“Double Buds,” A New Haruki Murakami Story

By: Michael Fowler

She walked in front of him out of deference. But if it was deference, he thought, shouldn’t she walk to his rear? Show that she was his follower? After all, she was the producer of his cooking show, not the star herself. No one would tune in to watch Nikko gut a trout or wrestle an anemone or lick squid ink from her fingers. She remained in the background on his set at all times unless, in an emergency, he needed someone to pound his nori. His seaweed wrap was famous for its texture, and she had the touch.

And yet, as they walked to the studio past the gardens on Main Street, for assuredly there was a Main Street in Tokyo as there is in every city, and one lined with flowers at that, her lead position still somehow showed deference, even subservience. There is a saying: The upkeep of the blossoms at Mount Myogi will be added to your water bill. One thing was certain, her hoop earrings carried a lot of whoa babe. He had once heard an American use this term to describe an attractive woman in Kyoto, and although Americans were blunt you could say this about them: they also had other qualities. The term seemed to fit Nikko to a T. And her stylish earrings were the merest fraction of her appeal. She had whoa babe to spare, just dripped the stuff all over the street.

Two years ago they had been lovers, but no longer whispered to each other the tender words cameltoe and creampie. She, a native of the Kansai district, spoke with a Liverpool accent, a sign of her devotion to the Beatles throughout her youth. He, born and raised in Ashiya, sounded like a native New Yorker, due to his lifelong devotion to the Ramones. But he thought the Beatles were cool too, as long as Paul wasn’t singing. Though they no longer entangled themselves in knots of damp armpits and heaving thighs, they sometimes left together work together in the evening, hopped aboard the bullet train to a remote suburb, and cut a rug at a festive club. But they only did that after first gorging themselves on his culinary creations back at the studio.

And oh those tasty creations! Who but he could concoct a pickled rose that tasted like a McD’s cheeseburger? A sea urchin that conjured up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Or tuna sushi that was finger licking good, like KFC? This was his success and the theme of his show: how to take rarified, costly ingredients and make them taste like junk or fast food. For mysterious reasons, it was a huge hit throughout Japan and in some former Soviet Bloc countries.

As always, her body segued seamlessly from watusi to masked potato as the music in the club washed over her. Was it his habit of losing the tempo and crushing her foot beneath his own that had led to their end of their romance? Very likely that was a contributing factor. But there was also professional jealousy, stemming from the fact that he possessed double the usual number of taste buds. This fortuitous birth defect, or perhaps birth advantage was the truer term, was the result of his being born with a forked tongue. No, not quite rattle-snake forked, and not a cleft palate either, but a split tongue that gave him double buds for tasting, and even provided the name of his hit show: Double Buds. How could she, a serious chef herself and his classmate in culinary arts at Waseda University, compete with Mister Double Buds? Life was so unfair when you had to compete with gifted genetic freaks like that banjo player in Deliverance who had like, what, 20 fingers?

She wanted to scrape those double buds off his tongue with a Ginsu knife and slather them in cheap tomato sauce.

After a single date with her when they both still attended culinary school, he felt her unease and competitive edge. Further meetings with her were disappointments, like opening the door to an empty room when you expected to find your drunken uncle inside. He liked Uncle Kato, no matter what the rest of the family said. Kato always had a snack of dried eel for him. And he wore Blue Cheer Hearing Aids, the loudest made, and could tell what song a rock band was playing 60 miles away. There is a saying: When a man is lazy enough, his spine will grow a chair.

And so she had changed her major from culinary arts to TV production. There double buds would not best her, there double buds would offer no advantage. No longer needing those damned double buds with her new major, she could come out first in her class, as she did. The downside to her success in TV was, they were split apart. Even working together on Double Budscould not reunite them, not wholly. It was all so sad, so infinitely sad. Sad, it was. He carried that sadness all the way to the bank, singing “All You Need is Love,” his favorite Beatles song even if Paul sang on it.

There is a saying: Love is a wonderful thing, but nothing beats double buds.



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