I HOPE you weren't asleep," Bird said as Himiko opened the door for him.
"Asleep? At this hour?" the girl teased. Himiko held up one hand against the midday sun but it didn't help; the light at Bird's back descended roughly on her neck and shoulders, bare where her violet terrycloth bathrobe fell away. Himiko's grandfather was a Kyushu fisherman who had taken as a wife, abducted really, a Russian girl from Vladivostok. That explained the whiteness of Himiko's skin; you could see the web of capillary vessels just beneath the surface. In the way she moved, too, was something to suggest the confusion of the immigrant who is never quite at ease in his new country.
Wincing in the rush of light, Himiko stepped back into the shadow of the open door with the ruffled haste of a mother hen. She was in that meager stage of womanhood between the vulnerable beauty of a young girl, which she had lost, and the mature woman's fullness still to come. Himiko was probably the type of woman who would have to spend a particularly long time in this tenuous state.
Quickly, in order to protect his friend from the revealing light, Bird stepped inside and closed the door. For an instant the cramped space of the vestibule felt like the inside of a hooded cage. Bird blinked rapidly while he took off his shoes, trying to accustom his eyes to the dimness. Himiko hovered in the darkness between him, watching.
"I hate to disturb people when they're sleeping," Bird offered.
"You're so timid today, Bird. Anyway, I wasn't asleep; if I nap during the day I can never get to sleep at night. I was thinking about the pluralistic universe."
Pluralistic universe? Good enough, Bird thought, we can discuss it over whisky. Glancing around him like a hunting dog nosing for a spoor, Bird followed Himiko inside. In the living room it might have been evening, and the gloom was dark and stagnant like a bed of straw for sick livestock. Bird squinted down at the old but sturdy rattan chair he always sat in and carefully lowered himself into it after removing some magazines. Until Himiko had showered and dressed and put on some make-up, she wouldn't turn on the lights, much less open the curtains. Company had to wait patiently in the dark. During his last visit here a year ago, Bird had stepped on a glass and had cut the base of his big toe. Recalling the pain and the panic, he shivered.
It was hard to decide where to put the bottle of whisky: an elaborate confusion of books and magazines, empty boxes and bottles, shells, knives, scissors, withered flowers collected in winter woods, insect specimens, and old and new letters covered not only the entire floor and the table, but even the low bookcase along the window, the record player, and the television set. Bird hesitated, then shuffled a small space on the floor with his feet and wedged the bottle of Johnnie Walker between his ankles. Watching from the door, Himiko said as though in greeting, "I still haven't learned to be neat. Bird, was it like this the last time you were here?"
"Damn right it was; I cut my big toe!"
"Of course, the floor around the chair there was all bloody, wasn't it," Himiko reminisced. "It's been ages, Bird. But everything's the same around here. How about you?"
"As a matter of fact, I had a kind of accident."
Bird hesitated; he hadn't planned to start right in with all his troubles. "We had a child but it died right away," he simplified.
"No! Really? The same thing happened to friends of mine - two friends! That makes three people I know. Don't you think fallout in the rain has something to do with it?"
Bird tried comparing his child who seemed to have two heads with pictures he had seen of mutations caused by radioactivity. But he had only to think to himself about the baby's abnormality and a sense of extremely personal shame hotly rose into his throat. How could he discuss the misfortune with other people; it was inherent in himself! He had the feeling this would never be a problem he could share with the rest of mankind.
"In my son's case, it was apparently just an accident."
"What an awful experience for you, Bird," Himiko said, and she looked at him quietly with an expression in her eyes that seemed to cloud her lids with ink.
Bird didn't trouble himself with the message in Himiko's eyes; instead, he lifted the bottle of Johnnie Walker. "I wanted somewhere to drink and I knew you wouldn't mind even if it was the middle of the day. Have a drink with me?"
Bird sensed himself wheedling the girl, like any brazen young gigolo. But that was the way men whom Himiko knew generally behaved toward her. The man she had married, more openly than Bird or any of her other friends, had played up to her as though he were a younger brother. And suddenly one morning he had hanged himself.
"I can see the baby's death is still close to you, Bird. You haven't recovered yet. Well, I'm not going to ask you anything more about it."
"That would probably be best. There's almost nothing to tell anyway."
"Shall we have a drink?"
"I want to take a shower, but you start. Bird! There are glasses and a pitcher in the kitchen."
Himiko disappeared into the bedroom and Bird stood up. The kitchen and the bathroom shared the twisted space at the end of the hall that amounted to the tail of the little house. Bird jumped over a cat crouching on the floor, the bathrobe and underclothes Himiko had just thrown off, and went into the kitchen. On his way back with a pitcher of water, glasses and cups he had washed himself, two in each pocket, he happened to glance past the open glass door and saw Himiko showering at the back of the bathroom, where it was even darker than the hall. With her left hand upheld as if to check the black water pouring out of the darkness above her head and her right hand resting on her belly, Himiko was looking down over her right shoulder at her buttocks and slightly arched right calf. Bird saw back and buttocks and legs, and the sight filled him with a disgust he couldn't repress; his flesh turned to goosepimples. Bird rose on his toes as if to flee a darkness alive with ghosts: and then he was running, trembling, past the bedroom and back to the familiar rattan chair. He had conquered it once, he couldn't say when, and now it had reawakened in him: the juvenile's disgust, anxiety ridden, for the naked body. Bird sensed that the octopus of disgust would extend its tentacles even when he turned to his wife, who now lay in a hospital bed thinking about the baby who had gone with its father to another hospital because of a defective heart. But would the feeling last for a long time? Would it grow acute?
Bird broke the seal on the bottle with his fingernail and poured himself a drink. His arm was still shaking: the glass chattered at the bottle like an angry rat. Bird scowled thornily, a hermetic old man, and hurled the whisky down his throat. God, it burned! Coughing shook him and his eyes teared. But the arrow of red-hot pleasure pierced his belly instantly, and the shuddering stopped. Bird brought up a child's belch redolent of wild strawberries, wiped his wet lips with the back of his hand, and filled his glass again, this time with a steady hand. How many thousands of hours had he been avoiding this stuff? Harboring something like a grudge against no one he could name, Bird emptied his second glass busily, like a titmouse pecking at millet seeds. His throat didn't burn this time, he didn't cough, and tears didn't come to his eyes. Bird lifted the bottle of Johnnie Walker and studied the picture on the label. He sighed rapturously, and drank a third glass.
By the time Himiko came back, Bird was beginning to get drunk. As Himiko's body entered the room disgust lifted its head, but its function was impaired by the poisons in the alcohol. Besides, the black, one-piece dress Himiko had put on diminished the threat of the flesh it covered: like a mass of shaggy hair, it made her look like a laughable cartoon bear. When Himiko had combed her hair she turned on the lights. Bird cleared a space on the table, set up a glass and a cup for Himiko and poured her whisky and a glass of water. Himiko sat down in a large, carved, wooden chair, managing her skirt with extreme care so that no more than necessary of her freshly washed skin was exposed. Bird was grateful. He was gradually overcoming his disgust, but that didn't mean he had uprooted it.
"Here we are," Bird said, and drained his glass.
"Here we are!" Himiko pouted her lower lip like an orangutan sampling a flavor, and took a tiny sip of whisky.
They sat there, quietly lacing the air with hot, whisky breath, and for the first time looked each other in the eye. Fresh from her shower, Himiko wasn't ugly; the woman who had shrunk from the sunlight might have been this girl's mother. Bird was pleased. Moments of regeneration as striking as this could still occur at Himiko's age. "I thought of a poem when I was in the shower. Do you remember this?" Himiko whispered one line of an English poem as though it were a spell. Bird listened, and asked her to recite it again.
"'Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.'"
"But you can't murder all the babies in their cradles," Bird said. "Who is the poet?"
"William Blake. You remember, I wrote my thesis on him."
"Of course, you were working on Blake." Bird turned his head and discovered the Blake reproduction hanging on the wall that adjoined the bedroom. He had seen the painting often but he had never looked at it carefully. Now he noticed how bizarre it was. A public square walled in by buildings in the style of the Middle East. In the distance rose a pair of stylized pyramids: it must have been Egypt. The thin light of dawn suffused the scene - or was it dusk? Sprawled in the square like a fish distraught mother, surrounded by a group of old men with lanterns and presence overhead, swooping across the square with arms outspread. Was it human? The beautifully muscled body was covered with scales. The eyes were full of an ominous dolor and were fanatically bitter; the mouth was a hollow in the face so deep it swallowed up the nose - a soaring upward, reaching for the turbulence of the night sky even while it burned in the flames of its own scales.
"What's he doing? Are those supposed to be scales or is he wearing a coat of mail like the knights of the Middle Ages?"
"I think they're scales," Himiko said. "in the color plate they were green and they looked much scalier. He's the Plague! Doing his best to destroy the oldest sons of Egypt!"
Bird didn't know much about the Bible; perhaps it was a scene from Exodus. Whatever, the creature's eyes and mouth were virulently grotesque. Grief, fear, astonishment, fatigue, loneliness - even a hint of laughter boiled limitlessly from its coal-black eyes and salamander mouth.
"Isn't he a groove!" Himiko said.
"You like the man with the scales?"
"Sure I do. And I like to imagine how I'd feel if I were the spirit of the Plague myself."
"Probably so badly your eyes and mouth would start looking like his." Bird glanced at Himiko's mouth.
"It's frightening, isn't it? Whenever I have a frightening experience, I think how much worse it would be if I were frightening someone else - that way I get psychological compensation. Do you think you've made anyone else as afraid as you've ever been in your life?"
"I wonder. I'd have to think about it."
"It's probably not the sort of thing you can think about; you have to know."
"Then I guess I've never really frightened another person."
"I'm sure you haven't - not yet. But don't you suppose it's an experience you'll have sooner or later?" Himiko's tone was reserved, nonetheless prophetic.
"I suppose murdering a baby in its cradle would terrify yourself and everyone else, too." Bird poured himself and Himiko a drink, emptied his own glass in a swallow and filled it again. Himiko wasn't drinking at such a fast clip.
"Are you holding back?" Bird said.
"Because I'll be driving later. Have I ever given you a ride, Bird?"
"I don't think so. We'll have to go one of these days."
"Come over any night and I'll take you. It's dangerous in the day because there's too much traffic; my reflexes are much faster when it's dark."
"Is that why you shut yourself up all day long and drink? You lead a real philosopher's life - a philosopher who races around in a red MG after dark - not bad. What's this pluralistic universe?"
Bird watched with mild satisfaction as delight tightened Himiko's face. This was restitution for the rudeness of his sudden visit and for all the drinking he planned to do: not that many people besides himself would lend an attentive ear to Himiko's reveries.
"Right now you and I are sitting and talking together in a room that's a part of what we call the real word," Himiko began. Bird settled down to listen, carefully balancing a fresh drink on his palm. "Well it just so happens that you and I exist in altogether different forms in countless other universes, too. Now! We can both remember times in the past when the chances of living or dying were fifty-fifty. For example, when I was a child, I got typhoid fever and almost died. And I still remember perfectly well the moment when I reached a crossroads; I could have descended into death or climbed the slope to recovery. Naturally, the Himiko sitting with you in this room chose the road to recovery. But in that same instant, another Himiko chose death! And a universe of people with brief memories of the Himiko who died went into motion around my young corpse all inflamed with typhoid rash. Do you see, Bird? Every time you stand at a crossroads of life and death, you have two universes in front of you; one loses all relation to you because you die, the other maintains its relation to you because you survive in it. Just as you would take off your clothes, you abandon the universe in which you only exist as a corpse and move on to the universe in which you are still alive. In other words, various universes emerge around each of us the way tree limbs and leaves branch away from the trunk.
"This kind of universal cell division occurred when my husband committed suicide, too. I was left behind in the universe where he died, but in another universe on the other side, where he continues to live without committing suicide, another Himiko is living with him. The world a man leaves behind when he dies, say at a very young age, and the world in which he escapes death, continue to live - the worlds that contain us are constantly multiplying. That's all I mean by the pluralistic universe.
"And you know something, Bird? You don't have to feel so bad about your baby's death. Because another universe has diverged from the baby, and in the world developing in that universe the baby is growing healthy and strong this very minute. In that world you're a young father drunk on happiness and I'm feeling groovy because I've just heard the good news and we're drinking a toast together. Bird? Do you understand?"
The smile on Bird's face was peaceful. The alcohol had spread to the remotest capillary in his body and it was taking its full effect: pressure has been equalized between the pink darkness inside him and the world outside. Not that the feeling would last long, as Bird well knew.
"Bird, you may not understand fully but do you get at least the general idea? There must have been moments in your twenty-seven years when you stood at a dubious junction of life and death. Well, at each of those moments you survived in one universe and left your own corpse behind in another. Bird? You must remember a few of those moments."
"I do, as a matter of fact. Are you saying I left my own corpse behind on each of those occasions and escaped alive into this universe?"
Could she be right? Bird wondered sleepily. Had another Bird remained behind as a corpse at each of those critical moments? And was there an assortment of dead Birds in myriad other universes, a frail and timid schoolboy, and a high-school student with a simple mind but a much stronger body than his own? Then which of those many dead was the most desirable Bird? One thing was certain: not himself, not the Bird in this universe.
"Then is there a final death when your death in this world is your death in all the others, too?"
"There must be: otherwise, you'd have to live to infinity in at least one universe. I'd say you probably die your final death of old age when you're over ninety. So we all live on in one universe or another until we die of old age in our final universe - that sounds fair, doesn't it, Bird?"
Sudden comprehension forced Bird to interrupt: "You're still tormenting yourself about your husband's suicide, aren't you? And you've conceived this whole philosophical swindle in order to rob death of its finality."
"Say what you want, my role since he left me behind in this universe has been to wonder constantly why he died. . . ." The gray skin around Himiko's weakening eyes colored with ugly swiftness. ". . . now that's an unpleasant role but I've stepped into it, I'm not shirking my responsibilities, at least not in this universe."
"Please don't think I'm criticizing you, Himiko, because I'm not. I just don't like to see you fooling yourself. . . ." Bird smiled, trying to dilute the poison in his words, yet he persisted. "You're trying to make something relative out of the irrevocability of your husband's death by assuming another universe where he is still alive. But you can't make the absoluteness of death relative, no matter what psychological tricks you use."
"Maybe you're right, Bird . . . can I have another glass of whisky, please." Himiko's voice was dry, empty of interest. Bird filled both their glasses and prayed that Himiko would drink away her memory of his spontaneous criticism and continue again tomorrow to dream about her pluralistic universe. Like a time-traveler visiting a world ten thousand years in the past, Bird was terrified of being responsible for any mishap in the world of present time. The feeling had been growing in him slowly since he had learned that his baby was a freak. Now he wanted to drop out of this world for a while, as a man drops out of a poker game when he has a bad run of cards.
In silence Bird and Himiko exchanged magnanimous smiles and drank their whisky purposefully, like beetles sucking sap. The noises from the summer afternoon street sounded to Bird like signals from a vast distance, unheeded signals. Bird shift in his chair and yawned, shedding one tear as meaningless as saliva. He filled his glass again and drank down the whisky in a swallow - to ensure that his descent from the world wold be smooth. . . .
Bird started, spilling whisky on his lap, and opened his eyes; he could feel himself in the second stage of drunkenness.
"That buckskin coat you got from your uncle - whatever happened to it?" Himiko moved her tongue slowly, working at accurate pronunciation. Her face, like a large tomato, was round and very red.
"That's a good question; I used to wear it in my first year at school."
"Bird! You still have it in the winter of your sophomore year -"
Winter - the world splashed into the pool of Bird's whisky-weakened memory.
"That's right - I spread it on the wet ground in that lumberyard the night we made it together. The next morning it was caked with mud and wood shavings. I could never wear it again: the cleaners wouldn't take buckskin coats in those days. I think I rolled it up in a closet and later I must have thrown it away."
As he spoke, Bird remembered that dark knight in the middle of winter and the incident that seemed already in the distant past. It was their sophomore year at college. Bird and Himiko had been drinking together, and they were very drunk. Bird walked Himiko home; he grabbed her in the darkness in the lumberyard behind her boarding house. They faced each other in the cold, shivering, and their caresses were simple until Bird's hand, as though by accident, touched Himiko's vagina. Agitated, Bird pressed Himiko against some lumber that was stacked against a board fence and labored to insert himself in her. Himiko did her best to help but she gave up at last and softly laughed. Though both of them were in a frenzy, the embrace was still in the domain of play. Nonetheless, when he realized he would not be able to insert his penis as long as they were standing, Bird felt humiliated by circumstance, which made him dogged. He spread his buckskin coat on the ground and lay Himiko down on top of it - laughing still. Himiko was a tall girl: her head and her legs below the knee rested on the bare ground. After a while the laughing stopped and Bird supposed she was approaching orgasm. But a little later he inquired, and Himiko replied that she was merely cold. Bird interrupted their lovemaking.
"I was a real savage in those days," Bird said reflectively, like an octogenarian.
"I was a savage, too."
"I wonder why we never tried again somewhere else."
"What happened in the lumberyard seemed so accidental, I had a feeling the next morning that it could never be repeated."
"It was extraordinary, all right. An incident. Almost a rape," Bird said uncomfortably.
"Almost? It was rape," Himiko corrected.
"But was there really no pleasure at all for you? I mean, you were nowhere near coming?" Bird sounded resentful.
"What did you expect - after all, that was my first time."
Bird stared at Himiko in amazement. She wasn't, he knew, a person to tell that variety of lie or joke. He was dumbfounded, and then a sense of ridiculousness a hair's breadth away from fear drove a short laugh past his lips. The laughter infected Himiko, too.
"Life is full of wonder," Bird said, turning a fierce red that wasn't entirely the whisky's fault.
"Bird, don't sound so crushed. The fact that I had never had sex before can only have been significant for me, if it had any meaning at all - it had nothing to do with you."
Bird filled a cup instead of a glass and drank the whisky down in a single breath. He wanted to remember the incident in the lumberyard more accurately. It was true that his penis had been repelled again and again by something hard and stretched like a drawn lip. But he had assumed that the cold had simply shriveled Himiko. Then what about the bloodstains on the bottom of his shirt the next morning? Why hadn't that made him suspect? he wondered: and like a whim, desire seized him. Bird bit his lips closed as if he were fighting pain, and gripped his whisky cup. At the very center of his body a tumor or knotted pain and apprehension was engendered, unmistakably desire itself. Desire that resembled the pain and anxiety that seize a patient behind the ribs in a cardiac attack. What Bird felt now was not that meek desire, hardly a mole on the slack face of daily life, the polar opposite of the African dream that glinted high in the skies of his mind, that was demeaned once or twice a week even while it was eliminated when he dug into his wife, not that homey desire which sank in the mud of lugubrious fatigue by a thousand repetitions of the act, not a ticket you relinquished after one trip around on the toy train. Desire you could satisfy once and never again, perilous desire that made you wonder uneasily when the sating moment came if Death weren't stealing up behind your naked, sweating back. This was desire Bird might have satisfied late one winter night in a lumberyard if he had known for certain that he was raping a virgin.
Bird willed his throbbing, whisky-heated eyes to dart a weasel glance at Himiko. His brain ballooned, pulsing with blood. Cigarette smoke circled the room like a school of trapped sardines: Himiko seemed adrift on a sea of mist. She was watching Bird, her face in a funny, rapt, too simple smile, but her eyes were perceiving nothing. Himiko was lost in a whisky dream and her body seemed softer and rounder all over, particularly her red, fervid face. If only, Bird thought ruefully, I could repeat that winter night rape scene with Himiko. But he knew there wasn't a chance. What if they did make it again sometime, their intercourse would evoke the ravaged sparrow of a penis Bird had glimpsed this morning when he dressed and would evoke his wife's distended genitals sluggishly contracting after the agony of childbirth. Sex for Bird and Himiko would be linked to the dying baby, linked to all of mankind's miseries, to the wretchedness so loathsome that people unafflicted pretended not to see it, an attitude they called humanism. The sublimation of desire? This was scrapping it entirely. Bird gulped his whisky and his tepid insides shuddered. If he wanted to re-create in all its marvelous tension the sexual moment he had ruined that winter night, he would probably have no choice but to strangle the girl to death. The voice flapped out of the nest of desire inside him: Butcher her and fuck the corpse! But Bird knew he would never undertake that kind of adventure in his present state. I'm just feeling wistful and deprived because I learned Himiko was a virgin. Bird was disdainful of his own confusion and he tried to repudiate that part of himself. But the sea urchin of disquiet and black-hot desire would not swim away. If you can't slaughter her and rape the corpse, find something that can evoke a situation just as taut and volatile! But Bird was helpless; he could only stand in wonderment before his ignorance of peril and perversion. Bird drained his cup like a basketball player taking a drink of water after he has been ordered off the court for too many errors: peevishly, with self-disdain and evident distaste. The whisky has lost its bite now, and its bouquet; it wasn't even bitter anymore.
"Bird - do you always gulp your whisky by the glassful? As if it were tea? I can't even drink tea that fast if it's still hot."
"Always, it's always this way, when I drink," Bird mumbled.
"Even when you're with your wife?"
"You couldn't possibly satisfy a woman when you've been drinking that way. What's more important, I doubt that you could bring it off yourself, no matter how hard you tried. You'd end up with a whacky heart like a prostrate distance swimmer - and leave an alcohol slick like a rainbow next to the woman's head!"
"Are you thinking of going to bed with me now?"
"I wouldn't sleep with you when you've had this much to drink; it would be meaningless for both of us."
Bird worked a finger through a hole inside his pocket and explored something warm and soft: a silly, drowsing mouse. And withered, in perfect opposition to the sea urchin flaming in his chest.
"Nothing doing there, is there, Bird!" Confidently, Himiko challenged the slight movement.
"I may not be able to come myself but I can certainly carry on like a Chinese Monkey and boost you over the wall!"
"It's not that simple, you know - for me to have an orgasm. Bird, you don't seem to remember very clearly what happened when we lay on the ground in that lumberyard. There's no reason why you should. But for me, that was an initiation rite. It was a cold, squalid rite, ridiculous and pathetic, too. Since then I've been running a long-distance race and it's been a battle all the way, Bird!"
"Did I make you frigid?"
"If you mean the ordinary orgasm, I discovered that for myself right away. I had help from some of the guys in my class, almost before the mud under my nails from the lumberyard had dried. But ever since then I've been chasing a better orgasm, and then one better still - like climbing a flight of stairs!"
"And that's all you've done since you graduated from college?"
"Since before I graduated. I can see now that's been my real work since I was a student."
"You must be plenty sick of it."
"No, that's not true, Bird. One of these days I'll prove it to you - unless you want your only sexual memory of me to be that incident in the lumberyard, Bird?"
"And I'll teach you what I've picked up during my own long-distance race," Bird said. "Let's stop pecking at each other with our beaks like a pair of frustrated chicks; let's go to bed!"
"You've had too much to drink, Bird."
"You think a penis is the only organ that has anything to do with sex? I'd say that's pretty crude for an explorer in search of the supreme orgasm."
"Would you use fingers, then? Or lips? Or many some organ too freaky to believe, like an appendix? Sorry, that's not for me; it's too much like masturbation."
"You're certainly frank," Bird winced.
"Besides, Bird, you're not really looking for anything sexual today. You look to me as if sex would disgust you. Let's say we did go to bed together, you'd have all you could do to crumple between my legs and vomit. Your disgust would overwhelm you, and you'd smear my belly with brown whisky and yellow bile. You would, Bird! That happened to me once and it was awful."
"I guess we do learn from experience sometimes; your observations are correct," Bird said dejectedly.
"There's no hurry," Himiko consoled.
"No. No hurry. Seems like a hell of a long time since I was in a situation where I had to hurry. I was always in a hurry when I was a kid. I wonder why."
"Maybe because one has so little time as a child. I mean, you grow up so fast."
"I grew up fast, all right. And now I'm old enough to be a father. Only I wasn't adequately prepared as a father so I couldn't come up with a proper child. You think I'll ever become the father of a normal child? I have no confidence."
"No one is confident about that kind of thing, Bird. When your next baby has turned out to be perfectly healthy then you'll know for certain that you're a normal father. And you'll feel confident in retrospect."
"You've really become wise about life." Bird was heartened. "Himiko, I'd like to ask you - " The sleep anemone was engulfing him in waves and Bird knew he wouldn't be able to resist for more than a minute. He peered at the empty glass wavering in his field of vision and shook his head, wondering whether to have another drink; finally he conceded that his body could not accept another drop of whisky. The glass slipped through his fingers, struck his lap, and rolled onto the floor.
"Himiko, I'd like to ask you one more thing," Bird said, trying a little weight on his legs to see if he could stand, " - what kind of world after death do you go to when you die as an infant?"
"If there is such a world, it must be very simple, Bird. But can't you believe in my pluralistic universe? Your baby will live to the ripe old age of ninety in his final universe!"
"Ah yes," Bird said. "Well. I'm going to sleep. Himiko! Is it night yet? Would you take a peek through the curtains, please."
"It's the middle of the day, Bird. If you want to sleep, you can use my bed; I'll be going out as soon as it's dark."
"You'd abandon a pitiful friend for a red sports car?"
"When a pitiful friend is drunk, the best thing to do is to leave him alone. Otherwise we might both regret it later."
"Absolutely right! You have a hold on all the best of mankind's wisdom. So you drive around in that MG all night? Until dawn?"
"Sometimes, Bird. I have rounds to make - like a sandman looking for children who can't sleep!"
When Bird finally hoisted himself out of the rattan chair, limp and heavy as another man's body, he wrapped an arm around Himiko's sturdy shoulders and headed for the bedroom. A funny dwarf was dancing around inside the fiery sun that was his head, scattering powdered light like the fairy he had seen in Peter Pan. Bird laughed, tickled by the hallucination. As he collapsed on the bed, he managed one grateful exclamation: "Himiko! You're like a king great-aunt!"
Bird slept. Across the twilight square in his dream a scaly man moved with dark, sad eyes and a terrifying gash of a salamander mouth: but soon he was enfolded in the eddying, reddish-black dusk. The sound of a sports car pulling away; deep, comprehensive sleep.
Twice during the night Bird woke up, and neither time was Himiko there. He was awakened by restrained but persistent voices calling from outside the window: "Himiko! Himiko!"
In the first voice there was still an adolescent ring. The next time Bird opened his eyes, he heard the voice of a middle-aged man. He got out of bed, lifted the curtains where they met just as Himiko had done to look at him, and peered down at the night visitor. In the pale moonlight Bird saw a small gentleman in a linen tuxedo that looked too tight, as though it had shrunk; his round, eggish head lifted to the window, the little man was calling Himiko's name with a clouded expression that seemed to be a compound of embarrassment and mild self-disgust. Bird dropped the curtains and went into the next room to get the whisky bottle. In one swallow he drank what remained, burrowed back into his girlfriend's bed, and instantly fell asleep.
kenzaburō ōe. a personal matter. 1969. chapter 4.
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