phone rang.
The ringing seemed to
have an impatient edge to it this time. I had just ripped open a
plastic pack of tofu, which I set
down carefully on the kitchen table to keep the water from spilling
out. I went to the living
room and picked up the phone.
"You must have finished your spaghetti by now," said the woman.
"You're right. But now I have to go look for the cat."
"That can wait for ten minutes, I'm sure. It's not like cooking
For some reason, I couldn't just hang up on her. There was something
about her voice that
commanded my attention. "OK, but no more than ten minutes."
"Now we'll be able to understand each other," she said with quiet
certainty. I sensed her
settling comfortably into a chair and crossing her legs.
"I wonder," I said. "What can you understand in ten minutes?"
"Ten minutes may be longer than you think," she said.
"Are you sure you know me?"
"Of course I do. We've met hundreds of times."
"Somewhere, sometime," she said. "But if I went into that, ten
minutes would never be
enough. What's important is the time we have now. The present. Don't
"Maybe. But I'd like some proof that you know me."
"What kind of proof?"
"My age, say?"
"Thirty," she answered instantaneously. "Thirty and two months. Good
That shut me up. She obviously did know me, but I had absolutely no
memory of her
"Now it's your turn," she said, her voice seductive. "Try picturing
me. From my voice.
Imagine what I'm like. My age. Where I am. How I'm dressed. Go
"I have no idea," I said.
"Oh, come on," she said. "Try."
I looked at my watch. Only a minute and five seconds had gone by. "I
have no idea," I
"Then let me help you," she said. "I'm in bed. I just got out of the
shower, and I'm not
wearing a thing."
Oh, great. Telephone sex.
"Or would you prefer me with something on? Something lacy. Or
stockings. Would that
work better for you?"
"I don't give a damn. Do what you like," I said. "Put something on
if you want to. Stay
naked if you want to. Sorry, but I'm not interested in telephone
games like this. I've got a lot
of things I have to-"
"Ten minutes," she said. "Ten minutes won't kill you. It won't put a
hole in your life. Just
answer my question. Do you want me naked or with something on? I've
got all kinds of
things I could put on. Black lace panties..."
"Naked is fine."
"Well, good. You want me naked."
"Yes. Naked. Good."
"My pubic hair is still wet," she said. "I didn't dry myself very
well. Oh, I'm so wet!
Warm and moist. And soft. Wonderfully soft and black. Touch me."
"Look, I'm sorry, but-"
"And down below too. All the way down. It's so warm down there, like
butter cream. So
warm. Mmm. And my legs. What position do you think my legs are in?
My right knee is up,
and my left leg is open just enough. Say, ten-oh-five on the clock."
I could tell from her voice that she was not faking it. She really
did have her legs open to
ten-oh-five, her sex warm and moist.
"Touch the lips," she said. "Slooowly. Now open them. That's it.
Slowly, slowly. Let your
fingers caress them. Oh so slowly. Now, with your other hand, touch
my left breast. Play with
it. Caress it. Upward. And give the nipple a little squeeze. Do it
again. And again. And again.
Until I'm just about to come."
Without a word, I put the receiver down. Stretching out on the sofa,
I stared at the clock
and released a long, deep sigh. I had spoken with her for close to
The phone rang again ten minutes later, but I left it on the hook.
It rang fifteen times. And
when it stopped, a deep, cold silence descended upon the room.
Just before two, I climbed over the cinder-block wall and down into
the alley-or what we
called the alley. It was not an "alley" in the proper sense of the
word, but then, there was
probably no word for what it was. It wasn't a "road" or a "path" or
even a "way." Properly
speaking, a "way" should be a pathway or channel with an entrance
and an exit, which takes
you somewhere if you follow it. But our "alley" had neither entrance
nor exit. You couldn't
call it a cul-de-sac, either: a cul-de-sac has at least one open
end. The alley had not one dead
end but two. The people of the neighborhood called it "the alley"
strictly as an expedient. It
was some two hundred yards in length and threaded its way between
the back gardens of the
houses that lined either side. Barely over three feet in width, it
had several spots at which you
had to edge through sideways because of fences sticking out into the
path or things that
people had left in the way.
About this alley, the story was-the story I heard from my uncle, who
rented us our house
for next to nothing-that it used to have both an entrance and an
exit and actually served the
purpose of providing a shortcut between two streets. But with the
rapid economic growth of
the mid-fifties, rows of new houses came to fill the empty lots on
either side of the road,
squeezing it down until it was little more than a narrow path.
People didn't like strangers
passing so close to their houses and yards, so before long, one end
of the path was blocked
off-or, rather, screened off-with an unassertive fence. Then one
local citizen decided to enlarge
his yard and completely sealed off his end of the alley with a
cinder-block wall. As if in
response, a barbed-wire barrier went up at the other end, preventing
even dogs from getting
through. None of the neighbors complained, because none of them used
the alley as a
passageway, and they were just as happy to have this extra
protection against crime. As a re-
sult, the alley remained like some kind of abandoned canal, unused,
serving as little more than
a buffer zone between two rows of houses. Spiders spread their
sticky webs in the
Why had Kumiko been frequenting such a place? I myself had walked
down that "alley"
no more than twice, and Kumiko was afraid of spiders at the best of
times. Oh, what the hell-
if Kumiko said I should go to the alley and look for the cat, I'd go
to the alley and look for the
cat. What came later I could think about later. Walking outside like
this was far better than
sitting in the house waiting for the phone to ring.
The sharp sunshine of early summer dappled the surface of the alley
with the hard
shadows of the branches that stretched overhead. Without wind to
move the branches, the
shadows looked like permanent stains, destined to remain imprinted
on the pavement forever.
No sounds of any kind seemed to penetrate this place. I could almost
hear the blades of grass
breathing in the sunlight. A few small clouds floated in the sky,
their shapes clear and precise,
like the clouds in medieval engravings. I saw everything with such
terrific clarity that my own
body felt vague and boundless and flowing ... and hot!
I wore a T-shirt, thin cotton pants, and tennis shoes, but walking
in the summer sun, I
could feel a light film of sweat forming under my arms and in the
hollow of my chest. The T-
shirt and pants had been packed away in a box crammed with summer
clothing until I pulled
them out that morning, the sharp smell of mothballs penetrating my
The houses that lined the alley fell into two distinct categories:
older houses and those
built more recently. As a group, the newer ones were smaller, with
smaller yards to match.
Their clothes-drying poles often protruded into the alley, making it
necessary for me to thread
my way through the occasional screen of towels and sheets and
undershirts. Over some back
walls came the clear sound of television sets and flushing toilets,
and the smell of curry
The older houses, by contrast, gave hardly any sense of life. These
were screened off by
well-placed shrubs and hedges, between which I caught glimpses of
An old, brown, withered Christmas tree stood in the corner of one
garden. Another had
become the dumping ground for every toy known to man, the apparent
leavings of several
childhoods. There were tricycles and toss rings and plastic swords
and rubber balls and
tortoise dolls and little baseball bats. One garden had a basketball
hoop, and another had fine
lawn chairs surrounding a ceramic table. The white chairs were caked
in dirt, as if they had
not been used for some months or even years. The table-top was
coated with lavender
magnolia petals, beaten down by the rain.
I had a clear view of one living room through an aluminum storm
door. It had a matching
leather sofa and chairs, a large TV, a sideboard (atop which sat a
tropical-fish tank and two
trophies of some kind), and a decorative floor lamp. The room looked
like the set of a TV
drama. A huge doghouse occupied a large part of another garden, but
there was no sign of the
dog itself, and the house's door stood open. The screen of the
doghouse door bulged outward,
as if someone had been leaning against it for months at a time.
The vacant house that Kumiko had told me about lay just beyond the
place with the huge
doghouse. One glance was all I needed to see that it was empty-and
had been for some time. It
was a fairly new two-story house, yet its wooden storm shutters
showed signs of severe aging,
and the railings outside the second-story windows were caked with
rust. The house had a cozy
little garden, in which, to be sure, a stone statue of a bird stood.
The statue rested on a base
that came to chest height and was surrounded by a thick growth of
weeds. Tall fronds of
goldenrod were almost touching the bird's feet. The bird-I had no
idea what kind of bird it
was supposed to be-had its wings open as if it wanted to escape from
this unpleasant place as
soon as possible. Aside from the statue, the garden had no
decorative features. A pile of aging
plastic lawn chairs stood against the house, and beside them an
azalea bush displayed its
bright-red blossoms, their color strangely unreal. Weeds made up the
I leaned against the chest-high chain-link fence for a. while,
contemplating the garden. It
should have been a paradise for cats, but there was no sign of cats
here now. Perched on the
roof's TV antenna, a single pigeon lent its monotonous cries to the
scene. The stone bird's
shadow fell on the surrounding undergrowth, breaking apart.
I took a lemon drop from my pocket, unwrapped it, and popped it into
my mouth. I had
taken my resignation from the firm as an opportunity to quit
smoking, but now I was never
without a pack of lemon drops. Kumiko said I was addicted to them
and warned me that I'd
soon have a mouthful of cavities, but I had to have my lemon drops.
While I stood there
looking at the garden, the pigeon on the TV antenna kept up its
regular cooing, like some
clerk stamping numbers on a sheaf of bills. I don't know how long I
stayed there, leaning
against the fence, but I remember spitting my lemon drop on the
ground when, half melted, it
filled my mouth with its sticky sweetness. I had just shifted my
gaze to the shadow of the
stone bird when I sensed that someone was calling to me from behind.
I turned, to see a girl standing in the garden on the other side of
the alley. She was small
and had her hair in a ponytail. She wore dark sunglasses with amber
frames, and a light-blue
sleeveless T-shirt. The rainy season had barely ended, and yet she
had already managed to
give her slender arms a nice, smooth tan. She had one hand jammed
into the pocket of her
short pants. The other rested on a waist-high bamboo gate, which
could not have been
providing much support. Only three feet- maybe four-separated us.
"Hot," she said to me.
"Yeah, right," I answered.
After this brief exchange of views, she stood there looking at me.
Then she took a box of Hope regulars from her pants pocket, drew out
a cigarette, and put
it between her lips. She had a small mouth, the upper lip turned
slightly upward. She struck a
match and lit her cigarette. When she inclined her head to one side,
her hair swung away to
reveal a beautifully shaped ear, smooth as if freshly made, its edge
aglow with a downy
She flicked her match away and exhaled smoke through pursed lips.
Then she looked up
at me as if she had forgotten that I was there. I couldn't see her
eyes through the dark,
reflective lenses of her sunglasses.
"You live around here?" she asked.
"Uh-huh." I wanted to motion toward our house, but I had turned so
many odd angles to
get here that I no longer knew exactly where it was. I ended up
pointing at random.
"I'm looking for my cat," I explained, wiping a sweaty palm on my
pants. "It's been gone
for a week. Somebody saw it around here somewhere."
"What kind of cat?"
"A big torn. Brown stripes. Tip of the tail a little bent."
"Noboru. Noboru Wataya."
"No, not your name. The cat's."
"That is my cat's name."
"Oh! Very impressive!"
"Well, actually, it's my brother-in-law's name. The cat sort of
reminds us of him. We
gave the cat his name, just for fun."
"How does the cat remind you of him?"
"I don't know. Just in general. The way it walks. And it has this
She smiled now for the first time, which made her look a lot more
childlike than she had
seemed at first. She couldn't have been more than fifteen or
sixteen. With its slight curl, her
upper lip pointed up at a strange angle. I seemed to hear a voice
saying "Touch me"-the voice
of the woman on the phone. I wiped the sweat from my forehead with
the back of my hand.
"A brown-striped cat with a bent tail," said the girl. "Hmm. Does it
have a collar or
"A black flea collar."
She stood there thinking for ten or fifteen seconds, her hand still
resting on the gate. Then
she dropped what was left of her cigarette and crushed it under her
"Maybe I did see a cat like that," she said. "I don't know about the
bent tail, but it was a
brown tiger cat, big, and I think it had a collar."
"When did you see it?"
"When did I see it? Hmm. No more than three or four days ago. Our
yard is a kind of
highway for the neighborhood cats. They all cut across here from the
Takitanis' to the
She pointed toward the vacant house, where the stone bird still
spread its wings, the tall
goldenrod still caught the early-summer sun, and the pigeon went on
with its monotonous
cooing atop the TV antenna.
"I've got an idea," she said. "Why don't you wait here? All the cats
through our place on their way to the Miyawakis'. And somebody's
bound to call the cops if
they see you hanging around like that. It wouldn't be the first
"Don't worry," she said. "I'm the only one here. The two of us can
sit in the sun and wait
for the cat to show up. I'll help. I've got twenty-twenty vision."
I looked at my watch. Two twenty-six. All I had to do today before
it got dark was take in
the laundry and fix dinner.
I went in through the gate and followed the girl across the lawn.
She dragged her right leg
slightly. She took a few steps, stopped, and turned to face me.
"I got thrown from the back of a motorcycle," she said, as if it
A large oak tree stood at the point where the yard's lawn gave out.
Under the tree sat two
canvas deck chairs, one draped with a blue beach towel. Scattered on
the other were a new
box of Hope regulars, an ashtray and lighter, a magazine, and an
oversize boom box. The
boom box was playing hard-rock music at low volume. She turned the
music off and took all
the stuff out of the chair for me, dropping it on the grass. From
the chair, I could see into the
yard of the vacant house-the stone bird, the goldenrod, the
chain-link fence. The girl had
probably been watching me the whole time I was there.
The yard of this house was very large. It had a broad, sloping lawn
dotted with clumps of
trees. To the left of the deck chairs was a rather large
concrete-lined pond, its empty bottom
exposed to the sun. Judging from its greenish tinge, it had been
without water for some time.
We sat with our backs to the house, which was visible through a
screen of trees.
The house was neither large nor lavish in its construction. Only the
yard gave an
impression of large size, and it was well manicured.
"What a big yard," I said, looking around. "It must be a pain to
take care of."
"I used to work for a lawn-mowing company when I was a kid."
"Oh?" She was obviously not interested in lawns.
"Are you always here alone?" I asked.
"Yeah. Always. Except a maid comes mornings and evenings. During the
day it's just me.
Alone. Want a cold drink? We've got beer."
"Really? Don't be shy."
I shook my head. "Don't you go to school?"
"Don't you go to work?"
"No work to go to."
"Lost your job?"
"Sort of. I quit a few weeks ago."
"What kind of job?"
"I was a lawyer's gofer. I'd go to different government offices to
pick up documents, put
materials in order, check on legal precedents, handle court
procedures-that kind of stuff."
"But you quit."
"Does your wife have a job?"
The pigeon across the way must have stopped its cooing and gone off
suddenly realized that a deep silence lay all around me.
"Right over there is where the cats go through," she said, pointing
toward the far side of
the lawn. "See the incinerator in the Takitanis' yard? They come
under the fence at that point,
cut across the grass, and go out under the gate to the yard across
the way. They always follow
exactly the same route."
She perched her sunglasses on her forehead, squinted at the yard,
and lowered her glasses
again, exhaling a cloud of smoke. In the interval, I saw that she
had a two-inch cut next to her
left eye-the kind of cut that would probably leave a scar the rest
of her life. The dark
sunglasses were probably meant to hide the wound. The girl's face
was not a particularly
beautiful one, but there was something attractive about it, probably
the lively eyes or the
unusual shape of the lips.
"Do you know about the Miyawakis?" she asked.
"Not a thing," I said.
"They're the ones who lived in the vacant house. A very proper
family. They had two
daughters, both in a private girls' school. Mr. Miyawaki owned a few
"Why'd they leave?"
"Maybe he was in debt. It was like they ran away-just cleared out
one night. About a year
ago, I think. Left the place to rot and breed cats. My mother's
"Are there so many cats in there?" Cigarette in her lips, the girl
looked up at the sky. "All
kinds of cats. Some losing their fur, some with one eye ... and
where the other eye used to be,
a lump of raw flesh. Yuck!" I nodded.
"I've got a relative with six fingers on each hand. She's just a
little older than me. Next to
her pinkie she's got this extra finger, like a baby's finger. She
knows how to keep it folded up
so most people don't notice. She's really pretty." I nodded again.
"You think it's in the family? What do you call it... part of the
"I don't know much about heredity."
She stopped talking. I sucked on my lemon drop and looked hard at
the cat path. Not one
cat had shown itself so far.
"Sure you don't want something to drink?" she asked. "I'm going to
have a Coke."
I said I didn't need a drink.
She left her deck chair and disappeared through the trees, dragging
her bad leg slightly. I
picked up her magazine from the grass and leafed through it. Much to
my surprise, it turned
out to be a men's magazine, one of the glossy monthlies. The woman
in the foldout wore thin
panties that showed her slit and pubic hair. She sat on a stool with
her legs spread out at weird
angles. With a sigh, I put the magazine back, folded my hands on my
chest, and focused on
the cat path again.
A very long time went by before the girl came back, with a Coke in
her hand. The heat
was getting to me. Sitting under the sun, I felt my brain fogging
over. The last thing I wanted
to do was think.
"Tell me," she said, picking up her earlier conversation. "If you
were in love with a girl
and she turned out to have six fingers, what would you do?"
"Sell her to the circus," I answered.
"No, of course not," I said. "I'm kidding. I don't think it would
"Even if your kids might inherit it?"
I took a moment to think about that.
"No, I really don't think it would bother me. What harm would an
extra finger do?"
"What if she had four breasts?"
I thought about that too.
"I don't know."
Four breasts? This kind of thing could go on forever. I decided to
change the subject.
"How old are you?" I asked.
"Sixteen," she said. "Just had my birthday. First year in high
"Have you been out of school long?"
"My leg hurts if I walk too much. And I've got this scar near my
eye. My school's very
strict. They'd probably start bugging me if they found out I hurt
myself falling off a
motorcycle. So I'm out 'sick.' I could take a year off. I'm not in
any hurry to go up a grade."
"No, I guess not," I said.
"Anyhow, what you were saying before, that you wouldn't mind
marrying a girl with six
fingers but not four breasts ..."
"I didn't say that. I said I didn't know."
"Why don't you know?"
"I don't know-it's hard to imagine such a thing."
"Can you imagine someone with six fingers?"
"Sure, I guess so."
"So why not four breasts? What's the difference?"
I took another moment to think it over, but I couldn't find an
"Do I ask too many questions?"
"Do people tell you that?"
I turned toward the cat path again. What the hell was I doing here?
Not one cat had
showed itself the whole time. Hands still folded on my chest, I
closed my eyes for maybe
thirty seconds. I could feel the sweat forming on different parts of
my body. The sun poured
into me with a strange heaviness. Whenever the girl moved her glass,
the ice clinked inside it
like a cowbell.
"Go to sleep if you want," she whispered. "I'll wake you if a cat
Eyes closed, I nodded in silence.
The air was still. There were no sounds of any kind. The pigeon had
disappeared. I kept thinking about the woman on the telephone. Did I
really know her? There
had been nothing remotely familiar about her voice or her manner of
speaking. But she
definitely knew me. I could have been looking at a De Chirico scene:
the woman's long
shadow cutting across an empty street and stretching toward me, but
she herself in a place far
removed from the bounds of my consciousness. A bell went on ringing
and ringing next to my
"Are you asleep?" the girl asked, in a voice so tiny I could not be
sure I was hearing it.
"No, I'm not sleeping," I said.
"Can I get closer? It'll be ... easier if I keep my voice low."
"Fine with me," I said, eyes
She moved her chair until it struck mine with a dry, wooden clack.
Strange, the girl's
voice sounded completely different, depending on whether my eyes
were open or closed.
"Can I talk? I'll keep real quiet, and you don't have to answer. You
can even fall asleep. I
"OK," I said.
"When people die, it's so neat."
Her mouth was next to my ear now, so the words worked their way
inside me along with
her warm, moist breath. "Why's that?" I asked.
She put a finger on my lips as if to seal them. "No questions," she
said. "And don't open
your eyes. OK?" My nod was as small as her voice.
She took her finger from my lips and placed it on my wrist. "I wish
I had a scalpel. I'd cut
it open and look inside. Not the corpse ... the lump of death. I'm
sure there must be something
like that. Something round and squishy, like a softball, with a hard
little core of dead nerves. I
want to take it out of a dead person and cut it open and look
inside. I always wonder what it's
like. Maybe it's all hard, like toothpaste dried up inside the tube.
That's it, don't you think?
No, don't answer. It's squishy on the outside, and the deeper you go
inside, the harder it gets.
I want to cut open the skin and take out the squishy stuff, use a
scalpel and some kind of
spatula to get through it, and the closer you get to the center, the
harder the squishy stuff gets,
until you reach this tiny core. It's sooo tiny, like a tiny ball
bearing, and really hard. It must be
like that, don't you think?"
She cleared her throat a few times.
"That's all I think about these days. Must be because I have so much
time to kill every
day. When you don't have anything to do, your thoughts get really,
really far out-so far out
you can't follow them all the way to the end."
She took the finger from my wrist and drank down the rest of her
cola. I knew the glass
was empty from the sound of the ice.
"Don't worry about the cat-I'm watching for it. I'll let you know if
Noboru Wataya shows
up. Keep your eyes closed. I'm sure Noboru Wataya is walking around
here someplace. He'll
be here any minute now. He's coming. I know he's coming-through the
grass, under the
fence, stopping to sniff the flowers along the way, little by little
Noboru Wataya is coming
closer. Picture him that way, get his image in mind."
I tried to picture the image of the cat, but the best I could do was
a blurry, backlighted
photo. The sunlight penetrating my eyelids destabilized and diffused
my inner darkness,
making it impossible for me to bring up a precise image of the cat.
Instead, what I imagined
was a failed portrait, a strange, distorted picture, certain
distinguishing features bearing some
resemblance to the original but the most important parts missing. I
couldn't even recall how
the cat looked when it walked.
The girl put her finger on my wrist again, using the tip to draw an
odd diagram of
uncertain shape. As if in response, a new kind of darkness-
different in quality from the
darkness I had been experiencing until that moment-began to burrow
into my consciousness. I
was probably falling asleep. I didn't want this to happen, but there
was no way I could resist
it. My body felt like a corpse-someone else's corpse-sinking into
the canvas deck chair.
In the darkness, I saw the four legs of Noboru Wataya, four silent
brown legs atop four
soft paws with swelling, rubberlike pads, legs that were soundlessly
treading the earth
"Ten minutes is all it will take," said the woman on the phone. No,
she had to be wrong.
Sometimes ten minutes is not ten minutes. It can stretch and shrink.
That was something I did
know for sure.
When I woke up, I was alone. The girl had disappeared from the deck
chair, which was
still touching mine. The towel and cigarettes and magazine were
there, but not the glass or the
The sun had begun to sink in the west, and the shadow of an oak
branch had crept across
my knees. My watch said it was four-fifteen. I sat up and looked
around. Broad lawn, dry
pond, fence, stone bird, golden-rod, TV antenna. Still no sign of
the cat. Or of the girl.
I glanced at the cat path and waited for the girl to come back. Ten
minutes went by, and
neither cat nor girl showed up. Nothing moved. I felt as if I had
aged tremendously while I
I stood and glanced toward the house, where there was no sign of a
human presence. The
bay window reflected the glare of the western sun. I gave up waiting
and crossed the lawn to
the alley, returning home. I hadn't found the cat, but I had tried
At home, I took in the wash and made preparations for a simple
dinner. The phone rang
twelve times at five-thirty, but I didn't answer it. Even after the
ringing stopped, the sound of
the bell lingered in the indoor evening gloom like dust floating in
the air. With the tips of its
hard claws, the table clock tapped at a transparent board floating
Why not write a poem about the wind-up bird? The idea struck me, but
the first line would
not come. How could high school girls possibly enjoy a poem about a
Kumiko came home at seven-thirty. She had been arriving later and
later over the past
month. It was not unusual for her to return after eight, and
sometimes even after ten. Now that
I was at home preparing dinner, she no longer had to hurry back.
They were understaffed, in
any case, and lately one of her colleagues had been out sick.
"Sorry," she said. "The work just wouldn't end, and that part-time
girl is useless."
I went to the kitchen and cooked: fish sauteed in butter, salad, and
miso soup. Kumiko sat
at the kitchen table and vegged out.
"Where were you at five-thirty?" she asked. "I tried to call to say
I'd be late."
"The butter ran out. I went to the store," I lied.
"Did you go to the bank?"
"And the cat?"
"Couldn't find it. I went to the vacant house, like you said, but
there was no trace of it. I
bet it went farther away than that."
She said nothing.
When I finished bathing after dinner, Kumiko was sitting in the
living room with the
lights out. Hunched down in the dark with her gray shirt on, she
looked like a piece of
luggage that had been left in the wrong place.
Drying my hair with a bath towel, I sat on the sofa opposite Kumiko.
In a voice I could barely catch, she said, "I'm sure the cat's
"Don't be silly," I replied. "I'm sure it's having a grand old time
somewhere. It'll get
hungry and come home soon. The same thing happened once before,
remember? When we
lived in Koenji..."
"This time's different," she said. "This time you're wrong. I know
it. The cat's dead. It's
rotting in a clump of grass. Did you look in the grass in the vacant
"No, I didn't. The house may be vacant, but it does belong to
somebody. I can't just go
barging in there."
"Then where did you look for the cat? I'll bet you didn't even try.
That's why you didn't
I sighed and wiped my hair again with the towel. I started to speak
but gave up when I
realized that Kumiko was crying. It was understandable: Kumiko loved
the cat. It had been
with us since shortly after our wedding. I threw my towel in the
bathroom hamper and went to
the kitchen for a cold beer. What a stupid day it had been: a stupid
day of a stupid month of a
Noboru Wataya, where are you? Did the wind-up bird forget to wind
The words came to me like lines of poetry.
Where are you?
Did the wind-up bird
Forget to wind your spring?
When I was halfway through my beer, the phone started to ring.
"Get it, will you?" I shouted into the darkness of the living room.
"Not me," she said. "You get it."
"I don't want to."
The phone kept on ringing, stirring up the dust that floated in the
darkness. Neither of us
said a word. I drank my beer, and Kumiko went on crying soundlessly.
I counted twenty rings
and gave up. There was no point in counting forever.