Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dance, Dance, Dance (or: Imagining myself sucked into a Murakami novel)

J. has given me another Murakami novel to read. I have this suspicion that our relationship will last as long as I continue to read Murakami novels he has lent me. Certainly it is absurd to suppose so, but still. I've never imagined parsing out a relationship so as to render it terminal, but this measurement, like very rich cake, is too much to finish all in one sitting. It took me nearly a week and two days to finish the last 60 pages of "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle". It was the thought that I would have to return to him something I knew he valued. Reading it meant he couldn't just walk away. The pages of that novel became lines that connected me to him, and so I purposefully slowed myself as I read, resisting the propelling force of the narrative.

Now he's given me another, and this one considerably shorter than the first. I will have to ration my eyes on the feast of Murakami's prose--more easily accomplished by not reading in any sustained way. And then, come September, I will be overwhelmed with nights of sleeplessness, reading hundreds of pages at a time, scribbling furious notes in margins, tracing arguments to find their fault-lines. Fiction is the luxury I indulge in over the summer. By this math, I can manage to read only 1 or 2 a year, and by the time I'm finished with his collection I'll be done with my PhD, he'll have graduated college, we'll be living together, there will have been trips to Paris, Japan, Egypt. By that time there will be too much stuff that is ours for him to walk away.

But this is a Murakami novel, and J. tells me it is classically Murakami for a beloved to go missing and for there to be a search. There is no reason for the disappearance, it just happens, with no foreshadowing. You wake one morning and he's no longer there. All of his clothes are still on their hangers and neatly folded--you folded them--in his respective half of the bureau. His trumpet is still in its case, as are the long, almost skeletal stringed instruments in the closet along with his many wooden flutes. Most surprising is that his sturdy earthenware colored tortoise is in its tank. It is nameless, but he called it something that sounds like the French word for "Listen". Really this is Swahili or Arabic for tortoise, you can't remember which now, but he loved Ecoute, which struck you as strange at the time, because how much could one love a reptile? I'd hate myself if he died, he once said, and now, as you realize this is the last living connection to him, you feel the same way.

You look for a note, but there is no note. There is no sign of his having left. For the first time in nearly five years you want a cigarette. And a whiskey. You had joked that whiskey is the drink you reserve for bad days, a day like today. Why had he left, and without a word? You try to think back on the last five years of your life, but nothing strands out. Just an image of him standing in front of the Eiffel Tower looking at it over his shoulder. There was a sneer on his lips, as if to say, "I've seen better." But he isn't in Paris, of that you're sure. You think about calling the credit cards, but he was always scrupulous about maintaining his financial independence, should he ever need it, you now think. Though you were always terrible with money, and even you hadn't expected things to workout as smoothly as they had. Suddenly the phone rings and its chirp fills the space his absence has left in the apartment. Rushing to the phone you answer it quickly, and demand him to answer. "J.?!" An automated voice begins to inform you that you can save 15% a year on home heating if... but you slam the receiver down and realize you need that whiskey.

There's a small bar down the street you and he discovered the first winter after he moved in. It was February and unseasonably warm. You each dared clothes that seemed to want to seduce Spring into premature blossoming. As you were walking home the sound of a piano caught your shared ears and with a quick glance at one another, you ducked into the bar. It was dark, but each tabletop was adorned with a candle. They looked like stationary fireflies. Almost a third of the bar was taken up by a piano, which caught the odd glint of light and threw it onto the ceiling in strange, contorted frames. A wiry woman with stringy, sandy hair leaned into the keys of the piano, her voice barely more than a whisper. She played beautifully, and you quietly ordered two drinks while he took a seat at a table in the corner. When you reached him there his gaze was transfixed on her body, which, now that you noticed it, studied it even, appeared tortured, wracked by the notes she was playing. In such moments, always, you gazed at him, more interested by his interest than by what he was interested in. She's amazing, he murmurs, and you look over your shoulder at her as she continues to play. He would go there more frequently than you. It became sort of a space he could retreat to, at least that's what you thought at the time, and you were pleased with this. You had your study, of sorts, and he had his studio, of sorts, and you had the coffee shop where you could kill two hours running into acquaintances, and he had this little jazz bar. You didn't ask him about his time at the bar, but you could always tell when he had been. He rarely drank alone, if at all, but on these nights there was always the hint of liquor on his lips when he kissed you as he walked in the door, greeting you at your desk.

Now there you were, at the same table you had sat at almost 4 years ago. The same musician wasn't playing. Instead a short black college kid was was burning through standards. He was tight and faithful, but you could tell he was still looking for his own voice. You ordered a gin martini and tried to imagine what he was thinking about when he sat here, if he even sat at this table, and what it was that motivated him to return here, like it were a therapy for some grief or illness he'd never shared with you. Aside from the barely detectable scent of liquor, nothing ever seemed noticeably different about him when he would come home. He was still himself, as he was in the morning when you would leave him in his pajamas with breakfast on the table. You would kiss him boldly on the mouth some mornings, especially those when you were off to teach a class on a topic that excited you--late modern capitalism or Aristotle's ethics of friendship. He would smile at you as you looked back from the door. It struck you, suddenly, as the pianist began to sing the refrain "I fall in love too easily," that you had looked back to him for approval before you locked him in. And now he was gone, with no note to explain why.

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