Read Killing Commendatore: A novel Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami,Philip Gabriel,Ted Goossen

Killing Commendatore: A novel (63 page)

Whatever the case, the E Street Band's performance was a knockout. The band revved up the singer, and the singer inspired the band. As I zoned in on the music, I could feel my worries fading.

I was lifting the needle from the first record when I realized that, perhaps, I should give Menshiki a call. We hadn't spoken since the day before, when he had rescued me from the pit. Yet somehow I didn't really feel like it. This happened on occasion. He was a fascinating guy, but there were times I really didn't want to talk to him. The gap between us was vast. Why should that be? At any rate, I didn't feel like hearing his voice at that particular moment.

So I gave up. I'd call him later. After all, the day had just begun. I put the second record of
The River
on the stereo. But just when I was settling back to listen to “Cadillac Ranch” (“All gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch”), the telephone rang. I lifted the needle and went into the dining room to answer it. I figured it was Menshiki. As it turned out, it was Shoko.

“Have you been trying to reach me this morning?” she began.

That's right, I replied, I had tried on several occasions. “I heard yesterday from Mr. Menshiki that Mariye had returned home, so I wondered how she was.”

“Yes, she came back safe and sound. Yesterday afternoon. I called you a number of times to let you know but there was no answer, so I tried contacting Mr. Menshiki. Did you go somewhere?”

“Yes, I had to look after urgent business some distance from here. I got back last night. I wanted to contact you earlier, but there was no phone where I was, and I don't carry a cell phone,” I said. It wasn't a complete lie.

“Mariye returned all by herself yesterday afternoon, covered in mud. But no serious injuries, thank goodness.”

“Where was she all that time?”

“We don't know yet,” she said in a hushed voice. As if afraid that her phone was tapped. “Mariye won't tell us what happened. We had filed a missing person's report, so the police came and asked her all sorts of questions, but she wouldn't tell them anything. Not a single word. So they gave up and left, saying that they'd come back when she'd had more time to recover. That at least she had made it home, and that she was safe. But she won't tell either her father or me anything. You know how stubborn she can be.”

“But she was covered in mud, correct?”

“Yes, her whole body. Her school uniform was torn up too, and her arms and legs were scratched. We didn't have to take her to the hospital, though—none of her injuries was that serious.”

Just like me, I thought. Muddy, clothing in tatters. Could we have wormed our way back to this world through the same narrow tunnel?

“And she won't speak?” I asked.

“No, not a single word since she came home. Not just words, either—she hasn't made a sound. As if someone had stolen her tongue.”

“Do you think some kind of trauma might have left her in shock? Taken away her voice?”

“No, I don't think so. I think she's made up her mind not to say anything, a vow of silence, if you will. She's done this kind of thing before. When she's furious about something, for example. Once she's made up her mind like this she tends to stick to it—that's the sort of child she is.”

“There's no question of criminal acts, right? Like kidnapping, or unlawful confinement?”

“I can't tell. The police say they'll come back to ask more questions once she's had a chance to calm down, so maybe we'll find out then,” Shoko said. “But I do have a favor to ask, if it's not too much of an imposition.”

“What might that be?”

“Would you try to talk to her? Just the two of you? There may be things she'll only open up to you about. She might reveal more about what happened if you're there.”

I stood there with the receiver in my right hand, considering her suggestion. If Mariye and I were alone together, what was there to discuss? I couldn't begin to imagine. I had my own riddles to unravel and she (most likely) had hers. If we laid one set of riddles over the other, what answers could possibly emerge? Still, I had to see her. There were things we had to talk about.

“Of course. I'd be happy to,” I said. “Where would you like me to go?”

“Oh no, please let us come to you, as always. I think that's best. If you don't mind, of course.”

“No, that's fine with me,” I said. “I'm free all day. Please come when it's convenient for you.”

“Would it be all right if we came now? She's home from school today. If she's willing, of course.”

“Please tell her she doesn't have to talk. That there are things on my end that I'd like to tell her,” I said.

“Very well. I'll tell her exactly that. I'm dreadfully sorry to keep imposing on you like this,” said the beautiful aunt. Then she quietly hung up the phone.

—

The phone rang again twenty minutes later. It was Shoko.

“We'll be coming at three o'clock,” she said. “Mariye has said she's willing. Well, she gave a small nod, is more accurate.”

I said I would expect them at three.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “I'm at my wit's end. I don't understand what's going on, or what I should be doing.”

I wanted to tell her I felt the same way, but I didn't. That's not the response she was seeking.

“I'll do what I can. I can't be sure if it will work, but I'll try my best,” I said. Then I hung up.

I stole a look around the room as I put down the receiver. On the off chance that the Commendatore might be in the vicinity. But he was nowhere to be seen. I missed him. The way he looked, and his odd way of speaking. But I would never lay eyes on him again. With my own hand, I had driven a knife through his tiny heart. The razor-sharp carving knife Masahiko had brought to my house. All for the purpose of rescuing Mariye from someplace. I had to find out where that
someplace
was.

59
UNTIL DEATH SEPARATED US

Before Mariye arrived, I took another look at her portrait, so close to done. I could picture exactly what it would look like if I ever finished it. Sad to say, though, I never would. There was no way around that. I had no good explanation for why I couldn't complete the painting. No logical argument. Just the strong feeling that
it had to be that way
. The reason, I expected, would reveal itself in stages. What was clear now was that I was fighting a very dangerous opponent. I had to be on my toes every second.

I went out to the terrace, sat in a deck chair, and stared across the valley at Menshiki's white mansion. Handsome, colorless Menshiki, he of the white hair. “We only talked for a moment at your door, but he seemed like an interesting guy,” Masahiko had said. “
A very
interesting guy,” I had corrected him. At this stage of the game, though, I would have to say
a very, very, very
interesting guy.

A few minutes before three, the familiar blue Toyota Prius rolled up the slope and parked in its usual spot in front of my house. The engine stopped, the driver's door opened, and Shoko Akikawa got out. Most elegantly, pivoting in her seat, knees tight together. A moment later, Mariye emerged from the passenger's seat. Most reluctantly, her movements slow and sluggish. The morning clouds had sailed off somewhere, and the sky was the clear blue of early winter. The soft hair of the two women danced in the cold wind coming off the mountain. Mariye brushed the hair from her eyes in an impatient gesture.

Mariye was in a skirt, unusual for her. A wool skirt of navy blue, it reached her knees. Beneath was a pair of dark blue tights. Her white blouse was covered by a cashmere V-neck sweater. The sweater was a deep purple, the color of grapes. Her shoes were dark brown loafers. In that outfit, Mariye looked like a well-brought-up child from a well-off family, a healthy, pretty, utterly conventional girl. You could see nothing eccentric about her. Just that her chest was almost flat.

Shoko was wearing snug light-gray slacks. Gleaming black low-heeled shoes. A long white cardigan, fixed with a belt around her waist. Her breasts stood out proudly beneath the cardigan. She was carrying a black purse made of what looked like enamel. The sort women commonly carry, though their contents have always mystified me. Mariye appeared a bit at a loss with no pockets to plunge her hands into.

They were so different in age and stage of maturity, this young aunt and her niece, yet both were so lovely. I observed their approach through the parted curtains. When they walked side by side, the world brightened a little. As when Christmas and New Year's arrive in tandem each year.

The doorbell chimed, and I went to open the door. Shoko greeted me politely, and I ushered them inside. Mariye said nothing. Her lips were set in a straight line, as if someone had stitched them together. She was a strong-willed girl. Once she made up her mind about something, she never backed down.

As before, I led them to the living room. Shoko launched into a string of apologies, but I cut her off. This was no time for social niceties.

“If you don't mind, could you leave Mariye and me alone for a while?” I said, getting straight to the point. “I think that's best. Please come back in about two hours. Would that be possible?”

“Oh, well, certainly,” the young aunt said. She seemed a little flustered. “If it's all right with Mariye, then it's all right with me.”

Mariye gave a slight nod. It was all right with her.

Shoko Akikawa consulted her small silver watch.

“Then I'll come back at five o'clock. I'll be waiting at home, so please call if you need anything.”

I told her we would.

Looking worried, Shoko paused uncertainly, clutching her black purse. Then she appeared to make up her mind, for she took a deep breath, smiled a bright smile, and left. There was the sound of the Prius's engine starting (I couldn't really hear it, but I assume it did), and the car disappeared down the slope. Mariye and I were left alone in the house.

The girl sat on the sofa and looked down at her lap, her lips still set in a stubborn line and her knees pressed together. Her pleated blouse was neatly ironed.

A deep silence followed. Finally, I spoke up.

“You don't have to say a word,” I began. “You can stay quiet as long as you want. So try to relax. I'll do the talking—all you have to do is listen. All right?”

Mariye raised her eyes and looked at me. But she didn't speak. Nor did she nod or shake her head. She merely stared in my direction. Her face showed no emotion. I felt as if I were gazing at the full moon in winter. Perhaps she had made her heart like the moon for the time being. An icy mass of rock floating in the sky.

“First, I need your help with something,” I said. “Can you come with me?”

I rose and headed to the studio. A moment later she got up and followed. The room was chilly, so I lit the kerosene stove. When I pulled back the curtains, the mountainside was bright in the sun. Mariye's portrait-in-progress was sitting on an easel, close to finished. She glanced at it but then quickly looked away, as if she had glimpsed something she shouldn't have.

I crouched down, removed the cloth I had draped over
Killing Commendatore
, and hung the painting on the wall. I asked Mariye to sit on the stool to observe it more closely.

“You've seen this painting before, right?”

Mariye gave a small nod.

“It's called
Killing Commendatore
. At least that's what was written on its wrapping. It's one of Tomohiko Amada's most perfect works, though we don't know exactly when he painted it. It's beautifully composed and masterfully drawn. Each character is fully realized and utterly convincing.”

I paused for a moment, waiting for my words to sink in.

“Yet this painting was wrapped up and closeted away in the attic of this house,” I went on, “where no one would ever see it. When I stumbled upon it and brought it downstairs, it had been gathering dust for a very long time. Apart from the artist, you and I are probably the only people who have ever looked at it. Your aunt could have too on your first visit, but for some reason it didn't catch her eye. I don't know what made Tomohiko Amada hide it in the attic. It's such a brilliant work, one of his true masterpieces, so why would he keep it from the world?”

Mariye didn't respond. She sat on the stool, her eyes fixed on
Killing Commendatore
.

I continued. “As if on cue, weird things have happened one after another since I stumbled on this painting. First, Mr. Menshiki went out of his way to make my acquaintance.”

Mariye nodded slightly.

“Then I uncovered that strange hole behind the shrine in the woods. I heard a bell ringing in the middle of the night and traced it to that spot. It was coming from beneath a pile of stones. They couldn't be moved by hand—they were too big and too heavy. So Menshiki arranged for a landscaper to come in with his backhoe. I didn't understand why Menshiki would go to such lengths, and I still don't. At any rate, the stones were moved at great cost of time and money. Underneath them was a hole. A round pit about six feet across, made of smaller stones tightly set together in a perfect circle. Who built it, and for what purpose, is a mystery. Of course you know about the pit.”

Mariye nodded.

“The Commendatore came out of that opened pit. This guy.”

I went up to the painting and pointed to the figure. Mariye looked at him. But her expression didn't change.

“He looked exactly the same as you see here, same face, same clothes. But he was only two feet tall. Very compact. And with a peculiar way of speaking. For some reason, I seem to be the only person able to see him. He called himself an ‘Idea.' And said he had been stuck in that pit. In other words, Mr. Menshiki and I had set him free. Do you get what he meant by ‘Idea'?”

Mariye shook her head no.

“It's hard for me, too. The way I understand it, an idea is a type of concept. But not all concepts are ideas. Love, for example, is not an idea. But ideas are what make love possible. Without ideas, love cannot exist. This discussion can go on forever, though. And to tell you the truth, I'm not even sure of the correct definitions. Anyway, an idea is a concept, and concepts have no physical shape. They are pure abstractions. Nevertheless, this Idea temporarily borrowed the form of the Commendatore in the painting to make itself visible to me. Do you follow me so far?”

“Pretty much,” Mariye broke her silence for the first time. “I met him too.”

“You did?” I exclaimed. I looked at her in stunned silence. Then I recalled what the Commendatore had said to me in the Izu nursing home.
I met her not long ago
, he had told me.
We exchanged a few words
.

“So you met the Commendatore too.”

Mariye nodded.

“When? Where?”

“At Mr. Menshiki's,” she said.

“What did he say?”

Mariye clamped her lips together again. To signal, it seemed, that she didn't want to talk any more for the moment. I didn't push her further.

“Other characters in this painting have appeared as well,” I said. “For example, the man in the lower left-hand corner of the painting, the bearded guy with the strangely shaped face. Right here.”

I pointed to Long Face.

“I call him ‘Long Face,' and he's a weird one, all right. He's about two and a half feet tall. He slipped out from the painting too—I caught him holding up the cover of his hole just as he is doing here, and he helped me reach the underground world. I had to get a bit rough, though, before he gave me directions.”

Mariye looked at Long Face for some time. But she didn't say anything.

I continued. “I walked through that dim world, climbing hills, crossing a rapid river, until I met the pretty young woman you see right here. This person. I call her ‘Donna Anna,' after the character in Mozart's opera
Don Giovanni
. She's also very small. She led me to a tunnel in the back of a cave. Then she and my dead sister helped me worm my way through to where it ended. If they hadn't cheered me on I never would have made it—I'd have been trapped in the underworld forever. My hunch—though of course it's pure guesswork—is that Donna Anna in this painting may be the young woman Tomohiko Amada loved when he was a student in Vienna. She was executed as a political prisoner seventy years ago.”

Mariye looked at Donna Anna in the painting. Her face still as impassive as the white winter moon.

Then again, Donna Anna could have been Mariye's mother, stung to death by a swarm of hornets. Perhaps she was the one who had protected Mariye. Depending on who was looking at her, Donna Anna might embody many things. Of course, I didn't say this out loud.

“Then we have this man here,” I said. I turned the painting leaning against the wall around so we could see its front. It was my portrait in progress,
The Man with the White Subaru Forester
. On the surface, it was just thick layers of paint, three colors in all. Behind those layers, though, was the Subaru Forester guy. I could see him. Though other people couldn't.

“I showed you this before, didn't I?”

Mariye gave a firm nod, but said nothing.

“You told me it was finished as it was.”

Mariye nodded again.

“I call the person portrayed here—or the person I must eventually portray—‘the man with the white Subaru Forester.' I ran across him in a small coastal village in Miyagi Prefecture. Our paths crossed twice. In a very mysterious and meaningful way. I have no idea what sort of person he is. I don't even know his name. But a moment came when I realized I had to paint him. I was compelled to. I started painting him from memory, but had to stop when I reached a certain point. So I painted over him like this.”

Mariye's lips were still set in a straight line.

Then she shook her head from side to side.

“That man is really scary,” she said.

“That man?” I said. I followed her eyes. They were fixed on
The Man with the White Subaru Forester
. “Do you mean the painting? Or the man?”

She gave another firm nod. Despite her fear, she seemed unable to look away.

“Can you see him?”

She nodded. “I can see him behind the paint. He's standing there looking at me. Wearing a black cap.”

I turned it around and set it back, face against the wall.

“You have the ability to see the man with the Subaru Forester standing there. Most people don't,” I said. “But I think it's better if you don't look at him anymore. There's probably no need at this stage.”

Mariye nodded as if in agreement.

“I don't know if the man with the white Subaru Forester is of this world or not. It's possible that someone, or something, merely borrowed his form. In the same way an Idea borrowed the form of the Commendatore. Or it could be that I saw part of myself reflected in him. But when I was surrounded by real darkness, it was no mere reflection, believe me. It was a tangible, living, moving
thing
. The people in that land call it a ‘Double Metaphor.' I do plan to finish the painting someday. But not yet—it's still too early. And too dangerous. Some things shouldn't be recklessly dragged into the light. But I may not be…”

Mariye was looking straight at me without saying a word. I found it difficult to continue.

“Anyway, thanks to the help of many people, I was somehow able to cross the underworld and squeeze through a narrow, black tunnel to make my way back to this world. At virtually the same moment, you were freed
from somewhere
. I can't believe that was a mere stroke of luck. On Friday, you disappeared somewhere for four days. Then on Saturday I disappeared for three days. On Tuesday, we both
returned
. There has to be a connection. My guess is that the Commendatore connected us. And now he's gone from this world. He fulfilled his role and moved on. Only you and I are left. We're the only ones who can close the circle. Do you believe what I'm saying?”

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