Read Killing Commendatore: A novel Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami,Philip Gabriel,Ted Goossen

Killing Commendatore: A novel (66 page)

An assortment of women's undergarments, socks, and nightgowns were stored in the closet drawers. All were in plastic bags to ward off dust. She pulled a few out to examine. The bras were a 32C. Mariye pictured the shape of the breasts they had held. Slightly smaller than her aunt's, she estimated (it was impossible to guess the shape of the nipples, of course). The panties were dainty and elegant. Some were on the sexy side. All in all, they spoke of a woman of some means, who shopped in lingerie boutiques while savoring the thought of embracing the man she loved. They were made of silk and lace and had to be washed by hand in lukewarm water. Not the sort of panties one wore to weed the garden. Here too the odor of mothballs was strong. She folded the panties up carefully, returned them to the plastic bag, and put it back in the drawer.

This was the wardrobe of a woman whom Menshiki had been seeing some time before—fifteen or twenty years ago, most likely. That was the conclusion Mariye drew. Then something had happened that caused the woman to leave her stylish clothes—her size 5 dresses, size 5 shoes, and 32C bras—behind. She had never come back. Why would she have left such an expensive collection behind? If they had separated for some reason, wouldn't the normal thing have been to take the clothes with her? Mariye couldn't figure it out. Moreover, Menshiki had preserved that small collection with such care. Like the river sprites of the Rhine, who took pains to preserve their legendary gold for posterity. He probably visited this room on occasion to look at the clothes and take them in his hands. When the seasons changed, he would replace the mothballs (she couldn't imagine him letting anyone else do this).

Where was that woman today? Perhaps she had married another man. Or died of illness, or in some kind of accident. Nevertheless, he held her in his memory, even now.

(Of course, Mariye had no way of knowing that woman was her mother, and
I
could find no compelling reason to tell her. That right, I thought, belonged to Menshiki alone.)

Mariye pondered this new knowledge. Should she think more generously of a man who had treasured the memory of a woman for so long? Or was the fact that he had preserved her clothing with such care a little creepy?

—

Mariye was still thinking this through when, all at once, she heard the garage door clattering up. Menshiki had come home. She had been so absorbed in the clothes that she hadn't heard the front gate open, or the car in the driveway. She had to get away as quickly as possible. She needed to find a safe place to hide. Then she realized. Something of
vital importance
. Panic grabbed her.

She had forgotten her shoes on the deck. And the binoculars were out of their case and attached to their stand. The hornet had scared her so much that she had fled into the house without covering her tracks. Everything was out in the open. When Menshiki went out to the deck and saw those things (as he would sooner or later), he would know right away that someone had invaded his home in his absence. The black loafers would tell him that the invader was a girl. Menshiki was no dummy. It wouldn't take long for him to figure out it was Mariye. He would comb the house, searching every nook and cranny, until he found her hiding place. It would be child's play for him.

There wasn't time enough to run outside up to the deck, collect her shoes, and put the binoculars back where they belonged. She was certain to bump into Menshiki somewhere along the way. She couldn't think of a next step. Her heart pounded, her breathing became labored, her limbs froze with fear.

The car engine stopped and the garage door started clattering shut. Any minute now Menshiki would enter the house. What should she do? What should she…Her mind was a blank. She sat on the floor, her head in her hands and her eyes squeezed shut.

“It is best to remain where you are,” someone said.

Was she hearing things? No, she wasn't. Pulling herself together, she opened her eyes. There was a little old man no more than two feet tall, perched on a low chest of drawers. His salt-and-pepper hair was tied in a bun on top of his head. He wore white garments from a bygone age and carried a tiny sword at his waist. Naturally, she thought she was hallucinating. Her panic was making her imagine things that weren't there.

“No, this is no hallucination,” the little old man said in a small but resonant voice. “I am the Commendatore. And I am here to aid my young friends.”

61
I HAVE TO BE A BRAVE, SMART GIRL

“This is no hallucination,” the Commendatore repeated. “There are sundry opinions as to whether I exist, but a hallucination I am not. I have come to aid my friends. You are in need of aid, are you not?”

“My friends” referred to her, Mariye assumed. She nodded. His manner of speech was strange indeed, but what he said was true. She needed help, no question there.

“My friends cannot retrieve your shoes from the deck,” the Commendatore said. “And it is best to forget the binoculars as well. But quell your fears. I will strive my utmost to ensure that Menshiki does not go there. For the time being, at least. Once the sun sets, however, I cannot prevent him. When darkness falls, he will venture out to watch the home of my friends. This is his custom. We must fix the problem before that happens. Can my friends understand the import of my words?”

Mariye could only nod. Somehow, she did understand.

“My friends must hide in this closet awhile,” said the Commendatore. “Be as quiet as a mouse. Give no sign that you are here. When the time is propitious I will let you know. Until then, do not move or make a sound. No matter what happens. Do my friends understand?”

Mariye nodded again. Was this a dream? Could he be an elf or sprite of some kind?

“I am neither dream nor sprite,” the Commendatore read her thoughts. “I am an Idea, and thus lack shape of my own. It would be very inconvenient if my friends could not see me, so I have taken the form of the Commendatore for the time being.”

Idea, the Commendatore…Mariye repeated the words in her mind without voicing them. He can tell what I am thinking. Then she remembered. He was a figure in that very wide Japanese-style painting by Tomohiko Amada that she had seen in his studio. Somehow he had slipped out of the painting and come here. That explained his tiny size.

“Affirmative,” the Commendatore said. “I am borrowing the form of that character. The Commendatore—I myself do not know his significance. But I am called by that sobriquet now. Wait here in silence. I will come for my friends at the proper time. Do not fear. These raiments will shelter you.”

These raiments will shelter me? What did that mean? But he did not respond to her unspoken question. A moment later he was gone. Vanished into thin air, like vapor.

—

Mariye did as the Commendatore said. She quieted her breathing and didn't move a muscle. Menshiki was home—she had heard him enter the house. He seemed to have been shopping, for she could make out the rustle of paper bags. Her breathing almost stopped when his slippered feet padded slowly past the room where she was hiding.

The closet door was a Venetian blind, so some light seeped upward through the slats. But only a tiny bit. The closet would grow very dark when the daylight faded. She could see only the carpeted floor through the cracks. The closet was cramped, and filled with the sharp odor of mothballs. With walls on all sides, there was nowhere to hide. And no way to escape. The lack of an escape route scared her to death.

The Commendatore had promised to come and get her when the right time came. She had no choice but to believe him. He had said, “These raiments will shelter you,” too. He must have meant the clothes there in the closet. Old clothes worn by some unknown woman, likely before Mariye was even born. How could they protect her? She reached out and stroked a dress with a flower pattern. The pink cloth was soft to the touch. She let her fingertips linger for a while. She couldn't explain why, but there was something comforting about it.

I bet this dress would fit, Mariye thought. Its owner wasn't that much bigger than me. I can wear a size 5. Of course my chest hasn't filled out yet, so I'd have to figure a way to conceal that. But I could wear most of these clothes if I wanted to, or if I had to for some reason. The thought made her heart skip a beat.

Time was passing. Slowly but surely, the room was growing darker. Evening was approaching, minute by minute. She looked at her watch. But she couldn't read it in the gloom. She pressed a button and the face lit up. It was almost four thirty. The sun would be going down soon. The days were getting shorter. And when night did come, Menshiki would head out to the deck. It would take him but a second to realize that someone had invaded his home. She had to find some way to deal with the shoes and binoculars before that happened.

Mariye waited impatiently for the Commendatore to arrive, her heart in her mouth. Yet he never did. Perhaps there had been some kind of hitch. Menshiki might have left him no opening. She hadn't a clue how extensive the actual powers of a person—or an Idea—like the Commendatore were, in fact, or how far she could depend on him. Yet he was her only hope. She had nowhere else to turn. Mariye sat holding her knees on the floor of the closet, staring through the slats at the carpet. From time to time she reached up to stroke the flowery dress. As though it were a lifeline of some kind.

When the room had grown quite dark, she heard footsteps in the hall a second time. Once again, they were slow and soft. The footsteps came to an abrupt halt in front of the room where she was hiding. As if whoever it was had sniffed out something. A moment later she heard the door open. There could be no doubt. Her heart froze in her mouth. Then she heard the person (Menshiki, she presumed—no one else was in the house) step inside and gently close the door behind him. It clicked shut.
The man is in the room. For sure.
Like her, he held his breath and listened carefully, trying to pick up the slightest sign. She could tell. But the man did not turn on the light. Instead he carried out his search in the dark. Why? Anyone else would have switched on the light the moment they came in. It baffled her.

Mariye stared at the floor through the slats. If he came close enough, his toes would come into view. She couldn't see them yet. Yet his presence felt very real. It was definitely a man. Moreover, that man (it had to be Menshiki!) was staring at the closet door in the dark. He had picked up signs of something. Something different than usual. Next he would open the door. It couldn't be otherwise. It would be easy, since of course it wasn't locked. All he had to do was reach out, grab the knob, and pull.

The footsteps drew even closer. Fear gripped her. Cold sweat dripped from her armpits. I should never have come, she thought. I should have stayed home like a good girl. In my dear home across the valley. There is something really scary about this place. Something I should never have approached so recklessly. Some kind of consciousness operated here. The hornets were a part of it. Now she was within arm's reach of that
something
. She could see the toe of a slipper through the blinds. She could tell that the slipper was brown and made of leather, but it was too dark to see anything more.

Mariye instinctively reached up and grabbed the dress. The size 5 dress with the flower pattern.
Please help me! Protect me!
she prayed.

The man stood in front of the closet's double doors for some time. He didn't make a sound. She couldn't even hear him breathe. Still as a stone statue, he stood there gauging the situation. The silence grew heavier, the dark more impenetrable. She huddled on the floor, quivering. Her teeth chattered faintly. Mariye longed to shut her eyes and ears. To put her mind in a totally different place. But she didn't. She somehow knew how dangerous that would be. She must never give in to fear, however great. Never abandon her senses. Never stop thinking. With her ears pricked and her eyes fastened on the toes of the leather slippers, she fiercely clutched the hem of the soft pink dress.

The clothes would protect her. The whole wardrobe was her ally. The size 5 dresses, the size 5 shoes, the 32C bras—they would enfold her in a cloak of invisibility. I am not here, she told herself.
I am not here
.

How much time passed? She had no way of knowing. Time was no longer uniform, nor did it flow in sequence. Nevertheless, a fixed period seemed to have elapsed. At one point, the man had been on the verge of opening the door. Mariye felt that strongly. She braced herself. When it opened he would see her. She would see him. Then what? She had no clue.
Perhaps it's not Menshiki at all
—the thought popped into her head.
But then who could it be?

Yet the man never opened the door. After some hesitation, he pulled back his hand and moved away. Why had he changed his mind at the last minute?
Something
must have held him back. He stepped out into the hallway and closed the door behind him. The room was empty again. For certain. It was no ruse. She was alone. She was certain of that. Mariye closed her eyes and expelled all the air she had been holding in a great sigh.

Her heart was still pounding. Like a tom-tom—that's how a novelist might describe it. What was a tom-tom, anyway? She had no clear picture. She had been in great peril. At the very last moment, however, something had intervened to protect her. Even so, this place was too dangerous—that much was obvious. Whoever it was, that
someone
had sensed her presence. Beyond a doubt. She couldn't hide in this room forever. This time, she had squeaked through. Next time she might not be so lucky.

She kept waiting. The room grew even darker. But she didn't make a sound. She was fearful, she was anxious, but she persevered. The Commendatore would not forget her. She believed what he had told her. She had no other options—she had to rely on the little guy with the funny way of talking.

—

Then, before she knew it, the Commendatore was there.

“My friends must leave immediately,” he whispered. “Now, at this very moment. Wake up, it is now time.”

Mariye was at a loss. It was hard to stand up. When she imagined leaving the closet she was assaulted by a new fear. Even greater dangers might await her in the world outside.

“Menshiki is in the shower,” the Commendatore said. “You know what a clean person he is. So he should linger there awhile. But he will come out by and by. This is the one and only chance that my friends will have. Make haste!”

Marshaling her strength, Mariye pulled herself to her feet. She pushed the door of the closet open. The room was dark and empty. Before she stepped out, she turned to take one last look at the clothes hanging there. She inhaled the smell of mothballs. She might never see these clothes again. For some reason, they had become so close to her, so dear.

“My friends must go now,” said the Commendatore. “There is not much time. Go into the hallway and turn left.”

With her bag over her shoulder, Mariye walked out the door and down the corridor. She ran up the stairs, cut across the big living room, and slid open the glass door to the deck terrace. The hornet might still be around. Or he might have retired for the night. He could be the kind of insect that wasn't fazed by the dark. But she couldn't dwell on that now. She stepped out, unscrewed the binoculars from their stand, and returned them to their plastic cover. She folded the stand and leaned it back against the wall. Her nerves made her hands fumble, so it took longer than she had expected. Then she picked her black loafers up off the deck. All the while, the Commendatore sat on the stool and watched her. The hornet never showed itself. To Mariye's great relief.

“Well done,” said the Commendatore, with a nod. “Now go back inside, shut the door, and descend the stairs to the very bottom.”

Down two flights of stairs? That would mean plunging into the depths of the house. Wasn't she trying to escape?

“There is no chance of escaping now,” the Commendatore said, reading her mind. He shook his head from side to side. “The gate is strictly barred. My friends are constrained to hide a while longer. I beseech you to listen.”

Mariye had no choice but to believe the Commendatore. She hurried through the living room and down the two flights of stairs.

The maid's room was at the bottom. Beside it was the laundry room and next to that a storeroom. At the end of the hallway was the gym with its row of exercise machines. The Commendatore pointed to the maid's room.

“This is your hiding place,” he said. “Menshiki seldom ventures into that room. He descends once a day to do his laundry and to exercise, but he almost never enters there. It is unlikely he will find my friends, should you remain quiet. The room has a sink and a refrigerator. In case of earthquake, an ample store of food and mineral water has been set aside. So my friends will not starve. There is enough to live in relative safety for a number of days.”

A number of days?
Mariye asked (albeit without speaking) incredulously, her shoes in hand. I must remain
here
that long?

“Affirmative. It is a shame, but my friends are obliged to stay here for such a time,” the Commendatore said, shaking his tiny head. “This house is kept under tight guard. In more than one way. This is a fact I cannot alter. An Idea's powers are limited, I am sad to say.”

“How long will I have to stay here?” Mariye asked in a small voice. “I have to go home soon. My aunt will worry about me. If I'm missing too long, she'll have to report it to the police. Then there'll be a real mess.”

The Commendatore shook his head. “A million pardons, but this is outside my control. My friends must wait here.”

“Is Mr. Menshiki dangerous?”

“A very hard question to answer,” the Commendatore said. He made an exaggerated frown. “Menshiki himself is not an evil man. He is a decent sort, one could say, with abilities that exceed those of most people. There is even a hint of nobility in him, if one looks hard enough. Yet there is a gap in his heart, an empty space that attracts the abnormal and the dangerous. It is there that the problem lies.”

Mariye wasn't clear what all of this meant, of course.
The abnormal?

“Who was the person standing outside the closet door?” she asked. “Was that Menshiki?”

“It was Menshiki, but at the same time it was not Menshiki.”

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