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11-13-2011, 07:47 PM   #1

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

1q84

 


" " 1q84

:\


1949

ɺ "bizarre"
( )

1q84 1984 "9" "" " que" 1984 .

.
.

ɺ .

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11-13-2011, 07:52 PM   #2

 

______________

 
: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


BOOK 1 APRIL-JUNE

chapter 1
Aomame

DONT LET APPEARANCES FOOL YOU


The taxis radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáčeks Sinfoniettaprobably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didnt seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.
How many people could recognize Janáčeks Sinfonietta after hearing just the first few bars? Probably somewhere between very few and almost none. But for some reason, Aomame was one of the few who could.
Janáček composed his little symphony in 1926. He originally wrote the opening as a fanfare for a gymnastics festival. Aomame imagined 1926 Czechoslovakia: The First World War had ended, and the country was freed from the long rule of the Hapsburg Dynasty. As they enjoyed the peaceful respite visiting central Europe, people drank Pilsner beer in cafs and manufactured handsome light machine guns. Two years earlier, in utter obscurity, Franz Kafka had left the world behind. Soon Hitler would come out of nowhere and gobble up this beautiful little country in the blink of an eye, but at the time no one knew what hardships lay in store for them. This may be the most important proposition revealed by history: At the time, no one knew what was coming. Listening to Janáčeks music, Aomame imagined the carefree winds sweeping across the plains of Bohemia and thought about the vicissitudes of history.
In 1926 Japans Taisho Emperor died, and the era name was changed to Showa. It was the beginning of a terrible, dark time in this country, too. The short interlude of modernism and democracy was ending, giving way to fascism.
Aomame loved history as much as she loved sports. She rarely read fiction, but history books could keep her occupied for hours. What she liked about history was the way all its facts were linked with particular dates and places. She did not find it especially difficult to remember historical dates. Even if she did not learn them by rote memorization, once she grasped the relationship of an event to its time and to the events preceding and following it, the date would come to her automatically. In both middle school and high school, she had always gotten the top grade on history exams. It puzzled her to hear someone say he had trouble learning dates. How could something so simple be a problem for anyone?
Aomame was her real name. Her grandfather on her fathers side came from some little mountain town or village in Fukushima Prefecture, where there were supposedly a number of people who bore the name, written with exactly the same characters as the word for green peas and pronounced with the same four syllables, Ah-oh-mah-meh. She had never been to the place, however. Her father had cut his ties with his family before her birth, just as her mother had done with her own family, so she had never met any of her grandparents. She didnt travel much, but on those rare occasions when she stayed in an unfamiliar city or town, she would always open the hotels phone book to see if there were any Aomames in the area. She had never found a single one, and whenever she tried and failed, she felt like a lonely castaway on the open sea.
Telling people her name was always a bother. As soon as the name left her lips, the other person looked puzzled or confused.
Miss Aomame?
Yes. Just like green peas.
Employers required her to have business cards printed, which only made things worse. People would stare at the card as if she had thrust a letter at them bearing bad news. When she announced her name on the telephone, she would often hear suppressed laughter. In waiting rooms at the doctors or at public offices, people would look up at the sound of her name, curious to see what someone called Green Peas could look like.
Some people would get the name of the plant wrong and call her Edamame or Soramame, whereupon she would gently correct them: No, Im not soybeans or fava beans, just green peas. Pretty close, though. Aomame. How many times in her thirty years had she heard the same remarks, the same feeble jokes about her name? My life might have been totally different if I hadnt been born with this name. If I had had an ordinary name like Sato or Tanaka or Suzuki, I could have lived a slightly more relaxed life or looked at people with somewhat more forgiving eyes. Perhaps.
Eyes closed, Aomame listened to the music, allowing the lovely unison of the brasses to sink into her brain. Just then it occurred to her that the sound quality was too good for a radio in a taxicab. Despite the rather low volume at which it was playing, the sound had true depth, and the overtones were clearly audible. She opened her eyes and leaned forward to study the dashboard stereo. The jet-black device shone with a proud gloss. She couldnt make out its brand name, but it was obviously high end, with lots of knobs and switches, the green numerals of the station readout clear against the black panel. This was not the kind of stereo you expected to see in an ordinary fleet cab.
She looked around at the cabs interior. She had been too absorbed in her own thoughts to notice until now, but this was no ordinary taxi. The high quality of the trim was evident, and the seat was especially comfortable. Above all, it was quiet. The car probably had extra sound insulation to keep noise out, like a soundproofed music studio. The driver probably owned his own cab. Many such owner-drivers would spare no expense on the upkeep of their automobiles. Moving only her eyes, Aomame searched for the drivers registration card, without success. This did not seem to be an illegal unlicensed cab, though. It had a standard taxi meter, which was ticking off the proper fare: 2,150 yen so far. Still, the registration card showing the drivers name was nowhere to be found.
What a nice car, Aomame said, speaking to the drivers back. So quiet. What kind is it?
Toyota Crown Royal Saloon, the driver replied succinctly.
The music sounds great in here.
Its a very quiet car. Thats one reason I chose it. Toyota has some of the best sound-insulating technology in the world.
Aomame nodded and leaned back in her seat. There was something about the drivers way of speaking that bothered her, as though he were leaving something important unsaid. For example (and this is just one example), his remark on Toyotas impeccable sound insulation might be taken to mean that some other Toyota feature was less than impeccable. And each time he finished a sentence, there was a tiny but meaningful lump of silence left behind. This lump floated there, enclosed in the cars restricted space like an imaginary miniature cloud, giving Aomame a strangely unsettled feeling.
It certainly is a quiet car, Aomame declared, as if to sweep the little cloud away. And the stereo looks especially fine.
Decisiveness was key when I bought it, the driver said, like a retired staff officer explaining a past military success. I have to spend so much time in here, I want the best sound available. And
Aomame waited for what was to follow, but nothing followed. She closed her eyes again and concentrated on the music. She knew nothing about Janáček as a person, but she was quite sure that he never imagined that in 1984 someone would be listening to his composition in a hushed Toyota Crown Royal Saloon on the gridlocked elevated Metropolitan Expressway in Tokyo.
Why, though, Aomame wondered, had she instantly recognized the piece to be Janáčeks Sinfonietta? And how did she know it had been composed in 1926? She was not a classical music fan, and she had no personal recollections involving Janáček, yet the moment she heard the opening bars, all her knowledge of the piece came to her by reflex, like a flock of birds swooping through an open window. The music gave her an odd, wrenching kind of feeling. There was no pain or unpleasantness involved, just a sensation that all the elements of her body were being physically wrung out. Aomame had no idea what was going on. Could Sinfonietta actually be giving me this weird feeling?
Janáček, Aomame said half-consciously, though after the word emerged from her lips, she wanted to take it back.
Whats that, maam?
Janáček. The man who wrote this music.
Never heard of him.
Czech composer.
Well-well, the driver said, seemingly impressed.
Do you own this cab? Aomame asked, hoping to change the subject.
I do, the driver answered. After a brief pause, he added, Its all mine. My second one.
Very comfortable seats.
Thank you, maam. Turning his head slightly in her direction, he asked, By the way, are you in a hurry?
I have to meet someone in Shibuya. Thats why I asked you to take the expressway.
What time is your meeting?
Four thirty, Aomame said.
Well, its already three forty-five. Youll never make it.
Is the backup that bad?
Looks like a major accident up ahead. This is no ordinary traffic jam. Weve hardly moved for quite a while.
She wondered why the driver was not listening to traffic reports. The expressway had been brought to a standstill. He should be listening to updates on the taxi drivers special radio station.
You can tell its an accident without hearing a traffic report? Aomame asked.
You cant trust them, he said with a hollow ring to his voice. Theyre half lies. The Expressway Corporation only releases reports that suit its agenda. If you really want to know whats happening here and now, youve got to use your own eyes and your own judgment.
And your judgment tells you that well be stuck here?
For quite a while, the driver said with a nod. I can guarantee you that. When it backs up solid like this, the expressway is sheer hell. Is your meeting an important one?
Aomame gave it some thought. Yes, very. I have to see a client.
Thats a shame. Youre probably not going to make it.
The driver shook his head a few times as if trying to ease a stiff neck. The wrinkles on the back of his neck moved like some kind of ancient creature. Half-consciously watching the movement, Aomame found herself thinking of the sharp object in the bottom of her shoulder bag. A touch of sweat came to her palms.
What do you think I should do? she asked.
Theres nothing you can do up here on the expresswaynot until we get to the next exit. If we were down on the city streets, you could just step out of the cab and take the subway.
What is the next exit?
Ikejiri. We might not get there before the sun goes down, though.
Before the sun goes down? Aomame imagined herself locked in this cab until sunset. The Janáček was still playing. Muted strings came to the foreground as if to soothe her heightened anxiety. That earlier wrenching sensation had largely subsided. What could that have been?
Aomame had caught the cab near Kinuta and told the driver to take the elevated expressway from Yohga. The flow of traffic had been smooth at first, but suddenly backed up just before Sangenjaya, after which they had hardly moved. The outbound lanes were moving fine. Only the side headed toward downtown Tokyo was tragically jammed. Inbound Expressway Number 3 would not normally back up at three in the afternoon, which was why Aomame had directed the driver to take it.
Time charges dont add up on the expressway, the driver said, speaking toward his rearview mirror. So dont let the fare worry you. I suppose you need to get to your meeting, though?
Yes, of course. But theres nothing I can do about it, is there?
He glanced at her in the mirror. He was wearing pale sunglasses. The way the light was shining in, Aomame could not make out his expression.
Well, in fact, there might be a way. You could take the subway to Shibuya from here, but youd have to do something a little extreme.
Something extreme?
Its not something I can openly advise you to do.
Aomame said nothing. She waited for more with narrowed eyes.
Look over there. See that turnout just ahead? he asked, pointing. See? Near that Esso sign.
Aomame strained to see through the windshield until she focused on a space to the left of the two-lane roadway where broken-down cars could pull off. The elevated roadway had no shoulder but instead had emergency turnouts at regular intervals. Aomame saw that the turnout was outfitted with a yellow emergency phone box for contacting the Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation office. The turnout itself was empty at the moment. On top of a building beyond the oncoming lanes there was a big billboard advertising Esso gasoline with a smiling tiger holding a gas hose.
To tell you the truth, theres a stairway leading from the turnout down to street level. Its for drivers who have to abandon their cars in a fire or earthquake and climb down to the street. Usually only maintenance workers use it. If you were to climb down that stairway, youd be near a Tokyu Line station. From there, its nothing to Shibuya.
I had no idea these Metropolitan Expressways had emergency stairs, Aomame said.
Not many people do.
But wouldnt I get in trouble using it without permission when theres no real emergency?
The driver paused a moment. Then he said, I wonder. I dont know all the rules of the Corporation, but you wouldnt be hurting anybody. Theyd probably look the other way, dont you think? Anyway, they dont have people watching every exit. The Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation is famous for having a huge staff but nobody really doing any work.
What kind of stairway is it?
Hmm, kind of like a fire escape. You know, like the ones you see on the backs of old buildings. Its not especially dangerous or anything. Its maybe three stories high, and you just climb down. Theres a barrier at the opening, but its not very high. Anybody who wanted to could get over it easily.
Have you ever used one of these stairways?
Instead of replying, the driver directed a faint smile toward his rearview mirror, a smile that could be read any number of ways.
Its strictly up to you, he said, tapping lightly on the steering wheel in time to the music. If you just want to sit here and relax and enjoy the music, Im fine with that. We might as well resign ourselves to the fact that were not going anywhere soon. All Im saying is that there are emergency measures you can take if you have urgent business.
Aomame frowned and glanced at her watch. She looked up and studied the surrounding cars. On the right was a black Mitsubishi Pajero wagon with a thin layer of white dust. A bored-looking young man in the front passenger seat was smoking a cigarette with his window open. He had long hair, a tanned face, and wore a dark red windbreaker. The cars luggage compartment was filled with a number of worn surfboards. In front of him was a gray Saab 900, its dark-tinted windows closed tight, preventing any glimpse of who might be inside. The body was so immaculately polished, you could probably see your face in it.
The car ahead was a red Suzuki Alto with a Nerima Ward license plate and a dented bumper. A young mother sat gripping the wheel. Her small child was standing on the seat next to her, moving back and forth to dispel its boredom. The mothers annoyance showed on her face as she cautioned the child to keep still. Aomame could see her mouth moving. The scene was unchanged from ten minutes earlier. In those ten minutes, the car had probably advanced less than ten yards.
Aomame thought hard, arranging everything in order of priority. She needed hardly any time to reach a conclusion. As if to coincide with this, the final movement of the Janáček was just beginning.
She pulled her small Ray-Ban sunglasses partway out of her shoulder bag and took three thousand-yen bills from her wallet. Handing the bills to the driver, she said, Ill get out here. I really cant be late for this appointment.
The driver nodded and took the money. Would you like a receipt?
No need. And keep the change.
Thanks very much, he said. Be careful, it looks windy out there. Dont slip.
Ill be careful, Aomame said.
And also, the driver said, facing the mirror, please remember: things are not what they seem.
Things are not what they seem, Aomame repeated mentally. What do you mean by that? she asked with knitted brows.
The driver chose his words carefully: Its just that youre about to do something out of the ordinary. Am I right? People do not ordinarily climb down the emergency stairs of the Metropolitan Expressway in the middle of the dayespecially women.
I suppose youre right.
Right. And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before. Ive had that experience myself. But dont let appearances fool you. Theres always only one reality.
Aomame thought about what he was saying, and in the course of her thinking, the Janáček ended and the audience broke into immediate applause. This was obviously a live recording. The applause was long and enthusiastic. There were even occasional calls of Bravo! She imagined the smiling conductor bowing repeatedly to the standing audience. He would then raise his head, raise his arms, shake hands with the concertmaster, turn away from the audience, raise his arms again in praise of the orchestra, face front, and take another deep bow. As she listened to the long recorded applause, it sounded less like applause and more like an endless Martian sandstorm.
There is always, as I said, only one reality, the driver repeated slowly, as if underlining an important passage in a book.
Of course, Aomame said. He was right. A physical object could only be in one place at one time. Einstein proved that. Reality was utterly coolheaded and utterly lonely.
Aomame pointed toward the car stereo. Great sound.
The driver nodded. What was the name of that composer again?
Janáček.
Janáček, the driver repeated, as if committing an important password to memory. Then he pulled the lever that opened the passenger door. Be careful, he said. I hope you get to your appointment on time.
Aomame stepped out of the cab, gripping the strap of her large leather shoulder bag. The applause was still going. She started walking carefully along the left edge of the elevated road toward the emergency turnout some ten meters ahead. Each time a large truck roared by on the opposite side, she felt the surface of the road shakeor, rather, undulatethrough her high heels, as if she were walking on the deck of an aircraft carrier on a stormy sea.
The little girl in the front seat of the red Suzuki Alto stuck her head out of her window and stared, open-mouthed, at Aomame passing by. Then she turned to her mother and asked, Mommy, what is that lady doing? Wheres she going? I want to get out and walk too. Please, Mommy! Pleeease! The mother responded to her cries in silence, shaking her head and shooting an accusatory glance at Aomame. The girls loud pleading and the mothers glance were the only responses to her that Aomame noticed. The other drivers just sat at the wheel smoking and watching her make her way with determined steps between the cars and the side wall. They knit their brows and squinted as if looking at a too-bright object but seemed to have temporarily suspended all judgment. For someone to be walking on the Metropolitan Expressway was by no means an everyday event, with or without the usual flow of traffic, so it took them some time to process the sight as an actual occurrenceall the more so because the walker was a young woman in high heels and a miniskirt.
Aomame pulled in her chin, kept her gaze fixed straight ahead, her back straight, and her pace steady. Her chestnut-colored Charles Jourdan heels clicked against the roads surface, and the skirts of her coat waved in the breeze. April had begun, but there was still a chill in the air and a hint of roughness to come. Aomame wore a beige spring coat over her green light wool Junko Shimada suit. A black leather bag hung over her shoulder, and her shoulder-length hair was impeccably trimmed and shaped. She wore no accessories of any kind. Five foot six inches tall, she carried not an ounce of excess fat. Every muscle in her body was well toned, but her coat kept that fact hidden.
A detailed examination of her face from the front would reveal that the size and shape of her ears were significantly different, the left one much bigger and malformed. No one ever noticed this, however, because her hair nearly always covered her ears. Her lips formed a tight straight line, suggesting that she was not easily approachable. Also contributing to this impression were her small, narrow nose, somewhat protruding cheekbones, broad forehead, and long, straight eyebrows. All of these were arranged to sit in a pleasing oval shape, however, and while tastes differ, few would object to calling her a beautiful woman. The one problem with her face was its extreme paucity of expression. Her firmly closed lips only formed a smile when absolutely necessary. Her eyes had the cool, vigilant stare of a superior deck officer. Thanks to these features, no one ever had a vivid impression of her face. She attracted attention not so much because of the qualities of her features but rather because of the naturalness and grace with which her expression moved. In that sense, Aomame resembled an insect skilled at biological mimicry. What she most wanted was to blend in with her background by changing color and shape, to remain inconspicuous and not easily remembered. This was how she had protected herself since childhood.
Whenever something caused her to frown or grimace, however, her features underwent dramatic changes. The muscles of her face tightened, pulling in several directions at once and emphasizing the lack of symmetry in the overall structure. Deep wrinkles formed in her skin, her eyes suddenly drew inward, her nose and mouth became violently distorted, her jaw twisted to the side, and her lips curled back, exposing Aomames large white teeth. Instantly, she became a wholly different person, as if a cord had broken, dropping the mask that normally covered her face. The shocking transformation terrified anyone who saw it, so she was careful never to frown in the presence of a stranger. She would contort her face only when she was alone or when she was threatening a man who displeased her.
Reaching the turnout, Aomame stopped and looked around. It took only a moment for her to find the emergency stairway. As the driver had said, there was a metal barrier across the entrance. It was a little more than waist high, and it was locked. Stepping over it in a tight miniskirt could be a slight problem, but only if she cared about being seen. Without hesitating, she slipped her high heels off and shoved them into her shoulder bag. She would probably ruin her stockings by walking in bare feet, but she could easily buy another pair.
People stared at her in silence as she removed her shoes and coat. From the open window of the black Toyota Celica parked next to the turnout, Michael Jacksons high-pitched voice provided her with background music. Billie Jean was playing. She felt as if she were performing a striptease. So what? Let them look all they want. They must be bored waiting for the traffic jam to end. Sorry, though, folks, this is all Ill be taking off today.
Aomame slung the bag across her chest to keep it from falling. Some distance away she could see the brand-new black Toyota Crown Royal Saloon in which she had been riding, its windshield reflecting the blinding glare of the afternoon sun. She could not make out the face of the driver, but she knew he must be watching.
Dont let appearances fool you. Theres always only one reality.
Aomame took in a long, deep breath, and slowly let it out. Then, to the tune of Billie Jean, she swung her leg over the metal barrier. Her miniskirt rode up to her hips. Who gives a damn? Let them look all they want. Seeing whats under my skirt doesnt let them really see me as a person. Besides, her legs were the part of her body of which Aomame was the most proud.
Stepping down once she was on the other side of the barrier, Aomame straightened her skirt, brushed the dust from her hands, put her coat back on, slung her bag across her chest again, and pushed her sunglasses more snugly against her face. The emergency stairway lay before hera metal stairway painted gray. Plain, practical, functional. Not made for use by miniskirted women wearing only stockings on their otherwise bare feet. Nor had Junko Shimada designed Aomames suit for use on the emergency escape stairs of Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway Number 3. Another huge truck roared down the outbound side of the expressway, shaking the stairs. The breeze whistled through gaps in the stairways metal framework. But in any case, there it was, before her: the stairway. All that was left for her to do was climb down to the street.
Aomame turned for one last look at the double line of cars packed on the expressway, scanning them from left to right, then right to left, like a speaker on a podium looking for questions from the audience now that she had finished her talk. There had been no movement at all. Trapped on the expressway with nothing else to occupy them, people were watching her every move, wondering what this woman on the far side of the barrier would do next. Aomame lightly pulled in her chin, bit her lower lip, and took stock of her audience through the dark green lenses of her sunglasses.
You couldnt begin to imagine who I am, where Im going, or what Im about to do, Aomame said to her audience without moving her lips. All of you are trapped here. You cant go anywhere, forward or back. But Im not like you. I have work to do. I have a mission to accomplish. And so, with your permission, I shall move ahead.
Aomame had the urge at the end to treat her assembled throng to one of her special scowls, but she managed to stop herself. There was no time for such things now. Once she let herself frown, it took both time and effort to regain her original expression.
Aomame turned her back on her silent audience and, with careful steps, began to descend the emergency stairway, feeling the chill of the crude metal rungs against the soles of her feet. Also chilling was the early April breeze, which swept her hair back now and then, revealing her misshapen left ear.

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11-13-2011, 07:54 PM   #3

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 2

Tengo

SOMETHING ELSE IN MIND


Tengos first memory dated from the time he was one and a half. His mother had taken off her blouse and dropped the shoulder straps of her white slip to let a man who was not his father suck on her breasts. The infant in the crib nearby was probably Tengo himself. He was observing the scene as a third person. Or could the infant have been his twin? No, not likely. It was one-and-a-half-year-old Tengo. He knew this intuitively. The infant was asleep, its eyes closed, its little breaths deep and regular. The vivid ten-second scene was seared into the wall of his consciousness, his earliest memory in life. Nothing came before or after it. It stood out alone, like the steeple of a town visited by a flood, thrusting up above the muddy water.
Tengo made a point of asking people how old they were at the time of their first memory. For most people it was four or five. Three at the very earliest. A child had to be at least three to begin observing a surrounding scene with a degree of rationality. In the stage before that, everything registered as incomprehensible chaos. The world was a mushy bowl of loose gruel, lacking framework or handholds. It flowed past our open windows without forming memories in the brain.
Surely a one-and-a-half-year-old infant was unable to grasp what it meant for a man who was not his father to be sucking his mothers breasts. That much was clear. So if this memory of Tengos was genuine, the scene must have been seared into his retinas as a pure image free of judgmentthe way a camera records objects on film, mechanically, as a blend of light and shadow. And as his consciousness matured, the fixed image held in reserve would have been analyzed bit by bit, and meaning applied to it. But is such a thing even possible? Was the infant brain capable of preserving images like that?
Or was this simply a false memory of Tengos? Was it just something that his mind had later decidedfor whatever purpose or planto make up on its own? Tengo had given plenty of thought to the possibility that this memory might be a fabrication, but he had arrived at the conclusion that it probably was not. It was too vivid and too deeply compelling to be fake. The light, the smells, the beating of his heart: these felt overwhelmingly real, not like imitations. And besides, it explained many thingsboth logically and emotionallyto assume that the scene was real.
This vivid ten-second image would come to him without warning and without consideration of either time or place. He could be riding on the subway or writing formulas on the blackboard or having a meal or (as now) sitting and talking to someone across a table, and it would envelop him like a soundless tsunami. By the time he noticed, it would be directly in front of him, and his arms and legs would be paralyzed. The flow of time stopped. The air grew thin, and he had trouble breathing. He lost all connection with the people and things around him. The tsunamis liquid wall swallowed him whole. And though it felt to him as if the world were being closed off in darkness, he experienced no loss of awareness. It was just a sense of having been switched to a new track. Parts of his mind were, if anything, sharpened by the change. He felt no terror, but he could not keep his eyes open. His eyelids were clamped shut. Sounds grew distant, and the familiar image was projected onto the screen of his consciousness again and again. Sweat gushed from every part of his body and the armpits of his undershirt grew damp. He trembled all over, and his heartbeat grew faster and louder.
If he was with someone when it happened, Tengo would feign momentary dizziness. It was, in fact, like a dizzy spell. Everything would return to normal in time. He would pull his handkerchief from his pocket and press it to his mouth. Waiting for the dizziness to pass, he would raise a hand to signal to the other person that it was nothing to worry about. Sometimes it would all be over in thirty seconds, at other times it went on for over a minute. As long as it lasted, the same image would be repeated as if on a tape machine set on automatic. His mother would drop her shoulder straps and some man would start sucking on her hardened nipples. She would close her eyes and heave a deep sigh. The warm, familiar scent of mothers milk hovered faintly in the air. Smell is an infants most acute sense. The sense of smell reveals a great dealsometimes it reveals everything. The scene was soundless, the air a dense liquid. All he could hear was the soft beating of his own heart.
Look at this, they say. Look at this and nothing else, they say. You are here. You cant go anywhere else, they say. The message is played over and over.
This attack was a long one. Tengo closed his eyes, covered his mouth with his handkerchief as always, and gritted his teeth. He had no idea how long it went on. All he could do was guess, based on how worn out he felt afterward. He felt physically drained, more fatigued than he had ever felt before. Some time had to go by before he could open his eyes. His mind wanted to wake up, but his muscles and internal organs resisted. He might as well have been a hibernating animal trying to wake up in the wrong season.
Tengo, Tengo! someone was calling. The muffled voice seemed to reach him from the depths of a cave. It finally dawned on Tengo that he was hearing his own name. Whats wrong, Tengo? Is it happening to you again? Are you all right? The voice sounded closer now.
Tengo finally opened his eyes, managed to focus them, and stared at his own right hand gripping the edge of the table. Now he could be sure that the world still existed in one piece and that he was still a part of it. Some numbness remained, but the hand was certainly his. So, too, was the smell of sweat emanating from him, an oddly harsh odor like a zoo animals.
His throat was dry. Tengo reached for the glass on the table and drank half its contents, carefully trying not to spill any. After a momentary rest to catch his breath, he drank the remainder. His mind was gradually coming back to where it belonged and his senses were returning to normal. He set the empty glass down and wiped his mouth with his handkerchief.
Sorry, he said. Im okay now
He knew that the man across from him was Komatsu and that they had been talking at a caf near Tokyos Shinjuku Station. The sounds of other nearby conversations now sounded like normal voices. The couple at the neighboring table were staring at him, obviously concerned. The waitress stood by with a worried expression on her face as though she expected her customer to vomit. Tengo looked up and nodded to her, smiling as if to signal, Dont worry, no problem.
That wasnt some kind of fit, was it? Komatsu asked.
No, its nothing, a kind of dizzy spell. A bad one, Tengo replied. His voice still didnt sound like his own, though it was getting closer.
Itd be terrible if that happened while you were driving or something, Komatsu said, looking directly at him.
I dont drive.
Thats good. I know a guy with a cedar pollen allergy who started sneezing at the wheel and smashed into a telephone pole. Of course, your thing is not just sneezing. I was shocked the first time. Im more or less used to it now, though.
Sorry.
Tengo picked up his coffee cup and gulped down what was left. He tasted nothing, just felt some lukewarm liquid passing down his throat.
Want to order another glass of water? Komatsu asked.
Tengo shook his head. No, Im okay now.
Komatsu took a pack of Marlboros from his jacket pocket, put one in his mouth, and lit up with the cafs matches. Then he glanced at his watch.
What were we talking about again? Tengo asked, trying to get back to normal.
Good question, Komatsu said, staring off into space, thinkingor pretending to. Tengo could not be sure which. There was a good deal of acting involved in the way Komatsu spoke and gestured. Thats itthe girl Fuka-Eri. We were just getting started on her and Air Chrysalis.
Tengo nodded. That was it. He was just beginning to give his opinion on Fuka-Eri and her novella, Air Chrysalis, when the attack hit him.
Komatsu said, I was going to tell you about that odd one-word pen name of hers.
It is odd, isnt it? The Fuka sounds like part of a family name, and the Eri could be an ordinary girls name: Eri or Eriko.
Thats exactly what it is. Her family name is Fukada, and her real first name is Eriko, so she put them together: Fuka plus Eri equals Fuka-Eri.
Tengo pulled the manuscript from his briefcase and laid it on the table, resting his hand atop the sheaf of paper to reaffirm its presence.
As I mentioned briefly on the phone, the best thing about this Air Chrysalis is that its not an imitation of anyone. It has absolutely none of the usual new writers sense of I want to be another so-and-so. The style, for sure, is rough, and the writing is clumsy. She even gets the title wrong: shes confusing chrysalis and cocoon. You could pick it apart completely if you wanted to. But the story itself has real power: it draws you in. The overall plot is a fantasy, but the descriptive detail is incredibly real. The balance between the two is excellent. I dont know if words like originality or inevitability fit here, and I suppose I might agree if someone insisted its not at that level, but finally, after you work your way through the thing, with all its faults, it leaves a real impressionit gets to you in some strange, inexplicable way that may be a little disturbing.
Komatsu kept his eyes on Tengo, saying nothing. He was waiting to hear more.
Tengo went on. Id hate to see this thing dropped from the competition just because the style is clumsy. Ive read tons of submissions over the yearsor maybe I should say skimmed rather than read. A few of them were fairly well written, of course, but most of them were just awful. And out of all those manuscripts, this Air Chrysalis is the only one that moved me the least bit. Its the only one that ever made me want to read it again.
Well, well, Komatsu said, and then, as if he found this all rather boring, he released a stream of smoke through his pursed lips. Tengo had known Komatsu too long to be deceived by such a display, however. Komatsu was a man who often adopted an expression that was either unrelated toor exactly the opposite ofwhat he was actually feeling. And so Tengo was prepared to wait him out.
I read it, too, Komatsu said after a short pause. Right after you called me. The writing is incredibly bad. Its ungrammatical, and in some places you have no idea what shes trying to say. She should go back to school and learn how to write a decent sentence before she starts writing fiction.
But you did read it to the end, didnt you?
Komatsu smiled. It was the kind of smile he might have found way in the back of a normally unopened drawer. Youre right, I did read it all the way throughmuch to my own surprise. I never read these new writer prize submissions from beginning to end. I even reread some parts of this one. Lets just say the planets were in perfect alignment. Ill grant it that much.
Which means it has something, dont you think?
Komatsu set his cigarette in an ashtray and rubbed the side of his nose with the middle finger of his right hand. He did not, however, answer Tengos question.
Tengo said, Shes just seventeen, a high school kid. She still doesnt have the discipline to read and write fiction, thats all. Its practically impossible for this work to take the new writers prize, I know, but its good enough to put on the short list. You can make that happen, Im sure. So then she can win next time.
Hmm, Komatsu said with another noncommittal answer and a yawn. He took a drink from his water glass. Think about it, Tengo. Imagine if I put it on the short list. The members of the selection committee would faintor more likely have a shit fit. But they would definitely not read it all the way through. All four of them are active writers, busy with their own work. Theyd skim the first couple of pages and toss it out as if it were some grade school composition. I could plead with them to give it another try, and guarantee them it would be brilliant with a little polishing here and there, but whos going to listen to me? Even supposing I could make it happen, Id only want to do that for something with more promise.
So youre saying we should drop it just like that?
No, that is not what Im saying, Komatsu said, rubbing the side of his nose. Ive got something else in mind for this story.
Something else in mind, Tengo said. He sensed something ominous in Komatsus tone.
Youre saying we should count on her next work as a winner, Komatsu said. Id like to be able to do that, too, of course. One of an editors greatest joys is nurturing a young writer over time. Its a thrill to look at the clear night sky and discover a new star before anybody else sees it. But to tell you the truth, Tengo, I dont believe this girl has a next work in her. Not to boast, but Ive been making my living in this business for twenty years now. Ive seen writers come and go. And if Ive learned anything, its how to tell the difference between writers who have a next work in them, and those who dont. And if you ask me, this girl doesnt have one. Her next work is not going to make it, and neither will the one after that or the one after that. First of all, look at this style. No amount of work is going to make it any better. Its never going to happen. And the reason its never going to happen is that the writer herself doesnt give a damn about style: she shows absolutely no intention of wanting to write well, of wanting to improve her writing. Good style happens in one of two ways: the writer either has an inborn talent or is willing to work herself to death to get it. And this girl, Fuka-Eri, belongs to neither type. Dont ask me why, but style as such simply doesnt interest her. What she does have, though, is the desire to tell a storya fairly strong desire. I grant her that. Even in this raw form, it was able to draw you in, Tengo, and it made me read the manuscript all the way through. That alone is impressive, you could say. But she has no future as a novelist. None. I hate to disappoint you, but thats my honest opinion.
Tengo had to admit that Komatsu could be right. The man possessed good editorial instincts, if nothing else.
Still, it wouldnt hurt to give her a chance, would it? Tengo asked.
You mean, throw her in, see if she sinks or swims?
In a word.
Ive done too much of that already. I dont want to watch anybody else drown.
Well, what about me?
You at least are willing to work hard, Komatsu said cautiously. As far as I can tell, you dont cut corners. Youre very modest when it comes to the act of writing. And why? Because you like to write. I value that in you. Its the single most important quality for somebody who wants to be a writer.
But not, in itself, enough.
No, of course, not in itself enough. There also has to be that special something, an indefinable quality, something I cant quite put my finger on. Thats the part of fiction I value more highly than anything else. Stuff I understand perfectly doesnt interest me. Obviously. Its very simple.
Tengo fell silent for a while. Then he said, Does Fuka-Eris writing have something you dont understand perfectly?
Yes, it does, of course. She has something important. I dont know what it is exactly, but she has it, that much is clear. Its obvious to you, and its obvious to me. Anybody can see it, like the smoke from a bonfire on a windless afternoon. But whatever she has, Tengo, she probably cant carry it on her own.
Meaning, if we throw her in the water, shell drown?
Exactly.
And thats why you dont want to put her on the short list.
That is exactly why. Komatsu contorted his lips and folded his hands on the table. Which brings us to a point in the conversation where I have to be very careful how I express myself.
Tengo picked up his coffee cup and stared at the puddle inside. Then he put the cup down again. Komatsu still had not spoken. Tengo asked, Is this where I find out what you mean by something else?
Komatsu narrowed his eyes like a teacher gazing upon his prize pupil. He nodded slowly and said, It is.
There was something inscrutable about this man Komatsu. You couldnt easily tell from his expression or tone of voice what he was thinking or feeling. He appeared to derive a good deal of pleasure from keeping others guessing. Mentally, he was very quick, that was for certain. He was the type of man who had his own sense of logic and reached his own conclusions without regard to the opinions of others. He did not engage in pointless intellectual display, but it was clear that he had read an enormous amount and that his knowledge was both wide-ranging and deep. Nor was it simply a matter of factual knowledge: he had an intuitive eye both for people and for books. His biases played a large role here, but for Komatsu bias was an important element of truth.
He never said a great deal, and he hated long-winded explanations, but when necessary he could present his views logically and precisely. He could also be quite caustic if he felt like it, aiming a quick and merciless jab at his opponents weakest point. He had very strong opinions about both people and literature; the works and individuals he could not tolerate far outnumbered those he could. Not surprisingly, the number of people who disliked him was far greater than those who thought well of himwhich was exactly what he hoped for. Tengo thought that Komatsu enjoyed the isolationand even relished being openly hated. Komatsu believed that mental acuity was never born from comfortable circumstances.
At forty-five, Komatsu was sixteen years older than Tengo. A dedicated editor of literary magazines, he had established a certain reputation as one of the top people in the industry, but no one knew a thing about his private life. He met with people constantly in his work, but he never spoke of anything personal. Tengo had no idea where he was born or raised, or even where he lived. They often had long conversations, but such topics never came up. People were puzzled that a difficult man like Komatsu was able to solicit manuscripts from writershe had no friends to speak of and displayed only contempt for the literary worldbut over the years he managed, almost effortlessly, to obtain work by famous authors for the magazine, and more than a few issues owed their contents to his efforts. So even if they didnt like him, people respected him.
Rumor had it that when Komatsu was a student in the prestigious University of Tokyos Department of Literature in 1960, he had been one of the leaders of the huge leftist demonstrations against the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. He was said to have been near fellow student Michiko Kanba when she was killed by riot police, and to have suffered serious injuries himself. No one knew if this was true, but there was something about Komatsu that made the stories seem convincing. He was tall and gangly, with an oversized mouth and an undersized nose. He had long limbs and nicotine-stained fingers, reminiscent of those failed revolutionary intellectuals in nineteenth-century Russian novels. He rarely smiled, but when he did it was with his whole face. Not that it made him look especially happyhe was more like an old sorcerer chuckling to himself over an ominous prophecy he was about to reveal. Clean and decently groomed, he always wore a tweed jacket, white oxford cloth or pale gray polo shirt, no tie, gray pants, suede shoesa uniform meant to show the world he didnt care about these things. Tengo imagined a half-dozen three-button tweed jackets of a subtly different color, cloth, and pattern that hung, carefully brushed, in Komatsus closet. Perhaps Komatsu had to attach number tags to distinguish one jacket from another.
Komatsus fine, wiry hair was beginning to show a touch of gray in front. Tangled on the sides, it was long enough to cover his ears, and it always stayed that length, about a week overdue for a haircut. Tengo wondered how such a thing was possible. At times Komatsus eyes would take on a sharp glow, like stars glittering in the winter night sky. And if something caused him to clam up, he would maintain his silence like a rock on the far side of the moon. All expression would disappear from his face, and his body seemed to go cold.
Tengo first met Komatsu five years earlier when he was short-listed for the new writers prize competition of Komatsus magazine. Komatsu called and said he wanted to get together for a chat. They agreed to meet in a caf in Shinjuku (the same one in which they were now sitting). Komatsu told Tengo there was no way his work would take the prize (and in fact it did not). Komatsu himself, however, had enjoyed the story. Im not looking for thanks, but I almost never say this to anyone, he said. (This was in fact true, as Tengo came to learn.) So Id like you to let me read your next story before you show it to anyone else. Tengo promised to do that.
Komatsu also wanted to learn about Tengo as a personhis experience growing up, what he was doing now. Tengo explained himself as honestly as he could. He was born in the city of Ichikawa in nearby Chiba Prefecture. His mother died of an illness shortly after he was born, or at least that was what his father told him. He had no siblings. His father never remarried but raised Tengo by himself, collecting NHK television subscription fees door to door to make a living. Now, however, his father had Alzheimers disease and was living in a nursing home on the southern tip of Chibas Boso Peninsula. Tengo himself had graduated from Tsukuba Universitys oddly named School 1 College of Natural Studies Mathematics Major and was writing fiction while teaching mathematics at a private cram school in Yoyogi. At the time of his graduation he could have taken a position at a prefectural high school near home, but instead chose the relatively free schedule of the Tokyo cram school. He lived alone in a small apartment in the Koenji District west of downtown Tokyo, which gave him an easy half-hour commute to school.
Tengo did not know for certain whether he wanted to be a professional novelist, nor was he sure he had the talent to write fiction. What he did know was that he could not help spending a large part of every day writing fiction. To him, writing was like breathing.
Komatsu said practically nothing as he listened to Tengos story. He seemed to like Tengo, though it was not clear why. Tengo was a big man (he had been a key member of his judo team in middle school, high school, and college), and he had the eyes of an early-waking farmer. He wore his hair short, seemed always to have a tan, and had cauliflower ears. He looked neither like a youthful devotee of literature nor like a teacher of mathematics, which was also something that Komatsu seemed to like about him.
Whenever Tengo finished a story, he would take it to Komatsu. Komatsu would read it and offer his comments. Tengo would rewrite it following his advice and bring it to Komatsu again, who would provide new instructions, like a coach raising the bar a little at a time. Your case might take some time, he said. But were in no hurry. Just make up your mind to write every single day. And dont throw anything out. It might come in handy later. Tengo agreed to follow Komatsus advice.
For his part, Komatsu would occasionally send small writing jobs Tengos way. Anonymously, Tengo wrote copy for the womens magazine produced by Komatsus publisher. He handled everything: revising letters to the editor, writing background pieces on movies and books, composing horoscopes. His horoscopes were especially popular because they were often right. Once when he wrote, Beware an early-morning earthquake, there actually was a big earthquake early one morning. Tengo was grateful for the extra income and for the writing practice this work provided. It made him happy to see his writing in printin any formdisplayed in the bookstores.
Eventually Tengo was hired as a screener for the literary magazines new writers prize. It was odd for him to be screening other writers works when he himself was competing for the prize, but he read everything impartially, not terribly concerned about the delicacy of his situation. If nothing else, the experience of reading mounds of badly written fiction gave him an indelible lesson in exactly what constituted badly written fiction. He read around one hundred works each time, choosing ten that might have some point to them to bring to Komatsu with written comments. Five works would make it to the short list, and from those the four-person committee would select the winner.
Tengo was not the only part-time screener, and Komatsu was only one of several editors engaged in assembling the short list. This was all in the name of fairness, but such efforts were not really necessary. No matter how many works were entered in the competition, there were never more than two or three of any value, and no one could possibly miss those. Three of Tengos stories had made the short list in the past. Each had been chosen not by Tengo himself, of course, but by two other screeners and then by Komatsu, who manned the editorial desk. None had won the prize, but this had not been a crushing blow to Tengo. For one thing, Komatsu had ingrained in him the idea that he just had to give it time. And Tengo himself was not all that eager to become a novelist right away.
If he arranged his teaching schedule well, Tengo was able to spend four days a week at home. He had taught at the same cram school for seven years now, and he was popular with the students because he knew how to convey the subject succinctly and clearly, and he could answer any question on the spot. Tengo surprised himself with his own eloquence. His explanations were clever, his voice carried well, and he could excite the class with a good joke. He had always thought of himself as a poor speaker, and even now he could be at a loss for words when confronted face-to-face. In a small group, he was strictly a listener. In front of a large class, however, his head would clear, and he could speak at length with ease. His own teaching experience gave him renewed awareness of the inscrutability of human beings.
Tengo was not dissatisfied with his salary. It was by no means high, but the school paid in accordance with ability. The students were asked to do course evaluations periodically, and compensation hinged on the results. The school was afraid of having its best teachers lured away (and, in fact, Tengo had been headhunted several times). This never happened at ordinary schools. There, salary was set by seniority, teachers private lives were subject to the supervision of administrators, and ability and popularity counted for nothing. Tengo actually enjoyed teaching at the cram school. Most of the students went there with the explicit purpose of preparing for the college entrance exams, and they attended his lectures enthusiastically. Teachers had only one duty: to teach their classes. This was exactly what Tengo wanted. He never had to deal with student misbehavior or infractions of school rules. All he had to do was show up in the classroom and teach students how to solve mathematical problems. And the manipulation of pure abstractions using numerical tools came naturally to Tengo.
When he was home, Tengo usually wrote from first thing in the morning until the approach of evening. All he needed to satisfy him was his Mont Blanc pen, his blue ink, and standard manuscript sheets, each page lined with four hundred empty squares ready to accept four hundred characters. Once a week his married girlfriend would come to spend the afternoon with him. Sex with a married woman ten years his senior was stress free and fulfilling, because it couldnt lead to anything. As the sun was setting, he would head out for a long walk, and once the sun was down he would read a book while listening to music. He never watched television. Whenever the NHK fee collector came, he would point out that he had no television set, and politely refuse to pay. I really dont have one. You can come in and look if you want, he would say, but the collector would never come in. They were not allowed to.
I have something bigger in mind, Komatsu said.
Something bigger?
Much bigger. Why be satisfied with small-scale stuff like the new writers prize? As long as were aiming, why not go for something big?
Tengo fell silent. He had no idea what Komatsu was getting at, but he sensed something disturbing.
The Akutagawa Prize! Komatsu declared after a moments pause.
The Akutagawa Prize? Tengo repeated the words slowly, as if he were writing them in huge characters with a stick on wet sand.
Come on, Tengo, you cant be that out of touch! The Akutagawa Prize! Every writers dream! Huge headlines in the paper! TV news!
Now youre losing me. Are we still talking about Fuka-Eri?
Of course we areFuka-Eri and Air Chrysalis. Have we been discussing anything else?
Tengo bit his lip as he tried to fathom the meaning behind Komatsus words. But you yourself said theres no way Air Chrysalis can take the new writers prize. Havent we been talking about that all along, how the work will never amount to anything the way it is?
Precisely. Itll never amount to anything the way it is. That is for certain.
Tengo needed time to think. Are you saying it needs to be revised?
Its the only way. Its not that unusual for an author to revise a promising work with the advice of an editor. It happens all the time. Only, in this case, rather than the author, someone else will do the revising.
Someone else? Tengo asked, but he already knew what Komatsus answer would be.
You.
Tengo searched for an appropriate response but couldnt find one. He heaved a sigh and said, You know as well as I do that this work is going to need more than a little patching here and there. Itll never come together without a fundamental top-to-bottom rewrite.
Which is why youll rewrite it from top to bottom. Just use the framework of the story as is. And keep as much of the tone as possible. But change the languagea total remake. Youll be in charge of the actual writing, and Ill be the producer.
Just like that? Tengo muttered, as if to himself.
Look, Komatsu said, picking up a spoon and pointing it at Tengo the way a conductor uses his baton to single out a soloist from the rest of the orchestra. This Fuka-Eri girl has something special. Anyone can see it reading Air Chrysalis. Her imagination is far from ordinary. Unfortunately, though, her writing is hopeless. A total mess. You, on the other hand, know how to write. Your story lines are good. You have taste. You may be built like a lumberjack, but you write with intelligence and sensitivity. And real power. Unlike Fuka-Eri, though, you still havent grasped exactly what it is you want to write about. Which is why a lot of your stories are missing something at the core. I know youve got something inside you that you need to write about, but you cant get it to come out. Its like a frightened little animal hiding way back in a caveyou know its in there, but theres no way to catch it until it comes out. Which is why I keep telling you, just give it time.
Tengo shifted awkwardly on the booths vinyl seat. He said nothing.
The answer is simple, Komatsu said, still lightly waving his spoon. We put the two writers together and invent a brand-new one. We add your perfect style to Fuka-Eris raw story. Its an ideal combination. I know youve got it in you. Why do you think Ive been backing you all this time? Just leave the rest to me. With the two of you together, the new writers prize will be easy, and then we can shoot for the Akutagawa. I havent been wasting my time in this business all these years. I know how to pull the right strings.
Tengo let his lips part as he stared at Komatsu. Komatsu put his spoon back in his saucer. It made an abnormally loud sound.
Supposing the story wins the Akutagawa Prize, then what? Tengo asked, recovering from the shock.
If it takes the Akutagawa, itll cause a sensation. Most people dont know the value of a good novel, but they dont want to be left out, so theyll buy it and read itespecially when they hear it was written by a high school girl. If the book sells, itll make a lot of money. Well split it three ways. Ill take care of that.
Never mind the money Tengo said, his voice flat. How about your professional ethics as an editor? If the scheme became public, itd cause an uproar. Youd lose your job.
It wouldnt come out so easily. I can handle the whole thing very carefully. And even if it did come out, Id be glad to leave the company. Management doesnt like me, and theyve never treated me decently. Finding another job would be no problem for me. Besides, I wouldnt be doing it for the money. Id be doing it to screw the literary world. Those bastards all huddle together in their gloomy cave and kiss each others asses, and lick each others wounds, and trip each other up, all the while spewing this pompous crap about the mission of literature. I want to have a good laugh at their expense. I want to outwit the system and make idiots out of the whole bunch of them. Doesnt that sound like fun to you?
It did not sound like all that much fun to Tengo. For one thing, he had never actually seen this literary world. And when he realized that a competent individual like Komatsu had such childish motives for crossing such a dangerous bridge, he was momentarily at a loss for words.
It sounds like a scam to me, he said at length.
Coauthorship is not that unusual, Komatsu said with a frown. Half the magazines serialized manga are coauthored. The staff toss around ideas and make up the story, the artist does simple line drawings, his assistants fill in the details and add color. Its not much different from the way a factory makes alarm clocks. The same sort of thing goes on in the fiction world. Romance novels, for example. With most of those, the publisher hires writers to make up stories following the guidelines theyve established. Division of labor: thats the system. Mass production would be impossible any other way. In the self-conscious world of literary fiction, of course, such methods are not openly sanctioned, so as a practical strategy we have to set Fuka-Eri up as our single author. If the deception comes out, it might cause a bit of a scandal, but we wouldnt be breaking the law. Wed just be riding the current of the times. And besides, were not talking about a Balzac or a Murasaki Shikibu here. All wed be doing is patching the holes in the story some high school girl wrote and making it a better piece of fiction. Whats wrong with that? If the finished work is good and brings pleasure to a lot of readers, then no harm done, dont you agree?
Tengo gave some thought to what Komatsu was saying, and he answered with care. I see two problems here. Im sure there are more than that, but for now let me concentrate on these two. One is that we dont know whether the author, Fuka-Eri, would go along with having someone else rewrite her work. If she says no, of course, thats the end of that. The other problem, assuming she says okay, is whether I could really do a good job of rewriting it. Coauthorship is a very delicate matter; I cant believe things would go as easily as you are suggesting.
I know you can do it, Tengo, Komatsu said without hesitation, as if he had been anticipating Tengos reaction. I have no doubt whatever. I knew it the first time I read Air Chrysalis. The first thing that popped into my head was Tengo has to rewrite this! Its perfect for you. Its aching for you to rewrite it. Dont you see?
Tengo merely shook his head, saying nothing.
Theres no rush, Komatsu said quietly. This is important. Take two or three days to think about it. Read Air Chrysalis again, and give some good, careful thought to what Im proposing. Andoh yes, let me give you this.
Komatsu withdrew a brown envelope from his breast pocket and handed it to Tengo. Inside the envelope were two standard-size color photos, pictures of a girl. One showed her from the chest up, the other was a full-length snapshot. They seemed to have been taken at the same time. She was standing in front of a stairway somewhere, a broad stone stairway. Classically beautiful features. Long, straight hair. White blouse. Small and slim. Her lips were trying to smile, but her eyes were resisting. Serious eyes. Eyes in search of something. Tengo stared at the two photos. The more he looked, the more he thought about himself at that age, and the more he sensed a small, dull ache in his chest. It was a special ache, something he had not experienced for a very long time.
Thats Fuka-Eri, Komatsu said. Beautiful girl, dont you think? Sweet and fresh. Seventeen. Perfect. We wont tell anyone that her real name is Eriko Fukada. Well keep her as Fuka-Eri. The name alone should cause a stir if she wins the Akutagawa Prize, dont you think? Shell have reporters swarming around her like bats at sunset. The booksll sell out overnight.
Tengo wondered how Komatsu had gotten hold of the photos. Entrants were not required to send in photos with their manuscripts. But he decided not to ask, partly because he didnt want to know the answer, whatever it might be.
You can keep those, Komatsu said. They might come in handy.
Tengo put them back into the envelope and laid them on the manuscript. Then he said to Komatsu, I dont know much about how the industry works, but sheer common sense tells me this is a tremendously risky plan. Once you start lying to the public, you have to keep lying. It never ends. Its not easy, either psychologically or practically, to keep tweaking the truth to make it all fit together. If one person whos in on the plan makes one little slip, everybody could be done for. Dont you agree?
Komatsu pulled out another cigarette and lit it. Youre absolutely right. It is risky. There are a few too many uncertainties at this point in time. One slip, and things could get very unpleasant for us. Im perfectly aware of that. But you know, Tengo, taking everything into consideration, my instincts still tell me, Go for it! For the simple reason that you dont get chances like this very often. Ive never had one before, and Im sure Ill never have another one. Comparing this to gambling might not be the best way to look at it, but weve got all the right cards and a mountain of chips. The conditions are perfect. If we let a chance like this slip away, well regret it for the rest of our lives.
Tengo stared in silence at Komatsus utterly sinister smile.
Komatsu continued: And the most important thing is that we are remaking Air Chrysalis into a much better work. Its a story that should have been much better written. Theres something important in it, something that needs someone to bring it out. Im sure you think so too, Tengo. Am I wrong? We each contribute our own special talents to the project: we pool our resources for one thing only, and that is to bring out that important something in the work. Our motives are pure: we can present them anywhere without shame.
Well, you can try to rationalize it all you want, you can invent all kinds of noble-sounding pretexts, but in the end, a scam is a scam.
Look, Tengo, youre losing sight of one crucial fact, Komatsu said, his mouth opening in a big, wide grin the likes of which Tengo had never seen. Or should I say you are deliberately choosing not to look at it? And thats the simple fact that you want to do this. You already feel that wayrisk and morality be damned. I can see it. Youre itching to rewrite Air Chrysalis with your own hands. You want to be the one, not Fuka-Eri, who brings out that special something in the work. I want you to go home now and figure out what you really think. Stand in front of a mirror and give yourself a long, hard look. Its written all over your face.
Tengo felt the air around him growing thin. He glanced at his surroundings. Was the image coming to him again? But no, there was no sign of it. The thinness of the air had come from something else. He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow. Komatsu was always right. Why should that be?

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11-13-2011, 07:55 PM   #4

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 3

Aomame

SOME CHANGED FACTS


Aomame climbed down the emergency stairway in her stocking feet. The wind whistled past the stairway, which was open to the elements. Snug though her miniskirt was, it filled like a sail with the occasional strong gust from below, providing enough lift to make her steps unsteady. She kept a tight grip on the cold metal pipe that served as a handrail, lowering herself a step at a time, backward, and stopping now and then to brush aside the stray hair hanging down her forehead and to adjust the position of the shoulder bag slung diagonally across her chest.
She had a sweeping view of National Highway 246 running below. The din of the city enveloped her: car engines, blaring horns, the scream of an automobile burglar alarm, an old war song echoing from a right-wing sound truck, a sledgehammer cracking concrete. Riding on the wind, the noise pressed in on her from all directionsabove, below, and 360 degrees around. Listening to the racket (not that she wanted to listen, but she was in no position to be covering her ears), she began to feel almost seasick.
Partway down, the stairs became a horizontal catwalk leading back toward the center of the elevated expressway, then angled straight down again.
Just across the road from the open stairway stood a small, five-story apartment house, a relatively new building covered in brown brick tile. Each apartment had a small balcony facing the emergency stairway, but all the patio doors were shut tight, the blinds or curtains closed. What kind of architect puts balconies on a building that stands nose-to-nose with an elevated expressway? No one would be hanging out their sheets to dry or lingering on the balcony with a gin and tonic to watch the evening rush-hour traffic. Still, on several balconies were stretched the seemingly obligatory nylon clotheslines, and one even had a garden chair and potted rubber plant. The rubber plant was ragged and faded, its leaves disintegrating and marked with brown dry spots. Aomame could not help feeling sorry for the plant. If she were ever reincarnated, let her not be reborn as such a miserable rubber plant!
Judging from the spiderwebs clinging to it, the emergency stairway was hardly ever used. To each web clung a small black spider, patiently waiting for its small prey to come along. Not that the spiders had any awareness of being patient. A spider had no special skill other than building its web, and no lifestyle choice other than sitting still. It would stay in one place waiting for its prey until, in the natural course of things, it shriveled up and died. This was all genetically predetermined. The spider had no confusion, no despair, no regrets. No metaphysical doubt, no moral complications. Probably. Unlike me. I have to move with a purpose, which is why Im alone now, climbing down these stupid emergency stairs from Metropolitan Expressway Number 3 where it passes through the useless Sangenjaya neighborhood, even if it means ruining a perfectly good pair of stockings, all the while sweeping away these damned spiderwebs and looking at an ugly rubber plant on somebodys stupid balcony.
I move, therefore I am.
Climbing down the stairway, Aomame thought about Tamaki Otsuka. She had not been intending to think about Tamaki, but once the thoughts began, she couldnt stop them. Tamaki was her closest friend in high school and a fellow member of the softball team. As teammates, they went to many different places, and did all kinds of things together. They once shared a kind of lesbian experience. The two of them took a summer trip and ended up sleeping together when a small double was the only size bed the hotel could offer. They found themselves touching each other all over. Neither of them was a lesbian, but, spurred on by the special curiosity of two young girls, they experimented boldly. Neither had a boyfriend at the time, and neither had the slightest sexual experience. It was simply one of those things that remain as an exceptional but interesting episode in life. But as she brought back the images of herself and Tamaki touching each other that night, Aomame felt some small, deep part of herself growing hot even as she made her way down the windswept stairway. Tamakis oval-shaped nipples, her sparse pubic hair, the lovely curve of her buttocks, the shape of her clitoris: Aomame recalled them all with strange clarity.
As her mind traced these graphic memories, the brass unison of Janáčeks Sinfonietta rang like festive background music. The palm of her hand was caressing the curve of Tamakis waist. At first Tamaki just laughed as if she were being tickled, but soon the laughter stopped, and her breathing changed. The music had initially been composed as a fanfare for an athletic meet. The breeze blew gently over the green meadows of Bohemia in time with the music. Aomame knew when Tamakis nipples suddenly became erect. And then her own did the same. And then the timpani conjured up a complex musical pattern.
Aomame halted her steps and shook her head several times. I should not be thinking such thoughts at a time like this. I have to concentrate on climbing down the stairs. But the thoughts would not go away. The images came to her one after another and with great vividness. The summer night, the narrow bed, the faint smell of perspiration. The words they spoke. The feelings that would not take the form of words. Forgotten promises. Unrealized hopes. Frustrated longings. A gust of wind lifted a lock of her hair and whipped it against her cheek. The pain brought a film of tears to her eyes. Successive gusts soon dried the tears away.
When did that happen, I wonder? But time became confused in her memory, like a tangled string. The straight-line axis was lost, and forward and back, right and left, jumbled together. One drawer took the place of another. She could not recall things that should have come back to her easily. It is now April 1984. I was born in thats it 1954. I can remember that much. These dates were engraved in her mind, but as soon as she recalled them, they lost all meaning. She saw white cards imprinted with dates scattering in the wind, flying in all directions. She ran, trying to pick up as many as she could, but the wind was too strong, the sheer number of cards overwhelming. Away they flew: 1954, 1984, 1645, 1881, 2006, 771, 2041 all order lost, all knowledge vanishing, the stairway of intellection crumbling beneath her feet.
Aomame and Tamaki were in bed together. They were seventeen and enjoying their newly granted freedom. This was their first trip together as friends, just the two of them. That fact alone was exciting. They soaked in the hotels hot spring, split a can of beer from the refrigerator, turned out the lights, and crawled into bed. They were just kidding around at first, poking each other for the fun of it, but at some point Tamaki reached out and grabbed Aomames nipple through the T-shirt she wore as pajamas. An electric shock ran through Aomames body. Eventually they stripped off their shirts and panties and were naked in the summer night. Where did we go on that trip? She could not recall. It didnt matter. Soon, without either of them being the first to suggest it, they were examining each others bodies down to the smallest detail. Looking, touching, caressing, kissing, licking, half in jest, half seriously. Tamaki was small and a bit plump with large breasts. Aomame was taller, lean and muscular, with smaller breasts. Tamaki always talked about going on a diet, but Aomame found her attractive just the way she was.
Tamakis skin was soft and fine. Her nipples swelled in a beautiful oval shape reminiscent of olives. Her pubic hair was fine and sparse, like a delicate willow tree. Aomames was hard and bristly. They laughed at the difference. They experimented with touching each other in different places and discussed which areas were the most sensitive. Some areas were the same, others were not. Each held out a finger and touched the others clitoris. Both girls had experienced masturbationa lot. But now they saw how different it was to be touched by someone else. The breeze swept across the meadows of Bohemia.
Aomame came to a stop and shook her head again. She released a deep sigh and tightened her grip on the metal pipe handrail. I have to stop thinking about these things. I have to concentrate on climbing down the stairs. By now, I must be more than halfway down. Still, why is there so much noise here? Why is the wind so strong? They both seem to be reprimanding me, punishing me.
Setting such immediate sensory impressions aside, Aomame began to worry about what might await her at the bottom of the stairway. What if someone were there, demanding that she identify herself and explain her presence? Could she get by with a simple explanationThe traffic was backed up on the expressway and I have such urgent business that I climbed down the stairs? Or would there be complications? She didnt want any complications. Not today.
Fortunately, she found no one at ground level to challenge her. The first thing she did was pull her shoes from her bag and step into them. The stairway came down to a vacant patch beneath the elevated expressway, a storage area for construction materials hemmed in between the inbound and outbound lanes of Route 246 and surrounded by high metal sheeting. A number of steel poles lay on the bare ground, rusting, probably discarded surplus from some construction job. A makeshift plastic roof covered one part of the area where three cloth sacks lay piled. Aomame had no idea what they held, but they had been further protected from the rain by a vinyl cover. The sacks, too, seemed to be construction surplus, thrown there at the end of the job because they were too much trouble to haul away. Beneath the roof, several crushed corrugated cartons, some plastic drink bottles, and a number of manga magazines lay on the ground. Aside from a few plastic shopping bags that were being whipped around by the wind, there was nothing else down here.
The area had a metal gate, but a large padlock and several wrappings of chain held it in place. The gate towered over her and was topped with barbed wire. There was no way she could climb over it. Even if she managed to do so, her suit would be torn to shreds. She gave it a few tentative shakes, but it wouldnt budge. There was not even enough space for a cat to squeeze through. Damn. What was the point of locking the place so securely? There was nothing here worth stealing. She frowned and cursed and even spit on the ground. After all her trouble to climb down from the elevated expressway, now she was locked in a storage yard! She glanced at her watch. The time was still okay, but she couldnt go on hanging around in this place forever. And doubling back to the expressway now was out of the question.
The heels of both her stockings were ripped. Checking to make sure that there was no one watching her, she slipped out of her high heels, rolled up her skirt, pulled her stockings down, yanked them off her feet, and stepped into her shoes again. The torn stockings she shoved into her bag. This calmed her somewhat. Now she walked the perimeter of the storage area, paying close attention to every detail. It was about the size of an elementary school classroom, so a full circuit of the place took no time at all. Yes, she had already found the only exit, the locked gate. The metal sheeting that enclosed the space was thin, but the pieces were securely bolted together, and the bolts could not be loosened without tools. Time to give up.
She went over to the roofed area for a closer look at the crushed cartons. They had been arranged as bedding, she realized, with a number of worn blankets rolled up inside. They were not all that old, either. Some street people were probably sleeping here, which explained the bottles and magazines. No doubt about it. Aomame put her mind to work. If they were using this place to spend their nights, it must have some kind of secret entrance. Theyre good at finding hidden places to ward off the wind and rain, she thought. And they know how to secure secret passageways, like animal trails, for their exclusive use.
Aomame made another round, closely inspecting each metal sheet of the fence and giving it a shake. As she expected, she found one loose spot where a bolt might have slipped out. She tried bending it in different directions. If you changed the angle a little and pulled it inward, a space opened up that was just big enough for a person to squeeze through. The street people probably came in after dark to enjoy sleeping under the roof, but they would have problems if someone caught them in here, so they went out during the daylight hours to find food and collect empty bottles for spare change. Aomame inwardly thanked the nameless nighttime residents. As someone who had to move stealthily, anonymously, behind the scenes in the big city, she felt at one with them.
She crouched down and slipped through the narrow gap, taking great care to avoid catching and tearing her expensive suit on any sharp objects. It was not her favorite suit: it was the only one she owned. She almost never dressed this way, and she never wore heels. Sometimes, however, this particular line of work required her to dress respectably, so she had to avoid ruining the suit.
Fortunately, there was no one outside the fence, either. She checked her clothing once more, resumed a calm expression on her face, and walked to a corner with a traffic signal. Crossing Route 246, she entered a drugstore and bought a new pair of stockings, which she put on in a back room with the permission of the girl at the register. This improved her mood considerably and obliterated the slight discomfort, like seasickness, that had remained in her stomach. Thanking the clerk, she left the store.
The traffic on Route 246 was heavier than usual, probably because word had spread that an accident had stopped traffic on the parallel urban expressway. Aomame abandoned the idea of taking a cab and decided instead to take the Tokyu Shin-Tamagawa Line from a nearby station. That would be a sure thing. She had had enough of taxis stuck in traffic.
As she headed for Sangenjaya Station, she passed a policeman on the street. He was a tall young officer, walking rapidly, heading somewhere in particular. She tensed up for a moment, but he looked straight ahead, apparently in too much of a hurry even to glance at her. Just before they passed each other, Aomame noticed that there was something unusual about his uniform. The jacket was the normal deep navy blue, but its cut was different: the design was more casual, less tight fitting, and in a softer material, the lapels smaller, even the navy color a touch paler. His pistol, too, was a different model. He wore a large automatic at his waist instead of the revolver normally issued to policemen in Japan. Crimes involving firearms were so rare in this country that there was little likelihood that an officer would be caught in a shootout, which meant an old-fashioned six-shooter was adequate. Revolvers were simply made, cheap, reliable, and easy to maintain. But for some reason this officer was carrying the latest model semiautomatic pistol, the kind that could be loaded with sixteen 9mm bullets. Probably a Glock or a Beretta. But how could that be? How could police uniforms and pistols have changed without her being aware of it? It was practically unthinkable. She read the newspaper closely each day. Changes like that would have been featured prominently. And besides, she paid careful attention to police uniforms. Until this morning, just a few hours ago, policemen were still wearing the same old stiff uniforms they always had, and still carrying the same old unsophisticated revolvers. She remembered them clearly. It was very strange.
But Aomame was in no frame of mind to think deeply about such matters. She had a job to do.
When the subway reached Shibuya Station, she deposited her coat in a coin locker, then hurried up Dogenzaka toward the hotel wearing only her suit. It was a decent enough hotel, nothing fancy, but well equipped, clean, with reputable guests. It had a restaurant on the street level, as well as a convenience store. Close to the station. A good location.
She walked in and headed straight for the ladies room. Fortunately, it was empty. The first thing she did was sit down for a good, long pee, eyes closed, listening to the sound like distant surf, and thinking of nothing in particular. Next she stood at one of the sinks and washed her hands well with soap and water. She brushed her hair and blew her nose. She took out her toothbrush and did a cursory brushing without toothpaste. She had no time to floss. It wasnt that important. She wasnt preparing for a date. She faced the mirror and added a touch of lipstick and eyebrow pencil. Removing her suit jacket, she adjusted the position of her underwire bra, smoothed the wrinkles in her white blouse, and sniffed her armpits. No smell. Then she closed her eyes and recited the usual prayer, the words of which meant nothing. The meaning didnt matter. Reciting was the important thing.
After the prayer she opened her eyes and looked at herself in the mirror. Fine. The picture of the capable businesswoman. Erect posture. Firm mouth. Only the big, bulky shoulder bag seemed out of place. A slim attach case might have been better, but this bag was more practical. She checked again to make sure she had all the items she needed in the bag. No problem. Everything was where it belonged, easy to find by touch.
Now it was just a matter of carrying out the task as arranged. Head-on. With unwavering conviction and ruthlessness. Aomame undid the top button of her blouse. This would give a glimpse of cleavage when she bent over. If only she had more cleavage to expose!
No one challenged her as she took the elevator to the fourth floor, walked down the corridor, and quickly found Room 426. Taking a clipboard from the bag, she clutched it to her chest and knocked on the door. A light, crisp knock. A brief wait. Another knock, this one a little harder. Grumbling from inside. Door opened a crack. Mans face. Maybe forty. Marine-blue shirt. Gray flannel slacks. Classic look of a businessman working with his tie and jacket off. Red eyes, annoyed. Probably sleep deprived. He seemed surprised to see Aomame in her business suit, probably expecting her to be a maid, here to replenish the minibar.
Im terribly sorry to disturb you, sir. My name is Ito, and Im a member of the hotel management staff. There has been a problem with the air conditioner and I need to do an inspection. May I come in? It wont take more than five minutes, Aomame announced briskly, with a sweet smile.
The man squinted at her in obvious displeasure. Im working on something important, a rush job. Ill be leaving the room in another hour. Can I get you to come back then? Theres nothing wrong with the air conditioner in this room.
Im terribly sorry, sir. Its an emergency involving a short circuit. We need to take care of it as soon as possible, for safetys sake. Were going from room to room. It wont even take five minutes
Ah, what the hell, the man said, with a click of his tongue. I made a point of taking a room so I could work undisturbed.
He pointed to the papers on the deska pile of detailed charts and graphs he had printed out, probably materials he was preparing for a late meeting. He had a computer and a calculator, and scratch paper with long lines of figures.
Aomame knew that he worked for a corporation connected with oil. He was a specialist on capital investment in a number of Middle Eastern countries. According to the information she had been given, he was one of the more capable men in the field. She could see it in the way he carried himself. He came from a good family, earned a sizable income, and drove a new Jaguar. After a pampered childhood, he had gone to study abroad, spoke good English and French, and exuded self-confidence. He was the type who could not bear to be told what to do, or to be criticized, especially if the criticism came from a woman. He had no difficulty bossing others around, though, and cracking a few of his wifes ribs with a golf club was no problem at all. As far as he was concerned, the world revolved around him, and without him the earth didnt move at all. He could become furiousviolently angryif anyone interfered with what he was doing or contradicted him in any way.
Sorry to trouble you, sir, Aomame said, flashing him her best business smile. As if it were a fait accompli, she squeezed halfway into the room, pressing her back against the door, readied her clipboard, and started writing something on it with a ballpoint pen. That was, uh, Mr. Miyama, I believe ? she asked. Having seen his photo any number of times, she knew his face well, but it wouldnt hurt to make sure she had the right person. There was no way to correct a mistake.
Yes, of course. Miyama, he said curtly. He followed this with a resigned sigh that seemed to say, All right. Do as you damn please. He took his seat at the desk and, with a ballpoint pen in one hand, picked up whatever document he had been reading. His suit coat and a striped tie lay on the fully made double bed where he had thrown them. They were both obviously very expensive. Aomame walked straight for the closet, her bag hanging from her shoulder. She had been told that the air conditioner switch panel was in there. Inside she found a trench coat of soft material and a dark gray cashmere scarf. The only luggage was a leather briefcase. No change of clothes, no bag for toiletries. He was probably not planning to stay the night. On the desk stood a coffeepot that had obviously been delivered by room service. She pretended to inspect the switch panel for thirty seconds and then called out to Miyama.
Thank you, Mr. Miyama, for your cooperation. I cant find any problem with the equipment in this room.
Which is what I was trying to tell you from the start, he grumbled.
Uh Mr. Miyama ? she ventured. Excuse me, but I think you have something stuck to the back of your neck.
The back of my neck? he said. He rubbed the area and then stared at the palm of his hand. I dont think so.
Please just let me have a look, she said, drawing closer. Do you mind?
Sure, go ahead, he said, looking puzzled. What is it?
A spot of paint, I think. Bright green.
Paint?
Im not really sure. Judging from the color, it has to be paint. Is it all right if I touch you back there? It may come right off.
Well, okay, Miyama said, ducking his head forward, exposing the back of his neck to Aomame. It was bare, thanks to what looked like a recent haircut. Aomame took a deep breath and held it, concentrating her attention on her fingers nimble search for the right spot. She pressed a fingertip there as if to mark the place, then closed her eyes, confirming that her touch was not mistaken. Yes, this is it. Id like to take more time if possible to make doubly certain, but its too late for that now. Ill just have to do my best with the situation Ive been given.
Sorry, sir, but do you mind holding that position a bit longer? Ill take a penlight from my bag. The lighting in here is not very good.
Why would I have paint back there, of all things?
I have no idea, sir. Ill check it right away.
Keeping her finger pressed against the spot on the mans neck, Aomame drew a hard plastic case from her bag, opened it, and took out an object wrapped in thin cloth. With a few deft moves she unfolded the cloth, revealing something like a small ice pick about four inches in length with a compact wooden handle. It looked like an ice pick, but it was not meant for cracking ice. Aomame had designed and made it herself. The tip was as sharp and pointed as a needle, and it was protected from breakage by a small piece of corkcork that had been specially processed to make it as soft as cotton. She carefully plucked the cork from the point and slipped it into her pocket. She then held the exposed point against that special spot on Miyamas neck. Calm down now, this is it, Aomame told herself. I cant be off by even one-hundredth of an inch. One slip and all my efforts will be wasted. Concentration is the key.
How much longer is this going to take? Miyama protested.
Im sorry, sir, Ill be through in a moment.
Dont worry, she said to him silently, itll all be over before you know it. Wait just a second or two. Then you wont have to think about a thing. You wont have to think about the oil refining system or crude oil market trends or quarterly reports to the investors or Bahrain flight reservations or bribes for officials or presents for your mistress. What a strain it must have been for you to keep these things straight in your head all this time! So please, just wait a minute. Im hard at work here, giving it all the concentration I can muster. Dont distract me. Thats all I ask.
Once she had settled on the location and set her mind to the task, Aomame raised her right palm in the air, held her breath, and, after a brief pause, brought it straight downnot too forcefullyagainst the wooden handle. If she applied too much force, the needle might break under the skin, and leaving the needle tip behind was out of the question. The important thing was to bring the palm down lightly, almost tenderly, at exactly the right angle with exactly the right amount of force, without resisting gravity, straight down, as if the fine point of the needle were being sucked into the spot with the utmost naturalnessdeeply, smoothly, and with fatal results. The angle and forceor, rather, the restraint of forcewere crucial. As long as she was careful about those details, it was as simple as driving a needle into a block of tofu. The needle pierced the skin, thrust into the special spot at the base of the brain, and stopped the heart as naturally as blowing out a candle. Everything ended in a split second, almost too easily. Only Aomame could do this. No one else could find that subtle point by touch. Her fingertips possessed the special intuition that made it possible.
She heard him draw a sharp breath, and then every muscle in his body went stiff. Instantly, she withdrew the needle and just as quickly took out the small gauze pad she had ready in her pocket, pressing it against the wound to prevent the flow of blood. Because the needle was so fine and had remained in his skin for no more than a few seconds, only a minuscule amount of blood could possibly escape through the opening, but she had to take every precaution. She must not leave even the slightest trace of blood. One drop could ruin everything. Caution was Aomames specialty.
The strength began to drain from Miyamas body, which had momentarily stiffened, like air going out of a basketball. Keeping her finger on the spot on his neck, Aomame let him slump forward onto the desk. His face lay sideways, pillowed on his documents. His eyes were wide open in apparent surprise, as if his last act had been to witness something utterly amazing. They showed neither fear nor pain, only pure surprise. Something out of the ordinary was happening to him, but he could not comprehend what it wasa pain, an itch, a pleasure, or a divine revelation? There were many different ways of dying in the world, perhaps none of them as easy as this.
This was an easier death than you deserved, Aomame thought with a scowl. It was just too simple. I probably should have broken a few ribs for you with a five iron and given you plenty of pain before putting you out of your misery. That would have been the right kind of death for a rat like you. Its what you did to your wife. Unfortunately, however, the choice was not mine. My mission was to send this man to the other world as swiftly and surelyand discreetlyas possible. Now, I have accomplished that mission. He was alive until a moment ago, and now hes dead. He crossed the threshold separating life from death without being aware of it himself.
Aomame held the gauze in place for a full five minutes, patiently, but without pressing hard enough for her finger to leave an indentation. She kept her eyes glued on the second hand of her watch. It was a very long five minutes. If someone had walked in then and seen her pressing her finger against the mans neck while holding the slender murder weapon in the other hand, it would have been all over. She could never have talked her way out of it. A bellhop could bring a pot of coffee. There could be a knock on the door at any moment. But this was an indispensable five minutes. To calm herself, Aomame took several slow deep breaths. I cant get flustered now. I cant lose my composure. I have to stay the same calm, cool Aomame as always.
She could hear her heart beating. And in her head, in time with the beat, resounded the opening fanfare of Janáčeks Sinfonietta. Soft, silent breezes played across the green meadows of Bohemia. She was aware that she had become split in two. Half of her continued to press the dead mans neck with utter coolness. The other half was filled with fear. She wanted to drop everything and get out of this room now. Im here, but Im not here. Im in two places at once. It goes against Einsteins theorem, but what the hell. Call it the Zen of the killer.
The five minutes were finally up. But just to make sure, Aomame gave it one more minute. I can wait another minute. The greater the rush, the more care one should take with the job. She endured the extra minute, which seemed as if it would never end. Then she slowly pulled her finger away and examined the wound with her penlight. A mosquitos stinger left a larger hole than this.
Stabbing the special point at the base of the brain with an exceptionally fine needle causes a death that is almost indistinguishable from a natural sudden death. It would look like a heart attack to most ordinary doctors. It hit him without warning while he was working at his desk, and he breathed his last. Overwork and stress. No sign of unnatural causes. No need for an autopsy.
This man was a high-powered operator, but also prone to overwork. He earned a high salary, but he couldnt use it now that he was dead. He wore Armani suits and drove a Jaguar, but finally he was just another ant, working and working until he died without meaning. The very fact that he existed in this world would eventually be forgotten. Such a shame, he was so young, people might say. Or they might not.
Aomame took the cork from her pocket and placed it on the needle. Wrapping the delicate instrument in the thin cloth again, she returned it to the hard case, which she placed in the bottom of the shoulder bag. She then took a hand towel from the bathroom and wiped any fingerprints she might have left in the room. These would all be on the air conditioner panel and the doorknob. She had been careful not to touch anything else. She returned the towel to the bathroom. Placing the mans cup and coffeepot on the room service tray, she set them in the corridor. This way the bellhop would not have to knock when he came to retrieve them, and the discovery of the body would be delayed that much more. If all went well, the maid would find the body after checkout time tomorrow.
When he failed to show up at tonights meeting, people might ring the room, but there would be no answer. They might think it odd enough to have the manager open the room, but then again they might not. Things would simply take their course.
Aomame stood before the bathroom mirror to make sure nothing about her clothing was in disarray. She closed the top button of her blouse. She had not had to flash cleavage. The bastard had hardly looked at her. What the hell did other people mean to him? She tried out a medium frown. Then she straightened her hair, massaged her facial muscles with her fingertips to soften them, and flashed the mirror a sweet smile, revealing her recently cleaned white teeth. All right, then, here I go, out of the dead mans room and back to the real world. Time to adjust the atmospheric pressure. Im not a cool killer anymore, just a smiling, capable businesswoman in a sharp suit.
She opened the door a crack, checked to see that there was no one in the corridor, and slipped out. She took the stairs rather than the elevator. No one paid her any mind as she passed through the lobby. Posture erect, she stared straight ahead and walked quicklythough not quickly enough to attract attention. She was a pro, virtually perfect. If only her breasts were a little bigger, she thought with a twinge, she might have been truly perfect. A partial frown. But hell, youve gotta work with what youve got.

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11-13-2011, 07:56 PM   #5

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 4

Tengo

IF THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO


The phone woke Tengo. The luminous hands of his clock pointed to a little after one a.m. The room was dark, of course. Tengo knew the call was from Komatsu. No one but Komatsu would call him at one in the morningand keep the phone ringing until he picked it up, however long it took. Komatsu had no sense of time. He would place a call the moment a thought struck him, never considering the hour. It could be the middle of the night or the crack of dawn. The other person could be enjoying his wedding night or lying on his deathbed. The prosaic thought never seemed to enter Komatsus egg-shaped head that a call from him might be disturbing.
Which is not to say that he did this with everyone. Even Komatsu worked for an organization and collected a salary. He couldnt possibly go around behaving toward everyone with a total disregard for common sense. Only with Tengo could he get away with it. Tengo was, for Komatsu, little more than an extension of Komatsu himself, another arm or leg. If Komatsu was up, Tengo must be up. Tengo normally went to bed at ten oclock and woke at six, maintaining a generally regular lifestyle. He was a deep sleeper. Once something woke him, though, it was hard for him to get to sleep again. He was high-strung to that extent. He had tried to explain this to Komatsu any number of times, and pleaded with him not to call in the middle of the night, like a farmer begging God not to send swarms of locusts into his fields before harvest time.
Got it, Komatsu declared. No more nighttime calls. But his promise had not sunk deep roots in his brain. One rainfall was all it took to wash them out.
Tengo crawled out of bed and, bumping into things, managed to find his way to the phone in the kitchen. All the while, the phone kept up its merciless ringing.
I talked to Fuka-Eri, Komatsu said. He never bothered with the standard greetings, no Were you sleeping? or Sorry to call so late. Pretty impressive. Tengo couldnt help admiring him.
Tengo frowned in the dark, saying nothing. When roused at night, it took his brain a while to start working.
Did you hear what I said?
Yes, I did.
It was just a phone call. But I did talk to her. Or at her. She just listened. You couldnt exactly call it a conversation. She hardly talks. And shes got an odd way of speaking. Youll see what I mean. Anyhow, I gave her a general outline of my plan, like, what did she think of the idea of going after the new writers prize by having somebody rewrite Air Chrysalis to get it into better shape? I couldnt give her much more than a rough idea on the phone and ask her if she had any interest, assuming wed meet and talk over the details. I kept it sort of vague. If I got too direct about stuff like this, I could put myself in an awkward position.
And so?
No answer.
No answer?
Komatsu paused for effect. He put a cigarette between his lips and lit it with a match. Hearing the sounds over the phone, Tengo could imagine the scene vividly. Komatsu never used a lighter.
Fuka-Eri says she wants to meet you first, Komatsu said, exhaling. She didnt say whether or not she was interested in the plan, or whether or not she liked the idea. I guess the main thing is to start by meeting you and talking about it face-to-face. Shell give me her answer after that, she says. The responsibility is all yours, dont you think?
And so?
Are you free tomorrow evening?
His classes started in the morning and ended at four. Fortunately (or unfortunately) he had nothing after that. Im free, he said.
Good. I want you to go to the Nakamuraya Caf in Shinjuku at six oclock. Ill reserve a table for you in the back where its quiet. Itll be in my name and on the companys tab, so eat and drink as much as you like. The two of you can have a nice, long talk.
Without you?
Thats the way Fuka-Eri wants it. She says theres no point in meeting me yet.
Tengo kept silent.
So thats how it is, Komatsu said cheerily. Give it your best shot, Tengo. Youre a big lug, but you make a good impression on people. And besides, you teach at a cram school. Youre used to talking to these precocious high school girls. Youre the right guy for the job, not me. Flash her a smile, win her over, get her to trust you. Ill be looking forward to the good news.
Now, wait just a minute. This was all your idea. I still havent even told you if Ill do it. Like I said the other day, this is a tremendously risky plan, and I dont see it working all that well. It could turn into a real scandal. How am I supposed to convince this girl Ive never met to go along with it when I myself havent decided to take it on?
Komatsu remained silent at his end. Then, after a moments pause, he said, Now listen, Tengo. Weve already pulled out of the station. You cant stop the train and get off now. Im totally committed. And youre more than half committed, Im sure. We share the same fate.
Tengo shook his head. Share the same fate? When did this melodrama get started? Just the other day you told me to take my time and think it over, didnt you?
Its been five days since then. Youve had plenty of time to think it over. Whats your decision? Komatsu demanded.
Tengo was at a loss for words. I dont have a decision, he said honestly.
So then, why dont you try meeting this Fuka-Eri girl and talking it over? You can make up your mind after that.
Tengo pressed his fingertips hard against his temples. His brain was still not working properly. All right. Ill talk to her. Six oclock tomorrow at the Shinjuku Nakamuraya. Ill give her my explanation of the situation. But Im not promising any more than that. I can explain the plan, but I cant convince her of anything.
Thats all I ask, of course.
So anyway, how much does Fuka-Eri know about me?
I filled her in on the general stuff. Youre twenty-nine or thirty, a bachelor, you teach math at a Yoyogi cram school. Youre a big guy, but not a bad guy. You dont eat young girls. You live a simple lifestyle, youve got gentle eyes. And I like your writing a lot. Thats about it.
Tengo sighed. When he tried to think, reality hovered nearby, then retreated into the distance.
Do you mind if I go back to bed? Its almost one thirty, and I want at least a little sleep before the sun comes up. Ive got three classes tomorrow starting in the morning.
Fine. Good night, Komatsu said. Sweet dreams. And he hung up.
Tengo stared at the receiver in his hand for a while, then set it down. He wanted to get to sleep right away if possible, and to have good dreams if possible, but he knew it wouldnt be easy after having been dragged out of bed and forced to participate in an unpleasant conversation. He could try drinking himself to sleep, but he wasnt in the mood for alcohol. He ended up drinking a glass of water, getting back in bed, turning on the light, and beginning to read a book. He hoped it would make him sleepy, but he didnt actually fall asleep until almost dawn. Tengo took the elevated train to Shinjuku after his third class ended. He bought a few books at the Kinokuniya bookstore, and then headed for the Nakamuraya Caf. He gave Komatsus name at the door and was shown to a quiet table in the back. Fuka-Eri was not there yet. Tengo told the waiter he would wait for the other person to come. Would he want something to drink while he waited? He said that he would not. The waiter left a menu and a glass of water on the table. Tengo opened one of his new books and started reading. It was a book on occultism and it detailed the function of curses in Japanese society over the centuries. Curses played a major role in ancient communities. They had made up for the gaps and inconsistencies in the social system. It seemed like an enjoyable time to be alive.
Fuka-Eri had still not come at six fifteen. Unconcerned, Tengo went on reading. It didnt surprise him that she was late. This whole business was so crazy, he couldnt complain to anybody if it took another crazy turn. It would not be strange if she changed her mind and decided not to show up at all. In fact, he would prefer it that wayit would be simpler. He could just report to Komatsu that he waited an hour and she never showed. What would happen after that was no concern of his. He would just eat dinner by himself and go home, and that would satisfy his obligation to Komatsu.
Fuka-Eri arrived at 6:22. The waiter showed her to the table and she sat down across from Tengo. Resting her small hands on the table, not even removing her coat, she stared straight at him. No Sorry Im late, or I hope I didnt keep you waiting too long. Not even a Hi or a Nice to meet you. All she did was look directly at Tengo, her lips forming a tight, straight line. She could have been observing a new landscape from afar. Tengo was impressed.
Fuka-Eri was a small girl, small all over, and her face was more beautiful than in the pictures. Her most attractive facial feature was her deep, striking eyes. Under the gaze of two glistening, pitch-black pupils, Tengo felt uncomfortable. She hardly blinked and seemed almost not to be breathing. Her hair was absolutely straight, as if someone had drawn each individual strand with a ruler, and the shape of her eyebrows matched the hair perfectly. As with many beautiful teenage girls, her expression lacked any trace of everyday life. It also was strangely unbalancedperhaps because there was a slight difference in the depth of the left and right eyescausing discomfort in the recipient of her gaze. You couldnt tell what she was thinking. In that sense, she was not the kind of beautiful girl who becomes a model or a pop star. Rather, she had something about her that aroused people and drew them toward her.
Tengo closed his book and laid it to one side. He sat up straight and took a drink of water. Komatsu had been right. If a girl like this took a literary prize, the media would be all over her. It would be a sensation. And then what?
The waiter came and placed a menu and a glass of water in front of her. Still she did not move. Instead of picking up the menu, she went on staring at Tengo. He felt he had no choice but to say something. Hello. In her presence, he felt bigger than ever.
Fuka-Eri did not return his greeting but continued to stare at him. I know you, she murmured at last.
You know me? Tengo said.
You teach math.
He nodded. I do.
I heard you twice.
My lectures?
Yes.
Her style of speaking had some distinguishing characteristics: sentences shorn of embellishment, a chronic shortage of inflection, a limited vocabulary (or at least what seemed like a limited vocabulary). Komatsu was right: it was odd.
You mean youre a student at my school? Tengo asked.
Fuka-Eri shook her head. Just went for lectures.
Youre not supposed to be able to get in without a student ID.
Fuka-Eri gave a little shrug, as if to say, Grown-ups shouldnt say such dumb things.
How were the lectures? Tengo asked, his second meaningless question.
Fuka-Eri took a drink of water without averting her gaze. She did not answer the question. Tengo guessed he couldnt have made too bad an impression if she came twice. She would have quit after the first one if it hadnt aroused her interest.
Youre in your third year of high school, arent you? Tengo asked.
More or less.
Studying for college entrance exams?
She shook her head.
Tengo could not decide whether this meant I dont want to talk about my college entrance exams or I wouldnt be caught dead taking college entrance exams. He recalled Komatsus remark on how little Fuka-Eri had to say.
The waiter came for their orders. Fuka-Eri still had her coat on. She ordered a salad and bread. Thats all, she said, returning the menu to the waiter. Then, as if it suddenly occurred to her, she added, And a glass of white wine.
The young waiter seemed about to ask her age, but she gave him a stare that made him turn red, and he swallowed his words. Impressive, Tengo thought again. He ordered seafood linguine and decided to join Fuka-Eri in a glass of white wine.
Youre a teacher and a writer, Fuka-Eri said. She seemed to be asking Tengo a question. Apparently, asking questions without question marks was another characteristic of her speech.
For now, Tengo said.
You dont look like either.
Maybe not, he said. He thought of smiling but couldnt quite manage it. Im certified as an instructor and I do teach courses at a cram school, but Im not exactly a teacher. I write fiction, but Ive never been published, so Im not a writer yet, either.
Youre nothing.
Tengo nodded. Exactly. For the moment, Im nothing.
You like math.
Tengo mentally added a question mark to her comment and answered this new question: I do like math. Ive always liked it, and I still like it.
What about it.
What do I like about math? Hmm. When Ive got figures in front of me, it relaxes me. Kind of like, everything fits where it belongs.
The calculus part was good.
You mean in my lecture?
Fuka-Eri nodded.
Do you like math?
She gave her head a quick shake. She did not like math.
But the part about calculus was good? he asked.
Fuka-Eri gave another little shrug. You talked about it like you cared.
Oh, really? Tengo said. No one had ever told him this before.
Like you were talking about somebody important to you, she said.
I can maybe get even more passionate when I lecture on sequences, Tengo said. Sequences were a personal favorite of mine in high school math.
You like sequences, Fuka-Eri asked, without a question mark.
To me, theyre like Bachs Well-Tempered Clavier. I never get tired of them. Theres always something new to discover.
I know the Well-Tempered Clavier.
You like Bach?
Fuka-Eri nodded. The Professor is always listening to it.
The Professor? One of your teachers?
Fuka-Eri did not answer. She looked at Tengo with an expression that seemed to say, Its too soon to talk about that.
She took her coat off as if it had only now occurred to her to do so. She emerged from it like an insect sloughing off its skin. Without bothering to fold it, she set it on the chair next to hers. She wore a thin crew-neck sweater of pale green and white jeans, with no jewelry or makeup, but still she stood out. She had a slender build, in proportion to which her full breasts could not help but attract attention. They were beautifully shaped as well. Tengo had to caution himself not to look down there, but he couldnt help it. His eyes moved to her chest as if toward the center of a great whirlpool.
The two glasses of white wine arrived. Fuka-Eri took a sip of hers, and then, after thoughtfully studying the glass, she set it on the table. Tengo took a perfunctory sip. Now it was time to talk about important matters.
Fuka-Eri brought her hand to her straight black hair and combed her fingers through it for a while. It was a lovely gesture, and her fingers were lovely, each seemingly moving according to its own will and purpose as if in tune with something occult.
What do I like about math? Tengo asked himself aloud again in order to divert his attention from her fingers and her chest. Math is like water. It has a lot of difficult theories, of course, but its basic logic is very simple. Just as water flows from high to low over the shortest possible distance, figures can only flow in one direction. You just have to keep your eye on them for the route to reveal itself. Thats all it takes. You dont have to do a thing. Just concentrate your attention and keep your eyes open, and the figures make everything clear to you. In this whole, wide world, the only thing that treats me so kindly is math.
Fuka-Eri thought about this for a while. Why do you write fiction, she asked in her expressionless way.
Tengo converted her question into longer sentences: In other words, if I like math so much, why do I go to all the trouble of writing fiction? Why not just keep doing math? Is that it?
She nodded.
Hmm. Real life is different from math. Things in life dont necessarily flow over the shortest possible route. For me, math ishow should I put it?math is all too natural. Its like beautiful scenery. Its just there. Theres no need to exchange it with anything else. Thats why, when Im doing math, I sometimes feel Im turning transparent. And that can be scary.
Fuka-Eri kept looking straight into Tengos eyes as if she were looking into an empty house with her face pressed up against the glass.
Tengo said, When Im writing a story, I use words to transform the surrounding scene into something more natural for me. In other words, I reconstruct it. That way, I can confirm without a doubt that this person known as me exists in the world. This is a totally different process from steeping myself in the world of math.
You confirm that you exist, Fuka-Eri said.
I cant say Ive been one hundred percent successful at it, Tengo said.
Fuka-Eri did not look convinced by Tengos explanation, but she said nothing more. She merely brought the glass of wine to her mouth and took soundless little sips as though drinking through a straw.
If you ask me, Tengo said, youre in effect doing the same thing. You transform the scenes you see into your own words and reconstruct them. And you confirm your own existence.
Fuka-Eris hand that held her wineglass stopped moving. She thought about Tengos remark for a while, but again she offered no opinion.
You gave shape to that process. In the form of the work you wrote, Tengo added. If the work succeeds in gaining many peoples approval and if they identify with it, then it becomes a literary work with objective value.
Fuka-Eri gave her head a decisive shake. Im not interested in form.
Youre not interested in form, Tengo said.
Form has no meaning.
So then, why did you write the story and submit it for the new writers prize?
She put down her wineglass. I didnt, she said.
To calm himself, Tengo picked up his glass and took a drink of water. Youre saying you didnt submit it?
Fuka-Eri nodded. I didnt send it in.
Well, who did?
She gave a little shrug, then kept silent for a good fifteen seconds. Finally, she said, It doesnt matter.
It doesnt matter, Tengo repeated, emitting a long, slow breath from his pursed lips. Oh, great. Things really are not going to go smoothly. I knew it.
Several times, Tengo had formed personal relationships with his female cram school students, though always after they had left the school and entered universities, and it was always the girls who took the initiative. They would call and say they wanted to see him. The two of them would meet and go somewhere together. He had no idea what attracted them to him, but ultimately he was a bachelor, and they were no longer his students. He had no good reason to refuse when asked for a date.
Twice the dates had led to sex, but the relationships had eventually faded on their own. Tengo could not quite relax when he was with energetic young college girls. It was like playing with a kitten, fresh and fun at first, but tiring in the end. The girls, too, seemed disappointed to discover that in person, Tengo was not the same as the passionate young math lecturer they encountered in class. He could understand how they felt.
Tengo was able to relax when he was with older women. Not having to take the lead in everything seemed to lift a weight from his shoulders. And many older women liked him. Which is why, after having formed a relationship with a married woman ten years his senior a year ago, he had stopped dating any young girls. By meeting his older girlfriend in his apartment once a week, any desire (or need) he might have for a flesh-and-blood woman was pretty well satisfied. The rest of the week he spent shut up in his room alone, writing, reading, and listening to music; occasionally he would go for a swim in the neighborhood pool. Aside from a little chatting with his colleagues at the cram school, he hardly spoke with anyone. He was not especially dissatisfied with this life. Far from it: for him, it was close to ideal.
But this seventeen-year-old girl, Fuka-Eri, was different. The mere sight of her sent a violent shudder through him. It was the same feeling her photograph had given him when he first saw it, but in the living girls presence it was far stronger. This was not the pangs of love or sexual desire. A certain something, he felt, had managed to work its way in through a tiny opening and was trying to fill a blank space inside him. The void was not one that Fuka-Eri had made. It had always been there inside Tengo. She had merely managed to shine a special light on it.
Youre not interested in writing fiction, and you didnt enter the new writers competition, Tengo said as if confirming what she had told him.
With her eyes locked on his, Fuka-Eri nodded in agreement. Then she gave a little shrug, as if shielding herself from a cold autumn blast.
You dont want to be a writer. Tengo was shocked to hear himself asking a question without a question mark. The style was obviously contagious.
No, I dont, Fuka-Eri said.
At that point their meal arriveda large bowl of salad and a roll for Fuka-Eri, and seafood linguine for Tengo. Fuka-Eri used her fork to turn over several lettuce leaves, inspecting them as if they were imprinted with newspaper headlines.
Well, somebody sent your Air Chrysalis to the publisher for the new writers competition. I found it when I was screening manuscripts.
Air Chrysalis, Fuka-Eri said, narrowing her eyes.
Thats the title of the novella you wrote, Tengo said.
Fuka-Eri kept her eyes narrowed, saying nothing.
Thats not the title you gave it? Tengo asked with an uneasy twinge.
Fuka-Eri gave her head a tiny shake.
He began to feel confused again, but he decided not to pursue the question of the title. The important thing was to make some progress with the discussion at hand.
Never mind, then. Anyway, its not a bad title. It has real atmosphere, and itll attract attention, make people wonder what it could possibly be about. Whoever thought of it, I have no problem with it as a title. Im not sure about the distinction between chrysalis and cocoon, but thats no big deal. What Im trying to tell you is that the work really got to me, which is why I brought it to Mr. Komatsu. He liked it a lot, too, but he felt that the writing needed work if it was going to be a serious contender for the new writers prize. The style doesnt quite measure up to the strength of the story, so what he wants to do is have it rewritten, not by you but by me. I havent decided whether I want to do it or not, and I havent given him my answer. Im not sure its the right thing to do.
Tengo broke off at that point to see Fuka-Eris reaction. There was no reaction.
What Id like to hear from you now is what you think of the idea of me rewriting Air Chrysalis instead of you. Even if I decided to do it, it couldnt happen without your agreement and cooperation.
Using her fingers, Fuka-Eri picked a cherry tomato out of her salad and ate it. Tengo stabbed a mussel with his fork and ate that.
You can do it, Fuka-Eri said simply. She picked up another tomato. Fix it any way you like.
Dont you think you should take a little more time to think it over? This is a pretty big decision.
Fuka-Eri shook her head. No need.
Now, supposing I rewrote your novella, Tengo continued, I would be careful not to change the story but just strengthen the style. This would probably involve some major changes. But finally, you are the author. It would remain a work by the seventeen-year-old girl named Fuka-Eri. That would not change. If it won the prize, you would get it. Just you. If it were published as a book, you would be the only author listed on the title page. We would be a teamthe three of us, you, me, and Mr. Komatsu, the editor. But the only name on the book would be yours. He and I would stay in the background and not say a word, kind of like prop men in a play. Do you understand what I am telling you?
Fuka-Eri brought a piece of celery to her mouth with her fork. I understand, she said with a nod.
Air Chrysalis belongs entirely to you. It came out of you. I could never make it mine. I would be nothing but your technical helper, and you would have to keep that fact a complete secret. Wed be engaged in a conspiracy, in other words, to lie to the whole world. Any way you look at it, this is not an easy thing to do, to keep a secret locked up in your heart.
Whatever you say, Fuka-Eri said.
Tengo pushed his mussel shells to the side of his plate and started to take a forkful of linguine but then reconsidered and stopped. Fuka-Eri picked up a piece of cucumber and bit it carefully, as if tasting something she had never seen before.
Fork in hand, Tengo said, Let me ask you one more time. Are you sure you have no objection to my rewriting your story?
Do what you want, Fuka-Eri said, when she had finished the cucumber.
Any way I rewrite it is okay with you?
Okay.
Why is that? he asked. You dont know a thing about me.
Fuka-Eri gave a little shrug, saying nothing.
The two continued their meal wordlessly. Fuka-Eri gave her full concentration to her salad. Now and then she would butter a piece of bread, eat it, and reach for her wine. Tengo mechanically transported his linguine to his mouth and filled his mind with many possibilities.
Setting his fork down, he said, You know, when Mr. Komatsu suggested this idea to me, I thought it was crazy, that there was no way it could work. I was planning to turn him down. But after I got home and thought about it for a while, I started to feel more and more that I wanted to give it a try. Ethical questions aside, I began to feel that I wanted to put my own stamp on the novella that you had written. It washow to put this?a totally natural, spontaneous desire.
Or rather than a desire, hunger might be a better way to put it, Tengo added mentally. Just as Komatsu had predicted, the hunger was becoming increasingly difficult to suppress.
Fuka-Eri said nothing, but from somewhere deep inside her neutral, beautiful eyes, she looked hard at Tengo. She seemed to be struggling to understand the words that Tengo had spoken.
You want to rewrite the story, she asked.
Tengo looked straight into her eyes. I think I do.
A faint flash crossed Fuka-Eris black pupils, as if they were projecting something. Or at least they looked that way to Tengo.
Tengo held his hands out, as if he were supporting an imaginary box in the air. The gesture had no particular meaning, but he needed some kind of imaginary medium like that to convey his feelings. I dont know how to put it exactly, he said, but in reading Air Chrysalis over and over, I began to feel that I could see what you were seeing. Especially when the Little People appear. Your imagination has some special kind of power. Its entirely original, and quite contagious.
Fuka-Eri quietly set her spoon on her plate and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin.
The Little People really exist, she said softly.
They really exist?
Fuka-Eri paused before she said, Just like you and me.
Just like you and me, Tengo repeated.
You can see them if you try.
Her concise speaking style was strangely persuasive. From every word that came to her lips, he felt a precise, wedge-like thrust. He still could not tell, though, how seriously he should take her. There was something out of the ordinary about her, a screw slightly loose. It was an inborn quality, perhaps. He might be in the presence of an authentic talent in its most natural form, or it could all be an act. Intelligent teenage girls were often instinctively theatrical, purposely eccentric, mouthing highly suggestive words to confuse people. He had seen a number of such cases when it was impossible to distinguish the real thing from acting. Tengo decided to bring the conversation back to realityor, at least, something closer to reality.
As long as its okay with you, Id like to start rewriting Air Chrysalis tomorrow.
If that is what you want to do.
It is what I want to do, Tengo replied.
Theres someone to meet, Fuka-Eri said.
Someone you want me to meet?
She nodded.
Now, who could that be?
She ignored his question. To talk to, she added.
I dont mind, Tengo said, if its something I should do.
Are you free Sunday morning, she asked, without a question mark.
I am, Tengo said. Its as if were talking in semaphore, he thought.
They finished eating and parted. At the door of the restaurant, Tengo slipped a few ten-yen coins into the pay phone and called Komatsus work number. He was still in his office, but it took him a while to come to the phone. Tengo waited with the receiver on his ear.
How did it go? Komatsu asked right away.
Fuka-Eri is basically okay with me rewriting Air Chrysalis, I think.
Thats great! Komatsu exclaimed. Marvelous! To tell you the truth, I was a little worried about you. I mean, youre not exactly the negotiator type.
I didnt do any negotiating, Tengo said. I didnt have to convince her. I just explained the main points, and she pretty much decided on her own.
I dont care how you did it. The results are what count. Now we can go ahead with the plan.
Except that I have to meet somebody first.
Meet somebody? Who?
I dont know. She wants me to meet this person and talk.
Komatsu kept silent for a few seconds. So when are you supposed to do that?
This Sunday. Shes going to take me there.
Theres one important rule when it comes to keeping secrets, Komatsu said gravely. The fewer people who know the secret, the better. So far, only three of us know about the planyou, me, and Fuka-Eri. If possible, Id like to avoid increasing that number. You understand, dont you?
In theory, Tengo said.
Komatsus voice softened as he said, Anyhow, Fuka-Eri is ready to have you rewrite her manuscript. Thats the most important thing. We can work out the rest.
Tengo switched the receiver to his left hand and slowly pressed his right index finger against his temple. To be honest, he said to Komatsu, this is making me nervous. I dont have any real grounds for saying so, but I have this strong feeling that Im being swept up in something out of the ordinary. I didnt feel it when I was with Fuka-Eri, but its been getting stronger since she left. Call it a premonition, or just a funny feeling, but there is something strange going on here. Something out of the ordinary. I feel it less with my mind than my whole body.
Was it meeting Fuka-Eri that made you feel this way?
Maybe so. Shes probably the real thing. This is just my gut feeling, of course.
You mean that she has real talent?
I dont know about her talent, Tengo said. Ive just met her, after all. But she may actually be seeing things that you and I cant see. She might have something special. Thats whats bothering me.
You mean she might have mental issues?
Shes definitely eccentric, but I dont think shes crazy. Theres a logical thread to what she says, more or less. Its just that I dont know somethings bothering me.
In any case, did she take an interest in you? Komatsu asked.
Tengo searched for the appropriate words with which to answer him, but was unable to find them. I really cant say about that, he replied.
Well, she met you, and she must have thought you were qualified to rewrite Air Chrysalis. That means she liked you. Good work, Tengo! What happens from here on out, I dont know, either. There is some risk, of course. But risk is the spice of life. Start rewriting the manuscript right away. We dont have any time to lose. Ive got to return the rewritten manuscript to the pile of entries as soon as possible, switch it for the original. Can you do the job in ten days?
Tengo sighed. What a taskmaster!
Dont worry, you dont have to make it absolutely polished. We can still touch it up in the next stage. Just get it into reasonably good shape.
Tengo did a general estimate of the job in his head. If thats the case, I might be able to pull it off in ten days. Its still going to be a huge job, though.
Just give it everything youve got, Komatsu urged him cheerfully. Look at the world through her eyes. Youll be the go-betweenconnecting Fuka-Eris world and the real world we live in. I know you can do it, Tengo, I just
At this point the last ten-yen coin ran out.

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11-13-2011, 07:57 PM   #6

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 5

Aomame


A PROFESSION REQUIRING
SPECIALIZED TECHNIQUES AND TRAINING

After finishing her job and exiting the hotel, Aomame walked a short distance before catching a cab to yet another hotel, in the Akasaka District. She needed to calm her nerves with alcohol before going home to bed. After all, she had just sent a man to the other side. True, he was a loathsome rat who had no right to complain about being killed, but he was, ultimately, a human being. Her hands still retained the sensation of the life draining out of him. He had expelled his last breath, and the spirit had left his body. Aomame had been to the bar in this Akasaka hotel any number of times. It was the top floor of a high-rise building, had a great view, and a comfortable counter.
She entered the bar a little after seven. A young piano and guitar duo were playing Sweet Lorraine. Their version was a copy of an old Nat King Cole record, but they werent bad. As always, she sat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic and a plate of pistachios. The place was still not crowdeda young couple drinking cocktails as they took in the view, four men in suits who seemed to be discussing a business deal, a middle-aged foreign couple holding martini glasses. She took her time drinking the gin and tonic. She didnt want the alcohol to take effect too quickly. The night ahead was long.
She pulled a book from her shoulder bag and started reading. It was a history of the South Manchurian Railway Company of the 1930s. The line and right-of-way had been ceded to Japan by Russia after the Russo-Japanese War of 19041905, after which the company had rapidly expanded its operations, becoming fundamental in Japans invasion of China. It was broken up by the Soviet army in 1945. Until the outbreak of the Russo-German War in 1941, one could travel between Shimonoseki and Paris in thirteen days via this line and the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Aomame figured that a young woman drinking alone in a hotel bar could not be mistaken for a high-class hooker on the prowl if she was wearing a business suit, had a big shoulder bag parked next to her, and sat there absorbed in a book about the South Manchurian Railway (a hardcover, no less). In fact, Aomame had no idea what kind of outfit a real high-class hooker would wear. If she herself were a prostitute looking for wealthy businessmen, she would probably try her best not to look like a prostitute so as to avoid either making potential clients nervous or having herself ejected from the bar. One way to accomplish that might be to wear a Junko Shimada business suit and white blouse, keep her makeup to a minimum, carry a big, practical shoulder bag, and have a book on the South Manchurian Railway open in front of her. Come to think of it, what she was doing now was not substantially different from a prostitute on the prowl.
As the time passed, the place gradually filled up. Before she knew it, Aomame was surrounded by the buzz of conversation. But none of the customers had what she was looking for. She drank another gin and tonic, ordered some crudits (she hadnt eaten dinner yet), and continued reading. Eventually a man came and sat a few seats away from her at the bar. He was alone. Nicely tanned, he wore an expensively tailored blue-gray suit. His taste in neckties was not bad, eitherneither flashy nor plain. He must have been around fifty, and his hair was more than a little thin. He wore no glasses. She guessed he was in Tokyo on business and, having finished the days work, wanted a drink before going to bed. Like Aomame herself. The idea was to calm the nerves by introducing a moderate amount of alcohol into the body.
Few men in Tokyo on business stayed in this kind of expensive hotel. Most chose a cheap business hotel, one near a train station, where the bed nearly filled the room, the only view from the window was the wall of the next building, and you couldnt take a shower without bumping your elbows twenty times. The corridor of each floor had vending machines for drinks and toiletries. Either the company wouldnt pay for anything better, or the men were pocketing the travel money left over from staying in such a cheap place. They would drink a beer from the local liquor store before going to bed, and wolf down a bowl of rice and beef for breakfast at the eatery next door.
A different class of people stayed at this hotel. When these men came to Tokyo on business, they never took anything but the bullet trains luxury green cars, and they stayed only in certain elite hotels. Finishing a job, they would relax in the hotel bar and drink expensive whiskey. Most held management positions in first-rank corporations, or else they were independent businessmen or professionals such as doctors or lawyers. They had reached middle age, and money was no problem for them. They also knew more or less how to have a good time. This was the type that Aomame had in mind.
Aomame herself did not know why, but ever since the time she was twenty, she had been attracted to men with thinning hair. They should not be completely bald but have something left on top. And thin hair was not all it took to please her. They had to have well-shaped heads. Her ideal type was Sean Connery. His beautifully shaped head was sexy. Looking at him was all it took to set her heart racing. The man now sitting at the bar two seats away from her had a very well-shaped headnot as perfect as Sean Connerys, of course, but attractive in its own way. His hairline had receded from the forehead and his sparse remaining hair recalled a frosty meadow in late autumn. Aomame raised her eyes a little from the pages of her book and admired his head shape for a while. His facial features were nothing special. Though not fat, his jowls were just beginning to sag, and he had a hint of bags under his eyes. He was the kind of middle-aged man you see everywhere. But that head shape of his she found very much to her liking.
When the bartender brought him a menu and a warm towel, the man ordered a Scotch highball without looking at the menu. Do you prefer a certain brand? the bartender asked. Not really, the man said. Anything will be fine. He had a calm, quiet voice and spoke with a soft Kansai accent. Then, as if it had just occurred to him, he asked if they had Cutty Sark. The bartender said they did. Not bad, thought Aomame. She liked the fact that he had not chosen Chivas Regal or some sophisticated single malt. It was her personal view that people who are overly choosy about the drinks they order in a bar tend to be sexually bland. She had no idea why this should be so.
Aomame also had a taste for Kansai accents. She especially enjoyed the mismatch between vocabulary and intonation when people born and raised in Kansai came up to Tokyo and tried to use Tokyo words with Kansai pronunciation. She found that special sound to be strangely calming. So now she made up her mind: she would go for this man. She was dying to run her fingers through the few strands of hair he had left. So when the bartender brought him his Cutty Sark highball, she said to the bartender loudly enough so the man was sure to hear her, Cutty Sark on the rocks, please. Yes, maam, right away, the bartender replied, his face a blank.
The man undid the top button of his shirt and loosened his tie, which was a dark blue with a fine-grained pattern. His suit was also dark blue. He wore a pale blue shirt with a standard collar. She went on reading her book as she waited for her Cutty Sark to come. Discreetly, she undid the top button of her blouse. The jazz duo played Its Only a Paper Moon. The pianist sang a single chorus. Her drink arrived, and she took a sip. She sensed the man glancing in her direction. She raised her head and looked at him. Casually, as if by chance. When their eyes met, she gave him a faint, almost nonexistent smile, and then immediately faced forward again, pretending to look at the nighttime view.
It was the perfect moment for a man to approach a woman, and she had created it. But this man said nothing. What the hell is he waiting for? she wondered. Hes no kid. He should pick up on these subtle hints. Maybe he hasnt got the guts. Maybe hes worried about the age difference. Maybe he thinks Ill ignore him or put him down: bald old coot of fifty has some nerve approaching a woman in her twenties! Damn, he just doesnt get it.
She closed her book and returned it to her bag. Now she took the initiative.
You like Cutty Sark?
He looked shocked, as if he could not grasp the meaning of her question. Then he relaxed his expression. Oh, yes, Cutty Sark, he said, as if it suddenly came back to him. Ive always liked the label, the sailboat.
So you like boats.
Sailboats especially.
Aomame raised her glass. The man raised his highball glass slightly. It was almost a toast.
Aomame slung her bag on her shoulder and, whiskey glass in hand, slipped over two seats to the stool next to his. He seemed a little surprised but struggled not to show it.
I was supposed to meet an old high school girlfriend of mine here, but it looks like Ive been stood up, Aomame said, glancing at her watch. Shes not even calling.
Maybe she got the date wrong.
Maybe. Shes always been kind of scatterbrained, Aomame said. I guess Ill wait a little longer. Mind keeping me company? Or would you rather be alone?
No, not at all, the man said, though he sounded somewhat uncertain. He knit his brows and looked at her carefully, as if assessing an object to be used as collateral. He seemed to suspect her of being a prostitute. But Aomame was clearly not a prostitute. He relaxed and let his guard down a little.
Are you staying in this hotel? he asked.
No, I live in Tokyo, she said, shaking her head. Im just here to meet my friend. And you?
In town on business, he said. From Osaka. For a meeting. A stupid meeting, but the company headquarters are in Osaka, so somebody had to come.
Aomame gave him a perfunctory smile. I dont give a shit about your business, mister, she thought, I just happen to like the shape of your head.
I needed a drink after work. Ive got one more job to finish up tomorrow morning, and then I head back to Osaka.
I just finished a big job myself, Aomame said.
Oh, really? What kind of work do you do?
I dont like to talk about my work. Its a kind of specialized profession.
Specialized profession, the man responded, repeating her words. A profession requiring specialized techniques and training.
What are you, some kind of walking dictionary? Silently, she challenged him, but she just kept on smiling and said, Hmm, I wonder
He took another sip of his highball and a handful of nuts from the bowl. Im curious what kind of work you do, but you dont want to talk about it.
She nodded. Not yet, at least.
Does it involve words, by any chance? Say, you might be an editor or a university researcher?
What makes you think that?
He straightened the knot of his necktie and redid the top button of his shirt. I dont know, you seemed pretty absorbed in that big book of yours.
Aomame tapped her fingernail against the edge of her glass. No, I just like to read. Without any connection to work.
I give up, then. I cant imagine.
No, Im sure you cant, she said, silently adding, Ever.
He gave her a casual once-over. Pretending to have dropped something, she bent over and gave him a good, long look at her cleavage and perhaps a peek at her white bra with lace trim. Then she straightened up and took another sip of her Cutty Sark on the rocks. The large, rounded chunks of ice clinked against the sides of her glass.
How about another drink? he asked. Ill order one too.
Please, Aomame replied.
You can hold your liquor.
Aomame gave him a vague smile but quickly turned serious. Oh, yes, I wanted to ask you something.
What would that be?
Have policemens uniforms changed lately? And the type of guns they carry?
What do you mean by lately?
In the past week, she said.
He gave her an odd look. Police uniforms and guns both underwent a change, but that was some years back. The jackets went from a stiff, formal style to something more casual, almost like a windbreaker. And they started carrying those new-model automatic pistols. I dont think there have been any changes since then.
Japanese policemen always carried old-fashioned revolvers, Im sure. Right up to last week.
The man shook his head. Now there, youre wrong. They all started carrying automatics quite some time ago.
Can you say that with absolute certainty?
Her tone gave him pause. He wrinkled his brow and searched his memory. Well, if you put it that way, I cant be one hundred percent sure, but I know I saw something in the papers about the switch to new pistols. It caused quite a stir. The usual citizens groups were complaining to the government that the pistols were too high-powered.
And this was a while ago? Aomame asked.
The man called over the middle-aged bartender and asked him when the police changed their uniforms and pistols.
In the spring two years ago, the bartender replied, without hesitation.
See? the man said with a laugh. Bartenders in first-class hotels know everything!
The bartender laughed as well. No, not really, he said. It just so happens my younger brother is a cop, so I clearly remember that stuff. My brother couldnt stand the new uniforms and was always complaining about them. And he thought the new pistols were too heavy. Hes still complaining about those. Theyre 9mm Beretta automatics. One click and you can switch them to semiautomatic. Im pretty sure Mitsubishis making them domestically under license now. We almost never have any out-and-out gun battles in Japan; theres just no need for such a high-powered gun. If anything, the cops have to worry now about having their guns stolen from them. But it was government policy back then to upgrade the force.
What happened to the old revolvers? Aomame asked, keeping her voice as calm as she could.
Im pretty sure they were all recalled and dismantled, the bartender said. I remember seeing it on television. It was a huge job dismantling that many pistols and scrapping all that ammunition.
They should have just sold everything abroad, said the thinning-haired company man.
The constitution forbids the export of weapons, the bartender pointed out modestly.
See? Bartenders in first-class hotels
Aomame cut the man off and asked, Youre telling me that Japanese police havent used revolvers at all for two years now?
As far as I know.
Aomame frowned slightly. Am I going crazy? I just saw a policeman wearing the old-style uniform and carrying an old revolver this morning. Im sure I never heard a thing about them getting rid of every single revolver, but I also cant believe that these two middle-aged men are wrong or lying to me. Which means I must be mistaken.
Thanks very much. Ive heard all I need to about that, she said to the bartender, who gave her a professional smile like a well-timed punctuation mark and went back to work.
Do you have some special interest in policemen? the middle-aged man asked her.
No, not really, Aomame answered, adding vaguely, Its just that my memory has gotten a little foggy
They drank their new Cutty Sarksthe man his highball and Aomame hers on the rocks. The man talked about sailboats. He moored his small sailboat in the Nishinomiya yacht harbor, he said. He took it out to the ocean on holidays and weekends. He spoke passionately of how wonderful it was to feel the wind as you sailed alone on the sea. Aomame didnt want to hear about any damned sailboats. Better for him to talk about the history of ball bearings or the distribution of mineral resources in Ukraine. She glanced at her watch and said, Look, its getting late. Can I just ask you something straight out?
Sure, he replied.
Its, uh, rather personal.
Ill answer if I can.
Do you have a decent-sized cock? Is it on the big side?
The mans lips parted and his eyes narrowed as he looked at her for a while. He could not quite believe he had heard her correctly. But her face was utterly serious. She was not joking. Her eyes made that clear.
Let me see, he said, speaking earnestly. Im not really sure. I guess its pretty much normal size. I dont know what to say when you spring it on me like that.
How old are you? Aomame asked.
I just turned fifty-one last month, but , he said.
Youve been living more than fifty years with a normal brain, you have a decent job, you even own your own sailboat, and still you cant tell whether your cock is bigger or smaller than normal?
Well, I suppose it could be a little bigger, he said with a degree of difficulty after giving it some thought.
Youre sure, now?
Why are you so concerned?
Concerned? Who says Im concerned?
Well, no one, but , he said, recoiling slightly atop his bar stool. That seems to be the problem were discussing at the moment.
Problem? Its no problem. No problem at all, Aomame declared. I just happen to like big cocks. Visually speaking. Im not saying I need a big one to feel anything, no no. Or that Im okay with anything as long as its big. All Im saying is I tend to like em on the big side. Is there something wrong with that? People have their likes and dislikes. But ridiculously big ones are no good. They just hurt. Do you see what I mean?
Well, then, I might be able to please you with mine. Its somewhat bigger than standard, I think, but its not ridiculously big, either. Itsshall I say?just right
Youre not lying to me, now?
What would be the point of lying about something like that?
Well, all right, then, maybe you should give me a peek.
Here?
Aomame frowned while struggling to control herself. Here?! Are you crazy? What are you thinking, at your age? Youre wearing a good suit and even a tie, but wheres your social common sense? You cant just whip out your cock in a place like this. Imagine what the people around you would think! No, we go to your room now, and I let you take your pants off and show me. Just the two of us. That much should be obvious to you.
So I show you, and then what happens? he asked worriedly.
What happens after you show it to me? Aomame asked, catching her breath and producing a major uncontrolled frown. We have sex, obviously. What else? I mean, we go to your room, you show me your cock, and I say, Thank you very much for showing me such a nice one. Good night, and I go home? You must have a screw loose somewhere.
The man gasped to see Aomames face undergoing such dramatic changes before his eyes. A frown from Aomame could make any man shrivel up. Little children might pee in their pants, the impact of her frown was so powerful. Maybe I overdid it, she thought. I really shouldnt frighten him so badly. At least not until Ive taken care of business. She quickly returned her face to its normal state and forced a smile. Then, as if spelling it out for him, she said, Heres what happens. We go to your room. We get in bed. We have sex. Youre not gay or impotent, are you?
No, I dont believe so. I have two children
Look, nobodys asking you how many kids youve got. Do I look like a census taker? Keep the details to yourself. All Im asking is whether you can get it up when youre in bed with a woman. Nothing else.
As far back as I can remember, Ive never failed to perform when necessary, he said. But tell meare you a professional? Is this your job?
No, it is not my job, so you can stop that right now. I am not a professional, or a pervert, just an ordinary citizen. An ordinary citizen who wants nothing more than to have intercourse with a member of the opposite sex. Theres nothing special about me. Im totally normal. What could be wrong with that? Ive just finished a tough job, the sun is down, Ive had a little to drink, and Id like to let off steam by having sex with a stranger. To calm my nerves. Thats what I need. Youre a man, you know how I feel.
Of course I do, but
Im not looking for any money. Id almost pay you if you can satisfy me. And Ive got condoms with me, so you dont have to worry. Am I making myself clear?
You certainly are, but
But what? You dont seem all that eager. Am I not good enough for you?
Thats not it at all. I just dont get it. Youre young and pretty, and Im old enough to be your father
Oh, stop it, will you please? Sure youre a lot older than me, but Im not your damn daughter, and youre not my damn father. That much is obvious. It sets my nerves on edge to be subjected to such meaningless generalizations. I just like your bald head. I like the way its shaped. Do you see?
Well, I wouldnt exactly call myself bald. I know my hairline is a little
Shut up, will you? Aomame said, trying her best not to frown. I shouldnt scare him too much, she thought, softening her tone somewhat. Thats really not important.
Look, mister, I dont care what you think, you are bald. If the census had a bald category, youd be in it, no problem. If you go to heaven, youre going to bald heaven. If you go to hell, youre going to bald hell. Have you got that straight? Then stop looking away from the truth. Lets go now. Im taking you straight to bald heaven, nonstop.
The man paid the bill and they went to his room.
His penis was in fact somewhat larger than normal, though not too large, as advertised. Aomames expert handling soon made it big and hard. She took off her blouse and skirt.
I know youre thinking my breasts are small, she said coldly as she looked down at him in her underwear. You came through with a good-sized cock and all you get in return is these puny things. I bet you feel cheated.
Not at all, he reassured her. Theyre not that small. And theyre really quite beautiful.
I wonder, she said. Let me just say this, though. I never wear these frilly lace bras. I had to put this one on today for work, to show off a little cleavage.
What is this work of yours?
Look, I told you before. I dont want to discuss my job here. I can say this much, though: its not that easy being a woman.
Well, its not that easy being a man, either.
Maybe not, but you never have to put on a lacy bra when you dont want to.
True
So dont pretend to know what youre talking about. Women have it much tougher than men. Have you ever had to climb down a steep stairway in high heels, or climb over a barricade in a miniskirt?
I owe you an apology, the man said simply.
She reached back, unhooked her bra, and threw it on the floor. Then she rolled down her stockings and threw those on the floor as well. Lying down beside him, she started working on his penis again. Pretty impressive, she said. Nice shape, just about ideal size, and firm as a tree trunk.
Im glad it meets with your approval, he said with apparent relief.
Now just let big sister do her thing. Shell make this little man of yours twitch with happiness.
Maybe we should shower first. Im pretty sweaty
Oh, shut up, Aomame said, giving his right testicle a light snap, as if issuing a warning. I came here to have sex, not take a shower. Got it? We do it first. Fuck like crazy. To hell with a little sweat. Im not a blushing schoolgirl.
All right, the man said.
When they were finished and she was caressing the back of the mans exposed neck as he lay facedown, exhausted, Aomame felt a strong urge to plunge her sharp needle into that special place. Maybe I should really do it, the thought flashed through her mind. The ice pick was in her bag, wrapped in cloth. The needle that she had spent so much time sharpening was covered by a specially softened cork. It would have been so easy, just a quick shove of her right palm against the wooden handle. Hed be dead before he knew what hit him. No pain. It would be ruled a natural death. But of course she stopped herself. There was no reason to expunge this man from society, aside from the fact that he no longer served any purpose for Aomame. She shook her head and swept the dangerous thought from her mind.
This man is not an especially bad person, she told herself. He was pretty good in bed, too. He had enough control not to ejaculate until he had made her come. The shape of his head and the degree of his baldness were just the way she liked them. The size of his penis was exactly right. He was courteous, had good taste in clothes, and was in no way overbearing. True, he was tremendously boring, which really got on her nerves, but that was not a crime deserving death. Probably.
Mind if I turn on the television? she asked.
Fine, he said, still on his stomach.
Naked in bed, she watched the eleven oclock news to the end. In the Middle East, Iran and Iraq were still embroiled in their bloody war. It was a quagmire, with no sign of a settlement. In Iraq, young draft dodgers had been strung up on telephone poles as an example to others. The Iranian government was accusing Saddam Hussein of having used nerve gas and biological weapons. In America, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart were battling to become the Democratic candidate for president. Neither looked like the brightest person in the world. Smart presidents usually became the target of assassins, so people with higher-than-average intelligence probably did their best to avoid being elected.
On the moon, the construction of a permanent observation post was making progress. The United States and the Soviet Union were cooperating on this project, for a change, as they had done with the Antarctic observation post. An observation post on the moon? Aomame cocked her head. I havent heard anything about that. What is wrong with me? But she decided not to think too deeply about it. There were more pressing problems to consider. A large number of people had died in a mine fire in Kyushu, and the government was looking into the cause. What most surprised Aomame was the fact that people continued to dig coal out of the earth in an age when bases were being built on the moon. America was pushing Japan to open its financial markets. Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch were lighting fires under the government in search of new sources of profit. Next there was a feature that introduced a clever cat from Shimane Prefecture that could open a window and let itself out. Once out, it would close the window. The owner had trained the cat to do this. Aomame watched with admiration as the slim black cat turned around, stretched a paw out, and, with a knowing look in its eye, slid the window closed.
There was a great variety of news stories, but no report on the discovery of a body in a Shibuya hotel. After the news, Aomame turned the TV off with the remote control. The room was hushed, the only sound the soft, rhythmic breathing of the man sleeping beside her.
That other man, the one in the hotel room, is probably still slumped over his desk, looking sound asleep, like this one. Without the breathing. That rat can never wake and rise again. Aomame stared at the ceiling, imagining the look of the corpse. She gave her head a slight shake and indulged in a lonely frown. Then she slipped out of bed and gathered her clothing from the floor, piece by piece.

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11-13-2011, 07:58 PM   #7

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 6

Tengo


DOES THIS MEAN
WERE GOING PRETTY FAR FROM THE CITY?

The next call from Komatsu came early Friday morning, shortly after five oclock. Tengo was just then dreaming about crossing a long stone bridge on a river. He was going to retrieve a document that he had forgotten on the opposite shore. He was alone. The river was big and beautiful, with sandbars here and there. The river flowed gently, and willows grew on the sandbars. He could see the elegant shape of trout in the water. The willows brilliant green leaves hung down, gently touching the waters surface. The scene could have come from a Chinese plate. Tengo woke and looked at the clock by his pillow in the dark. Of course he knew before lifting the receiver who would be calling at such a time.
Do you have a word processor, Tengo? Komatsu asked. No Good morning, no Were you up? If he was awake now, Komatsu must have pulled an all-nighter. He had certainly not awakened early to see the sun rise. He must have recalled something he wanted to tell Tengo before going to bed.
No, of course not, Tengo answered. He was still in pitch darkness, halfway across the long bridge. He rarely had such vivid dreams. Its nothing to boast about, but I cant afford anything like that.
Do you know how to use one?
I do. I can pretty much handle either a dedicated word processor or a computer. We have them at school. I use them all the time for work.
Good. I want you to buy one today. I dont know a thing about machines, so Ill leave it to you to pick out the make and model. Send me a bill afterward. I want you to start revising Air Chrysalis as soon as possible.
You know, were talking about at least 250,000 yenfor a cheap one.
Thats no problem.
Tengo cocked his head in wonderment. So, youre saying youre going to buy me a word processor?
That I amfrom my own little private stash. This job deserves at least that much of an investment. Well never get anything done playing it cheap. As you know, Air Chrysalis arrived as a word-processed manuscript, which means well have to use a word processor to rewrite it. I want you to make the new one look like the old one. Can you start the rewrite today?
Tengo thought about it a moment. I can start it anytime I decide to, but Fuka-Eri wants me to meet someone this Sunday before she gives me permission, and of course I havent met the person yet. If those negotiations break down, anything we do now could be a complete waste of time and money
Never mind, itll work out. Dont worry about the details. Start working right away. Were in a race against time.
Are you that sure my interview will go well?
Thats what my gut tells me, Komatsu said. I go by the gut. I might not appear to have any talent, but Ive got plenty of gut instinctif I do say so myself. Thats how Ive survived all these years. By the way, Tengo, do you know what the biggest difference is between talent and gut instinct?
I have no idea.
You can have tons of talent, but it wont necessarily keep you fed. If you have sharp instincts, though, youll never go hungry.
Ill keep that in mind, Tengo said.
All Im saying is, dont worry. You can start the job today.
If you say so, its fine with me. I was just trying to avoid kicking myself for starting too early.
Let me worry about that. Ill take complete responsibility.
Okay, then. Im seeing somebody this afternoon, but Ill be free to start working after that. I can shop for a word processor this morning.
Thats great, Tengo. Im counting on you. Well join forces and turn the world upside down.
Tengos married girlfriend called just after nine, when she was finished dropping her husband and kids off at the train station for their daily commute. She was supposed to be visiting Tengos apartment that afternoon. They always got together on Fridays.
Im just not feeling right, she said. Sorry, but I dont think I can make it today. See you next week.
Not feeling right was her euphemism for her period. She had been raised to prefer delicate, euphemistic expressions. There was nothing delicate or euphemistic about her in bed, but that was another matter. Tengo said he was also sorry to miss her that day, but he supposed it couldnt be helped.
In fact, he was not all that sorry to miss her on this particular Friday. He always enjoyed sex with her, but his feelings were already moving in the direction of rewriting Air Chrysalis. Ideas were welling up inside him like life-forms stirring in a primordial sea. This way, Im no different from Komatsu, he thought. Nothing has been formally settled, and already my feelings are headed in that direction on their own.
At ten oclock he went to Shinjuku and bought a Fujitsu word processor with his credit card. It was the latest model, far lighter than earlier versions. He also bought ink ribbon cartridges and paper. He carried everything back to his apartment, set the machine on his desk, and plugged it in. At work he used a full-sized Fujitsu word processor, and the basic functions of this portable model were not much different. To reassure himself of its operation, he launched into the rewriting of Air Chrysalis.
He had no well-defined plan for rewriting the novella, no consistent method or guidelines that he had prepared, just a few detailed ideas for certain sections. Tengo was not even sure it was possible to do a logical rewrite of a work of fantasy and feeling. True, as Komatsu had said, the style needed a great deal of improvement, but would it be possible for him to do that without destroying the works fundamental nature and atmosphere? Wouldnt this be tantamount to giving a butterfly a skeleton? Such thoughts only caused him confusion and anxiety. But events had already started moving, and he had a limited amount of time. He couldnt just sit there, thinking, arms folded. All he could do was deal with one small, concrete problem after another. Perhaps, as he worked on each detail by hand, an overall image would take shape spontaneously.
I know you can do it, Tengo, Komatsu had declared with confidence, and for some unfathomable reason, Tengo himself was able to swallow Komatsus words wholefor now. In both word and action, Komatsu could be a questionable character, and he basically thought of no one but himself. If the occasion arose, he would drop Tengo without batting an eyelash. But as Komatsu himself liked to say, he had special instincts as an editor. He made all judgments instantaneously and carried them out decisively, unconcerned what other people might say. This was a quality indispensable to a brilliant commanding officer on the front lines, but it was a quality that Tengo himself did not possess.
It was half past twelve by the time Tengo started rewriting Air Chrysalis. He typed the first few pages of the manuscript into the word processor as is, stopping at a convenient break in the story. He would rewrite this block of text first, changing none of the content but thoroughly reworking the style. It was like remodeling a condo. You leave the basic structure intact, keep the kitchen and bathroom in place, but tear out and replace the flooring, ceiling, walls, and partitions. Im a skilled carpenter whos been put in charge of everything, Tengo told himself. I dont have a blueprint, so all I can do is use my intuition and experience to work on each separate problem that comes up.
After typing it in, he reread Fuka-Eris text, adding explanatory material to sections that felt too obscure, improving the flow of the language, and deleting superfluous or redundant passages. Here and there he would change the order of sentences or paragraphs. Fuka-Eri was extremely sparing in her use of adjectives and adverbs, and he wanted to remain consistent with that aspect of her style, but in certain places where he felt more descriptions were necessary, he would supply something appropriate. Her style overall was juvenile and artless, but the good and the bad passages stood out from each other so clearly that choosing among them took far less time and trouble than he had expected. The artlessness made some passages dense and difficult but it gave others a startling freshness. He needed only to throw out and replace the first type, and leave the second in place.
Rewriting her work gave Tengo a renewed sense that Fuka-Eri had written the piece without any intention of leaving behind a work of literature. All she had done was record a storyor, as she had put it, things she had actually witnessedthat she possessed inside her, and it just so happened that she had used words to do it. She might just as well have used something other than words, but she had not come across a more appropriate medium. It was as simple as that. She had never had any literary ambition, no thought of making the finished piece into a commodity, and so she felt no need to pay attention to the details of style, as if she had been making a room for herself and all she needed was walls and a roof to keep the weather out. This was why it made no difference to her how much Tengo reworked her writing. She had already accomplished her objective. When she said, Fix it any way you like, she was almost certainly expressing her true feelings.
And yet, the sentences and paragraphs that comprised Air Chrysalis were by no means the work of an author writing just for herself. If Fuka-Eris sole objective was to record things she had witnessed or imagined, setting them down as sheer information, she could have accomplished that much with a list. She didnt have to go to the trouble of fashioning a story, which was unmistakably writing that was meant for other people to pick up and read, which was precisely why Air Chrysalis, though written without the objective of creating a literary work, and in crude and artless language, still had succeeded in acquiring the power to appeal directly to the heart. The more he read, however, the more convinced Tengo became that those other people were almost certainly not the same general public that modern literature invariably had in mind.
All right, then, what kind of reader was this meant for?
Tengo had no idea.
All he knew for sure was that Air Chrysalis was an utterly unique work of fiction combining enormous strengths with enormous flaws, and that it seemed to possess an objective that was something quite special.
. . .

Tengo found that his rewrite was more than doubling the length of the text. The original was far more often underwritten than overwritten, so rewriting it for coherence and consistency could not help but increase its volume. Fuka-Eris text was so threadbare! True, with its more logical style and consistent point of view, the new version was far easier to read, but the overall flow was becoming strangely sluggish. Its logicality showed through too clearly, dulling the sharpness of the original.
Once he had filled out this first block of text, Tengos next task was to eliminate from his bloated manuscript everything that was not strictly necessary, to remove every extra bit of fat. Subtraction was a far simpler process than addition, and it reduced the volume of his text by some thirty percent. It was a kind of mind game. He would set a certain time period for expanding the text as much as possible, then set a certain time period for reducing the text as much as possible. As he alternated tenaciously between the two processes, the swings between them gradually shrank in size, until the volume of text naturally settled down where it belonged, arriving at a point where it could be neither expanded nor reduced. He excised any hint of ego, shook off all extraneous embellishments, and sent all transparent signs of imposed logic into the back room. Tengo had a gift for such work. He was a born technician, possessing both the intense concentration of a bird sailing through the air in search of prey and the patience of a donkey hauling water, playing always by the rules of the game.
Tengo had been all but lost in the work for some time when he looked up to find it was nearly three oclock. Come to think of it, he hadnt eaten lunch yet. He went to the kitchen, put a kettle on to boil, and ground some coffee beans. He ate a few crackers with cheese, followed those with an apple, and when the water boiled, made coffee. Drinking this from a large mug, he distracted himself with thoughts of sex with his older girlfriend. Ordinarily, he would have been doing it with her right about now. He pictured the things that he would be doing, and the things that she would be doing. He closed his eyes, turned his face toward the ceiling, and released a deep sigh heavy with suggestion and possibility.
Tengo then went back to his desk, switched circuits in his brain again, and read through his rewritten opening to Air Chrysalis on the word processors screen the way the general in the opening scene of Stanley Kubricks Paths of Glory makes his rounds inspecting the trenches. He approved of what he found. Not bad. The writing was much improved. He was making headway. But not enough. He still had lots to do. The trench walls were crumbling here and there. The machine guns ammunition was running out. The barbed wire barriers had noticeable thin spots.
He printed a draft, saved the document, turned off the word processor, and shifted the machine to the side of his desk. Now, with pencil in hand, he did another careful read-through of the text, this time on paper. Again he deleted parts that seemed superfluous, fleshed out passages that felt underwritten, and revised sections until they fit more smoothly into the rest of the story. He selected his words with all the care of a craftsman choosing the perfect piece of tile to fill a narrow gap in a bathroom floor, inspecting the fit from every angle. Where the fit was less than perfect, he adjusted the shape. The slightest difference in nuance could bring the passage to life or kill it.
The exact same text was subtly different to read when viewed on the printed pages rather than on the word processors screen. The feel of the words he chose would change depending on whether he was writing them on paper in pencil or typing them on the keyboard. It was imperative to do both. He turned the machine on again and typed each penciled correction back into the word-processed document. Then he reread the revised text on the screen. Not bad, he told himself. Each sentence possessed the proper weight, which gave the whole thing a natural rhythm.
Tengo sat up straight in his chair, stretched his back, and, turning his face to the ceiling, let out a long breath. His job was by no means done. When he reread the text in a few days, he would find more things that needed fixing. But this was fine for now. His powers of concentration had just about reached their limit. He needed a cooling-off period. The hands of the clock were nearing five, and the light of day was growing dim. He would rewrite the next block tomorrow. It had taken him almost the whole day to rewrite just the first few pages. This was a lot more time-consuming than he had expected it to be. But the process should speed up once the rules were laid down and a rhythm took hold. Besides, the most difficult and time-consuming part would be the opening. Once he got through that, the rest
Tengo pictured Fuka-Eri and wondered how she would feel when she read the rewritten manuscript. But then he realized that he had no idea how Fuka-Eri would feel about anything. He knew virtually nothing about her other than that she was seventeen, a junior in high school with no interest in taking college entrance exams, spoke in a very odd way, liked white wine, and had a disturbingly beautiful face.
Still, Tengo had begun to have a fairly strong sense that his grasp of the world that Fuka-Eri was trying to depict (or record) in Air Chrysalis was generally accurate. The scenes that Fuka-Eri had created with her peculiar, limited vocabulary took on a new clarity and vividness when reworked by Tengo, who paid such careful attention to detail. They flowed now. He could see that. All he had provided the work was a level of technical reinforcement, but the results were utterly natural, as if he himself had written the thing from scratch. Now the story of Air Chrysalis was beginning to emerge with tremendous power.
This was a great source of happiness for Tengo. The long hours of mental concentration had left him physically spent but emotionally uplifted. For some time after he had turned off the word processor and left his desk, Tengo could not suppress the desire to keep rewriting the story. He was enjoying the work immensely. At this rate, he might manage not to disappoint Fuka-Erithough in fact he could not picture Fuka-Eri being either disappointed or pleased. Far from it. He could not even picture her cracking a smile or displaying the slightest hint of displeasure. Her face was devoid of expression. Tengo could not tell whether she lacked expression because she had no feelings or the feelings she had were unconnected to her expression. In any case, she was a mysterious girl.
The heroine of Air Chrysalis was probably Fuka-Eri herself in the past. A ten-year-old girl, she lived in a special mountain commune (or commune-like place), where she was assigned to look after a blind goat. All the children in the commune had work assignments. Though the goat was old, it had special meaning for the community, so the girls duty was to make sure that no harm came to it. She was not allowed to take her eyes off it for a second. One day, however, in a moment of carelessness, she did exactly that, and the goat died. As her punishment, the girl was put in total isolation for ten days, locked in an old storehouse with the goats corpse.
The goat served as a passageway to this world for the Little People. The girl did not know whether the Little People were good or bad (and neither did Tengo). When night came, the Little People would enter this world through the corpse, and they would go back to the other side when dawn broke. The girl could speak to them. They taught her how to make an air chrysalis.
What most impressed Tengo was the concrete detail with which the blind goats traits and actions were depicted. These details were what made the work as a whole so vivid. Could Fuka-Eri have actually been the keeper of a blind goat? And could she have actually lived in a mountain commune like the one in the story? Tengo guessed that the answer in both cases was yes. Because if she had never had these experiences, Fuka-Eri was a storyteller of rare, inborn talent.
Tengo decided that he would ask Fuka-Eri about the goat and the commune the next time they met (which was to be on Sunday). Of course she might not answer his questions. Judging from their previous conversation, it seemed that Fuka-Eri would only answer questions when she felt like it. When she didnt want to answer, or when she clearly had no intention of responding, she simply ignored the questions, as if she had never heard them. Like Komatsu. The two were much alike in that regard. Which made them very different from Tengo. If someone asked Tengo a question, any question, he would do his best to answer it. He had probably been born that way.
His older girlfriend called him at five thirty.
What did you do today? she asked.
I was writing a story all day, he answered, half truthfully. He had not been writing his own fiction. But this was not something he could explain to her in any detail.
Did it go well?
More or less.
Im sorry for canceling today on such short notice. I think we can meet next week.
Ill be looking forward to it.
Me too, she said.
After that, she talked about her children. She often did that with Tengo. She had two little girls. Tengo had no siblings and obviously no children, so he didnt know much about young children. But that never stopped her from telling Tengo about hers. Tengo rarely initiated a conversation, but he enjoyed listening to other people. And so he listened to her with interest. Her older girl, a second grader, was probably being bullied at school, she said. The girl herself had told her nothing, but the mother of one of the girls classmates had let her know that this was apparently happening. Tengo had never met the girl, but he had once seen a photograph. She didnt look much like her mother.
Why are they bullying her? Tengo asked.
She often has asthma attacks, so she cant participate in a lot of activities with the other kids. Maybe thats it. Shes a sweet little thing, and her grades arent bad.
I dont get it, Tengo said. Youd think theyd take special care of a kid with asthma, not bully her.
Its never that simple in the kids world, she said with a sigh. Kids get shut out just for being different from everyone else. The same kind of thing goes on in the grown-up world, but its much more direct in the childrens world.
Can you give me a concrete example?
She gave him several examples, none of which was especially bad in itself, but which, continued on a daily basis, could have a severe impact on a child: hiding things, not speaking to the child, or doing nasty imitations of her. Did you ever experience bullying when you were a child?
Tengo thought back to his childhood. I dont think so, he answered. Or maybe I just never noticed.
If you never noticed, it never happened. I mean, the whole point of bullying is to make the person notice its being done to him or her. You cant have bullying without the victim noticing.
Even as a child, Tengo had been big and strong, and people treated him with respect, which was probably why he was never bullied. But he had far more serious problems than mere bullying to deal with back then.
Were you ever bullied? Tengo asked.
Never, she declared, but then she seemed to hesitate. I did do some bullying, though.
You were part of a group that did it?
Yes, in the fifth grade. We got together and decided not to talk to one boy. I cant remember why. There must have been a reason, but it probably wasnt a very good one if I cant even remember what it was. I still feel bad about it, though. Im ashamed to think about it. I wonder why I went and did something like that. I have no idea what made me do it.
This reminded Tengo of a certain event, something from the distant past that he would recall now and then. Something he could never forget. But he decided not to mention it. It would have been a long story. And it was the kind of thing that loses the most important nuances when reduced to words. He had never told anyone about it, and he probably never would.
Finally, his girlfriend said, everybody feels safe belonging not to the excluded minority but to the excluding majority. You think, Oh, Im glad thats not me. Its basically the same in all periods in all societies. If you belong to the majority, you can avoid thinking about lots of troubling things.
And those troubling things are all you can think about when youre one of the few.
Thats about the size of it, she said mournfully. But maybe, if youre in a situation like that, you learn to think for yourself.
Yes, but maybe what you end up thinking for yourself about is all those troubling things.
Thats another problem, I suppose.
Better not think about it too seriously, Tengo said. I doubt itll turn out to be that terrible. Im sure there must be a few kids in her class who know how to use their brains.
I guess so, she said, and then she spent some time alone with her thoughts. Holding the receiver against his ear, Tengo waited patiently for her to gather her thoughts together.
Thanks, she said finally. I feel a little better after talking to you. She seemed to have found some answers.
I feel a little better too, Tengo said.
Whys that?
Talking to you.
See you next Friday, she said.
After hanging up, Tengo went out to the neighborhood supermarket. Returning home with a big bag of groceries, he wrapped the vegetables and fish in plastic and put them in the refrigerator. He was preparing dinner to the refrains of an FM music broadcast when the phone rang. Four phone calls in one day was a lot for Tengo. He could probably count the number of days that such a thing happened in any one year. This time it was Fuka-Eri. About Sunday, she said, without saying hello.
He could hear car horns honking at the other end. A lot of drivers seemed to be angry about something. She was probably calling from a public phone on a busy street.
Yes, he said, adding meat to the bones of her bare pronouncement. Sunday morningthe day after tomorrowIll be seeing you and meeting somebody else.
Nine oclock. Shinjuku Station. Front end of the train to Tachikawa, she said, setting forth three facts in a row.
In other words, you want to meet on the outward-bound platform of the Chuo Line where the first car stops, right?
Right.
Where should I buy a ticket to?
Anywhere.
So I should just buy any ticket and adjust the fare where we get off, he said, supplementing material to her words the way he was doing with Air Chrysalis. Does this mean were going pretty far from the city?
What were you just doing, she asked, ignoring his question.
Making dinner.
Making what.
Nothing special, just cooking for myself. Grilling a dried mackerel and grating a daikon radish. Making a miso soup with littlenecks and green onions to eat with tofu. Dousing cucumber slices and wakame seaweed with vinegar. Ending up with rice and nappa pickles. Thats all
Sounds good.
I wonder. Nothing special. Pretty much what I eat all the time, Tengo said.
Fuka-Eri kept silent. Long silences did not seem to bother her, but this was not the case for Tengo.
Oh yes, he said, I should tell you I started rewriting your Air Chrysalis today. I know you havent given us your final permission, but theres so little time, Id better get started if were going to meet the deadline.
Mr. Komatsu said so, she asked, without a question mark.
Yes, he is the one who told me to get started.
Are you and Mr. Komatsu close, she asked.
Well, sort of, Tengo answered. No one in this world could actually be close to Komatsu, Tengo guessed, but trying to explain this to Fuka-Eri would take too long.
Is the rewrite going well.
So far, so good.
Thats nice, Fuka-Eri said. She seemed to mean it. It sounded to Tengo as if Fuka-Eri was happy in her own way to hear that the rewriting of her work was going well, but given her limited expression of emotion, she could not go so far as to openly suggest this.
I hope youll like what Im doing, he said.
Not worried.
Why not? Tengo asked.
Fuka-Eri did not answer, lapsing into silence on her end. It seemed like a deliberate kind of silence, designed to make Tengo think, but try as he might, Tengo could come up with no explanation for why she should have such confidence in him.
He spoke to break the silence. You know, theres something Id like to ask you. Did you actually live in a commune-type place and take care of a goat? The descriptions are so realistic, I wanted to ask you if these things actually happened.
Fuka-Eri cleared her throat. I dont talk about the goat.
Thats fine, Tengo said. You dont have to talk about it if you dont want to. I just thought Id try asking. Dont worry. For the author, the work is everything. No explanations needed. Lets meet on Sunday. Is there anything I should be concerned about in meeting that person?
What do you mean.
Well like I should dress properly, or bring a gift or something. You havent given me any hint what the person is like.
Fuka-Eri fell silent again, but this time it did not seem deliberate. She simply could not fathom the purpose of his question or what prompted him to ask it. His question hadnt landed in any region of her consciousness. It seemed to have gone beyond the bounds of meaning, sucked into permanent nothingness like a lone planetary exploration rocket that has sailed beyond Pluto.
Never mind, he said, giving up. Its not important. It had been a mistake even to ask Fuka-Eri such a question. He supposed he could pick up a basket of fruit or something along the way.
Okay, then, see you at nine oclock Sunday morning, Tengo said.
Fuka-Eri hesitated a few moments, and then hung up without saying anything, no Good-bye, no See you Sunday, no anything. There was just the click of the connection being cut. Perhaps she had nodded to Tengo before hanging up the receiver. Unfortunately, though, body language generally fails to have its intended effect on the phone. Tengo set down the receiver, took two deep breaths, switched the circuits of his brain to something more realistic, and continued with the preparations for his modest dinner.

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11-13-2011, 07:59 PM   #8

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 7

Aomame

QUIETLY, SO AS NOT TO WAKE THE BUTTERFLY


Just after one oclock Saturday afternoon, Aomame visited the Willow House. The grounds of the place were dominated by several large, old willow trees that towered over the surrounding stone wall and swayed soundlessly in the wind like lost souls. Quite naturally, the people of the neighborhood had long called the old, Western-style home Willow House. It stood atop a steep slope in the fashionable Azabu neighborhood. When Aomame reached the top of the slope, she noticed a flock of little birds in the willows uppermost branches, barely weighing them down. A big cat was napping on the sun-splashed roof, its eyes half closed. The streets up here were narrow and crooked, and few cars came this way. The tall trees gave the quarter a gloomy feel, and time seemed to slow when you stepped inside. Some embassies were located here, but few people visited them. Only in the summer would the atmosphere change dramatically, when the cries of cicadas pained the ears.
Aomame pressed the button at the gate and stated her name to the intercom. Then she aimed a tiny smile toward the overhead camera. The iron gate drew slowly open, and once she was inside it closed behind her. As always, she stepped through the garden and headed for the front door. Knowing that the security cameras were on her, she walked straight down the path, her back as erect as a fashion models, chin pulled back. She was dressed casually today in a navy-blue windbreaker over a gray parka and blue jeans, and white basketball shoes. She carried her regular shoulder bag, but without the ice pick, which rested quietly in her dresser drawer when she had no need for it.
Outside the front door stood a number of teak garden chairs, into one of which was squeezed a powerfully built man. He was not especially tall, but his upper body was startlingly well developed. Perhaps forty years of age, he kept his head shaved and wore a well-trimmed moustache. On his broad-shouldered frame was draped a gray suit. His stark white shirt contrasted with his deep gray silk tie and spotless black cordovans. Here was a man who would never be mistaken for a ward office cashier or a car insurance salesman. One glance told Aomame that he was a professional bodyguard, which was in fact his area of expertise, though at times he also served as a driver. A high-ranking karate expert, he could also use weapons effectively when the need arose. He could bare his fangs and be more vicious than anyone, but he was ordinarily calm, cool, and even intellectual. Looking deep into his eyesif, that is, he allowed you to do soyou could find a warm glow.
In his private life, the man enjoyed toying with machines and gadgets. He collected progressive rock records from the sixties and seventies, and lived in another part of Azabu with his handsome young beautician boyfriend. His name was Tamaru. Aomame could not be sure if this was his family name or his given name or what characters he wrote it with. People just called him Tamaru.
Still seated in his teak garden chair, Tamaru nodded to Aomame, who took the chair opposite him and greeted him with a simple Hello.
I heard a man died in a hotel in Shibuya, Tamaru said, inspecting the shine of his cordovans.
I didnt know about that, Aomame said.
Well, it wasnt worth putting in the papers. Just an ordinary heart attack, I guess. Sad case: he was in his early forties.
Gotta take care of your heart.
Tamaru nodded. Lifestyle is the important thing, he said. Irregular hours, stress, sleep deprivation: those thingsll kill you.
Of course, somethings gonna kill everybody sooner or later.
Stands to reason.
Think therell be an autopsy?
Tamaru bent over and flicked a barely visible speck from the instep of his shoe. Like anybody else, the cops have a million things to do, and theyve got a limited budget to work with. They cant start dissecting every corpse that comes to them without a mark on it. And the guys family probably doesnt want him cut open for no reason after hes quietly passed away.
His widow, especially.
After a short silence, Tamaru extended his thick, glove-like right hand toward Aomame. She grasped it, and the two shared a firm handshake.
You must be tired, he said. You ought to get some rest.
Aomame widened the edges of her mouth somewhat, the way ordinary people do when they smile, but in fact she produced only the slightest suggestion of a smile.
Hows Bun? she asked.
Shes fine, Tamaru answered. Bun was the female German shepherd that lived in this house, a good-natured dog, and smart, despite a few odd habits.
Is she still eating her spinach? Aomame asked.
As much as ever. And with the price of spinach as high as its been, thats no small expense!
Ive never seen a German shepherd that liked spinach before.
She doesnt know shes a dog.
What does she think she is?
Well, she seems to think shes a special being that transcends classification.
Superdog?
Maybe so.
Which is why she likes spinach?
No, thats another matter. She just likes spinach. Has since she was a pup.
But maybe thats where she gets these dangerous thoughts of hers.
Maybe so, Tamaru said. He glanced at his watch. Say, your appointment today was for one thirty, right?
Aomame nodded. Right. Theres still some time.
Tamaru eased out of his chair. Wait here a minute, will you? Maybe we can get you in a little earlier. He disappeared through the front door.
While she waited, Aomame let her eyes wander over the gardens magnificent willow trees. Without a wind to stir them, their branches hung down toward the ground, as if they were people deep in thought.
Tamaru came back a short time later. Im going to have you go around to the back. She wants to see you in the hothouse today.
The two of them circled the garden past the willows in the direction of the hothouse, which was behind the main house in a sunny area without trees. Tamaru carefully opened the glass door just far enough for Aomame to squeeze through without letting the butterflies escape. He slipped in after her, quickly shutting the door. This was not a motion that a big man would normally be good at, though he did it very efficiently. He simply didnt think of it as a special accomplishment.
Spring had come inside the big, glass hothouse, completely and unreservedly. Flowers of all descriptions were blooming in profusion, but most of them were ordinary varieties that could be seen just about anywhere. Potted gladiolus, anemone, and daisies lined the shelves. Among them were plants that, to Aomame, could only be weeds. She saw not one that might be a prize specimenno costly orchids, no rare roses, no primary-colored Polynesian blooms. Aomame had no special interest in plants, but the lack of affectation in this hothouse was something she rather liked.
Instead, the place was full of butterflies. The owner of this large glass enclosure seemed to be far more interested in raising unusual butterflies than rare plant specimens. Most of the flowers grown here were rich in the nectar preferred by the butterflies. To keep butterflies in a hothouse calls for a great deal of attention, knowledge, and effort, Aomame had heard, but she had absolutely no idea where such attention had been lavished here.
The dowager, the mistress of the house, would occasionally invite Aomame into the hothouse for private chats, though never at the height of summer. The glass enclosure was ideal to keep from being overheard. Their conversations were not the sort that could be held just anywhere at full volume, and the owner said it calmed her to be surrounded by flowers and butterflies. Aomame could see it on her face. The hothouse was a bit too warm for Aomame, but not unbearable.
The dowager was in her mid-seventies and slightly built. She kept her lovely white hair short. Today she wore a long-sleeved denim work shirt, cream-colored cotton pants, and dirty tennis shoes. With white cotton work gloves on her hands, she was using a large metal watering can to moisten the soil in one pot after another. Everything she wore seemed to be a size too large, but each piece hung on her body with comfortable familiarity. Whenever Aomame looked at her, she could not help but feel a kind of esteem for her natural, unaffected dignity.
Born into one of the fabulously wealthy families that dominated finance and industry prior to World War II, the dowager had married into the aristocracy, but there was nothing showy or pampered about her. When she lost her husband shortly after the war, she helped run a relatives small investment company and displayed an outstanding talent for the stock market. Everyone recognized it as something for which she had a natural gift. Thanks to her efforts, the company developed rapidly, and the personal fortune left to her expanded enormously. With this money, she bought several first-class properties in the city that had been owned by former members of the aristocracy or the imperial family. She had retired ten years earlier, having increased her fortune yet again by well-timed sales of her holdings. Because she had always avoided appearing in public, her name was not widely known, though everyone in financial circles knew of her. It was also rumored that she had strong political connections. On a personal level, she was simply a bright, friendly woman who knew no fear, trusted her instincts, and stuck to her decisions.
When she saw Aomame come in, the dowager put down her watering can and motioned for her to sit in a small iron garden chair near the hothouse entrance. Aomame sat down, and the woman sat in the chair facing her. None of her movements made any sound. She was like a female fox cutting through the forest.
Shall I bring drinks? Tamaru asked.
Some herbal tea for me, the dowager said. And for you ? She looked at Aomame.
Ill have the same.
Tamaru nodded and left the hothouse. After looking around to make sure there were no butterflies nearby, he opened the door a crack, slipped through, and closed the door again with the precision of a ballroom dancer.
The dowager took off her work gloves and set them on a table, carefully placing one on top of the other as she might with silk gloves she had worn to a soire. Then she looked straight at Aomame with her lustrous black eyes. These were eyes that had witnessed much. Aomame returned her gaze as long as courtesy allowed.
We seem to have lost a valuable member of society, the dowager said. Especially well known in oil circles, apparently. Still young, but quite the powerhouse, I hear.
She always spoke softly. Her voice was easily drowned out by a slight gust of wind. People had to pay attention to what she was saying. Aomame often felt the urge to reach over and turn up the volumeif only there were a knob! She had no choice but to listen intently.
Aomame said, But still, his sudden absence doesnt seem to have inconvenienced anybody. The world just keeps moving along.
The dowager smiled. There is no one in this world who cant be replaced. A person might have enormous knowledge or ability, but a successor can almost always be found. It would be terrible for us if the world were full of people who couldnt be replaced. Though of courseand here she raised her right index finger to make a pointI cant imagine finding anybody to take your place.
You might not find a person that easily, but you could probably find a way without too much trouble, Aomame noted.
The dowager looked at Aomame calmly, her lips forming a satisfied smile. That may be true, she said, but I almost surely could never find anything to take the place of what we are sharing here and now. You are you and only you. Im very grateful for that. More grateful than I can say.
She bent forward, stretched out her hand, and laid it on Aomames. She kept it there for a full ten seconds. Then, with a look of great satisfaction on her face, she withdrew her hand and twisted around to face the other way. A butterfly came fluttering along and landed on the shoulder of her blue work shirt. It was a small, white butterfly with a few crimson spots on its wings. The butterfly seemed to know no fear as it went to sleep on her shoulder.
Im sure youve never seen this kind of butterfly, the dowager said, glancing toward her own shoulder. Her voice betrayed a touch of pride. Even down in Okinawa, youd have trouble finding one of these. It gets its nourishment from only one type of flowera special flower that only grows in the mountains of Okinawa. You have to bring the flower here and grow it first if you want to keep this butterfly in Tokyo. Its a lot of trouble. Not to mention the expense.
It seems to be very comfortable with you.
This little person thinks of me as a friend.
Is it possible to become friends with a butterfly?
It is if you first become a part of nature. You suppress your presence as a human being, stay very still, and convince yourself that you are a tree or grass or a flower. It takes time, but once the butterfly lets its guard down, you can become friends quite naturally.
Do you give them names? Aomame asked, curious. Like dogs or cats?
The dowager gave her head a little shake. No, I dont give them names, but I can tell one from another by their shapes and patterns. And besides, there wouldnt be much point in giving them names: they die so quickly. These people are your nameless friends for just a little while. I come here every day, say hello to the butterflies, and talk about things with them. When the time comes, though, they just quietly go off and disappear. Im sure it means theyve died, but I can never find their bodies. They dont leave any trace behind. Its as if theyve been absorbed by the air. Theyre dainty little creatures that hardly exist at all: they come out of nowhere, search quietly for a few, limited things, and disappear into nothingness again, perhaps to some other world.
The hothouse air was warm and humid and thick with the smell of plants. Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end. Whenever she came in here, Aomame felt as if she had lost all sense of time.
Tamaru came back with a silver tray bearing a beautiful celadon teapot and two matching cups, cloth napkins, and a small dish of cookies. The aroma of herbal tea mingled with the fragrance of the surrounding flowers.
Thank you, Tamaru. Ill take over from here, the dowager said.
Tamaru set the tray on the nearby table, gave the dowager a bow, and moved silently away, opening and closing the hothouse door, exiting with the same light steps as before. The woman lifted the teapot lid, inhaling the fragrance inside and checking the degree of openness of the leaves. Then she slowly filled their two cups, taking great care to ensure the equality of their strength.
Its none of my business, but why dont you put a screen door on the entrance? Aomame asked.
The dowager raised her head and looked at Aomame. Screen door?
Yes, if you were to add a screen door inside the glass one, you wouldnt have to be so careful every time to make sure no butterflies escaped.
The dowager lifted her saucer with her left hand and, with her right hand, brought her cup to her mouth for a quiet sip of herbal tea. She savored its fragrance and gave a little nod. She returned the cup to the saucer and the saucer to the tray. After dabbing at her mouth with her napkin, she returned the cloth to her lap. At the very least, she took three times as long to accomplish these motions as the ordinary person. Aomame felt she was observing a fairy deep in the forest sipping a life-giving morning dew.
The woman lightly cleared her throat. I dont like screens, she said.
Aomame waited for the dowager to continue, but she did not. Was her dislike of screens based on a general opposition to things that restricted freedom, or on aesthetic considerations, or on a mere visceral preference that had no special reason behind it? Not that it was an especially important problem. Aomames question about screens had simply popped into her head.
Like the dowager, Aomame picked up her cup and saucer together and silently sipped her tea. She was not that fond of herbal tea. She preferred coffee as hot and strong as a devil at midnight, but perhaps that was not a drink suited to a hothouse in the afternoon. And so she always ordered the same drink as the mistress of the house when they were in the hothouse. When offered a cookie, she ate one. A gingersnap. Just baked, it had the taste of fresh ginger. Aomame recalled that the dowager had spent some time after the war in England. The dowager also took a cookie and nibbled it in tiny bits, slowly and quietly so as not to wake the rare butterfly sleeping on her shoulder.
Tamaru will give you the key when you leave, the woman said. Please mail it back when youre through with it. As always.
Of course.
A tranquil moment of silence followed. No sounds reached the sealed hothouse from the outside world. The butterfly went on sleeping.
We havent done anything wrong, the woman said, looking straight at Aomame.
Aomame lightly set her teeth against her lower lip and nodded. I know.
Look at whats in that envelope, the woman said.
From an envelope lying on the table Aomame took seven Polaroid photographs and set them in a row, like unlucky tarot cards, beside the fine celadon teapot. They were close-up shots of a young womans body: her back, breasts, buttocks, thighs, even the soles of her feet. Only her face was missing. Each body part bore marks of violence in the form of lurid welts, raised, almost certainly, by a belt. Her pubic hair had been shaved, the skin marked with what looked like cigarette burns. Aomame found herself scowling. She had seen photos like this in the past, but none as bad.
You havent seen these before, have you?
Aomame shook her head in silence. I had heard, but this is the first Ive seen of them.
Our man did this, the dowager said. Weve taken care of her three fractures, but one ear is exhibiting symptoms of hearing loss and may never be the same again. She spoke as quietly as ever, but her voice took on a cold, hard edge that seemed to startle the butterfly on her shoulder. It spread its wings and fluttered away.
She continued, We cant let anyone get away with doing something like this. We simply cant.
Aomame gathered the photos and returned them to the envelope.
Dont you agree? the dowager asked.
I certainly do, said Aomame.
We did the right thing, the dowager declared.
She left her chair and, perhaps to calm herself, picked up the watering can by her side as if taking in hand a sophisticated weapon. She was somewhat pale now, her eyes sharply focused on a corner of the hothouse. Aomame followed her gaze but saw nothing more unusual than a potted thistle.
Thank you for coming to see me, the dowager said, still holding the empty watering can. I appreciate your efforts. This seemed to signal the end of their interview.
Aomame stood and picked up her bag. Thank you for the tea.
And let me thank you again, the dowager said.
Aomame gave her a faint smile.
You dont have anything to worry about, the dowager said. Her voice had regained its gentle tone. A warm glow shone in her eyes. She touched Aomames arm. We did the right thing, Im telling you.
Aomame nodded. The woman always ended their conversations this way. Perhaps she was saying the same thing to herself repeatedly, like a prayer or mantra. You dont have anything to worry about. We did the right thing, Im telling you.
After checking to be sure there were no butterflies nearby, Aomame opened the hothouse door just enough to squeeze through, and closed it again. The dowager stayed inside, the watering can in her hand. The air outside was chilling and fresh with the smell of trees and grass. This was the real world. Here time flowed in the normal manner. Aomame inhaled the real worlds air deep into her lungs.
She found Tamaru seated in the same teak chair by the front entrance, waiting for her. His task was to hand her a key to a post office box.
Business finished? he asked.
I think so, Aomame replied. She sat down next to him, took the key, and tucked it into a compartment of her shoulder bag.
For a time, instead of speaking, they watched the birds that were visiting the garden. There was still no wind, and the branches of the willows hung motionlessly. Several branches were nearly touching the ground.
Is the woman doing okay? Aomame asked.
Which woman?
The wife of the man who suffered the heart attack in the Shibuya hotel.
Doing okay? Not really. Not yet, Tamaru said with a scowl. Shes still in shock. She can hardly speak. Itll take time.
Whats she like?
Early thirties. No kids. Pretty. Seems like a nice person. Stylish. Unfortunately, she wont be wearing bathing suits this summer. Maybe not next year, either. Did you see the Polaroids?
Yes, just now.
Horrible, no?
Really, Aomame said.
Tamaru said, Its such a common pattern. Talented guy, well thought of, good family, impressive career, high social standing.
But he becomes a different person at home, Aomame said, continuing his thought. Especially when he drinks, he becomes violent. But only toward women. His wife is the only one he can knock around. To everyone else, he shows only his good side. Everybody thinks of him as a gentle, loving husband. The wife tries to tell people what terrible things hes doing to her, but no one will believe her. The husband knows that, so when hes violent he chooses parts of her body she cant easily show to people, or hes careful not to make bruises. Is this the pattern?
Tamaru nodded. Pretty much. Only this guy didnt drink. He was stone-cold sober and out in the open about it. A really ugly case. She wanted a divorce, but he absolutely refused. Who knows? Maybe he loved her. Or maybe he didnt want to let go of such a handy victim. Or maybe he just enjoyed raping his wife.
Tamaru raised one foot, then the other, to check the shine on his shoes again. Then he continued, Of course, you can usually get a divorce if you have proof of domestic violence, but it takes time and it takes money. If the husband hires a good lawyer, he can make it very unpleasant for you. The family courts are full, and theres a shortage of judges. If, in spite of all that, you do get a divorce, and the judge awards a divorce settlement or alimony, the number of men who actually pay up is small. They can get out of it all kinds of ways. In Japan, ex-husbands almost never get put in jail for not paying. If they demonstrate a willingness to pay and cough up a little bit, the courts usually look the other way. Men still have the upper hand in Japanese society.
Aomame said, Maybe so, but as luck would have it, one of those violent husbands suffered a heart attack in a Shibuya hotel room a few days ago.
As luck would have it is a bit too direct for me, Tamaru said with a click of the tongue. I prefer Due to heavenly dispensation. In any case, no doubts have been raised regarding the cause of death, and the amount of life insurance was not so high as to attract attention, so the insurance company wont have any suspicions. Theyll probably pay without a hitch. Finally, its a decent amount of money, enough for her to begin a new life. Plus shell be saving all the time and money that would have been eaten up by suing for divorce. When its over, she will have avoided all the complicated, meaningless legal procedures and all the subsequent mental anguish.
Not to mention that that scummy bastard wont be set loose on some new victim.
Heavenly dispensation, Tamaru said. Everythings settled nicely thanks to one heart attack. Alls well that ends well.
Assuming theres an end somewhere, Aomame said.
Tamaru formed some short creases near his mouth that were faintly reminiscent of a smile. There has to be an end somewhere. Its just that nothings labeled This is the end. Is the top rung of a ladder labeled This is the last rung. Please dont step higher than this?
Aomame shook her head.
Its the same thing, Tamaru said.
Aomame said, If you use your common sense and keep your eyes open, it becomes clear enough where the end is.
Tamaru nodded. And even if it doesnthe made a falling gesture with his finger the end is right there.
They were both quiet for a while as they listened to the birds singing. It was a calm April afternoon without a hint of ill will or violence.
How many women are living here now? Aomame asked.
Four, Tamaru answered, without hesitation.
All in the same kind of situation?
More or less. Tamaru pursed his lips. But the other three cases are not as serious as hers. Their men are all nasty bastards, as usual, but none are as bad as the character weve been talking about. These guys are lightweights who like to come on strong, not worth bothering you about. We can take care of them ourselves.
Legally.
Pretty mucheven if we have to lean on them a little. Of course, a heart attack is an entirely legal cause of death.
Of course, Aomame chimed in.
Tamaru went silent for a while, resting his hands on his knees and looking at the silent branches of the willow trees.
After some hesitation, Aomame decided to broach something with Tamaru. You know, she said, theres something Id like you to tell me.
Whats that?
How many years ago did the police get new uniforms and guns?
Tamaru wrinkled his brow almost imperceptibly. Where did that come from all of a sudden?
Nowhere special. It just popped into my head.
Tamaru looked her in the eye. His own eyes were entirely neutral, free of expression. He was leaving himself room to go in any direction with this.
That big shootout near Lake Motosu between the Yamanashi Prefectural Police and the radical group took place in mid-October of 1981, and the police had their major reorganization the following year. Two years ago.
Aomame nodded without changing her expression. She had absolutely no recollection of such an event, but all she could do now was play along with him.
It was really bloody. Old-fashioned six-shooters against five Kalashnikov AK-47s. The cops were totally outgunned. Poor guys: three of them were torn up pretty badly. They looked as if theyd been stitched on a sewing machine. The Self-Defense Force got involved right away, sending in their special paratroopers. The cops totally lost face. Prime Minister Nakasone immediately got serious about strengthening police power. There was an overall restructuring, a special weapons force was instituted, and ordinary patrolmen were given high-powered automatic pistols to carryBeretta Model 92s. Ever fired one?
Aomame shook her head. Far from it. She had never even fired an air rifle.
I have, Tamaru said. A fifteen-shot automatic. It uses 9mm Parabellum rounds. Its one of the great pistols. The U.S. Army uses it. Its not cheap, but its selling point is that its not as expensive as a SIG or a Glock. Its not an easy gun to use, though, is definitely not for amateurs. The old revolvers only weighed 490 grams, but these weigh 850. Theyre useless in the hands of an untrained Japanese policeman. Fire a high-powered gun like that in a crowded country like Japan, and you end up hurting innocent bystanders.
Where did you ever fire such a thing?
You know, the usual story. Once upon a time I was playing my harp by a spring when a fairy appeared out of nowhere, handed me a Beretta Model 92, and told me to shoot the white rabbit over there for target practice.
Get serious.
The creases by Tamarus mouth deepened slightly. Im always serious, he said. In any case, the cops official guns and uniforms changed two years ago. In the spring. Just about this time of year. Does that answer your question?
Two years ago, Aomame said.
Tamaru gave her another sharp look. You know, if somethings bothering you, youd better tell me. Are the cops involved in something?
No, thats not it, Aomame said, waving off his suspicions with both hands. I was just wondering about their uniforms, like, when they changed.
A period of silence followed, bringing the conversation to a natural end. Tamaru thrust out his right hand again. Anyhow, Im glad it all came off without a hitch. Aomame took his hand in hers. He understands, she told herself. After a tough job where your life is on the line, what you need is the warm, quiet encouragement that accompanies the touch of human flesh.
Take a break, Tamaru said. Sometimes you need to stop, take a deep breath, and empty your head. Go to Guam or someplace with a boyfriend.
Aomame stood up, slung her bag over her shoulder, and adjusted the hood of her parka. Tamaru also got to his feet. He was by no means tall, but when he stood up it looked as if a stone wall had suddenly materialized. His solidity always took her by surprise.
Tamaru kept his eyes fixed on her back as she walked away. She could feel him looking at her the whole time. And so she kept her chin pulled in, her back straight, and walked with firm steps as if following a perfectly straight line. But inside, where she could not be seen, she was confused. In places of which she was totally unaware, things about which she was totally unaware were happening one after another. Until a short time before, she had had the world in her hand, without disruptions or inconsistencies. But now it was falling apart.
A shootout at Lake Motosu? Beretta Model 92?
What was happening to her? Aomame could never have missed such important news. This worlds system was getting out of whack. Her mind went on churning as she walked. Whatever might have happened, she would have to do something to make the world whole again, to make it logical again. And do it now. Otherwise, outlandish things could happen.
Tamaru could probably see the confusion inside her. He was a cautious man with superb intuition. He was also very dangerous. Tamaru had a profound respect for his employer, and was fiercely loyal to her. He would do anything to protect her. Aomame and Tamaru acknowledged each others abilities and liked each otheror so it seemed. But if he concluded that Aomames existence was not to his employers benefit, for whatever reason, then he would not hesitate to get rid of her. Aomame couldnt blame him for that. It was his job, after all.
The gate opened as she reached the other side of the garden. She gave the friendliest smile she could manage to the security camera, and a little wave as if there were nothing bothering her. Once she was outside the wall, the gate slowly shut behind her. As she descended the steep Azabu slope, Aomame tried to organize her thoughts and make a detailed, comprehensive list of what she should do from this point forward.

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11-13-2011, 08:00 PM   #9

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 8

Tengo

MEETING NEW PEOPLE IN NEW PLACES


Most people think of Sunday morning as a time for rest. Throughout his youth, however, Tengo never once thought of Sunday morning as something to enjoy. Instead, it depressed him. When the weekend came, his whole body felt sluggish and achy, and his appetite would disappear. For Tengo, Sunday was like a misshapen moon that showed only its dark side. If only Sunday would never come! he would often think as a boy. How much more fun it would be to have school every day without a break! He even prayed for Sunday not to come, though his prayers were never answered. Even now, as an adult, dark feelings would inexplicably overtake him when he awoke on a Sunday morning. He felt his joints creaking and wanted to throw up. Such a reaction to Sunday had long since permeated his heart, perhaps in some deep, unconscious region.
Tengos father was a collector of subscription fees for NHKJapans quasi-governmental broadcasting networkand he would take little Tengo with him as he went from door to door. These rounds started before Tengo entered kindergarten and continued through the fifth grade without a single weekend off, excepting only those Sundays when there was a special function at school. Waking at seven, his father would make him scrub his face with soap and water, inspect his ears and nails, and dress him in the cleanest (but least showy) clothes he owned, promising that, in return, he would buy Tengo a yummy treat.
Tengo had no idea whether the other NHK subscription fee collectors kept working on weekends and holidays, but as far as he could remember, his father always did. If anything, he worked with even more enthusiasm than usual, because on Sundays he could often catch people who were usually out during the week.
Tengos father had several reasons for taking him on his rounds. One was that he could not leave the boy home alone. On weekdays and Saturdays, he could leave Tengo in daycare or kindergarten or elementary school, but these were all closed on Sundays. Another reason, he said, was that it was important for a father to show his son the type of work he did. A child should learn from early on what kind of activity supported his daily life, and he should appreciate the importance of labor. Tengos father had been sent out to work in the fields, Sunday or no, from the time he was old enough to understand anything, and he had even been kept out of school during the busiest seasons on the farm. To him, such a life was a given.
His third and final reason was a more calculating one, which is why it left the deepest scars on Tengos heart. His father knew that having a small child with him made his job easier. When a fee collector had a child in hand, people found it more difficult to say to him, I dont want to pay, so get out of here. With a little person staring up at them, even people determined not to pay would usually end up forking over the money, which was why he saved the most difficult routes for Sunday. Tengo sensed from the beginning that this was the role he was expected to play, and he absolutely hated it. But he also felt that he had to act out his role as cleverly as he could in order to please his father. He might as well have been a trained monkey. If he pleased his father, he would be treated kindly that day.
Tengos one salvation was that his fathers route was fairly far from home. They lived in a suburban residential district outside the city of Ichikawa, but his fathers rounds were in the center of the city. The school district was different there as well. At least he was able to avoid doing collections at the homes of his kindergarten and elementary school classmates. Occasionally, though, when walking in the downtown shopping area, he would spot a classmate on the street. When this happened, he would dodge behind his father to keep from being noticed.
Most of Tengos school friends had fathers who commuted to office jobs in the center of Tokyo. These men thought of Ichikawa as a part of Tokyo that just happened to have been incorporated into Chiba Prefecture. On Monday mornings his school friends would talk excitedly about where they had gone and what they had done on Sunday. They went to amusement parks and zoos and baseball games. In the summer they would go swimming, in the winter skiing. Their fathers would take them for drives or to go hiking. They would share their experiences with enthusiasm, and exchange information about new places. But Tengo had nothing to talk about. He never went to tourist attractions or amusement parks. From morning to evening on Sundays, he and his father would ring the doorbells of strangers houses, bow their heads, and take money from the people who came to the door. If someone didnt want to pay, his father would threaten or cajole them. With anyone who tried to talk his way out of paying, he would have an argument. Sometimes he would curse at them like stray dogs. Such experiences were not the kind of thing Tengo could share with school friends.
When Tengo was in the third grade, word spread that his father was an NHK subscription fee collector. Someone had probably seen them making their rounds together. He was, after all, walking all day long behind his father to every corner of the city every Sunday, so it was almost inevitable that he would be spotted at some point (especially now that he was too big to hide behind his father). Indeed, it was surprising that it hadnt happened before.
From that point on, Tengos nickname became NHK. He could not help becoming a kind of alien in a society of middle-class children of white-collar workers. Much of what they took for granted, Tengo could not. He lived a different kind of life in a different world. His grades were outstanding, as was his athletic ability. He was big and strong, and the teachers focused on him. So even though he was an alien, he was never a class outcast. If anything, in most circumstances he was treated with respect. But whenever the other boys invited him to go somewhere or to visit their homes on a Sunday, he had to turn them down. He knew that if he told his father, Some of the boys are getting together this Sunday at so-and-sos house, it wouldnt make any difference. Soon, people stopped inviting him. Before long he realized that he didnt belong to any groups. He was always alone.
Sunday collection rounds were an absolute rule: no exceptions, no changes. If he caught a cold, if he had a persistent cough, if he was running a little fever, if he had an upset stomach, his father accepted no excuses. Staggering after his father on such days, he would often wish he could fall down and die on the spot. Then, perhaps, his father might think twice about his own behavior; it might occur to him that he had been too strict with his son. For better or worse, though, Tengo was born with a robust constitution. Even if he had a fever or a stomachache or felt nauseous, he always walked the entire long route with his father, never falling down or fainting, and never complaining.
Tengos father was repatriated from Manchuria, destitute, when the war ended in 1945. Born the third son of a farming family in the hardscrabble Tohoku region, he joined a homesteaders group and crossed over to Manchuria in the 1930s with friends from the same prefecture. None of them had swallowed whole the governments claims that Manchuria was a paradise where the land was vast and rich, offering an affluent life to all comers. They knew enough to realize that paradise was not to be found anywhere. They were simply poor and hungry. The best they could hope for if they stayed at home was a life on the brink of starvation. The times were terrible, and huge numbers of people were unemployed. The cities offered no hope of finding decent work. This left crossing the sea to Manchuria as virtually the only way to survive. As farmers developing new land, they received basic training in the use of firearms in case of emergency, were given some minimal information about farming conditions in Manchuria, were sent off with three cheers from their villages, and then were transported by train from the port of Dalian to a place near the Manchurian-Mongolian border. There they were given some land and farming implements and small arms, and together started cultivating the earth. The soil was poor and rocky, and in winter everything froze. Sometimes stray dogs were all they had to eat. Even so, with government support the first few years, they managed to get by.
Their lives were finally becoming more stable when, in August 1945, the Soviet Union broke its neutrality treaty with Japan and launched a full-scale invasion of Manchuria. Having ended its operations on the European front, the Soviet army had used the Trans-Siberian Railway to shift a huge military force to the Far East in preparation for the border crossing. Tengos father had been expecting this to happen, having been secretly informed of the impending situation by a certain official, a man he had become friendly with thanks to a distant connection. The man had told him privately that Japans weakened Kwantung Army could never stand up to such an invasion, so he should prepare to flee with the clothes on his back as soon as it happenedthe sooner the better. The minute he heard the news that the Soviet army had apparently violated the border, he mounted his horse, galloped to the local train station, and boarded the second-to-last train for Dalian. He was the only one among his farming companions to make it back to Japan before the end of the year.
He went to Tokyo after the war and tried making a living as a black marketeer and as a carpenters apprentice, but nothing seemed to work. He could barely keep himself alive. He was working as a liquor store delivery man in the Asakusa entertainment district when he bumped into an acquaintance from his Manchurian days on the street. It was the official who had warned him of the impending Soviet invasion. The man had originally gone over to work for the postal service in Japans Manchukuo puppet state, and now that he was back in Japan he had his old job back with the Ministry of Communications. He seemed to like Tengos father, both because they came from the same village and because he knew what a hard worker he was. He invited him to share a bite.
When the man learned that Tengos father was having a hard time finding a decent job, he asked if he might be interested in working as a subscription fee collector for NHK. He offered to recommend him to a friend in that department, and Tengos father gladly accepted. He knew almost nothing about NHK, but he was willing to try anything that promised a steady income. The man wrote him a letter of recommendation and even served as a guarantor for him, smoothing his way to become an NHK subscription fee collector. They gave him training, a uniform, and a quota to fill. People then were just beginning to recover from the shock of defeat and to look for entertainment in their destitute lives. Radio was the most accessible and cheapest form of entertainment; and postwar radio, which offered music, comedy, and sports, was incomparably more popular than its wartime predecessor, with its virtuous exhortations for patriotic self-sacrifice. NHK needed huge numbers of people to go from door to door collecting listeners fees.
Tengos father performed his duties with great enthusiasm. His foremost strengths were his sturdy constitution and his perseverance in the face of adversity. Here was a man who had barely eaten a filling meal since birth. To a person like that, the collection of NHK fees was not excruciating work. The most violent curses hurled at him were nothing. Moreover, he felt much satisfaction at belonging to a gigantic organization, even as one of its lowest-ranking members. He worked for one year as a commissioned collector without job security, his only income a percentage of his collections, but his performance and attitude were so outstanding that he was taken directly into the ranks of the full-fledged employees, an almost unheard-of achievement in NHK. Part of this had to do with his superior results in an especially difficult collection area, but also effective here was the influence of his guarantor, the Communications Ministry official. Soon he received a set basic salary plus expenses. He was able to move into a corporation-owned apartment and join the health care plan. The difference in treatment was like night and day. It was the greatest stroke of good fortune he had ever encountered in life. In other words, he had finally worked his way up to the lowest spot on the totem pole.
Young Tengo heard this story from his father so many times that he grew sick of it. His father never sang him lullabies, never read storybooks to him at bedtime. Instead, he would tell the boy stories of his actual experiencesover and over, from his childhood in a poor farm family in Tohoku, through the ultimate (and inevitable) happy ending of his good fortune as a fully fledged NHK fee collector.
His father was a good storyteller. There was no way for Tengo to ascertain how much was based on fact, but the stories were at least coherent and consistent. They were not exactly pregnant with deep meaning, but the details were lively and his fathers narrative was strongly colored. There were funny stories, touching stories, and violent stories. There were astounding, preposterous stories and stories that Tengo had trouble following no matter how many times he heard them. If a life was to be measured by the color and variety of its episodes, his fathers life could be said to have been rich in its own way, perhaps.
But when they touched on the period after he became a full-fledged NHK employee, his fathers stories suddenly lost all color and reality. They lacked detail and wholeness, as if he thought of them as mere sequels not worth telling. He met a woman, married her, and had a childthat is, Tengo. A few months after Tengo was born, his mother fell ill and died. His father raised him alone after that, never remarrying, just working hard for NHK. The End.
How he happened to meet Tengos mother and marry her, what kind of woman she was, what had caused her death (could it have had something to do with Tengos birth?), whether her death had been a relatively easy one or she had suffered greatlyhis father told him almost nothing about such matters. If Tengo tried asking, his father would just evade the question and, finally, never answer. Most of the time, such questions put him in a foul mood, and he would clam up. Not a single photo of Tengos mother had survived, and not a single wedding photo. We couldnt afford a ceremony, he explained, and I didnt have a camera.
But Tengo fundamentally disbelieved his fathers story. His father was hiding the facts, remaking the story. His mother had not died some months after he was born. In his only memory of her, she was still alive when he was one and a half. And near where he was sleeping, she was in the arms of a man other than his father.
His mother took off her blouse, dropped the straps of her slip, and let a man not his father suck on her breasts. Tengo slept next to them, his breathing audible. But at the same time, Tengo was not asleep. He was watching his mother.
This was Tengos souvenir photograph of his mother. The ten-second scene was burned into his brain with perfect clarity. It was the only concrete information he had about his mother, the one tenuous connection his mind could make with her. They were linked by a hypothetical umbilical cord. His mind floated in the amniotic fluid of memory, listening for echoes of the past. His father, meanwhile, had no idea that such a vivid scene was burned into Tengos brain or that, like a cow in the meadow, Tengo was endlessly regurgitating fragments of the scene to chew on, a cud from which he obtained essential nutrients. Father and son: each was locked in a deep, dark embrace with his secrets.
It was a clear, pleasant Sunday morning. There was a chill in the mid-April breeze, though, a reminder of how easily the seasons can turn backward. Over a thin, black crew-neck sweater, Tengo wore a herringbone jacket that he had owned since his college days. He also had on beige chino pants and brown Hush Puppies. The shoes were rather new. This was as close as he could come to dapper attire.
When Tengo reached the front end of the outward-bound Chuo Line platform in Shinjuku Station, Fuka-Eri was already there, sitting alone on a bench, utterly still, staring into space with narrowed eyes. She wore a cotton print dress that had to be meant for midsummer. Over the dress she wore a heavy, grass-green winter cardigan, and on her bare feet she wore faded gray sneakersa somewhat odd combination for the season. The dress was too thin, the cardigan too thick. On her, though, the outfit did not seem especially out of place. Perhaps she was expressing her own special worldview by this mismatch. It was not entirely out of the question. But probably she had just chosen her clothing at random without much thought.
She was not reading a newspaper, she was not reading a book, she was not listening to a Walkman, she was just sitting still, her big, black eyes staring straight ahead. She could have been staring at something or looking at nothing at all. She could have been thinking about something or not thinking at all. From a distance, she looked like a realistic sculpture made of some special material.
Did I keep you waiting? Tengo asked.
Fuka-Eri glanced at him and shook her head a centimeter or two from side to side. Her black eyes had a fresh, silken luster but, as before, no perceptible expression. She looked as though she did not want to speak with anyone for the moment, so Tengo gave up on any attempt to keep up a conversation and sat beside her on the bench, saying nothing.
When the train came, Fuka-Eri stood up, and the two of them boarded together. There were few passengers on the weekend rapid-service train, which went all the way out to the mountains of Takao. Tengo and Fuka-Eri sat next to each other, silently watching the cityscape pass the windows on the other side. Fuka-Eri said nothing, as usual, so Tengo kept silent as well. She tugged the collar of her cardigan closed as if preparing for a wave of bitter cold to come, looking straight ahead with her lips drawn into a perfectly straight line.
Tengo took out a small paperback he had brought along and started to read, but after some hesitation he stopped reading. Returning the book to his pocket, he folded his hands on his knees and stared straight ahead, adopting Fuka-Eris pose as if to keep her company. He considered using the time to think, but he couldnt think of anything to think about. Because he had been concentrating on the rewrite of Air Chrysalis, it seemed, his mind refused to form any coherent thoughts. At the core of his brain was a mass of tangled threads.
Tengo watched the scenery streaming past the window and listened to the monotonous sound of the rails. The Chuo Line stretched on and on straight westward, as if following a line drawn on the map with a ruler. In fact, as if was probably unnecessary: they must have done just that when they laid it out a hundred years earlier. In this part of the Kanto Plain there was not a single topographical obstruction worth mentioning, which led to the building of a line without a perceivable curve, rise, or fall, and no bridges or tunnels. All they needed back then was a ruler, and all the trains did now was run in a perfectly straight line to the mountains out west.
At some point, Tengo fell asleep. When the swaying of the train woke him, they were slowing down for the stop in Ogikubo Station, no more than ten minutes out of Shinjukua short nap. Fuka-Eri was sitting in the same position, staring straight ahead. Tengo had no idea what she was, in fact, looking at. Judging from her air of concentration, she had no intention of getting off the train for some time yet.
What kind of books do you read? Tengo asked Fuka-Eri when they had gone another ten minutes and were past Mitaka. He raised the question not only out of sheer boredom but because he had been meaning to ask her about her reading habits.
Fuka-Eri glanced at him and faced forward again. I dont read books, she answered simply.
At all?
She gave him a quick nod.
Are you just not interested in reading books? he asked.
It takes time, she said.
You dont read books because it takes time? he asked, not quite sure he was understanding her properly.
Fuka-Eri kept facing forward and offered no reply. Her posture seemed to convey the message that she had no intention of negating his suggestion.
Generally speaking, of course, it does take some time to read a book. Its different from watching television, say, or reading manga. The reading of a book is an activity that involves some continuity; it is carried out over a relatively long time frame. But in Fuka-Eris statement that it takes time, there seemed to be included a nuance somewhat different from such generalities.
When you say, It takes time, do you mean it takes a lot of time? Tengo asked.
A lot, Fuka-Eri declared.
A lot longer than most people?
Fuka-Eri gave him a sharp nod.
That must be a problem in school, too. Im sure you have to read a lot of books for your classes.
I just fake it, she said coolly.
Somewhere in his head, Tengo heard an ominous knock. He wished he could ignore it, but that was out of the question. He had to know the truth.
Could what youre talking about be what they call dyslexia? he asked.
Dyslexia.
A learning disability. It means you have trouble making out characters on a page.
They have mentioned that. Dys
Who mentioned that?
She gave a little shrug.
In other words, Tengo went on, searching for the right way to say it, is this something youve had since you were little?
Fuka-Eri nodded.
So that explains why youve hardly read any novels.
By myself, she said.
This also explained why her writing was free of the influence of any established authors. It made perfect sense.
You didnt read them by yourself, Tengo said.
Somebody read them to me.
Your father, say, or your mother read books aloud to you?
Fuka-Eri did not reply to this.
Maybe you cant read, but you can write just fine, I would think, Tengo asked with growing apprehension.
Fuka-Eri shook her head. Writing takes time too.
A lot of time?
Fuka-Eri gave another small shrug. This meant yes.
Tengo shifted his position on the train seat. Which means, perhaps, that you didnt write the text of Air Chrysalis by yourself.
I didnt.
Tengo let a few seconds go by. A few heavy seconds. So who did write it?
Azami, she said.
Whos Azami?
Two years younger.
There was another short gap. This other girl wrote Air Chrysalis for you.
Fuka-Eri nodded as though this were an absolutely normal thing.
Tengo set the gears of his mind spinning. In other words, you dictated the story, and Azami wrote it down. Right?
Typed it and printed it, Fuka-Eri said.
Tengo bit his lip and tried to put in order the few facts that he had been offered so far. Once he had done the rearranging, he said, In other words, Azami printed the manuscript and sent it in to the magazine as an entry in the new writers contest, probably without telling you what she was doing. And shes the one who gave it the title Air Chrysalis.
Fuka-Eri cocked her head to one side in a way that signaled neither a clear yes nor a clear no. But she did not contradict him. This probably meant that he generally had the right idea.
This Azamiis she a friend of yours?
Lives with me.
Shes your younger sister?
Fuka-Eri shook her head. Professors daughter.
The Professor, Tengo said. Are you saying this Professor also lives with you?
Fuka-Eri nodded. Why bother to ask something so obvious? she seemed to be saying.
So the person Im going to meet now must be this Professor, right?
Fuka-Eri turned toward Tengo and looked at him for a moment as if observing the flow of a distant cloud or considering how best to deal with a slow-learning dog. Then she nodded.
We are going to meet the Professor, she said in a voice lacking expression.
This brought their conversation to a tentative end. Again Tengo and Fuka-Eri stopped talking and, side by side, watched the cityscape stream past the train window opposite them. Featureless houses without end stretched across the flat, featureless earth, thrusting numberless TV antennas skyward like so many insects. Had the people living in those houses paid their NHK subscription fees? Tengo often found himself wondering about TV and radio reception fees on Sundays. He didnt want to think about them, but he had no choice.
Today, on this wonderfully clear mid-April morning, a number of less-than-pleasant facts had come to light. First of all, Fuka-Eri had not written Air Chrysalis herself. If he was to take what she said at face value (and for now he had no reason to think that he should not), Fuka-Eri had merely dictated the story and another girl had written it down. In terms of its production process, it was no different from some of the greatest landmarks in Japanese literary historythe Kojiki, with its legendary history of the ruling dynasty, for example, or the colorful narratives of the warring samurai clans of the twelfth century, The Tale of the Heike. This fact served to lighten somewhat the guilt he felt about modifying the text of Air Chrysalis, but at the same time it made the situation as a whole significantly more complicated.
In addition, Fuka-Eri had a bad case of dyslexia and couldnt even read a book in the normal way. Tengo mentally reviewed his knowledge of dyslexia. He had attended lectures on the disorder when he was taking teacher training courses in college. A person with dyslexia could, in principle, both read and write. The problem had nothing to do with intelligence. Reading simply took time. The person might have no trouble with a short selection, but the longer the passage, the more difficulty the persons information processing faculty encountered, until it could no longer keep up. The link between a character and what it stood for was lost. These were the general symptoms of dyslexia. The causes were still not fully understood, but it was not surprising for there to be one or two dyslexic children in any classroom. Einstein had suffered from dyslexia, as had Thomas Edison and Charles Mingus.
Tengo did not know whether people with dyslexia generally experienced the same difficulties in writing as in reading, but it seemed to be the case with Fuka-Eri. One was just as difficult for her as the other.
What would Komatsu say when he found out about this? Tengo caught himself sighing. This seventeen-year-old girl was congenitally dyslexic and could neither read books nor write extended passages. Even when she engaged in conversation, she could only speak one sentence at a time (assuming she was not doing so intentionally). To make someone like this into a professional novelist (even if only for show) was going to be impossible. Even supposing that Tengo succeeded in rewriting Air Chrysalis, that it took the new writers prize, and that it was published as a book and praised by the critics, they could not go on deceiving the public forever. It might go well at first, but before long people would begin to think that something was funny. If the truth came out at that point, everyone involved would be ruined. Tengos career as a novelist would be cut short before it had hardly begun.
There was no way they could pull off such a flawed conspiracy. He had felt they were treading on thin ice from the outset, but now he realized that such an expression was far too tepid. The ice was already creaking before they ever stepped on it. The only thing for him to do was go home, call Komatsu, and announce, Im withdrawing from the plan. Its just too dangerous for me. This was what anyone with any common sense would do.
But when he started thinking about Air Chrysalis, Tengo was split with confusion. As dangerous as Komatsus plan might be, he could not possibly stop rewriting the novella at this point. He might have been able to give up on the idea before he started working on it, but that was out of the question now. He was up to his neck in it. He was breathing the air of its world, adapting to its gravity. The storys essence had permeated every part of him, to the walls of his viscera. Now the story was begging him to rework it: he could feel it pleading with him for help. This was something that only Tengo could do. It was a job well worth doing, a job he simply had to do.
Sitting on the train seat, Tengo closed his eyes and tried to reach some kind of conclusion as to how he should deal with the situation. But no conclusion was forthcoming. No one split with confusion could possibly produce a reasonable conclusion.
Does Azami take down exactly what you say? Tengo asked.
Exactly what I tell her.
You speak, and she writes it down.
But I have to speak softly
Why do you have to speak softly?
Fuka-Eri looked around the car. It was almost empty. The only other passengers were a mother and her two small children on the opposite seat a short distance away from Tengo and Fuka-Eri. The three of them appeared to be headed for someplace fun. There existed such happy people in the world.
So they wont hear me, Fuka-Eri said quietly.
They? Tengo asked. Looking at Fuka-Eris unfocused eyes, it was clear that she was not talking about the mother and children. She was referring to particular people that she knew well and that Tengo did not know at all. Who are they? Tengo, too, had lowered his voice.
Fuka-Eri said nothing, but a small wrinkle appeared between her brows. Her lips were clamped shut.
Are they the Little People? Tengo asked.
Still no answer.
Are they somebody who might get mad at you if your story got into print and was released to the public and people started talking about them?
Fuka-Eri did not answer this question, either. Her eyes were still not focused on any one point. He waited until he was quite sure there would be no answer, and then he asked another question.
Can you tell me about your Professor? Whats he like?
Fuka-Eri gave him a puzzled look, as if to say, What is this person talking about? Then she said, You will meet the Professor.
Yes, of course, Tengo said. Youre absolutely right. Im going to meet him in any case. I should just meet him and decide for myself.
At Kokubunji Station, a group of elderly people dressed in hiking gear got on. There were ten of them altogether, five men and five women in their late sixties and early seventies. They carried backpacks and wore hats and were chattering away like schoolchildren. All carried water bottles, some strapped to their waists, others tucked in the pockets of their backpacks. Tengo wondered if he could possibly reach that age with such a sense of enjoyment. Then he shook his head. No way. He imagined these old folks standing proudly on some mountaintop, drinking from their water bottles.
In spite of their small size, the Little People drank prodigious amounts of water. They preferred to drink rainwater or water from the nearby stream, rather than tap water. And so the girl would scoop water from the stream during daylight hours and give it to the Little People to drink. Whenever it rained, she would collect water in a bucket because the Little People preferred rainwater to water gathered from the stream. They were therefore grateful for the girls kindness.

Tengo noticed he was having trouble staying focused on any one thought. This was not a good sign. He felt an internal confusion starting. An ominous sandstorm was developing somewhere on the plane of his emotions. This often happened on Sundays.
Is something wrong, Fuka-Eri asked without a question mark. She seemed able to sense the tension that Tengo was feeling.
I wonder if I can do it.
Do what.
If I can say what I need to say.
Say what you need to say, Fuka-Eri asked. She seemed to be having trouble understanding what he meant.
To the Professor.
Say what you need to say to the Professor, she repeated.
After some hesitation, Tengo confessed. I keep thinking that things are not going to go smoothly, that everything is going to fall apart, he said.
Fuka-Eri turned in her seat until she was looking directly at Tengo. Afraid, she asked.
What am I afraid of? Tengo rephrased her question.
She nodded silently.
Maybe Im just afraid of meeting new people. Especially on a Sunday morning.
Why Sunday, Fuka-Eri asked.
Tengos armpits started sweating. He felt a suffocating tightness in the chest. Meeting new people and having new things thrust upon him. And having his present existence threatened by them.
Why Sunday, Fuka-Eri asked again.
Tengo recalled his boyhood Sundays. After they had walked all day, his father would take him to the restaurant across from the station and tell him to order anything he liked. It was a kind of reward for him, and virtually the only time the frugal pair would eat out. His father would even order a beer (though he almost never drank). Despite the offer, Tengo never felt the slightest bit hungry on these occasions. Ordinarily, he was hungry all the time, but he never enjoyed anything he ate on Sunday. To eat every mouthful of what he had orderedwhich he was absolutely required to dowas nothing but torture for him. Sometimes he even came close to vomiting. This was what Sunday meant for Tengo as a boy.
Fuka-Eri looked into Tengos eyes in search of something. Then she reached out and took his hand. This startled him, but he tried not to let it show on his face.
Fuka-Eri kept her gentle grip on Tengos hand until the train arrived in Kunitachi Station, near the end of the line. Her hand was unexpectedly hard and smooth, neither hot nor cold. It was maybe half the size of Tengos hand.
Dont be afraid. Its not just another Sunday, she said, as if stating a well-known fact.
Tengo thought this might have been the first time he heard her speak two sentences at once.

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11-13-2011, 08:02 PM   #10

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 9

Aomame

NEW SCENERY, NEW RULES


Aomame went to the ward library closest to home. At the reference desk, she requested the compact edition of the newspaper for the three-month period from September to November, 1981. The clerk pointed out that they had such editions for four newspapersthe Asahi, the Yomiuri, the Mainichi, and the Nikkeiand asked which she preferred. The bespectacled middle-aged woman seemed less a regular librarian than a housewife doing part-time work. She was not especially fat, but her wrists were puffy, almost ham-like.
Aomame said she didnt care which newspaper they gave her to read: they were all pretty much the same.
That may be true, but I really need you to decide which you would like, the woman said in a flat voice meant to repel any further argument. Aomame had no intention of arguing, so she chose the Mainichi, for no special reason. Sitting in a cubicle, she opened her notebook and, ballpoint pen in hand, started scanning one article after another.
No especially major events had occurred in the early autumn of 1981. Charles and Diana had married that July, and the aftereffects were still in evidencereports on where they went, what they did, what she wore, what her accessories were like. Aomame of course knew about the wedding, but she had no particular interest in it, and she could not figure out why people were so deeply concerned about the fate of an English prince and princess. Charles looked less like a prince than a high school physics teacher with stomach trouble.
In Poland, Lech Walesas Solidarity movement was deepening its confrontation with the government, and the Soviet government was expressing its concern. More directly, the Soviets were threatening to send in tanks, just as they had prior to the 1968 Prague Spring, if the Polish government failed to bring things under control. Aomame generally remembered these events as well. She knew that the Soviet government eventually gave up any thought of interfering in the situation, so there was no need for her to read these articles closely. One thing did catch her attention, though. When President Reagan issued a declaration meant to discourage the Soviets from intervening in Polish internal affairs, he was quoted as saying, We hope that the tense situation in Poland will not interfere with joint U.S.-Soviet plans to construct a moon base. Construct a moon base? She had never heard of such a plan. Come to think of it, though, there had been some mention of that on the TV news the other daythat night when she had sex with the balding, middle-aged man from Kansai in the Akasaka hotel.
On September 20, the worlds largest kite-flying competition took place in Jakarta, with more than ten thousand participants. Aomame was unfamiliar with that particular bit of news, but there was nothing strange about it. Who would remember news about a giant kite-flying competition held in Jakarta three years ago?
On October 6, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by radical Islamic terrorists. Aomame recalled the event with renewed pity for Sadat. She had always been fond of Sadats bald head, and she felt only revulsion for any kind of religious fundamentalists. The very thought of such peoples intolerant worldview, their inflated sense of their own superiority, and their callous imposition of their own beliefs on others was enough to fill her with rage. Her anger was almost uncontrollable. But this had nothing to do with the problem she was now confronting. She took several deep breaths to calm her nerves, and then she turned the page.
On October 12, in a residential section of the Itabashi Ward of Tokyo, an NHK subscription fee collector (aged fifty-six) became involved in a shouting match with a college student who refused to pay. Pulling out the butcher knife he always carried in his briefcase, he stabbed the student in the abdomen, wounding him seriously. The police rushed to the scene and arrested him on the spot. The collector was standing there in a daze with the bloody knife in his hand. He offered no resistance. According to one of his fellow collectors, the man had been a full-time staff member for six years and was an extremely serious worker with an outstanding record.
Aomame had no recollection of such an event. She always took the Yomiuri newspaper and read it from cover to cover, paying close attention to the human interest storiesespecially those involving crimes (which comprised fully half the human interest stories in the evening edition). There was almost no way she could have failed to read an article as long as this one. Of course, something could have come up that caused her to miss it, but this was very unlikelyunlikely, but not unthinkable.
She knit her brow and mulled over the possibility that she could have missed such a report. Then she recorded the date in her notebook, with a summary of the event.
The collectors name was Shinnosuke Akutagawa. Impressive. Sounded like the literary giant Ryunosuke Akutagawa. There was no photograph of the collector, only of the man he stabbed, Akira Tagawa, age twenty-one. Tagawa was a third-year student in the undergraduate law program of Nihon University and a second-rank practitioner of Japanese swordsmanship. Had he been holding a bamboo practice sword at the time, the collector would not have been able to stab him so easily, but ordinary people do not hold bamboo swords in hand when they talk to NHK fee collectors. Of course, ordinary NHK fee collectors dont walk around with butcher knives in their briefcases, either. Aomame followed the next several days worth of reports on the case but found nothing to indicate that the student had died. He had probably survived.
On October 16 there had been a major accident at a coal mine in Yubari, Hokkaido. A fire broke out at the extraction point one thousand meters underground, and more than fifty miners suffocated. The fire spread upward toward the surface, and another ten men died. To prevent the fire from spreading further, the company pumped the mine full of water without first ascertaining the whereabouts of the remaining miners. The final death toll rose to ninety-three. This was a heartrending event. Coal was a dirty energy source, and its extraction was dangerous work. Mining companies were slow to invest in safety equipment, and working conditions were terrible. Accidents were common and miners lungs were destroyed, but there were many people and businesses that required coal because it was cheap. Aomame had a clear memory of this accident.
The aftermath of the Yubari coal mine accident was still being reported in the paper when Aomame found the event that she was looking for. It had occurred on October 19, 1981. Not until Tamaru told her about it several hours earlier was Aomame aware that such an incident had ever happened. This was simply unimaginable. The headline appeared on the front page of the morning edition in large type:

YAMANASHI GUNFIGHT WITH RADICALS: 3 OFFICERS DIE

A large photo accompanied the article, an aerial shot of the location where the battle had occurred near Lake Motosu, in the hills of Yamanashi Prefecture. There was also a simple map of the site, which was in the mountains away from the developed area of lakeside vacation homes. There were three portrait photos of the dead officers from the Yamanashi Prefectural Police. A Self-Defense Force special paratroop unit dispatched by helicopter. Camouflage fatigues, sniper rifles with scopes, short-barreled automatics.
Aomame scowled hugely. In order to express her feelings properly, she stretched every muscle in her face as far as it would go. Thanks to the partitions on either side of her, no one else sitting at the library tables was able to witness her startling transformation. She then took a deep breath, sucking in all the surrounding air that she possibly could, and letting every bit of it out, like a whale rising to the surface to exchange all the air in its giant lungs. The sound startled the high school student studying at the table behind her, his back to hers, and he spun around to look at her. But he said nothing. He was just frightened.
After distorting her face for a while, Aomame made an effort to relax each of her facial muscles until she had resumed a normal expression. For a long time after that, she tapped at her front teeth with the top end of her ballpoint pen and tried to organize her thoughts. There ought to be a reason. There has to be a reason. How could I have overlooked such a major event, one that shook the whole of Japan?
And this incident is not the only one. I didnt know anything about the NHK fee collectors stabbing of the college student. Its absolutely mystifying. I couldnt possibly have missed one major thing after another. Im too observant, too meticulous for that. I know when somethings off by a millimeter. And I know my memory is strong. This is why, in sending a number of men to the other side, Ive never made a single mistake. This is why Ive been able to survive. I read the newspaper carefully every day, and when I say read the newspaper carefully, that means never missing anything that is in any way significant.
The newspaper continued for days to devote major space to the Lake Motosu Incident. The Self-Defense Force and the Yamanashi Prefectural Police chased down ten escaped radicals, staging a large-scale manhunt in the surrounding hills, killing three of them, severely wounding two, and arresting four (one of whom turned out to be a woman). The last person remained unaccounted for. The paper was filled with reports on the incident, completely obliterating any follow-up reports on the NHK fee collector who stabbed the college student in Itabashi Ward.
Though no one at NHK ever said so, of course, the broadcasters must have been extremely relieved. For if something like the Lake Motosu Incident had not occurred, the media would almost certainly have been screaming about the NHK collections system or raising doubts about the very nature of NHKs quasi-governmental status. At the beginning of that year, information on the ruling Liberal Democratic Partys objections to an NHK special on the Lockheed scandal was leaked, exposing how the NHK had, in response, changed some of the content. After these revelations, much of the nation wasquite reasonablybeginning to doubt the autonomy of NHK programming and to question its political fairness. This in turn gave added impetus to a campaign against paying NHK subscription fees.
Aside from the Lake Motosu Incident and the incident involving the NHK fee collector, Aomame clearly remembered the other events and incidents and accidents that had occurred at the time, and she clearly remembered having read all the newspaper reports about them. Only in those two cases did her powers of recall seem to fail her. Why should that be? Why should there be absolutely nothing left in her memory from those two events alone? Even supposing this is all due to some malfunction in my brain, could I possibly have erased those two matters so cleanly, leaving everything else intact?
Aomame closed her eyes and pressed her fingertips against her templeshard. Maybe such a thing is, in fact, possible. Maybe my brain is giving rise to some kind of function that is trying to remake reality, that singles out certain news stories and throws a black cloth over them to keep me from seeing or remembering themthe police departments switch to new guns and uniforms, the construction of a joint U.S.-Soviet moon base, an NHK fee collectors stabbing of a college student, a fierce gun battle at Lake Motosu between a radical group and a special detachment of the Self-Defense Force.
But what do any of these things have in common?
Nothing at all, as far as I can see.
Aomame continued tapping on her teeth with the top end of her ballpoint pen as her mind spun furiously.
She kept this up for a long time until finally, the thought struck her: Maybe I can look at it this waythe problem is not with me but with the world around me. Its not that my consciousness or mind has given rise to some abnormality, but rather that some kind of incomprehensible power has caused the world around me to change.
The more she thought about it, the more natural her second hypothesis began to feel to her because, no matter how much she searched for it, she could not find in herself a gap or distortion in her mind.
And so she carried this hypothesis forward:
Its not me but the world thats deranged.
Yes, that settles it.
At some point in time, the world I knew either vanished or withdrew, and another world came to take its place. Like the switching of a track. In other words, my mind, here and now, belongs to the world that was, but the world itself has already changed into something else. So far, the actual changes carried out in that process are limited in number. Most of the new world has been retained from the world I knew, which is why the changes have presented (virtually) no impediments to my daily lifeso far. But the changes that have already taken place will almost certainly create other, greater, differences around me as time goes by. Those differences will expand little by little and will, in some cases, destroy the logicality of the actions I take. They could well cause me to commit errors that arefor meliterally fatal.
Parallel worlds.
Aomame scowled as if she had bitten into something horribly sour, though the scowl was not as extreme as the earlier one. She started tapping her ballpoint pen against her teeth again, and released a deep groan. The high school student behind her heard it rattle in her throat, but this time pretended not to hear.
This is starting to sound like science fiction.
Am I just making up a self-serving hypothesis as a form of self-defense? Maybe its just that Ive gone crazy. I see my own mind as perfectly normal, as free of distortion. But dont all mental patients insist that they are perfectly fine and its the world around them that is crazy? Arent I just proposing the wild hypothesis of parallel worlds as a way to justify my own madness?
This calls for the detached opinion of a third party.
But going to a psychiatrist for analysis is out of the question. The situation is far too complicated for that, and theres too much that I cant talk about. Take my recent work, for example, which, without a doubt, is against the law. I mean, Ive been secretly killing men with a homemade ice pick. I couldnt possibly tell a doctor about that, even if the men themselves have been utterly despicable, twisted individuals.
Even supposing I could successfully conceal my illegal activities, the legal parts of the life Ive led since birth could hardly be called normal, either. My life is like a trunk stuffed with dirty laundry. It contains more than enough material to drive any one human being to mental aberrationmaybe two or three peoples worth. My sex life alone would do. Its nothing I could talk about to anyone.
No, I cant go to a doctor. I have to solve this on my own.
Let me pursue this hypothesis a little further if I can.
If something like this has actually happenedif, that is, this world Im standing in now has in fact taken the place of the old onethen when, where, and how did the switching of the tracks occur, in the most concrete sense?
Aomame made another concentrated effort to work her way back through her memory.
She had first become aware of the changes in the world a few days earlier, when she took care of the oil field development specialist in a hotel room in Shibuya. She had left her taxi on the elevated Metropolitan Expressway No. 3, climbed down an emergency escape stairway to Route 246, changed her stockings, and headed for Sangenjaya Station on the Tokyu Line. On the way to the station, she passed a young policeman and noticed for the first time that something about his appearance was different. Thats when it all started. Which means the world switched tracks just before that. The policeman I saw near home that morning was wearing the same old uniform and carrying an old-fashioned revolver.
Aomame recalled the odd sensation she had felt when she heard the opening of Janáčeks Sinfonietta in the taxi caught in traffic. She had experienced it as a kind of physical wrenching, as if the components of her body were being wrung out like a rag. Then the driver told me about the Metropolitan Expressways emergency stairway. I took off my high heels and climbed down. The entire time I climbed down that precarious stairway in my stocking feet with the wind tearing at me, the opening fanfare of Janáčeks Sinfonietta echoed on and off in my ears. That may have been when it started, she thought.
There had been something strange about that taxi driver, too. Aomame still remembered his parting words. She reproduced them as precisely as she could in her mind:
After you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before. But dont let appearances fool you. Theres always only one reality.
At the time, Aomame had found this odd, but she had had no idea what he was trying to tell her, so she hadnt given it much thought. She had been in too much of a hurry to puzzle over riddles. Thinking back on it now, though, his remarks had come out of nowhere, and they were truly strange. They could be taken as cautionary advice or an evocative message. What was he trying to convey to me?
And then there was the Janáček music.
How was I able to tell instantly that it was Janáčeks Sinfonietta? And how did I know it was composed in 1926? Janáčeks Sinfonietta is not such popular music that anyone can recognize it on hearing the first few bars. Nor have I ever been such a passionate fan of classical music. I cant tell Haydn from Beethoven. Yet the moment it came flowing through the car radio, I knew what it was. Why was that, and why should it have given me such an intensely physicaland intensely personaljolt?
Yes, that jolt was utterly personal. It felt as if something had awakened a memory that had been asleep inside me for years. Something seemed to grab my shoulder and shake me. Which means I might have had a deep connection with that music at some point in my life. The music started playing, threw an automatic switch to on, and perhaps some kind of memory came fully awake. Janáčeks Sinfonietta.
But though she tried to probe her memory, Aomame could come up with nothing else. She looked around, stared at her palms, inspected the shape of her fingernails, and grabbed her breasts through her shirt to check the shape. No change. Same size and shape. Im still the same me. The world is still the same world. But something has started to change. She could feel it. It was like looking for differences between two identical pictures. Two pictures hang on the wall side by side. They look exactly alike, even with careful comparison. But when you examine the tiniest details, minuscule differences become apparent.
Aomame switched mental gears, turned the page of the compact-edition newspaper, and started taking detailed notes on the gun battle at Lake Motosu. There was speculation that the five Chinese-made Kalashnikov AK-47s had been smuggled in through the Korean Peninsula. They were most likely used military surplus in fairly good condition and came with lots of ammunition. The Japan Seas coast was a long one. Bringing in weapons and ammunition under cover of night and using a spy ship disguised as a fishing vessel was not that difficult. That was how drugs and weapons were brought into Japan in exchange for massive quantities of Japanese yen.
The Yamanashi Prefectural Police had been unaware that the radicals were so heavily armed. They obtained a search warrant on the (purely pro-forma) charge of inflicting bodily injury, and were carrying only their usual weapons when they piled into two patrol cars and a minibus and headed for the farm. This was the headquarters of a group that called itself Akebono, or First Light. On the face of it, the group members were simply operating an organic farm. They refused to allow the police to search their property. A confrontation ensued, and at some point it turned into a gun battle.
The Akebono group owned high-powered Chinese-made hand grenades, which fortunately they did not use, purely because they had obtained the grenades so recently that they had not had time to learn how to operate them. If the radicals had used hand grenades, casualties among the police and the Self-Defense Force would almost certainly have been much greater. Initially, the police did not even bring bulletproof vests with them. Critics singled out the police authorities poor intelligence analysis and the departments aging weaponry. What most shocked people, however, was the very fact that there still survived in Japan such an armed radical group operating so actively beneath the surface. The late sixties bombastic calls for revolution were already a thing of the past, and everyone assumed that the remnants of the radicals had been wiped out in the police siege of the Asama Mountain Lodge in 1972.
When she had finished taking all her notes, Aomame returned the compact newspaper to the reference counter. Choosing a thick book called Composers of the World from the music section, she returned to her table and opened the book to Janáček.
. . .

Leoš Janáček was born in a village in Moravia in 1854 and died in 1928. The article included a picture of him in his later years. Far from bald, his head was covered by a healthy thatch of white hair. It was so thick that Aomame couldnt tell much about the shape of his head. Sinfonietta was composed in 1926. Janáček had endured a loveless marriage, but in 1917, at the age of sixty-three, he met and fell in love with a married woman named Kamila. He had been suffering through a slump, but his encounter with Kamila brought back a vigorous creative urge, and he published one late-career masterpiece after another.
He and Kamila were walking in a park one day when they came across an outdoor concert and stopped to listen. Janáček felt a surge of joy go through his entire body, and the motif for his Sinfonietta came to him. Something seemed to snap in his head, he recounted years later, and he felt enveloped in ecstasy. By chance, he had been asked around that time to compose a fanfare for a major athletic event. The motif that came to him in the park and the motif of the fanfare became one, and Sinfonietta was born. The small symphony label is ordinary enough, but the structure is utterly nontraditional, combining the radiant brass of the festive fanfare with the gentle central European string ensemble to produce a unique mood.
Aomame took careful notes on the commentary and the biographical factual material, but the book gave no hint as to what kind of connection there wasor could have beenbetween herself and this Sinfonietta. She left the library and wandered aimlessly through the streets as evening approached, often talking to herself or shaking her head.
Of course, its all just a hypothesis, Aomame told herself as she walked. But its the most compelling hypothesis I can produce at the moment. Ill have to act according to this one, I suppose, until a more compelling hypothesis comes along. Otherwise, I could end up being thrown to the ground somewhere. If only for that reason, Id better give an appropriate name to this new situation in which I find myself. Theres a need, too, for a special name in order to distinguish between this present world and the former world in which the police carried old-fashioned revolvers. Even cats and dogs need names. A newly changed world must need one, too.
1Q84thats what Ill call this new world, Aomame decided.
Q is for question mark. A world that bears a question.
Aomame nodded to herself as she walked along.
Like it or not, Im here now, in the year 1Q84. The 1984 that I knew no longer exists. Its 1Q84 now. The air has changed, the scene has changed. I have to adapt to this world-with-a-question-mark as soon as I can. Like an animal released into a new forest. In order to protect myself and survive, I have to learn the rules of this place and adapt myself to them.
. . .

Aomame went to a record store near Jiyugaoka Station to look for Janáčeks Sinfonietta. Janáček was not a very popular composer. The Janáček section was quite small, and only one record contained Sinfonietta, a version with George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. The A side was Bartóks Concerto for Orchestra. She knew nothing about these performances, but since there was no other choice, she bought the LP. She went back to her apartment, took a bottle of Chablis from the refrigerator and opened it, placed the record on the turntable, and lowered the needle into the groove. Drinking the well-chilled wine, she listened to the music. It started with the same bright fanfare. This was the music she had heard in the cab, without a doubt. She closed her eyes and gave the music her complete concentration. The performance was not bad. But nothing happened. It was just music playing. She felt no wrenching of her body. Her perceptions underwent no metamorphosis.
After listening to the piece all the way through, she returned the record to its jacket, sat down on the floor, and leaned against the wall, drinking wine. Alone and absorbed in her thoughts, she could hardly taste the wine. She went to the bathroom sink, washed her face with soap and water, trimmed her eyebrows with a small pair of scissors, and cleaned her ears with a cotton swab.
Either Im funny or the worlds funny, I dont know which. The bottle and lid dont fit. It could be the bottles fault or the lids fault. In either case, theres no denying that the fit is bad.
Aomame opened her refrigerator and examined its contents. She hadnt been shopping for some days, so there wasnt much to see. She took out a ripe papaya, cut it in two, and ate it with a spoon. Next she took out three cucumbers, washed them, and ate them with mayonnaise, taking the time to chew slowly. Then she drank a glass of soy milk. That was her entire dinner. It was a simple meal, but ideal for preventing constipation. Constipation was one of the things she hated most in the world, on par with despicable men who commit domestic violence and narrow-minded religious fundamentalists.
When she was through eating, Aomame got undressed and took a hot shower. Stepping out, she dried herself off and looked at her naked body in the full-length mirror on the back of the door. Flat stomach, firm muscles. Lopsided breasts, pubic hair like a poorly tended soccer field. Observing her nakedness, she suddenly recalled that she would be turning thirty in another week. Another damn birthday. To think Im going to have my thirtieth birthday in this incomprehensible world, of all places! She knit her brows.
1Q84.
That was where she was now.

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11-13-2011, 08:03 PM   #11

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 10

Tengo

A REAL REVOLUTION WITH REAL BLOODSHED


Transfer, Fuka-Eri said. Then she took Tengos hand again. This was just before the train pulled into Tachikawa Station.
They stepped off the train and walked down one set of stairs and up another to a different platform. Fuka-Eri never once let go of Tengos hand. They probably looked like a pair of fond lovers to the people around them. There was quite an age difference, but Tengo looked younger than his actual age. Their size difference also probably amused some onlookers. A happy Sunday-morning date in the spring.
Through the hand holding his, however, Tengo felt no hint of affection for the opposite sex. The strength of her grip never changed. Her fingers had something like the meticulous professionalism of a doctor taking a patients pulse. It suddenly occurred to Tengo: Perhaps this girl thinks we can communicate wordlessly through the touch of fingers and palms. But even supposing such communication had actually taken place, it was all traveling in one direction rather than back and forth. Fuka-Eris palm might well be absorbing what was in Tengos mind, but that didnt mean that Tengo could read Fuka-Eris mind. This did not especially worry Tengo, however. There was nothing in his mindno thoughts or feelingsthat he would be concerned to have her know.
Even if she has no feeling for me as a member of the opposite sex, she must like me to some extent, Tengo surmised. Or at least she must not have a bad impression of me. Otherwise, whatever her purpose, she wouldnt go on holding my hand like this for such a long time.
Having changed now to the platform for the Oume Line, they boarded the waiting train. This station, Tachikawa, was the beginning of the Oume Line, which headed yet farther toward the hills northwest of Tokyo. The car was surprisingly crowded, full of old folks and family groups in Sunday hiking gear. Tengo and Fuka-Eri stood near the door.
We seem to have joined an outing, Tengo said, scanning the crowd.
Is it okay to keep holding your hand, Fuka-Eri asked Tengo. She had not let go even after they boarded the train.
Thats fine, Tengo said. Of course
Fuka-Eri seemed relieved and went on holding his hand. Her fingers and palm were as smooth as ever, and free of sweat. They still seemed to be trying to find and verify something inside him.
Youre not afraid anymore, she asked without a question mark.
No, Im not, Tengo answered. He was not lying. His Sunday-morning panic attack had certainly lost its force, thanks perhaps to Fuka-Eris holding his hand. He was no longer sweating, nor could he hear his heart pounding. The hallucination paid him no visit, and his breathing was as calm as usual.
Good, she said without inflection.
Yes, good, Tengo also thought.
There was a simple, rapidly spoken announcement that the train would soon depart, and the train doors rumbled closed, sending an outsized shudder through the train as if some huge, ancient animal were waking itself from a long sleep. As though it had finally made up its mind, the train pulled slowly away from the platform.
Still holding hands with Fuka-Eri, Tengo watched the scenery go past the train window. At first, it was just the usual residential area scenery, but the farther they went, the more the flat Musashino Plain gave way to views of distant mountains. After nearly a dozen stops, the two-track line narrowed down to a single line of rails, and they had to transfer to a four-car train. The surrounding mountains were becoming increasingly prominent. Now they had gone beyond commuting distance from downtown Tokyo. The hills out here retained the withered look of winter, which brought out the brilliance of the evergreens. The smell of the air was different, too, Tengo realized, as the train doors opened at each new station, and sounds were subtly different. Fields lay by the tracks, and farmhouses increased in number. Pickup trucks seemed to outnumber sedans. Weve really come a long way, Tengo thought. How far do we have to go?
Dont worry, Fuka-Eri said, as if she had read his mind.
Tengo nodded silently. I dont know, it feels like Im going to meet her parents to ask for her hand in marriage, he thought.
Finally, after five stops on the single-track section of the line, they got off at a station called Futamatao. Tengo had never heard of the place before. What a strange name. Forked Tail? The small station was an old wooden building. Five other passengers got off with them. No one got on. People came to Futamatao to breathe the clean air on the mountain trails, not to see a performance of Man of La Mancha or go to a disco with a wild reputation or visit an Aston Martin showroom or eat gratin de homard at a famous French restaurant. That much was obvious from the clothing of the passengers who left the train here.
There were virtually no shops by the station, and no people. There was, however, one taxi parked there. It probably showed up whenever a train was scheduled to arrive. Fuka-Eri tapped on the window, and the rear door opened. She ducked inside and motioned for Tengo to follow her. The door closed, Fuka-Eri told the driver briefly where she wanted to go, and he nodded in response.
They were not in the taxi very long, but the route was tremendously complicated. They went up one steep hill and down another along a narrow farm road where there was barely enough room to squeeze past other vehicles. The number of curves and corners was beyond counting, but the driver hardly slowed down for any of them. Tengo clutched the doors grip in terror. The taxi finally came to a stop after climbing a hill as frighteningly steep as a ski slope on what seemed to be the peak of a small mountain. It felt less like a taxi trip than a spin on an amusement park ride. Tengo produced two thousand-yen bills from his wallet and received his change and receipt in return.
A black Mitsubishi Pajero and a large, green Jaguar were parked in front of the old Japanese house. The Pajero was shiny and new, but the Jaguar was an old model so coated with white dust that its color was almost obscured. It seemed not to have been driven in some time. The air was startlingly fresh, and a stillness filled the surrounding space. It was a stillness so profound one had to adjust ones hearing to it. The perfectly clear sky seemed to soar upward, and the warmth of the sunlight gently touched any skin directly exposed to it. Tengo heard the high, unfamiliar cry of a bird now and then, but he could not see the bird itself.
The house was large and elegant. It had obviously been built long ago, but it was well cared for. The trees and bushes in the front yard were beautifully trimmed. Several of the trees were so perfectly shaped and matched that they looked like plastic imitations. One large pine cast a broad shadow on the ground. The view from here was unobstructed, but it revealed not a single house as far as the eye could see. Tengo guessed that a person would have to loathe human contact to build a home in such an inconvenient place.
Turning the knob with a clatter, Fuka-Eri walked in through the unlocked front door and signaled for Tengo to follow her. No one came out to greet them. They removed their shoes in the quiet, almost too-large front entry hall. The glossy wooden floor of the corridor felt cool against stocking feet as they walked down it to the large reception room. The windows there revealed a panoramic view of the mountains and of a river meandering far below, the sunlight reflecting on its surface. It was a marvelous view, but Tengo was in no mood to enjoy it. Fuka-Eri sat him down on a large sofa and left the room without a word. The sofa bore the smell of a distant age, but just how distant Tengo could not tell.
The reception room was almost frighteningly free of decoration. There was a low table made from a single thick plank. Nothing lay on itno ashtray, no tablecloth. No pictures adorned the walls. No clocks, no calendars, no vases. No sideboard, no magazines, no books. The floor had an antique rug so faded that its pattern could not be discerned, and the sofa and easy chairs seemed just as old. There was nothing else, just the large, raft-like sofa on which Tengo was sitting and three matching chairs. There was a large, open-style fireplace, but it showed no signs of having contained a fire recently. For a mid-April morning, the room was downright chilly, as if the cold that had seeped in through the winter had decided to stay for a while. Many long months and years seemed to have passed since the room had made up its mind never to welcome any visitors. Fuka-Eri returned and sat down next to Tengo, still without speaking.
Neither of them said anything for a long time. Fuka-Eri shut herself up in her own enigmatic world, while Tengo tried to calm himself with several quiet deep breaths. Except for the occasional distant bird cry, the room was hushed. Tengo listened to the silence, which seemed to offer several different meanings. It was not simply an absence of sound. The silence seemed to be trying to tell him something about itself. For no reason, he looked at his watch. Raising his face, he glanced at the view outside the window, and then looked at his watch again. Hardly any time had passed. Time always passed slowly on Sunday mornings.
Ten minutes went by like this. Then suddenly, without warning, the door opened and a thinly built man entered the reception room with nervous footsteps. He was probably in his mid-sixties. He was no taller than five foot three, but his excellent posture prevented him from looking unimpressive. His back was as straight as if it had a steel rod in it, and he kept his chin pulled in smartly. His eyebrows were bushy, and he wore black, thick-framed glasses that seemed to have been made to frighten people. His movements suggested an exquisite machine with parts designed for compactness and efficiency. Tengo started to stand and introduce himself, but the man quickly signaled for him to remain seated. Tengo sat back down while the man rushed to lower himself into the facing easy chair, as if in a race with Tengo. For a while, the man simply stared at Tengo, saying nothing. His gaze was not exactly penetrating, but his eyes seemed to take in everything, narrowing and widening like a cameras diaphragm when the photographer adjusts the aperture.
The man wore a deep green sweater over a white shirt and dark gray woolen trousers. Each piece looked as if it had been worn daily for a good ten years or more. They conformed to his body well enough, but they were also a bit threadbare. This was not a person who paid a great deal of attention to his clothes. Nor, perhaps, did he have people close by who did it for him. The thinness of his hair emphasized the rather elongated shape of his head from front to back. He had sunken cheeks and a square jaw. A plump childs tiny lips were the one feature of his that did not quite match the others. His razor had missed a few patches on his faceor possibly it was just the way the light struck him. The mountain sunlight pouring through the windows seemed different from the sunlight Tengo was used to seeing.
Im sorry I made you come all this way, the man said. He spoke with an unusually clear intonation, like someone long accustomed to public speakingand probably about logical topics. Its not easy for me to leave this place, so all I could do was ask you to go to the trouble of coming here.
Tengo said it was no trouble at all. He told the man his name and apologized for not having a business card.
My name is Ebisuno, the man said. I dont have a business card either.
Mr. Ebisuno? Tengo asked.
Everybody calls me Professor. I dont know why, but even my own daughter calls me Professor.
What characters do you write your name with?
Its an unusual name. I hardly ever see anybody else with it. Eri, write the characters for him, will you?
Fuka-Eri nodded, took out a kind of notebook, and slowly, painstakingly, wrote the characters for Tengo on a blank sheet with a ballpoint pen. The Ebisu part was the character normally used for ancient Japans wild northern tribes. The no was just the usual character for field. The way Fuka-Eri wrote them, the two characters could have been scratched into a brick with a nail, though they did have a certain style of their own.
In English, my name could be translated as field of savagesperfect for a cultural anthropologist, which is what I used to be. The Professors lips formed something akin to a smile, but his eyes lost none of their attentiveness. I cut my ties with the research life a very long time ago, though. Now, Im doing something completely different. Im living in a whole new field of savages.
To be sure, the Professors name was an unusual one, but Tengo found it familiar. He was fairly certain there had been a famous scholar named Ebisuno in the late sixties who had published a number of well-received books. He had no idea what the books were about, but the name, at least, remained in some remote corner of his memory. Somewhere along the way, though, he had stopped encountering it.
I think Ive heard your name before, Tengo said tentatively.
Perhaps, the Professor said, looking off into the distance, as if speaking about someone not present. In any case, it would have been a long time ago.
Tengo could sense the quiet breathing of Fuka-Eri seated next to himslow, deep breathing.
Tengo Kawana, the Professor said as if reading a name tag.
Thats right, Tengo said.
You majored in mathematics in college, and now you teach math at a cram school in Yoyogi, the Professor said. But you also write fiction. Thats what Eri tells me. Is that about right?
Yes, it is, Tengo said.
You dont look like a math teacher. You dont look like a writer, either.
Tengo gave him a strained smile and said, Somebody said exactly the same thing to me the other day. Its probably my build.
I didnt mean it in a bad sense, the Professor said, pressing back the bridge of his black-framed glasses. Theres nothing wrong with not looking like something. It just means you dont fit the stereotype yet.
Im honored to have you say that. Im not a writer yet. Im still just trying to write fiction.
Trying.
Its still trial and error for me.
I see, the Professor said. Then, as if he had just noticed the chilliness of the room, he rubbed his hands together. Ive also heard that youre going to be revising the novella that Eri wrote in the hopes that she can win a literary magazines new writers prize. Youre planning to sell her to the public as a writer. Is my interpretation correct?
That is basically correct, Tengo said. An editor named Komatsu came up with the idea. I dont know if the plan is going to work or not. Or whether its even ethical. My only role is to revise the style of the work, Air Chrysalis. Im just a technician. Komatsu is responsible for everything else.
The Professor concentrated on his thoughts for a while. In the hushed room, Tengo could almost hear his brain working. The Professor then said, This editor, Mr. Komatsu, came up with the idea, and youre cooperating with him on the technical side.
Correct.
Ive always been a scholar, and, to tell you the truth, Ive never read fiction with much enthusiasm. I dont know anything about customary practice in the world of writing and publishing fiction, but what you people are planning to do sounds to me like a kind of fraud. Am I wrong about that?
No, you are not wrong. It sounds like fraud to me, too, Tengo said.
The Professor frowned slightly. You yourself obviously have ethical doubts about this scheme, and still you are planning to go along with it, out of your own free will.
Well, its not exactly my own free will, but I am planning to go along with it. That is correct.
And why is that?
Thats what Ive been asking myself again and again all week, Tengo said honestly.
The Professor and Fuka-Eri waited in silence for Tengo to continue.
Reasoning, common sense, instinctthey are all pleading with me to pull out of this as quickly as possible. Im basically a cautious, commonsensical kind of person. I dont like gambling or taking chances. If anything, Im a kind of coward. But this is different. I just cant bring myself to say no to Komatsus plan, as risky as it is. And my only reason is that Im so strongly drawn to Air Chrysalis. If it had been any other work, I would have refused out of hand.
The Professor gave Tengo a quizzical look. In other words, you have no interest in the fraudulent part of the scheme, but you have a deep interest in the rewriting of the work. Is that it?
Exactly. Its more than a deep interest. If Air Chrysalis has to be rewritten, I dont want to let anyone else do it.
I see, the Professor said. Then he made a face, as if he had accidentally put something sour in his mouth. I see. I think I understand your feelings in the matter. But how about this Komatsu person? What is he in it for? Money? Fame?
To tell you the truth, Im not sure what Komatsu wants, Tengo said. But I do think its something bigger than money or fame.
And what might that be?
Well, Komatsu himself might not see it that way, but he is another person who is obsessed with literature. People like him are looking for just one thing, and that is to find, if only once in their lifetimes, a work that is unmistakably the real thing. They want to put it on a tray and serve it up to the world.
The Professor kept his gaze fixed on Tengo for a time. Then he said, In other words, you and he have very different motivesmotives that have nothing to do with money or fame.
I think youre right.
Whatever your motives might be, though, the plan is, as you said, a very risky one. If the truth were to come out at some point, it would be sure to cause a scandal, and the publics censure would not be limited to you and Mr. Komatsu. It could deliver a fatal blow to Eris life at the tender age of seventeen. Thats the thing that worries me most about this.
And you should be worried, Tengo said with a nod. Youre absolutely right.
The space between the Professors thick, black eyebrows contracted half an inch. But what you are telling me is that you want to be the one to rewrite Air Chrysalis even if it could put Eri in some danger.
As I said before, that is because my desire comes from a place that reason and common sense cant reach. Of course I would like to protect Eri as much as possible, but I cant promise that she would never be harmed by this. That would be a lie.
I see, the Professor said. Then he cleared his throat as if to mark a turning point in the discussion. Well, you seem to be an honest person, at least.
Im trying to be as straightforward with you as I can.
The Professor stared at the hands resting on his knees as if he had never seen them before. First he stared at the backs of his hands, and then he flipped them over and stared at his palms. Then he raised his face and said, So, does this editor, this Mr. Komatsu, think that his plan is really going to work?
Komatsus view is that there are always two sides to everything, Tengo said. A good side and a not-so-bad side.
The Professor smiled. A most unusual view. Is this Mr. Komatsu an optimist, or is he self-confident?
Neither, Tengo said. Hes just cynical.
The Professor shook his head lightly. When he gets cynical, he becomes an optimist. Or he becomes self-confident. Is that it?
He might have such tendencies.
A hard man to deal with, it seems.
He is a pretty hard man to deal with, Tengo said. But hes no fool.
The Professor let out a long, slow breath. Then he turned to Fuka-Eri. How about it, Eri? What do you think of this plan?
Fuka-Eri stared at an anonymous point in space for a while. Then she said, Its okay.
In other words, you dont mind letting Mr. Kawana here rewrite Air Chrysalis?
I dont mind, she said.
It might cause you a lot of trouble.
Fuka-Eri said nothing in response to this. All she did was tightly grip the collar of her cardigan together at the neck, but the gesture was a direct expression of her firm resolve.
Shes probably right, the Professor said with a touch of resignation.
Tengo stared at her little hands, which were balled into fists.
There is one other problem, though, the Professor said to Tengo. You and this Mr. Komatsu plan to publish Air Chrysalis and present Eri to the public as a novelist, but shes dyslexic. Did you know that?
I got the general idea on the train this morning.
She was probably born that way. In school, they think she suffers from a kind of retardation, but shes actually quite smarteven wise, in a very profound way. Still, her dyslexia cant help your plan, to put it mildly.
How many people know about this?
Aside from Eri herself, three, the Professor said. Theres me, of course, my daughter Azami, and you. No one else knows.
You mean to say her teachers dont know?
No, they dont. Its a little school in the countryside. Theyve probably never even heard of dyslexia. And besides, she only went to school for a short time.
Then we might be able to hide it.
The Professor looked at Tengo for a while, as if judging the value of his face.
Eri seems to trust you, he said a moment later. I dont know why, but she does. And I
Tengo waited for him to continue.
And I trust Eri. So if she says its all right to let you rewrite her novella, all I can do is give my approval. On the other hand, if you really do plan to go ahead with this scheme, there are a few things you should know about Eri. The Professor swept his hand lightly across his right knee several times as if he had found a tiny piece of thread there. What her childhood was like, for example, and where she spent it, and how I became responsible for raising her. This could take a while to tell.
Im listening, Tengo said.
Next to him on the sofa, Fuka-Eri sat up straight, still holding the collar of her cardigan closed at the throat.
All right, then, the Professor said. The story goes back to the sixties. Eris father and I were close friends for a long time. I was ten years older, but we both taught in the same department at the same university. Our personalities and worldviews were very different, but for some reason we got along. Both of us married late, and we both had daughters shortly after we got married. We lived in the same faculty apartment building, and our families were always together. Professionally, too, we were doing very well. People were starting to notice us as rising stars of academe. We often appeared in the media. It was a tremendously exciting time for us.
Toward the end of the sixties, though, things started to change for the worse. The second renewal of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty was coming in 1970, and the student movement was opposed to it. They blockaded the university campuses, fought with the riot police, had bloody factional disputes, and as a result, people died. All of this was more than I wanted to deal with, and I decided to leave the university. I had never been that temperamentally suited to the academic life, but once these protests and riots began, I became fed up with it. Establishment, antiestablishment: I didnt care. Ultimately, it was just a clash of organizations, and I simply didnt trust any kind of organization, big or small. You, I would guess, were not yet old enough to be in the university in those days.
No, the commotion had all died down by the time I started.
The party was over, you mean.
Pretty much.
The Professor raised his hands for a moment and then lowered them to his knees again. So I quit the university, and two years later Eris father left. At the time, he was a great believer in Mao Zedongs revolutionary ideology and supported Chinas Cultural Revolution. We heard almost nothing in those days about how terrible and inhumane the Cultural Revolution could be. It even became trendy with some intellectuals to hold up Maos Little Red Book. Eris father went so far as to organize a group of students into a kind of Red Guard on campus, and he participated in the strike against the university. Some student-believers on other campuses came to join his organization, and for a while, under his leadership, the faction became quite large. Then the university got the riot police to storm the campus. He was holed up there with his students, so he was arrested with them, convicted, and sentenced. This led to his de facto dismissal from the university. Eri was still a little girl then and probably doesnt remember any of this.
Fuka-Eri remained silent.
Her fathers name is Tamotsu Fukada. After leaving the university, he took with him ten core students from his Red Guard unit and they entered the Takashima Academy. Most of the students had been expelled from the university. They all needed someplace to go, and Takashima Academy was not a bad choice for them. The media paid some attention to their movements at the time. Do you know anything about this?
Tengo shook his head. No, nothing.
Fukadas family went with himmeaning his wife and Eri here. They all entered Takashima together. You know about the Takashima Academy, dont you?
In general, Tengo said. Its organized like a commune. They live a completely communal lifestyle and support themselves by farming. Dairy farming, too, on a national scale. They dont believe in personal property and own everything collectively.
Thats it. Fukada was supposedly looking for a utopia in the Takashima system, the Professor said with a frown. But utopias dont exist, of course, anywhere in any world. Like alchemy or perpetual motion. What Takashima is doing, if you ask me, is making mindless robots. They take the circuits out of peoples brains that make it possible for them to think for themselves. Their world is like the one that George Orwell depicted in his novel. Im sure you realize that there are plenty of people who are looking for exactly that kind of brain death. It makes life a lot easier. You dont have to think about difficult things, just shut up and do what your superiors tell you to do. You never have to starve. To people who are searching for that kind of environment, the Takashima Academy may well be utopia.
But Fukada is not that kind of person. He likes to think things out for himself, to examine every aspect of an issue. Thats how he made his living all those years: it was his profession. He could never be satisfied with a place like Takashima. He knew that much from the start. Kicked out of the university with a bunch of book-smart students in tow, he didnt have anywhere else to go, so he chose Takashima as a temporary refuge. What he was looking for there was not utopia but an understanding of the Takashima system. The first thing they had to do was learn farming techniques. Fukada and his students were all city people. They didnt know any more about farming than I know about rocket science. And there was a lot for them to learn: distribution systems, the possibilities and limits of a self-sufficient economy, practical rules for communal living, and so on. They lived in Takashima for two years, learning everything they could. After that, Fukada took his group with him, left Takashima, and went out on his own.
Takashima was fun, Fuka-Eri said.
The Professor smiled. Im sure Takashima is fun for little children. But when you grow up and reach a certain age and develop an ego, life in Takashima for most young people comes close to a living hell. The leaders use their power to crush peoples natural desire to think for themselves. Its foot-binding for the brain.
Foot-binding, Fuka-Eri asked.
In the old days in China, they used to cram little girls feet into tiny shoes to keep them from growing, Tengo explained to her.
She pictured it to herself, saying nothing.
The Professor continued, The core of Fukadas splinter group, of course, was made up of ex-students who were with him from his Red Guard days, but others came forward too, so the size of the group snowballed beyond anyones expectations. A good number of people had entered Takashima for idealistic reasons but were dissatisfied and disappointed with what they found: people who had been hoping for a hippie-style communal life, leftists scarred by the university uprisings, people dissatisfied with ordinary life and searching for a new world of spirituality, single people, people who had their families with them like Fukadaa motley crew if ever there was one, and Fukada was their leader. He had a natural gift for leadership, like Moses leading the Israelites. He was smart, eloquent, and had outstanding powers of judgment. He was a charismatic figurea big man. Just about your size, come to think of it. People placed him at the center of the group as a matter of course, and they followed his judgment.
The Professor held out his arms to indicate the mans physical bulk. Fuka-Eri stared first at the Professors arms and then at Tengo, but she said nothing.
Fukada and I are totally different, both in looks and personality. But even given our differences, we were very close friends. We recognized each others abilities and trusted each other. I can say without exaggeration that ours was a once-in-a-lifetime friendship.
Under Tamotsu Fukadas leadership, the group had found a depopulated village that suited their purposes in the mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture. The village was on the brink of death. The few old people who remained there could not manage the crops themselves and had no one to carry on the farm work after they were gone. The group was able to purchase the fields and houses for next to nothing, including the vinyl greenhouses. The village office provided a subsidy on condition that the group continue to cultivate the established farmland, and they were granted preferential tax treatment for at least the first few years. In addition, Fukada had his own personal source of funds, but Professor Ebisuno had no idea where the money came from.
Fukada refused to talk about it, and he never revealed the secret to anybody, but somewhere he got hold of a considerable amount of cash that was needed to establish the commune. They used the money to buy farm machinery and building materials, and to set up a reserve fund. They repaired the old houses by themselves and built facilities that would enable their thirty members to live. This was in 1974. They called their new commune Sakigake, or Forerunner.
Sakigake? The name sounded familiar to Tengo, but he couldnt remember where he might have heard it before. When his attempt to trace the memory back ended in failure, he felt unusually frustrated.
The Professor continued, Fukada was resigned to the likelihood that the operation of the commune would be tough for the first several years until they became accustomed to the area, but things went more smoothly than he had expected. They were blessed with good weather and helpful neighbors. People readily took to Fukada as leader, given his sincere personality, and they admired the hardworking young members they saw sweating in the fields. The locals offered useful advice. In this way, the members were able to absorb practical knowledge about farming techniques and learn how to live off the land.
While they continued to practice what they had learned in Takashima, Sakigake also came up with several of their own innovations. For example, they switched to organic farming, eschewing chemical pesticides and growing their vegetables entirely with organic fertilizers. They also started a mail-order food service pitched directly to affluent urbanites. That way they could charge more per unit. They were the first of the so-called ecological farmers, and they knew how to make the most of it. Having been raised in the city, the communes members knew that city people would be glad to pay high prices for fresh, tasty vegetables free of pollutants. They created their own distribution system by contracting with delivery companies and simplifying their routes. They were also the first to make a virtue of the fact that they were selling un-uniform vegetables with the soil still clinging to them.
The professor went on. I visited Fukada on his farm any number of times. He seemed invigorated by his new surroundings and the chance to try new possibilities there. It was probably the most peaceful, hope-filled time of his life, and his family also appeared to have adapted well to this new way of living.
More and more people would hear about Sakigake farm and show up there wanting to become members. The name had gradually become more widely known through the mail order business, and the mass media had reported on it as an example of a successful commune. More than a few people were eager to escape from the real worlds mad pursuit of money and its flood of information, instead earning their living by the sweat of their brow. Sakigake appealed to them. When these people showed up, Sakigake would interview and investigate them, and give the promising ones membership. They couldnt admit everyone who came. They had to preserve the members high quality and ethics. They were looking for people with strong farming skills and healthy physiques who could tolerate hard physical labor. They also welcomed women in hopes of keeping something close to a fifty-fifty male-female ratio. Increasing the numbers would mean enlarging the scale of the farm, but there were plenty of extra fields and houses nearby, so that was no problem. Young bachelors made up the core of the farms membership at first, but the number of people joining with families gradually increased. Among the newcomers were well-educated professionalsdoctors, engineers, teachers, accountants, and the like. Such people were heartily welcomed by the community since their professional skills could be put to good use.
Tengo asked, Did the commune adopt Takashimas type of primitive communist system?
The Professor shook his head. No, Fukada avoided the communal ownership of property. Politically, he was a radical, but he was also a coolheaded realist. What he was aiming for was a more flexible community, not a society like an ant colony. His approach was to divide the whole into a number of units, each leading its own flexible communal life. They recognized private property and apportioned out compensation to some extent. If you werent satisfied with your unit, you could switch to another one, and you were free to leave Sakigake itself anytime you liked. There was full access to the outside world, too, and there was virtually no ideological inculcation or brainwashing. He had learned when they were in Takashima that a natural, open system would increase productivity.
Under Fukadas leadership, the operation of Sakigake farm remained on track, but eventually the commune split into two distinct factions. Such a split was inevitable as long as they kept Fukadas flexible unit system. On one side was a militant faction, a revolutionary group based on the Red Guard unit that Fukada had originally organized. For them, the farming commune was strictly preparatory for the revolution. Farming was just a cover for them until the time came for them to take up arms. That was their unshakable stance.
On the other side was the moderate faction. As the majority, they shared the militant factions opposition to capitalism, but they kept some distance from politics, instead preferring the creation of a self-sufficient communal life in nature. Insofar as farming was concerned, each faction shared the same goals, but whenever it became necessary to make decisions regarding operational policy of the commune as a whole, their opinions split. Often they could find no room for rapprochement, and this would give rise to violent arguments. The breakup of the commune was just a matter of time.
Maintaining a neutral stance became increasingly difficult with each passing day. Eventually, Fukada found himself trapped between the two factions. He was generally aware that 1970s Japan was not the place or time for mounting a revolution. What he had always had in mind was the potential of a revolutionrevolution as a metaphor or hypothesis. He believed that exercising that kind of antiestablishment, subversive will was indispensable for a healthy society. But his students wanted a real revolution with real bloodshed. Of course Fukada bore some responsibility for this. He was the one who had planted such baseless myths in their heads. But he never told them that his revolution had quotation marks around it.
And so the two factions of the Sakigake commune parted ways. The moderate faction continued to call itself Sakigake and remained in the original village, while the militant faction moved to a different, abandoned village a few miles away and made it the base of their revolutionary movement. The Fukada family remained in Sakigake with all the other families. The split was a friendly one. It appears that Fukada obtained the funds for the new commune from his usual unspecified source. Even after their separation, the two farms maintained a cooperative relationship. They traded necessary materials and, for economic reasons, used the same distribution routes for their products. The two small communities had to help each other if they were to survive.
One thing did change, however, shortly after the split: the effective cessation of visits between the old Sakigake members and the new commune. Only Fukada himself continued to correspond with his former radical students. Fukada felt a strong sense of responsibility for them, as the one who had originally organized and led them into the mountains of Yamanashi. In addition, the new commune needed the secret funds that Fukada controlled.
Fukada was probably in a kind of schizoid state by then, the Professor said. He no longer believed with his whole heart in the possibility or the romance of the revolution. Neither, however, could he completely disavow it. To do so would mean disavowing his life and confessing his mistakes for all to see. This was something he could not do. He had too much pride, and he worried about the confusion that would surely arise among his students as a result. At that stage, he still wielded a certain degree of control over them.
This is how he found himself living a life that had him running back and forth between Sakigake and the new commune. He took upon himself the simultaneous duties of leader of one and adviser to the other. So a person who no longer truly believed in the revolution continued to preach revolutionary theory. The members of the new commune carried on with their farm work while they submitted to the harsh discipline of military training and ideological indoctrination. And politically, in contrast to Fukada, they became increasingly radicalized. They adopted a policy of obsessive secrecy, and they no longer allowed outsiders to enter. Aware of their calls for armed revolution, the security police identified them as a group that needed to be watched and placed them under surveillance, though not at a high level of alert.
The Professor stared at his knees again, and then looked up.
Sakigake split in two in 1976, he went on. Eri escaped from Sakigake and came to live with us the following year. Around that time the new commune began calling itself Akebono.
Tengo looked up and narrowed his eyes. Wait a minute, he said. Akebono. Im absolutely certain Ive heard that name, too. But the memory was vague and incoherent. All he could grab hold of were a few fragmentary, fact-like details. This Akebono didnt they cause some kind of big incident a while ago?
Exactly, Professor Ebisuno said, looking at Tengo more intently than he had until now. Were talking about the famous Akebono, of course, the ones who staged the gun battle with the police in the mountains near Lake Motosu.
Gun battle, Tengo thought. I remember hearing about that. It was big news. I cant remember the details, though, for some reason, and Im confused about the sequence of events. When he strained to recall more, he experienced a wrenching sensation through his whole body, as though his top and bottom halves were being twisted in opposite directions. He felt a dull throbbing deep in his head, and the air around him suddenly went thin. Sounds became muffled as though he were underwater. He was probably about to have an attack.
Is something wrong? the Professor asked with obvious concern. His voice seemed to be coming from a very great distance.
Tengo shook his head and in a strained voice said, Im fine. Itll go away soon.

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11-13-2011, 08:04 PM   #12

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 11

Aomame

THE HUMAN BODY IS A TEMPLE


The number of people who could deliver a kick to the balls with Aomames mastery must have been few indeed. She had studied kick patterns with great diligence and never missed her daily practice. In kicking the balls, the most important thing was never to hesitate. One had to deliver a lightning attack to the adversarys weakest point and do so mercilessly and with the utmost ferocityjust as when Hitler easily brought down France by striking at the weak point of the Maginot Line. One must not hesitate. A moment of indecision could be fatal.
Generally speaking, there was no other way for a woman to take down a bigger, stronger man one-on-one. This was Aomames unshakable belief. That part of the body was the weakest point attached toor, rather, hanging fromthe creature known as man, and most of the time, it was not effectively defended. Not to take advantage of that fact was out of the question.
As a woman, Aomame had no concrete idea how much it hurt to suffer a hard kick in the balls, though judging from the reactions and facial expressions of men she had kicked, she could at least imagine it. Not even the strongest or toughest man, it seemed, could bear the pain and the major loss of self-respect that accompanied it.
It hurts so much you think the end of the world is coming right now. I dont know how else to put it. Its different from ordinary pain, said a man, after careful consideration, when Aomame asked him to explain it to her.
Aomame gave some thought to his analogy. The end of the world?
Conversely, then, she said, would you say that when the end of the world is coming right now, it feels like a hard kick in the balls?
Never having experienced the end of the world, I cant be sure, but that might be right, the man said, glaring at a point in space with unfocused eyes. Theres just this deep sense of powerlessness. Dark, suffocating, helpless.
Sometime after that, Aomame happened to see the movie On the Beach on late-night television. It was an American movie made around 1960. Total war broke out between the U.S. and the USSR and a huge number of missiles were launched between the continents like schools of flying fish. The earth was annihilated, and humanity was wiped out in almost every part of the world. Thanks to the prevailing winds or something, however, the ashes of death still hadnt reached Australia in the Southern Hemisphere, though it was just a matter of time. The extinction of the human race was simply unavoidable. The surviving human beings there could do nothing but wait for the end to come. They chose different ways to live out their final days. That was the plot. It was a dark movie offering no hope of salvation. (Though, watching it, Aomame reconfirmed her belief that everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.)
In any case, watching the movie in the middle of the night, alone, Aomame felt satisfied that she now had at least some idea of what it felt like to be kicked in the balls.
After graduating from a college of physical education, Aomame spent four years working for a company that manufactured sports drinks and health food. She was a key member of the companys womens softball team (ace pitcher, cleanup batter). The team did fairly well and several times reached the quarterfinals of the national championship playoffs. A month after Tamaki Otsuka died, though, Aomame resigned from the company and marked the end of her softball career. Any desire she might have had to continue with the game had vanished, and she felt a need to start her life anew. With the help of an older friend from college, she found a job as an instructor at a sports club in Tokyos swank Hiroo District.
Aomame was primarily in charge of classes in muscle training and martial arts. It was a well-known, exclusive club with high membership fees and dues, and many of its members were celebrities. Aomame established several classes in her best area, womens self-defense techniques. She made a large canvas dummy in the shape of a man, sewed a black work glove in the groin area to serve as testicles, and gave female club members thorough training in how to kick in that spot. In the interest of realism, she stuffed two squash balls into the glove. The women were to kick this target swiftly, mercilessly, and repeatedly. Many of them took special pleasure in this training, and their skill improved markedly, but other members (mostly men, of course) viewed the spectacle with a frown and complained to the clubs management that she was going overboard. As a result, Aomame was called in and instructed to rein in the ball-kicking practice.
Realistically speaking, though, she protested, its impossible for women to protect themselves against men without resorting to a kick in the testicles. Most men are bigger and stronger than women. A swift testicle attack is a womans only chance. Mao Zedong said it best. You find your opponents weak point and make the first move with a concentrated attack. Its the only chance a guerrilla force has of defeating a regular army.
The manager did not take well to her passionate defense. You know perfectly well that were one of the few truly exclusive clubs in the metropolitan area, he said with a frown. Most of our members are celebrities. We have to preserve our dignity in all aspects of our operations. Image is crucial. I dont care what the reason is for these drills of yours, its less than dignified to have a gang of nubile women kicking a doll in the crotch and screeching their heads off. Weve already had at least one case of a potential member touring the club and withdrawing his application after he happened to see your class in action. I dont care what Mao Zedong saidor Genghis Khan, for that matter: a spectacle like that is going to make most men feel anxious and annoyed and upset.
Aomame felt not the slightest regret at having caused male club members to feel anxious and annoyed and upset. Such unpleasant feelings were nothing compared with the pain experienced by a victim of forcible rape. She could not defy her superiors orders, however, and so her self-defense classes had to lower the level of their aggressiveness. She was also forbidden to use the doll. As a result, her drills became much more lukewarm and formal. Aomame herself was hardly pleased by this, and several members raised objections, but as an employee, there was nothing she could do.
It was Aomames opinion that, if she were unable to deliver an effective kick to the balls when forcefully attacked by a man, there would be very little else left for her to try. In the actual heat of combat, it was virtually impossible to perform such high-level techniques as grabbing your opponents arm and twisting it behind his back. That only happened in the movies. Rather than attempting such a feat, a woman would be far better off running away without trying to fight.
In any case, Aomame had mastered at least ten separate techniques for kicking men in the balls. She had even gone so far as to have several younger men she knew from college put on protective cups and let her practice on them. Your kicks really hurt, even with the cup on, one of them had screamed in pain. No more, please! If the need arose, she knew, she would never hesitate to apply her sophisticated techniques in actual combat. If theres any guy crazy enough to attack me, Im going to show him the end of the worldclose up. Im going to let him see the kingdom come with his own eyes. Im going to send him straight to the Southern Hemisphere and let the ashes of death rain all over him and the kangaroos and the wallabies.
. . .

As she pondered the coming of the kingdom, Aomame sat at the bar taking little sips of her Tom Collins. She would glance at her wristwatch every now and then, pretending that she was here to meet someone, but in fact she had made no such arrangement. She was simply keeping an eye out for a suitable man among the bars arriving patrons. Her watch said eight thirty. She wore a pale blue blouse beneath a dark brown Calvin Klein jacket and a navy-blue miniskirt. Her handmade ice pick was not with her today. It was resting peacefully, wrapped in a towel in her dresser drawer at home.
This was a well-known singles bar in the Roppongi entertainment district. Single men came here on the prowl for single womenor vice versa. A lot of them were foreigners. The bar was meant to look like a place where Hemingway might have hung out in the Bahamas. A stuffed swordfish hung on the wall, and fishing nets dangled from the ceiling. There were lots of photographs of people posing with giant fish they had caught, and there was a portrait of Hemingway. Happy Papa Hemingway. The people who came here were apparently not concerned that the author later suffered from alcoholism and killed himself with a hunting rifle.
Several men approached Aomame that evening, but none she liked. A pair of typically footloose college students invited her to join them, but she couldnt be bothered to respond. To a thirtyish company employee with creepy eyes she said she was here to meet someone and turned him down flat. She just didnt like young men. They were so aggressive and self-confident, but they had nothing to talk about, and whatever they had to say was boring. In bed, they went at it like animals and had no clue about the true enjoyment of sex. She liked those slightly tired middle-aged men, preferably in the early stages of baldness. They should be clean and free of any hint of vulgarity. And they had to have well-shaped heads. Such men were not easy to find, which meant that she had to be willing to compromise.
Scanning the room, Aomame released a silent sigh. Why were there so damn few suitable men around? She thought about Sean Connery. Just imagining the shape of his head, she felt a dull throbbing deep inside. If Sean Connery were to suddenly pop up here, I would do anything to make him mine. Of course, theres no way in hell that Sean Connery is going to show his face in a Roppongi fake Bahamas singles bar.
On the bars big wall television, Queen was performing. Aomame didnt much like Queens music. She tried her best not to look in that direction. She also tried hard not to listen to the music coming from the speakers. After the Queen video ended, ABBA came on. Oh, no. Something tells me this is going to be an awful night.
. . .

Aomame had met the dowager of Willow House at the sports club where she worked. The woman was enrolled in Aomames self-defense class, the short-lived radical one that emphasized attacking the doll. She was a small woman, the oldest member of the class, but her movements were light and her kicks sharp. In a tight situation, Im sure she could kick her opponent in the balls without the slightest hesitation. She never speaks more than necessary, and when she does speak she never beats around the bush. Aomame liked that about her. At my age, theres no special need for self-defense, the woman said to Aomame with a dignified smile after class.
Age has nothing to do with it, Aomame snapped back. Its a question of how you live your life. The important thing is to adopt a stance of always being deadly serious about protecting yourself. You cant go anywhere if you just resign yourself to being attacked. A state of chronic powerlessness eats away at a person.
The dowager said nothing for a while, looking Aomame in the eye. Either Aomames words or her tone of voice seemed to have made a strong impression on her. She nodded gravely. Youre right. You are absolutely right, she said. You have obviously done some solid thinking about this.
A few days later, Aomame received an envelope. It had been left at the clubs front desk for her. Inside Aomame found a short, beautifully penned note containing the dowagers address and telephone number. I know you must be very busy, it said, but I would appreciate hearing from you sometime when you are free.
A man answered the phonea secretary, it seemed. When Aomame gave her name, he switched her to an extension without a word. The dowager came on the line and thanked her for calling. If its not too much bother, Id like to invite you out for a meal, she said. Id like to have a nice, long talk with you, just the two of us.
With pleasure, Aomame said.
How would tomorrow night be for you?
Aomame had no problem with that, but she had to wonder what this elegant older woman could possibly want to speak about with someone like her.
The two had dinner at a French restaurant in a quiet section of Azabu. The dowager had been coming here for a long time, it seemed. They showed her to one of the better tables in the back, and she apparently knew the aging waiter who provided them with attentive service. She wore a beautifully cut dress of unfigured pale green cloth (perhaps a 1960s Givenchy) and a jade necklace. Midway through the meal, the manager appeared and offered her his respectful greetings. Vegetarian cuisine occupied much of the menu, and the flavors were elegant and simple. By coincidence, the soup of the day was green pea soup, as if in honor of Aomame. The dowager had a glass of Chablis, and Aomame kept her company. The wine was just as elegant and simple as the food. Aomame ordered a grilled cut of white fish. The dowager took only vegetables. Her manner of eating the vegetables was beautiful, like a work of art. When you get to be my age, you can stay alive eating very little, she said. Of the finest food possible, she added, half in jest.
She wanted Aomame to become her personal trainer, instructing her in martial arts at her home two or three days a week. Also, if possible, she wanted Aomame to help her with muscle stretching.
Of course I can do that, Aomame said, but Ill have to ask you to arrange for the personal training away from the gym through the clubs front desk.
Thats fine, the dowager said, but lets make scheduling arrangements directly. There is bound to be confusion if other people get involved. Id like to avoid that. Would that be all right with you?
Perfectly all right.
Then lets start next week, the dowager said.
This was all it took to conclude their business.
The dowager said, I was tremendously struck by what you said at the gym the other day. About powerlessness. About how powerlessness inflicts such damage on people. Do you remember?
Aomame nodded. I do.
Do you mind if I ask you a question? It will be a very direct question. To save time.
Ask whatever you like, Aomame said.
Are you a feminist, or a lesbian?
Aomame blushed slightly and shook her head. I dont think so. My thoughts on such matters are strictly my own. Im not a doctrinaire feminist, and Im not a lesbian.
Thats good, the dowager said. As if relieved, she elegantly lifted a forkful of broccoli to her mouth, elegantly chewed it, and took one small sip of wine. Then she said, Even if you were a feminist or a lesbian, it wouldnt bother me in the least. It wouldnt influence anything. But, if I may say so, your not being either will make it easier for us to communicate. Do you see what Im trying to say?
I do, Aomame said.
Aomame went to the dowagers compound twice a week to guide her in martial arts. The dowager had a large, mirrored practice space built years earlier for her little daughters ballet lessons, and it was there that she and Aomame did their carefully ordered exercises. For someone her age, the dowager was very flexible, and she progressed rapidly. Hers was a small body, but one that had been well cared for over the years. Aomame also taught her the basics of systematic stretching, and gave her massages to loosen her muscles.
Aomame was especially skilled at deep tissue massage. She had earned better grades in that field than anyone else at the college of physical education. The names of all the bones and all the muscles of the human body were engraved in her brain. She knew the function and characteristics of each muscle, both how to tone it and how to keep it toned. It was Aomames firm belief that the human body was a temple, to be kept as strong and beautiful and clean as possible, whatever one might enshrine there.
Not content with ordinary sports medicine, Aomame learned acupuncture techniques as a matter of personal interest, taking formal training for several years from a Chinese doctor. Impressed with her rapid progress, the doctor told her that she had more than enough skill to be a professional. She was a quick learner, with an unquenchable thirst for detailed knowledge regarding the bodys functions. But more than anything, she had fingertips that were endowed with an almost frightening sixth sense. Just as certain people possess perfect pitch or the ability to find underground water veins, Aomames fingertips could instantly discern the subtle points on the body that influenced its functionality. This was nothing that anyone had taught her. It came to her naturally.
Before long, Aomame and the dowager would follow up their training and massage sessions with a leisurely chat over a cup of tea. Tamaru would always bring the tea utensils on the silver tray. He never spoke a word in Aomames presence during the first month, until Aomame felt compelled to ask the dowager if by any chance Tamaru was incapable of speaking.
One time, the dowager asked Aomame if she had ever used her testicle-kicking technique in actual self-defense.
Just once, Aomame answered.
Did it work? the dowager asked.
It had the intended effect, Aomame answered, cautiously and concisely.
Do you think it would work on Tamaru?
Aomame shook her head. Probably not. He knows about things like that. If the other person has the ability to read your movements, theres nothing you can do. The testicle kick only works with amateurs who have no actual fighting experience.
In other words, you recognize that Tamaru is no amateur.
How should I put it? Aomame paused. He has a special presence. Hes not an ordinary person.
The dowager added cream to her tea and stirred it slowly.
So the man you kicked that time was an amateur, I assume. A big man?
Aomame nodded but did not say anything. The man had been well built and strong-looking. But he was arrogant, and he had let his guard down with a mere woman. He had never had the experience of being kicked in the balls by a woman, and never imagined such a thing would ever happen to him.
Did he end up with any wounds? the dowager asked.
No, no wounds, Aomame said. He was just in intense pain for a while.
The dowager remained silent for a moment. Then she asked, Have you ever attacked a man before? Not just causing him pain but intentionally wounding him?
I have, Aomame replied. Lying was not a specialty of hers.
Can you talk about it?
Aomame shook her head almost imperceptibly. Im sorry, but its not something I can talk about easily.
Of course not, the dowager said. Thats fine. Theres no need to force yourself.
The two drank their tea in silence, each with her own thoughts.
Finally, the dowager spoke. But sometime, when you feel like talking about it, do you think I might be able to have you tell me what happened back then?
Aomame said, I might be able to tell you sometime. Or I might not, ever. I honestly dont know, myself.
The dowager looked at Aomame for a while. Then she said, Im not asking out of mere curiosity.
Aomame kept silent.
As I see it, you are living with something that you keep hidden deep inside. Something heavy. I felt it from the first time I met you. You have a strong gaze, as if you have made up your mind about something. To tell you the truth, I myself carry such things around inside. Heavy things. That is how I can see it in you. There is no need to hurry, but you will be better off, at some point in time, if you bring it outside yourself. I am nothing if not discreet, and I have several realistic measures at my disposal. If all goes well, I could be of help to you.
Later, when Aomame finally opened up to the dowager, she would also open a new door in her life.
Hey, what are you drinking? someone asked near Aomames ear. The voice belonged to a woman.
Aomame raised her head and looked at the speaker. A young woman with a fifties-style ponytail was sitting on the neighboring barstool. Her dress had a tiny flower pattern, and a small Gucci bag hung from her shoulder. Her nails were carefully manicured in pale pink. By no means fat, the woman was round everywhere, including her face, which radiated a truly friendly warmth, and she had big breasts.
Aomame was somewhat taken aback. She had not been expecting to be approached by a woman. This was a bar for men to approach women.
Tom Collins, Aomame said.
Is it good?
Not especially. But its not that strong, and I can sip it.
I wonder why they call it Tom Collins.
I have no idea, Aomame said. Maybe its the name of the guy who invented it. Not that its such an amazing invention.
The woman waved to the bartender and said, Ill have a Tom Collins too. A few moments later, she had her drink.
Mind if I sit here? she asked.
Not at all. Its an empty seat. And youre already sitting in it, Aomame thought without speaking the words.
You dont have a date to meet anybody here, do you? the woman asked.
Instead of answering, Aomame studied the womans face. She guessed the woman was three or four years younger than herself.
Dont worry, Im not interested in that, the woman whispered, as if sharing a secret. If thats what youre worried about. I prefer men, too. Like you.
Like me?
Well, isnt that why you came here, to find a guy?
Do I look like that?
The woman narrowed her eyes somewhat. That much is obvious. Its what this place is for. And Im guessing that neither of us is a pro.
Of course not, Aomame said.
Hey, heres an idea. Why dont we team up? Its probably easier for a man to approach two women than one. And we can relax more and sort of feel safer if were together instead of alone. We look so different, tooIm more the womanly type, and you have that trim, boyish styleIm sure were a good match.
Boyish, Aomame thought. Thats the first time anyones ever called me that. Our taste in men might be different, though, she said. Hows that supposed to work if were a team?
The woman pursed her lips in thought. True, now that you mention it. Taste in men, huh? Hmm. What kind do you like?
Middle-aged if possible, Aomame said. Im not that into young guys. I like em when theyre just starting to lose their hair.
Wow. I get it. Middle-aged, huh? I like em young and lively and good-looking. Im not much interested in middle-aged guys, but Im willing to go along with you and give it a try. Its all experience. Are middle-aged guys good? At sex, I mean.
It depends on the guy, Aomame said.
Of course, the woman replied. Then she narrowed her eyes, as if verifying some kind of theory. You cant generalize about sex, of course, but if you were to say overall
Theyre not bad. They eventually run out of steam, but while theyre at it they take their time. They dont rush it. When theyre good, they can make you come a lot.
The woman gave this some thought. Hmm, I may be getting interested. Maybe Ill try that out.
You should!
Say, have you ever tried four-way sex? You switch partners at some point.
Never.
I havent, either. Interested?
Probably not, Aomame said. Uh, I dont mind teaming up, but if were going to do stuff together, even temporarily, can you tell me a little more about yourself? Because we could be on completely different wavelengths.
Good idea, she said. So, what do you want to know about me?
Well, for one thing, what kind of work do you do?
The woman took a drink of her Tom Collins and set it down on the coaster. Then she dabbed at her lips with a paper napkin. Then she examined the lipstick stains on the napkin.
This is a pretty good drink, she said. It has a gin base, right?
Gin and lemon juice and soda water.
True, its no great invention, but it tastes pretty good.
Im glad.
So, then, what kind of work do I do? Thats kind of tough. Even if I tell you the truth, you might not believe me.
So Ill go first, Aomame said. Im an instructor at a sports club. I mostly teach martial arts. Also muscle stretching.
Martial arts! the woman exclaimed. Like Bruce Lee kind of stuff?
Kind of.
Are you good at it?
Okay.
The woman smiled and raised her glass as if in a toast. So, in a pinch, we might be an unbeatable team. I might not look it, but Ive been doing aikido for years. To tell you the truth, Im a policewoman.
A policewoman?! Aomames mouth dropped open, but no further words emerged from it.
Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. I dont look the part, do I?
Certainly not, Aomame said.
Its true, though. Absolutely. My name is Ayumi.
Im Aomame.
Aomame. Is that your real name?
Aomame gave her a solemn nod. A policewoman? You mean you wear a uniform and carry a gun and ride in a police car and patrol the streets?
Thats what Id like to be doing. Its what I joined the police force to do. But they wont let me, Ayumi said. She took a handful of pretzels from a nearby bowl and started munching them noisily. I wear a ridiculous uniform, ride around in one of those mini patrol carsbasically, a motor scooterand give parking tickets all day. They wont let me carry a pistol, of course. Theres no need to fire warning shots at a local citizen whos parked his Toyota Corolla in front of a fire hydrant. I got great marks at shooting practice, but nobody gives a damn about that. Just because Im a woman, theyve got me going around with a piece of chalk on a stick, writing the time and license plate numbers on the asphalt day after day
Speaking of pistols, do you fire a Beretta semiautomatic?
Sure. Theyre all Berettas now. Theyre a little too heavy for me. Fully loaded, they probably weigh close to a kilogram.
The body of a Beretta alone weighs 850 grams, Aomame said.
Ayumi looked at Aomame like a pawnbroker assessing a wristwatch. How do you know something like that? she asked.
Ive always had an interest in guns, Aomame said. Of course, Ive never actually fired one.
Oh, really? Ayumi seemed convinced. Im really into shooting pistols. True, a Beretta is heavy, but it has less of a recoil than the older guns, so even a small woman can handle one with enough practice. The top guys dont believe it, though. Theyre convinced that a woman cant handle a pistol. All the higher-ups in the department are male chauvinist fascists. I had super grades in nightstick techniques, too, at least as good as most of the men, but I got no recognition at all. The only thing I ever heard from them was filthy double entendres. Say, you really know how to grab that nightstick. Let me know any time you want some extra practice. Stuff like that. Their brains are like a century and a half behind the times.
Ayumi took a pack of Virginia Slims from her shoulder bag, and with practiced movements eased a cigarette from the pack, put it between her lips, lit it with a slim gold lighter, and slowly exhaled the smoke toward the ceiling.
Whatever gave you the idea of becoming a police officer? Aomame asked.
I never intended to, Ayumi replied. But I didnt want to do ordinary office work, and I didnt have any professional skills. That really limited my options. So in my senior year of college I took the Metropolitan Police employment exam. A lot of my relatives were copsmy father, my brother, one of my uncles. The police are a kind of nepotistic society, so its easier to get hired if youre related to a policeman.
The police family
Exactly. Until I actually got into it, though, I had no idea how rife the place was with gender discrimination. Female officers are more or less second-class citizens in the police world. The only jobs they give you to do are handling traffic violations, shuffling papers at a desk, teaching safety education at elementary schools, or patting down female suspects: boooring! Meanwhile, guys who clearly have less ability than me are sent out to one interesting crime scene after another. The higher-ups talk about equal opportunity for the sexes, but its all a front, it just doesnt work that way. It kills your desire to do a good job. You know what I mean?
Aomame said she understood.
It makes me so mad!
Dont you have a boyfriend or something? Aomame asked.
Ayumi frowned. For a while, she glared at the slim cigarette between her fingers. Its nearly impossible for a policewoman to have a boyfriend. You work irregular hours, so its hard to coordinate times with anyone who works a normal business week. And even if things do start to work out, the minute an ordinary guy hears youre a cop, he just scoots away like a crab running from the surf. Its awful, dont you think?
Aomame said that she did think it was awful.
Which leaves a workplace romance as the only possibilityexcept there arent any decent men there. Theyre all brain-dead jerks who can only tell dirty jokes. Theyre either born stupid or they think of nothing else but their advancement. And these are the guys responsible for the safety of society! Japan does not have a bright future.
Somebody as cute as you should be popular with the men, I would think, Aomame said.
Well, Im not exactly unpopularas long as I dont reveal my profession. So in places like this I just tell them I work for an insurance company.
Do you come here often?
Not often. Once in a while, Ayumi said. After a moments reflection, she said, as if revealing a secret, Every now and then, I start craving sex. To put it bluntly, I want a man. You know, more or less periodically. So then I get all dolled up, put on fancy underwear, and come here. I find a suitable guy and we do it all night. That calms me down for a while. Ive just got a healthy sex driveIm not a nympho or sex addict or anything, Im okay once I work off the desire. It doesnt last. The next day Im hard at work again, handing out parking tickets. How about you?
Aomame picked up her Tom Collins glass and took a sip. About the same, I guess.
No boyfriend?
I made up my mind not to have a boyfriend. I dont want the bother.
Having one man is a bother?
Pretty much.
But sometimes I want to do it so bad I cant stand it, Ayumi said.
That expression you used a minute ago, Work off the desire, is more my speed.
How about Have an opulent evening?
Thats not bad, either, Aomame said.
In any case, it should be a one-night stand, without any follow-up.
Aomame nodded.
Elbow on the bar, Ayumi propped her chin on her hand and thought about this for a while. We might have a lot in common, she said.
Maybe so, Aomame agreed. Except youre a female cop and I kill people. Were inside and outside the law. I bet that counts as one big difference.
Lets play it this way, Ayumi said. We both work for the same casualty insurance company, but the name of the company is a secret. Youre a couple years ahead of me. There was some unpleasantness in the office today, so we came here to drown our sorrows, and now were feeling pretty good. Hows that for our situation?
Fine, except I dont know a thing about casualty insurance.
Leave that to me. Im good at making up stories.
Its all yours, then, Aomame said.
Now, it just so happens that two sort-of-middle-aged guys are sitting at the table right behind us, and theyve been looking around with hungry eyes. Can you check em out without being obvious about it?
Aomame glanced back casually as instructed. A tables width away from the bar stood a table with two middle-aged men. Both wore a suit and tie, and both looked like typical company employees out for a drink after a hard days work. Their suits were not rumpled, and their ties were not in bad taste. Neither man appeared unclean, at least. One was probably just around forty, and the other not yet forty. The older one was thin with an oval face and a receding hairline. The younger one had the look of a former college rugby player who had recently started to put on weight from lack of exercise. His face still retained a certain youthfulness, but he was beginning to grow thick around the chin. They were chatting pleasantly over whiskey-and-waters, but their eyes were very definitely searching the room.
Ayumi began to analyze them. Id say theyre not used to places like this. Theyre here looking for a good time, but they dont know how to approach girls. Theyre probably both married. They have a kind of guilty look about them.
Aomame was impressed with Ayumis precise powers of observation. She must have taken all this in quite unnoticed while chatting away with Aomame. Maybe it was worth being a member of the police family.
The one with the thinning hair is more to your taste, isnt he? Ayumi asked. Ill take the stocky one, okay?
Aomame glanced backward again. The head shape of the thin-haired one was more or less acceptablelight-years away from Sean Connery, but worth a passing grade. She couldnt ask too much on a night like this, with nothing but Queen and ABBA to listen to all evening.
Thats fine with me, Aomame said, but how are you going to get them to invite us to join them?
Not by waiting for the sun to come up, thats for sure! We crash their party, all smiles.
Are you serious?
Of course I am! Just leave it to meIll go over and start up a conversation. You wait here. Ayumi took a healthy swig of her Tom Collins and rubbed her palms together. Then she slung her Gucci bag over her shoulder and put on a brilliant smile.
Okay, time for a little nightstick practice.

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11-13-2011, 08:05 PM   #13

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 12

Tengo

THY KINGDOM COME


The Professor turned to Fuka-Eri and said, Sorry to bother you, Eri, but could you make us some tea?
The girl stood up and left the reception room. The door closed quietly behind her. The Professor waited, saying nothing, while Tengo, seated on the sofa, brought his breathing under control and regained a normal state of consciousness. The Professor removed his black-framed glasses and, after wiping them with a not-very-clean-looking handkerchief, put them back on. Beyond the window, some kind of small, black thing shot across the sky. A bird, possibly. Or it might have been someones soul being blown to the far side of the world.
Im sorry, Tengo said. Im all right now. Just fine. Please go on with what you were saying.
The Professor nodded and began to speak. There was nothing left of Akebono after that violent gun battle. That happened in 1981, three years agofour years after Eri came here to live. But the Akebono problem has nothing to do with what Im telling you now.
Eri was ten years old when she started living with us. She just showed up on our doorstep one day without warning, utterly changed from the Eri I had known until then. True, she had never been very talkative, and she would not open up to strangers, but she had always been fond of me and talked freely with me even as a toddler. When she first showed up here, though, she was in no condition to talk to anybody. She seemed to have lost the power to speak at all. The most she could do was nod or shake her head when we asked her questions.
The Professor was speaking more clearly and rapidly now. Tengo sensed that he was trying to move his story ahead while Fuka-Eri was out of the room.
We could see that Eri had had a terrible time finding her way to us up here in the mountains. She was carrying some cash and a sheet of paper with our address written on it, but she had grown up in those isolated surroundings and she couldnt really speak. Even so, she had managed, with the memo in hand, to make all the necessary transfers and find her way to our doorstep.
We could see immediately that something awful had happened to her. Azami and the woman who helps me out here took care of her. After Eri had been with us a few days and calmed down somewhat, I called the Sakigake commune and asked to speak with Fukada, but I was told that he was unable to come to the phone. I asked what the reason for that might be, but couldnt get them to tell me. So then I asked to speak to Mrs. Fukada and was told that she couldnt come to the phone either. I couldnt speak with either of them.
Did you tell the person on the phone that you had Eri with you?
The Professor shook his head. No, I had a feeling Id better keep quiet about that as long as I couldnt tell Fukada directly. Of course after that I tried to get in touch with him any number of times, using every means at my disposal, but nothing worked.
Tengo knit his brow. You mean to say you havent been able to contact her parents even once in seven years?
The Professor nodded. Not once. Seven years without a word.
And her parents never once tried to find their daughters whereabouts in seven years?
I know, its absolutely baffling. The Fukadas loved and treasured Eri more than anything. And if Eri was going to go to someone for help, this was the only possible place. Both Fukada and his wife had cut their ties with their families, and Eri grew up without knowing either set of grandparents. Were the only people she could come to. Her parents had even told her this is where she should come if anything ever happened to them. In spite of that, I havent heard a word. Its unthinkable.
Tengo asked, Didnt you say before that Sakigake was an open commune?
I did indeed. Sakigake had functioned consistently as an open commune since its founding, but shortly before Eri escaped it had begun moving gradually toward a policy of confinement from the outside. I first became aware of this when I started hearing less frequently from Fukada. He had always been a faithful correspondent, sending me long letters about goings-on in the commune or his current thoughts and feelings. At some point they just stopped coming, and my letters were never answered. I tried calling, but they would never put him on the phone. And the few times they did, we had only the briefest, most limited conversations. Fukadas remarks were brusque, as if he was aware that someone was listening to us.
The Professor clasped his hands on his knees.
I went out to Sakigake a few times myself. I needed to talk to Fukada about Eri, and since neither letters nor phone calls worked, the only thing left for me to do was to go directly to the place. But they wouldnt let me into the compound. Far from itthey chased me away from the gate. Nothing I said had any effect on them. By then they had built a high fence around the entire compound, and all outsiders were sent packing.
There was no way to tell from the outside what was happening in the commune. If it were Akebono, I could see the need for secrecy. They were aiming for armed revolution, and they had a lot to hide. But Sakigake was peacefully running an organic farm, and they had always adopted a consistently friendly posture toward the outside world, which was why the locals liked them. But the place had since become an absolute fortress. The attitude and even the facial expressions of the people inside had totally changed. The local people were just as stymied as I was by the change in Sakigake. I was worried sick that something terrible had happened to Fukada and his wife, but all I could do was take Eri under my wing. Since then, seven years have gone by, with the situation as murky as ever.
You mean, you dont even know if Fukada is alive? Tengo asked.
Not even that much, the Professor said with a nod. I have no way of knowing. Id rather not think the worst, but I havent heard a word from Fukada in seven years. Under ordinary circumstances, that would be unthinkable. I can only imagine that something has happened to them. He lowered his voice. Maybe theyre being held in there against their will. Or possibly its even worse than that.
Even worse?
Im saying that not even the worst possibility can be excluded. Sakigake is no longer a peaceful farming community.
Do you think the Sakigake group has started to move in a dangerous direction?
I do. The locals tell me that the number of people going in and out of there is much larger than it used to be. Cars are constantly coming and going, most of them with Tokyo license plates, and a lot of them are big luxury sedans you dont often see in the country. The number of people in the commune has also suddenly increased, it seems. So has the number of buildings and facilities, too, all fully equipped. Theyre increasingly aggressive about buying up the surrounding land at low prices, and bringing in tractors and excavation equipment and concrete mixers and such. They still do farming, which is probably their most important source of income. The Sakigake brand of vegetables is better known than ever, and the commune is shipping them directly to restaurants that capitalize on their use of natural ingredients. They also have contractual agreements with high-quality supermarkets. Their profits must have been rising all the while, but in parallel with that, they have apparently also been making steady progress in something other than farming. Its inconceivable that sales of produce are the only thing financing the large-scale expansion they have been undergoing. Whatever this other thing theyre developing may be, their absolute secrecy has given the local people the impression that it must be something they cant reveal to the general public.
Does this mean theyve started some kind of political activity again? Tengo asked.
I doubt it, the Professor answered without hesitation. Sakigake always moved on a separate axis from the political realm. It was for that very reason that at one point they had to let the Akebono group go.
Yes, but after that, something happened inside Sakigake that made it necessary for Eri to escape.
Something did happen, the Professor said. Something of great significance. Something that made her leave her parents behind and run away by herself. But she has never said a word about it.
Maybe she cant put it into words because it was too great a shock, or it somehow scarred her for life.
No, shes never had that air about her, that she had experienced a great shock or that she was afraid of something or that she was uneasy being alone and separated from her parents. Shes just impassive. Still, she adapted to living here without a problemalmost too easily.
The Professor glanced toward the door and then returned his gaze to Tengo.
Whatever happened to Eri, I didnt want to pry it out of her. I felt that what she needed was time. So I didnt question her. I pretended I wasnt concerned about her silence. She was always with Azami. After Azami came home from school, they would rush through dinner and shut themselves up in their room. What they would do in there, I have no idea. Maybe they found a way to converse when they were alone together. I just let them do as they pleased, without intruding. Aside from Eris not speaking, her living with us presented no problem. She was a bright child, and she did what she was told. She and Azami were inseparable. Back then, though, Eri couldnt go to school. She couldnt speak a word. I couldnt very well send her to school that way.
Was it just you and Azami before that?
My wife died about ten years ago, the Professor said, pausing for a moment. She was killed in a car crash. Instantly. A rear-ender. The two of us were left alone. We have a distant relative, a woman, who lives nearby and helps us run the house. She also looks after both girls. Losing my wife like that was terrible, for Azami and for me. It happened so quickly, we had no way to prepare ourselves. So whatever brought Eri to us, we were glad to have her. Even if we couldnt hold a conversation with her, just having her in the house was strangely calming to both of us. Over these seven years, Eri has, though very slowly, regained the use of words. To other people, she may sound odd or abnormal, but we can see she has made remarkable progress.
Does she go to school now? Tengo asked.
No, not really. Shes officially registered, but thats all. Realistically speaking, it was impossible for her to keep up with school. I gave her individual instruction in my spare time, and so did students of mine who came to the house. What she got was very fragmentary, of course, nothing you could call a systematic education. She couldnt read books on her own, so we would read out loud to her whenever we could, and I would give her books on tape. That is about the sum total of the education she has received. But shes a startlingly bright girl. Once she has made up her mind to learn something, she can absorb it very quickly, deeply, and effectively. Her abilities on that score are amazing. But if something doesnt interest her, she wont look at it twice. The difference is huge.
The reception room door was still not opening. It was taking quite a bit of time for Eri to boil water and make tea.
Tengo said, I gather Eri dictated the story Air Chrysalis to Azami. Is that correct?
As I said before, Eri and Azami would always shut themselves in their room at night, and I didnt know what they were doing. They had their secrets. It does seem, however, that at some point, Eris storytelling became a major part of their communication. Azami would take notes or record Eris story and then type it into the computer in my study. Eri has gradually been recovering her ability to experience emotion since then, I think. Her apathy was like a membrane that covered everything, but that has been fading. Some degree of expression has returned to her face, and she is more like the happy little girl we used to know.
So she is on the road to recovery?
Well, not entirely. Its still very uneven. But in general, youre right. Her recovery may well have begun with her telling of her story.
Tengo thought about this for a time. Then he changed the subject.
Did you talk to the police about the loss of contact with Mr. and Mrs. Fukada?
Yes, I went to the local police. I didnt tell them about Eri, but I did say that I had been unable to get in touch with my friends inside for a long time and I feared they were possibly being held against their will. At the time, they said there was nothing they could do. The Sakigake compound was private property, and without clear evidence that criminal activity had taken place there, they were unable to set foot inside. I kept after them, but they wouldnt listen to me. And then, after 1979, it became truly impossible to mount a criminal investigation inside Sakigake.
Something happened in 1979? Tengo asked.
That was the year that Sakigake was granted official recognition as a religion.
Tengo was astounded. A religion?!
I know. Its incredible. Sakigake was designated a Religious Juridical Person under the Religious Corporation Law. The governor of Yamanashi Prefecture officially granted the title. Once it had the Religious Juridical Person label, Sakigake became virtually immune to any criminal investigation by the police. Such a thing would be a violation of the freedom of religious belief guaranteed by the Constitution. The Prefectural Police couldnt touch them.
I myself was astounded when I heard about this from the police. I couldnt believe it at first. Even after they showed it to me in writing and I saw it with my own eyes, I had trouble believing it could be true. Fukada was one of my oldest friends. I knew himhis character, his personality. As a cultural anthropologist, my ties with religion were by no means shallow. Unlike me, though, Fukada was a totally political being who approached everything with logic and reason. He had, if anything, a visceral disgust for religion. There was no way he would ever accept a Religious Juridical Person designation even if he had strategic reasons for doing so.
Obtaining such a designation couldnt be very easy, either, I would think.
Thats not necessarily the case, the Professor said. True, you have to go through a lot of screenings and red tape, but if you pull the right political strings, you can clear such hurdles fairly easily. Drawing distinctions between religions and cults has always been a delicate business. Theres no hard and fast definition. Interpretation is everything. And where there is room for interpretation, there is always room for political persuasion. Once you are certified to be a Religious Juridical Person, you can get preferential tax treatment and special legal protections.
In any case, Sakigake stopped being an ordinary agricultural commune and became a religious organizationa frighteningly closed-off religious organization, Tengo ventured.
Yes, a new religion, the Professor said. Or, to put it more bluntly, a cult.
I dont get it, Tengo said. Something major must have occurred for them to have undergone such a radical conversion.
The Professor stared at the backs of his hands, which had a heavy growth of kinky gray hair. Youre right about that, of course, he said. Ive been wondering about it myself for a very long time. Ive come up with all sorts of possibilities, but no final answers. What could have caused it to happen? But theyve adopted a policy of such total secrecy, its impossible to find out what is going on inside. And not only that, Fukada, who used to be the leader of Sakigake, has never once publicly surfaced since they underwent their conversion.
And meanwhile, the Akebono faction ceased to exist after their gun battle three years ago, Tengo said.
The Professor nodded. Sakigake survived once they had cut themselves off from Akebono, and now theyre steadily developing as a religion.
Which means the gunfight was no great blow to Sakigake, I suppose.
Far from it, the Professor said. It was good advertising for them. Theyre smart. They know how to turn things to their best advantage. In any case, this all happened after Eri left Sakigake. As I said earlier, it has no direct connection with Eri.
Tengo sensed that the Professor was hoping to change the subject. He asked him, Have you yourself read Air Chrysalis?
Of course, the Professor answered.
What did you think of it?
Its a very interesting story, the Professor said. Very evocative. Evocative of what, though, Im not sure, to tell you the truth. I dont know what the blind goat is supposed to mean, or the Little People, or the air chrysalis itself.
Do you think the story is hinting at something that Eri actually experienced or witnessed in Sakigake?
Maybe so, but I cant tell how much is real and how much is fantasy. It seems like a kind of myth, or it could be read as an ingenious allegory.
Eri told me the Little People actually exist, Tengo said.
A thoughtful frown crossed the Professors face when he heard this. He asked, Do you think Air Chrysalis describes things that actually happened?
Tengo shook his head. All Im trying to say is that every detail in the story is described very realistically, and that this is a great strength of the work as a piece of fiction.
And by rewriting the story in your own words, with your own style, you are trying to put that something the story is hinting at into a clearer form? Is that it?
Yes, if all goes well.
My specialty is cultural anthropology, the Professor said. I gave up being a scholar some time ago, but Im still permeated with the spirit of the discipline. One aim of my field is to relativize the images possessed by individuals, discover in these images the factors universal to all human beings, and feed these universal truths back to those same individuals. As a result of this process, people might be able to belong to something even as they maintain their autonomy. Do you see what Im saying?
I think I do.
Perhaps that same process is what is being demanded of you.
Tengo opened his hands on his knees. Sounds difficult.
But its probably worth a try.
Im not even sure Im qualified to do it.
The Professor looked at Tengo. There was a special gleam in his eye now.
What I would like to know is what happened to Eri inside Sakigake. Id also like to know the fate of Fukada and his wife. Ive done my best over the past seven years to shed light on these questions, but I havent managed to grasp a single clue. I always come up against a thick, solid wall standing in my way. The key to unlock the mystery may be hidden in Air Chrysalis. As long as there is such a possibility, however slim, I want to pursue it. I have no idea whether you are qualified to do the job, but I do know that you think highly of the story and are deeply involved in it. Perhaps that is qualification enough.
There is something I have to ask you, though, and I need to receive a clear yes or no from you, Tengo said. Its what I came to see you about today. Do I have your permission to rewrite Air Chrysalis?
The Professor nodded. Then he said, I myself am looking forward to reading your rewrite, and I know that Eri seems to have a great deal of faith in you. She doesnt have anyone else she can look to like thataside from Azami and me, of course. So you ought to give it a try. Well put the work in your hands. In a word, the answer is yes.
When the Professor stopped speaking, a heavy silence settled over the room like a finalized destiny. At precisely that moment, Fuka-Eri came in with the tea.
On the way back to the city, Tengo was alone. Fuka-Eri went out to walk the dog. The Professor called a cab that took Tengo to Futamatao Station in time for the next train. Tengo transferred to the Chuo Line at Tachikawa.
When the train reached Mitaka, a mother and her little girl got on and sat across from Tengo. Both were neatly dressed. Their clothing was by no means expensive or new, but all items were clean and well cared for, the whites exceptionally white, and everything nicely ironed. The girl was probably a second or third grader, with large eyes and good features. The mother was quite thin. She wore her hair tied in a bun in back, had black-framed glasses, and carried a faded bag of thick cloth. The bag seemed to be crammed full of something. The mothers features were also nicely symmetrical, but a hint of nervous exhaustion showed at her eyes outer edges, making her look older than she probably was. It was only mid-April, but she carried a parasol, on which the cloth was wrapped so tightly around the pole that it looked like a dried-out club.
The two sat beside each other in unbroken silence. The mother looked as though she might be devising a plan. The girl seemed at a loss for something to do. She looked at her shoes, at the floor, at ads hanging from the train ceiling, and now and then she stole a glance at Tengo sitting opposite her. His large build and his cauliflower ears seemed to have aroused her interest. Little children often looked at Tengo that way, as if he were some kind of rare but harmless animal. The girl kept her body and head very still, allowing just her eyes to dart around from object to object.
The mother and child left the train at Ogikubo. As the train was slowing to a stop, the mother rose quickly to her feet, parasol in her left hand and cloth bag in her right. She said nothing to the girl, who also quickly left her seat and followed her out of the car. As she was standing, though, the girl took one last look at Tengo. In her eyes, he saw a strange light, a kind of appeal or plea directed at him. It was only a faint, momentary gleam, but Tengo was able to catch it. She was sending out some kind of signal, he felt. Even if this were true, of course, and it was a signal meant for him, there was nothing he could do. He had no knowledge of her situation, nor could he become involved with her. The girl left the train with her mother at Ogikubo Station, and Tengo, still in his seat, continued on toward the next station. Three middle school students now sat where the girl had been sitting. They started jabbering about the practice test they had just taken, but still there lingered in their place the after-image of the silent girl.
The girls eyes reminded Tengo of another girl, one who had been in Tengos third- and fourth-grade classes. She, too, had looked at himstared hard at himwith eyes like this one
The girls parents had belonged to a religious organization called the Society of Witnesses. A Christian sect, the Witnesses preached the coming of the end of the world. They were fervent proselytizers and lived their lives by the Bible. They would not condone the transfusion of blood, for example. This greatly limited their chances of surviving serious injury in a traffic accident. Undergoing major surgery was virtually impossible for them. On the other hand, when the end of the world came, they could survive as Gods chosen people and live a thousand years in a world of ultimate happiness.
Like the little girl on the train, the one whose parents were Witnesses also had big, beautiful eyes. Impressive eyes. Nice features. But her face always seemed to be covered by a kind of opaque membrane. It was meant to expunge her presence. She never spoke to people unless it was absolutely necessary. Her face never showed emotion. She kept her thin lips compressed in a perfectly straight line.
Tengo first took an interest in the girl when he saw her out on weekends with her mother, doing missionary work. Children in Witness families were expected to begin accompanying their parents in missionary activity as soon as they were old enough to walk. From the time she was three, the girl walked from door to door, mostly with her mother, handing out pamphlets titled Before the Flood and expounding on the Witnesses doctrines. The mother would explain in basic language the many signs of coming destruction that were apparent in the present world. She referred to God as the Lord. At most homes, of course, they would have the door slammed in their faces. This was because their doctrines were simply too narrow-minded, too one-sided, too divorced from realityor at least from what most people thought of as reality. Once in a great while, however, they would find someone who was willing to listen to them. There were people in the world who wanted someone to talk toabout anything, no matter what. Among these few individuals, there would occasionally be the exceedingly rare person who would actually attend one of their meetings. They would go from house to house, ringing doorbells, in search of that one person in a thousand. They had been entrusted with the sacred duty to guide the world toward an awakening, however minimal, through their continued efforts. The more taxing their duty, the higher the thresholds, and the more radiant was the bliss that would be granted them.
Whenever Tengo saw her, the girl was making the rounds, proselytizing with her mother. In one hand, the mother held a cloth bag stuffed with copies of Before the Flood, and the other hand usually held a parasol. The girl followed a few steps behind, lips compressed in a straight line as always, face expressionless. Tengo passed the girl on the street several times this way while he was making the rounds with his father, collecting NHK subscription fees. He would recognize her, and she would recognize him. Whenever this happened, he thought he could see some kind of secret gleam in her eye. Of course, they never spoke. No greeting passed between them. Tengos father was too busy trying to increase his collections, and the girls mother was too busy preaching the coming end of the world. The boy and girl simply rushed past each other on the Sunday street in their parents wake, exchanging momentary glances.
All the children in their class knew that the girl was a Witness believer. For religious reasons, she never participated in the schools Christmas events or in school outings or study tours when these involved visits to Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples. Nor did she participate in athletic meets or the singing of the school song or the national anthem. Such behavior, which could only be viewed as extreme, served increasingly to isolate the girl from her classmates. The girl was also required to recitein a loud, clear voice, so that the other children could hear every worda special prayer before she ate her school lunches. Not surprisingly, her classmates found this utterly creepy. She could not have been all that eager to perform in front of them. But it had been instilled in her that prayers must be recited before meals, and you were not allowed to omit them simply because no other believers were there to observe you. The Lord saw everythingevery little thingfrom on high.
O Lord in Heaven, may Thy name be praised in utmost purity for ever and ever, and may Thy kingdom come to us. Please forgive our many sins, and bestow Thy blessings upon our humble pathways. Amen.

How strange a thing is memory! Tengo could recall every word of her prayer even though he hadnt heard it for twenty years. May Thy kingdom come to us. What kind of kingdom could that be? Tengo, as an elementary school boy, had wondered each time he heard the girls prayer. Did that kingdom have NHK? No, probably not. If there was no NHK, there would be no fee collections, of course. If that was true, maybe the sooner the kingdom came, the better.
Tengo had never said a word to the girl. They were in the same class, but there had been no opportunity for them to talk directly to each other. She always kept to herself, and would not talk to anyone unless she had to. The atmosphere of the classroom provided no opportunity for him to go over and talk to her. In his heart, though, Tengo sympathized with her. On Sundays, children should be allowed to play with other children to their hearts content, not made to go around threatening people until they paid their fees or frightening people with warnings about the impending end of the world. Such workto the extent that it is necessary at allshould be done by adults.
Tengo did once extend a helping hand to the girl in the wake of a minor incident. It happened in the autumn when they were in the fourth grade. One of the other pupils reprimanded the girl when they were seated at the same table performing an experiment in science. Tengo could not recall exactly what her mistake had been, but as a result a boy made fun of her for handing out stupid pamphlets door to door. He also called her Lord. This was a rather unusual developmentwhich is to say that, instead of bullying or teasing her, the other children usually just ignored her, treating her as if she didnt exist. When it came to a joint activity such as a science experiment, however, there was no way for them to exclude her. On this occasion, the boys words contained a good deal of venom. Tengo was in the group at the next table, but he found it impossible to pretend that he had not heard anything. Exactly why, he could not be sure, but he could not leave it alone.
Tengo went to the other table and told the girl she should join his group. He did this almost reflexively, without deep thought or hesitation. He then gave the girl a detailed explanation of the experiment. She paid close attention to his words, understood them, and corrected her mistake. This was the second year that she and Tengo were in the same class, but it was the first time he ever spoke to her (and the last). Tengo had excellent grades, and he was a big, strong boy, whom the others treated with respect, so no one teased him for having come to the girls defenseat least not then and there. But later his standing in the class seemed to fall a notch, as though he had caught some of her impurity.
Tengo never let that bother him. He knew that she was just an ordinary girl.
But they never spoke again after that. There was no needor opportunityto do so. Whenever their eyes happened to meet, however, a hint of tension would show on her face. He could sense it. Perhaps, he thought, she was bothered by what he had done for her during the science experiment. Maybe she was angry at him and wished that he had just left her alone. He had difficulty judging what she felt about the matter. He was still a child, after all, and could not yet read subtle psychological shifts from a persons expression.
Then, one day, the girl took Tengos hand. It happened on a sunny afternoon in early December. Beyond the classroom window, he could see the clear sky and a straight, white cloud. Class had been dismissed, and the two of them happened to be the last to leave after the children had finished cleaning the room. No one else was there. She strode quickly across the room, heading straight for Tengo, as if she had just made up her mind about something. She stood next to him and, without the slightest hesitation, grabbed his hand and looked up at him. (He was ten centimeters taller, so she had to look up.) Taken by surprise, Tengo looked back at her. Their eyes met. In hers, he could see a transparent depth that he had never seen before. She went on holding his hand for a very long time, saying nothing, but never once relaxing her powerful grip. Then, without warning, she dropped his hand and dashed out of the classroom, skirts flying.
Tengo had no idea what had just happened to him. He went on standing there, at a loss for words. His first thought was how glad he felt that they had not been seen by anyone. Who knew what kind of commotion it could have caused? He looked around, relieved at first, but then he felt deeply shaken.
The mother and daughter who sat across from him between Mitaka and Ogikubo could well have been Witness believers themselves. They might even have been headed for their usual Sunday missionary activity. But no, they were more likely just a normal mother and daughter on their way to a lesson the girl was taking. The cloth sack might have been holding books of piano music or a calligraphy set. Im just being hypersensitive to lots of things, Tengo thought. He closed his eyes and released a long, slow breath. Time flows in strange ways on Sundays, and sights become mysteriously distorted.
At home, Tengo fixed himself a simple dinner. Come to think of it, he hadnt had lunch. When he was through eating, he thought about calling Komatsu, who would be wanting to hear the results of his meeting. But this was Sunday; Komatsu wouldnt be at the office. Tengo didnt know his home phone number. Oh well, if he wants to know how it went, he can call me.
The phone rang as the hands of the clock passed ten and Tengo was thinking of going to bed. He assumed it was Komatsu, but the voice on the phone turned out to be that of his married older girlfriend. I wont be able to get away very long, but do you mind if I come over for a quick visit the day after tomorrow in the afternoon? she asked.
He heard some notes on a piano in the background. Her husband must not be home yet, he guessed. Fine, he said. If she came over, his rewriting of Air Chrysalis would be interrupted for a time, but when he heard her voice, Tengo realized how much he desired her. After hanging up he went to the kitchen, poured himself a glass of Wild Turkey, and drank it straight, standing by the sink. Then he went to bed, read a few pages of a book, and fell asleep.
This brought Tengos long, strange Sunday to an end.

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11-13-2011, 08:09 PM   #14

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 13

Aomame

A BORN VICTIM


When she woke, she realized what a serious hangover she was going to have. Aomame never had hangovers. No matter how much she drank, the next morning her head would be clear and she could go straight into her next activity. This was a point of pride for her. But today was different. She felt a dull throbbing in her temples and she saw everything through a thin haze. It felt as if she had an iron ring tightening around her skull. The hands of the clock had passed ten, and the late-morning light jabbed deep into her eyeballs. A motorcycle tearing down the street out front filled the room with the groaning of a torture machine.
She was naked in her own bed, but she had absolutely no idea how she had managed to make it back. Most of the clothes she had been wearing the night before were scattered all over the floor. She must have torn them off her body. Her shoulder bag was on the desk. Stepping over the scattered clothes, she went to the kitchen and drank one glass of water after another from the tap. Going from there to the bathroom, she washed her face with cold water and looked at her naked body in the big mirror. Close inspection revealed no bruises. She breathed a sigh of relief. Still, her lower body retained a trace of that special feeling that was always there the morning after an intense night of sexthe sweet lassitude that comes from having your insides powerfully churned. She seemed to notice, too, an unfamiliar sensation between her buttocks. My god, Aomame thought, pressing her fingers against her temples. They did it there, too? Damn, I dont remember a thing.
With her brain still clouded and her hand against the wall, she took a hot shower, scrubbing herself all over with soap and water in hopes of expunging the memoryor the nameless something close to a memoryof last night. She washed her genitals and anus with special care. She also washed her hair. Next she brushed her teeth to rid her mouth of its sticky taste, cringing all the while from the mint flavor of the toothpaste. Finally she picked up last nights underthings and stockings from the bedroom floor and, averting her gaze, threw them in the laundry basket.
She examined the contents of the shoulder bag on the table. The wallet was right where it belonged, as were her credit and ATM cards. Most of her money was in there, too. The only cash she had spent last night, apparently, was for the return taxi fare, and the only things missing from the bag were some of her condomsfour, to be exact. Why four? The wallet contained a folded sheet of memo paper with a Tokyo telephone number. She had absolutely no memory of whose phone number it could be.
She stretched out in bed again and tried to remember what she could about last night. Ayumi went over to the mens table, arranged everything in her charming way, the four had drinks and the mood was good. The rest unfolded in the usual manner. They took two rooms in a nearby business hotel. As planned, Aomame had sex with the thin-haired one, and Ayumi took the big, young one. The sex wasnt bad. Aomame and her man took a bath together and then engaged in a long, deliberate session of oral sex. She made sure he wore a condom before penetration took place.
An hour later the phone rang, and Ayumi asked if it was all right for the two of them to come to the room so they could have another little drink together. Aomame agreed, and a few minutes later Ayumi and her man came in. They ordered a bottle of whiskey and some ice and drank that as a foursome.
What happened after that, Aomame could not clearly recall. She was almost as soon as all four were together again, it seemed. The choice of drink might have done it; Aomame almost never drank whiskey. Or she might have let herself get careless, having a female companion nearby instead of being alone with a man. She vaguely remembered that they changed partners. I was in bed with the young one, and Ayumi did it with the thin-haired one on the sofa. Im pretty sure that was it. And after that everything after that is in a deep fog. I cant remember a thing. Oh well, maybe its better that way. Let me just forget the whole thing. I had some wild sex, thats all. Ill probably never see those guys again.
But did the second guy wear a condom? That was the one thing that worried Aomame. I wouldnt want to get pregnant or catch something from such a stupid mistake. Its probably okay, though. I wouldnt slip up on that, even if I was out of my mind.
Hmm, did I have some work scheduled today? No work. Its Saturday. No work on Saturday. Oh, wait. I do have one thing. At three oclock Im supposed to go to the Willow House and do muscle stretching with the dowager. She had to see the doctor for some kind of test yesterday. Tamaru called a few days ago to see if I could switch our appointment to today. I totally forgot. But Ive got four and a half hours left until three oclock. My headache should be gone by then, and my brain will be a lot clearer.
She made herself some hot coffee and forced a few cups into her stomach. Then she spent the rest of the morning in bed, with nothing but a bathrobe on, staring at the ceiling. That was the most she could get herself to dostare at the ceiling. Not that the ceiling had anything of interest about it. But she couldnt complain. Ceilings werent put on rooms to amuse people. The clock advanced to noon, but she still had no appetite. Motorcycle and car engines still echoed in her head. This was her first authentic hangover.
All of that sex did seem to have done her body a lot of good, though. Having a man hold her and gaze at her naked body and caress her and lick her and bite her and penetrate her and give her orgasms had helped release the tension of the spring wound up inside her. True, the hangover felt terrible, but that feeling of release more than made up for it.
But how long am I going to keep this up? Aomame wondered. How long can I keep it up? Ill be thirty soon, and before long forty will come into view.
She decided not to think about this anymore. Ill get to it later, when I have more time. Not that Im faced with any deadlines at the moment. Its just that, to think seriously about such matters, Im
At that point the phone rang. It seemed to roar in Aomames ears, like a super-express train in a tunnel. She staggered from the bed and lifted the receiver. The hands on the large wall clock were pointing to twelve thirty.
A husky female voice spoke her name. It was Ayumi.
Yes, its me, she answered.
Are you okay? You sound like youve just been run over by a bus.
Thats maybe not far off.
Hangover?
Yeah, a bad one, Aomame said. How did you know my home phone?
You dont remember? You wrote it down for me. Mine should be in your wallet. We were talking about getting together soon.
Oh, yeah? I dont remember a thing.
I thought you might not. I was worried about you. Thats why Im calling, Ayumi said. I wanted to make sure you got home okay. I did manage to get you into a cab at Roppongi Crossing and tell the driver your address, though.
Aomame sighed. I dont remember, but I guess I made it here. I woke up in my own bed.
Well, thats good.
What are you doing now?
Im working, what Im supposed to be doing, Ayumi said. Ive been riding around in a mini patrol and writing parking tickets since ten oclock. Im taking a break right now.
Very impressive, Aomame said. She meant it.
Im a little sleep deprived, of course. Last night was fun, though! Best time I ever had, thanks to you.
Aomame pressed her fingertips against her temples. To tell you the truth, I dont remember much of the second half. After you guys came to our room, I mean.
What a waste! Ayumi said in all seriousness. It was amazing! The four of us did everything. You wouldnt believe it. It was like a porno movie. You and I played lesbians. And then
Aomame rushed to cut her off. Never mind all that. I just want to know if I was using condoms. Thats what worries me. I cant remember.
Of course you were. Im very strict about that. I made absolutely sure, so dont worry. I mean, when Im not writing tickets I go around to high schools in the ward, holding assemblies for the girls and teaching them, like, the right way to put on condoms. I give very detailed instructions.
The right way to put on condoms? Aomame was shocked. What is a policewoman doing teaching stuff like that to high school kids?
Well, the original idea was for me to give information to prevent sex crimes, like the danger of date rape or what to do about gropers on the subway, but I figure as long as Im at it, I can add my own personal message about condoms. A certain amount of student sex is unavoidable, so I tell them to make sure they avoid pregnancy and venereal disease. I cant say it quite that directly, of course, with their teachers in the room. Anyhow, its like professional instinct with me. No matter how much Ive been drinking, I never forget. So you dont have to worry. Youre clean. No condom, no penetration. Thats my motto.
Thank you, Aomame said. Thats a huge relief.
Hey, want to hear about all the stuff we did?
Maybe later, Aomame said, expelling the congealed air that had been sitting in her lungs. Ill let you tell me the juicy details some other time. If you did it now, my head would split in two.
Okay, I get it. Next time I see you, then, Ayumi said brightly. You know, ever since I woke up Ive been thinking what a great team we can make. Mind if I call you again? When I get in the mood for another night like last night, I mean.
Sure, Aomame said.
Oh, great.
Thanks for the call.
Take care of yourself, Ayumi said, and hung up.
Her brain was much clearer by two oclock, thanks to the black coffee and a nap. Her headache was gone, too, thankfully. All that was left of her hangover was a slight heavy feeling in her muscles. She left the apartment carrying her gym bagwithout the special ice pick, of course, just a change of clothes and a towel. Tamaru met her at the front door as usual.
He showed her to a long, narrow sunroom. A large open window faced the garden, but it was covered by a lace curtain for privacy. A row of potted plants stood on the windowsill. Tranquil baroque music played from a small ceiling speakera sonata for recorder and harpsichord. In the middle of the room stood a massage table. The dowager was already lying facedown on top of it, wearing a white robe.
When Tamaru left the room, Aomame changed into looser clothing. The dowager turned her head to watch Aomame change from her perch on the massage table. Aomame was not concerned about being seen naked by a member of the same sex. It was an everyday occurrence for team athletes, and the dowager herself was nearly naked during a massage, which made checking the condition of her muscles that much easier. Aomame took off her cotton pants and blouse, putting on a matching jersey top and bottom. She folded her street clothing and set them down in a corner.
Youre so firm and well toned, the dowager said. Sitting up, she took off her robe, leaving only thin silk on top and bottom.
Thank you, Aomame said.
I used to be built like you.
I can tell that, Aomame said. Even now, in her seventies, the dowager retained physical traces of youth. Her body shape had not disintegrated, and even her breasts had a degree of firmness. Moderate eating and daily exercise had preserved her natural beauty. Aomame guessed that this had been supplemented with a touch of plastic surgerysome periodic wrinkle removal, and some lifting around the eyes and mouth.
Your body is still quite lovely, Aomame said.
The dowagers lips curled slightly. Thank you, but its nothing like it used to be.
Aomame did not reply to this.
I gained great pleasure from my body back then. I gave great pleasure with it, too, if you know what I mean.
I do, Aomame said.
And are you enjoying yours?
Now and then, Aomame said.
Now and then may not be enough, the dowager said, lying facedown again. You have to enjoy it while youre still young. Enjoy it to the fullest. You can use the memories of what you did to warm your body after you get old and cant do it anymore.
Aomame recalled the night before. Her anus still retained a slight feeling of having been penetrated. Would memories of this actually warm her body in old age?
Aomame placed her hands on the dowagers body and concentrated on stretching one set of muscles after another. Now the earlier remaining dullness in her own body was gone. Once she had changed her clothes and touched the dowagers flesh, her nerves had sharpened into clarity.
Aomames fingers traced the dowagers muscles as though following roads on a map. She remembered in detail the degree of each muscles tension and stiffness and resistance the way a pianist memorizes a long score. In matters concerning the body, Aomame possessed minute powers of memory. And if she should forget, her fingers remembered. If a muscle felt the slightest bit different than usual, she would stimulate it from various angles using varying degrees of strength, checking to see what kind of response she got from it, whether pain or pleasure or numbness. She would not simply loosen the knots in a pulled muscle but direct the dowager to move it using her own strength. Of course there were parts of the body that could not be relieved merely by her own strength, and for those parts, Aomame concentrated on stretching. What muscles most appreciated and welcomed, however, was daily self-help efforts.
Does this hurt? Aomame asked. The dowagers groin muscles were far stiffer than usualnastily so. Placing her hand in the hollow of the dowagers pelvis, Aomame very slightly bent her thigh at a special angle.
A lot, the dowager said, grimacing.
Good, Aomame said. Its good that you feel pain. If it stopped hurting, youd have something seriously wrong with you. This is going to hurt a little more. Can you stand it?
Yes, of course, the dowager said. There was no need to ask her each time. She could tolerate a great deal of pain. Most of the time, she bore it in silence. She might grimace but she would never cry out. Aomame had often made big, strong men cry out in pain from her massages. She had to admire the dowagers strength of will.
Setting her right elbow against the dowager like a fulcrum, Aomame bent her thigh still farther. The joint moved with a dull snap. The dowager gasped, but she made no sound with her voice.
That should do it for you, Aomame said. Youll feel a lot better.
The dowager released a great sigh. Sweat glistened on her forehead. Thank you, she murmured.
Aomame spent a full hour unknotting muscles all over the dowagers body, stimulating them, stretching them, and loosening joints. The process involved a good deal of pain, but without such pain nothing would be resolved. Both Aomame and the dowager knew this perfectly well, and so they spent the hour almost wordlessly. The recorder sonata ended at some point, and the CD player fell silent. All that could be heard was the calls of birds in the garden.
My whole body feels so light now! the dowager said after some time had passed. She was slumped facedown on the massage table, the large towel spread beneath her dark with sweat.
Im glad, Aomame said.
Its such a help to have you with me! Id hate for you to leave.
Dont worry, I have no plans to go anywhere just yet.
The dowager seemed to hesitate for a moment, and only after a brief silence she asked, I dont mean to get too personal, but do you have someone youre in love with?
I do, Aomame said.
Im glad to hear that.
Unfortunately, though, hes not in love with me.
This may be an odd thing to ask, but why do you think he doesnt love you? Objectively speaking, I think you are a fascinating young woman.
He doesnt even know I exist.
The dowager took a few minutes to think about what Aomame had said.
Dont you have any desire to convey to him the fact that you do exist?
Not at this point, Aomame said.
Is there something standing in the waysomething preventing you from taking the initiative?
There are a few things, most of which have to do with my own feelings.
The dowager looked at Aomame with apparent admiration. Ive met lots of odd people in my lifetime, but you may be one of the oddest.
Aomame relaxed the muscles around her mouth somewhat. Theres nothing odd about me. Im just honest about my own feelings.
You mean that once youve decided on a rule, you follow it?
Thats it.
So youre a little stubborn, and you tend to be short-tempered.
That may be true.
But last night you went kind of wild.
Aomame blushed. How do you know that?
Looking at your skin. And I can smell it. Your body still has traces of it. Getting old teaches you a lot.
Aomame frowned momentarily. I need that kind of thing. Now and then. I know its nothing to brag about.
The dowager reached out and gently placed her hand on Aomames.
Of course you need that kind of thing once in a while. Dont worry, Im not blaming you. Its just that I feel you ought to have a more ordinary kind of happinessmarry someone you love, happy ending.
I wouldnt mind that myself. But it wont be so easy.
Why not?
Aomame did not answer this. She had no simple explanation.
If you ever feel like talking to someone about these personal matters, please talk to me, the dowager said, withdrawing her hand from Aomames and toweling the sweat from her face. About anything at all. I might have something I can do for you.
Thanks very much, Aomame said.
Some things cant be solved just by going wild every now and then.
Youre absolutely right.
You are not doing anything that will destroy you? the dowager said. Nothing at all? Youre sure of that, are you?
Yes, Im sure, Aomame said. Shes right. Im not doing anything that is going to destroy me. Still, there is something quiet left behind. Like sediment in a bottle of wine.
Even now, Aomame still recalled the events surrounding the death of Tamaki Otsuka. It tore her apart to think that she could no longer see and talk to Tamaki. Tamaki was the first real friend she ever had. They could tell each other everything. Aomame had had no one like that before Tamaki, and no one since. Nor could anyone take her place. Had she never met Tamaki, Aomame would have led a far more miserable and gloomy life.
She and Tamaki were the same age. They had been teammates in the softball club of their public high school. From middle school into high school, Aomame had been passionately devoted to the game of softball. She had joined reluctantly at first when begged to help fill out a shorthanded team, and her early efforts were halfhearted at best, but eventually softball became her reason for living. She clung to the game the way a person clings to a post when a storm threatens to blow him away. And though she had never realized it before, Aomame was a born athlete. She became a central member of both her middle and high school teams and helped them breeze through one tournament after another. This gave her something very close to self-confidence (but only close: it was not, strictly speaking, self-confidence). Her greatest joy in life was knowing that her importance to the team was by no means small and that, as narrow as that world might be, she had been granted a definite place in it. Someone needed her.
Aomame was pitcher and cleanup batterliterally the central player of the team, both on offense and defense. Tamaki Otsuka played second base, the linchpin of the team, and she also served as captain. Tamaki was small but had great reflexes and knew how to use her brain. She could read all the complications of a situation instantaneously. With each pitch, she knew toward which side to incline her center of gravity, and as soon as the batter connected with the ball, she could gauge the direction of the hit and move to cover the proper position. Not a lot of infielders could do that. Her powers of judgment had saved the team from many a tight spot. She was not a distance hitter like Aomame, but her batting was sharp and precise, and she was quick on her feet. She was also an outstanding leader. She brought the team together as a unit, planned strategy, gave everyone valuable advice, and fired them up on the field. Her coaching was tough, but she won the other players confidence, as a result of which the team grew stronger day by day. They went as far as the championship game in the Tokyo regional playoffs and even made it to the national interscholastic tournament. Both Aomame and Tamaki were chosen to be on the Kanto area all-star team.
Aomame and Tamaki recognized each others talents andwithout either taking the initiativenaturally drew close until each had become the others best friend. They spent long hours together on team trips to away games. They told each other about their backgrounds, concealing nothing. When she was a fifth grader, Aomame had made up her mind to break with her parents and had gone to live with an uncle on her mothers side. The uncles family understood her situation and welcomed her warmly as a member of the household, but it was, ultimately, not her family. She felt lonely and hungry for love. Unsure where she was to find a purpose or meaning to her life, she passed one formless day after another. Tamaki came from a wealthy household of some social standing, but her parents terrible relationship had turned the home into a wasteland. Her father almost never came home, and her mother often fell into states of mental confusion. She would suffer from terrible headaches, and was unable to leave her bed sometimes for days at a time. Tamaki and her younger brother were all but ignored. They often ate at neighborhood restaurants or fast-food places or made do with ready-made boxed lunches. Each girl, then, had her reasons for becoming obsessed with softball.
Given all their problems, the two lonely girls had a mountain of things to tell each other. When they took a trip together one summer, they touched each others naked bodies in the hotel bed. It happened just that one time, spontaneously, and neither of them ever talked about it. But because it had happened, their relationship grew all the deeper and all the more conspiratorial.
Aomame kept playing softball after her graduation from high school when she went on to a private college of physical education. Having won a national reputation as an outstanding softball player, she was recruited and given a special scholarship. In college, too, she was a key member of the team. While devoting much energy to softball, she was also interested in sports medicine and started studying it in earnest, along with martial arts.
Tamaki entered the law program in a first-rank private university. She stopped playing softball upon graduating from high school. For an outstanding student like Tamaki, softball was merely a phase. She intended to take the bar exam and become a lawyer. Though their paths in life diverged, Aomame and Tamaki remained best friends. Aomame lived in a college dormitory with free room and board while Tamaki continued commuting from her family home. The place was as much of an emotional wasteland as ever, but at least it gave her economic freedom. The two would meet once a week to share a meal and catch up. They never ran out of things to talk about.
Tamaki lost her virginity in the autumn of her first year in college. The man was one year older than Tamaki, a fellow member of the college tennis club. He invited her to his room after a club party, and there he forced her to have sex with him. Tamaki had liked this man, which was why she had accepted the invitation to his room, but the violence with which he forced her into having sex and his narcissistic, self-centered manner came as a terrible shock. She quit the tennis club and went into a period of depression. The experience left her with a profound feeling of powerlessness. Her appetite disappeared, and she lost fifteen pounds. All she had wanted from the man was a degree of understanding and sympathy. If he had shown a trace of it and had taken the time to prepare her, the mere physical giving of herself to him would have been no great problem. She found it impossible to understand his actions. Why did he have to become so violent? It had been absolutely unnecessary!
Aomame comforted Tamaki and advised her to find a way to punish him, but Tamaki could not agree. Her own carelessness had been a part of it, she said, and it was too late now to lodge any complaints. I bear some responsibility for going to his room alone, she said. All I can do now is forget about it. But it was painfully clear to Aomame how deeply her friend had been wounded by the incident. This was not about the mere loss of her virginity but rather the sanctity of an individual human beings soul. No one had the right to invade such sacred precincts with muddy feet. And once it happened, that sense of powerlessness could only keep gnawing away at a person.
Aomame decided to take it upon herself to punish the man. She got his address from Tamaki and went to his apartment carrying a softball bat in a plastic blueprint tube. Tamaki was away for the day in Kanazawa, attending a relatives memorial service or some such thing, which was a perfect alibi. Aomame checked to be sure the man was not at home. She used a screwdriver and hammer to break the lock on his door. Then she wrapped a towel around the bat several times to dampen the noise and proceeded to smash everything in the apartment that was smashablethe television, the lamps, the clocks, the records, the toaster, the vases: she left nothing whole. She cut the telephone cord with scissors, cracked the spines of all the books and scattered their pages, spread the entire contents of a toothpaste tube and shaving cream canister on the rug, poured Worcestershire sauce on the bed, took notebooks from a drawer and ripped them to pieces, broke every pen and pencil in two, shattered every lightbulb, slashed all the curtains and cushions with a kitchen knife, took scissors to every shirt in the dresser, poured a bottle of ketchup into the underwear and sock drawers, pulled out the refrigerator fuse and threw it out a window, ripped the flapper out of the toilet tank and tore it apart, and crushed the bathtubs showerhead. The destruction was utterly deliberate and complete. The room looked very much like the recent news photos she had seen of the streets of Beirut after the shelling.
Tamaki was an intelligent girl (with grades in school that Aomame could never hope to match), and in softball she had always been on her toes. Whenever Aomame got herself into a difficult situation on the mound, Tamaki would run over to her, offer her a few quick words of advice, flash her a smile, pat her on the butt with her glove, and go back to her position in the infield. Her view of things was broad, her heart was warm, and she had a good sense of humor. She put a great deal of effort into her schoolwork and could speak with real eloquence. Had she continued with her studies, she would undoubtedly have made a fine lawyer.
In the presence of men, however, Tamakis powers of judgment fell totally to pieces. Tamaki liked handsome men. She was a sucker for good looks. As Aomame saw it, this tendency of her friends ranked as a sickness. Tamaki could meet men of marvelous character or with superior talents who were eager to woo her, but if their looks did not meet her standards, she was utterly unmoved. For some reason, the ones who aroused her interest were always sweet-faced men with nothing inside. And when it came to men, she would stubbornly resist anything Aomame might have to say. Tamaki was always ready to acceptand even respectAomames opinions on other matters, but if Aomame criticized her choice of boyfriend, Tamaki simply refused to listen. Aomame eventually gave up trying to advise her. She didnt want to quarrel with Tamaki and destroy their friendship. Ultimately, it was Tamakis life. All Aomame could do was let her live it. Tamaki became involved with many men during her college years, and each one led to trouble. They would always betray her, wound her, and abandon her, leaving Tamaki each time in a state close to madness. Twice she resorted to abortions. Where relations with the opposite sex were concerned, Tamaki was truly a born victim.
Aomame never had a steady boyfriend. She was asked out on dates now and then, and she thought that a few of the men were not at all bad, but she never let herself become deeply involved.
Tamaki asked her, Are you going to stay a virgin the rest of your life?
Im too busy for that, Aomame would say. I can barely keep my life going day to day. I dont have time to be fooling around with a boyfriend.
After graduation, Tamaki stayed on in graduate school to prepare for the bar exam. Aomame went to work for a company that made sports drinks and health food, and she played for the companys softball team. Tamaki continued to commute from home, while Aomame went to live in the company dorm in Yoyogi Hachiman. As in their student days, they would meet for a meal on weekends and talk.
When she was twenty-four, Tamaki married a man two years her senior. As soon as they became engaged, she left graduate school and gave up on continuing her legal studies. He insisted that she do so. Aomame met Tamakis fianc only once. He came from a wealthy family, and, just as she had suspected, his features were handsome but utterly lacking in depth. His hobby was sailing. He was a smooth talker and clever in his own way, but there was no substance to his personality, and his words carried no weight. He was, in other words, a typical Tamaki-type boyfriend. But there was more about him, something ominous, that Aomame sensed. She disliked him from the start. And he probably didnt like her much, either.
This marriage will never work, Aomame said to Tamaki. She hated to offer unwanted advice again, but this was marriage, not playing house. As Tamakis best and oldest friend, Aomame could not keep silent. This led to their first violent argument. Aomames opposition to her marriage made Tamaki hysterical, and she screamed harsh words at Aomame, among them words that Aomame least wanted to hear. Aomame did not attend the wedding.
The two of them made up before long. As soon as she came back from her honeymoon, Tamaki showed up at Aomames without warning and apologized for her behavior. I want you to forget everything I said that time, she pleaded. I wasnt myself. I was thinking about you all during my honeymoon. Aomame told her not to worry, that she had already forgotten everything. They held each other close. Soon they were joking and laughing.
But still, after the wedding, there was a sudden decline in the number of occasions when Aomame and Tamaki could meet face-to-face. They exchanged frequent letters and talked on the telephone, but Tamaki seemed to find it difficult to arrange times when the two of them could get together. Her excuse was that she had so much to do at home. Being a full-time housewife is hard work, she would say, but there was something in her tone of voice suggesting that her husband did not want her meeting people outside the house. Also, Tamaki and her husband were living in the same compound as his parents, which seemed to make it difficult for her to go out. Aomame was never invited to Tamakis new home.
Her married life was going well, Tamaki would tell Aomame whenever she had the chance. My husband is gentle with me, and his parents are very kind. Were quite comfortable. We often take the yacht out of Enoshima on weekends. Im not sorry I stopped studying law. I was feeling a lot of pressure over the bar exam. Maybe this ordinary kind of life was the right thing for me all along. Ill probably have a child soon, and then Ill really be just a typical boring mother. I might not have any time for you! Tamakis voice was always cheery, and Aomame could find no reason to doubt her words. Thats great, she would say, and she really did think it was great. She would certainly prefer to have her premonitions miss the mark than to be on target. Something inside Tamaki had finally settled down where it belonged, she guessed. Or so she tried to believe.
Aomame had no other real friends; as her contact with Tamaki diminished, she became increasingly unsure what to do with each passing day. She could no longer concentrate on softball as she used to. Her very feeling for the game seemed to wane as Tamaki grew more distant from her life. Aomame was twenty-five but still a virgin. Now and then, when she felt unsettled, she would masturbate, but she didnt find this life especially lonely. Deep personal relationships with people were a source of pain for Aomame. Better to keep to herself.
Tamaki committed suicide on a windy late-autumn day three days before her twenty-sixth birthday. She hanged herself at home. Her husband found her the next evening when he returned from a business trip.
We had no domestic problems, and I never heard of any dissatisfaction on her part. I cant imagine what would have caused her to take her own life, the husband told the police. His parents said much the same thing.
But they were lying. The husbands constant sadistic violence had left Tamaki covered with scars both physical and mental. His actions toward her had verged on the monomaniacal, and his parents generally knew the truth. The police could also tell what had happened from the autopsy, but their suspicions never became public. They called the husband in and questioned him, but the case was clearly a suicide, and at the time of death the husband was hundreds of miles away in Hokkaido. He was never charged with a crime. Tamakis younger brother subsequently revealed all this to Aomame in confidence.
The violence had been there from the beginning, he said, and it only grew more insistent and more gruesome with the passage of time. But Tamaki had been unable to escape from her nightmare. She had not said a word about it to Aomame because she knew what the answer would be if she asked for advice: Get out of that house now. But that was the one thing she could not do.
At the very end, just before she killed herself, Tamaki wrote a long letter to Aomame. It started by saying that she had been wrong and Aomame had been right from the start. She closed the letter this way:
I am living in hell from one day to the next. But there is nothing I can do to escape. I dont know where I would go if I did. I feel utterly powerless, and that feeling is my prison. I entered of my own free will, I locked the door, and I threw away the key. This marriage was of course a mistake, just as you said. But the deepest problem is not in my husband or in my married life. It is inside me. I deserve all the pain I am feeling. I cant blame anyone else. You are my only friend, the only person in the world I can trust. But I am beyond saving now. Please remember me always if you can. If only we could have gone on playing softball together forever!

Aomame felt horribly sick as she read Tamakis letter. Her body would not stop trembling. She called Tamakis house several times, but no one took the call. All she got was the machine. She took the train to Setagaya and walked to Tamakis house in Okusawa. It was on a large plot of land behind a high wall. Aomame rang the intercom bell, but no one answered this, either. There was only the sound of a dog barking inside. All she could do was give up and go home. She had no way of knowing it, but Tamaki had already drawn her last breath. She was hanging alone from a rope she had tied to the stairway handrail. Inside the hushed house, the telephones bell and the front-door chime had been ringing in emptiness.
Aomame received the news of Tamakis death with little sense of surprise. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she must have been expecting it. She felt no sadness welling up. She gave the caller a perfunctory answer, hung up, and settled into a chair. After she had been sitting there for a considerable length of time, she felt all the liquids in her body pouring out of her. She could not get out of the chair for a very long time. She telephoned her company to say she felt sick and would not be in for several days. She stayed in her apartment, not eating, not sleeping, hardly drinking even water. She did not attend the funeral. She felt as if, with a distinct click, something had switched places inside her. This marks a borderline, she felt strongly. From now on, I will no longer be the person I was.
Aomame resolved in her heart to punish the man for what he had done. Whatever happens, I must be sure to present him with the end of the world. Otherwise, he will do the same thing to someone else.
Aomame spent a great deal of time formulating a meticulous plan. She had already learned that a needle thrust into a certain point on the back of the neck at a certain angle could kill a person instantly. It was not something that just anyone could do, of course. But she could do it. First, she would have to train herself to find the extremely subtle point by touch in the shortest possible time. Next she would have to have an instrument suited to such a task. She obtained the necessary tools and, over time, fashioned for herself a special implement that looked like a small, slender ice pick. Its needle was as sharp and cold and pointed as a merciless idea. She found many ways to undertake the necessary training, and she did so with great dedication. When she was satisfied with her preparation, she put her plan into action. Unhesitatingly, coolly, and precisely, she brought the kingdom down upon the man. And when she was finished she even intoned a prayer, its phrases falling from her lips almost as a matter of reflex:
O Lord in Heaven, may Thy name be praised in utmost purity for ever and ever, and may Thy kingdom come to us. Please forgive our many sins, and bestow Thy blessings upon our humble pathways. Amen.

It was after this that Aomame came to feel an intense periodic craving for mens bodies.

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11-13-2011, 08:10 PM   #15

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 14

Tengo


THINGS THAT MOST READERS
HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE

Komatsu and Tengo had arranged to meet in the usual place, the caf near Shinjuku Station. Komatsu arrived twenty minutes late as always. Komatsu never came on time, and Tengo was never late. This was standard practice for them. Komatsu was carrying his leather briefcase and wearing his usual tweed jacket over a navy-blue polo shirt.
Sorry to keep you waiting, Komatsu said, but he didnt seem at all sorry. He appeared to be in an especially good mood, his smile like a crescent moon at dawn.
Tengo merely nodded without answering.
Komatsu took the chair across from him and said, Sorry to hurry you. Im sure it was tough.
I dont mean to exaggerate, but I didnt know whether I was alive or dead these past ten days, Tengo said.
You did great, though. You got permission from Fuka-Eris guardian, and you finished rewriting the story. Its an amazing accomplishment for somebody who lives in his own little world. Now I see you in a whole new light.
Tengo ignored Komatsus praise. Did you read the report-thing I wrote on Fuka-Eris background? The long one.
I sure did. Of course. Every word. Thanks for writing it. Shes got awhat should I say?a complicated history. It could be part of a roman-fleuve. But what really surprised me was to learn that Professor Ebisuno is her guardian. What a small world! Did he say anything about me?
About you?
Yes, did the Professor say anything about me?
No, nothing special.
Thats strange, Komatsu said, evidently quite puzzled by this. Professor Ebisuno and I once worked together. I used to go to his university office to pick up his manuscripts. It was a really long time ago, of course, when I was just getting started as an editor.
Maybe he forgot, if it was such a long time ago. He asked me to tell him about youwhat sort of person you are.
No way, Komatsu said with a frown and a shake of the head. Thats impossible. He never forgets a thing. His memory is so good its almost frightening. He and I talked about all kinds of stuff, Im sure he remembers. Anyway, hes not an easy guy to deal with. And according to your report, the situation surrounding Fuka-Eri is not going to be easy to deal with, either.
Thats putting it mildly. Its like were holding a time bomb. Fuka-Eri is in no way ordinary. Shes not just another pretty seventeen-year-old. If the novella makes a big splash, the media are going to pounce on this and reveal all kinds of tasty facts. Itll be terrible.
True, it could be a real Pandoras box, Komatsu said, but he was still smiling.
So should we cancel the plan?
Cancel the plan?!
Yes, itll be too big a deal, and too dangerous. Lets put the original manuscript back in the pile.
Its not that easy, Im afraid. Your Air Chrysalis rewrite has already gone out to the printers. Theyre making the galleys. As soon as its printed itll go to the editor in chief and the head of publications and the four members of the selection committee. Its too late to say, Excuse me, that was a mistake. Please give it back and pretend you never saw it.
Tengo sighed.
Whats done is done. We cant turn the clock back, Komatsu said. He put a Marlboro between his lips, narrowed his eyes, and lit the cigarette with the cafs matches. Ill think about what to do next. You dont have to think about anything, Tengo. Even if Air Chrysalis takes the prize, well keep Fuka-Eri under wraps. Shell be the enigmatic girl writer who doesnt want to appear in public. I can pull it off. As the editor in charge of the story, Ill be her spokesman. Dont worry, Ive got it all figured out.
I dont doubt your abilities, but Fuka-Eri is no ordinary girl. Shes not the type to shut up and do as shes told. If she makes up her mind to do something, shell do it. She doesnt hear what she doesnt want to hear. Thats how shes made. Its not going to be as easy as you seem to think.
Komatsu kept silent and went on turning over the matchbox in his hand. Then he said, In any case, Tengo, weve come this far. All we can do now is make up our minds to keep going. First of all, your rewrite of Air Chrysalis is marvelous, really wonderful, far exceeding my expectations. Its almost perfect. I have no doubt that its going to take the new writers prize and cause a big sensation. Its too late now for us to bury it. If you ask me, burying a work like that would be a crime. And as I said before, things are moving full speed ahead.
A crime?! Tengo exclaimed, looking straight at Komatsu.
Well, take these words, for example, Komatsu said. Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.
What is that?
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Have you ever read Aristotle?
Almost nothing.
You ought to. Im sure youd like it. Whenever I run out of things to read, I read Greek philosophy. I never get tired of the stuff. Theres always something new to learn.
So whats the point of the quotation?
The conclusion of things is the good. The good is, in other words, the conclusion at which all things arrive. Lets leave doubt for tomorrow, Komatsu said. That is the point.
What does Aristotle have to say about the Holocaust?
Komatsus crescent-moon smile further deepened. Here, Aristotle is mainly talking about things like art and scholarship and crafts.
Tengo had far more than a passing acquaintance with Komatsu. He knew the mans public face, and he had seen his private face as well. Komatsu appeared to be a lone wolf in the literary industry who had always survived by doing as he pleased. Most people were taken in by that image. But if you observed him closely, taking into account the full context of his actions, you could tell that his moves were highly calculated. He was like a player of chess or shogi who could see several moves ahead. It was true that he liked to plot outlandish schemes, but he was also careful to draw a line beyond which he would not stray. He was, if anything, a high-strung man whose more outrageous gestures were mostly for show.
Komatsu was careful to protect himself with various kinds of insurance. For example, he wrote a literary column once a week in the evening edition of a major newspaper. In it, he would shower writers with praise or blame. The blame was always expressed in highly acerbic prose, which was a specialty of his. The column appeared under a made-up name, but everyone in the industry knew who was writing it. No one liked being criticized in the newspaper, of course, so writers tried their best not to ruffle his feathers. When asked by him to write something, they avoided turning him down whenever possible. Otherwise, there was no telling what might be said about them in the column.
Tengo was not fond of Komatsus more calculating side, the way he displayed contempt for the literary world while exploiting its system to his best advantage. Komatsu possessed outstanding editorial instincts, and he had been enormously helpful to Tengo. His advice on the writing of fiction was almost always valuable. But Tengo was careful to keep a certain distance between them. He was determined not to draw too close to Komatsu and then have the ladder pulled out from under him for overstepping certain boundaries. In that sense, Tengo, too, was a cautious individual.
As I said a minute ago, your rewrite of Air Chrysalis is close to perfect. A great job, Komatsu continued. Theres just one partreally, just onethat Id like to have you redo if possible. Not now, of course. Its fine at the new writer level. But after the committee picks it to win the prize and just before the magazine prints it, at that stage Id like you to fix it.
What part? Tengo asked.
When the Little People finish making the air chrysalis, there are two moons. The girl looks up to find two moons in the sky. Remember that part?
Of course I remember it.
In my opinion, you havent written enough about the two moons. Id like you to give it more concrete detail. Thats my only request.
It is a little terse, maybe. I just didnt want to overdo it with detail and destroy the flow of Fuka-Eris original.
Komatsu raised the hand that had a cigarette tucked between the fingers. Think of it this way, Tengo. Your readers have seen the sky with one moon in it any number of times, right? But I doubt theyve seen a sky with two moons in it side by side. When you introduce things that most readers have never seen before into a piece of fiction, you have to describe them with as much precision and in as much detail as possible. What you can eliminate from fiction is the description of things that most readers have seen.
I get it, Tengo said. Komatsus request made a lot of sense. Ill fill out the part where the two moons appear.
Good. Then it will be perfect, Komatsu said. He crushed out his cigarette.
Im always glad to have you praise my work, Tengo said, but its not so simple for me this time.
You have suddenly matured, Komatsu said slowly, as if pausing for emphasis. You have matured both as a manipulator of language and as an author. It should be simple enough for you to be glad about that. Im sure rewriting Air Chrysalis taught you a lot about the writing of fiction. It should be a big help the next time you write your own work.
If there is a next time, Tengo said.
A big grin crossed Komatsus face. Dont worry. You did your job. Now its my turn. You can go back to the bench and take it easy, just watch the game unfold.
The waitress arrived and poured cold water into their glasses. Tengo drank half of his before realizing that he had absolutely no desire for water. He asked Komatsu, Was it Aristotle who said the human soul is composed of reason, will, and desire?
No, that was Plato. Aristotle and Plato were as different as Mel Torm and Bing Crosby. In any case, things were a lot simpler in the old days, Komatsu said. Wouldnt it be fun to imagine reason, will, and desire engaged in a fierce debate around a table?
Ive got a pretty good idea who would lose that one.
What I like about you, Komatsu said, raising an index finger, is your sense of humor.
This is not humor, Tengo thought, but he kept it to himself.
After leaving Komatsu, Tengo walked to Kinokuniya, bought several books, and started reading them over a beer in a nearby bar. This was the sort of moment in which he should have been able to relax most completely.
On this particular night, though, he could not seem to concentrate on his books. The recurring image of his mother floated vaguely before his eyes and would not go away. She had lowered the straps of her white slip from her shoulders, revealing her well-shaped breasts, and was letting a man suck on them. The man was not his father. He was larger and more youthful, and had better features. The infant Tengo was asleep in his crib, eyes closed, his breathing regular. A look of ecstasy suffused his mothers face while the man sucked on her breasts, a look very much like his older girlfriends when she was having an orgasm.
Once, out of curiosity, Tengo had asked his girlfriend to try wearing a white slip for him. Glad to, she replied with a smile. Ill wear one next time if youd like that. Do you have any other requests? Ill do anything you want. Just ask. Dont be embarrassed.
Can you wear a white blouse, too? A very simple one.
She showed up the following week wearing a white blouse over a white slip. He took her blouse off, lowered the shoulder straps of the slip, and sucked on her breasts. He adopted the same position and angle as the man in his vision, and when he did this he felt a slight dizziness. His mind misted over, and he lost track of the order of things. In his lower body there was a heavy sensation that rapidly swelled, and no sooner was he aware of it than he shuddered with a violent ejaculation.
Tengo, whats wrong? Did you come already? she asked, astounded.
He himself was not sure what had just happened, but then he realized that he had gotten semen on the lower part of her slip.
Im sorry, he said. I wasnt planning to do that.
Dont apologize, she said cheerily. I can rinse it right off. Its just the usual stuff. Im glad its not soy sauce or red wine!
She took the slip off, scrubbed the semen-smeared part at the bathroom sink, and hung it over the shower rod to dry.
Was that too strong? she asked with a gentle smile, rubbing Tengos belly with the palm of her hand. You like white slips, huh, Tengo?
Not exactly, Tengo said, but he could not explain to her his real reason for having made the request.
Just let big sister know any time youve got a fantasy you want to play out, honey. Ill go along with anything. I just love fantasies! Everybody needs some kind of fantasy to go on living, dont you think? You want me to wear a white slip next time, too?
Tengo shook his head. No, thanks, once was enough.
Tengo often wondered if the young man sucking on his mothers breasts in his vision might be his biological father. This was because Tengo in no way resembled the man who was supposed to be his fatherthe stellar NHK collections agent. Tengo was a tall, strapping man with a broad forehead, narrow nose, and tightly balled ears. His father was short and squat and utterly unimpressive. He had a narrow forehead, flat nose, and pointed ears like a horses. Virtually every facial feature of his contrasted with Tengos. Where Tengo had a generally relaxed and generous look, his father appeared nervous and tightfisted. Comparing the two of them, people often openly remarked that they did not look like father and son.
Still, it was not their different facial features that made it difficult for Tengo to identify with his father; rather, it was their psychological makeup and tendencies. His father showed no sign at all of what might be called intellectual curiosity. True, his father had not had a decent education. Having been born in poverty, he had not had the opportunity to establish in himself an orderly intellectual system. Tengo felt a degree of pity regarding his fathers circumstances. But still, a basic desire to obtain knowledge at a universal levelwhich Tengo assumed to be a more or less natural urge in peoplewas lacking in the man. There was a certain practical wisdom at work in him that enabled him to survive, but Tengo could discover no hint of a willingness in his father to raise himself up, to deepen himself, to view a wider, larger world.
But Tengos father never seemed to suffer discomfort from the narrowness and the stagnant air of his cramped little world. Tengo never once saw him pick up a book at home. They never had newspapers (watching the regular NHK news broadcasts was enough, he would say). He had absolutely no interest in music or movies, and he never took a trip. The only thing that seemed to interest him was his assigned collection route. He would make a map of the area, mark it with colored pens, and examine it whenever he had a spare moment, the way a biologist classifies chromosomes.
By contrast, Tengo was regarded as a math prodigy from early childhood. His grades in arithmetic were always outstanding. He could solve high school math problems by the time he was in the third grade. He won high marks in the other sciences as well without any apparent effort. And whenever he had a spare moment, he would devour books. Hugely curious about everything, he would absorb knowledge from a broad range of fields with all the efficiency of a power shovel scooping earth. Whenever he looked at his father, he found it inconceivable that half of the genes that made his existence possible could come from this narrow, uneducated man.
My real father must be somewhere else. This was the conclusion that Tengo reached in boyhood. Like the unfortunate children in a Dickens novel, Tengo must have been led by strange circumstances to be raised by this man. Such a possibility was both a nightmare and a great hope. He became obsessed with Dickens after reading Oliver Twist, plowing through every Dickens volume in the library. As he traveled through the world of the stories, he steeped himself in reimagined versions of his own life. The reimaginings (or obsessive fantasies) in his head grew ever longer and more complex. They followed a single pattern, but with infinite variations. In all of them, Tengo would tell himself that this was not the place where he belonged. He had been mistakenly locked in a cage. Someday his real parents, guided by sheer good fortune, would find him. They would rescue him from this cramped and ugly cage and bring him back where he belonged. Then he would have the most beautiful, peaceful, and free Sundays imaginable.
Tengos father exulted over the boys outstanding schoolwork. He prided himself on Tengos excellent grades, and boasted of them to people in the neighborhood. At the same time, however, he showed a certain displeasure regarding Tengos brightness and talent. Often when Tengo was at his desk, studying, his father would interrupt him, seemingly on purpose. He would order the boy to do chores or nag Tengo about his supposedly offensive behavior. The content of his fathers nagging was always the same: he was running himself ragged every day, covering huge distances and sometimes enduring peoples curses as a collections agent, while Tengo did nothing but take it easy all the time, living in comfort. They had me working my tail off around the house when I was your age, and my father and older brother would beat me black and blue for anything at all. They never gave me enough food, and treated me like an animal. I dont want you thinking youre so special just because you got a few good grades. His father would go on like this endlessly.
This man may be envious of me, Tengo began to think after a certain point. Hes jealouseither of me as a person or of the life Im leading. But does a father really feel jealousy toward his own son? As a child, Tengo did not judge his father, but he could not help feeling a pathetic kind of meanness that emanated from his fathers words and deedsand this he found almost physically unbearable. Often he felt that this man was not only envious of him, but that he actually hated something in his son. It was not that his father hated Tengo as a person but rather that he hated something inside Tengo, something that he could not forgive.
Mathematics gave Tengo an effective means of retreat. By fleeing into a world of numerical expression, he was able to escape from the troublesome cage of reality. As a little boy, he noticed that he could easily move into a mathematical world with the flick of a switch in his head. He remained free as long as he actively explored that realm of infinite consistency. He walked down the gigantic buildings twisted corridor, opening one numbered door after another. Each time a new spectacle opened up before him, the ugly traces of the real world would dissipate and then simply disappear. The world governed by numerical expression was, for him, a legitimate and always safe hiding place. As long as he stayed in that world, he could forget or ignore the rules and burdens forced upon him by the real world.
Where mathematics was a magnificent imaginary building, the world of story as represented by Dickens was like a deep, magical forest for Tengo. When mathematics stretched infinitely upward toward the heavens, the forest spread out beneath his gaze in silence, its dark, sturdy roots stretching deep into the earth. In the forest there were no maps, no numbered doorways.
In elementary and middle school, Tengo was utterly absorbed by the world of mathematics. Its clarity and absolute freedom enthralled him, and he also needed them to survive. Once he entered adolescence, however, he began to feel increasingly that this might not be enough. There was no problem as long as he was visiting the world of math, but whenever he returned to the real world (as return he must), he found himself in the same miserable cage. Nothing had improved. Rather, his shackles felt even heavier. So then, what good was mathematics? Wasnt it just a temporary means of escape that made his real-life situation even worse?
As his doubts increased, Tengo began deliberately to put some distance between himself and the world of mathematics, and instead the forest of story began to exert a stronger pull on his heart. Of course, reading novels was just another form of escape. As soon as he closed their pages he had to come back to the real world. But at some point Tengo noticed that returning to reality from the world of a novel was not as devastating a blow as returning from the world of mathematics. Why should that have been? After much deep thought, he reached a conclusion. No matter how clear the relationships of things might become in the forest of story, there was never a clear-cut solution. That was how it differed from math. The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a single problem into another form. Depending on the nature and direction of the problem, a solution could be suggested in the narrative. Tengo would return to the real world with that suggestion in hand. It was like a piece of paper bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell. At times it lacked coherence and served no immediate practical purpose. But it would contain a possibility. Someday he might be able to decipher the spell. That possibility would gently warm his heart from within.
The older he became, the more Tengo was drawn to this kind of narrative suggestion. Mathematics was a great joy for him even now, as an adult. When he was teaching students at the cram school, the same joy he had felt as a child would come welling up naturally. To share the joy of that conceptual freedom with someone was a wonderful thing. But Tengo was no longer able to lose himself so unreservedly in a world of numerical expression. For he knew that no amount of searching in that world would give him the solution he was really looking for.
When he was in the fifth grade, after much careful thinking, Tengo declared that he wanted to stop making the rounds with his father on Sundays to collect the NHK subscription fees. He told his father that he wanted to use the time for studying and reading books and playing with other kids. Just as his father had his own work, he had things that he had to do. He wanted to live a normal life like everybody else.
Tengo said what he needed to say, concisely and coherently.
His father, of course, blew up. He didnt give a damn what other families did, he said; it had nothing to do with them. We have our own way of doing things. And dont you dare talk to me about a normal life, Mr. Know-it-all. What do you know about a normal life? Tengo did not try to argue with him. He merely stared back in silence, knowing that nothing he said would get through to his father. If that was what Tengo wanted, his father continued, that was what he would get. But if he couldnt listen to his father, his father couldnt go on feeding him anymore. Tengo should get the hell out.
Tengo did as he was told. He packed a bag and left home. He had made up his mind. No matter how angry his father got, no matter how much he screamed and shouted, Tengo was not going to be afraideven if his father raised a hand to him (which he did not do). Now that Tengo had been given permission to leave his cage, he was more relieved than anything else.
But still, there was no way a ten-year-old boy could live on his own. When class was dismissed at the end of the day, he confessed his predicament to his teacher and said he had no place to spend the night. He also explained to her what an emotional burden it had been for him to make the rounds with his father on Sundays collecting NHK subscription fees. The teacher was a single woman in her mid-thirties. She was far from beautiful and she wore thick, ugly glasses, but she was a fair-minded, warmhearted person. A small woman, she was normally quiet and mild-mannered, but she could be surprisingly quick-tempered; once she let her anger out, she became a different person, and no one could stop her. The difference shocked people. Tengo, however, was fond of her, and her temper tantrums never frightened him.
She heard Tengo out with understanding and sympathy, and she brought him home to spend the night in her house. She spread a blanket on the sofa and had him sleep there. She made him breakfast in the morning. That evening she took him to his fathers place for a long talk.
Tengo was told to leave the room, so he was not sure what they said to each other, but finally his father had to sheathe his sword. However extreme his anger might be, he could not leave a ten-year-old boy to wander the streets alone. The duty of a parent to support his child was a matter of law.
As a result of the teachers talk with his father, Tengo was free to spend Sundays as he pleased. He was required to devote the morning to housework, but he could do anything he wanted after that. This was the first tangible right that Tengo had ever won from his father. His father was too angry to talk to Tengo for a while, but this was of no great concern to the boy. He had won something far more important than that. He had taken his first step toward freedom and independence.
Tengo did not see his fifth-grade teacher for a long time after he left elementary school. He probably could have seen her if he had attended the occasional class reunion, to which he was invited, but he had no intention of showing his face at such gatherings. He had virtually no happy memories from that school. He did, however, think of his teacher now and then and recall what she had done for him.
The next time he saw her, Tengo was in his second year of high school. He belonged to the judo club, but he had injured his calf at the time and was forced to take a two-month break from judo matches. Instead, he was recruited to be a temporary percussionist in the schools brass band. The band was only days away from a competition, but one of their two percussionists suddenly transferred to another school, and the other one came down with a bad case of influenza. All they needed was a human being who could hold two sticks, the music teacher said, pleading with Tengo to help them out of their predicament since his injury had left him with time to kill. There would be several meals in it for Tengo, and the teacher promised to go easy on his grade if he would join the rehearsals.
Tengo had never performed on a percussion instrument nor had any interest in doing so, but once he actually tried playing, he was amazed to find that it was perfectly suited to the way his mind worked. He felt a natural joy in dividing time into small fragments, reassembling them, and transforming them into an effective row of tones. All of the sounds mentally appeared to him in the form of a diagram. He proceeded to grasp the system of one percussion instrument after another the way a sponge soaks up water. His music teacher introduced him to a symphony orchestras percussionist, from whom he learned the techniques of the timpani. He mastered its general structure and performance technique with only a few hours lessons. And because the score resembled numerical expression, learning how to read it was no great challenge for him.
The music teacher was delighted to discover Tengos outstanding musical talent. You seem to have a natural sense for complex rhythms and a marvelous ear for music, he said. If you continue to study with professionals, you could become one yourself.
The timpani was a difficult instrument, but it was deep and compelling in its own special way, its combination of sounds hinting at infinite possibilities. Tengo and his classmates were rehearsing several passages excerpted from Janáčeks Sinfonietta, as arranged for wind instruments. They were to perform it as their free-choice piece in a competition for high school brass bands. Janáčeks Sinfonietta was a difficult piece for high school musicians, and the timpani figured prominently in the opening fanfare. The music teacher, who doubled as the band leader, had chosen Sinfonietta on the assumption that he had two outstanding percussionists to work with, and when he suddenly lost them, he was at his wits end. Obviously, then, Tengo had a major role to fill, but he felt no pressure and wholeheartedly enjoyed the performance.
The bands performance was flawless (good enough for a top prize, if not the championship), and when it was over, Tengos old fifth-grade teacher came over to congratulate him on his fine playing.
I knew it was you right away, Tengo, she said. He recognized this small woman but couldnt recall her name. The timpani sounded so good, I looked to see who could be playingand it was you, of all people! Youre a lot bigger than you used to be, but I recognized your face immediately. When did you start playing?
Tengo gave her a quick summary of the events that had led up to this performance, which made her all the more impressed. Youre such a talented boy, and in so many ways!
Judo is a lot easier for me, Tengo said, smiling.
So, hows your father? she asked.
Hes fine, Tengo responded automatically, though he didnt knowand didnt want to knowhow his father was doing. By then Tengo was living in a dormitory and hadnt spoken to his father in a very long time.
Why are you here? he asked the teacher.
My niece plays clarinet in another high schools band. She wanted me to hear her play a solo. Are you going to keep up with your music?
Ill go back to judo when my leg gets better. Judo keeps me fed. My school supports judo in a big way. They cover my room and board. The band cant do that.
I guess youre trying not to depend on your father?
Well, you know what hes like, Tengo said.
She smiled at him. Its too bad, though. With all your talents!
Tengo looked down at the small woman and remembered the night she put him up at her place. He pictured the plain and practicalbut neat and tidylittle apartment in which she lived. The lace curtains and potted plants. The ironing board and open book. The small pink dress hanging on the wall. The smell of the sofa where he slept. And now here she stood before him, he realized, fidgeting like a young girl. He realized, too, that he was no longer a powerless ten-year-old boy but a strapping seventeen-year-oldbroad-chested, with stubble to shave and a sex drive in full bloom. He felt strangely calm in the presence of this older woman.
Im glad I ran into you, she said.
I am too, Tengo replied. He really was glad. But he still couldnt remember her name.

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11-13-2011, 08:12 PM   #16

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 15

Aomame


FIRMLY, LIKE ATTACHING AN ANCHOR
TO A BALLOON

Aomame devoted a great deal of attention to her daily diet. Vegetarian dishes were central to the meals she prepared for herself, to which she added seafood, mostly white fish. An occasional piece of chicken was about all the meat she would eat. She chose only fresh ingredients and kept seasonings to a minimum, rejecting high-fat ingredients entirely and keeping her intake of carbohydrates low. Salads she would eat with a touch of olive oil, salt, and lemon juice, never dressings. She did not just eat a lot of vegetables, she also studied their nutritional elements in detail and made sure she was eating a well-balanced selection. She fashioned her own original menus and shared them with sports club members when asked. Forget about counting calories, she would always advise them. Once you develop a knack for choosing the proper ingredients and eating in moderation, you dont have to pay attention to numbers.
This is not to say that she clung obsessively to her ascetic menus. If she felt a strong desire for meat, she would pop into a restaurant and order a thick steak or lamb chops. She believed that an unbearable desire for a particular food meant that the body was sending signals for something it truly needed, and she would follow the call of nature.
She enjoyed wine and sake, but she established three days a week when she would not drink at all in order to avoid excessive alcohol intake, as a way to both protect her liver and control the sugar in her bloodstream. For Aomame, her body was sacred, to be kept clean always, without a fleck of dust or the slightest stain. Whatever one enshrined there was another question, to be thought about later.
Aomame had no excess flesh, only muscle. She would confirm this for herself in detail each day, standing stark naked in front of the mirror. Not that she was thrilled at the sight of her own body. Quite the opposite. Her breasts were not big enough, and they were asymmetrical. Her pubic hair grew like a patch of grass that had been trampled by a passing army. She couldnt stop herself from scowling at the sight of her own body, but there was nothing there for her to pinch.
She lived frugally, but her meals were the only things on which she deliberately spent her money. She never compromised on the quality of her groceries, and drank only good-quality wines. On those rare occasions when she ate out, she would choose restaurants that prepared their food with the greatest care. Almost nothing else mattered to hernot clothing, not cosmetics, not accessories. Jeans and a sweater were all she needed for commuting to work at the sports club, and once she was there she would spend the day in a jersey top and bottomwithout accessories, of course. She rarely had occasion to go out in fancy clothing. Once Tamaki Otsuka was married, she no longer had any women friends to dine out with. She would wear makeup and dress well when she was out in search of a one-night stand, but that was once a month and didnt require an extensive wardrobe.
When necessary, Aomame would make the rounds of the boutiques in Aoyama to have one killer dress made and to buy an accessory or two and a pair of heels to match. That was all she needed. Ordinarily she wore flats and a ponytail. As long as she washed her face well with soap and water and applied moisturizer, she always had a glow. The most important thing was to have a clean, healthy body.
Aomame had been used to living a simple, unadorned life since childhood. Self-denial and moderation were the values pounded into her as long as she could remember. Her familys home was free of all extras, and waste was their most commonly used word. They had no television and did not subscribe to a newspaper. Even news was looked upon in her home as a nonessential. Meat and fish rarely found their way to the dining table. Her school lunches provided Aomame with the nutrients she needed for development. The other children would complain how tasteless the lunches were, and would leave much of theirs uneaten, but she almost wished she could have what they wasted.
She wore only hand-me-downs. The believers would hold periodic gatherings to exchange their unneeded articles of clothing, as a result of which her parents never once bought her anything new, the only exceptions being things like the gym clothes required by the school. She could not recall ever having worn clothing or shoes that fit her perfectly, and the items she did have were an assemblage of clashing colors and patterns. If the family could not afford any other lifestyle, she would have just resigned herself to the fact, but Aomames family was by no means poor. Her father was an engineer with a normal income and savings. They chose their exceedingly frugal lifestyle entirely as a matter of belief.
Because the life she led was so very different from those of the children around her, for a long time Aomame could not make friends with anyone. She had neither the clothing nor the money that would have enabled her to go out with a friend. She was never given an allowance, so that even if she had been invited to someones birthday party (which, for better or worse, never happened), she would not have been able to bring along a little gift.
Because of all this, Aomame hated her parents and deeply despised both the world to which they belonged and the ideology of that world. What she longed for was an ordinary life like everybody elses. Not luxury: just a totally normal little life, nothing more. She wanted to hurry up and become an adult so she could leave her parents and live aloneeating what and as much as she wanted, using the money in her purse any way she liked, wearing new clothes of her own choosing, wearing shoes that fit her feet, going where she wanted to go, making lots of friends and exchanging beautifully wrapped presents with them.
Once she became an adult, however, Aomame discovered that she was most comfortable living a life of self-denial and moderation. What she wanted most of all was not to go out with someone all dressed up, but to spend time alone in her room dressed in a jersey top and bottom.
After Tamaki died, Aomame quit the sports drink company, left the dormitory she had been living in, and moved into a one-bedroom rental condo in the lively, freewheeling Jiyugaoka neighborhood, away from the center of the city. Though hardly spacious, the place looked huge to her. She kept her furnishings to a minimumexcept for her extensive collection of kitchen utensils. She had few possessions. She enjoyed reading books, but as soon as she was through with them, she would sell them to a used bookstore. She enjoyed listening to music, but was not a collector of records. She hated to see her belongings pile up. She felt guilty whenever she bought something. I dont really need this, she would tell herself. Seeing the nicer clothing and shoes in her closet would give her a pain in the chest and constrict her breathing. Such sights suggestive of freedom and opulence would, paradoxically, remind Aomame of her restrictive childhood.
What did it mean for a person to be free? she would often ask herself. Even if you managed to escape from one cage, werent you just in another, larger one?
Whenever Aomame sent a designated man into the other world, the dowager of Azabu would provide her with remuneration. A wad of bills, tightly wrapped in blank paper, would be deposited in a post-office box. Aomame would receive the key from Tamaru, retrieve the contents of the box, and later return the key. Without breaking the seal on the pack of bills to count the money, she would throw the package into her banks safe-deposit box, which now contained two hard bricks of cash.
Aomame was unable to use up her monthly salary from the sports club, and she even had a bit of savings in the bank. She had no use whatever for the dowagers money, which she tried to explain to her the first time she received the remuneration.
This is a mere external form, the dowager said softly but firmly. Think of it as a kind of set procedurea requirement. You are at least required to receive it. If you dont need the money, then you dont have to use it. If you hate the idea of taking it, I dont mind if you donate it anonymously to some charity. You are free to do anything you like with it. But if you ask me, the best thing for you to do would be to keep it untouched for a while, stored away somewhere.
I just dont like the idea of money changing hands for something like this, Aomame said.
I understand how you feel, but remember this: thanks to the fact that these terrible men have been so good as to remove themselves from our presence, there has been no need for divorce proceedings or custody battles, and no need for the women to live in fear that their husbands might show up and beat them beyond recognition. Life insurance and survivors annuities have been paid. Think of the money you get as the outward form of the womens gratitude. Without a doubt, you have done the right thing. But your act must not go uncompensated. Do you understand why?
No, not really, Aomame replied honestly.
Because you are neither an angel nor a god. I am quite aware that your actions have been prompted by your pure feelings, and I understand perfectly well that, for that very reason, you do not wish to receive money for what you have done. But pure, unadulterated feelings are dangerous in their own way. It is no easy feat for a flesh-and-blood human being to go on living with such feelings. That is why it is necessary for you to fasten your feelings to the earthfirmly, like attaching an anchor to a balloon. The money is for that. To prevent you from feeling that you can do anything you want as long as its the right thing and your feelings are pure. Do you see now?
After thinking about it a while, Aomame nodded. I dont really understand it very well, but Ill do as you say for now.
The dowager smiled and took a sip of her herbal tea. Now, dont do anything silly like putting it in your bank account. If the tax people found it, theyd have a great time wondering what it could be. Just put the cash in a safe-deposit box. It will come in handy sometime.
Aomame said that she would follow the dowagers instructions.
. . .

Home from the club, she was preparing dinner when the phone rang.
Hi there, Aomame, a womans voice said. A slightly husky voice. It was Ayumi.
Pressing the receiver to her ear, Aomame reached out and lowered the gas flame as she spoke: Hows police work these days?
Im handing out parking tickets like crazy. Everybody hates me. No men around, just good, hard work.
Glad to hear it.
What are you doing now? Ayumi asked.
Making supper.
Are you free the day after tomorrow? At night, I mean.
Im free, but Im not ready for another night like the last one. I need a break.
Me, too, Ayumi said. I was just thinking I havent seen you for a while. Id like to get together and talk, thats all.
Aomame gave some thought to what Ayumi was suggesting, but she couldnt make up her mind right away.
You know, you caught me in the middle of stir-frying, she said. I cant stop now. Can you call me again in half an hour?
Sure thing, Ayumi said. Half an hour it is.
Aomame hung up and finished stir-frying her vegetables. Then she made some miso soup with bean sprouts and had that with brown rice. She drank half a can of beer and poured the rest down the drain. She had washed the dishes and was resting on the sofa when Ayumi called again.
I thought it might be nice to have dinner together sometime, she said. I get tired of eating alone.
Do you always eat alone?
I live in a dormitory, with meals included, so I usually eat in a big, noisy crowd. Sometimes, though, I want to have a nice, quiet meal, maybe go someplace a little fancy. But not alone. You know what I mean?
Of course I do, Aomame said.
I just dont have anybodyman or womanto eat with at times like that. They all like to hang out in cheap bars. With you, though, I thought just maybe, if you wouldnt mind
No, I wouldnt mind at all, Aomame said. Lets do it. Lets go have a fancy meal together. I havent done something like that for a long time.
Really? Im thrilled!
You said the day after tomorrow is good for you?
Right. Im off duty the day after that. Do you know a nice place?
Aomame mentioned a certain French restaurant in the Nogizaka neighborhood.
Ayumi gasped. Are you kidding? Its only the most famous French restaurant in the city. I read in a magazine its insanely expensive, and you have to wait two months for a reservation. Thats no place for anybody on my salary!
Dont worry, the owner-chef is a member of my gym. Im his personal trainer, and I kind of advise him on his menus nutritional values. If I ask him, Im sure hell save us a tableand knock the bill way down, too. I cant guarantee wed get great seats, of course.
Id be happy to sit in a closet in that place, Ayumi said.
Youd better wear your best dress, Aomame advised her.
When she had hung up, Aomame was somewhat shocked to realize that she had grown fond of the young policewoman. She hadnt felt like this about anyone since Tamaki Otsuka died. And though the feelings were utterly different from what she had felt for Tamaki, this was the first time in a very long time that she would share a meal with a friendor even want to do such a thing. To add to which, this other person was a police officer! Aomame sighed. Life was so strange.
Aomame wore a small white cardigan over a blue-gray short-sleeve dress, and she had on her Ferragamo heels. She added earrings and a narrow gold bracelet. Leaving her usual shoulder bag at home (along with the ice pick), she carried a small Bagagerie purse. Ayumi wore a simple black jacket by Comme des Garons over a scoop-necked brown T-shirt, a flower-patterned flared skirt, the Gucci bag she carried before, small pearl pierced earrings, and brown low-heeled shoes. She looked far lovelier and more elegant than last timeand certainly not like a police officer.
They met at the bar, sipped mimosas, and then were shown to their table, which turned out to be a rather good one. The chef stepped out of the kitchen for a chat with Aomame and noted that the wine would be on the house.
Sorry, its already been uncorked, and one tastings worth is gone. A customer complained about the taste yesterday and we gave him a new bottle, but in fact there is absolutely nothing wrong with this wine. The man is a famous politician who likes to think hes a wine connoisseur, but he doesnt know a damn thing about wine. He did it to show off. Im afraid this might have a slight edge, he says. We had to humor him. Oh, yes, you may be right about that, sir. Im sure the importers warehouse is at fault. Ill bring another bottle right away. But bravo, sir! I dont think another person in the country could have caught this! That was the best way to make everybody happy, as you can imagine. Now, I cant say this too loudly, but we had to inflate the bill a little to cover our loss. He was on an expense account, after all. In any case, theres no way a restaurant with our reputation could serve a returned bottle.
Except to us, you mean.
The chef winked. You dont mind, do you?
Of course not, Aomame said.
Not at all, Ayumi chimed in.
Is this lovely lady your younger sister, by any chance? the chef asked Aomame.
Does she look it? Aomame asked back.
I dont see a physical resemblance, but theres a certain atmosphere
Shes my friend, Aomame said. My police officer friend.
Really? He looked again at Ayumi with an expression of disbelief. You mean, with a pistol and everything?
Ive never shot anyone, Ayumi said.
I dont think I said anything incriminating, did I?
Ayumi shook her head. Not a thing.
The chef smiled and clasped his hands across his chest. In any case, this is a highly respected Burgundy that we can serve to anyone with confidence. From a noble domain, a good year. I wont say how many ten-thousand-yen bills wed ordinarily have to charge for this one.
The chef withdrew and the waiter approached to pour their wine. Aomame and Ayumi toasted each other, the clink of their glasses a distant echo of heavenly bells.
Oh! Ive never tasted such delicious wine before! Ayumi said, her eyes narrowed after her first sip. Who could possibly object to a wine like this?
You can always find somebody to complain about anything, Aomame said.
The two women studied the menu. Ayumi went through every item twice with the sharp gaze of a smart lawyer reading a major contract: was she missing something important, a clever loophole? She mentally scrutinized all the provisos and stipulations and pondered their likely repercussions, carefully weighing profit and loss.
Aomame enjoyed watching this spectacle from across the table. Have you decided? she asked.
Pretty much, Ayumi said.
So, what are you going to order?
Ill have the mussels, the three-onion salad, and the Bordeaux-braised Iwate veal stew. How about you?
Id like the lentil soup, the warm spring green salad, and the parchment-baked monkfish with polenta. Not much of a match for a red wine, but its free, so I cant complain.
Mind sharing a little?
Not at all, Aomame said. And if you dont mind, lets share the deep-fried shrimp to start.
Marvelous!
If were through choosing, wed better close the menus, Aomame said. Otherwise the waiter will never come.
True, Ayumi said, closing her menu with apparent regret and setting it on the table. The waiter came over immediately and took their order.
Whenever I finish ordering in a restaurant, I feel like I got the wrong thing, Ayumi said when the waiter was gone. How about you?
Even if you do order the wrong thing, its just food. Its no big deal compared with mistakes in life.
No, of course not, Ayumi said. But still, its important to me. Its been that way ever since I was little. Always after Ive ordered I start having regretsOh, if only I had ordered the fried shrimp instead of a hamburger! Have you always been so cool?
Well, for various reasons, my family never ate out. Ever. As far back as I can remember, I never set foot in a restaurant, and I never had the experience until much later of choosing food from a menu and ordering what I wanted to eat. I just had to shut up and eat what I was served day after day. I wasnt allowed to complain if the food was tasteless or if it didnt fill me up or if I hated it. To tell you the truth, even now, I really dont care what I eat, as long as its healthy
Really? Can that be true? I dont know much about your situation, but you sure dont look it. To me, you look like somebody whos been used to coming to places like this since you were little.
This Aomame owed entirely to the guidance of Tamaki Otsuka. How to behave in an elegant restaurant, how to choose your food without making a fool of yourself, how to order wine, how to request dessert, how to deal with your waiter, how to use your cutlery properly: Tamaki knew about all these things, and she taught them all in great detail to Aomame. She also taught Aomame how to choose her clothing, how to wear accessories, and how to use makeup. These were all new discoveries for Aomame. Tamaki grew up in an affluent Yamanote household. A socialite, her mother was exceedingly particular about manners and clothing, as a result of which Tamaki had internalized all that knowledge as early as her high school days. She could socialize comfortably with grown-ups. Aomame absorbed this knowledge voraciously; she would have been a far different person if she had never met an excellent teacher like Tamaki. She often felt that Tamaki was still alive and lurking inside of her.
Ayumi seemed a little anxious at first, but each sip of wine relaxed her.
Uh, I want to ask you something, Ayumi said. You dont have to answer if you dont want to, but I just feel like asking. You wont get mad, will you?
No, I wont get mad.
Its kind of a strange question, but I dont have any ulterior motive in asking it. I want you to understand that. Im just a curious person. But some people get really angry about these things.
Dont worry, I wont get angry.
Are you sure? Thats what everybody says, and then they blow up.
Im special, so dont worry.
Did you ever have the experience of having a man do funny things to you when you were little?
Aomame shook her head. No, I dont think so. Why?
I just wanted to ask. If it never happened to you, fine, Ayumi said. Then she changed the subject. Tell me, have you ever had a lover? I mean, someone you were seriously involved with?
Never.
Not even once?
Not even once, Aomame said. Then, after some hesitation, she added, To tell you the truth, I was a virgin until I turned twenty-six.
Ayumi was at a loss for words. She put down her knife and fork, dabbed at her mouth with her napkin, and stared at Aomame with narrowed eyes.
A beautiful woman like you? I cant believe it.
I just wasnt interested.
Not interested in men?
I did have one person I fell in love with, Aomame said. It happened when I was ten. I held his hand.
You fell in love with a boy when you were ten? Thats all?
Thats all.
Ayumi picked up her knife and fork and seemed deep in thought as she sliced one of her shrimp. So, where is the boy now? Whats he doing?
Aomame shook her head. I dont know. We were in the same third- and fourth-grade classes in Ichikawa in Chiba, but I moved to a school in Tokyo in the fifth grade, and I never saw him again, never heard anything about him. All I know is that, if hes still alive, he should be twenty-nine years old now. Hell probably turn thirty this fall.
Are you telling me you never thought about trying to find out where he is or what hes doing? It wouldnt be that hard, you know.
Aomame gave another firm shake of her head. I never felt like taking the initiative to find out.
Thats so strange. If it were me, Id do everything I could to locate him. If you love him that much, you should track him down and tell him so to his face.
I dont want to do that, Aomame said. What I want is for the two of us to meet somewhere by chance one day, like, passing on the street, or getting on the same bus.
Destiny. A chance encounter.
More or less, Aomame said, taking a sip of wine. Thats when Ill open up to him. The only one Ive ever loved in this life is you.
How romantic! Ayumi said, astonished. But the odds of a meeting like that are pretty low, Id say. And besides, you havent seen him for twenty years. He might look completely different. You could pass him on the street and never know.
Aomame shook her head. Id know. His face might have changed, but Id know him at a glance. I couldnt miss him.
How can you be so sure?
Im sure.
So you go on waiting, believing that this chance encounter is bound to happen.
Which is why I always pay attention when I walk down the street.
Incredible, Ayumi said. But as much as you love him, you dont mind having sex with other menat least after you turned twenty-six.
Aomame thought about this for a moment. Then she said, Thats all just in passing. It doesnt last.
A short silence ensued, during which both women concentrated on their food. Then Ayumi said, Sorry if this is getting too personal, but did something happen to you when you were twenty-six?
Aomame nodded. Something did happen. And it changed me completely. But I cant talk about it here and now. Sorry.
Thats perfectly okay, Ayumi said. Did I put you in a bad mood asking all these questions?
Not in the least, Aomame said.
The waiter brought the starters, and they ate for a while in silence. Their conversation picked up again after they had put their spoons down and the waiter cleared their bowls from the table.
Arent you afraid, though? Ayumi asked Aomame.
Afraid of what?
Dont you see? You and he might never cross paths again. Of course, a chance meeting could occur, and I hope it happens. I really do, for your sake. But realistically speaking, you have to see theres a huge possibility youll never be able to meet him again. And even if you do meet, he might already be married to somebody else. He might have two kids. Isnt that so? And in that case, you may have to live the rest of your life alone, never being joined with the one person you love in all the world. Dont you find that scary?
Aomame stared at the red wine in her glass. Maybe I do, she said. But at least I have someone I love.
Even if he never loved you?
If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then theres salvation in life. Even if you cant get together with that person.
Ayumi thought this over for a while. The waiter approached and refilled their wineglasses. Taking a sip, Aomame thought, Ayumi is right. Who could possibly object to a wine like this?
Youre amazing, Ayumi said, the way you can put this in such a philosophical perspective.
Im not being philosophical. Im just telling you what I honestly think.
I was in love with somebody once, Ayumi said with a confidential air. Right after I graduated from high school. The boy I first had sex with. He was three years older than me. But he dumped me for somebody else right away. I went kind of wild after that. It was really hard on me. I got over him, but I still havent recovered from the wild part. He was a real two-timing bastard, a smooth talker. But I really loved him.
Aomame nodded, and Ayumi picked up her wineglass and took a drink.
He still calls me once in a while, says he wants to get together. All he wants is my body, of course. I know that. So I dont see him. I know it would just be another mess if I did. Or should I say my brain knows it, but my body always reacts. It wants him so badly! When these things build up, I let myself go crazy again. I wonder if you know what I mean.
I certainly do, Aomame said.
Hes really an awful guy, pretty nasty, and hes not that good in bed, either. But at least hes not scared of me, and while Im with him he treats me well.
Feelings like that dont give you any choice, do they? Aomame said. They come at you whenever they want to. Its not like choosing food from a menu.
It is in one way: you have regrets after you make a mistake.
They shared a laugh.
Aomame said, Its the same with menus and men and just about anything else: we think were choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everythings decided in advance and we pretend were making choices. Free will may be an illusion. I often think that.
If thats true, life is pretty dark.
Maybe so.
But if you can love someone with your whole hearteven if hes a terrible person and even if he doesnt love you backlife is not a hell, at least, though it might be kind of dark. Is that what youre saying? Ayumi asked.
Exactly.
But still, Ayumi said, it seems to me that this world has a serious shortage of both logic and kindness.
You may be right, Aomame said. But its too late to trade it in for another one.
The exchange window expired a long time ago, Ayumi said.
And the receipts been thrown away.
You said it.
Oh, well, no problem, Aomame said. The worlds going to end before we know it.
Sounds like fun.
And the kingdom is going to come.
I can hardly wait, Ayumi said.
They ate dessert, drank espresso, and split the bill (which was amazingly cheap). Then they dropped into a neighborhood bar for cocktails.
Oh, look at him over there, Ayumi said. Hes your type, isnt he?
Aomame swung her gaze in that direction. A tall, middle-aged man was drinking a martini alone at the end of the bar. He looked like a high school scholar-athlete who had entered middle age virtually unchanged. His hair was beginning to thin, but he still had a youthful face.
He may be, but were not having anything to do with men today, Aomame declared. And besides, this is a classy bar.
I know. I just wanted to see what youd say.
Well do that next time.
Ayumi looked at Aomame. Does that mean youll go with me next time? Searching for men, I mean.
For sure, Aomame said. Lets do it.
Great! Something tells me that together, we can do anything!
Aomame was drinking a daiquiri, Ayumi a Tom Collins.
Oh, by the way, Aomame said, on the phone the other day you said we were doing lesbian stuff. What kind of stuff?
Oh, that, Ayumi said. It was nothing special. We just faked it a bit to liven things up. You really dont remember anything? You were pretty hot.
Not a thing. My memory is wiped clean.
We were naked and touching each others breasts and kissing down there and
Kissing down there?! Aomame exclaimed. After the words escaped her lips, she nervously glanced around. She had spoken too loudly in the quiet bar, but fortunately no one seemed to have heard what she said.
Dont worry, like I said, we were faking it. No tongues.
Oh, man, Aomame sighed, pressing her temples. What the hell was that all about?
Im sorry, Ayumi said.
Its not your fault. I should never have let myself get so .
But really, Aomame, you were so sweet and clean down there. Like new.
Well, of course, I really am almost new down there.
You mean you dont use it all that often?
Aomame nodded. Thats exactly what I mean. So, tell me: are you interested in women?
Ayumi shook her head. No, I never did anything like that before. Really. But I was pretty , too, and I figured I wouldnt mind doing a little of that stuff as long as it was with you. Faking it. Just for fun. How about you?
No, I dont have those kinds of feelings, either. Once, though, when I was in high school, I kind of did stuff like that with a good friend of mine. Neither of us had been planning it. It just sort of happened.
Its probably not that unusual. Did you feel anything that time?
I did, I think, Aomame answered honestly. But only that once. I also felt it was wrong and never did anything like it again.
You mean you think lesbian sex is wrong?
No, not at all. Im not saying lesbian sex is wrong or dirty or anything. I mean I just felt I shouldnt get into that kind of a relationship with that particular friend. I didnt want to change an important friendship into anything so physical.
I see, Ayumi said. You know, if its okay with you, would you mind putting me up tonight? I dont feel like going back to the dorm. The minute I walk in there it will just ruin the elegant mood weve managed to create this evening.
Aomame took her last sip of daiquiri and set her glass on the bar. I dont mind putting you up, but no fooling around.
No, no, thats fine, Im not looking for that. I just want to stay with you a little longer. I dont care where you put me to bed. I can sleep anywhereeven on the floor. And Im off duty tomorrow, so we can hang out in the morning, too.
They took the subway back to Aomames apartment in Jiyugaoka, arriving just before eleven. Both were pleasantly and sleepy. Aomame put bedding on the sofa and lent Ayumi a pair of pajamas.
Can I get in bed with you for a minute or two? Ayumi asked. I want to stay close to you just a little bit longer. No funny business, I promise.
I dont mind, Aomame said, struck by the fact that a woman who had killed three men would be lying in bed with an active-duty policewoman. Life was so strange!
Ayumi crawled under the covers and wrapped her arms around Aomame, her firm breasts pressing against Aomames arm, her breath smelling of alcohol and toothpaste. Dont you think my breasts are too big? she asked Aomame.
Not at all. Theyre beautiful.
Sure, but, I dont know, big boobs make you look stupid, dont you think? Mine bounce when I run, and Im too embarrassed to hang my bras out to drytheyre like two big salad bowls.
Men seem to like them like that.
And even my nipples are too big. Ayumi unbuttoned her pajama top and pulled out a breast. Look. This is a big nipple! Dont you think its odd?
Aomame looked at Ayumis nipple. It was certainly not small, but not so big as to cause concern, maybe a little bit bigger than Tamakis. Its nice. Did somebody tell you your nipples are too big?
Yeah, one guy. He said theyre the biggest hes ever seen in his life.
Im sure he hadnt seen very many. Yours are ordinary. Mine are too small.
No, I like your breasts. Theyre very elegantly shaped, and they give this intellectual impression.
Thats ridiculous. Theyre too small, and theyre different sizes. I have trouble buying bras because one side is bigger than the other.
Really? I guess we all have our issues.
Exactly. Now go to sleep, Aomame said.
Ayumi stretched her arm down and started to put a finger into Aomames pajamas. Aomame grabbed her hand.
No, you promised.
Sorry, Ayumi said, pulling her hand back. Youre right, I did promise, didnt I? I must be . But Im crazy about you. Like some mousy little high school girl.
Aomame said nothing.
Almost whispering, Ayumi said, What I think is that youre saving the one thing thats most important to you for that boy. Its true, isnt it? I envy you. That youve got somebody to save yourself for.
She could be right, Aomame thought. But what is the one thing thats most important to me?
Now go to sleep, Aomame said. Ill hold you until you fall asleep.
Thank you, Ayumi said. Sorry for putting you to so much trouble.
Dont apologize. This is no trouble.
Aomame continued to feel Ayumis warm breath against her side. A dog howled in the distance, and someone slammed a window shut. All the while, Aomame kept stroking Ayumis hair.
Aomame slipped out of bed after Ayumi was sound asleep. She would be the one sleeping on the sofa tonight, it seemed. She took a bottle of mineral water from the refrigerator and drank two glasses from it. Then she stepped out onto her small balcony and sat in an aluminum chair, looking at the neighborhood stretched out below. It was a soft spring night. The breeze carried the roar of distant streets like a man-made ocean. The glitter of neon had diminished somewhat now that midnight had passed.
Im fond of this girl Ayumi, no doubt about it. I want to be as good to her as I can. After Tamaki died, I made up my mind to live without deep ties to anyone. I never once felt that I wanted a new friend. But for some reason I feel my heart opening to Ayumi. I can even confess my true feelings to her with a certain degree of honesty. She is totally different from you, of course, Aomame said to the Tamaki inside. You are special. I grew up with you. No one else can compare.
Aomame leaned her head back and looked up at the sky for a time. Even as her eyes took in the sky, her mind wandered through distant memories. The time she spent with Tamaki, the talking they did, and the touching. Soon, she began to sense that the night sky she saw above her was somehow different from the sky she was used to seeing. The strangeness of it was subtle but undeniable.
Some time had to pass before she was able to grasp what the difference was. And even after she had grasped it, she had to work hard to accept it. What her vision had seized upon, her mind could not easily confirm.
There were two moons in the skya small moon and a large one. They were floating there side by side. The large one was the usual moon that she had always seen. It was nearly full, and yellow. But there was another moon right next to it. It had an unfamiliar shape. It was somewhat lopsided, and greenish, as though thinly covered with moss. This was what her vision had seized upon.
Aomame stared at the two moons with narrowed eyes. Then she closed her eyes, let a moment pass, took a deep breath, and opened her eyes again, expecting to find that everything had returned to normal and there was only one moon. But nothing had changed. The light was not playing tricks on her, nor had her eyesight gone strange. There could be no doubt that two moons were clearly floating in the sky side by sidea yellow one and a green one.
She thought of waking Ayumi to ask if there really were two moons up there, but she decided against it. Ayumi might say, Of course there are two moons in the sky. They increased in number last year. Or then again, she might say, What are you talking about? Theres only one moon up there. Something must be wrong with your eyes. Neither response would solve the problem now facing her. Both would only deepen it.
Aomame raised her hands to cover the lower half of her face, and she continued staring at the two moons. Something is happening, for sure, she thought. Her heartbeat sped up. Somethings wrong with the world, or somethings wrong with me: one or the other. The bottle and the cap dont fit: is the problem with the bottle or the cap?
She went back inside, locked the balcony door, and drew the curtain. She took a bottle of brandy from the cabinet and poured herself a glassful. Ayumi was sleeping nicely in bed, her breathing deep and even. Aomame kept watch over her and took a sip of brandy now and then. Planting her elbows on the kitchen table, she struggled not to think about what lay beyond the curtain.
Maybe the world really is ending, she thought.
And the kingdom is coming, Aomame muttered to herself.
I can hardly wait, somebody said somewhere.

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11-13-2011, 08:13 PM   #17

 

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: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]

()

 


CHAPTER 16

Tengo

IM GLAD YOU LIKED IT


Tengo had spent ten days reworking Air Chrysalis before handing it over to Komatsu as a newly finished work, following which he was visited by a string of calm, tranquil days. He taught three days a week at the cram school, and got together once a week with his married girlfriend. The rest of his time he spent doing housework, taking walks, and writing his own novel. April passed like this. The cherry blossoms scattered, new buds appeared on the trees, the magnolias reached full bloom, and the seasons moved along in stages. The days flowed by smoothly, regularly, uneventfully. This was the life that Tengo most wanted, each week linking automatically and seamlessly with the next.
Amid all the sameness, however, one change became evident. A good change. Tengo was aware that, as he went on writing his novel, a new wellspring was forming inside him. Not that its water was gushing forth: it was more like a tiny spring among the rocks. The flow may have been limited, but it was continuous, welling up drop by drop. He was in no hurry. He felt no pressure. All he had to do was wait patiently for the water to collect in the rocky basin until he could scoop it up. Then he would sit at his desk, turning what he had scooped into words, and the story would advance quite naturally.
The concentrated work of rewriting Air Chrysalis might have dislodged a rock that had been blocking his wellspring until now. Tengo had no idea why that should be so, but he had a definite sense that a heavy lid had finally come off. He felt as though his body had become lighter, that he had emerged from a cramped space and could now stretch his arms and legs freely. Air Chrysalis had probably stimulated something that had been deep inside him all along.
Tengo sensed, too, that something very like desire was growing inside him. This was the first time in his life he had ever experienced such a feeling. All through high school and college, his judo coach and older teammates would often say to him, You have the talent and the strength, and you practice enough, but you just dont have the desire. They were probably right. He lacked that drive to win at all costs, which is why he would often make it to the semifinals and the finals but lose the all-important championship match. He exhibited these tendencies in everything, not just judo. He was more placid than determined. It was the same with his fiction. He could write with some style and make up reasonably interesting stories, but his work lacked the strength to grab the reader by the throat. Something was missing. And so he would always make it to the short list but never take the new writers prize, as Komatsu had said.
After he finished rewriting Air Chrysalis, however, Tengo was truly chagrined for the first time in his life. While engaged in the rewrite, he had been totally absorbed in the process, moving his hands without thinking. Once he had completed the work and handed it to Komatsu, however, Tengo was assaulted by a profound sense of powerlessness. Once the powerlessness began to abate, a kind of rage surged up from deep inside him. The rage was directed at Tengo himself. I used another persons story to create a rewrite that amounts to a literary fraud, and I did it with far more passion than I bring to my own work. Isnt a writer someone who finds the story hidden inside and uses the proper words to express it? Arent you ashamed of yourself? You should be able to write something as good as Air Chrysalis if you make up your mind to do it. Isnt that true?
But he had to prove it to himself.
Tengo decided to discard the manuscript he had written thus far and start a brand-new story from scratch. He closed his eyes and, for a long time, listened closely to the dripping of the little spring inside him. Eventually the words began to come naturally to him. Little by little, taking all the time he needed, he began to form them into sentences.
In early May Komatsu called him for the first time in quite a while. The phone rang just before nine oclock at night.
Its all set, Komatsu said, with a note of excitement in his voice. This was rare for him.
Tengo could not tell at first what Komatsu was talking about. Whats all set?
What else? Air Chrysalis took the new writers award a few minutes ago. The committee reached a unanimous decision, with none of the usual debate. I guess you could say it was inevitable, its such a powerful work. In any case, things have started to move. Were in this together from now on, Tengo. Lets give it our best shot.
Tengo glanced at the calendar on the wall. Come to think of it, today was the day the screening committee was going to pick the winner. Tengo had been so absorbed in writing his own novel, he had lost all sense of time.
So what happens now? Tengo asked. In terms of the prize schedule, I mean.
Tomorrow the newspapers announce itevery paper in the country. Theyll probably have photos, too. A pretty seventeen-year-old girl wins: that alone will cause a sensation. Dont take this the wrong way, but that has a lot more news value than if the new writers prize had gone to some thirty-year-old cram school teacher who looks like a bear coming out of hibernation.
Way more, Tengo said.
Then comes the award ceremony on May 16 in a Shinbashi hotel. The press conference is all arranged.
Will Fuka-Eri be there?
Im sure she will, this time at least. Theres no way the winner of a new writers prize wouldnt be present at the award ceremony. If we can get through that without any major mishaps, we can then adopt a policy of total secrecy. Sorry, but the author does not wish to make public appearances. We can hold them at bay like that, and the truth will never come out.
Tengo tried to imagine Fuka-Eri holding a press conference in a hotel ballroom. A row of microphones, cameras flashing. He couldnt picture it.
Do you really need to have a press conference? he asked Komatsu.
Well have to, at least once, to keep up appearances.
Its bound to be a disaster!
Which is why its your job, Tengo, to make sure it doesnt turn into a disaster.
Tengo went silent. Ominous dark clouds appeared on the horizon.
Hey, are you still there? Komatsu asked.
Im here, Tengo said. What does that meanits my job?
You have to drill Fuka-Eri on how a press conference works and how to deal with it. Pretty much the same sorts of questions come up every time, so you should prepare answers for questions theyre likely to ask, and have her memorize them word for word. You teach at a cram school. You must know how to do stuff like that.
You want me to do it?
Of course. She trusts you, for some reason. Shell listen to you. Theres no way I can do it. She hasnt even agreed to meet me.
Tengo sighed. He wished he could cut all ties with Air Chrysalis. He had done everything asked of him, and now he just wanted to concentrate on his own work. Something told him, however, that it was not going to be that simple, and he knew that bad premonitions have a far higher accuracy rate than good ones.
Are you free in the evening the day after tomorrow? Komatsu asked.
I am.
Six oclock at the usual caf in Shinjuku. Fuka-Eri will be there.
I cant do what youre asking me to do, Tengo said to Komatsu. I dont know anything about press conferences. Ive never even seen one.
You want to be a novelist, right? So imagine it. Isnt that the job of the novelistto imagine things hes never seen?
Yes, but arent you the one who told me all I had to do was rewrite Air Chrysalis, that youd take care of everything else after that, that I could just sit on the sidelines and watch the rest of the game?
Look, Id gladly do it if I could. Im not crazy about asking people to do things for me, but thats exactly what Im doing now, pleading with you to do this job because I cant do it. Dont you see? Its as if were in a boat shooting the rapids. Ive got my hands full steering the rudder, so Im letting you take the oar. If you tell me you cant do it, the boats going to capsize and we all might go under, including Fuka-Eri. You dont want that to happen, do you?
Tengo sighed again. Why did he always get himself backed into a corner where he couldnt refuse? Okay, Ill do my best. But I cant promise its going to work.
Thats all Im asking, Komatsu said. Ill owe you big for this. I mean, Fuka-Eri seems to have made up her mind not to talk to anyone but you. And theres one more thing. You and I have to set up a new company.
A company?
Company, office, firmcall it anything you like. To handle Fuka-Eris literary activities. A paper company, of course. Officially, Fuka-Eri will be paid by the company. Well have Professor Ebisuno be her representative and youll be a company employee. We can make up some kind of title for you, it doesnt matter, but the main thing is the company will pay you. Ill be in on it, too, but without revealing my name. If people found out that I was involved, that would cause some serious trouble. Anyway, thats how we divide up the profits. All I need is for you to put your seal on a few documents, and Ill take care of the rest. I know a good lawyer.
Tengo thought about what Komatsu was telling him. Can you please just drop me from your plan? I dont need to be paid. I enjoyed rewriting Air Chrysalis, and I learned a lot from it. Im glad that Fuka-Eri got the prize and Ill do my best to prepare her for the press conference. But thats all. I dont want to have anything to do with this convoluted company arrangement. That would be straight-up fraud.
You cant turn back now, Tengo, Komatsu said. Straight-up fraud? Maybe so. But you must have known that from the start when we decided to pull the wool over peoples eyes with this half-invented author, Fuka-Eri. Am I right? Of course something like this is going to involve money, and thats going to require a sophisticated system to handle it. This is not childs play. Its too late to start saying you dont want to have anything to do with it, that its too dangerous, that you dont need money. If you were going to get out of the boat, you should have done it before, while the stream was still gentle. You cant do it now. We need an official head count to set up a company, and I cant start bringing in new people now who dont know whats going on. You have to do it. Youre right in the thick of whats happening now.
Tengo racked his brain without producing a single useful thought. I do have one question, though, he said to Komatsu. Judging from what youre saying, Professor Ebisuno intends to give his full approval to the plan. It sounds as if hes already agreed to set up the fake company and act as a representative.
As Fuka-Eris guardian, the Professor understands and approves of the entire situation and has given us the green light. I called him as soon as you told me about your talk with him. He remembered me, of course. I think he didnt say anything about me because he wanted to get your uncensored opinion of me. He said you impressed him as a sharp observer of people. What in the world did you tell him about me?
What does Professor Ebisuno have to gain from participating in this plan? He cant possibly be doing it for the money.
Youre right about that. Hes not the kind of guy to be influenced by a little spare change.
So why would he let himself get involved in such a risky plan? Does he have something to gain from it?
I dont know any better than you do. Hes a hard one to read.
And so are you. That gives us a lot of deep motives to guess about.
Well, anyway, Komatsu said, the Professor may look like just another innocent old guy, but in fact hes quite inscrutable.
How much does Fuka-Eri know about the plan?
She doesnt knowand she doesnt need to knowanything about the behind-the-scenes stuff. She trusts Professor Ebisuno and she likes you. Thats why Im asking you for more help.
Tengo shifted the phone from one hand to the other. He felt a need to trace the progress of the current situation. By the way, Professor Ebisuno is not a scholar anymore, is he? He left the university, and hes not writing books or anything.
True, hes cut all ties with academia. He was an outstanding scholar, but he doesnt seem to miss the academic world. But then, he never did want much to do with authority or the organization. He was always something of a maverick.
What sort of work is he doing now?
I think hes a stockbroker, Komatsu said. Or, if that sounds too old-fashioned, hes an investment consultant. He manages money for people, and while he moves it around for them, he makes his own profit on the side. He stays holed up on the mountaintop, issuing suggestions to buy or sell. His instinct for it is frighteningly good. He also excels at analyzing data and has put together his own system. It was just a hobby for him at first, but it became his main profession. So thats the story. Hes pretty famous in those circles. One things for sure: hes not hurting for money.
I dont see any connection between cultural anthropology and stock trading, Tengo said.
In general, there is no connection, but there is for him.
And hes a hard one to read.
Exactly.
Tengo pressed his fingertips against his temples. Then, resigning himself to his fate, he said, Ill meet Fuka-Eri at the usual caf in Shinjuku at six oclock the day after tomorrow, and well prepare for the press conference. Thats what you want me to do, right?
Thats the plan, Komatsu said. You know, Tengo, dont think too hard about this stuff for the time being. Just go with the flow. Things like this dont happen all that often in one lifetime. This is the magnificent world of a picaresque novel. Just brace yourself and enjoy the smell of evil. Were shooting the rapids. And when we go over the falls, lets do it together in grand style!
Tengo met Fuka-Eri at the Shinjuku caf in the evening two days later. She wore a slim pair of jeans and a thin summer sweater that clearly revealed the outline of her breasts. Her hair hung down long and straight, and her skin had a fresh glow. The male customers kept glancing in her direction. Tengo could feel their gazes. Fuka-Eri herself, though, seemed totally unaware of them. When this girl was announced as the winner of a literary magazines new writers prize, it would almost certainly cause a commotion.
Fuka-Eri had already received word that she had won the prize, but she seemed neither pleased nor excited by it. She didnt care one way or the other. It was a summerlike day, but she ordered hot cocoa and clutched the cup in both hands, savoring every drop. No one had told her about the upcoming press conference, but when Tengo explained, she had no reaction.
You do know what a press conference is, dont you?
Press conference Fuka-Eri repeated the words.
You sit up on the podium and answer questions from a bunch of newspaper and magazine reporters. Theyll take your picture. There might even be TV cameras. The whole country will see reports on the questions and answers. Its very unusual for a seventeen-year-old girl to win a literary magazines new writers award. Itll be big news. Theyll make a big deal of the fact that the committees decision was unanimous. That almost never happens.
Questions and answers, Fuka-Eri asked.
They ask the questions, you give the answers.
What kind of questions.
All kinds of questions. About the work, about you, about your private life, your hobbies, your plans for the future. It might be a good idea to prepare answers now for those kinds of questions.
Why.
Its safer that way. So you arent at a loss for answers and dont say anything that might invite misunderstanding. It wouldnt hurt to get ready for it now. Kind of like a rehearsal.
Fuka-Eri drank her cocoa in silence. Then she looked at Tengo with eyes that said, Im really not interested in doing such a thing, but if you think its necessary Her eyes could be more eloquentor at least speak more full sentencesthan her words. But she could hardly conduct a press conference with her eyes.
Tengo took a piece of paper from his briefcase and unfolded it on the table. It contained a list of questions that were likely to come up at the press conference. Tengo had put a lot of time and thought into compiling it the night before.
Ill ask a question, and you answer me as if Im a newspaper reporter, okay?
Fuka-Eri nodded.
Have you written lots of stories before?
Lots, Fuka-Eri replied.
When did you start writing?
A long time ago.
Thats fine, Tengo said. Short answers are good. No need to add anything extra. Like, the fact that Azami did the writing for you. Okay?
Fuka-Eri nodded.
You shouldnt say anything about that. Its just our little secret, yours and mine.
I wont say anything about that, Fuka-Eri said.
Did you think youd win when you submitted your work for the new writers prize?
She smiled but said nothing.
So you dont want to answer that?
No.
Thats fine. Just keep quiet and smile when you dont want to answer. Theyre stupid questions, anyway.
Fuka-Eri nodded again.
Where did you get the story line for Air Chrysalis?
From the blind goat.
Good answer. What are your friends at school saying about your winning the prize?
I dont go to school.
Why dont you go to school?
No answer.
Do you plan to keep writing fiction?
Silence again.
Tengo drank the last of his coffee and returned the cup to the saucer. From the speakers recessed in the cafs ceiling, a string performance of soundtrack music from The Sound of Music played at low volume.
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Are my answers bad, Fuka-Eri asked.
Not at all, Tengo said. Not at all. Theyre fine.
Good, Fuka-Eri said.
Tengo meant it. Even though she could not speak more than a sentence at a time and some punctuation marks were missing, her answers were, in a sense, perfect. The best thing was her instant response to every question. Also good was the way she looked directly into the eyes of the questioner without blinking. This proved that her answers were honest and their shortness was not meant as a put-down. Another bonus was that no one was likely to be able to grasp her precise meaning. That was the main thing that Tengo was hoping forthat she should give an impression of sincerity even as she mystified her listeners.
Your favorite novel is ?
The Tale of the Heike.
Tengo was astounded. To think that a thirteenth-century samurai war chronicle should be her favorite novel! What a great answer!
What do you like about The Tale of the Heike?
Everything.
How about another favorite?
Tales of Times Now Past.
But thats even older! Dont you read any new literature?
Fuka-Eri gave it a moment of thought before saying, Sansho the Bailiff.
Wonderful! Ogai Mori must have written that one around 1915. This was what she thought of as new literature.
Do you have any hobbies?
Listening to music.
What kind of music?
I like Bach.
Anything in particular?
BWV 846 to 893.
Tengo mulled that one over. The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II.
Yes.
Why did you answer with the BWV numbers?
Theyre easier to remember.
The Well-Tempered Clavier was truly heavenly music for mathematicians. It was composed of prelude and fugue pairs in major and minor keys using all twelve tones of the scale, twenty-four pieces per book, forty-eight pieces in all, comprising a perfect cycle.
How about other works? Tengo asked.
BWV 244.
Tengo could not immediately recall which work of Bachs had a BWV number of 244.
Fuka-Eri began to sing.
Buß und Reu
Buß und Reu
Knirscht das Sndenherz entzwei
Buß und Reu
Buß und Reu
Knirscht das Sndenherz entzwei
Knirscht das Sndenherz entzwei
Buß und Reu Buß und Reu
Knirscht das Sndenherz entzwei
Buß und Reu
Knirscht das Sndenherz entzwei
Daß die Tropfen meiner Zähren
Angenehme Spezerei
Treuer Jesu, dir gebären.

Tengo was momentarily dumbstruck. Her singing was not exactly on key, but her German pronunciation was amazingly clear and precise.
St. Matthew Passion, Tengo said. You know it by heart.
No I dont, the girl said.
Tengo wanted to say something, but the words would not come to him. All he could do was look down at his notes and move on to the next question.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Fuka-Eri shook her head.
Why not?
I dont want to get pregnant.
Its possible to have a boyfriend without getting pregnant.
Fuka-Eri said nothing but instead blinked several times.
Why dont you want to get pregnant?
Fuka-Eri kept her mouth clamped shut. Tengo felt sorry for having asked such a stupid question.
Okay, lets stop, Tengo said, returning the list to his briefcase. We dont really know what theyre going to ask, and youll be fine answering them any way you like. You can do it.
Thats good, Fuka-Eri said with apparent relief.
Im sure you think its a waste of time to prepare these answers.
Fuka-Eri gave a little shrug.
I agree with you. Im not doing this because I want to. Mr. Komatsu asked me to do it.
Fuka-Eri nodded.
But, Tengo said, please dont tell anyone that I rewrote Air Chrysalis. You understand that, dont you?
Fuka-Eri nodded twice. I wrote it by myself.
In any case, Air Chrysalis is your work alone and no one elses. That has been clear from the outset.
I wrote it by myself, Fuka-Eri said again.
Did you read my rewritten Air Chrysalis?
Azami read it to me.
How did you like it?
Youre a good writer.
Which means you liked it, I suppose?
Its like I wrote it, Fuka-Eri said.
Tengo looked at her. She picked up her cocoa cup and took a sip. He had to struggle not to look at the lovely swell of her chest.
Im glad to hear that, he said. I really enjoyed rewriting Air Chrysalis. Of course, it was very hard work trying not to destroy what youd done with it. So its very important to me to know whether you liked the finished product or not.
Fuka-Eri nodded silently. Then, as if trying to ascertain something, she brought her hand up to her small, well-formed earlobe.
The waitress approached and refilled their water glasses. Tengo took a swallow to moisten his throat. Then, screwing up his courage, he gave voice to a thought that he had been toying with for a while.
I have my own request to make of you now, if you dont mind.
Whats that.
Id like you to go to the press conference in the same clothes youre wearing today.
Fuka-Eri gave him a puzzled look. Then she looked down to check each article of clothing she had on, as if she had been unaware until this moment of what she was wearing.
You want me to go wearing this, she asked.
Right. Id like you to go to the press conference wearing exactly what youre wearing now.
Why.
It looks good on you. It shows off the shape of your chest beautifully. This is strictly my own hunch, but I suspect the reporters wont be able to stop themselves from looking down there and theyll forget to ask you tough questions. Of course, if you dont like the idea, thats fine. Im not insisting.
Fuka-Eri said, Azami picks all my clothes.
Not you?
I dont care what I wear.
So Azami picked your outfit today?
Azami picked it.
Even so, it looks great on you.
So this outfit makes my chest look good, she asked without a question mark.
Most definitely. Its a real attention-getter.
This sweater and bra are a good match.
Fuka-Eri looked straight into his eyes. Tengo felt himself blushing.
I cant tell what kind of matching is involved, but the, uh, effect is excellent.
Fuka-Eri was still staring into Tengos eyes. Gravely, she asked, You cant stop yourself from looking down there.
Its true, I must confess, Tengo said.
Fuka-Eri pulled on the collar of her sweater and all but stuck her nose inside as she looked down, apparently to check out what kind of bra she had on today. Then she focused her eyes on Tengos bright red face for a moment as if looking at some kind of curiosity. I will do as you say, she said a moment later.
Thank you, Tengo said, bringing their session to an end.
Tengo walked Fuka-Eri to Shinjuku Station. Many people on the street had their jackets off. A few women wore sleeveless tops. The bustle of people combined with the traffic created the liberated sound unique to the city. A fresh early-summer breeze swept down the street. Tengo was mystified: where could such a wonderful-smelling wind come from to reach the crowded streets of Shinjuku?
Are you going back to your house in the country? Tengo asked Fuka-Eri. The trains were jammed; it would take her forever to get home.
Fuka-Eri shook her head. I have a room in Shinano-machi. Just a few minutes away from here.
You stay there when it gets too late to go home?
Futamatao is too far away.
As before, Fuka-Eri held Tengos left hand while they were walking to the station. She did it the way a little girl holds a grown-ups hand, but still it made Tengos heart pound to have his hand held by such a beautiful girl.
When they reached the station, she let go of his hand and bought a ticket to Shinano-machi from the machine.
Dont worry about the press conference, Fuka-Eri said.
Im not worried.
Even if you dont worry, I can do it okay.
I know that, Tengo said. Im not the least bit worried. Im sure it will be okay.
Without speaking, Fuka-Eri disappeared through the ticket gate into the crowd.
After leaving Fuka-Eri, Tengo went to a little bar near the Kinokuniya bookstore and ordered a gin and tonic. This was a bar he would go to now and then. He liked the old-fashioned decor and the fact that they had no music playing. He sat alone at the bar and stared at his left hand for a while, thinking nothing in particular. This was the hand that Fuka-Eri had been holding. It still retained her touch. He thought about her chest, its beautiful curves. The shape was so perfect it had almost no sexual meaning.
As he thought about these things, Tengo found himself wanting to talk with his older girlfriend on the telephoneto talk about anything at all: her complaints about child raising, the approval rating of the Nakasone government, it didnt matter. He just wanted to hear her voice. If possible, he wanted to meet her somewhere right away and have sex with her. But calling her at home was out of the question. Her husband might answer. One of her children might answer. He never did the phoning. That was one of the rules they had established.
Tengo ordered another gin and tonic, and while he waited for it he imagined himself in a little boat shooting the rapids. On the phone Komatsu had said, When we go over the falls, lets do it together in grand style! But could Tengo take him at his word? Wouldnt Komatsu leap onto a handy boulder just before they reached the falls? Sorry, Tengo, he would say, but I just remembered some business I have to take care of. Ill leave the rest of this to you. And the only one to go over the falls in style would be Tengo himself. It was not inconceivable. Indeed, it was all too conceivable.
. . .

He went home, went to bed, and dreamed. He hadnt had such a vivid dream in a very long time. He was a tiny piece in a gigantic puzzle. But instead of having one fixed shape, his shape kept changing. And soof coursehe couldnt fit anywhere. As he tried to sort out where he belonged, he was also given a set amount of time to gather the scattered pages of the timpani section of a score. A strong wind swept the pages in all directions. He went around picking up one page at a time. He had to check the page numbers and arrange them in order as his body changed shape like an amoeba. The situation was out of control. Eventually Fuka-Eri came along and grabbed his left hand. Tengos shape stopped changing. The wind suddenly died and stopped scattering the pages of the score. What a relief! Tengo thought, but in that instant his time began to run out. This is the end, Fuka-Eri informed him in a whisper. One sentence, as always. Time stopped, and the world ended. The earth ground slowly to a halt, and all sound and light vanished.
When he woke up the next day, the world was still there, and things were already moving forward, like the great karmic wheel of Indian mythology that kills every living thing in its path.

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