Authors: Jon Courtenay Grimwood
END OF THE WORLD BLUES
A Bantam Spectra Book / October 2007
Published by Bantam Dell
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York, New York
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2007 by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Bantam Books, the rooster colophon, Spectra, and the portrayal of a boxed “s” are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Grimwood, Jon Courtenay.
End of the world blues / Jon Courtenay Grimwood
“A Bantam Spectra Book”—T.p. verso.
“End of the world or not, peonies, azaleas and camellias will still produce beautiful flowers…”
Hagakure Kikigaki (Way of the Samurai)
Friday, 22 December
“That looks heavy.”
Glancing round, the girl saw a porter in the grey-green uniform of the Tokyo Metro, complete with smart white gloves. He was smiling.
“No,” she said. “It’s fine.”
“If you’re sure?”
“I’m certain,” said Nijie, more firmly than was polite…
she could see him think.
Having wrestled her case into a left-luggage locker at Shinjuku Sanchome, Nijie Kitagawa slammed its steel door and fed 2,000 yen into a slot. She followed this with two 500 yen coins and checked the door was tight.
The longest she could leave her case was three days. After that, she’d need to change lockers. As Nijie was fifteen and official statistics suggested she should live to the age of eighty-three, this meant she’d need to swap lockers 8,273 times before she died.
Mind you, official statistics could be wrong.
Alternatively she could spend its contents. On that basis, the girl could afford to take $100 a day for the rest of her life, minus the $500 she’d already used. Fifteen million dollars was a lot of money to steal, particularly for someone her age.
It was Friday, the twenty-second of December, the last day of school term. Nijie’s friends would be wondering where she was; she could imagine their conversation.
She’d left a cup of sake, her videophone, and her high-school identity card at a road-side shrine for luck, before entering the station. As an afterthought, Nijie had swapped her card for five $100 bills, anchoring them with her door keys. So now her card lay in a gutter where it belonged. A girl with brown eyes, her hair in bunches, still smiling as people trod on her.
The first train was for Ginza, from where it would run the loop to Ikeburuko, giving her twenty-four stations before she needed to change. Getting a corner seat was lucky; the metro was crowded with Christmas shoppers carrying white-painted twigs and plastic snowmen. Nijie sat quietly, working out what to do next. After a while she remembered to keep her knees together.
Opposite her, a woman with that day’s
was tutting to her husband about the Kitagawa killings, while a photograph of a man with swept-back hair stared from its front page. Tony Kitagawa looked better in black and white, certainly a lot better than when Nijie last saw him.
“I am a cat,”
Across the aisle a boy in the blue tunic of a local high school glanced up, only to smile as he recognised her words.
“As yet I have no name,”
he said, finishing the quote for her.
Nijie burst into tears.
When she next looked he was gone. Maybe he was late for school, maybe the start times had changed, or perhaps she’d been on the train longer than she realised. Looking around, Nijie decided it was a different train.
Station names changed and smartly dressed men got on or off, and when every seat but the one next to her was taken, even that one filled up. Having finished her crying, Nijie sniffed, being far too carefully brought up to blow her nose in public.
Her old life had gone. She needed a new name and somewhere to hide. Most of all she needed to stop crying and pull herself together. Reciting lines from
I Am a Cat
was perhaps not the best way to achieve this, but the story came from her grandmother, who’d read it aloud one winter night many years before.
At the end of the line, the girl climbed out of her seat, crossed the platform, and waited for the train to take her back. The station was suburban neat, its trees pruned into elegant shapes and a clock above the tracks counted off the seconds until her train would arrive.
When the clock hit zero, Nijie felt it happen, like paper ripping inside her. Several things previously muddled became clear.
meant cat, while
meant meat; she was both of those…
Yes, she thought, that was it. She was Lady Neku. And suddenly, the girl who became Lady Neku understood she’d never really been anyone else.
When the salaryman opposite began staring, Neku moved her magazine to obstruct his view of her knees. It was early afternoon, the metro was full of Christmas shoppers and Neku was several hours into her new life.
At this, the man shifted to get a better look and Neku decided subtlety wasn’t going to work. “Pervert,” she announced loudly. When no one paid any attention, Neku stood up and repeated herself, only this time she pointed.
The man got off at the next stop.
Although what actually happened was that he got off, the woman sitting next to Neku changed seats, and two grandmothers opposite spent the next three stops muttering to each other.
said their glances,
what did she expect? Looking like that.
Shrugging, Neku raised a pencil and began to give herself eyebrows. Her cheeks stung from skin bleach but she ignored it. The tube said apply over the course of two weeks, use not more than an inch and start with a sensitivity test. To be helpful, the makers even printed a line with the daily measurement.
Neku had applied half the tube before deciding this was a bad idea and washing most of it off. Far from lightening her complexion, the cream had made her skin blotchy, so now Neku wore foundation to hide a rash, which rather defeated the object…
Pulling out a black lipstick, she slashed a line across her face and a goth girl began to appear in the window opposite. White face, strong eyebrows, and a pastiche geisha pout. Neku sat too far from her own reflection to see the silver bolt recently fixed through her tongue, but she could still taste its metal and blood.
She wore a fat amber ring on her right hand, a black plastic watch, and a bracelet made from glass beads threaded onto silver mesh. Five gold hoops ran the rim of one aching ear and beneath her ripped blouse she could feel flesh try to shrivel beneath the bolts now skewering it. The first boy to touch her, and he’d barely glanced at Nijie’s breasts as he swabbed on surgical spirit, reached for a metal clamp, and thrust a spike through each nipple.
Pain meant nothing.
Neku told herself.
She was not like the other kids arriving at Harajuku Bridge with their fantasy identities hidden in Liz Lisa bags. Little suburban showoffs who unpacked their alter-egos each weekend, flashing white knickers as they made up their faces or struggled into thigh boots, lace tops, or ripped silver jeans. She was Lady Neku, the original: the others were just copies.
Swirling her cloak and raising her chin, Neku left the station by its first exit, ignored a poster featuring a winged, haloed, and very happy Santa Claus, and dodged two foreigners busy unpacking fake Rolex from a box on the corner. Harajuku Bridge was famous for its costume play gangs who gathered each day to parade their outlandish clothes; but the sky was getting dark, it was beginning to drizzle and most of the spectators had already gone home.