it's a short story there aren't rly chapters u know
Once upon a time I walked a girl home. The year was 2003, late October, and the bitter winds of Hokkaido were bitter. That was the way to tell that things were quite alright with the world. If the weather was freezing, hearts were warm. People wrapped up warm. The earthquake was fresh in people’s minds, but growing staler. Even in those days, people only remembered tragedies if they wanted to.
Her name was Leiko, but since no one born in the country could pronounce an L, people called her Reiko, and like her Murakamian namesake, she held a great sexual power over someone far younger and more naive and lost in life. Me. I didn’t actually like her. Like I didn’t want to lick her face or anything like that. I simply saw a very attractive woman. When I met her, she was 19, and I was very impressionable.
She was pretty - maybe not as pretty as I’d like to admit - but she was pretty in a memorable sort of way. She wasn’t remarkable, but she stood out, she caught the eye. Something about shimmery hair did that to a person. She was the human attractiveness equivalent of an unfortunate tattoo. In the end, being perfectly honest with myself, I probably wanted to sleep with her.
There was a party. Some girl from the college had a birthday that was suspiciously close to Halloween. I was plus-oned by a vague male friend for reasons that still remain unknown to me. I never got the chance to ask - he didn’t seem to desire my company after the party. Oh that might have something to do with it. Oh that actually makes a lot of sense. Oh.
I got very drunk. I found some liqueurs and practically piped them into my mouth. As I lay on the stairs groaning and muttering to myself about the death of the last wild crested Ibis in the country, Leiko/Reiko approached me with a cheshire grin and a tight-fitting dress. We’d spoken a little bit throughout the course of the evening, mostly before I’d lost some inhibitions.
“You wanna walk me home.” she said, waggling a finger at me suggestively. I didn’t exactly answer but that being said I didn’t exactly answer.
So I left with her. The issue was that I was supposed to be staying at the host’s house. If I went all the way back home something would seem off. I would have to explain that I had gotten horrendously drunk, been approached by a sexy Leiko/Reiko, had sexy Leiko/Reiko insinuate that I walk her home, fall prey to sexy Leiko/Reiko’s charms and walk her home, and then what?
It was like finding oneself stranded on a chessboard, a minefield of polar opposites populated by pairs and opposites that came in those pairs. There is Leiko/Reiko, gorgeous in a deep blue dress, the coat of a boy who presumably found her beddable, forgotten, draped over her shoulders. Looking woozy, but in the ‘beautiful mess’ Cara Delevingne way, tipsy but it hardly showed in her face or her step.
Then there’s me. When I was 16 I had a holographic foil backpack that I loved unironically. I used to keep my light novels and my camera in there, stuffed in alongside the discarded wrappers, residue from lemon drops and rhubarb and custards blemishing the material inside. Dad always said I needed to clean it. Teachers complained when I turned up to lessons with “Unacceptably sticky” textbooks. From the day I owned that bag, to the day I did not, I did not wash it once.
I never explained any of this to Leiko/Reiko. She didn’t ask. I didn’t get the impression that she was the kind of person who was intrigued by holographic foil backpacks, no matter how sticky they were.
So how does a girl make up for dorky bags and an eveningwear choice to match? Ornithology.
“Did you know that the last wild crested Ibis in the country died?” I asked, in a tone suggesting that the Ibis and I had been personal childhood friends. Having interrupted the stark silence of our walk, Leiko/Reiko glanced at me with a critical look.
“It did?” she asked.
“It did.” I said.
“Oh no.” she said.
“Mm.” I said.
“Does that mean that the wild crested Ibis is extinct now?” she asked.
“No, but officially they’re categorised as… highly…endangered.” I said.
“That’s too bad,” she said.
“It fucking sucks,” I exclaimed. Moderating my volume was a low priority at the time. A light in a house down the street we were on flickered.
My enthusiasm for conservation somehow trickled down into a full on, if a bit stilted conversation. But like any contrived conservation concerned conversation, the consequences contrasted my condemnable consciousness. As soon as Leiko/Reiko accepted my passionate tirade on the wild crested Ibis, what desires I had held for her vaporised.
People say the thrill is in the chase. So I’d partaken, and the chase had cost me my desire to sleep with Leiko/Reiko. At the time I didn’t think about this in relation to myself. At the time, this change in course didn’t fully register until much later. But even on this day, in my 29th year of living, I cannot fathom just how fucking irritating every last little action I took to get her to like me must have been.
Something about Leiko/Reiko made me look at myself like a literary critic. Maybe she was that pretentious. I never knew her well enough to say. But the more I talked about the wild crested Ibis and the methods and details of conservation, I found myself continually questioning every syllable. Was any of what I spoke truth? Hadn’t I just picked it up from a magazine or a newspaper article? Why had something so insignificant become suddenly all I could think about and articulate to another human being? Though filled with alcohol, that headspace of mine was empty.
When we got to her street, Leiko/Reiko and I saw fireworks in the sky. “They do that every year,” she explained, “In the village hall there’s this little cult of people who just seem obsessed with fireworks. My grandmother hates them, cuz the place they let them off is so close to her house.” Though cold, the sky wasn’t too clouded over. Every explosive flash garnered vague booming flashes of light against the smoky sky. Every explosion carved into the sky Nazca lines, irrefutable but incomprehensible geoglyphs, appearing for split seconds, before losing permanence forever. I remember my naive 16 year old self thinking that I had never seen a greater demonstration of brief temporality in my life.
“Take a photo,” Leiko/Reiko said suddenly. I set my holographic foil backpack on the pavement and rustled around inside for the camera. It was an aged Canon F-1 that had belonged to my dad. It still did, technically. Though there had been no coveted rite of passage or ceremony declaring it mine, I took it around wherever I went, and used it often, whereas my dad did not. It had a little Olympic logo etched next to the lens.
Leiko/Reiko didn’t pose, but the world around her did instead. The face of the moon became half visible from behind a thick cirrus, just as a purple pyrotechnic illuminated Leiko/Reiko’s face in violet hues. I had no idea of this at the time. The camera had no digital aperture or screen. It was only a week later when I developed the photo that I took a little pride in how good the shot had been. I still own the photo. Somewhere.
“How can I.” I began, forgetting my purpose mid sentence.
“How can I give this to you?” this time I managed a full question.
“Keep it.” Leiko/Reiko said.
“But you wanted it,” I said.
“No, I just wanted you to take a photo, ” she said.
“So you don’t care what I do with it?” I asked.
“Not really,” she said.
“But it’s a photo of you,” I said.
“I know.” she said.
There was a silence for some time, punctuated with a hit by the booming crack of another firework.
“Look, as far as that photo goes, the less I know the better,” Leiko/Reiko said. She almost sounded tender. As if this photo were the greatest undertaking of her life, an emotional macguffin that would remain lost in a nebulous narrative.
We walked the short distance to her house after that. She said goodbye, and quietly entered, telling me to wait below the first floor window on the left. I did so. A couple of minutes after her entry, a thick woollen blanket was tossed down in my direction. Leiko/Reiko leant her head out of the open window, and called out in a voice just loud enough for me to hear.
“You should go to the fireworks! They love weird people like you!”
and like that she was gone. Window shut and curtains drawn. I leant down to pick up the blanket off of the paved ground. There was a mere trace of warmth from where her hands had gathered and folded it up.
I threw it around my shoulders like a robe, and felt a bit warlock-y. After some thought, and listening out for booming in the sky, I decided to head to the fireworks. I wore the blanket like a cape, since I wasn’t absolutely freezing yet. Back then I thought capes were cool. Not as cool as big black trench coats though. The Matrix had had a major impact on me. I was weird, after all.
In the end we forget about people like Leiko/Reiko. Some are unfortunate to remember. There are things which still come to mind no matter how hard one tries otherwise. There are feelings. Feelings are vague and abstract, and impossible to vocalise outside of your own head. These feelings can be anything, a time in one’s life, a period of bliss which somehow became epitomised in this… something. It is substance and style without compromise - that or it is style and aesthetic doing very well at disguising themselves as substance.
So when I hear The Less I Know The Better, what I remember is not Leiko/Reiko. Nor is what I remember her lips, or the way they moved as she spoke, or the violet hues that dashed her face at the instant I took her photograph. Nor do I remember the wild crested Ibis. Or the cold. Or the earthquake. And I do wish I could just put this thing into words but I can’t. I remember something that is vague and unspecific and that I can only describe as a feeling, tiny things perceived at the edge of my senses, memories and experiences that seem half felt, half dramatised. A photograph will do the same. These feelings remain so baffling, they can only be experienced within one’s own head, and any further analysis proves fruitless.
I sometimes like to imagine that in a parallel universe, humanity would have learnt to quantify these feelings. Learn to study them and interpret them, and fully explore how to best experience them. Bottle them up in caskets and give them to each other as gifts. In this universe, there are people who already believe in that. They’re called alcoholics.
So that’s how it is. I think that if I were to meet Leiko/Reiko again today, I would have a harder time telling this story.