Read Killing Commendatore: A novel Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami,Philip Gabriel,Ted Goossen

Killing Commendatore: A novel (52 page)

“Are you sure it's all right if I go along? Aren't times like this for family only?”

“Don't worry. It's perfectly okay. No other relatives will be there, so the more the merrier.” He hung up.

I put down the phone and scanned the room. Was the Commendatore around? But he was nowhere to be seen. Prophecy dispensed, he had disappeared. Probably to a realm where the dictates of time, space, and probability did not apply. Nevertheless, there had been a morning phone call, and I had been invited somewhere. So far, at least, that prophecy had been accurate. It bothered me to leave with Mariye still unaccounted for, but I couldn't do much about that. The Commendatore had instructed me, “No matter the circumstances, my friends must not decline that invitation.” I could leave Shoko in Menshiki's hands. After all, she was his responsibility, to some extent.

I sat back in the easy chair in the living room and resumed the story of the invincible Armada as I waited for Masahiko. Almost all the Spanish soldiers and seamen who had managed to escape their shipwrecked vessels and crawl onto the shores of Ireland more dead than alive were murdered by those who lived along the coast. The poverty-stricken locals had slaughtered them for their possessions. It had been the Spaniards' hope that, as fellow Catholics, the Irish might show them mercy, but they were out of luck. Religious solidarity was no match for the fear of starvation. Sadly, the Spanish ship carrying the war chest holding the gold and silver intended to buy off England's powerful nobility sank as well. No one knew where all that wealth had gone.

It was shortly before eleven in the morning when Masahiko's old black Volvo pulled up in front of my house. I was still thinking about all those gold coins lying at the bottom of the sea as I threw on my leather jacket and headed out the door.

—

The route Masahiko chose took us from the Hakone Turnpike to the Izu Skyline highway and then down from the Amagi highlands to Izu. He explained that this way would be faster—that the weekend meant the coastal roads would be jammed—but nevertheless our route was crowded with people out on excursions. The leaf-viewing season had not yet ended, and many of those on the road were weekenders unfamiliar with mountain driving, so the trip took a lot longer than expected.

“Is your father really in bad shape?” I asked.

“He's not long for this world, that's for sure,” Masahiko said lightly. “A matter of days, to be more precise. Age has whittled him down to almost nothing. He has trouble eating, and pneumonia is a constant threat. But the patient's orders are that under no circumstances are IV lines and feeding tubes to be used. In other words, he demands that he be allowed to go quietly once he can no longer eat. He arranged this with his lawyer when he was still mentally competent, signed the forms and everything. So there will be no interventions. That means he could go at any time.”

“So I guess you have to be prepared for the worst.”

“That's about right.”

“It must be rough.”

“Hey, it's a big deal when someone dies. I can hardly complain.”

The old Volvo was equipped with a tape deck, and the glove compartment was stuffed with cassettes. Masahiko stuck his hand in, grabbed one, and inserted it without checking to see what it was. It turned out to be a collection of hits from the 1980s. Duran Duran, Huey Lewis, and so on. When ABC's “The Look of Love” came on, I turned to him.

“Sure feels like time has stopped in this car,” I said.

“I don't like CDs. They're too shiny—they'd scare crows away if I hung them outside my house, but they're hardly something to listen to music on. The sound is tinny and the mixing is unnatural. Having no A and B sides is a drag too. That's why I still drive this car—so I can listen to my cassettes. Newer models don't have tape decks, right? Everyone thinks I'm nuts. But I'm stuck. I have a huge collection of songs I recorded off the radio and I don't want them to go to waste.”

“Man, I never thought I'd hear ABC's ‘Look of Love' again in this lifetime.”

“Don't you think it's amazing?” Masahiko said, casting me a quizzical glance.

We went on talking about the music of the eighties, songs we'd heard on the radio, as we tooled through the mountains of Hakone. The blue slopes of Mt. Fuji loomed around each curve.

“You and your dad are quite a pair,” I said. “The father listens only to records, and the son is stuck on cassettes.”

“You should talk. You're just as behind the times. Worse than us, maybe. I mean, you don't even have a cell phone. And you hardly ever go online, right? I've always got my cell phone with me, and anything I need to know, I Google. I design stuff on my Mac at work. Socially, I'm light-years ahead of you.”

Bertie Higgins's rendition of “Key Largo” came on. An interesting selection indeed for a guy claiming to be socially evolved.

“Are you seeing anyone these days?” I asked, changing the subject.

“You mean, like a woman?”

“Yeah.”

Masahiko gave a small shrug. “I can't say it's going all that well. As usual. And things have gotten even rockier since I made this weird breakthrough.”

“What kind of breakthrough?”

“That the right and left sides of a woman's face don't match up. Did you know that?”

“People aren't perfectly symmetrical,” I said. “Whether it's breasts or balls, the size and shape of the two sides are always going to be different. Every artist knows that much. That lack of symmetry is one of the things that makes the human form so interesting.”

Masahiko shook his head several times without taking his eyes off the road. “Of course I know that. But what I'm saying is a little different. I'm talking about personality, not form.”

I waited for him to go on.

“About two months ago, I took a photo of this woman I was seeing with a digital camera. A close-up of her face from the front. I put it on the big office computer. Then I managed to divide the screen down the middle and look at the two halves of her face separately. Removing the right half to look at the left, and vice versa…You get the idea, right?”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“That's when I realized that her left side and her right side looked like two separate people. Like Two-Face, the bad guy in
Batman
.”

“I missed that one.”

“You should watch it sometime. It's pretty good. Anyway, it freaked me out a bit. I should have left things alone at that point, but I went ahead and tried reversing each side to make a composite face. That way, I could double the right side to create a complete face, and do the same with the left side. Computers make that sort of stuff easy. What I was left with was images of what could only be seen as two women with two totally distinct personalities. It shocked me. I mean, there were actually two women inside every woman I met. Have you ever looked at women that way?”

“Nope,” I said.

“I tested my idea on several other women. Took head shots and created left- and right-side composites on the computer. That made it even clearer. That women literally have two faces. Once I knew that, I found I couldn't figure out women at all. For example, if I was with a woman and we were having sex, I didn't know if it was her right side or her left that I was embracing. If it was the right side, then where had the left side gone—what was it doing, and what was it thinking?—and if it was the left side, then what was the right side thinking? Once I reached that point, things got really messy. Get what I'm saying?”

“Not completely, but I can see that it must be messy.”

“You bet. Really messy.”

“Did you try it on men's faces?”

“Yeah, I did. But it didn't work the same way. The only drastic changes were with women's faces.”

“Maybe you should go see a psychologist or therapist about this,” I said.

Masahiko sighed. “You know, I've always believed myself to be a totally normal sort of guy.”

“That could be a dangerous belief.”

“To believe that I'm normal?”

“I think it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote that one should never trust people who claim they're normal. It's in one of his novels.”

Masahiko thought about that for a moment. “So even a commonplace man is irreplaceable?”

“I guess that's another way of putting it.”

Masahiko thought for a while, his hands on the steering wheel.

“At any rate,” he said, “could you try it just once and see?”

“You know I've been a portrait painter for a long time. So I think I'm more skilled than most when it comes to examining faces. You could even say I'm an expert at it. But I've never thought that the difference between the right and left sides reflected a disparity in personality. Not once.”

“But almost all the subjects you painted were men, correct?”

Masahiko had a point. I'd never been commissioned to paint a woman. For whatever reason, my portraits were all of men. The only exception was Mariye Akikawa, and she was more child than woman. And I hadn't finished her portrait, either.

“Men and women are different,” Masahiko insisted. “Completely.”

“So then let me ask you,” I said. “Are you claiming this personality difference on the right and left sides applies to almost all women?”

“Yeah, that's my conclusion.”

“So then do you find yourself attracted to one side or the other? Or do you find you like both sides
less
?”

Masahiko pondered this question for a moment. “No,” he said at last. “That's not how it works. It's not that I prefer one side to the other. That I find one side cheerful and the other gloomy, or that one side is prettier. The problem is at another level: it's simply that the two sides are
different
. It's that
sheer fact
that shakes me up. Sometimes it scares me.”

“It sounds to me like a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder,” I said.

“It sounds like that to me too,” Masahiko said. “Just listening to myself. But it's
the truth
. I ask you, just check it out for yourself.”

I promised him I would. But I had no intention of following through. That could only add to my troubles. My life was messy enough as it was.

—

Then we talked about Tomohiko Amada. About Tomohiko Amada in Vienna.

“My father said he heard Richard Strauss conduct one of Beethoven's symphonies,” Masahiko said. “With the Vienna Philharmonic, of course. He said it was out of this world. That's one of the few stories he told me about his days in Vienna.”

“What else did he say about his time there?”

“Nothing at all remarkable. He mentioned the food, the drink, the music. Stuff like that. He really loved music, you know. That was all he talked about. He never mentioned painting or politics or things of that sort. Or women either.”

Masahiko paused before continuing.

“Maybe someone should write my father's biography. It could be a really interesting book. But the reality is, no one will ever take a shot at it. Why? Because there's hardly any personal information out there. My father had no friends, his family members were virtual strangers—he just spent his time shut away by himself on a mountain, painting. His only acquaintances, if you could call them that, were a handful of art dealers. He hardly spoke to anyone. He wrote no letters. So if someone did try to write his biography, they'd have almost nothing to work with. It's not just that there are a few holes in his life story, it's that his life is riddled with them. Think of Swiss cheese with more holes than cheese.”

“All he's leaving behind is his work.”

“You're right, his paintings and almost nothing else. That's probably the way he wanted it.”

“And you. You're a part of his legacy too,” I said.

“Me?” Masahiko looked at me in surprise. Then he turned back to the road. “You're right there. If I stop to think of it, I'm part of his legacy too. Not a particularly shining part, though.”

“But irreplaceable.”

“True enough. Run of the mill, but nonetheless irreplaceable,” Masahiko said. “You know what I think sometimes? That you should have been Tomohiko Amada's son. If that were the case, things would have gone so much more smoothly.”

“Give me a break!” I said with a laugh. “No one was fit for that role!”

“Maybe not,” Masahiko said. “But you might have been his spiritual successor, if you can call it that. You're a lot more qualified in that area than I am—that's my gut feeling anyway.”

Killing Commendatore
popped into my mind. Was that painting something I had “inherited” from Tomohiko Amada? Had he led me to that attic room to discover it? Was he using it to demand something of me?

Deborah Harry was singing “French Kissin' in the USA” on the car stereo. It was hard to think of less appropriate background music for our conversation.

“I guess it must have been tough having a father like Tomohiko Amada,” I said bluntly.

“I reached a point years ago where I had to make a clean break and move on with my life,” Masahiko said. “Once I had done that, it wasn't as hard on me as everyone thought. I make a living from art as well, but the scale of my father's talent and the scale of mine are so dramatically different. When the gap is that huge, it stops being a problem. My father's fame as an artist doesn't hurt anymore. What hurts is the kind of human being he was, the fact that until the very end, he never opened up to me, his own son. That he didn't pass a single bit of information about himself on to me.”

“So he showed nothing of his inner world, even to you?”

“Not a glimpse. His attitude was: ‘I gave you half my DNA, so what more do you want? The rest is up to you.' But a relationship is based on more than DNA. Right? I never asked him to act as my guide through life. I didn't demand that. But it still should have been possible to have something like a father-son conversation once in a while. He could have filled me in just a little on what he had experienced, what he thought. Even bits and pieces would have helped.”

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