June 13, 2014
On rainy days, our apartment could be a spaceship. The windows in the main living space - dining room/living room/kitchen - open on to the blank walls of neighboring buildings, so even on the sunniest days, there’s no life through them. When it’s cloudy, there’s no light either, and the room takes on a podlike feel - sealed, dislocated, entirely apart. It seems possible that we have become unmoored and are hurtling through space at unimaginable speeds, never to return again.
The dog lifts his head, growls, resettles. The children play with yesterday’s birthday truck. After awhile, they turn to a video game on the iPad, and the sound effects are thin and tinny in the gloom. I sit at the table and read a Murakami piece in the love stories edition of The New Yorker. I generally avoid Murakami because I know enough about the Japanese language to be keenly aware that it is impossible that the English translations bear any particular similarity to the original texts. It’s hopeless, though, to attempt to read Murakami in Japanese. It would require long, horrible, brainbending hours immersed in my Shin Kan-Ei Jiten (New Japanese-English Character Dictionary). The jiten has been with me for many, many years now. A Japanese family friend gave it to me when I was in high school, a shockingly generous gift, as it was quite expensive at the time, especially in Japan. Its system of organizing the characters is ingenious and fiendishly complicated, and back when I was an active student of the Japanese language, I used it every single day, covering piles of scrap paper with the jottings necessary to determine each character’s “skip number” in order to locate it in the jiten’s 2,000-plus pages. Those days are behind me now, unlikely to ever return. My Shin Kan-Ei Jiten, still theoretically one of my most prized possessions, gathers dust on a shelf. I surprise myself by finishing the Murakami story in The New Yorker, and by finding it not half bad. I close the magazine and look up to see that the children are still on the sofa, heads still bent over the video game.
Often, on days like this, it feels not only as though we may never leave the apartment, but also as though we may never even move at all - that nighttime, in hours, will find us sitting exactly as we are right now. But I’ve had enough experience now to be relatively sure that this will not be the case. In a little while, we will all fidget and rouse. We will gather some toys and snacks, put on shoes and raincoats, argue briefly about umbrellas, and head out into the city, the poor dog barking at the door behind us.