“BIRTHDAY GIRL” 12/2002 (BW, and in Birthday Stories)
A woman is telling I about an incident that happened on her twentieth birthday, some ten years before. Narration shifts between her speech and the third person (presumably narrated by I from her speech).
She was working in an Italian restaurant in Roppongi. Describes the place, the manager. Every night at 8 sharp the manager would take the owner’s dinner to him on the 6th floor of the building. Every night, always chicken. Nobody’s ever seen the owner. This night he’s sick – the first time ever. He asks her, the birthday girl, to take the dinner up. She does. Sees the owner – a dapper old man. He invites her in. They make small talk. She lets it slip that it’s her birthday. He says well, then, let me grant you one wish.
I doesn’t ask her what the wish was, only if it was granted, and if she’s ever regretted what she wished for. To the first question she says yes and no – she has a lot of living left to do. To the second she asks I what he would have wished for. He says he can’t think of anything, and she says that’s because he’s already made his wish.
It’s a cute story, to be sure, and well done with the buildup. The ending? Well, let’s just say this story was probably perfect for its original context: it was written for a volume of birthday-themed stories that Murakami edited and translated. An occasional story, in other words, and Murakami has written far more of these than is apparent in English.
“CRABS” 2003 (BW, and J. ed. of BW; revised excerpt of story from Dead Heat)
Third person. A young couple are in Singapore, early in their relationship. They come across a crab restaurant, and she convinces him to eat there – he should be more adventurous. It’s delicious, so for four days they eat there happily. Lounge on the beach, make love, buy souvenirs, and eat crab. Then on their last night in town, while she’s asleep, he gets sick and throws up four days’ worth of crab. And floating in the toilet it looks like, or perhaps is, a mass of wiggling white worms.
He’s horrified and debates waking her up. But she’s sleeping blissfully. Then he feels that something has fundamentally changed for him. He’ll never feel the same about her, or even about himself. He’s aged instantaneously. And will never eat crab again.
In the original story, this was a story-within-a-story, brought to “Murakami” by an aspiring writer. Here he lets it stand on its own. Either way it’s memorable, and not just because of the nauseating ending. It deftly captures a moment early in a relationship when two people’s affection can either be cemented or dissolved, and not by anything one or the other of them does, but by their reactions to an outside stimulus. The crab makes him sick but leaves her alone. He experiences a trauma on their trip, she doesn’t. He’s aware of things, she’s not. This kind of thing makes all the difference, the story says. Sad but true.