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Words Without Borders is an inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winner!
from the June 2015 issue

A Faun’s Afternoon

牧神的午後

The hand of the pocket watch winds on with a sound like mocking laughter—continuously pricking his anxiety, preventing him from forgetting how the nightmare started. He remembers. This is how it began:

That day of the winter holiday happened to be Aso’s birthday. The bus passed through the deep gloom of the bamboo forest, delivering him, in a daze, to the spa town. The lattice of bamboo shadows fell upon him like a glitter of whirling blades, dicing his body to bits. He did, in fact, come to the countryside bearing scars. He could not bring himself to think about the farce of city life any further. He had not hired a scooter, nor booked a hotel room. After passing through a field, Aso arrived at the town’s hot spring.

The bathing area, encircled by concrete walls, was divided along the middle by the stream of water from the hot spring. Within the mist were the silhouettes of naked male bodies, either soaking in the water or perched on one of the banks. Aso stripped and settled into a state of contemplation amid the fug of shapes. But all of a sudden he saw himself sitting on the opposite side of the stream. Was this a mirror? He extended a tentative hand, and the doppelgänger opposite stretched out an arm in symmetrical greeting, bestowing a floating smile through the mist. Aso started in surprise. It was only then that he realized this was some kind of joke—it was the smile that broke the illusion. In fact, it was another bather on the opposite bank, of a similar figure and age, and it was only his deliberate mimicking of Aso’s actions that made the trick work. Aso didn’t know how he ought to respond—he couldn’t just go on staring, in any case, so he lowered his head and continued bathing.

When he got up, Aso went by himself to stand at the derelict bus stop, planning to move on to the next stop on his itinerary. Why move on? Aso himself couldn’t tell you the reason—the entire trip had been prepared in advance while he was still in the city, and the numerous flaws in the plan were only making themselves apparent now he had arrived. And so when a scooter materialized in front of him, Aso was caught off guard. It was the doppelgänger who had been sitting on the opposite bank just before.

Waiting for the bus? asked the rider, the smile of a twenty-year-old still on his face. It seemed like he was attempting to make up for his tomfoolery back in the spa. You’ll be waiting forever—the bus doesn’t come down here. Trust me, I’m a local. Where are you going? Why don’t you let me give you a ride? Aso couldn’t exactly say where he was going, so the only thing he could do was get on the scooter and go wherever this guy ended up taking him.

What’s your name?

Aso.

You can call me K. Yes, I’m into Kafka. How about you? Where do you want to go, anyway? If we carry on circling around like this much longer we’ll end up back at the spa. If you don’t have anywhere in particular to go, why don’t we sit by the field and chat for a while? It’s not like this town has anywhere particularly worth visiting anyway.

K climbed up the bank beside the field, pulled out a harmonica, and played an idle tune, like a kind of pastoral ode. He said it was Debussy’s Prelude to a Faun’s Afternoon. It was an apt melody to play out here in the wilderness, said K. Though the season may have been loneliest winter, his hand held only the harmonica and not a faun’s pipe.

You really look like someone from the city, K. Are you really a local?

Really. This is my hometown, but—just like all the other kids in Taiwan—I can’t help heading to the city for an occasional weeklong spree, coming back to the sticks only to sink into the springs once I’m spent. And now I’ve had my soak, the next part of a faun’s afternoon is a dance. Do you dance? A faun’s afternoon should be accompanied by a dance. Have you heard Nijinsky? I’ll show you. I was taught this dance by a senior classmate who adored me.

K laid down his harmonica and began to dance in the field. It seemed as though the melody he had been playing lingered in the air, wrapping itself around his body. To Aso, watching from the side of the field, K looked like a writhing snake. After a while, he pulled out a banknote on which to sketch this winter faun.

Have you studied drawing? K danced over to Aso’s side.

I was planning on majoring in fine arts, and my test scores on the entrance exams were good enough to get in, but then my family wouldn’t let me. They just wouldn’t. All I could do was take it on the chin and start taking cram classes in the city to get ready to apply for a major with better prospects. Drawing is never going to be more than a pastime.

I don’t know which of us is the lucky one! You wanted to study fine art, but couldn’t; I love to dance, and I did get into a dance academy. But you still have the freedom to draw, whereas I can’t dance properly. I fractured my arm—so I was still holding myself back when I was dancing just now. My friend and I got into a bike accident in the autumn. I broke my arm, so I couldn’t take part in dance classes any more, which meant I had to drop out. My injury meant I could avoid conscription, so I just came home to recover and recuperate in the hot springs.

And your friend?

My classmate? He died.

The person in this sketch is you. Here, take it.

Perfect—today is my birthday, as it happens! I thought I’d have to spend the day all on my own—but now here I am, getting a birthday present!

Aso stayed at K’s home that night. It was the kind of detached three-story building common to the countryside, several fields away from its nearest neighbor. The fact that K was the only person living there made it feel even more gloomy and empty. Having brought food and drinks back with them, they chatted into the night—but Aso didn’t have much of a stomach for alcohol, and was soon tired. In the midst of his dreams he felt a strange sensation—as though there were a hand reaching into his underwear, running up and down his body, unrestrained. In the muddle of sleep it felt like a snake, winding around his whole body, inescapable. This snake was not cold but hot—but that was the frightening thing about it . . . And so, when he woke in the morning with a bleary head, he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe that the snake had been nothing more than the woolen blanket that was now on top of him.

I tried to put you to bed last night, but I couldn’t get you to wake up. So all I could do was throw this blanket over you.

Over breakfast, K produced a picture frame, in which he had encased Aso’s sketch.

I threw away my family photo and put your sketch inside instead. They’ve all moved away, anyhow. I’ll hang it up in a bit. And I have something to give you. Don’t turn it down, and don’t take offense, okay?

It was a pocket watch. There were slight ridges on the surface of the lid, like on the smooth back of a young man. On the reverse side of the lid was an inlaid engraving of the half-human, half-bestial form of a miniature faun. K said he was giving it to Aso because he believed him capable of taking good care of it—it wasn’t the kind of present that could be given away on a whim. This was K’s second pulsating heart. It had been a present to K from the classmate who had passed away, who had seen K on his faun’s afternoon. K didn’t want to look upon this memory-burdened watch any more, but nor could he bring himself to throw it away. So he was passing it on to Aso, and K hoped that this watch would become a part of his life, like a seal of friendship, inerasable.

(But neither of them had anticipated what would happen that day—the day of Aso’s departure.)

K handed the hammer to Aso, and asked him to stand up on the chair and bang the nail into the wall, so that they could hang up the sketch. K’s hand was supporting Aso’s leg, and he was again telling the story of what had happened in the autumn, when all of a sudden Aso yelled: Don’t touch me—don’t touch me! There’s nothing I hate more than people touching me!

Aso hadn’t realized he could be so jumpy (could he still be hungover?) and he couldn’t even be sure what he had just shouted, and there was no way of confirming with K, who was standing behind him, because somehow there was now a hammer sticking out from the middle of his forehead. The hammer that had been in Aso’s hand. Uttering nothing more than a faint murmur, K slumped to the floor, blood seeping from his head.

Aso calmed himself down. He carefully packed away the hammer, sketch, and pocket watch, and took them away. K had not made much noise when he fell to the floor. There had been no one else around in the immediate vicinity. K had approached the stall to buy their dinner of stewed dishes on his own—no one had noticed Aso. K’s family had all moved away. No one would be visiting this house for a while. Aso used the blanket to carefully wrap K, rolling him up like a snake before stuffing the bundle into a closet. K aside, there was no one who would remember Aso coming to this spa town.

I need to get back to Taipei . . . none of this ever happened . . . I just drank too much, that’s all . . . I still have an entrance exam to take . . . there’s nothing I hate more than people putting their hands all over me . . . I barely knew him . . . who knows who he was . . .

On his way out of the town, the general store where Aso was buying a Coke happened to be playing a cover version of an old song.

Aso began to pay attention to the regional news in all the big newspapers, but after several days there had still been no mention of the name of the spa town, let alone the incident involving K. Perhaps the whole thing had been some kind of dream brought on by the drink. Once Aso was back in Taipei, the distant spa town seemed almost insubstantial, nonexistent. And yet he was unable to forget it all completely. The pocket watch, the sketch, the hammer—these cursed keepsakes—were now stored under Aso’s bed in the small apartment room he was renting for the sake of the exam.

But Aso could not put the pocket watch from his mind. He couldn’t help taking it out and holding it to his chest—because, somehow, he belonged to the watch now. He was a morsel for its delectation. Since leaving K’s house, the pocket watch had become Aso’s second heart—a heart that had come from K. The ticking of its hands seemed to echo the rhythm of his heartbeat, synchronized. He found that he was only able to sleep at night if he could hear that resonance between ticking watch and beating heart. He had tried listening to the sound of other timepieces, like clocks, wristwatches, ordinary pocket watches—but it was no good. It was only the pocket watch K had given him that could serve as his second heart. And so, whether it was in the impatience of midnight or after suffering until daybreak, he always ended up casting all these other clocks aside and hanging K’s pocket watch around his neck again so that he could sleep. Truly, he wished he could forget the curse of this watch. Late at night, he would sometimes take a sleeping pill to try and put it out of his mind. No use. An hour later he would swallow a second, and then a third, a fourth, a fifth . . . Aso worried he might end up taking an overdose—but then again, since he was unable to get a night’s rest without the pocket watch, he feared that eternal rest might prove unattainable too . . . Aso was not prepared to go to see a psychiatrist, because he did not want to be forced to speak of the thing he most wanted to forget. The pocket watch had possessed him—or perhaps it was the faun. Or K.

He gave in to the pocket watch, wearing it at his cram classes so that he wouldn’t miss out on even the chance for a nap at lunch break. His classmates noticed the watch he bore on his chest, and they saw that his face was getting more sallow and withered by the day. Occasionally a curious classmate would ask the story of the pocket watch, and try and get him to open up the lid so they could look inside—but Aso would never let them.

Open the lid. This irresistible pocket watch wanted to be opened, so that it could be fully appreciated—but Aso himself, whose presence the class found increasingly disturbing, was also a tight lid in need of opening. Open the lid—there was no phrase he wanted to hear less, but it was the phrase he kept on hearing. Open the lid, I must become flesh, called the faun embossed on the watch, called K from within the closet where he was bundled in a blanket. This voice, together with the ticking of the watch, darted through a hole in Aso’s heart, burrowing deep—so deep that only Aso himself could hear it. Open the lid. The cry inside him spliced with his sleep, his two hearts—one flesh, one metal—completely intertwined. Two hearts together, two bloodstreams flowing together. For Aso, the pocket watch had become an organ; for the pocket watch, Aso had become a piece of flesh.

Open the lid—this was the protestation of the faun. Let me out—this was the protestation of K. Open the lid—the sound of Aso’s blood chafing at his veins.

All right—I’ll let you out.

Aso could take it no longer. On a Sunday afternoon when spring was approaching, at his wits’ end, a bare-chested Aso threw down his reference book in his room. He rolled over and reached under the bed to pull out the hammer wrapped in old newspaper (and the date on the newspaper was still his birthday, and was still Aso’s birthday), intending to silence this pocket watch for good. His sleek young back was glimmering, slick with sweat. If he really were to smash this watch—this accompanist of his heart—would sleep elude him forever? But Aso didn’t care. He had to silence the voices. He tore off the pocket watch and took the hammer from the newspaper. The faun on the lid was shrieking, in anguish and in ecstasy.

At last, he gripped the hammer that thirsted for blood and struck the pocket watch. There was a noise of shattering metal—once, twice, three times. The lid had cracked, but Aso could strike no more.

Uttering nothing more than a faint murmur, he slumped to the floor. For Aso, the pocket watch had become an organ; for the pocket watch, Aso had become a piece of flesh. On his smooth young back appeared the same cracks that were on the lid of the watch—it was as though the vertebrae of his spine were a zipper that had been unfastened, disgorging a plasmic torrent. Aso never got the chance to see the creature that emerged, blood-slathered, from his back: half man and half beast, the fawn embossed on the lid of the pocket watch, corporeal. Whistling, the monster danced the same steps that K had danced in the field, before bursting out of the door and disappearing down the stairs of the apartment building.

And the sketch of K remained safely stashed under Aso’s bed, steeped in the smile of a sunny winter’s afternoon in the countryside.

“牧神的午後” © Chi Ta-wei. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2015 by Dave Haysom. All rights reserved.

牧神的午後

  懷錶指針的行進聲響,像是冷酷的嗤笑,不斷澆醒他的焦慮,讓他忘不了噩夢的始末。記憶中,夢是這麼開始的:

  寒假裡的那一天正是阿索的生日,巴士穿過竹林濃蔭,把恍惚昏沉的他載進溫泉小鎮。竹影雜錯,映射在他身上,彷彿刀光劍影把他砍得碎屍萬段。他的確是傷痕累累地逃到鄉間;城市裡的鬧劇,他不願再提。他沒有租機車,也沒有預訂旅館房間。阿索穿過一片田,來到小鎮的溫泉溝。

  水泥棚子圈圍的澡堂,被溫泉溝劃為兩半。水霧中的若干裸男身影,便或是浸泡在溝裡,或是棲息在河流兩岸。阿索褪盡衣褲,在霧影中冥想,卻猛然看見自己坐在溝流的對岸。是鏡子嗎?——他伸手試探——對岸的自我,也對稱地伸出手臂召喚,還附贈在霧氣間飄浮的微笑——阿索一驚,才察覺是個玩笑:對方的微笑揭開了謎底——其實是對岸的另一個浴客,只不過體態年歲和他相仿,對方更刻意模仿他的動作,他才陷入鏡子的笑話。阿索不知如何回應,總不好死盯著對方,他只好低頭繼續洗滌自己。

  阿索起身之後,又獨自來到荒廢的公車站牌等候,打算前往計畫中的下一個地點。為什麼要往下一個地點去——阿索也說不出理由:一切行程,都是在都市裡事先臆想的,來到小鎮才知道誤差不少。於是,當一輛機車在阿索面前閃現時,他有點措手不及——是方才在溫泉對岸的另一個自我。

  「在等巴士嗎?」機車騎士問,二十歲的微笑還在臉上,像要彌補方才在溫泉的惡作劇。「可是你等不到車的,巴士不走這條路了。相信我吧,我是本地人。你要去哪裡?乾脆我送你一程吧。」阿索也不甚明瞭自己要往哪裡去,只得坐上便車,隨便這個傢伙要帶自己去什麼更陌生的地方。

  「你叫什麼名字?」「叫我阿索吧。」「你可以叫我K。……是呀,我喜歡卡夫卡。……你也是嗎?……你究竟要去哪裡?這麼亂繞一圈,我們又要回到溫泉溝了。……如果沒有特別想去的地方,就田埂坐下聊聊吧,反正鎮上也沒有別的地方好去。……」

  K走上田埂,抽出口琴,吹起一手慵懶的曲調,像是田園詩。說是德布西的曲子,〈牧神的午後〉。K說這曲子適合在曠野吹奏,雖然這個季節是最寂寞的冬天,他手上只有口琴而沒有牧神的笛子。

  「你看來實在太像都市來的人。K,你真的是在地人嗎?」「沒錯。我老家在這裡,但是和其他的台灣孩子一樣,也不得不到城市浪行一周,直到疲倦了才回來,重新回歸田土,沉浸在溫泉中。現在,洗完溫泉,吹過牧神的午後,正好跳舞。」「跳舞?」「牧神的午後,是該配上一支舞的。聽過尼金斯基嗎?跳給你看。這是一個很寵我的學長教我跳的。」

  K放下口琴,在田裡舞踏起來,彷彿剛才的口琴樂聲仍未消散,反而包裹起K的身體。在阿索眼中,荒田中的K就像條扭動的蛇。阿索旁觀片刻,便抽出紙筆,為冬日的牧神素描。

  「你學過畫嗎?」K跳到阿索身旁。

  「我本來想念美術系,去年大學聯考的成績其實也達到了美術系的錄取標準。可是家裡不准我去念,就是不准。只好認了,去上市區的補習班,準備重考比較有出息的科系。畫圖,只能當消遣了。」

  「不知道是誰幸運呢!你想念美術系卻不能夠;我喜歡跳舞,倒真的進了舞蹈學校。不過你還是可以自由作畫,我卻不能好好跳舞了。我的手臂骨折,所以剛才跳舞時,我並沒有完全放鬆身體……秋天的時候,我和朋友騎車出事,手臂斷了,不能上舞蹈課,只好休學。因為傷重,所以休學也不必當兵,乾脆回老家修養,泡溫泉復健。」

  「你的朋友呢?」

  「我學長?他死了。」

  「——這張素描,畫中人是你,就送你吧。」

  「好呀,今天正好是我的生日!本來以為要孤零零地過生日,沒想到,現在連生日禮物都有了……」

  那晚,阿索在K的老家借住。是鄉間常見的三層獨棟樓房,距離鄰居也隔著幾塊田。目前房子只有K一個人住,更顯陰森空盪。他們買了酒菜回家,在夜裡聊起來;可是阿索不勝酒力,未及半夜便睏倦了。睡夢中,阿索有種古怪感受——彷彿,有隻手掌伸入他的內衣,放肆撫弄他的身體。昏睡中,他覺得那像是條蛇,把他整個人纏起來,掙不開——這條蛇溫暖非常,並不冰冷,但也因此駭人……所以,頭腦昏脹的他在早上醒覺時,並不完全相信身上的毛毯,就是昨夜的那條蛇……

  「昨晚想叫你上床睡,卻又搖不醒你,只好丟了條毛毯給你。」

  K在早餐時拿出一只畫框,裡頭裝了阿索為K畫的素描。

  「我扔了全家福照片,改裝你的素描。反正他們都移民了。待會掛起來罷?還有,這東西送你。你不要推辭,也不要介意,好不好?」

  是隻懷錶。懷錶外蓋上有細微紋路突起,像是年輕男子的光潤背脊。蓋子背面,鑲嵌了半人半獸的迷你牧神浮雕。K說,把懷錶送給阿索,是相信阿索能夠好好保管它,因為這不是可以隨便送人的禮物——這是K的另一枚心臟,會搏動的——這本來是那個去世學長送給K的禮物,他看過K的牧神的午後。K不想再看到這隻感傷的錶,又不忍棄置,便轉送給阿索,K希望懷錶可以成為阿索生命中的一部分,像友誼的印記,永不磨滅。

  (但是,他們兩人都沒有料到:那天阿索離去時,會發生那回事——)

  K遞鐵鎚給阿索,請阿索站在凳子,在牆上釘上鋼釘,好掛上那幅素描。K扶著阿索的腿,又說起去年秋天的故事,未料阿索突然吼道:

  「不要碰我,不要碰我,我最恨有人摸我!」

  阿索沒想到自己這麼神經質(難道仍在宿醉);他無法證實自己喊出了什麼,因為他也不能詢問K了——不知何時,立在他身後的K,額頭中央硬生生插了那隻鐵鎚。原來是在阿索手上的。K只咕噥一聲,便倒地不起,額頭泛現放射狀血痕。

  阿索冷靜下來,很細心地把鐵鎚、素描、懷錶都包好帶走。K倒地時沒有發出太大聲響。在幾百尺內都沒有看到旁人。買滷味時只有K走近攤子,沒有人注意到阿索。K的家人都移民了,近期不會有人光顧這棟老房子。他用毛毯把K細細包裹好,像蛇一樣捲住K,然後把這包毛毯塞入衣櫃。除了K,沒有人記得阿索來過溫泉小鎮。

  ……我要回台北了……一切都不曾發生……一定是酒喝太多了……我還要聯考呢……最恨有人對我動手動腳了……我根本不是認識他……誰知道他是誰……

  阿索離開小鎮時,賣可樂的雜貨鋪正放著翻唱的老歌。

  阿索開始注意各大報的地方新聞版,一連幾天卻絲毫見不到溫泉小鎮的消息,更甭提K那回事。或許這整件事都是酒夢。對身處台北的阿索來說,遠方的溫泉小鎮似乎虛浮而不存在。可是,阿索不能把這一切忘記。懷錶、素描、鐵鎚,這些受詛的信物,都收在阿索床下,在他為應付聯考而租賃的公寓小房間裡。

  但,阿索不能丟開這隻懷錶,他不得不把床底下的錶收回懷裡;因為,他竟然成為懷錶的禁臠了——自從離開K家之後,懷錶就成為阿索的另一顆心臟,一顆來自K的心臟:懷錶的指針搏動,彷彿跟阿索的心律應合,成為協奏——也因此,夜裡就寢時,阿索竟然要聽見懷錶指針和自己的心跳共鳴,才得以入睡。他曾嘗試聆聽其他計時器的聲音,如掛鐘、手錶,尋常的懷錶,可是行不通——只有K送的懷錶才是他的另一球心臟。於是,在焦躁的午夜時分,甚或苦熬到天破曉時,阿索只好推開各色鐘錶,重拾K的懷錶掛上,這才睡得著。可是他實在想遺忘這只錶的詛咒!有時,阿索便在午夜丟開懷錶,嚥下第一片安眠藥——睡不著。一小時後他吞下第二片、第三片、第四片、第五片……阿索也擔心,吞下過量安眠藥會出事——但,既然沒有佩掛懷錶時得不到一夜安眠,恐怕,永遠的安眠也因此不可求得罷……阿索也不願去看精神科醫師;他不想被迫說出最想遺忘的事。懷錶是附身在他身上了——或許,附身的是牧神,或是K……

  他乖乖佩帶懷錶上補習班,否則他連午間休息的小睡都要失去——同學們留意阿索胸前的懷錶,也看見他日漸枯黃的面容。偶爾會有同學好奇,探問起懷錶的故事,嚷著要打開懷錶蓋子看看——卻總被阿索喝退。

  「打開蓋子」,這或許是一語多關——這隻懷錶別緻可人,的確應該打開來,讓人們共欣賞;同樣應該打開密封蓋子的,還包括阿索自己,因為他這個陰鷙的人在班上越來越不對勁了。「打開蓋子。」這是阿索最不想聽見的一句話,但卻也是他時時聽見的話。打開蓋子,我要現身。牧神浮雕在懷錶裡頭喊著,包在毛毯K君在衣櫃裡頭喊著。這呼聲,伴隨懷錶的腳步,在阿索的心臟孔竅間流竄,鑽得好深、好深,只有阿索自己才聽見。「打開蓋子。」他的睡眠和體內的呼嚎絞在一起了,他的兩個心臟——肉質和金屬的——全都絞在一起了。兩個心臟在一起,於是兩方的血液相互流動,懷錶成為阿索身上的臟器,阿索也成為這隻懷錶的一塊肉……

  打開蓋子:這是牧神的抗議。我要出來:這是K的抗議。打開蓋子:阿索的血液和血管摩擦的聲音。

  好,就讓你出來罷。

  阿索再也承受不住了。在春天即將到來的那個星期天午後,甚是躁悶,打赤膊的阿索在他房裡摔起參考書。他翻身到床下,尋找舊報紙包裹的那支鐵鎚(報紙上的日期,正是K的生日,也是阿索的生日),想要終止這隻懷錶發出的一切噪音。阿索年輕光華的背脊,閃著汗汁光暈。如果,真的敲毀懷錶——阿索心臟的伴奏者——睡眠,豈不就要遠離他了?可是阿索管不著。他要終止所有的吶喊。他扯下懷錶,取出舊報紙包裹的鐵鎚——牧神浮雕在懷錶裡尖叫,彷若哀嚎,又像狂喜。

  他終究抓起那把嗜血鐵鎚,敲向懷錶。金屬敲擊聲,一下,兩下,三下。懷錶外蓋龜裂,可是阿索卻再也敲不下去。

  他只咕噥一聲,便倒地不起——(懷錶成為阿索身上的臟器,阿索也成為這隻懷錶的一塊肉……)——阿索他那年輕平滑的背,居然也泛現懷錶外蓋的裂痕:他的背部彷彿被拉鍊劃開,血漿泉湧,而他的脊椎就像那條拉鍊。阿索沒有機會看見——自己裂開的背,竟然蹦出血淋淋的生靈:看起來半人半獸,活像懷錶裡的浮雕牧神。那怪物呼嘯不已,跳起K的田間舞步,隨即奪門而出,在公寓的樓梯間脫逃消失。

  然而,那幅K的素描,仍然十分完好收藏在阿索床下,沉浴在冬日鄉間的午後微笑裡。

 

——《中央日報‧中華副刊》,一九九五年三月七日

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