Surreal Sizzle:

A Découpé Tale of Haruki Murakami’s “The Elephant Vanishes”

Vienna, May 2022

I first noticed the wind had started to blow on a Sunday afternoon, precisely at 2:07 PM. I was staring at my silent TV screen and drinking beer while people were dying silently, one after another. Was there something odd about that? I didn’t think so. My thoughts just wandered far away, and it was hard to find my way back. But there was something about staring at my silent TV screen that made even dying look poetic. I must have an inborn liking for such things.

The telephone rang, and for the first time in a while, something broke the silence. Fifteen rings of the telephone transformed the atmosphere around me.

• Her: Hello?

• My voice seemed to travel silently through the receiver.

• Her: Helllllo?

• The woman: I want ten minutes of your time.

• Her: What’s that again?

• The woman: Only ten minutes!

I thought to myself that I had all the time in the world, but I couldn’t recall ever hearing this voice before.

• Her: Only ten minutes should be fine, but I’m watching a film. Can you tell me what you want?

• The woman: What film are you watching?

• Her: What difference does that make to you?

• The woman: I want to get to know you.

• Her: In ten minutes of my time?

• The woman: That’s all I want.

• Her: What? To get to know me?

• The woman: Suppose you found out the boy you like has a sixth finger. What would you do?

• Her: I would sell him to the circus.

• The woman: What if he has four nipples?

• Her: The answer is beyond me. I have no idea.

• The woman: Don’t open the door if you don’t feel like it.

• Her: What’s that again?

• Her: Hello? Are you still there?

I stood there with the receiver to my ear, practically glued to it. After a long silence, I hung up. I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman’s voice when I went back to my silent film.

A little before 2 PM, the spring sun cut through the window on the upper floor of the same apartment. I continued to turn pages with unbroken concentration, smoking and stamping out the cigarette in the ashtray. I hadn’t been out for days and had lost track of time. I felt like I was in a silent action movie, with a lot happening in my head, but I wasn’t thinking. My mind was asleep or away from my body, and the world swayed soundlessly. I would drop things, going through life asleep.

Then, while I was in the kitchen cooking spaghetti, the woman called again.

• Him: Hello?

• The woman: This is necessary for me to tell you what I’m seeing now! I am about to be murdered!!!

• Him: I’m not interested in your services, ma’am. Thank you.

I was about to hang up when she said:

• The woman: Das ist so nett von Ihnen!

• Him: I’m cooking now, so it would be great if you could call later.

  • The woman: “What do you think about them? These people, they’re still asleep, like deep-sea fishes. What would it take to rouse them from such a deep sleep?” I was sitting next to these deep-sea fishes ready to be fished out of the water, when He shoves the gun in my face, then asks me cared to smoke. I nodded yes. I’m telling you It was prime stuff indeed and it was a perfect moment.
  • – Him) This is not okay. Stop crowding my head with your stuff. What is it that you want?
  • – The woman) I need you to do something.
  • – Him) And that is…?
  • – The woman) Will you promise to do it?
  • – Him) No
  • – The woman) Will you do it?
  • – Him) Okay!
  • – The woman) I want you to go downstairs and knock on the door, two times, pause, then knock one more time and wait. When the door opens look into her glasses, and see what you see.

And then her voice gets lost in space. I’m still in the kitchen, but I’m not hungry anymore. I walk back and forth between the kitchen and the living room. It makes no sense, but I am going to do what the strange woman on the phone told me. I knock two times, pause, then knock one more time and wait. She opens the door, and they look at each other awhile…

He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful.

  • – Him) I see my face split into two reflections in her glasses.

He pauses and snaps his fingers a few times as if searching for the right words. Do you Care to Smoke? He asks. She nods.

  • – Him) Inner dialogue: We shared a cigarette and afterward, she rested her head on my shoulder.
  • Her) Inner dialogue: This intensely real feeling of being alive I see that with absolute clarity now.
  • Him) Inner dialogue: she is my person.

As they sat and talked, however, a tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: was it really all right for one’s dreams to come true so easily? They both stood up and silently said goodbye. He wants to say something, but no word comes out. When he closes the door, he snaps his fingers a few times!

  • – Him) Yes that’s it, that is what I should have said to her.