Friday, October 07, 2005

"Tony Takitani" by Haruki Murakami (3)

This is my translation of Haruki Murakami's short story "Tony Takitani," which has been made into a film and brought over to the U.S. (to my delight!) The first part is here and the second is here.

One day, after dinner, he ventured. How about slowing down your clothes shopping? I’m not talking only about money. I don’t mind you buying what’s necessary, and I’m glad to see you become more beautiful. But do you really need this many clothes?

His wife thought about it for a while, looking down. Then she said, I think you are right. I don’t think I don’t need so many clothes. I know that very well. But I can’t help it even if I know it. I have to buy them when I see beautiful clothes in front of me. Whether it is necessary or not, whether I have many clothes or not, these things become irrelevant. I simply cannot stop buying them. Like a sort of an addiction, she said.

But she promised to try getting out of it. If I keep doing this, the house will be filled with clothes before long, she said. For about a week she locked herself up at home so new clothes wouldn’t meet her eyes. When she did so, however, she felt like she had become empty. It was like walking on a planet with little air. Every day she walked into the dressing room, spent all day picking up her clothes in her hands and looked at them one by one. She caressed the textile, smelled them, put them on, and stood in front of a mirror. However long she looked at them, it didn’t tire her. The more she looked at them, the more she craved for new clothes. Once she thought she wanted them, she couldn’t stop herself.


But she loved her husband deeply and revered him as well. She thought what he said was surely reasonable. She didn’t need this many clothes. She had only one body. She called her favorite boutique and asked the manager if she could return a coat and a dress she had bought just ten days ago and hadn’t worn even once. That is fine, if you could take them back here, we will give you a refund, the manager said. She was their exceptional customer. They were willing to accommodate such a request from her. She put the coat and the dress in her car and drove to Aoyama. She returned them at the boutique and had the credit card transaction canceled. She thanked them, left the boutique, hurried back in the car trying not to see what was around, and headed straight back home on highway 246. After returning the clothes, she felt her body was somewhat lighter. Yes, they were unnecessary, she told herself. I have enough coats and dresses to satisfy my need until the day I die. But while she waited for the light to change at an intersection, at the head of the line, her thought didn’t leave the coat and the dress for a moment. She clearly remembered what colors they were, how they were designed, and how they felt against her hands. She could picture them vividly to the tiniest details as if they had been in front of her eyes. She felt sweat well up on her forehead. She inhaled deeply, with her elbows on the stirring wheel. She closed her eyes. When she opened her eyes, she saw the light change. She jumped to floor the gas pedal.

Right then, a semi, trying to force through the intersection with a yellow light, crushed into the nose of her blue Renot Cinque, sideways, at full speed. She didn’t even have time to feel anything.

What was left for Tony Takitani was a mountain of clothes, size seven, enough to fill a room. Shoes alone counted toward two hundred. He didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with them. Because he didn’t want to forever hold on to what his wife put on her body, he called a dealer, made him take all her accessories at his price. He burnt her stockings and underwear in an incinerator in the backyard. He left the clothes and shoes, for there were simply too many. After her funeral, he secluded himself in the dressing room and all day long he looked at the clothes that stuffed up the room.

Ten days after the funeral, he placed an ad on a newspaper for an assistant. Looking for a woman, size 7, height around 161 cm, shoe size 22, will pay well. Since the salary he proposed was enough to be extraordinary, thirteen women in total came to his office in South Aoyama for an interview. Five out of thirteen were obviously lying about their sizes. From the remaining eight, he selected a woman with a shape closest to his wife’s. She was a woman with a featureless face, in her mid-twenties. She wore a plain white blouse and a blue tight skirt. Her clothes and shoes were clean, but a little worn out, under close scrutiny.

Tony Takitani told the woman: the job itself is nothing difficult. Every day from nine to five, you come to the office, answer the phone, deliver the illustration, receive reference materials, and make copies and so on, in place of me. There is only one condition. I recently lost my wife and have a very large number of her clothes left at home. Most of them are brand new or like new. I would like you to wear them while you work here, as a uniform. That is why I included the dress and shoe size in the requirements. It must sound strange. You must think that this is a little suspicious. I understand that very well. But I don’t mean anything else. It’s just that I need some time to get used to the fact that my wife is gone. In other words, I need to adjust gradually the air pressure around me, so to speak. I need such a period. While I do that, I would like you to be around, in my wife’s clothes. That way, I should be able to grasp, on gut-level, that my wife died and is gone.

The woman bit her lips as she quickly thought about the strange condition. It was indeed strange. To be honest, she didn’t really get the main idea of Tony Takitani’s story. She understood that he had lost his wife recently. She also understood that his wife left many clothes behind. But she couldn’t quite understand why she had to work in her clothes, in front of him. In usual circumstances, she probably should suspect that there was something more to it. But he doesn’t seem to be a bad person, she thought. It was obvious listening to the way he talked. He was surely off-balance for the loss of his wife, but he didn’t seem to be the type of people who would harm others for that. And after all, she had to work. She had been looking for a job for the last few months. Next month her unemployment benefit would expire. Then it would be hard just to pay the apartment rent. She probably wouldn’t be able to find another job that pay as well as this.

Okay, she said. I don’t see the fine details, but I think I can do what you just told me. Could I have a look at the clothes, just in case, though, I think I should see if the size is really right for me. Of course, said Tony Takitani. He took her to his house and showed her the dressing room full of clothes. She had never seen so many clothes in a single place, except for at department stores. And each one of them was apparently very expensive, and of the highest quality. They was not much room for improvement. It was an exceedingly dazzling view. She had trouble breathing. Her heart beat fast, for no reason. For her, it seemed somehow similar to sexual arousal.
Tony Takitani told her to try the size and left the woman in the room. She pulled herself together and tried on a few clothes at hand. She also tried the shoes on. Both the clothes and the shoes fit her perfectly, as if they had been made for her. She took those clothes in her hand, one by one, and looked at them. She rubbed them with the tip of her fingers. She smelled them. Hundreds of beautiful clothes sat in files. Eventually tears appeared in her eyes. She couldn’t help crying. Tears welled up endlessly. She couldn’t push them back. She sobbed, trying to contain the sound, enveloped in the clothes the dead woman left behind. Tony Takitani came to check in after a while and asked her why she was crying. I don’t know, she shook her head. I haven’t seen so many beautiful clothes, so I think I’m confused, I’m sorry, she said. And she wiped off the tears with a handkerchief.

I would like you to start coming to the office tomorrow, if you don’t mind, Tony Takitani said in a business-like voice. For now, select a week worth of clothes and shoes from this and take them home with you.

The woman took time to select the wardrobe for the next six days. Then she selected matching shoes. Then she put them in a suitcase. It might get cold, take a coat, Tony Takitani said. She picked out a warm gray cassimere coat. It was light as a feather. It was the first time in her life to have such a light coat in her hand.

After the woman was gone, Tony Takitani went into his wife’s dressing room, closed the door, and for a while blankly stared at the clothes she had left behind. He didn’t understand why the woman cried looking at the clothes. To him, the clothes looked like the shadows his wife left behind. Her size-seven shadows hung on hangers rows after rows. They looked like a loosely hung bunch of a few samples of the infinite (at least theoretically infinite) possibilities inherent in the existence of a human being.

Those shadows were shadows that once clung to his wife’s body, were given warm breaths, and moved around with her. But what was in front of him now were a herd of miserable shadows withering away, minute by minute, having lost its root of life. They were meaningless, musty clothes. As he looked at them, he started to feel choked. Multiple colors danced in the air like pollens and jumped into his eyes, his ears, and into his nostrils. Greedy frills, buttons, epaulets, fake pockets, laces and belts thinned the air in the room in a strange way. The smell of abundant mothballs made silent noises like countless minute winged insects. Suddenly he realized that he loathed these clothes now. He leaned against a wall and closed his eyes, with his arms folded. Loneliness drenched him again, like a lukewarm sap of darkness. This is something that has already ended, he thought. Whatever I do, it’s all ended.

He called her apartment and asked her to forget about it. I’m sorry, but the job doesn’t exist any more, he said. Why, the woman asked, surprised. I’m sorry, but the things have changed, he said. You can keep all the clothes and shoes you took with you, and the suitcase, too, so please forget about this, and please don’t tell anybody about this, Tony Takitani said. The woman was completely perplexed, but she thought it was no use trying to get back the job any further. She said she understood and hung up.

For a while she was angry with Tony Takitani. But before long, she started to feel that it was ultimately the best way for the things to turn out. It was unnatural from the very beginning. I could have used that job, but I’ll get by somehow.

She carefully stretched out the clothes she took from Tony Takitani’s house, hung them in a closet, and put the shoes into a shoe case. Compared to these new comers, her own clothes and shoes that had been there before all seemed staggeringly shabby. They felt like a different kind of matter made from materials of a totally different level. He took off the clothes she wore for the interview, hung them on hungers, changed into a blue jean and a sweat shirt, sat on the floor and drank a can of beer out of the fridge. She recalled the mountain of clothes in the dressing room in Tony Takitani’s house and sighed. So many beautiful clothes, she thought. Oh boy, that dressing room was far larger than this apartment. It must have taken an insane amount of time and money to collect all those clothes. But the woman is already dead. Leaving behind a room full of size-seven clothes. She wondered what it would feel like to die, leaving so many clothes that are so beautiful.

Her friends, knowing that she was poor, were surprised to see her in new different clothes every time they saw her. All of them were designer clothes, sophisticated and expensive. How in the world did you get those, her friends inquired. I can’t explain, it’s a promise, she said. And shook her head. Even if I explain, you won’t believe me, she added.

At last, Tony Takitani called a secondhand clothes dealer and had him take away all the clothes his wife left. They didn’t amount to much. But it didn’t matter. He wanted them to be all gone, even for nothing, leaving none behind. He wanted them to be gone in a faraway place where they won’t meet his eyes ever again.

He left the empty room that once was a dressing room empty for a long time.

From time to time he went into the room and dazed away, without doing anything in particular. For hours on end, he sat on the floor and watched the walls. There were shadows of the shadows of the deceased. As years went by, however, it gradually became impossible for him to remember what used to be there. The memory of their colors and smells disappeared before he knew it. And even the vivid emotion he once embraced drew back outside of the realm of memory. Like a fog trembling in the wind, his memory slowly changed its shape, and every time it changed shape, it faded further away. It became the shadow of a shadow of a shadow. What he could feel was the sense of absence that was left behind by what used to be there. At times he couldn’t even remember his wife’s face. But sometimes he recalled the strange woman who once shed tears in the room, at the sight of the clothes his wife left. He remembered her featureless face and worn-out enamel shoes. And her subdued sob came back alive in his memory. He didn’t want to remember such things. But it returned against his will. After he completely forgot so many things, mysteriously he couldn’t forget the woman, whose name he didn’t even remember.

Two years after his wife’s death, Shozaburo Takitani died of liver cancer. For a cancer death, he suffered little and his hospitalization was short. He died as if he had fallen asleep. In that sense too, he was lucky till the end. Except for some cash and a few stocks, Shozaburo Takitani didn't leave anything that could be called assets. All that remained were the trombone and a huge collection of old jazz record. Tony Takitani kept the records piled up on the floor of the empty dressing room, not even taking them out of cardboard boxes of a home delivery company. For the record smelled of mold, he had to open the windows regularly to ventilate the room. But except for that, he rarely stepped into the room.

A year passed as such. However, he started to feel tired of gurading such a mountain of records in his house. Mere thought of what sat there sometimes choked him. At times he woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. His memory was vague. But it definitely existed there, with its due weight.

He called in a vintage record dealer for an estimate. Since many of them were precious records that had gone out of production decades ago, the estimate was considerably high. It was just about enough to buy a compact car, but it too, was irrelevant to him.

When the heap of the records was gone, Tony Takitani was finally really all alone.


At 2:31 PM, Blogger redliner said...

thanks so much for posting these. a public service.


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