Read Killing Commendatore: A novel Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami,Philip Gabriel,Ted Goossen

Killing Commendatore: A novel (57 page)

I checked Tomohiko Amada's bedside table. Sure enough, a flashlight was there. A facility like this one was sure to store one in each room in case of fire or earthquake. I flicked it on. The light was strong. The batteries weren't dead. I slipped on my leather jacket, which I had draped over a chair, and started for the hole in the corner, flashlight in hand.

“Please, sir,” Long Face begged. “Will you not loosen my bonds? I fear what may transpire should I be left in this state.”

“If you're a true Metaphor, untying yourself should be easy. Aren't Concepts and Ideas and others like you able to move through space and time?”

“No, you overrate me. I am blessed with no such marvelous powers. Concepts and Ideas are Metaphors of a much higher order.”

“Like those with orange cone hats?”

Long Face looked stricken. “Please do not mock me, sir. My feelings can be hurt too, you know.”

After a moment's hesitation, I decided to untie his hands and feet. I had bound them so tightly they took time to undo. Now that we had talked, he didn't appear to be such a bad fellow. True, he didn't know where Mariye was, but he had volunteered other information. I doubted that he would interfere or cause me any harm if I untied him. And I certainly couldn't leave him bound and trussed where he was. Should anyone find him like that, it would only make things worse. When I finished, he sat there for a moment, rubbing his chafed wrists with his tiny hands. Then he felt his forehead. It appeared a lump had already sprouted.

“Thank you, sir. Now I can return to my world.”

“Go ahead,” I said, gesturing to the hole in the corner. “I'll follow later.”

“I shall now make my departure. Please ensure that the lid is securely closed when you follow. Otherwise, someone might trip and fall in. Or grow curious and climb down. Then I would be held responsible.”

“Understood. I will make sure it's closed.”

Long Face trotted to the hole and climbed inside. Then his head and shoulders popped up again. His saucer eyes had an eerie glow. As they did in
Killing Commendatore
.

“I wish you a safe journey,” Long Face said to me. “I hope you can find
What's-her-name
. Was it Komichi?”

“No, her name isn't Komichi,” I said. A chill ran down my spine. My throat turned to sandpaper. I couldn't speak for a moment. “The name was Mariye Akikawa. Do you know something about Komichi?”

“No, I know nothing at all.” Long Face seemed to realize that he'd let drop something he shouldn't. “The name just slipped into my clumsy metaphorical brain. A simple mistake. Forgive me, please, sir.”

Long Face vanished down the hole. Like smoke in the wind.

I stood there for a moment, plastic flashlight in hand. Komichi? How could my sister's name come up here, of all places? Could she be connected to this strangeness? But I had no time to ponder that question. I switched the flashlight on and entered the hole, feetfirst. It was dark below, and there seemed to be a long path sloping downward. That was odd, too, come to think of it. The room was on the third floor, so the second floor should be directly beneath. I trained the flashlight on the path, but couldn't make out where it led. I lowered the rest of my body inside and closed the lid tight behind me. Now everything was black.

The darkness was so complete that my five senses were useless. As if the links between my body and my mind had been severed, and no information was passing between them. It was the strangest feeling. As if I were no longer myself. Nevertheless, I had to go on.

“If my friends wish to save Mariye Akikawa, then do the deed.”

Those had been the Commendatore's words. He had made the sacrifice. Now it was my turn to face the ordeal. I had to push forward. With the flashlight my only ally, I stepped down into the inky blackness of the Path of Metaphor.

53
MAYBE A FIREPLACE POKER

The blackness enfolding me was so thick, so complete, it seemed to have a will of its own. It felt like walking on the ocean floor, where not even a particle of light could penetrate. Only the yellow beam of my flashlight connected me to the world, and barely, at that. The passageway descended at a steady angle. The surface beneath my feet was hard and smooth—it felt like walking down a tunnel bored into solid rock. The ceiling was so low I had to stoop to keep from hitting my head. The air was chilly and odorless, and the total lack of smell disturbed me. Perhaps even the air was different here than above ground.

How long would my flashlight hold out? Its beam was strong and steady for now, but when the batteries failed (as they would eventually) I would be stranded in the dark. And if I were to believe Long Face, dangerous Double Metaphors were lurking out there, ready to pounce.

The palm of my hand that held the flashlight was sweaty from the tension. My heartbeat was a dull, hard thump. It sounded threatening, like a drumbeat would to someone lost in the jungle. Long Face had warned me: “Take a light of some kind with you. You will pass through many dark places on your way.” So not everything in this passageway was pitch black. I wished it would brighten soon. I wished too that the ceiling would rise. I had always felt panicky in dark, constricted spaces. If this continued for much longer, I would soon have trouble breathing.

To calm myself, I tried to focus on other things. I needed to find something, anything, to occupy my mind. What popped into my head was an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich. Why a grilled cheese sandwich? Go figure. That's what came up first, for whatever reason. Perfectly melted cheese on a square of beautifully browned toast. Sitting on a pure white plate. So real I could reach out and touch it. And beside it a cup of piping-hot coffee. Coffee as black as a moonless night. A window opening onto a tall willow, on whose supple branches a small flock of chirping birds perched precariously, like a troupe of tightrope walkers. Everything at an immeasurable distance from where I was now.

Then, for some reason, I thought of the opera
Der Rosenkavalier
. I would listen to it as I sipped my coffee and nibbled my grilled cheese sandwich. That jet-black vinyl disk, released by Decca Records in Great Britain. I placed the heavy record on the turntable and gently lowered the needle. Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. The music elegant, intricate. When Richard Strauss had boasted he could describe even a broom musically, he was in his heyday. But was it a broom? I still couldn't remember. Perhaps it was an umbrella, or then again maybe a fireplace poker. In any case, how could one describe a broom in music? Or a hot grilled cheese sandwich, or someone's callused feet, or the difference between a simile and a metaphor? Could music really depict those things?

Richard Strauss conducted the same orchestra in prewar Vienna. (Was it before the
Anschluss
? After?) The program on this given day was Beethoven's 7th, a resolute yet quiet and well-groomed symphony, squeezed between its bright, uninhibited older sister (the 6th) and its bashful and beautiful younger sister (the 8th). A youthful Tomohiko Amada was in attendance. A pretty young woman sat beside him. Most likely, he was in love with her.

I imagined the city of Vienna on that day. The waltzes, the sweet Sacher tortes, the red-and-black swastikas fluttering from the roofs.

I could feel my thoughts veering off in a pointless direction. Or, more accurately perhaps, in a directionless direction. Yet I was powerless to rein them in. They were no longer under my control. It's no simple matter to hold on to your mind in total blackness. Your thoughts become a tree of riddles whose branches trail off into the dark. (A metaphor.) Nevertheless, I had to focus on
something
to hold myself together. Any old
something
would do. Otherwise, I would start to hyperventilate.

One absurdity after another sauntered through my mind as I pushed down the endless slope. The passageway was as straight as an arrow, with no bends or forks. However far I walked, nothing changed—not the height of the ceiling, or the depth of the darkness, or the quality of the air, or the angle of the slope. My sense of time was foggy, but based on how long I had been walking, I must have been deep underground. Yet in the end, that “depth” had to be a fabrication. After all, I had entered this tunnel from the third floor of a building. The darkness too had to be fabricated. Everything was either concept or metaphor, nothing more. That's what I told myself, anyway. The problem was that the darkness enfolding me was real darkness, the depth pressing down on me real depth.

Just when my neck and back were firing off warning signals about my hunched-over posture, a dim light appeared ahead. Then came a series of twists and turns. With each, my surroundings grew a little brighter, as if the night sky was giving way to day. Now I could make out where I was. I switched off my flashlight to conserve the batteries.

It was growing light, but still I smelled nothing, heard nothing. Then, at last, the cramped passage abruptly ended, and I stepped out into the open. Yet I could see no sky above me, only what looked like a milky-white ceiling, far overheard. A pale glow covered everything, as if the world was lit by a host of luminous insects. It felt odd. Yet it was a relief to say goodbye to the darkness, and to be able to walk upright again. I could relax a bit.

Outside the tunnel, the ground was rough underfoot. There was no path, only a barren, rocky plain that stretched as far as the eye could see. The downward slope had ended, and I was walking up a gentle rise. I picked my way forward, unsure of my direction. I checked my watch, but its hands held no meaning. One glance told me that much. In fact, nothing I carried—key ring, wallet, driver's license, loose change, handkerchief—promised to be of any use at all.

The incline grew steeper and steeper. After a while, I was literally crawling up the slope on my hands and knees. If I could only reach the top, then maybe I could see where I was. I pushed on without pausing to catch my breath. The only sound was the sound I was making, and even that seemed artificial, not like real sound at all. There was nothing alive that I could see. Not a tree, not a clump of grass, not a solitary bird. Not even a puff of wind. Only I moved—all else was still. It was as if time itself had come to a halt.

I finally reached the top of the rise. I could see in all directions from there, as I had anticipated. Yet my view was limited. For there was a whitish mist that hung over everything. All I could make out was what amounted to a lifeless wasteland, a craggy, barren wilderness that stretched in every direction. There was no true sky, just that milky-white ceiling. I felt like an astronaut who had crashed, and landed on an uninhabited planet. Well, at least there was some light, and air that I could breathe. I should be grateful for those.

I could find no sign of life. Finally, though, I was able to make out a faint sound. I thought it might be a hallucination at first, or possibly coming from my own body. Yet it gradually became clear that the noise was continuous, and caused by some kind of natural phenomenon. In fact, it sounded like flowing water. Perhaps it was the river that Long Face had spoken of. Bathed in the pale light, I picked my way down the bumpy slope in the direction of the sound.

The sound of water made me terribly thirsty. Come to think of it, I had been walking a very long time with nothing to drink. Yet I had been so anxious that water had never crossed my mind. Now I craved it desperately. But was the water in that river—if that was where the sound was coming from—drinkable? It might be thick with mud, or filled with dangerous toxins. Or perhaps it was metaphorical water, which my hands could not scoop up. Oh well, I would find out when I got there.

The noise grew louder and clearer as I went along. It sounded like a fast-flowing river, tumbling through rocks. Yet I still could not see it. As I headed toward the sound, the ground on both sides of me rose until I was walking between two rock walls about thirty feet in height. The path cut between those towering cliffs, though its serpentine twists and turns made it impossible to know what lay ahead. It was not a man-made trail. Rather, it appeared to have been fashioned by the forces of nature. From what I could tell, the river lay at its end.

I hurried along the walled path. I passed no tree, no blade of grass. Not a living thing. The silent cliffs were all that I could see. A sterile, monochrome world. It was as if an artist had lost interest in painting a landscape, and had abandoned it before adding the colors. I could barely hear my own footsteps. The rocks seemed to absorb sound.

At a certain point the path, which had been flat for the most part, began to slope upward again. It took some time, but at last I reached the crest, which ran like a spine along the top of the cliffs. When I leaned forward, I could see the river. Now the rush of water was even more audible.

The river was not especially wide. Maybe fifteen or twenty feet across. But its current was swift. I couldn't tell its depth. Judging from the whitecaps it sent up here and there, boulders and other hidden obstacles lay beneath the surface. The river carved a straight line through the rocky terrain. I crossed the ridge and headed down the slope in its direction.

When I reached the river, and saw it rushing past from right to left, I felt much better. At the very least, a large quantity of water was on the move. It had originated somewhere and was flowing somewhere else, following the contours of the land. In a place where nothing stirred, and no wind blew, the sound of rushing water reverberated around me. No, this world was not wholly absent of motion. That fact alone gave me some comfort.

The moment I reached the river, I knelt on the bank and scooped up water in my cupped hands. It was pleasantly cold. The river seemed snow-fed. Its water was crystal clear and appeared pure. Of course, I couldn't tell by looking at it if it was safe to drink. It might contain a deadly poison. Or bacteria that would ravage my body.

I sniffed the water in my hands. It had no odor (that is, if my sense of smell was still functioning). I took a sip. It had no flavor (that is, if I hadn't lost my sense of taste). I braced myself and swallowed deeply. I was too thirsty to resist, whatever the consequences. The water was indeed entirely tasteless and odorless. It might be real or fabricated, but thankfully, it would quench my thirst.

I knelt there, blissfully gulping mouthful after mouthful. I was thirstier than I had realized. Yet it was strange somehow to drink water lacking in taste and odor. Cold water when we are thirsty is
delicious
more than anything else. Our body sucks it in greedily. Our cells rejoice, our muscles regain their strength. Yet drinking the water from this river brought none of those feelings. It did no more than quench my thirst at a simple, physical level.

When I had drunk my fill, I stood up and looked at my surroundings one more time. Long Face had said that there would be a boat landing somewhere along the riverbank. That one of the boats could ferry me to the other side. There I would (probably) find information relating to Mariye Akikawa's whereabouts. But I could see nothing that looked like a landing, either upstream or downstream. I would have to search for it. A boat was crucial. Fording the river unaided was too dangerous. “The water is cold and deep, and the current is strong. You cannot cross without a boat,” Long Face had told me. But which way should I turn to find that boat? Upriver or downriver? I had to choose one or the other.

Then I remembered Menshiki's given name, “Wataru,” written with the kanji for traversing water. “The
wataru
in my name is the character that means ‘to cross a river,' ” Menshiki had said, when he introduced himself. “I don't know why I was given that name. I've never had much to do with water.” A short while later he had added, “By the way, I'm left-handed. If I'm told to go left or right, I always choose left. It's become a habit.”

It was a random comment quite disconnected to what we were talking about—I couldn't figure out why he would blurt out something like that. Which is probably why it stuck in my mind.

Maybe his comment had no special significance. It could have been mere happenstance. Yet (according to Long Face) this was a land built upon the conjunction of phenomena and expression. I ought to be able to handle the
happenstance
of any hints that came in my direction. I stood before the river and made up my mind. I would go left. If I took the unconscious tip that “colorless” Menshiki had provided and followed the tasteless, odorless river downstream, it might provide a further hint of some sort. Then again, it might not.

As I walked along the riverbank, I wondered what, if anything, lived in the water. It didn't seem likely anything did. I couldn't confirm this, of course. Nevertheless, I could see no signs of life. What organism would live in water that had neither taste nor odor? The river appeared wholly concentrated on its own identity. “I am river,” it said. “I am that which flows.” Certainly it possessed the form of a river, but beyond that
state of being
there was nothing. Not a thing floated on its surface, not a twig, not a blade of grass. It was simply a great quantity of water cutting across the land.

I pushed on through that boundless, cottony mist. It gently resisted me as I moved, like a filmy curtain of white lace. After a while, my gut began to react to the water I had drunk. It didn't feel unpleasant or ominous, but neither was it cause for rejoicing. A neutral feeling, whose true nature eluded my understanding. I felt I was being somehow changed, as if I were no longer the same person. It was a strange sensation. Could the water be turning me into someone physically adapted to this world?

For some reason, though, I was able to stay calm. I thought, optimistically, that there could be no real harm. My optimism had no firm basis. Nevertheless, I had passed without mishap through the narrow pitch-black passageway. With neither map nor compass, I had crossed a rocky wilderness to find this river. I had quenched my thirst with its water. I had avoided a close encounter with a lurking Double Metaphor. Dumb luck? Or perhaps it was predetermined. Whichever the case, I was heading in a good direction. So I thought. Or at least so I tried to convince myself.

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