If This Were a Murakami Story

Kaj Tanaka

Back in the city, Susan is alone most of the time. She is staying on a friend’s couch while she looks for her own place. She takes these long aimless walks. If she were a Murakami character, she thinks, the phone would ring and something would begin. A stranger would call her or someone who remembered her from a long time ago. But, no one calls her and nothing begins.

The stress of finding an apartment takes such a toll on Susan that she does nothing. In the evenings, when her friend returns from work, they discuss her progress. Susan agrees that she will need to settle for something soon but does nothing. Instead, she buys things from the grocery store down the street to ingratiate herself to her friend. She buys boxed wine; she buys a tub of cheese balls; she buys a dozen donuts. Her friend thanks her but refuses to touch these items. She is always on some kind of diet, and so Susan must make her own gifts disappear. In the case of the donuts, she eats them in a single sitting.

In the mornings, Susan pretends to sleep while her friend bangs around the house. She listens as her friend dresses, prepares her makeup, brushes her teeth, and then leaves. It used to be, in the early days, Susan would get up and join her friend for a slice of toast and maybe a cup of coffee, but now Susan sleeps with the blanket over her face. That way her friend will not need to be reminded of Susan’s continuing presence as she walks by the couch; such is the nature of Susan’s shame.

One Friday night Susan’s friend does not return from work as usual. Susan looks at her phone, waiting for it to do something. It does nothing. Susan eats a little bit of everything in the refrigerator so as not to make a noticeable dent in any single item. Susan watches the sun set over the little park beneath the window. The hour grows late, and still there is no word from her friend.

At about three, long after Susan has turned off the lights, brushed her teeth, flossed and fallen asleep, she awakes to the apartment door opening. Light from the hallway crashes in. There are two of them, her friend and a man. Susan does not venture out from under the covers to see what he looks like, but she can hear his heavy footsteps and his deep whisper. Later, she can hear him through the thin wall. They talk for a while. They talk about Susan. It’s clear that they have already been talking about her. Her friend says some things about Susan that night: harsh truths Susan already knows, but spoken aloud, overheard in this way—when they are said by her dear friend—well then. Well then.

If this were a Murakami story, Susan would be making spaghetti. She would be alone in her clean, practical apartment. She would have a simple wisdom about things; this wisdom would guide her actions. She would be content about her body, for example. She would exercise every day, and her fulfillment would come from the execution of small, simple tasks. Her struggle would be of a quiet, moral nature, and while her decisions would be difficult, they would not be so difficult to discern. There would be a white cat, and the cat would lead Susan through a secret door. They would go down together into the underworld, and maybe there Susan could be useful to someone. The people of the underworld would be well dressed, and the road would be long and confusing, and when she finally arrived they would be waiting for her. And they would already know her name.

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Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, The Master’s Review, Midwestern Gothic and New South. He is the nonfiction editor at BULL Magazine.