Read Killing Commendatore: A novel Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami,Philip Gabriel,Ted Goossen

Killing Commendatore: A novel (62 page)

I drew her again and again, then threw the drawings away. Someone might see them, and it didn't make sense to keep them. Still, maybe I should have secretly held on to at least one. To prove to myself she had really existed.

—

I got up slowly from the sofa. The day was only beginning. There were many conversations ahead.

58
LIKE HEARING ABOUT THE BEAUTIFUL CANALS OF MARS

I called Shoko Akikawa. It was just after nine thirty. A time when most people are already up and about. But no one picked up the phone. It rang on and on until the answering machine kicked in.
We're sorry, but we can't come to the phone right now. Please leave your message after the tone
…I left no message. She must be scrambling to deal with her niece's disappearance and sudden return. I kept calling at intervals, but no one answered.

I thought of calling Yuzu after that, but I didn't want to bother her while she was working. I could call during her lunch break. With luck, I would get to have a brief talk with her. It wasn't like our conversation would be a long one. I would simply ask if we could meet sometime soon—that was the gist of it. A yes-or-no question. If the answer was yes, we would set a date and a place to meet. If it was no, that was that.

Then, with a heavy heart, I called Masahiko. He picked up right away. He let out a huge sigh when he heard my voice.

“Are you home now?” he asked.

I told him I was.

“Can I call you back in a couple of minutes?”

Sure, I said. He called fifteen minutes later. He seemed to be using his cell phone on the roof of an office building, or someplace like that.

“Where the hell have you been?” he said, his voice uncharacteristically stern. “You disappeared from my father's room without a word—no one knew where you were. I drove all the way to Odawara looking for you.”

“I'm really sorry,” I said.

“When did you get home?”

“Last night.”

“So you were traipsing around from Saturday afternoon until Tuesday night? Where did you go?”

“To be honest, I have no memory of where I was or what I was doing,” I lied.

“So you just woke up and found yourself back home—is that it?”

“Yeah, that's it.”

“For real? Are you serious?”

“There's no other way to explain it.”

“Sorry, man. I can't buy it. Sounds fake to me.”

“Come on, you've seen this sort of thing in movies and novels.”

“Give me a break. Whenever they pull that amnesia bit I turn off the TV. It's so contrived.”

“Alfred Hitchcock used it.”

“You mean
Spellbound
? That's one of his second-rate films,” Masahiko said. “So tell me what
really
happened.”

“I don't know myself at this point. Like there are these fragments floating around, and I can't figure out how to piece them together. Maybe my memory will return in stages. I'll let you know if that happens. But I can't tell you anything right now. I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait a little longer.”

Masahiko paused to digest what I had just said. “All right then, let's call it amnesia for now,” he said in a resigned voice. “I gather your story doesn't involve drugs or alcohol or a mental breakdown or a femme fatale or abduction by aliens or anything along those lines.”

“No. Nothing illegal or contrary to public morals.”

“Public morals be damned,” Masahiko said. “But clue me in on one thing, would you?”

“What's that?”

“How did you manage to slip out of the nursing home Saturday afternoon? They keep a really strict eye on who comes and goes. A number of famous people are staying there, so they're paranoid about leaks. They've got a receptionist stationed at the entrance, a guard on-site twenty-four seven, and security cameras. All the same, you managed to vanish in broad daylight without being spotted or caught on film. How?”

“There's a secret passage,” I said.

“Secret passage?”

“An exit no one knows about.”

“How did you find that? It was your first time there.”

“Your father let me know. Or I should say, he gave me a hint. In a very indirect way.”

“My father?” Masahiko said. “You must be kidding. His mind's as mushy as boiled cauliflower these days.”

“That's one of the things I can't explain.”

“What to do,” Masahiko said with a sigh. “If it were anyone else I'd say, ‘Cut the crap.' But it's you, so I guess I have to put up with it. Put up with this crazy, no-good bum who spends his whole life painting.”

“Thanks,” I said. “By the way, how's your father doing?”

“When I got back to the room after my phone call, you were nowhere to be seen and Dad was unconscious and barely breathing. I panicked, man. I couldn't figure out what was going on. I knew it wasn't your fault, but I couldn't help blaming you anyway.”

“I really am sorry,” I said. I wasn't kidding, either. Still, I felt a wave of relief that there was no trace of the Commendatore's body, or of the pool of blood on the floor.

“Yeah, you should be sorry. Anyway, I rented a room nearby to be with him, but his breathing stabilized and his condition improved slightly, so I came back to Tokyo the next afternoon. Work was piling up. I'm heading back this weekend, though.”

“It's hard on you.”

“There's nothing to be done. Like I told you, dying is a major undertaking. It's the person dying who has it hardest, though, so I really can't complain.”

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.

“No, there's nothing,” Masahiko said. “But it would help if you didn't dump any more problems on me…Oh yeah, I almost forgot. When I was at your house on my way back to Tokyo your friend Menshiki stopped by. The handsome, white-haired guy in the snazzy silver Jaguar.”

“Yes, I met him after that. He said you were there, and that you and he had talked.”

“Just a few words at your doorstep. He seemed like an interesting guy.”

“A
very
interesting guy,” I said, putting it mildly.

“What does he do?”

“Not much of anything. He's so loaded he doesn't have to work. He trades stocks and plays the currency market online, but it's more like a hobby for him, a profitable way to kill time.”

“That's really cool,” Masahiko said, impressed. “It's like hearing about the beautiful canals of Mars. Where Martians row gondolas with golden oars. While imbibing honeyed tobacco through their ears. Warms my heart just hearing about it…Oh yeah, while we're at it, did you ever find the knife I left at your place?”

“Sorry, but no, I haven't come across it,” I said. “I don't have a clue where it went. I'll buy you a new one.”

“Don't sweat it. It probably had a bout of amnesia, just like you. It'll wander back before too long.”

“Probably,” I said. So the knife hadn't remained in Tomohiko Amada's room either. It had vanished somewhere, just like the Commendatore's corpse and the pool of blood. It might show up here, though, as Masahiko had said.

Our conversation ended there. We vowed to get together again soon and hung up.

—

After that, I drove my dusty old Corolla station wagon down the mountain to the shopping plaza. I went to the supermarket, where I toured the aisles with the neighborhood housewives. From the looks on their faces, they weren't thrilled by their morning shopping. Not a whole lot of excitement in their lives. No ferryboat rides in the Land of Metaphor, that's for sure.

I tossed what I needed—meat, fish, vegetables, milk, tofu, the whole lot—into my shopping cart and paid at the register. I saved five yen by bringing my own bag. Then I went to a discount liquor store and bought a twenty-four pack of Sapporo. Back home, I arranged most of what I had purchased in the fridge, including six cans of beer. I wrapped what needed to be frozen in plastic and stuck it in the freezer. I set a big pot of water on the stove and parboiled the asparagus and broccoli for salads. I boiled a few eggs, too. In the process, I managed to kill most of the morning. Nevertheless, there was still time to spare. I considered following Menshiki's example and washing my car, then realized it would get dirty again in no time flat, and tossed the idea. Parboiling vegetables was much more productive.

—

I called Yuzu's architectural firm shortly after noon. Actually, I wanted to wait until my feelings had settled down before talking to her, but at the same time I didn't want to delay acting on what I had decided in the darkness of the pit, even for a single day. Otherwise, something might cause my feelings to change. Yet the receiver weighed a ton in my hand. A cheerful-sounding young woman answered. I gave her my name, and asked to talk to Yuzu.

“Are you her husband?” she chirped.

Yes, I replied. To be precise I wasn't, of course, but there was no reason to go into details over the phone.

“Please hold on,” she said.

I waited for quite a long time. I had nothing in particular to do, so I stood there leaning on the kitchen counter, receiver to my ear, biding my time until Yuzu came to the phone. A big black crow passed right in front of the window. Its glossy feathers gleamed in the sunlight.

“Hello,” said Yuzu.

We exchanged a simple greeting. I had no idea how a just-divorced couple was supposed to address each other, how much distance was appropriate. So I kept it as brief and conventional as possible. How have you been? I've been fine. And you? Like a summer shower, our words were sucked up the moment they struck the parched soil of reality.

I mustered my courage. “I thought we should get together and talk about a number of things face-to-face,” I said.

“What sorts of things are you talking about?” Yuzu asked. I hadn't expected that response (why hadn't I?), so I was at a loss for words. What did I mean by “things”?

“I…I haven't thought it through that far,” I stammered.

“But you want to talk about a number of things, correct?”

“That's right. It occurred to me that we ended up like this without ever having talked.”

She thought for a moment. “To tell the truth,” she said, “I'm pregnant. I'm happy to see you, but don't be shocked to see how big my belly's grown.”

“I know. Masahiko told me. He said you asked him to.”

“That I did,” she said.

“I don't know how big you've gotten, but I'd like to see you in any case. If it's not too much of an imposition.”

“Can you wait a moment?” she asked.

I waited. She appeared to be leafing through her appointment book. Meanwhile, I tried hard to remember what kind of songs the Go-Go's sang. I doubted they were as good as Masahiko had claimed, but then maybe he was right, and my view was perverse.

“Next Monday evening is good for me,” Yuzu said.

I did the calculation in my head. Today was Wednesday. So Monday was five days away. The day Menshiki took his empty bottles and cans to the pickup spot. A day I didn't have to teach drawing in town. That meant I was free—no need to check my schedule. What did Menshiki wear when he took out his garbage, I wondered.

“It's good for me too,” I said. “Just give me a time and place and I'll be there.”

She named a coffee shop not far from the Shinjuku Gyoen-mae Station. The name brought back memories. It was not far from her office, and we had met there often when we were still living together as a married couple. After she finished work, usually before we went out someplace for dinner. There was a little oyster bar a short distance away, which offered fresh oysters at a reasonable price. She loved eating their small oysters loaded with horseradish, and washed down with chilled Chablis. Was the restaurant still in the same spot?

“Can we meet there shortly after six?”

I said that'd be fine.

“I'll try not to be late.”

“That's all right. I'll wait.”

“Okay, see you then,” she said, and hung up.

I stared at the receiver in my hand for a moment. So I would see Yuzu again. My estranged wife, soon to bear another man's child. The place and time had been set. Our conversation had gone without a hitch. Yet had I done the right thing? I wasn't at all sure. The receiver still weighed heavy in my hand. Like a phone built back in the Stone Age.

When it came down to it, though, could anything be completely correct, or completely incorrect? We lived in a world where rain might fall thirty percent, or seventy percent, of the time. Truth was probably no different. There could be thirty percent or seventy percent truth. Crows had it a lot easier. For them, it was either raining or not raining, one or the other. Percentages never crossed their minds.

Talking to Yuzu had left me at loose ends. I sat in the dining room for an hour, mostly looking at the clock on the wall. I would see her on Monday and we would talk about “a number of things.” We hadn't seen each other since March. It had been a chilly Sunday afternoon then, rain quietly falling. Now she was seven months pregnant. A major change in her life. I, on the other hand, was still just me. True, I had drunk the water of the Land of Metaphor only a few days earlier, and had crossed the river that divided presence and absence, but I wasn't sure if the experience had changed me or not.

—

Finally, I called Shoko again. But no one came to the phone. Instead it switched to the answering machine. I gave up and sat down on the sofa. I had made all my calls, and nothing more needed to be done. I hadn't set foot in the studio in what felt like ages, and part of me wanted to get back to my easel, but I couldn't think of anything in particular that I wanted to paint.

I put Bruce Springsteen's
The River
on the turntable. Then I lay on the sofa, closed my eyes, and listened. When the A side of the first LP had finished, I turned it over and listened to the B side. Albums like
The
River
have to be heard in this fashion. After “Independence Day” wraps up the A side, you take the record in both hands, turn it over, and carefully lower the stylus. “Hungry Heart” fills the room. What was the point of listening to
The River
any other way? In my personal opinion, when CDs strung together the sides of records like
The River,
they spoiled the experience. The same was true of
Rubber Soul
and
Pet Sounds
. Great music should be presented in its proper form. And listened to in a proper manner.

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