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haruki murakami - sleep
This is a short story by one of my favourite authors, Haruki Murakami. I hunted it down to share it
with my students, and in doin so had to spend a ood deal of time editin down the previous
trans!iber"s mistakes. I"m postin it here to share it in its more true #to the translation$ form.
%&leep% is found in the !olle!tion %The 'lephant (anishes%. If you"re lookin for some more
stunnin shorts, !he!k out )llende"s %The &tories of 'va *una% and +ores" %*abyrinths%. ,or other
posts on literature, !li!k here.
by Haruki Murakami
translated by Jay .ubin
This is my seventeenth straiht day without sleep.
I/m not talkin about insomnia. I know what insomnia is. I had somethin like it in
!ollee0somethin like it be!ause I/m not sure that what I had then was e1a!tly the same as what
people refer to as insomnia. I suppose a do!tor !ould have told me. +ut I didn/t see a do!tor. I knew
it wouldn/t do any ood. 2ot that I had any reason to think so. 3all it woman/s intuition0I 4ust felt
they !ouldn/t help me. &o I didn/t see a do!tor, and I didn/t say anythin to my parents or friends,
be!ause I knew that that was e1a!tly what they would tell me to do.
+a!k then, my 5somethin like insomnia6 went on for a month. I never really ot to sleep that entire
time. I/d o to bed at niht and say to myself, 5)ll riht now, time for some sleep.6 That was all it
took to wake me up. It was instantaneous - like a !onditioned refle1. The harder I worked at
sleepin, the wider awake I be!ame. I tried al!ohol, I tried sleepin pills, but they had absolutely no
,inally, as the sky bean to row liht in the mornin, I/d feel that I miht be driftin off. +ut this
wasn/t sleep. My finertips were 4ust barely brushin aainst the outermost ede of sleep. )nd all
the while my mind was wide-awake. I would feel a hint of drowsiness, but my mind was there, in its
own room, on the other side of a transparent wall, wat!hin me. My physi!al self was driftin
throuh the feeble mornin liht, and all the while I !ould feel my mind starin, breathin, !lose
beside it. I was both a body on the vere of sleep and a mind determined to stay awake.
This in!omplete drowsiness would !ontinue on and off all day. My head was always foy. I
!ouldn/t et an a!!urate fi1 on the thins around me0their distan!e or mass or tenure. The
drowsiness would overtake me at reular, wavelike intervals7 on the subway, in the !lassroom, at
the dinner table. My mind would slip away from my body. The world would sway soundlessly. I
would drop thins. My pen!il or my purse or my fork would !latter to the floor. )ll I wanted was to
throw myself down and sleep. +ut I !ouldn/t. The wakefulness was always there beside me. I !ould
feel its !hillin shadow. It was the shadow of myself. 8eird, I would think as the drowsiness
overtook me, I/m in my own shadow. I would walk and eat and talk to people inside my drowsiness.
)nd the stranest thin was that no one noti!ed. I lost fifteen pounds that month, and no one
noti!ed. 2o one in my family, not one of my friends or !lassmates reali9ed that I was oin throuh
life asleep.
It was literally true7 I was oin throuh life asleep. My body had no more feelin than a drowned
!orpse. My very e1isten!e, my life in the world, seemed like a hallu!ination. ) stron wind would
make me think my body was about to be blown to the end of the earth, to some land I had never
seen or heard of, where my mind and body would separate forever. 5Hold tiht,6 I would tell
myself, but there was nothin for me to hold on to.
)nd then, when niht !ame, the intense wakefulness would return. I was powerless to resist it. I was
lo!ked in its !ore by an enormous for!e. )ll I !ould do was stay awake until mornin, eyes wide
open in the dark. I !ouldn/t even think. )s I lay there, listenin to the !lo!k ti!k off the se!onds, I
did nothin but stare at the darkness as it slowly deepened and slowly diminished.
)nd then one day it ended, without warnin, without any e1ternal !ause. I started to lose
!ons!iousness at the breakfast table. I stood up without sayin anythin. I may have kno!ked
somethin off the table. I think someone spoke to me. +ut I !an/t be sure. I staered to my room,
!rawled into bed in my !lothes, and fell fast asleep. I stayed that way for twenty-seven hours. My
mother be!ame alarmed and tried to shake me out of it. &he a!tually slapped my !heek. +ut I went
on sleepin for twenty-seven hours without a break. )nd when I finally did awaken, I was my old
self aain. -robably.
I have no idea why I be!ame an insomnia! then nor why the !ondition suddenly !ured itself. It was
like a thi!k, bla!k !loud brouht from somewhere by the wind, a !loud !rammed full of ominous
thins I have no knowlede of. 2o one knows where su!h a thin !omes from or where it oes. I
!an only be sure that it did des!end on me for a time, and then departed.
In any !ase, what I have now is nothin like that insomnia, nothin at all. I 4ust !an/t sleep. 2ot for
one se!ond. )side from that simple fa!t, I/m perfe!tly normal. I don/t feel sleepy, and my mind is as
!lear as ever. 3learer, if anythin. -hysi!ally, too, I/m normal7 my appetite is fine: I/m not fatiued.
In terms of everyday reality, there/s nothin wron with me. I 4ust !an/t sleep.
2either my husband nor my son has noti!ed that I/m not sleepin. )nd I haven/t mentioned it to
them. I don/t want to be told to see a do!tor. I know it wouldn/t do any ood. I 4ust know. *ike
before. This is myself.
&o they don/t suspe!t a thin. ;n the surfa!e, our life flows on un!haned. -ea!eful. .outine. )fter
I see my husband and son off in the mornin. I take my !ar, and o shoppin. My husband is a
dentist. His offi!e is a ten-minute drive from our !ondo. He and a dental-s!hool friend own it as
partners. That way they !an afford to hire a te!hni!ian and a re!eptionist. ;ne partner !an take the
other/s overflow. +oth of them are ood, so for an offi!e that has been in operation for only five
years, and that opened without any spe!ial !onne!tions, the pla!e is doin very well. )lmost too
well. 5I didn/t want to work so hard,6 says my husband. 5+ut I !an/t !omplain.6
)nd I always say, 5.eally, you !an/t.6 It/s true. 8e had to et an enormous bank loan to open the
pla!e. ) dental offi!e re<uires a hue investment in e<uipment. )nd the !ompetition is fier!e.
-atients don/t start pourin in the minute you open your doors. *ots of dental !lini!s have failed for
la!k of patients.
+a!k then, we were youn and poor and we had a brand-new baby. 2o one !ould uarantee that we
would survive in su!h a touh world. +ut we have survived, one way or another. ,ive years. 2o. 8e
really !an/t !omplain. 8e/ve still ot almost two-thirds of our debt left to pay, thouh.
5I know why you/ve ot so many patients,6 I always say to him. 5It/s be!ause you/re su!h a ood-
lookin uy.
This is our little 4oke. He/s not ood-lookin at all. )!tually, he/s kind of strane-lookin. 'ven now
I sometimes wonder why I married su!h a strane-lookin man. I had other boyfriends who were
far more handsome.
8hat makes his fa!e so strane= I !an/t really say. It/s not a handsome fa!e, but it/s not uly, either.
2or is it the kind that people would say has 5!hara!ter.6 Honestly, 5strane6 is about all that fits. ;r
maybe it would be more a!!urate to say that it has no distinuishin features. &till, there must be
some element that makes his fa!e have no distinuishin features, and if I !ould rasp whatever that
is, I miht be able to understand the straneness of the whole. I on!e tried to draw his pi!ture, but I
!ouldn/t do it. I !ouldn/t remember what he looked like. I sat there holdin the pen!il over the paper
and !ouldn/t make a mark. I was flabberasted. How !an you live with a man so lon and not be
able to brin his fa!e to mind= I knew how to re!oni9e him, of !ourse. I would even et mental
imaes of him now and then. +ut when it !ame to drawin his pi!ture, I reali9ed that I didn/t
remember anythin about his fa!e. 8hat !ould I do= It was like runnin into an invisible wall. The
one thin I !ould remember was that his fa!e looked strane.
The memory of that often makes me nervous.
&till, he/s one of those men everybody likes. That/s a bi plus in his business, obviously, but I think
he would have been a su!!ess at 4ust about anythin. -eople feel se!ure talkin to him. I had never
met anyone like that before. )ll my women friends like him. )nd I/m fond of him, of !ourse. I think
I even love him. +ut, stri!tly speakin, I don/t a!tually like him.
)nyhow, he smiles in this natural, inno!ent way, 4ust like a !hild. 2ot many rownup men !an do
that. )nd I uess you/d e1pe!t a dentist to have ni!e teeth, whi!h he does.
5It/s not my fault I/m so ood-lookin,6 he always answers when we en4oy our little 4oke. 8e/re the
only ones who understand what it means. It/s a re!onition of reality0the fa!t that we have
manaed in one way or another to survive0and it/s an important ritual for us.
He drives his &entra out of the !ondo parkin arae every mornin at eiht-fifteen. ;ur son is in
the seat ne1t to him. The elementary s!hool is on the way to the offi!e. 5+e !areful,6 I say. 5>on/t
worry6 he answers. )lways the same little dialoue. I !an/t help myself. I have to say it. 5+e
!areful.6 )nd my husband has to answer, 5>on/t worry.6 He starts the enine, puts a Haydn or
Mo9art tape into the !ar stereo, and hums alon with the musi!. My two 5men6 always wave to me
on the way out. Their hands move in e1a!tly the same way. It/s almost un!anny. They lean their
heads at e1a!tly the same anle and turn their palms toward me, movin them slihtly from side to
side in e1a!tly the same way, as if they/d been trained by a !horeorapher.
I have my own !ar, a used Honda 3ivi!. ) irlfriend sold it to me two years ao for ne1t to nothin.
;ne bumper is smashed in, and the body style is old-fashioned, with rust spots showin up. The
odometer has over a hundred and fifty thousand kilometers on it. &ometimes0on!e or twi!e a
month0the !ar is almost impossible to start. The enine simply won/t !at!h. &till, it/s not bad
enouh to have the thin fi1ed. If you baby it and let it rest for ten minutes or so, the enine will
start up with a ni!e, solid vroom. ;h, well, everythin-everybody-ets out of wha!k on!e or twi!e a
month. That/s life. My husband !alls my !ar 5your donkey.6 I don/t !are. It/s mine.
I drive my 3ivi! to the supermarket. )fter marketin I !lean the house and do the laundry. Then I
fi1 lun!h. I make a point of performin my mornin !hores with brisk, effi!ient movements. If
possible, I like to finish my dinner preparations in the mornin, too. Then the afternoon is all mine.
My husband !omes home for lun!h. He doesn/t like to eat out. He says the restaurants are too
!rowded, the food is no ood, and the smell of toba!!o smoke ets into his !lothes. He prefers
eatin at home, even with the e1tra travel time involved. &till, I don/t make anythin fan!y for
lun!h. I warm up leftovers in the mi!rowave or boil a pot of noodles. &o the a!tual time involved is
minimal. )nd, of !ourse, it/s more fun to eat with my husband than all alone with no one to talk to.
+efore, when the !lini! was 4ust ettin started, there would often be no patient in the first
afternoon slot, so the two of us would o to bed after lun!h. Those were the loveliest times with
him. 'verythin was hushed, and the soft afternoon sunshine would filter into the room. 8e were a
lot youner then, and happier.
8e"re still happy, of !ourse. I really do think so. 2o domesti! troubles !ast shadows on our home. I
love him and trust him. )nd I/m sure he feels the same about me. +ut little by little, as the months
and years o by, your life !hanes. That/s 4ust how it is. There/s nothin you !an do about it. 2ow
all the afternoon slots are taken. 8hen we finish eatin, my husband brushes his teeth, hurries out to
his !ar, and oes ba!k to the offi!e. He/s ot all those si!k teeth waitin for him. +ut that/s all riht.
8e both know you !an"t have everythin your own way.
)fter my husband oes ba!k to the offi!e, I take a bathin suit and towel and drive to the
neihborhood athleti! !lub. I swim for half an hour. I swim hard. I/m not that !ra9y about the
swimmin itself7 I 4ust want to keep the flab off. I/ve always liked my own fiure. )!tually, I/ve
never liked my fa!e. It/s not bad, but I/ve never felt I liked it. My body is another matter. I like to
stand naked in front of the mirror. I like to study the soft outlines I see there, the balan!ed vitality.
I/m not sure what it is, but I et the feelin that somethin inside there is very important to me.
8hatever it is, I don/t want to lose it.
I/m thirty. 8hen you rea!h thirty, you reali9e it/s not the end of the world. I/m not espe!ially happy
about ettin older, but it does make some thins easier. It/s a <uestion of attitude. ;ne thin I know
for sure, thouh7 if a thirty-year-old woman loves her body and is serious about keepin it lookin
the way it should, she has to put in a !ertain amount of effort. I learned that from my mother. &he
used to be a slim, lovely woman, but not anymore. I don/t want the same thin to happen to me.
)fter I/ve had my swim, I use the rest of my afternoon in various ways. &ometimes I/ll wander over
to the station pla9a and window-shop. &ometimes I/ll o home, !url up on the sofa and read a book
or listen to an ,M station or 4ust rest. 'ventually my son !omes home from s!hool. I help him
!hane into his play!lothes, and ive him a sna!k. 8hen he/s throuh eatin, he oes out to play
with his friends. He/s too youn to o to an afternoon !ram s!hool, and we aren/t makin him take
piano lessons or anythin.
5*et him play,6 says my husband. 5*et him row up naturally.6 8hen my son leaves the house, I
have the same little dialoue with him as I do with my husband. 5+e !areful,6 I say, and he answers,
5>on/t worry.6
)s evenin approa!hes, I bein preparin dinner. My son is always ba!k by si1. He wat!hes
!artoons on T(. If no emeren!y patients show up, my husband is home before seven. He doesn/t
drink a drop and he/s not fond of pointless so!iali9in. He almost always !omes straiht home from
The three of us talk durin dinner, mostly about what we/ve done that day. My son always has the
most to say. 'verythin that happens in his life is fresh and full of mystery. He talks, and we offer
our !omments. )fter dinner, he does what he likes 0 wat!hes television or reads or plays some
kind of ame with my husband. 8hen he has homework, he shuts himself up in his room and does
it. He oes to bed at eiht-thirty. I tu!k him in and stroke his hair and say ood niht to him and turn
off the liht.
Then it/s husband and wife toether. He sits on the sofa, readin the newspaper and talkin to me
now and then about his patients or somethin in the paper. Then he listens to Haydn or Mo9art. I
don/t mind listenin to musi!, but I !an never seem to tell the differen!e between those two
!omposers. They sound the same to me. 8hen I say that to my husband, he tells me it doesn/t
matter. 5It/s all beautiful. That/s what !ounts.6
5Just like you,6 I say.
5Just like me,6 he answers with a bi smile. He seems enuinely pleased.
&o that/s my life0or my life before I stopped sleepin0ea!h day pretty mu!h a repetition of the
one before. I used to keep a simple diary, but if I forot for two or three days, I/d lose tra!k of what
happened on whi!h day. ?esterday !ould have been the day before yesterday, or vi!e versa. I/d
sometimes wonder what kind of life this was. 8hi!h is not to say that I found it empty. I was0very
simply0ama9ed. )t the la!k of demar!ation between the days. )t the fa!t that I was part of su!h a
life, a life that had swallowed me up so !ompletely. )s the fa!t that my footprints were bein blown
away before I ever had a !han!e to turn and look at them.
8henever I felt like that, I would look at my fa!e in the bathroom mirror04ust look at it for fifteen
minutes at a time, my mind a total blank. I/d stare at my fa!e purely as a physi!al ob4e!t, and
radually it would dis!onne!t from the rest of me, be!omin 4ust some thin that happened to e1ist
at the same time as myself. )nd a reali9ation would !ome to me7 This is happenin here and now.
It/s ot nothin to do with footprints. .eality and I e1ist simultaneously at this present moment.
That/s the most important thin.
+ut now I !an/t sleep anymore. 8hen I stopped sleepin, I stopped keepin a diary.
I remember with perfe!t !larity that first niht I lost the ability to sleep. I was havin a repulsive
dream0a dark, slimy dream. I don/t remember what it was about, but I do remember how it felt
ominous and terrifyin. I woke at the !limati! moment0!ame fully awake with a start, as if
somethin had draed me ba!k at the last moment from a fatal turnin point. Had I remained
immersed in the dream for another se!ond, I would have been lost forever. My breath !ame in
painful asps for a time after I awoke. My arms and les felt paraly9ed. I lay there immobili9ed,
listenin to my own labored breathin, as if I were stret!hed out full lenth on the floor of a hue
5It was a dream,6 I told myself, and I waited for my breathin to !alm down. *yin stiff on my
ba!k, I felt my heart workin violently, my luns hurryin the blood to it with bi, slow, bellowslike
!ontra!tions. I bean to wonder what time it !ould be. I wanted to look at the !lo!k by my pillow,
but I !ouldn/t turn my head far enouh. Just then I seemed to !at!h a limpse of somethin at the
foot of the bed, somethin like a vaue, bla!k shadow. I !auht my breath. My heart, my luns,
everythin inside me seemed to free9e in that instant. I strained to see the bla!k shadow.
The moment I tried to fo!us on it, the shadow bean to assume a definite shape, as if it had been
waitin for me to noti!e it. Its outline be!ame distin!t, and bean to be filled with substan!e, and
then with details. It was a aunt old man wearin a skintiht bla!k shirt. His hair was ray and
short, his !heeks sunken. He stood at my feet, perfe!tly still. He said nothin, but his pier!in eyes
stared at me. They were hue eyes, and I !ould see the red network of veins in them. The old man/s
fa!e wore no e1pression at all. It told me nothin. It was like an openin in the darkness.
This was no loner the dream, I knew. ,rom that, I had already awakened. )nd not 4ust by driftin
awake but by havin my eyes ripped open. 2o, this was no dream. This was reality. )nd in reality
an old man I had never seen before was standin at the foot of my bed. I had to do somethin0turn
on the liht, wake my husband, s!ream. I tried to move. I fouht to make my limbs work, but it did
no ood. I !ouldn/t move a finer. 8hen it be!ame !lear to me that I would never be able to move, I
was filled with a hopeless terror, a primal fear su!h as I had never e1perien!ed before, like a !hill
that rises silently from the bottomless well of memory. I tried to s!ream, but I was in!apable of
produ!in a sound, or even movin my tonue. )ll I !ould do was look at the old man.
2ow I saw that he was holdin somethin0a tall, narrow, rounded thin that shone white. )s I
stared at this ob4e!t, wonderin what it !ould be, it bean to take on a definite shape, 4ust as the
shadow had earlier. It was a pit!her, an old-fashioned por!elain pit!her. )fter some time, the man
raised the pit!her and bean pourin water from it onto my feet. I !ould not feel the water. I !ould
see it and hear it splashin down on my feet, but I !ouldn/t feel a thin.
The old man went on and on pourin water over my feet. &trane0no matter how mu!h he poured,
the pit!her never ran dry. I bean to worry that my feet would eventually rot and melt away. ?es, of
!ourse they would rot. 8hat else !ould they do with so mu!h water pourin over them= 8hen it
o!!urred to me that my feet were oin to rot and melt away, I !ouldn/t take it any loner.
I !losed my eyes and let out a s!ream so loud it took every oun!e of strenth I had. +ut it never left
my body. It reverberated soundlessly inside, tearin throuh me, shuttin down my heart.
'verythin inside my head turned white for a moment as the s!ream penetrated my every !ell.
&omethin inside me died. &omethin melted away, leavin only a shudderin va!uum. )n
e1plosive flash in!inerated everythin my e1isten!e depended on.
8hen I opened my eyes, the old man was one. The pit!her was one. The bedspread was dry, and
there was no indi!ation that anythin near my feet had been wet. My body, thouh, was soaked with
sweat, a horrifyin volume of sweat, more sweat than I ever imained a human bein !ould
produ!e. )nd yet, undeniably, it was sweat that had !ome from me.
I moved one finer. Then another, and another, and the rest. 2e1t, I bent my arms and then my les.
I rotated my feet and bent my knees. 2othin moved <uite as it should have, but at least it did
move. )fter !arefully !he!kin to see that all my body parts were workin. I eased myself into a
sittin position. In the dim liht filterin in from the sweet lamp, I s!anned the entire room from
!orner to !orner. The old man was definitely not there.
The !lo!k by my pillow said twelve-thirty. I had been sleepin for only an hour and a half. My
husband was sound asleep in his bed. 'ven his breathin was inaudible. He always sleeps like that,
as if all mental a!tivity in him had been obliterated. )lmost nothin !an wake him.
I ot out of bed and went to the bathroom. I threw my sweat-soaked nihtown into the washin
ma!hine and took a shower. )fter puttin on a fresh pair of pa4amas, I went to the livin room,
swit!hed on the floor lamp beside the sofa, and sat there drinkin a full lass of brandy. I almost
never drink. 2ot that I have a physi!al in!ompatibility with al!ohol, as my husband does. In fa!t, I
used to drink <uite a lot, but after marryin him I simply stopped. &ometimes when I had trouble
sleepin I would take a sip of brandy but that niht I felt I wanted a whole lass to <uiet my
overwrouht nerves.
The only al!ohol in the house was a bottle of .emy Martin we kept in the sideboard. It had been a
ift. I don/t even remember who ave it to us, it was so lon ao. The bottle wore a thin layer of
dust. 8e had no real brandy lasses, so I 4ust poured it into a reular tumbler and sipped it slowly.
I must have been in a tran!e, I thouht. I had never e1perien!ed su!h a thin, but I had heard about
tran!es from a !ollee friend who had been throuh one. 'verythin was in!redibly !lear, she had
said. ?ou !an/t believe it/s a dream. 5I didn/t believe it was a dream when it was happenin, and
now I still don/t believe it was a dream.6 8hi!h is e1a!tly how I felt. ;f !ourse it had to be a
dream-a kind of dream that doesn/t feel like a dream.
Thouh the terror was leavin me, the tremblin of my body would not stop. It was in my skin, like
the !ir!ular ripples on water after an earth<uake. I !ould see the sliht <uiverin. The s!ream had
done it. The s!ream that had never found a voi!e was still lo!ked up in my body, makin it tremble.
I !losed my eyes and swallowed another mouthful of brandy. The warmth spread from my throat to
my stoma!h. The sensation felt tremendously real.
8ith a start, I thouht of my son. )ain my heart bean poundin. I hurried from the sofa to his
room. He was sound asleep, one hand a!ross his mouth, the other thrust out to the side, lookin 4ust
as se!ure and pea!eful in sleep as my husband. I straihtened his blanket. 8hatever it was that had
so violently shattered my sleep, it had atta!ked only me. 2either of them had felt a thin.
I returned to the livin room and wandered about there. I was not the least bit sleepy.
I !onsidered drinkin another lass of brandy. In fa!t, I wanted to drink even more al!ohol than that.
I wanted to warm my body more, to !alm my nerves down more, and to feel that stron, penetratin
bou<uet in my mouth aain. )fter some hesitation, I de!ided aainst it. I didn/t want to start the
new day drunk. I put the brandy ba!k in the sideboard, brouht the lass to the kit!hen sink, and
washed it. I found some strawberries in the refrierator and ate them.
I reali9ed that the tremblin in my skin was almost one.
8hat was that old man in bla!k= I asked myself. I had never seen him before in my life. That bla!k
!lothin of his was so strane, like a tiht-fittin sweatsuit, and yet, at the same time, old-fashioned.
I had never seen anythin like it. )nd those eyes 0 bloodshot, and never blinkin. 8ho was he=
8hy did he pour water on my feet= 8hy did he have to do su!h a thin=
I had only <uestions, no answers.
The time my friend went into a tran!e, she was spendin the niht at her fian!@/s house. )s she lay
in bed asleep, an anry-lookin man in his early fifties approa!hed and ordered her out of the house.
8hile that was happenin, she !ouldn/t move a mus!le. )nd, like me, she be!ame soaked with
sweat. &he was !ertain it must be the host of her fian!@/s father, who was tellin her to et out of
his house. +ut when she asked to see a photoraph of the father the ne1t day, it turned out to be an
entirely different man. 5I must have been feelin tense,6 she !on!luded. 5That/s what !aused it.6
+ut I/m not tense. )nd this is my own house. There shouldn/t be anythin here to threaten me. 8hy
did I have to o into a tran!e=
I shook my head. &top thinkin, I told myself. It won/t do any ood. I had a realisti! dream, nothin
more. I/ve probably been buildin up some kind of fatiue. The tennis I played the day before
yesterday must have done it. I met a friend at the !lub after my swim and she invited me to play
tennis and I overdid it a little, that/s all. &ure 0 my arms and les felt tired and heavy for a while
8hen I finished my strawberries, I stret!hed out on the sofa and tried !losin my eyes.
I wasn/t sleepy at all. 5;h, reat,6 I thouht. 51 really don/t feel like sleepin.6
I thouht I/d read a book until I ot tired aain. I went to the bedroom and pi!ked a novel from the
book!ase. My husband didn/t even twit!h when I turned on the liht to hunt for it. I !hose 5)nna
Aarenina.6 I was in the mood for a lon .ussian novel, and I had only read 5)nna Aarenina6 on!e,
lon ao, probably in hih s!hool. I remembered 4ust a few thins about it7 the first line, 5)ll happy
families resemble one another, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,6 and the heroine/s
throwin herself under a train at the end. )nd that early on there was a hint of the final sui!ide.
8asn/t there a s!ene at a ra!etra!k= ;r was that in another novel=
8hatever. I went ba!k to the sofa and opened the book. How many years had it been sin!e I sat
down and rela1ed like this with a book= True, I often spent half an hour or an hour of my private
time in the afternoon with a book open. +ut you !ouldn/t really !all that readin. I/d always find
myself thinkin about other thins0my son, or shoppin, or the free9er/s needin to be fi1ed, or
my havin to find somethin to wear to a relative/s weddin, or the stoma!h operation my father
had last month. That kind of stuff would drift into my mind, and then it would row, and take off in
a million different dire!tions. )fter a while I/d noti!e that the only thin that had one by was the
time, and I had hardly turned any paes.
8ithout noti!in it, I had be!ome a!!ustomed in this way to a life without books. How strane, now
that I think of it. .eadin had been the !enter of my life when I was youn. I had read every book in
the rade-s!hool library, and almost my entire allowan!e would o for books. I/d even s!rimp on
lun!hes to buy books I wanted to read. )nd this went on into 4unior hih and hih s!hool. 2obody
read as mu!h as I did. I was the middle one of five !hildren, and both my parents worked, so
nobody paid mu!h attention to me. I !ould read alone as mu!h as I liked. I/d always enter the essay
!ontests on books so I !ould win a ift !ertifi!ate for more books. )nd I usually won. In !ollee I
ma4ored in 'nlish literature and ot ood rades. My raduation thesis on Aatherine Mansfield
won top honors, and my thesis adviser ured me to apply to raduate s!hool. I wanted to o out into
the world, thouh, and I knew that I was no s!holar. I 4ust en4oyed readin books. )nd, even if I had
wanted to o on studyin, my family didn/t have the finan!ial wherewithal to send me to raduate
s!hool. 8e weren/t poor by any means, but there were two sisters !omin alon after me, so on!e I
raduated from !ollee I simply had to bein supportin myself.
8hen had I really read a book last= )nd what had it been= I !ouldn/t re!all anythin. 8hy did a
person/s life have to !hane so !ompletely= 8here had the old me one, the one who used to read a
book as if possessed by it= 8hat had those days0and that almost abnormally intense
passion0meant to me=
That niht, I found myself !apable of readin 5)nna Aarenina6 with unbroken !on!entration. I went
on turnin paes without another thouht in mind. In one sittin, I read as far as the s!ene where
)nna and (ronsky first see ea!h other in the Mos!ow train station. )t that point, I stu!k my
bookmark in and poured myself another lass of brandy.
Thouh it hadn/t o!!urred to me before, I !ouldn/t help thinkin what an odd novel this was. ?ou
don/t see the heroine, )nna, until 3hapter 1B. I wondered if it didn/t seem unusual to readers in
Tolstoy/s day. 8hat did they do when the book went on and on with a detailed des!ription of the
life of a minor !hara!ter named ;blonsky04ust sit there, waitin for the beautiful heroine to
appear= Maybe that was it. Maybe people in those days had lots of time to kill0at least the part of
so!iety that read novels.
Then I noti!ed how late it was. Three in the morninC )nd still I wasn/t sleepy.
8hat should I do= I don/t feel sleepy at all, I thouht. I !ould 4ust keep on readin. I/d love to find
out what happens in the story. +ut I have to sleep.
I remembered my ordeal with insomnia and how I had one throuh ea!h day ba!k then, wrapped in
a !loud. 2o, never aain. I was still a student in those days. It was still possible for me to et away
with somethin like that. +ut not now, I thouht. 2ow I/m a wife. ) mother. I have responsibilities.
I have to make my husband/s lun!hes and take !are of my son.
+ut even if I et into bed now, I know I won/t be able to sleep a wink.
I shook my head.
*et/s fa!e it, I/m 4ust not sleepy, I told myself. )nd I want to read the rest of the book.
I sihed and stole a lan!e at the bi volume lyin on the table. )nd that was that. I pluned into
5)nna Aarenina6 and kept readin until the sun !ame up. )nna and (ronsky stared at ea!h other at
the ball and fell into their doomed love. )nna went to pie!es when (ronsky/s horse fell at the
ra!etra!k #so there was a ra!etra!k s!ene, after allC$ and !onfessed her infidelity to her husband. I
was there with (ronsky when he spurred his horse over the obsta!les. I heard the !rowd !heerin
him on. )nd I was there in the stands wat!hin his horse o down. 8hen the window brihtened
with the mornin liht, I laid the book down and went to the kit!hen for a !up of !offee. My mind
was filled with s!enes from the novel and with a tremendous huner, obliteratin any other thouht.
I !ut two sli!es of bread, spread them with butter and mustard, and had a !heese sandwi!h. My
huner pans were almost unbearable. It was rare for me to feel that hunry. I had trouble breathin,
I was so hunry. ;ne sandwi!h did hardly anythin for me, so I made another one and had another
!up of !offee with it.
To my husband I said nothin about either my tran!e or my niht without sleep. 2ot that I was
hidin them from him. It 4ust seemed to me that there was no point in tellin him. 8hat ood would
it have done= )nd besides, I had simply missed a niht/s sleep. That mu!h happens to everyone
now and then.
I made my husband his usual !up of !offee and ave my son a lass of warm milk. My husband ate
toast and my son a bowl of !ornflakes. My husband skimmed the mornin paper and my son
hummed a new son he had learned in s!hool. The two of them ot into the &entra and left. 5+e
!areful,6 I said to my husband. 5>on/t worry,6 he answered. The two of them waved. ) typi!al
)fter they were one, I sat on the sofa and thouht about how to spend the rest of the day. 8hat
should I do= 8hat did I have to do= I went to the kit!hen to inspe!t the !ontents of the refrierator. I
!ould et by without shoppin. 8e had bread, milk, and es, and there was meat in the free9er.
-lenty of veetables, too. 'verythin I/d need throuh tomorrow/s lun!h.
I had business at the bank, but it was nothin I absolutely had to take !are of immediately. *ettin it
o a day loner wouldn/t hurt.
I went ba!k to the sofa and started readin the rest of 5)nna Aarenina.6 Dntil that readin, I hadn/t
reali9ed how little I remembered of what oes on in the book. I re!oni9ed virtually nothin0the
!hara!ters, the s!enes, nothin. I miht as well have been readin a whole new book. How strane. I
must have been deeply moved at the time I first read it, but now there was nothin left. 8ithout my
noti!in, the memories of all the shudderin, soarin emotions had slipped away and vanished.
8hat, then, of the enormous fund of time I had !onsumed ba!k then readin books= 8hat had all
that meant=
I stopped readin and thouht about that for a while. 2one of it made sense to me, thouh, and soon
I even lost tra!k of what I was thinkin about. I !auht myself starin at the tree that stood outside
the window. I shook my head and went ba!k to the book.
Just after the middle of (olume III, I found a few !rumblin flakes of !ho!olate stu!k between the
paes. I must have been eatin !ho!olate as I read the novel when I was in hih s!hool. I used to
like to eat and read. 3ome to think of it, I hadn/t tou!hed !ho!olate sin!e my marriae. My husband
doesn/t like me to eat sweets, and we almost never ive them to our son. 8e don/t usually keep that
kind of thin around the house.
)s I looked at the whitened flakes of !ho!olate from over a de!ade ao, I felt a tremendous ure to
have the real thin. I wanted to eat !ho!olate while readin 5)nna Aarenina,6 the way I did ba!k
then. I !ouldn/t hear to be denied it for another moment. 'very !ell in my body seemed to be
pantin with this huner for !ho!olate.
I slipped a !ardian over my shoulder and took the elevator down. I walked straiht to the
neihborhood !andy shop and bouht two of the sweetest-lookin milk-!ho!olate bars they had. )s
soon as I left the shop, I tore one open, and started eatin it while walkin home. The lus!ious taste
of milk !ho!olate spread throuh my mouth. I !ould feel the sweetness bein absorbed dire!tly into
every part of my body. I !ontinued eatin in the elevator, steepin myself in the wonderful aroma
that filled the tiny spa!e.
Headin straiht for the sofa, I started readin 5)nna Aarenina6 and eatin my !ho!olate. I wasn/t
the least bit sleepy. I felt no physi!al fatiue, either. I !ould have one on readin forever. 8hen I
finished the first !ho!olate bar, I opened the se!ond and ate half of that. )bout two-thirds of the way
throuh (olume III, I looked at my wat!h. 'leven-forty.
My husband would be home soon. I !losed the book and hurried to the kit!hen. I put water in a pot
and turned on the as. Then I min!ed some s!allions and took out a handful of bu!kwheat noodles
for boilin. 8hile the water was heatin, I soaked some dried seaweed, !ut it up, and topped it with
a vinear dressin. I took a blo!k of tofu from the refrierator and !ut it into !ubes. ,inally, I went
to the bathroom and brushed my teeth to et rid of the !ho!olate smell.
)t almost the e1a!t moment the water !ame to a boil, my husband walked in. He had finished work
a little earlier than usual, he said.
Toether, we ate the bu!kwheat noodles. My husband talked about a new pie!e of dental e<uipment
he was !onsiderin brinin into the offi!e, a ma!hine that would remove pla<ue from patients/
teeth far more thorouhly than anythin he had used before, and in less time. *ike all su!h
e<uipment, it was <uite e1pensive, but it would pay for itself soon enouh, sin!e these days more
and more patients were !omin in 4ust for a !leanin.
58hat do you think=/ he asked me.
I didn/t want to think about pla<ue on people/s teeth, and I espe!ially didn/t want to hear or think
about it while I was eatin. My mind was filled with ha9y imaes of (ronsky fallin off his horse.
+ut of !ourse I !ouldn/t tell my husband that. He was deadly serious about the e<uipment. I asked
him the pri!e and pretended to think about it. 58hy not buy it if you need it=6 I said. 5The money
will work out one way or another. ?ou wouldn/t be spendin it for fun, after all.6
5That/s true,6 he said. 5I wouldn/t be spendin it for fun.6 Then he !ontinued eatin his noodles in
-er!hed on a bran!h of the tree outside the window, a pair of lare birds were !hirpin. I wat!hed
them half !ons!iously. I wasn/t sleepy. I wasn/t the least bit sleepy. 8hy not=
8hile I !leared the table, my husband sat on the sofa readin the paper. 5)nna Aarenina6 lay there
beside him, but he didn/t seem to noti!e. He had no interest in whether I read books.
)fter I finished washin the dishes, my husband said, 5I/ve ot a ni!e surprise today. 8hat do you
think it is=6
5I don/t know,6 I said.
5My first afternoon patient has !an!elled. I don/t have to be ba!k in the offi!e until one-thirty.6 He
I !ouldn/t fiure out why this was supposed to be su!h a ni!e surprise. I wonder why I !ouldn/t.
It was only after my husband stood up and drew me toward the bedroom that I reali9ed what he had
in mind. I wasn/t in the mood for it at all. I didn/t understand why I should have se1 then. )ll I
wanted was to et ba!k to my book. I wanted to stret!h out alone on the sofa and mun!h on
!ho!olate while I turned the paes of 5)nna Aarenina.6 )ll the time I had been washin the dishes,
my only thouhts had been of (ronsky and of how an author like Tolstoy manaed to !ontrol his
!hara!ters so skillfully. He des!ribed them with su!h wonderful pre!ision. +ut that very pre!ision
somehow denied them a kind of salvation. )nd this finally0
I !losed my eyes and pressed my finertips to my temple.
5I/m sorry, I/ve had a kind of heada!he all day. 8hat awful timin.6
I had often had some truly terrible heada!hes, so he a!!epted my e1planation without a murmur.
5?ou/d better lie down and et some rest,6 he said. 5?ou/ve been workin too hard.6
5It/s really not that bad,6 I said.
He rela1ed on the sofa until one o/!lo!k, listenin to musi! and readin the paper. )nd he talked
about dental e<uipment aain. ?ou bouht the latest hih-te!h staff and it was obsolete in two or
three years... &o then you had to keep repla!in everythin. The only ones who made any money
were the e<uipment manufa!turers0that kind of talk. I offered a few !lu!ks, but I was hardly
)fter my husband went ba!k to the offi!e, I folded the paper and pounded the sofa !ushions until
they were puffed up aain. Then I leaned on the windowsill, surveyin the room. I !ouldn/t fiure
out what was happenin. 8hy wasn/t I sleepy= In the old days I had done all-nihters any number
of times, but I had never stayed awake this lon. ;rdinarily, I would have been sound asleep after
so many hours, or, if not asleep, impossibly tired. +ut I wasn/t the least bit sleepy. My mind was
perfe!tly !lear.
I went into the kit!hen and warmed up some !offee. I thouht, 2ow what should I do= ;f !ourse I
wanted to read the rest of 5)nna Aarenina,6 but I also wanted to o to the pool for my swim. )fter a
ood deal of aoni9in, I de!ided to o swimmin. I don/t know how to e1plain this, but I wanted
to pure my body of somethin by e1er!isin it to the limit. -ure it0of what= I spent some time
wonderin about that. -ure it of what=
I didn/t know.
+ut this thin, whatever it was, this mistlike somethin, hun there inside my body like a !ertain
kind of potential. I wanted to ive it a name, but the word refused to !ome to mind. I/m terrible at
findin the riht word, for thins. I/m sure Tolstoy would have been able to !ome up with e1a!tly
the riht word.
)nyhow, I put my swimsuit in my ba and, as always, drove my 3ivi! to the athleti! !lub. There
were only two other people in the pool0a youn man and a middle-aed woman0and I didn/t
know either of them. ) bored-lookin lifeuard was on duty.
I !haned into my bathin suit, put on my oles, and swam my usual thirty minutes. +ut thirty
minutes wasn/t enouh. I swam another fifteen minutes, endin with a !rawl for two full lenths at
ma1imum speed. I was out of breath, but I still felt nothin but enery wellin up inside my body.
The others were starin at me when I left the pool.
It was still a little before three o/!lo!k, so I drove to the bank and finished my business there. I
!onsidered doin some shoppin at the supermarket, but I de!ided instead to head straiht for home.
There, I pi!ked up 5)nna Aarenina6 where I had left off, eatin what was left of the !ho!olate.
8hen my son !ame home at four o/!lo!k, I ave him a lass of 4ui!e, and some fruit elatin that I
had made. Then I started on dinner. I defrosted some meat from the free9er and !ut up some
veetables in preparation for stir-fryin. I made miso soup and !ooked the ri!e. )ll of these tasks I
took !are of with tremendous me!hani!al effi!ien!y.
I went ba!k to )nna Aarenina.
I was not tired.
)t ten o/!lo!k I ot into my bed, pretendin that I would be sleepin there near my husband. He fell
asleep riht away, pra!ti!ally the moment the liht went out, as if there were some !ord !onne!tin
the lamp with his brain.
)ma9in. -eople like that are rare. There are far more people who have trouble fallin asleep. My
father was one of those. He/d always !omplain about how shallow his sleep was. 2ot only did he
find it hard to et to sleep, but the slihtest sound or movement would wake him up for the rest of
the niht.
2ot my husband, thouh. ;n!e he was asleep nothin !ould wake him until mornin. 8e were still
newly-weds when it stru!k me how odd this was. I even e1perimented to see what it would take to
wake him. I sprinkled water on his fa!e and ti!kled his nose with a brush and that kind of thin. I
never on!e ot him to wake up. If I kept at it, I !ould et him to roan on!e, but that was all. )nd he
never dreamed. )t least he never remembered what his dreams were about. 2eedless to say, he
never went into any paralyti! tran!es. He slept. He slept like a turtle buried in mud.
)ma9in. +ut it helped with what <ui!kly be!ame my nihtly routine.
)fter ten minutes of lyin near him, I would et out of bed. I would o to the livin room, turn on
the floor lamp, and pour myself a lass of brandy. Then I would sit on the sofa and read my book,
takin tiny sips of brandy and lettin the smooth li<uid lide over my tonue. 8henever I felt like
it, would eat a !ookie or a pie!e of !ho!olate that I had hidden in the sideboard. )fter a while,
mornin would !ome. 8hen that happened, I would !lose my book and make myself a !up of
!offee. Then I would make a sandwi!h and eat it.
My days be!ame 4ust as reulated.
I would hurry throuh my housework and spend the rest of the mornin readin. Just before noon, I
would put my book down and fi1 my husband/s lun!h. 8hen he left, before one. I/d drive to the
!lub and have my swim. I would swim for a full hour. ;n!e I stopped sleepin, thirty minutes was
never enouh. 8hile I was in the water I !on!entrated my entire mind on swimmin. I thouht
about nothin but how to move my body most effe!tively, and I inhaled and e1haled with perfe!t
reularity. If I met someone I knew, I hardly said a word04ust the basi! !ivilities. I refused all
invitations. 5&orry,6 I/d say. 5I/m oin straiht home today. There/s somethin I have to do.6 I
didn/t want to et involved with anybody. I didn/t want to have to waste time on endless ossipin.
8hen I was throuh swimmin as hard as I !ould, all I wanted was to hurry home and read.
I went throuh the motions0shoppin, !ookin, playin with my son, havin se1 with my husband.
It was easy on!e I ot the han of it. )ll I had to do was break the !onne!tion between my mind and
my body. 8hile my body went about its business, my mind floated in its own inner spa!e. I ran the
house without a thouht in my head, feedin sna!ks to my son, !hattin with my husband.
)fter I ave up sleepin, it o!!urred to me what a simple thin reality is, how easy it is to make it
work. It/s 4ust reality. Just housework. Just a home. *ike runnin a simple ma!hine. ;n!e you learn
to run it, it/s 4ust a matter of repetition. ?ou push this button and pull that lever. ?ou ad4ust a aue,
put on the lid, set the timer. The same thin, over and over.
;f !ourse there were variations now and then. My mother-in-law had dinner with us. ;n &unday,
the three of us went to the 9oo. My son had a terrible !ase of diarrhea.
+ut none of these events had any effe!t on my bein. They swept past me like a silent bree9e. I
!hatted with my mother-in-law, made dinner for four, took a pi!ture in front of the bear !ae, put a
hot-water bottle on my son/s stoma!h, and ave him his medi!ine.
2o one noti!ed that I had !haned0that I had iven up sleepin entirely, that I was spendin all my
time readin, that my mind was somepla!e a hundred years0and hundreds of miles0from reality.
2o matter how me!hani!ally I worked, no matter how little love or emotion I invested in my
handlin of reality, my husband and my son and my mother-in-law went on relatin to me as they
always had. If anythin, they seemed more at ease with me than before.
)nd so a week went by.
;n!e my !onstant wakefulness entered its se!ond week, thouh, it started to worry me. It was
simply not normal. -eople are supposed to sleep. )ll people sleep. ;n!e, some years ao, I had read
about a form of torture in whi!h the vi!tim is prevented from sleepin. &omethin the 2a9is did, I
think. They/d lo!k the person in a tiny room, fasten his eyelids open, and keep shinin lihts in his
fa!e and makin loud noises without a break. 'ventually, the person would o mad and die.
I !ouldn/t re!all how lon the arti!le said it took for the madness to set in, but it !ouldn/t have been
mu!h more than three days or four. In my !ase, a whole week had one by. This was simply too
mu!h. &till, my health was not sufferin. ,ar from it. I had more enery than ever.
;ne day, after showerin, I stood naked in front of the mirror. I was ama9ed to dis!over that my
body appeared to be almost burstin with vitality. I studied every in!h of myself, head to toe, but I
!ould find not the slihtest hint of e1!ess flesh, not one wrinkle. I no loner had the body of a
youn irl, of !ourse, but my skin had far more low, far more tautness than it had before. I took a
pin!h of flesh near my waist, and found it almost hard, with a wonderful elasti!ity.
It dawned on me that I was prettier than I had reali9ed. I looked so mu!h youner than before that it
was almost sho!kin. I !ould probably pass for twenty-four. My skin was smooth. My eyes were
briht, lips moist. The shadowed area beneath my protrudin !heekbones #the one feature I really
hated about myself$ was no loner noti!eable0at all. I sat down and looked at my fa!e in the
mirror for a ood thirty minutes. I studied it from all anles, ob4e!tively. 2o, I had not been
mistaken7 I was really pretty.
8hat was happenin to me=
I thouht about seein a do!tor.
I had a do!tor who had been takin !are of me sin!e I was a !hild and to whom I felt !lose, but the
more I thouht about how he miht rea!t to my story the less in!lined I felt to tell it to him. 8ould
he take me at my word= He/d probably think I was !ra9y if I said I hadn/t slept in a week. ;r he
miht dismiss it as a kind of neuroti! insomnia. +ut if he did believe I was tellin the truth he miht
send me to some bi resear!h hospital for testin.
)nd then what would happen=
I/d be lo!ked up and sent from one lab to another to be e1perimented on. They/d do ''Es and
'AEs and urinalyses and blood tests and psy!holoi!al s!reenin and who knows what else.
I !ouldn/t take that. I 4ust wanted to stay by myself and <uietly read my book I wanted to have my
hour of swimmin every day. I wanted my freedom7 that/s what I wanted more than anythin. I
didn/t want to o to any hospitals. )nd, even if they did et me into a hospital, what would they
find= They/d do a mountain of tests and formulate a mountain of hypotheses, and that would be the
end of it. I didn/t want to be lo!ked up in a pla!e like that.
;ne afternoon I went to the library and read some books on sleep. The few books I !ould find didn/t
tell me mu!h. In fa!t, they all had only one thin to say7 that sleep is rest. *ike turnin off a !ar
enine. If you keep a motor runnin !onstantly, sooner or later it will break down. ) runnin enine
must produ!e heat, and the a!!umulated heat fatiues the ma!hinery itself. 8hi!h is why you have
to let the enine rest. 3ool down. Turnin off the enine-that, finally, is what sleep is. In a human
bein, sleep provides rest for both the flesh and the spirit 8hen a person lies down and rests her
mus!les, she simultaneously !loses her eyes and !uts off the thouht pro!esses. )nd e1!ess thouhts
release an ele!tri!al dis!hare in the form of dreams.
;ne book did have a fas!inatin point to make. The author maintained that human beins, by their
very nature, are in!apable of es!apin from !ertain fi1ed idiosyn!rati! drives both in their thouht
pro!esses and in their physi!al movements. -eople un!ons!iously fashion their own a!tion- and
thouht-drives, whi!h under normal !ir!umstan!es never disappear. In other words, people live in
the prison !ells of their own drives. 8hat modulates these drives and keeps them in !he!k0so the
oranism doesn/t wear down as the heel of a shoe does, at a parti!ular anle, as the author puts
it0is nothin other than sleep. &leep therapeuti!ally !ountera!ts the tenden!y. In sleep, people
naturally rela1 mus!les that have been !onsistently used in only one dire!tion: sleep both !alms and
provides a dis!hare for thouht !ir!uits that have likewise been used in only one dire!tion. This is
how people are !ooled down. &leepin is an a!t that has been prorammed, with Aarmi!
inevitability, into the human system, and no one !an divere from it. If a person were to divere
from it, the person/s very 5round of bein6 would be threatened.
5>rives=6 I asked myself.
The only 5drive6 of mine that I !ould think of was housework0those !hores I perform day after
day like an unfeelin ma!hine. 3ookin and shoppin and laundry and motherin7 what were they if
not 5drives6= I !ould do them with my eyes !losed. -ush the buttons. -ull the levers. -retty soon,
reality 4ust flows off and away. The same physi!al movements over and over. >rives. They were
!onsumin me, wearin me down on one side like the heel of a shoe. I needed sleep every day to
ad4ust them and !ool me down.
8as that it=
I read the passae on!e more, with intense !on!entration. )nd I nodded. ?es, almost !ertainly, that
was it.
&o, then, what was this life of mine= I was bein !onsumed by my drives and then sleepin to repair
the damae. My life was nothin but a repetition of this !y!le. It was oin nowhere.
&ittin at the library table, I shook my head.
I/m throuh with sleepC &o what if I o mad= &o what if I lose my 5round of bein6= I will not be
!onsumed by my 5drives.6 If sleep is nothin more than a periodi! repairin of the parts of me that
are bein worn away, I don/t want it anymore. I don/t need it anymore. My flesh may have to be
!onsumed, but my mind belons to me. I/m keepin it for myself. I will not hand it over to anyone.
I don/t want to be 5repaired.6 I will not sleep.
I left the library filled with a new determination.
2ow my inability to sleep !eased to frihten me. 8hat was there to be afraid of= Think of the
advantaesC 2ow the hours from ten at niht to si1 in the mornin beloned to me alone. Dntil now,
a third of every day had been used up by sleep. +ut no more. 2o more. 2ow it was mine, 4ust mine,
nobody else/s, all mine. I !ould use this time in any way I liked. 2o one would et in my way. 2o
one would make demands on me. ?es, that was it. I had e1panded my life. I had in!reased it by a
?ou are probably oin to tell me that this is bioloi!ally abnormal. )nd you may be riht. )nd
maybe someday in the future I/ll have to pay ba!k the debt I/m buildin up by !ontinuin to do this
bioloi!ally abnormal thin. Maybe life will try to !olle!t on the e1panded part0this 5advan!e6 it
is payin me now. This is a roundless hypothesis, but there is no round for neatin it, and it feels
riht to me somehow. 8hi!h means that in the end the balan!e sheet of borrowed time will even
Honestly, thouh, I didn/t ive a damn, even if I had to die youn. The best thin to do with a
hypothesis is to let it run any !ourse it pleases. 2ow, at least, I was e1pandin my life, and it was
wonderful. My hands weren/t empty anymore. Here I was0alive, and I !ould feel it. It was real. I
wasn/t bein !onsumed any loner. ;r at least there was a part of me in e1isten!e that was not bein
!onsumed, and that was what ave me this intensely real feelin of bein alive. ) life without that
feelin miht o on forever, but it would have no meanin at all. I saw that with absolute !larity
)fter !he!kin to see that my husband was asleep I would o sit on the livin-room sofa, drink
brandy by myself, and open my book. I read 5)nna Aarenina6 three times. 'a!h time, I made new
dis!overies. This enormous novel was full of revelations and riddles. *ike a 3hinese bo1, the world
of the novel !ontained smaller worlds, and inside those were yet smaller worlds. Toether, these
worlds made up a sinle universe, and the universe waited there in the book to be dis!overed by the
reader. The old me had been able to understand only the tiniest frament of it, but the a9e of this
new me !ould penetrate to the !ore with perfe!t understandin. I knew e1a!tly what the reat
Tolstoy wanted to say, what he wanted the reader to et from his book: I !ould see how his messae
had orani!ally !rystalli9ed as a novel, and what in that novel had surpassed the author himself.
2o matter how hard I !on!entrated, I never tired. )fter readin 5)nna Aarenina6 as many times as I
!ould, I read >ostoyevski. I !ould read book after book with utter !on!entration and never tire. I
!ould understand the most diffi!ult passaes without effort. )nd I responded with deep emotion.
I felt that I had always been meant to be like this. +y abandonin sleep I had e1panded myself. The
power to !on!entrate was the most important thin. *ivin without this power would be like
openin one/s eyes without seein anythin.
'ventually, my bottle of brandy ran out. I had drunk almost all of it by myself. I went to the
ourmet department of a bi store for another bottle of .emy Martin. )s lon as I was there, I
fiured, I miht as well buy a bottle of red wine, too. )nd a fine !rystal brandy lass. )nd !ho!olate
and !ookies.
&ometimes while readin I would be!ome overe1!ited. 8hen that happened, I would put my book
down and e1er!ise0do !alistheni!s or 4ust walk around the room. >ependin on my mood, I miht
o out for a nihttime drive. I/d !hane !lothes, et into my 3ivi!, and drive aimlessly around the
neihborhood. &ometimes I/d drop into an all-niht fast-food pla!e for a !up of !offee, but it was
su!h a bother to have to deal with other people that I/d usually stay in the !ar. I/d stop in some safe-
lookin spot and 4ust let my mind wander. ;r I/d o all the way to the harbor and wat!h the boats.
;ne time, thouh, I was <uestioned by a poli!eman. It was two-thirty in the mornin, and I was
parked under a street lamp near the pier, listenin to the !ar stereo and wat!hin the lihts of the
ships passin by. He kno!ked on my window. I lowered the lass. He was youn and handsome,
and very polite. I e1plained to him that I !ouldn/t sleep. He asked for my li!ense and studied it for a
while. 5There was a murder here last month,6 he said. 5Three youn men atta!ked a !ouple, killed
the man, and raped the woman.6 I remembered havin read about the in!ident. I nodded. 5If you
don/t have any business here, Ma/am, you/d better not han around here at niht.6 I thanked him
and said I would leave. He ave my li!ense ba!k. I drove away.
That was the only time anyone talked to me. Dsually I would drift throuh the streets at niht for an
hour or more and no one would bother me. Then I would park in our underround arae. .iht
ne1t to my husband/s white &entra: he was upstairs sleepin soundly in the darkness. I/d listen to
the !ra!kle of the hot enine !oolin down, and when the sound died I/d o upstairs.
The first thin I would do when I ot inside was !he!k to make sure my husband was asleep. )nd
he always was. Then I/d !he!k my son, who was always sound asleep, too. They didn/t know a
thin. They believed that the world was as it always had been, un!hanin. +ut they were wron. It
was !hanin in ways they !ould never uess. 3hanin a lot. 3hanin fast. It would never be the
same aain.
;ne time I stood and stared at my sleepin husband/s fa!e. I had heard a thump in the bedroom and
rushed in. The alarm !lo!k was on the floor. He had probably kno!ked it down in his sleep. +ut he
was sleepin as soundly as ever, !ompletely unaware of what he had done. 8hat would it take to
wake this man= I pi!ked up the !lo!k and put it ba!k on the niht table. Then I folded my arms and
stared at my husband. How lon had it been0years=0sin!e the last time I had studied his fa!e as
he slept=
I had done it a lot when we were first married. That was all it took to rela1 me and put me in a
pea!eful mood. 5I/ll be safe as lon as he oes on sleepin pea!efully like this,6 I/d tell myself.
8hi!h is why I spent a lot of time wat!hin him in his sleep.
+ut, somewhere alon the way, I had iven up the habit. 8hen had that been= I tried to remember.
It had probably happened ba!k when my mother-in-law and I were sort of <uarrelin over what
name to ive my son. &he was bi on some reliious-!ult kind of thin, and had asked her priest to
5bestow6 a name on the baby. I don/t remember e1a!tly the name she was iven. but I had no
intention of lettin some priest Fbestow6 a name on my !hild. 8e had some pretty violent aruments
at the time, but my husband !ouldn/t say a thin to either of us. He stood by and tried to !alm us.
)fter that I lost the feelin that my husband was my prote!tor. The one thin I thouht I wanted
from him he had failed to ive me. )ll he had manaed to do was make me furious. This all
happened a lon time ao, of !ourse. My mother-in-law and I have lon sin!e made up. I ave my
son the name I wanted to ive him. My husband and I made up riht away, too.
I/m pretty sure that was the end, thouh, of my wat!hin him in his sleep.
&o there I stood, lookin at him sleepin.. soundly as always. ;ne bare foot stu!k out from under
the !overs at a strane anle0so strane that the foot !ould have beloned to someone else. It was
a bi, !hunky foot. My husband/s mouth hun open, the lower lip droopin. 'very on!e in a while,
his nostrils would twit!h. There was a mole under his eye that bothered me. It was so bi and
vular-lookin. There was somethin vular about the way his eyes were !losed, the lids sla!k,
!overs made of faded human flesh. He looked like an absolute fool. This was what they mean by
5dead to the world.6 How in!redibly ulyC He sleeps with su!h an uly fa!eC It/s 4ust too ruesome,
I thouht. He !ouldn/t have been like this in the old days. I/m sure he must have had a better fa!e
when we were first married, one that was taut and alert. 'ven sound asleep, he !ouldn/t have been
su!h a blob.
I tried to remember what his sleepin fa!e had looked like ba!k then, but I !ouldn/t do it, thouh I
tried hard enouh. )ll I !ould be sure of was that he !ouldn/t have had su!h a terrible fa!e. ;r was I
4ust de!eivin myself= Maybe he had always looked like this in his sleep and I had been indulin
in some kind of emotional pro4e!tion. I/m sure that/s what my mother would say. That sort of
thinkin was a spe!ialty of hen. 5)ll that lovey-dovey stuff lasts two years0three years tops,6 she
always used to insist. 5?ou were a new bride,6 I/m sure she would tell me now. 5;f !ourse your
little hubby looked like a darlin in his sleep.6
I/m sure she would say somethin like that, but I/m 4ust as sure that she/d be wron. He had rown
uly over the years. The firmness had one out of his fa!e. That/s what rowin old is all about. He
was old now, and tired. 8orn out. He/d et even ulier in the years ahead, that mu!h was !ertain.
)nd I had no !hoi!e but to o alon with it, put up with it, resin myself to it.
I let out a sih as I stood there wat!hin him. It was a deep sih, a noisy one as sihs o, but of
!ourse he didn/t move a mus!le. The loudest sih in the world would never wake him up.
I left the bedroom and went ba!k to the livin room. I poured myself a brandy and started readin.
+ut somethin wouldn/t let me !on!entrate. I put the book down and went to my son/s room.
;penin the door. I stared at his fa!e in the liht spillin in from the hallway. He was sleepin 4ust
as soundly as my husband was. )s he always did. I wat!hed him in his sleep, looked at his smooth,
nearly featureless fa!e. It was very different from my husband/s7 it was still a !hild/s fa!e, after all.
The skin still lowed: it still had nothin vular about it.
)nd yet somethin about my son/s fa!e annoyed me. I had never felt anythin like this about him
before. 8hat !ould be makin me feel this way= I stood there, lookin, with my arms folded. ?es,
of !ourse I loved my son, loved him tremendously. +ut still, undeniably, that somethin was
botherin me, ettin on my nerves.
I shook my head.
I !losed my eyes and kept them shut. Then I opened them and looked at my son/s fa!e aain. )nd
then it hit me. 8hat bothered me about my son/s sleepin fa!e was that it looked e1a!tly like my
husband/s. )nd e1a!tly like my mother-in-law/s. &tubborn. &elf-satisfied. It was in their blood0a
kind of arroan!e I hated in my husband/s family. True, my husband is ood to me. He/s sweet and
entle and he/s !areful to take my feelins into a!!ount He/s never fooled around with other
women, and he works hard. He/s serious, and he/s kind to everybody. My friends all tell me how
lu!ky I am to have him. )nd I !an/t fault him, either. 8hi!h is e1a!tly what alls me sometimes.
His very absen!e of faults makes for a strane riidity that e1!ludes imaination. That/s what rates
on me so.
)nd that was e1a!tly the kind of e1pression my son had on his fa!e as he slept.
I shook my head aain. This little boy is a straner to me, finally. 'ven after he rows up, he/ll
never be able to understand me, 4ust as my husband !an hardly understand what I feel now.
I love my son, no <uestion. +ut I sensed that someday I would no loner be able to love this boy
with the same intensity. 2ot a very maternal thouht. Most mothers never have thouhts like that.
+ut as I stood there lookin at him asleep, I knew with absolute !ertainty that one day I would !ome
to despise him.
The thouht made me terribly sad. I !losed his door and turned out the hall liht I went to the
livin-room sofa, sat down, and opened my book. )fter readin a few paes. I !losed it aain. I
looked at the !lo!k. ) little before three.
I wondered how many days it had been sin!e I stopped sleepin. The sleeplessness started the
Tuesday before last. 8hi!h made this the seventeenth day. 2ot one wink of sleep in seventeen days.
&eventeen days and seventeen nihts. ) lon, lon time. I !ouldn/t even re!all what sleep was like.
I !losed my eyes and tried to re!all the sensation of sleepin, but all that e1isted for me inside was a
wakeful darkness. ) wakeful darkness7 what it !alled to mind was death.
8as I about to die=
)nd if I died now, what would my life have amounted to=
There was no way I !ould answer that.
)ll riht, then, what death=
Dntil now I had !on!eived of sleep as a kind of model for death. I had imained death as an
e1tension of sleep. ) far deeper sleep than ordinary sleep. ) sleep devoid of all !ons!iousness.
'ternal rest. ) total bla!kout.
+ut now I wondered if I had been wron. -erhaps death was a state entirely unlike sleep, somethin
that beloned to a different !ateory altoether0like the deep, endless, wakeful darkness I was
seein now.
2o, that would be too terrible. If the state of death was not to be a rest for us, then what was oin
to redeem this imperfe!t life of ours, so frauht with e1haustion= ,inally, thouh, no one knows
what death is. 8ho has ever truly seen it= 2o one. '1!ept the ones who are dead. 2o one livin
knows what death is like. They !an only uess. )nd the best uess is still a uess. Maybe death is a
kind of rest, but reasonin !an/t tell us that. The only way to find out what death is is to die. >eath
!an be anythin at all.
)n intense terror overwhelmed me at the thouht. ) stiffenin !hill ran down my spine. My eyes
were still shut tiht. I had lost the power to open them. I stared at the thi!k darkness that stood
planted in front of me, a darkness as deep and hopeless as the universe itself. I was all alone. My
mind was in deep !on!entration, and e1pandin. If I had wanted to, I !ould have seen into the
uttermost depths of the universe. +ut I de!ided not to look. It was too soon for that.
If death was like this, if to die meant bein eternally awake and starin into the darkness like this,
what should I do=
)t last, I manaed to open my eyes. I ulped down the brandy that was left in my lass.
I/m takin off my pa4amas and puttin on 4eans, T-shirt, and a windbreaker. I tie my hair ba!k in a
tiht ponytail, tu!k it under the windbreaker, and put on a baseball !ap of my husband"s. In the
mirror I look like a boy. Eood. I put on sneakers and o down to the arae.
I slip in behind the steerin wheel, turn the key, and listen m the enine hum. It sounds normal.
Hands on the wheel, I take a few deep breaths. Then I shift into ear and drive out of the buildin.
The !ar is runnin better than usual. It seems to be lidin a!ross a sheet of i!e. I ease it into hiher
ear, move out of the neihborhood, and enter the hihway to ?okohama.
It"s only three in the mornin, but the number of !ars on the road is by no means small. Hue semis
roll past, shakin the round as they head east. Those uys don"t sleep at niht. They sleep in the
daytime and work at niht for reater effi!ien!y.
8hat a waste. I !ould work day and niht. I don"t have to sleep.
This is bioloi!ally unnatural, I suppose, but who really knows what is natural= They 4ust infer it
indu!tively. I/m beyond that. ) priori. )n evolutionary leap. ) woman who never sleeps. )n
e1pansion of !ons!iousness.
I have to smile. ) priori. )n evolutionary leap.
*istenin to the !ar radio, I drive to the harbor. I want !lassi!al musi!, but I !an/t find a station that
broad!asts it at niht. &tupid Japanese ro!k musi!. *ove sons sweet enouh to rot your teeth. I ive
up sear!hin and listen to those. They make me feel I/m in a far-off pla!e, far away from Mo9art
and Haydn.
I pull into one of the white-outlined spa!es in the bi parkin lot at the waterfront park and !ut my
enine. This is the brihtest area of the lot, under a lamp, and wide open all around. ;nly one other
!ar is parked here0an old, white two-door !oup@ of the kind that youn people like to drive.
-robably a !ouple in there now, makin love0no money for a hotel room. To avoid trouble, I pull
my hat low, tryin not to look like a woman. I !he!k to see that my doors are lo!ked.
Half !ons!iously, I let my eyes wander throuh the surroundin darkness, when all of a sudden I
remember a drive I took with my boyfriend the year I was a !ollee freshman. 8e parked and ot
into some heavy pettin. He !ouldn/t stop, he said, and he beed me to let him put it in. +ut I
refused. Hands on the steerin wheel, listenin to the musi!, I try to brin ba!k the s!ene, but I !an/t
re!all his fa!e. It all seems to have happened su!h an in!redibly lon time ao.
)ll the memories I have from the time before I stopped sleepin seem to be movin away with
a!!eleratin speed. It feels so strane, as if the me who used to o to sleep every niht is not the real
me, and the memories from ba!k then are not really mine. This is how people !hane. +ut nobody
reali9es it. 2obody noti!es. ;nly I know what happens. I !ould try to tell them, but they wouldn/t
understand. They wouldn/t believe me. ;r if they did believe me, they would have absolutely no
idea what I/m feelin. They would only see me as a threat to their indu!tive world view.
I am !hanin, thouh. .eally !hanin.
How lon have I been sittin here= Hands on the wheel. 'yes !losed. &tarin into the sleepless
&uddenly I/m aware of a human presen!e, and I !ome to myself aain. There/s somebody out there.
I open my eyes and look around: someone is outside the !ar. Tryin to open the door. +ut the doors
are lo!ked. >ark shadows on either side of the !ar, one at ea!h door. 3an/t see their fa!es. 3an/t
make out their !lothin. Just two dark shadows, standin there.
&andwi!hed between them, my 3ivi! feels tiny0like a little pastry bo1. It/s bein ro!ked from side
to side. ) fist is poundin on the riht-hand window. I know it/s not a poli!eman. ) poli!eman
would never pound on the lass like this and would never shake my !ar. I hold my breath. 8hat
should I do= I !an/t think straiht. My underarms are soaked. I/ve ot to et out of here. The key.
Turn the key. I rea!h out for it and turn it to the riht. The starter rinds.
The enine doesn/t !at!h. My hand is shakin. I !lose my eyes and turn the key aain. 2o ood. )
sound like finernails !lawin a iant wall. The motor turns and turns. The men0the dark
shadows0keep shakin my !ar. The swins et bier and bier. They/re oin to tip me overC
There/s somethin wron. Just !alm down and think, then everythin will be ;.A. Think. Just think.
&lowly. 3arefully. &omethin is wron.
&omethin is wron.
+ut what= I !an/t tell. My mind is !rammed full of thi!k darkness. It/s not takin me anywhere. My
hands are shakin. I try pullin out the key and puttin it ba!k in aain. +ut my shakin hand !an/t
find the hole. I try aain and drop the key. I !url over and try to pi!k it up. +ut I !an/t et hold of it.
The !ar is ro!kin ba!k and forth. My forehead slams aainst the steerin wheel.
I/ll never et the key. I fall ba!k aainst the seat, !over my fa!e with my hands. I/m !ryin. )ll I
!an do is !ry. The tears keep pourin out. *o!ked inside this little bo1, I !an/t o anywhere. It/s the
middle of the niht. The men keep ro!kin the !ar ba!k and forth. They/re oin to turn it over.
-osted 15th January GHHI by the writer