Authors: Haruki Murakami,Philip Gabriel,Ted Goossen
“Is he aware of any of this?”
“Most likely,” the Commendatore said. “Most likely. But there is nothing he can do about it.”
The abnormal and the dangerous? Perhaps the hornet she had seen was one of the forms those things took, Mariye thought.
“Affirmative. Beware of those hornets. They are most virulent creatures,” the Commendatore read her mind.
“They have the power to kill my friends,” the Commendatore explained. “For now, my friends have no choice but to stay here. Do not go outside.”
“Virulent,” Mariye repeated in her mind. The word sure had a sinister ring.
Mariye opened the door of the maid's room and went in. It was little larger than Menshiki's bedroom closet. There was a kitchenette with a fridge, a hot plate, a small microwave oven, and a sink and faucet. There was also a bed and a tiny bathroom. The bed was bare, but there were blankets, quilts, and a pillow on the shelf, and a simple table and chair for meals. Only a single chair, though. A small window faced the valley. She could look out across it through a crack in the curtain.
“It is best to make as little noise as possible,” the Commendatore said. “Do my friends understand?”
“You are a brave girl, my friends,” said the Commendatore. “A touch reckless, perhaps, but brave nonetheless. It is an admirable quality. But while you are here, you must be
alert. Never be caught off guard. This is no ordinary place. Sinister things are skulking out there that could cause you harm.”
“Prowling about, in short.”
Mariye nodded. In what way was this “no ordinary place,” and what sort of sinister things were skulking? She wanted to know, but couldn't think how to ask. Where to begin? There was just so much she couldn't understand.
“I may not be able to come again,” the Commendatore said, as if imparting a secret. “There is another place I must go, and another task I must look after. A very important task, if I may say. So I fear I cannot help my friends any further. Hereafter, my friends must manage on your own.”
“But how can I escape this place by myself?”
The Commendatore narrowed his eyes and looked squarely at Mariye. “Be sure your ears are open and your eyes are peeled. And keep your wits about you. It is the only way. Then you will know when the right moment comes. As in, âAha, now is the time!' You are a brave, smart girl, my friends. Just stay alert.”
Mariye nodded. I have to be a brave, smart girl, she thought.
“I wish my friends all the very best,” the Commendatore said, encouraging her. Then, as if by afterthought, “And worry not, my friends. Your chest will soon fill out.”
“Enough to fill a C-cup bra?”
The Commendatore gave an embarrassed shrug. “I fear I am a mere Idea. I know not how the undergarments of women are measured. But all the same, I can assure you that your breasts will grow. No need to worry. Time is the remedy for your concerns. It is the key for all things that possess form. True, time does not last forever, but as long as you have it, it is remarkably efficacious. So look forward to the future, my friends!”
“Thank you,” Mariye said. It was certainly good to hear. She needed every bit of support to be the brave girl she knew she had to be.
Then the Commendatore vanished. Again, like vapor into thin air. The silence around her deepened the moment he was gone. The thought that she might never see him again left her sad and lonely. I have no one to rely on now, she thought. She sprawled out on the bare mattress and stared at the ceiling. It was low, and made of white plasterboard. In its exact center was a fluorescent light. But of course she couldn't turn it on. That was a definite no-brainer.
How long would she be stuck in this room? It was almost dinnertime. If she wasn't home by seven thirty, her aunt would call the arts-and-culture center. They would inform her that she'd been absent that day. The thought hurt. Her aunt would be hysterical, terrified that something bad had happened to her. Somehow, she needed to let her know she was all right. Then she rememberedâthere was a cell phone in the pocket of her school blazer. She had left it turned off.
She pulled it out and switched it on. The words “Low Battery” flashed on the screen. A split second later the screen went black. Her phone was dead. She could hardly blame the phone: she hadn't used it in ages (she seldom needed it in her daily life, and had little interest inâor affection forâcell phones), so no surprise the battery was drained.
She heaved a sigh. She should have recharged it once in a while at least. Just in case something happened. But there was no use crying over spilt milk. She stuck the cell phone back in her blazer pocket. But something had caught her attention, and she pulled it out again. The plastic penguin attached to it was gone! It had been her lucky charm since she had won it on points at a donut shop. The strap must have broken. But where on earth could she have dropped it? It was hard to imagine. She hardly ever took it out of her pocket.
At first, she felt uneasy without her lucky charm. Then she thought some more. Her own carelessness was probably to blame for losing it. But a new kind of talisman had appeared in its placeâthat closetful of clothesâand those clothes had protected her. And that little man with the funny way of talking, the Commendatore, had led her to this place. So
, she thought, is still looking out for me. No need to mope about the missing penguin.
Mariye wasn't carrying much. Wallet, handkerchief, change purse, house key, and a half a pack of Cool Mint gumâthat was about it. Her shoulder bag contained pencils and pens and a few school textbooks. None were likely to be very useful.
She slipped out of the maid's room and went to check the storage room. As the Commendatore had said, it was stocked with provisions in case of earthquake. The ground was comparatively stable in this mountainous part of Odawara, so an earthquake shouldn't be that serious. The great Kanto earthquake of 1923 had devastated the city of Odawara, but here in the hills, the damage had been relatively minor (she'd done a summer project in grade school on the impact of the earthquake on the Odawara region). Nevertheless, it would be very difficult afterward to get food and water way up here. Thus Menshiki had taken pains to stock up on both. His caution knew no bounds.
She selected two bottles of mineral water, a box of crackers, and a bar of chocolate and carried them back to her room. She was pretty sure Menshiki wouldn't miss such a small amount. However meticulous he might be, he wouldn't keep tabs on how many bottles he had stored. The water was necessary because she didn't want to turn on the tap in her room if at all possible. That would make the pipes in the house gurgle. It is best to make as little noise as possible, the Commendatore had said. She had to be careful.
Mariye returned to the maid's room and locked the door from the inside. In a sense, it was a useless gesture, since Menshiki had keys to all the rooms in the house. Yet it might earn her a little time. At the very least, it eased her mind a bit.
She wasn't hungry at all, but she ate a few crackers and drank some of the water just to check. The crackers were mediocre, as was the water. She checked the labelsâneither had reached its best-before date. I'm okay, she thought. I won't starve.
Outside was now completely dark. She pulled the curtain back a little farther and looked across the valley. She could see her house. She couldn't see what was going on inside without the binoculars, but she could tell lights were burning in some of the rooms. If she looked hard, she might be able to observe someone moving around. Her aunt was there, freaking out, she was sure, because she hadn't come home. Wasn't there a way to call her? Menshiki must have a phone somewhere. All she had to do was say, “Please don't worry. I'm all right,” and hang up. If she kept it short, Menshiki probably wouldn't find out. But her room had no phone, nor had she seen one in that part of the house.
Could she escape under cover of darkness? Find a ladder somewhere and scale the wall to freedom? She recalled seeing a fold-up ladder in the garden shed. Then she recalled the Commendatore's words:
This place is kept under tight guard. In more than one way.
She was pretty sure that “tight guard” didn't refer to the security company's alarm system alone.
I should believe the Commendatore, Mariye thought. This is no normal place. Many things are lurking about. I have to be super cautious. Super patient. This is no time to be rash or willful. I should sit back and wait for the right opportunity, like the Commendatore said.
You will know when the right moment comes. As in, “Aha, now is the time!” You are a brave, smart girl, my friends. Just stay alert.
That's right, I have to be a brave, smart girl. Survive all this in good shape and then watch my breasts get bigger and bigger.
So she thought as she lay there on the bare mattress. All around was growing darker. She could tell that darkness of a different order was about to arrive.
Time followed its own principles, paying no heed to her thoughts. She lay there on the bare mattress in her little room, watching it sluggishly shuffle past. She had nothing else to do. It would be nice to have a book to read, she thought. But there were no books at hand, and even if there had been she couldn't switch on the light. All she could do was lie there in the dark. She had found flashlights and spare batteries in the storeroom but had decided to use those as little as possible.
The night deepened, and she fell asleep. She was nervous and apprehensive in such an unfamiliar place, and she wanted to stay awake, but at a certain point fatigue overcame her and she dropped off. She simply couldn't keep her eyes open. The coverless bed was cold, so she took a quilt and blankets from the closet, wrapped herself up in them like a Swiss Roll, and closed her eyes. There was no space heater in the room, and she couldn't use the central system for obvious reasons.
(A note here on the time frame: Menshiki would have left to visit me while Mariye was asleep. He stayed over and went back the following morning. In other words, he wasn't at home that night. The house was empty. But Mariye had no way of knowing that.)
Mariye woke up once that night to use the bathroom, but didn't flush the toilet. During the day was one thing, but in the still, wee hours of the morning the sound of running water could attract attention. Menshiki was without question a cautious and meticulous individual. He would notice even the slightest change. So why risk discovery?
Her watch said two in the morning. Saturday morning, that was. Friday had passed. When she peeped through the curtain she could see her home across the valley. The lights in the living room were blazing. It was after midnight and she still hadn't returned, so the people thereâat night that would mean her father and her auntâwere unable to sleep. I've done an awful thing, Mariye thought. She even felt sorry for her father (very rare for her). I shouldn't have been so recklessâit wasn't my intention. This is what I get for acting so impulsively.
Yet whatever her regrets, however much she might blame herself, she couldn't transport herself across the valley. She was not a crow. She couldn't sprout wings and fly through the air. Nor could she disappear and reappear like the Commendatore. She was confined within her still-growing body, and shackled by time and space. Hers was a clumsy, awkward existence. Look at her chestâas flat as a board. Her breasts still pancakes that had failed to rise.
Naturally, Mariye was scared alone there in the dark. Her powerlessness pained her. She wished the Commendatore were there. She had so many things to ask him. Whether he answered them or not, at least she would have someone to talk to. To be sure, his way of speaking was odd, somewhat different from modern Japanese, but she could still understand his general meaning. But he might never come back. “There is another place I must go, and another task I must look after,” he had told her. She was desolate to have lost him, perhaps forever.
From outside the window came the resonant cry of a night bird. It sounded like an owl, perhaps a horned owl. They were cloistered in the dark forests, honing their wisdom. I must be as wise as they are, she thought. Be a smart, brave girl. But sleep overtook her a second time. She couldn't keep her eyes open. Pulling the bedding around her once again, she lay down on the mattress and closed her eyes. It was a deep and dreamless sleep. When she woke up it was already growing light outside. Her watch said half past six.
The world was welcoming a new Saturday.
Mariye spent all that day holed up in the maid's room. In place of breakfast, she had more crackers, a few chocolates, and mineral water. She crept into the gym and borrowed several issues from a small mountain of Japanese editions of
. She guessed Menshiki read them when he was working out on his exercise bike, since they were stained here and there with what appeared to be his sweat. She read through them several times. There were articles on the habitat of the Alaskan wolf, the mysteries of the rising and ebbing of the tides, the life of the Inuit, and the gradual shrinking of the Amazon rain forest. Not Mariye's usual reading material by any means, but now, with nothing else to look at, she read them over and over until she had them practically memorized. She bored holes in the illustrations with her eyes.
When she tired of reading, she napped. On occasion, she looked through the curtain at her home across the valley. I wish I had that telescope now, she thought. Then I'd really be able to see inside, even watch people moving around. She wanted to be back inside her room with the orange curtains. Scrub every inch of her body in a nice hot bath, change into fresh pajamas, and curl up in her warm bed with her cat.
Just after nine in the morning, she heard the sound of someone coming down the stairs. The footsteps of a man in slippers. Menshiki, most likely. His way of walking was somehow distinctive. She wanted to peek through the keyhole, but the door didn't have one. She huddled over her knees in a corner of the room, her body rigid. Escape would be impossible if he opened the door and came in. The Commendatore had said that shouldn't happen, and she had taken him at his word. But nothing was a hundred percent sure thing in this world. Making herself as invisible as possible, she thought of the clothes in the closet and prayed,
Don't let anything happen to me.
Her throat was as dry as cotton.
Menshiki seemed to have brought down his dirty laundry. He probably washed a day's worth of clothes at this time each morning. He tossed them in, added detergent, set the timer and mode, and turned the washer on. She could tell by listening that his movements were practiced. She was surprised how well she could hear. The washer began to churn. Menshiki then moved to the gym and began working out on his exercise machines. That seemed to be his ritualâto work out while his clothes were spinning in the washer. While listening to classical music. She could hear strains of Baroque music coming from the speakers attached to the gym's ceiling. It sounded like Bach, or Handel, or Vivaldi. Mariye didn't know much about classical music, though, so it could have been any one of those three.
Mariye spent a full hour with her ears tuned to the churn of the washer, the systematic whirring of the exercise machines, and the music of either Bach, Handel, or Vivaldi. It was a nerve-wracking hour. True, Menshiki probably wouldn't notice that his pile of
s was short a few issues, or that his stash of crackers and chocolate in the storeroom was shrinking bit by bit. She had taken only a tiny fraction of what he had laid away. Nevertheless, there was no telling what might happen. She had to guard against carelessness. To stay on her toes.
Eventually, a buzzer went off and the washer stopped. Menshiki walked slowly back to the laundry room, took the clothes from the washer, put them in the dryer, and turned it on. The dryer began to turn. Satisfied that all was in order, Menshiki ambled up the stairs. It appeared that his workout had ended. Now he would probably take a long shower.
Mariye closed her eyes and sighed with relief. Menshiki would likely come back down in an hour or so. To remove his clothes from the dryer. Yet the most dangerous period had passed. At least it felt that way. He hadn't sensed her hiding there in the room. Hadn't felt her presence at all. She could breathe more freely now.
Then who had it been in front of the closet? The Commendatore had said it was Menshiki, but then again it wasn't him at all. What had that meant? She couldn't understand what he had been trying to say. It was just too difficult for her. Whatever the case, that
had been able to tell that she (or at least a person) was in the closet. They had sensed her there, no doubt. Yet,
for some reason
, that someone was unable to open the closet door. What could that reason have been? Had that assembly of beautiful old clothes really protected her?
She longed to ask the Commendatore. But he had gone off somewhere. There was no one left who could explain things to her.
Menshiki did not set foot outside the house all that Saturday. As far as she knew, the garage door hadn't opened, nor had a car engine started up. He had come down to pick up his laundry, and then walked slowly back up the stairs. That was it. No one had visited the house at the top of the hill where the road came to an end. No parcels or registered documents had been delivered. The doorbell had remained silent. She had heard the telephone ring twice. The ring was faint and distant, but she could still make it out. It was picked up on the second ring the first time, and the third ring the time after that (that was how she knew Menshiki was in the house). The town garbage truck crawled up the slope to the melody of “Annie Laurie” and then crawled back down again (Saturday was garbage pickup day). Otherwise, she heard no sounds. The house was perfectly still.
The morning passed, afternoon rolled on, and soon evening was drawing near.
(A second note on the time frame: While Mariye was hiding in the maid's tiny room, I killed the Commendatore in the Izu nursing home, tied up Long Face, and descended into the underworld.)
But she never found the perfect time to escape. She had to be patient and wait for “the right moment,” the Commendatore had told her.
You will know when the right moment comes. As in, “Aha, now is the time!”
However, the “right moment” never came. Mariye grew more and more tired of waiting. Patience was not her strength. How long, she wondered, must I stay holed up here?
Menshiki began playing the piano not long before nightfall. Apparently, he kept the living room window open when he practiced, so Mariye could hear the music in her hiding place. It sounded like Mozart. One of his sonatas, in a major key. She had noticed the score on the piano. Menshiki ran through the slow-paced movement, then went back to repeat several sections, adjusting his fingering until he was satisfied. It was difficult, though, and he seemed to be having trouble balancing the sound. For the most part, Mozart's sonatas aren't all that hard, but a pianist who tries to master one can stumble into a labyrinth. That labyrinth, however, didn't seem to faze Menshiki in the least. Mariye listened to him patiently walk back and forth over the thorny passages. He practiced that way for about an hour. At the end, he closed the lid with a bang. She sensed he was frustrated. But not all that much. Rather, it was a moderate, elegant frustration. Even when he was alone (or at least, when he thought he was alone) in his sprawling mansion, he kept a tight rein on his feelings.
What followed was a repeat of the previous day. The sun set, the sky darkened, and the crows flew cawing back to their nests in the mountains. One by one, the lights of the houses across the valley went on. The Akikawas' lights did too, and stayed lit even after midnight. Those lights signaled to Mariye just how worried her family was. At least it felt that way to her. It hurt not to be able to ease their pain.
In stark contrast, not a single light went on at Tomohiko Amada's house (in short, the house
inhabited). To all appearances, it looked abandoned. Night came, yet it remained black. It seemed that no one was home. Mariye thought it strange. Where had her teacher gone? Did he know that she was missing?
At a certain hour, sleep again attacked Mariye. The sandman showed no mercy. Shivering in her school blazer, she wrapped herself in blankets and quilts and closed her eyes. I wish my cat were here, she thought as she drifted off. For some reason, her catâit was a sheâseldom mewed or yowled. She only purred. Mariye could have kept her with her without fear of discovery. But of course she wasn't there. Mariye was all alone. In a small pitch-black room with no means of escape.
Sunday morning dawned. When Mariye opened her eyes it was still quite dark. Her watch said before six. The days were getting shorter. Rain was falling outside. A hushed, winter rain. She didn't realize it was raining until she noticed water dripping off the branches. The air in the room was chilly and damp. If only she had a sweater, she thought. All she was wearing under her blazer was a thin knitted vest, a cotton blouse, and beneath that a T-shirt. An outfit for a warm afternoon. A wool sweater would sure come in handy.
Then she rememberedâshe'd seen a sweater in
. An off-white cashmere that looked nice and warm. She could trot up the stairs and get it. Put it under her blazer, and she'd be warm as toast. But slipping out the door and climbing the stairs was just too dangerous.
Especially to that room.
She had to make do with what she had on. After all, this cold wasn't unbearable. Nothing like the brutal cold the Inuit had to deal with. This was the outskirts of Odawara, in early December.
Yet the rainy winter morning chilled her to the bone. She could feel the icy damp seep into her body. So Mariye closed her eyes and turned her thoughts to Hawaii instead. When she was small, she and her aunt, and her aunt's old school friend, had visited Hawaii. They rented a small surfboard for her on the beach at Waikiki, and she played in the wavesâwhen she tired of that, she basked in the sun on the white sand. It was so warm, and so harmonious. High above her, the fronds of the palms swayed in the trade winds. White clouds sailed out to sea. She lay there and sipped a glass of lemonade, so cold her temples hurt. Mariye remembered the trip in detail. Would she ever see a place like that again? She'd give anything for that chance.
Once again, a little after nine, Menshiki came padding down the stairs in his slippers. The washer started, the classical music kicked in (this time it sounded like a Brahms symphony), and the rhythm of the exercise machines began. This lasted a full hour. A perfect repeat of the day before. Only the composer was different. The master of the house was certainly a creature of habit. He transferred the laundry from the washer to the dryer, and returned exactly an hour later to pick it up. He didn't come downstairs after that, and showed no interest at all in the maid's room.