Read Sputnik Sweetheart Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami

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

Sputnik Sweetheart (14 page)

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It’s all right, she thought. The old man’s forgetfulness would give her a second free spin on the wheel. This time for sure she’d spot her apartment. She grasped the binoculars firmly and stuck her face out the window. Since she’d located the general area and position last time around, this time it was an easy task to spot her own room. The window was open, the light on. She hated to come back to a dark room, and had planned to come back right after dinner.

It gave her a guilty feeling to look at her own room from so far away through the binoculars, as if she were peeking in on herself. But I’m not there, she assured herself. Of course not. There’s a phone on the table. I’d really like to place a call to that phone. There’s a letter I left on the table, too. I’d like to read it from here, Miu thought. But naturally she couldn’t see that much detail.

Finally her car passed the zenith of the Ferris wheel and began to descend. It had gone down only a short way when it suddenly stopped. She was thrown against the side of the car, banging her shoulder and nearly dropping the binoculars on the floor. The sound of the Ferris wheel motor ground to a halt, and everything was wrapped in an unearthly silence. All the lively background music she’d heard was gone. Most of the lights in the booths down below were out. She listened carefully, but heard only the faint sound of the wind and nothing more. Absolute stillness. No voices of carnival barkers, no children’s happy shouts. At first she couldn’t grasp what had happened. And then it came to her. She’d been abandoned.

She leaned out the half-open window, and looked down again. She realized how high up she was. Miu thought to yell out for help, but knew that no one would hear her. She was too high up, her voice too small.

Where could that old man have gone to? He must have been drinking. His face that color, his breath, his thick voice—no mistake about it. He forgot all about putting me on the Ferris wheel, and turned the machinery off. At this very moment he’s probably sousing it up in a bar, having a beer or gin, getting even more drunk and forgetting what he’d done. Miu bit her lip. I might not get out of here until tomorrow afternoon, she thought. Or maybe evening? When did the amusement park open for business? She had no idea.

Miu was dressed only in a light blouse and short cotton skirt, and though it was the middle of summer the Swiss night air was chilly. The wind had picked up. She leaned out the window once more to look at the scene below. There were even fewer lights than before. The amusement park staff had finished for the day and had gone home. There had to be a guard around somewhere. She took a deep breath and shouted for help at the top of her lungs. She listened. And yelled again. And again. No response.

She took a small notebook from her shoulder bag, and wrote on it in French: “I’m locked inside the Ferris wheel at the amusement park. Please help me.” She dropped the note out the window. The sheet flew off on the wind. The wind was blowing toward the town, so if she was lucky it might end up there. But if someone actually did pick it up and read it, would he (or she) believe it? On another page, she wrote her name and address along with the message. That should be more believable. People might not take it for a joke then, but realize she was in serious trouble. She sent half the pages in her notebook flying out on the wind.

Suddenly she got an idea, took everything out of her wallet except a ten-franc note, and put a note inside: “A woman is locked inside the Ferris wheel up above you. Please help.” She dropped the wallet out the window. It fell straight down toward the ground. She couldn’t see where it fell, though, or hear the thud of it hitting the ground. She put the same kind of note inside her coin purse and dropped that as well.

Miu looked at her wristwatch. It was ten-thirty. She rummaged around inside her shoulder bag to see what else she could find. Some simple makeup and a mirror, her passport. Sunglasses. Keys to her rental car and her apartment. An army knife for peeling fruit. A small plastic bag with three crackers inside. A French paperback. She’d eaten dinner, so she wouldn’t be hungry until morning. With the cool air, she wouldn’t get too thirsty. And fortunately she didn’t have to go to the bathroom yet.

She sat down on the plastic bench, and leaned her head back against the wall. Regrets spun through her mind. Why had she come to the amusement park, and gotten on this Ferris wheel? After she left the restaurant she should have gone straight home. If only she had, she’d be taking a nice hot bath right now, snuggling into bed with a good book. As she always did. Why hadn’t she done that? And why in the world would they hire a hopeless drunk like that old man?

The Ferris wheel creaked in the wind. She tried to close the window so the wind wouldn’t get in, but it wouldn’t give an inch. She gave up, and sat on the floor. I knew I should have brought a sweater, she thought. As she’d left her apartment she’d paused, wondering if she should drape a cardigan over her shoulders. But the summer evening had looked so pleasant, and the restaurant was only three blocks from her place. At that point walking to the amusement park and getting on the Ferris wheel was the furthest thing from her mind. Everything had gone wrong.

To help her relax, she removed her wristwatch, her thin silver bracelet, and the seashell-shaped earrings and stored them in her bag. She curled up in a corner on the floor, and hoped she could just sleep till morning. Naturally she couldn’t get to sleep. She was cold, and uneasy. An occasional gust of wind shook the gondola. She closed her eyes and mentally played a Mozart sonata in C minor, moving her fingers on an imaginary keyboard. For no special reason, she’d memorized this piece that she’d played when she was a child. Halfway through the second movement, though, her mind grew dim. And she fell asleep.

How long she slept, she didn’t know. It couldn’t have been long. She woke with a start, and for a minute had no idea where she was. Slowly her memory returned. That’s right, she thought, I’m stuck inside a Ferris wheel at an amusement park. She pulled her watch out of her bag; it was after midnight. Miu slowly stood up. Sleeping in such a cramped position had made all her joints ache. She yawned a couple of times, stretched, and rubbed her wrists.

Knowing she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep anytime soon, she took the paperback out of her purse to take her mind off her troubles, and took up reading where she’d left off. The book was a new mystery she’d bought at a bookshop in town. Luckily, the lights on the Ferris wheel were left on all night. After she’d read a few pages, though, she realized she wasn’t following the plot. Her eyes were following the lines all right, but her mind was miles away.

Miu gave up and shut the book. She looked at the night sky. A thin layer of clouds covered the sky, and she couldn’t make out any stars. There was a dim sliver of moon. The lights cast her reflection clearly on the gondola’s glass window. She stared at her face for the longest time. When will this be over? she asked herself. Hang in there. Later on this will all be just a funny story you’ll tell people. Imagine getting locked inside a Ferris wheel in an amusement park in Switzerland!

But it didn’t become a funny story.

This is where the real story begins.

*   *   *

A little later, she picked up her binoculars and looked out at the window of her apartment. Nothing had changed. Well, what do you expect? she asked herself, and smiled.

She looked at the other windows in the building. It was past midnight, and most everyone was asleep. Most of the windows were dark. A few people, though, were up, lights on in their apartments. People on the lower floors had taken the precaution of closing their curtains. Those on the upper floors didn’t bother, and left their curtains open to catch the cool night breeze. Life within these rooms was quietly, and completely, open to view. (Who would ever imagine that someone was hidden away in a Ferris wheel in the middle of the night looking in with binoculars?) Miu wasn’t very interested in peeking in on others’ private lives, though. She found looking in her own empty room far more absorbing.

When she made one complete circuit of the windows and returned to her own apartment, she gasped. There was a nude man inside her bedroom. At first she thought she had the wrong apartment. She moved the binoculars up and down, back and forth. But there was no mistake; it was her room all right. Her furniture, her flowers in the vase, her apartment’s paintings hanging on the wall. The man was Ferdinando. No mistake about it. He was sitting on her bed, stark naked. His chest and stomach were hairy, and his long penis hung down flaccidly, like some drowsy animal.

What could he be doing in my room? A thin sheen of sweat broke out on Miu’s forehead. How did he get in? Miu couldn’t understand it. She was angry at first, then confused. Next, a woman appeared in the window. She had on a short-sleeve white blouse and a short blue cotton skirt. A woman? Miu clutched the binoculars tighter and fixed her eyes on the scene.

What she saw was
herself.

*   *   *

Miu’s mind went blank. I’m right here, looking at my room through binoculars. And in that room is
me.
Miu focused and refocused the binoculars. But no matter how many times she looked, it was
her
inside the room. Wearing the exact same clothes she had on now. Ferdinando held her close and carried her to the bed. Kissing her, he gently undressed the Miu inside the room. He took off her blouse, undid her bra, pulled off her skirt, kissed the base of her neck as he caressed her breasts with his hands. After a while, he pulled off her panties with one hand, panties exactly the same as the ones she now had on. Miu couldn’t breathe. What was happening?

Before she realized it, Ferdinando’s penis was erect, as stiff as a rod. She’d never seen one so huge. He took Miu’s hand, and placed it on his penis. He caressed her and licked her from head to toe. He took his own sweet time. She didn’t resist. She—the Miu in the apartment—let him do whatever he wanted, thoroughly enjoying the rising passion. From time to time she would reach out and caress Ferdinando’s penis and balls. And allow him to touch her everywhere.

Miu couldn’t drag her gaze away from this strange sight. She felt sick. Her throat was so parched she couldn’t swallow. She felt like she was going to vomit. Everything was grotesquely exaggerated, menacing, like some medieval allegorical painting. This is what Miu thought: that they were deliberately showing her this scene.
They
know I’m watching. But still she couldn’t pull her eyes away.

A blank.

Then what happened?

Miu didn’t remember. Her memory came to an abrupt halt at this point.

I can’t recall, Miu said. She covered her face with her hands. All I know is that it was a horrifying experience, she said quietly. I was right here, and another me was over
there.
And that man—Ferdinando—was doing all kinds of things to me over there.

What do you mean, all kinds of things?

I just can’t remember. All kinds of things. With me locked inside the Ferris wheel, he did whatever he wanted—to the me over
there.
It’s not like I was afraid of sex. There was a time when I enjoyed casual sex a lot. But that wasn’t what I was seeing there. It was all meaningless and obscene, with only one goal in mind—to make me thoroughly polluted. Ferdinando used all the tricks he knew to soil me with his thick fingers and mammoth penis—not that the
me
over there felt this was making
her
dirty. And in the end it wasn’t even Ferdinando anymore.

Not Ferdinando anymore? I stared at Miu. If it wasn’t Ferdinando, then who was it?

I don’t know. I can’t recall. But in the end it wasn’t Ferdinando anymore. Or maybe from the beginning it wasn’t him.

The next thing she knew, Miu was lying in a bed in a hospital, a white hospital gown covering her naked body. All her joints ached. The doctor explained what had happened. In the morning one of the workers at the amusement park found the wallet she’d dropped and figured out what had happened. He got the Ferris wheel down and called an ambulance. Inside the gondola Miu was unconscious, collapsed in a heap. She looked like she was in shock, her pupils nonreactive. Her face and arms were covered with abrasions, her blouse bloody. They took her to the hospital for treatment. Nobody could figure out how she’d gotten the injuries. Thankfully none of the injuries would leave any lasting scars. The police hauled in the old man who ran the Ferris wheel for questioning, but he had no memory at all of giving her a ride just near closing time.

The next day some local policemen came to question her. She had trouble answering their questions. When they compared her face with her picture in her passport, they frowned, strange expressions on their faces, like they’d swallowed something awful. Hesitantly, they asked her: Mademoiselle, we’re sorry to have to ask, but are you really twenty-five? I am, she replied, just like it says in my passport. Why did they have to ask that?

A little while later, though, when she went to the bathroom to wash her face, she understood. Every single hair on her head was white. Pure white, like freshly driven snow. At first she thought it was somebody else in the mirror. She spun around. But she was alone in the bathroom. She looked in the mirror once more. And the reality of it all came crashing down on her in that instant. The white-haired woman staring back at her was
herself.
She fainted and fell to the floor.

And Miu vanished.

“I was still on
this
side, here. But
another me,
maybe half of me, had gone over to the
other side.
Taking with it my black hair, my sexual desire, my periods, my ovulation, perhaps even the will to live. And the half that was left is the person you see here. I’ve felt this way for the longest time—that in a Ferris wheel in a small Swiss town, for a reason I can’t explain, I was split in two forever. For all I know, this may have been some kind of transaction. It’s not like something was stolen away from me, because it all still exists, on the
other side.
Just a single mirror separates us from the other side. But I can never cross the boundary of that single pane of glass. Never.”

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