Chapter 4 complete. 1 chapter left.
Gotta say, it sucks to be Chiaki.
There were quite a few picture frames illustrated on the jacket sleeve of the album.
The three most prominent frames were titled <THE GNOME>, <THE SAGE> and <THE OLD CASTLE>—but all three of them were empty. An additional frame in the bottom left, however, encased the title of the album.
<PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION>.
I removed my headphones with a sigh, then placed the CD back into its case before stacking it atop a mountain of different <Pictures at an Exhibition> CDs.
I wanted to yell in frustration. Why are there so many renditions of the same song?
"Allow me to explain. Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, one of the many musicians who strove to express Russia's musical nationality, was someone that always abandoned his compositions halfway through. Just look at his operas as an example—nearly all of them are incomplete works. However, his ideas of music were innovative and colorful. And many people are attracted to his works precisely because they 'are not perfect.' His masterpiece, <Pictures at an Exhibition>, managed to stir the imagination of countless past and present musicians, which is why so many different variations of the piece exist!"
"...... Tetsurou, why did you barge into my room without my permission?"
"I was just wondering...... if I don't speak like a music critic once in a while, will all that knowledge disappear someday?"
"Whatever, get out."
"Feel free to depend on me if you're fretting about music, yeah? Because I don't help with any of the housework at all."
"If you're aware of that, at least wash our clothes!"
"I don't know the difference between washing powder and wheat flour—are you really fine with that?"
I threw my pillow at Tetsurou to chase him away, then faced the desk and began inspecting the songs on the CDs, one at a time.
The piano rendition composed by Rimsky-Korsakov; the famous orchestral version by Ravel; Henry Wood's version that dated back much earlier; and Tomita Isao's synthesized rendition. These were just a few of the many different interpretations of <Pictures at an Exhibition>.
In the end, I returned to the rendition I had been listening to earlier—the live performance by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. God knows how many times I've listened to this already.
The first to speak was Mafuyu. It happened during our club activities earlier that day. Mafuyu picked a score out from a huge stack of sheets and opened it.
"One of the main themes of <Pictures at an Exhibition> is <Promenade>. If we insert that theme in-between our songs, we can create a complete medley."
"Pro...... What does that pro-whatever song sound like?" Chiaki lifted her head and asked Mafuyu. Mafuyu grabbed her guitar silently and played a sample of the main theme in B♭ major.
"Ah, I've heard that before."
"Comrade Ebisawa hasn't released <Pictures at an Exhibition>, right?" asked Kagurazaka-senpai. She was obviously referring to the piano version. Mafuyu nodded her head slightly after a brief moment of silence.
"I'm looking forward to it then. I absolutely must hear Comrade Ebisawa's rendition of Mussorgsky, even if it's performed with a different instrument. Well then, young man, thanks for this—"
"I'll leave the composing to you."
"I can't believe you're asking me why."
Senpai inched towards me and lifted my chin with her finger. Her black eyes appeared before me and looked like the starless skies of the night. I couldn't move any part of my body, much less my face.
"You're my other half, my dearest Paul. Is there a need for any other reason?"
"I didn't expect you to not know that. Guess I have no other option but to lock you in a hotel room to let you know just how much I treasure you."
"Geez—Senpai!" "You can't!"
Chiaki performed a triangle choke on Senpai and pulled her away from me. At the same time, Mafuyu strangled me from behind and pulled me towards the side of the entrance. That's painful. Why has everyone not been giving a damn about my neck recently......
"Now's not the time to be doing things like this! The school festival's only a month away!"
Senpai became a little depressed after that scolding from Chiaki, but she immediately straightened herself out.
"Sorry, I've reflected on it. So let's all go to the hotel together."
"You used that gag last month, no?"
Looks like Chiaki has improved considerably...... Please continue to tsukkomi Senpai in my stead.
"But you don't hate <Pictures at an Exhibition> do you, young man?"
"Hmm? Not really......" Don't veer back on topic all of a sudden. "I don't actually hate it."
I'll be the one composing it? I took the score from Mafuyu's hands and stared at the floor.
"That's settled then. Please compose a medley that is irritatingly long, but also so exciting that our audience won't have a chance to catch their breath."
I hugged my head in response to Senpai's unreasonable request.
When I returned home, I searched through Tetsurou's music collection and dug out all the renditions of <Pictures at an Exhibition> I could find. After that, I brought out a synthesizer as well—it was the one that Tomo had given Senpai, and that Senpai had subsequently lent to me for an unspecified amount of time. I tried playing the <Promenade> theme using various timbres.
The theme invoked the image of a leisurely walk through an exhibition. It appeared six times throughout the entire piece, during the various variations, and brought about a strange sense of uniformity to the song.
That was what Mafuyu was referring to. As long as <Promenade> appeared in-between our songs, any song could be added to the exhibition.
Her argument might've sounded a bit forced, but I did agree with it in general—the melody did leave a lasting impression on the ears. Though I had no idea why it sounded so easygoing despite the alternating 5/4 and 6/4 beats and the intense irregular tempo.
Regardless, I didn't really like Mussorgsky's piano version of <Promenade>. It had way too many unreasonable sustained tones, which made it sound as though he had forcefully recomposed an orchestral piece into a piano piece. Especially that finale.
If I were composing it, I would use the organ, or some similar instrument, to play a resounding cry—like the way it was done in <GNOMES>, with the unison of the bass and drums—
I then realized something—the desired timbres in my mind were being conveyed through my headphones. I had unconsciously replayed the album by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
I sighed, then turned off the audio and tossed the CD onto my desk. The mountain of <Pictures at an Exhibition> CDs tumbled and fell onto my bed.
That won't do. If that's how it is, I might as well as just copy their performance.
I grabbed my cellphone to give Senpai a call, but decided against it in the end.
I was about to tell her I couldn't come up with anything—but that would've been really embarrassing.
All the songs previously played by feketerigó had been composed by Senpai. So why doesn't Senpai compose the song this time around as well? Why does she want me do it? Perhaps she thinks I'm adept at composing classical pieces just because I'm the son of a music critic? Mafuyu would've been a much better choice if that was what she thought.
What should I do? The music of EL&P continued to reverberate in my ears.
On Wednesday, we had a rare guest visit our house. It was already late into the night when I finished practicing at Nagashima's Musical Instrument Store, and when I arrived back home, exhausted, I saw a large foreign car parked in our garage.
I recognized the car straight away because it was my fourth time seeing it. And for a brief moment, I seriously contemplated staying the night at Chiaki's house.
I opened the door silently, and what greeted me was the loud, blaring Shostakovich, and the occasional uncouth quarreling of two middle-aged men.
"...... that's why I say the fugue should continue on all the way till the exposition! How long are you gonna emphasize the voices? You're blindly following Shostakovich's orchestration—the instruments are scattered all over! This is far from the standards of the original."
"That was all that was needed from The Symphonic Brass of London to make the piece shine! It is not like they do that only during Shostakovich. Most importantly, the conflicting inner voices in the most important part of the final movement—"
"Don't be surprised if the concertmaster deliberately refuses to show up after quarreling with you. It'd be your fault for insisting to stick to the same tone as the American orchestras."
"Stop pretending like you know everything!"
"May I know what you two are quarreling about......?"
Ebichiri and Tetsurou—who were about to engage in a brawl—were shocked when I stepped into the living room. The two of them quickly tidied themselves up and sat down on the sofa. A clear and thick string adagio was playing over the speakers. I knew immediately it was a live performance conducted by Ebichiri.
"Sorry for intruding despite the late hour."
Ebichiri greeted me with a wry expression on his face. I nodded my head slightly in response.
"...... Urm, do you want a cup of coffee?"
I was pretty sure Tetsurou hadn't offer our guest a drink.
"Ah, that is unnecessary. Actually, I am here to speak with you."
"Urm, but it'd be rude of us to not offer you anything. It'd be better if I got you a drink."
I slipped into the kitchen and tried to calm myself down as I washed my hands. Well, Ebichiri's a busy man, so I don't think he's here to pick a fight with Tetsurou. Meaning, he's here to talk about something related to Mafuyu. "But what exactly? Did I do something wrong?" I tried to jolt my memories as I lit the gas to heat the water.
"—He is a really considerate boy. Are you sure he is your son? Could he be the son of Misako and some other man?"
Ebichiri, I can clearly hear what you're saying. He was surprisingly dense when it came to certain things—something that could also be clearly seen with Mafuyu.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but he carries 50% of my genes."
Tetsurou, please don't answer him with such a disgusting reply.
As a small revenge on my part, I served them both cups of incredibly thick coffee, but both of them just drank it down indifferently. That's no fun!
After putting his cup down, Ebichiri looked at me with his stern poker face and said,
"Thank you for last time. I am really grateful for that."
"...... Eh? Huh? What are you thanking me for?" I didn't remember doing anything that deserved his gratitude.
"You brought Mafuyu to the concert, didn't you? That was her first time ever attending one of my concerts. She followed you there, didn't she?"
"Ah. Urm, well......"
So that's what he was thanking me for. But I didn't bring her there; Mafuyu had obtained the tickets on her own, for whatever reason.
"I kind of forced Flaubert to perform at that concert, but Mafuyu seemed pretty happy because of that...... Speaking of which, I have talked to Flaubert a few times since then."
"Eh? Ah, yeah."
"He too, talks about you all the time. You are...... a really unfathomable person."
I-Is that so?
"Oi, wait a second. Is the Flaubert you're talking about Julien Flaubert? What the heck? Nao, you've actually met him? Where? Where is he right now?"
Tetsurou suddenly pulled himself close to me, his eyes blinded by the prospect of cash.
"Can you hook me up with an exclusive interview with him? The editor-in-chief has been hounding me for that—even photos are okay! Damn, I shouldn't have bragged about being able to snag the interview using my network and contacts."
"Shut up Tetsurou!" "Do not bring your dirty work into this conversation!"
Tetsurou was retorted by the both of us yet again; but he didn't back down this time.
"Hey! Quit joking with me! What do you think allowed me to raise Nao to be the fine person he is today—"
"You said you were the industry's ruffian, no?" "It's because you're the industry's ruffian!"
"B-Being the industry's ruffian is not a sleazy job, okay!? We don't manipulate strings behind backs to do bad stuff, like control the middleman in charge of introducing talents to the orchestras. And we don't act as spies for the College of Music either. It's true! Nao, why are you looking at me with such a cold stare!?"
It's pointless, Tetsurou. Your voice is starting to sound strange. Just be quiet and give it a rest......
"Uhhhh, that's mean of you, treating me like some sort of shady person!"
With that, Tetsurou grabbed his cup and ran to the kitchen in tears. Ebichiri let out a deep sigh when he saw Tetsurou's sorry state, then took a sip of coffee.
"Well, just the image of Flaubert is enough for a magazine to sell like hot cakes, so I can understand why they are desperate to locate his whereabouts...... I think you should already know this, but please do not disclose anything about him to anyone else."
I nodded my head. Yuri probably dislikes being chased around by the Japanese media and being the subject of baseless articles.
"You might have heard from Flaubert or Mafuyu already, but I guess I will tell you just in case...... Mafuyu is preparing herself for her comeback."
I kept my gaze on the cup in Ebichiri's hands.
Mafuyu was slowly returning to that glamorous but cold world.
"Please keep this to yourself, as Mafuyu hates the media. The things she was involved in were not pleasant, and I do not intend for her to be harassed either. But the industry is a small world, so I know keeping it a secret forever is quite impossible. In fact, some people are already looking into her return."
"I have no idea what on earth happened, but her fingers have almost completely healed, which is a miracle. Early last month, her fingers suddenly were no longer numb. The doctors were surprised as well, but because the immobility in her fingers was caused by something psychological...... it is highly possible that her recovery is psychological as well."
Miss Maki had said the same thing in early October.
And I think Yuri's return was the biggest reason for that change.
"Though she is unable to hold concerts for now, she will be releasing an album. The record company is already all geared up for that. Her comeback album will probably be Beethoven's violin sonata."
My shoulders flinched.
Generally speaking, a violin sonata is written for a piano and a violin, and is composed of various movements.
I see—that's what it was all about.
But I still couldn't help but ask him something I already knew the answer to.
"...... She'll be performing with Yuri, right?"
I was surprised by how cold my voice was. I couldn't bring myself to look at Ebichiri's face.
"Of course, since the idea did not materialize back in America. The producers are really gunning hard for their success, and the two of them seem pretty enthusiastic about it as well."
That combination should be a popular one. There's lots of things to talk about, and even I want to listen to their performance. That's quite the pleasant news. And so?
Why are you here to see me?
"Therefore, I would like to ask you—you see, I have never seen Mafuyu practice the piano at home."
So that's what he's here for? You should know without even needing to ask me, yeah?
"I think she practices in the school's music preparatory room or something?"
Though I don't think those practices are enough, as it's said that professional pianists need to spend at least six hours a day playing the piano, or else they'll die like a fish out of water. Knowing this, she might be practicing even more in someplace unknown to both Ebichiri and me.
Ebichiri let out a sigh and relaxed the expression on his face.
"That is good. No, you might find it strange to see me acting like this, but—I just cannot believe it. That Mafuyu is willing to pick up the piano once more."
Well, the same goes for me.
"I guess it's all thanks to Yuri?"
Ebichiri stared intensely at my face for some reason. It seemed like he was hesitating on what to say. After a long period of silence, he finally shifted his gaze to his knees.
"...... I do not know. That girl never tells me what she is thinking."
She did reveal quite a lot of things to me, but those bits comprise just a tiny part of the whole picture. Even now, I still don't quite understand her very well. I guess I'm just too stupid.
"However, she began talking to me after she transferred to that school."
A faint smile appeared on Ebichiri's lips as he continued mumbling,
"I had initially planned to transfer her to a high school that was affiliated with the College of Music, with the hope that she would become motivated by the pianos surrounding her. But Mafuyu was strongly against the idea. Come to think of it, it was a blessing I did not force her to transfer. I feel—I am really glad to have enrolled her in your school."
I nodded my head in silence. When I heard those words from him, my feelings settled down.
"But in the near future, she will probably be frequently applying for leaves away from school."
I lifted my head in shock when I heard that.
"She will become busier and busier because of her piano practices, as well as her recordings. And though she is still rejecting the interviews now, that is not something she can do forever. It will turn out the same as before if she continues to reject all interviews......"
A troubled expression appeared on Ebichiri's face. The same expression was probably on my face as well.
"This time around, she is the one that wants to do this, but I have no idea if that is something good or bad. She may not even have time to attend school."
Somehow, I could see my heart thumping at my feet.
Mafuyu's going to stop coming to school. But this isn't the same as before—she's the one making the decision this time around.
Despite it being something that had a good chance of happening, the very thought had never once crossed my mind. And when she returns back to that world, she'll disappear from mine.
Mafuyu is about to leave.
After that, all I did was answer Ebichiri's questions absent-mindedly. I had no idea when he left the house, but when I came to, I found that I was all alone in the living room, slumped on the sofa. The music of the strings, coming from the record in Tetsurou's study, sounded very far away.
The next day, I headed straight to the music preparatory room after school. Miss Maki had not only loaned me the keys earlier, but had also given me permission to look through all the scores on the shelves.
Tetsurou's study was better stocked in terms of genres, but no one could find the different scores (aside from Tetsurou himself) since he never tidied his room properly.
I spread the staff papers out on the desk and placed my bass on my knees, then began to look through the pile of scores. However, I didn't have the will to move my right hand, which was holding the mechanical pencil.
I tossed the pencil away.
Class preparations for the school festival would start at four-thirty, but I planned on skipping, since the Folk Music Research Club had practice at four-thirty in the studio. I had originally planned to come up with something before practice, but my brain was filled with nothing but thoughts of Mafuyu playing the piano.
I suddenly thought—what if I get Mafuyu to help me out with the piano or the synthesizer on stage—
Wouldn't I be able to keep Mafuyu around with that? What if I get her to play the piano as part of the band?
I had jotted my ideas down on staff paper when I was fiddling with the synthesizer at home. The synthesizer was cultivated by Tomo's very own hands, so it was well stocked with all sorts of sound effects—almost all the sound effects utilized in the movies could be found in that unit alone.
If we could use that synthesizer onstage; if Mafuyu were willing to play the piano for me—if that happened, then any song...... or even something as extravagant as including guitars in EL&P's <PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION >—
I shook my head and tore the staff paper into shreds, then rolled all the pieces up and threw them away.
It's about time I move away from EL&P and Mafuyu's piano.
Even if she intended to pick up the piano once more, there was no way she was willing to play the piano underneath the spotlights just for my sake. That's something I've known for a long time already, right? I shouldn't even be thinking about keeping her by my side...... Though I hadn't yet asked Mafuyu what her plans were.
Then, my train of thought suddenly came to a halt. I couldn't think any further.
I heard the sound of the door opening, and as I turned my head around, my eyes crossed with a pair of navy blue eyes.
I stood up in a hurry. Mafuyu walked in silently and looked at the messy scores, the notebook and the pencils that were on the desk. She then asked,
"...... Sorry, am I interrupting you?"
"Nah, I'm not making much progress anyway. Are you going to practice the piano?"
Mafuyu nodded stiffly. I had been using the piano chair, so I tidied up the scores, then stood up and decided to head somewhere else. Being with Mafuyu was making me feel a little nervous.
Mafuyu tugged the hem of my shirt just as I was about to leave.
"...... Urm, why are you stopping me?"
"You do not have to leave."
"L-Look, it is not like I am deliberately trying to hide from you the fact that I am playing the piano again."
Mafuyu covered the lower half of her blushing face with her scores, then looked up to peek at my expression.
"I had intended to tell you after I had practiced a bit, and had become good at it again. If possible, I wanted to tell you after the recordings were finished."
"...... With Yuri?" I wondered why I asked her that question.
"M-Mmm. Urm, but......"
"No, it's fine. It's not like I really mind," I lied. "This is the only place at school you can practice, yeah? I'll head back to the classroom after I finish selecting the scores."
"You can sit to the side and listen."
There was no way I could leave after hearing that from her. As I sat myself down at the desk, Mafuyu began playing the Hanon etudes in various octaves. I stared intensely at Mafuyu's back as she sat at the piano. I was overcome with an inexplicable feeling as I watched her maroon-colored hair sway along with the steady rhythm.
The first thing that came to my mind when I thought about the characteristics of the pianist Ebisawa Mafuyu, was the uniform strength she exerted on all her fingers on both hands. A certain critic had likened it to "breeding pearls of the exact same size." I didn't quite like the way he put it, but I understood what he was trying to convey.
After listening to her at such a close distance however, I realized her right hand was slightly weaker when it came to the high notes. Those were the three fingers Mafuyu had once lost.
However, I probably only managed to pick that out because I had specifically listened for it. If I had immersed myself in the music, like an intricate toy powered by flowing water, and drifted along with the rapidly rising octaves, I would definitely not have recognized she had taken a two-and-a-half-year break.
Just then, Mafuyu suddenly stopped practicing.
"I-It will be better—" Mafuyu turned around and looked at me, "if you do not stare at me. It is hard for me to play like this."
Then...... off I go. With that said, I walked past Mafuyu, only to find her tugging at my shirt yet again.
"You do not have to leave."
What the heck is this? I have no idea what you want from me. I sighed, then made my way back to the desk and turned the chair away from Mafuyu. This time around, she played phrases that required her to stretch her tiny hands to a tenth. That's really impressive. [Editor note: It refers to distance between her thumb and pinkie while playing the piano; they are ten piano keys apart.]
Her piano sounded almost as beautiful as it used to. Her long break from the piano might be noticeable when playing a certain piece or two, but—
Mafuyu will be leaving soon.
That realization of mine was much more pressing and real than any of the sentences Mafuyu had just said. This time around, she wasn't running away to a certain place by herself—she was soaring back into the world she belonged in, with her healed wings.
So I no longer have any reason to stop her.
None? No reason at all? Is that really true?
If Mafuyu leaves—even though I wish to stay by Mafuyu's side—but if Mafuyu really leaves, then I—
I flinched in surprise and stood up on reflex. Turning my head around, I saw Mafuyu standing behind me—she had moved there without me noticing. Her head stretched out to look at the staff papers in my hand.
"Eh. A-Ah...... Y-Yes?" I accidentally let out a strange voice.
"There is no progress in your composition?"
I covered the empty staff papers in a hurry, even though it was already too late.
"Is there anything I can do to help? I can play any song you want me to."
"Eh, ah, no......"
I was really happy she was willing to do that for me, but it just felt worse when I once again remembered she could play the piano.
Speaking of which, all I have to do is to ask, no? If she's returning to her career as a professional pianist, and if she resumes her performances—
What is she planning to do with the band?
But I couldn't bring myself to ask. I was afraid of Mafuyu's answer.
"I can play the original version, or even Rimsky-Korsakov's interpretation if you want me to. It's okay even if it is impromptu."
"No—" I sighed. I can't focus on <PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION> right now, but I can't remain stuck either.
"I haven't sorted out my thoughts yet, so I have no idea what I should be doing right now."
"Kyouko mentioned that a rock band had performed <PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION> before. But I guess you already knew about that?"
"Are you talking about Emerson, Lake & Palmer? They're the reason I'm stuck!"
"Regardless of what I do, my composition always ends up as a copy of their version of <PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION>."
"And that is not okay?"
I looked at Mafuyu's face in surprise.
"I guess...... not?" I grabbed the scores for the original <PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION>. "Because I have no understanding of Russia's musical nationality. I had spent a whole night researching it once before, but that was only because I had received a job to write about it. And it's not like I've seriously studied music composition before. This...... This is something born out of mimicking what I've heard from someone else—how can I possibly compose something good using this?"
"How do you know if you do not try?"
I shook my slumped head.
"This is nothing more than an inferior copy. I have no idea why Senpai delegated this job to me. Are you interested in trying this, Mafuyu? Not only have you played this piece before, you're also much more knowledgeable than me when it comes to Mussorgsky, isn't that right?"
I voiced my thoughts out as I stared at my hands, but noticed Mafuyu was clenching her fist. What greeted me when I lifted my head was Mafuyu's face filled with anger. She said,
"That has nothing to do with what you have in your hand! You should be the one to compose this!"
"Didn't I tell you already? Whatever I compose will end up being nothing more than the rock version of the original melody. I mean, that's all I've been listening to up till now! I've only listened a little bit of the classical piece."
"Isn't that fine!?"
Mafuyu slammed her palm hard on the empty staff papers, causing me to nearly fall out of my chair in shock. I straightened myself up and looked at her.
"You really have no idea why Kyouko assigned that job to you?"
Mafuyu's navy blue eyes were staring straight at me, and all I could do was shake my head absent-mindedly and reply,
"...... I really don't...... know......"
Because I can't tell when Senpai's joking and when she's serious. Mafuyu lowered her gaze. Her shoulders were trembling nonstop.
"It is...... It is because of you that I......"
My chest was assaulted by a sudden surge of pain. As I took in a huge gulp of air—because I couldn't convey my words properly—the door opened all of a sudden, as though someone had banged against it.
"Yeah, they're here! Both of them!"
There were two people at the door—Chiaki and Class-rep Terada. The sight of the two of them caused me to forget everything, including the words I was just about to say, and the reason I was in that room.
"...... What's with that attire of yours?"
Chiaki and Terada were both dressed in very feminine black dresses with plenty of frills—similar to what Yuri had worn during his live performance. Both of them had even put on the headbands as well.
"You have no idea what's happening because you always skip out on the festival preparations, isn't that right? It looks like our class is doing a Gothic café."
"Sorry, I never heard about that."
"And Nao will be the waiter," Terada added.
"Now that's something new!"
"It's your fault for not being around during the poll! Come here, we'll be measuring your size. Put this on right now!"
She tossed a black object at my face. When I opened it, I realized it was a half-apron and a vest. So the costumes are all ready huh......
"Also, to the Princess over there, who's acting like she has nothing to do with what's happening here—you're a waitress as well."
Mafuyu was just as surprised as me when Terada shoved a goth lolita dress into her arms.
"Nao, you'll be changing in the corridor. We'll be helping the Princess change in here."
"This dress isn't something you can wear on your own on your very first try, so let me teach you how to do it." Chiaki's eyes were sparkling all of a sudden. I was pushed into the corridor before I could even say a word.
Thanks to that additional burden, we were forced to skip our band practice. We had to work on the interior decorations of the café, and had to come up with a menu after class. Whenever I had time, I would spread the staff papers out and stare at them, then sink into despair. Even if I made it to the practice room, I could only practice by myself. We couldn't practice together because I hadn't finished my composition yet.
I found it pathetic I was feeling slightly relieved about the situation. I definitely wouldn't be thinking so deeply about this if I hadn't talked to Mafuyu. In fact, if not for her, I'd probably be trying to run away from all this.
It seemed that the First Class of Second Year would be performing <Romeo and Juliet> at the sports complex. Senpai, being one of the main characters of the play, was extremely busy because of rehearsals, so she could only show up for band practice after six. Additionally, Mafuyu and Chiaki were stuck helping with our class's preparations, so they also couldn't come down for practice.
"It feels like the role of Juliet doesn't suit Senpai one bit......"
"That's why our script is based off of <West Side Story>. The Juliet I'm playing will not die at the end. Instead, she'll bring an end to the feud between the House of Montague and the House of Capulet."
I see. Now that's something I can understand very well. What a scary Juliet that is.
"And I took the opportunity to request my classmates' assistance for handling the lighting during our live performance, since our band will be performing right after."
I was really thankful for that.
"So all that's left is to wait for you to finish your composition. Can you finish it by this week?"
Senpai grabbed me by the collar just as I was about to slip out of the practice room.
"Oh right, the effect of the performance would be much greater if you could replace the lyrics of <Promenade> or <Great Gate of Kiev> with grand words. How about using the hymns of the Russian Orthodox Church?"
"Why are you making things difficult for me......"
"Because, although you moan and complain, you always answer my expectations at the end of the day. That's how it has always been, be it the chorus contest or the sports day. That's what I like about you, young man."
Please don't say that to me in such close proximity to me while holding my head in your arms!
I wanted to ask Senpai what Mafuyu meant when she said "You really have no idea why?" But I swallowed my words upon facing Senpai, who looked as though she could bite me while wearing the smile of a ferocious beast. What's the point in asking her that anyway?
Can I respond to her demands, or will I fail? The answer must be one of the two.
In the end, the four of us couldn't find any time to practice together. It felt kind of sad to head home without making any progress, so I decided to make a trip to the library.
But where on earth are the hymns of the Russian Orthodox Church even located? Are they categorized under religion? Or foreign literature? Come to think of it, it's unlikely that I'd find such books in the school library in the first place. There weren't many people around, so I walked about aimlessly among the bookshelves as my gaze wandered about the endless rows of book spines.
I did want to meet Senpai's expectations of me, but I was short on time. If all I can do is struggle in the same spot while racking my brains on something I deemed impossible, then I might as well apologize to Senpai right now!
I'm just an ordinary high school student that has studied a little bit of music history and music theory. And I only picked up the bass four months ago.
By coincidence, I came across a small silhouette standing in front of one of the foreign literature shelves. I almost yelled out in surprise. When Mafuyu noticed me, she froze for a brief moment as well, with her hand reaching out for a book on the shelf.
"Why—" Why are you at the library? I was about to ask her that question, but I shut my mouth immediately. Speaking in the library was strictly forbidden.
Mafuyu quickly placed the book back on the shelf and shook her head vigorously, then walked past me in a flash and exited the library. I didn't even have a chance to stop her.
It felt like she had been avoiding me ever since that day. Come to think of it, I said a lot of depressing things to Mafuyu back in the music preparatory room. Not only did I blame my lack of progress on the composition on other things, I wove a whole lot of other excuses as well—
Moreover, I didn't manage to ask Mafuyu the most important question.
Will she not come to school anymore? It was just as Ebichiri had said—Mafuyu had been applying for leave more frequently in the recent days. Perhaps she's busy with the recordings.
It somehow felt like Mafuyu had slowly drifted away from me before I could express what I wanted to say.
I glanced at the shelf Mafuyu was searching through earlier. I had no idea if it was some sort of coincidence or something else, but she was searching through Russian literature as well. The books were indexed under the character "タ (ta)". Then Chekhov, Turgenev...... Fyodor Dostoyevsky......? Tolstoy? No wait, not all the books on the shelves are novels. There were a few books on Kagurazaka-senpai's favourite revolutionary, Trotsky, as well. Mafuyu was planning to read stuff like this? I don't recall ever seeing her read these kinds of books before. [Editor Note: Bookshelves in Japan are sorted by kana order; for example, "ta" would be followed by "chi" "tsu" "te" "to". Thus, "Chekhov (Chehhofu, che is a compound sound starting with chi)", "Dostoyevsk (Dosuefusukii, do goes with to)" and "Tolstoy (Torusutoi, ru comes after su)".]
I guess I really don't understand Mafuyu a single bit after all. Whenever we spoke to each other, it was always about music.
However, in the near future, we won't be able to chat like that anymore.
Mafuyu had already taken up an unimaginable amount of space in my heart.
Will Mafuyu continue to stay in feketerigó as its guitarist—all I had to do was ask. But I was afraid of her answer. There was no way I could ask her,
Can you...... stay with me, here, by my side?
After that came the weekend. I didn't make my way down to the practice room after school on Friday. Instead, I headed straight home. I did that because I hadn't made any progress at all—the staff papers were as spotless as ever. That was just embarrassing of me. I couldn't bring myself to face Mafuyu, Senpai, or Chiaki.
Even though I hesitated for quite a while, I sent a mail with a rather unconvincing "Sorry, stomach's aching. I'll be heading home first" to Chiaki's phone. I hugged my head and squatted down at the entrance of the house when she replied with "You've always sucked at feigning sickness, you know."
I was quite worried about how I would've responded to a call from any of the three girls, so I hid myself in my blankets, plugged in my earphones and blasted my ears with <London Calling> by The Clash until I fell asleep.
I woke up to the ringing of my handphone and groggily checked the time. Nine. But I had no idea whether it was morning or night. No wait, light's filtering in through the curtains, so it should be morning. I was assaulted by a strange noise that had caused me to nearly miss the ringtone. And why does my head hurt? It took me a while to realize I was still wearing my earphones. I quickly removed the earphones that had been endlessly transmitting the voice of Joe Strummer.
I looked at the number of the incoming call. Not from my band mates, and a number unknown to me. It started with 03...... From Tokyo?
I was greeted by a clear voice the moment I accepted the call.
"—Naomi? Are you Naomi? Great, I finally got through!"
There was no way I could forget his candy-like voice. Come to think of it, I did give him my number. But why is he calling me?
"Are you free today, Naomi?"
"Today's a rest day, isn't it? Can you head down to Shibuya before three?"
"Eh? Ah, well......"
I answered him in a daze as I rapped on my temple with my fist, attempting to jolt myself awake. Shibuya? Today, and then what?
"We made an agreement with each other, didn't we? I was going to be the one to invite you next time, so I could retaliate."
It still felt like my eyes were obscured by something hazy. Yuri was looking for me? So he was serious about what he said, and didn't just say it on a whim? What did he mean by retaliate?
My low spirits were more or less related to Yuri, but it wasn't his fault. And it was rare of him to invite me out.
Perhaps it's not a bad idea to meet up with someone, aside from my band mates, that I can talk music with. But it might just end up turning into a situation where he just listens to me as I whine and complain, and I have no desire to let Yuri see me in such a state—
"Urm...... where should I wait for you at three?"
"You are willing to come down? That makes me really happy! There's a 3L Studio located at Spain-zaka, do you know where that is?"
"Ah...... I should be okay with a search on the net." I hadn't been to Shibuya before.
"See you at three, and do not be late."
"What's happening there?" Since the place was a studio, it should be something related to the band?
"It is a secret. I want to surprise you."
I knew he would say that. That was just the sort of person he was.
"Oh right, I have a question for you. I'm fine with meeting you, but about your attire......"
"Mmm, don't you worry. I will be wearing something cute that you will definitely like."
That wasn't what I meant! But he hung up on me just like that. I kept my phone on and booted up the computer. I searched "3L Studio" and found the information I wanted right away. Since I wasn't very familiar with Tokyo, I printed the map out. Factoring in some extra time, in case I got lost, I estimated I had to leave at around noon.
I should've taken a closer look at the search results. If I had, I would've known why Yuri had wanted to meet me there.
Spain-zaka was a small street filled with stores on both sides. There was an irritatingly large number of cafes, general stores and fashion stores, but the outer appearance of all the stores adhered to popular South European styles. The place was exceptionally crowded, probably because it was a Saturday afternoon. I never would've expected to sweat in October, but the heat caused by the crowd was too much.
It took me a while to locate the pristine building with the words <Studio LLL> written on the wall. Adjacent to the words was the logo of a recording company, which caused me cower a little. Wait, so this is actually a commercial recording studio?
A lady in uniform behind the counter led me into the building when I gingerly told her my name. Studio No. 7. We walked past a lobby with a kitchenette in it, then opened the soundproof door located furthest to the left.
"Mr. Hikawa is here."
With that, the counter lady urged me inside.
An incredibly large mixer—the largest I had ever seen—occupied half the space of the control room, and looked like the cockpit of a giant robot straight out of an anime. Sitting on the chair in front of the mixer was a guy sporting sunglasses and a sparse beard. He was giving off quite a wild aura, so I figured he was probably the music producer or something. He shot me a brief look. Despite his sunglasses, I could tell he wasn't too happy.
Standing next to him was a fat middle-aged man that was almost bursting out of his polo shirt. Probably the audio engineer. He grinned and walked towards me when he noticed my presence.
"You must be Tetsurou's son? Nice to meet you."
"Urm...... How did you know?"
"Hmm, back in the day, he used to watch over me a lot. What exactly he did though, is something I can't really reveal."
As expected of the industry's ruffian. No wait, where's Yuri?
As I scanned the surroundings with my eyes opened wide, the door to the control room opened all of a sudden, and a small person came rushing in.
Yuri was about to rush towards me to give me a hug, but the producer quickly stood up and grabbed him by the collar to pull him away.
"Don't be silly, head back into the recording room right now! This may just be a test recording, but there's no time for you to be fooling around! You're not the only person recording here!"
"Uhhh—" Yuri swung his limbs about with tears in his eyes. He's not the only one recording?
I looked through the soundproof glass located in front of the mirror. On the other side of the window was a spacious recording room filled with plenty of microphones; and in the middle of that room was a black piano with its lid propped open—
Her maroon-colored hair swayed lightly. She looked towards me.
It was Mafuyu. It was indeed Mafuyu sitting before the piano in a pale yellow dress. She crossed sights with me; and lots of different expressions flashed past her face before she returned back to her calm state. Then, all of a sudden, she turned her face away.
"Mafuyu said she wanted you to be here."
I couldn't believe what Yuri said. I looked back and forth at the side profiles of their faces, located on opposite sides of the glass window.
"She wants you to listen to this song we will be recording right now."
Mafuyu...... Does she really want me to listen to her duet with Yuri?
Her navy blue eyes were looking at me through that thick glass again. Her gaze seemed to be inquiring something of me, but was blocked off by Yuri's back when he returned to the recording room.
After nodding in my direction, Mafuyu turned to face the piano. Yuri lifted his violin, and flashed a brief smile before picking up his bow.
With my mind in a mess, I thought, "I see, so this is the retaliation Yuri was talking about?"
Back then, I had invited Yuri out to make him listen to a mashed-up concerto of him and Mafuyu playing together. But this time, it was Yuri's turn to strike.
I had created the music using the imaginary world of the synthesizer—and with the help of others, no less.
Yuri, however, could create the "real form" of that song together with Mafuyu.
"Hey, Hikawa Junior."
The bearded producer spoke to me softly.
"Don't just stand there, take a seat. You're here to observe, right? Please don't create any trouble for us."
I slumped down into the chair prepared by the audio engineer.
Yuri's and Mafuyu's eyes—which were of the same bluish color—turned ice cold the instant that voice reached the recording room. I had never seen that gaze from them before. Both of them were neither suppressed, nor burned to a crisp, by the light beaming down from the skies above. They were just looking at the endlessly stretching seas before them.
Yuri thrust the tip of his bow towards the skies. The volume of the sound dropped in an instant after a brief passage of the majestic ascent. At the same time, Mafuyu replied with conflicting feelings of gloom and passion, and formed a harmony using the sounds flowing from her piano. The questions and answers flowing between the two of them then embedded themselves firmly in the A minor key. The first movement was a passage that sounded like someone groping around in darkness. Yuri's hands were pulling that song towards the light.
This song is—
Beethoven's Opus 47, <Violin Sonata No. 9> in A major—<Kreutzer Sonata>.
As my brain became engulfed by the sound that was searing its presence into me, I suddenly recalled an old expository article Tetsurou had written.
There are countless numbers of duet concertos written for the piano and the violin—the king and queen of the classical music instruments. Before the appearance of Beethoven, all the concertos were written with the piano as the main focus, with the violin serving as a decorative ornamental, an "accompaniment to the piano concerto."
—Those were Tetsurou's words. I guess this is something all composers know well already, but the timbre of the two instruments are fundamentally not compatible with one another, so there's no way to harmonize the two instruments together when they're by themselves. Even the genius Mozart couldn't bring the queen on equal terms with the king in his violin concertos.
The idea of harmonizing the two instruments was finally abandoned in Beethoven's era. And in <Kreutzer Sonata>, the final form of the violin concerto composed by Beethoven, this "battle" between the violin and the piano is given form.
At that moment, I finally understood the meaning behind those words.
A sense of frustration, brought about by the stagnant atmosphere, baited the hammering of the piano. The violin's passage then began to dance as though it were engulfed by the tongues of the flames. The same melody was constantly sent to my ears, though sometimes, it was sliced into pieces, and other times, stomped into dust. There were times where it was above me, other times, below. The gradually increasing heat seeped its way into my ears before it finally tore apart its wounds and burst into a touching movement. It felt like someone, in response to the music, had taken away my sense of hearing inside my consciousness. But despite all that, I couldn't move my gaze away from the scene on the other side of the window—the scene of Yuri and Mafuyu giving their all as they played.
Both of them were standing on the same ground, at a place high above me.
It was a place I couldn't reach with my hands, a place screened off by a wall of mirages.
How long has it been since I last cried listening to music? A searing sensation streaked down my cheeks, but at the same time, the wisecrack personality inside me was thinking calmly like an idiot: the emotions I had felt the morning Misako had left the house were nowhere near close to the emotions I'm experiencing right now.
Why does Mafuyu want me to listen to this?
From now on, the one by her side...... will no longer be the person that has been lending her his shoulders, that has been supporting her with his exhausted body. She had found someone who could fight together with her beneath the same sky. What does she want from me after I'm finished listening to this song? I had no idea.
But there was one thing I was painfully clear about—I will never be able to touch Mafuyu, who's standing on the other side of the glass window, ever again. That made me really sad. My tears were burning my throat.
At the end of the first movement, the separate melodies of the two soared through the storm towards the gap between the clouds. And as they flew upwards, they harassed and gnawed at each other, then, were finally cut off by a crash.
Yuri lowered his bow gingerly, amid the lingering sounds that shook even the soundproof walls. Mafuyu lifted her hands slightly off the keys of the piano as well. I stood up unconsciously. I knew Mafuyu was about to look in my direction, but I didn't have the confidence to accept her gaze.
I pushed the back of the audio engineer aside and made my way to the door. The two people behind me seemed to be saying something. I rammed the door open with my body and stumbled my way towards the lobby.
When I became surrounded by the dry air of the outside world, I finally understood the dampness on my cheeks wasn't an illusion. I burst out of the building and dashed through the crowds of Spain-zaka. As I took in huge gulps of air, all I could feel was my shirt, drenched in sweat, sticking to my back. It felt like my body was about to melt away because of the heat.
But I couldn't stop in my tracks.
If I stopped...... If I regulated my heartbeat and steadied my hurried breaths, the <Kreutzer Sonata> Mafuyu and Yuri played would reverberate endlessly in my ears once again. And it wasn't just that, the variations of the second movement, as well as the tarantella of the third movement, would also surface in my mind, despite having not even heard them. And that would've torn me into pieces.
I must have looked like a wreck when I returned home, as Tetsurou had come out to welcome me yelling "Nao, I'm hungry," but had silently walked back into the living room after seeing my face.
I shut myself in my room and dropped onto my bed with a thud. Lying there, I was suddenly overcome with strong feelings of regret. What the hell was I doing? I had dashed out of the building without even saying anything, before I could even ask Mafuyu or Yuri any questions. I had even circled the Yamanote Line a few times on the train. Mafuyu had called me multiple times, but I didn't have the courage to pick up the phone. It never even crossed my mind to switch the phone to silent mode, or to turn the phone off; instead, I just let the phone blare <Blackbird> a few times on the train. The other passengers stared at me in irritation because of that, making me feel even worse.
What an idiot I am.
Thank god it's a rest day tomorrow. Otherwise, I wouldn't know how I would face Mafuyu.
I'll have to explain it clearly to Mafuyu. After talking to her about it and apologizing to her—
I opened and closed my handphone a few times and hesitated for a while. But in the end, I couldn't press the button.
I heard knocking on my door. Tetsurou asked,
"...... Nao, want some cup noodles?"
I nodded my head slightly while laying my head on my desk. There was no way he could've seen me doing that, but I heard the door open anyway. A cup of steaming hot instant noodles appeared before my eyes.
"You can talk to me if it's about music," Tetsurou murmured. "Sorry for being a useless father. I can't help you much."
"No, you're much better than me," I thought to myself.
Because you always notice when I'm feeling down.
Tetsurou left without saying anything else. I held the cup noodles silently with both of my hands. It feels so warm! But I was in no mood to eat it.
"Why have things became like this?" I thought.
I recalled the questions Yuri had asked me before.
"Why do you want to be together with Mafuyu?"
"Naomi, what is your relationship with Mafuyu?"
Just what is the relationship between us? And also, Mafuyu and I—
I had almost sunk myself completely in a quagmire, but was pulled out of that, and back to reality, by something I had heard quite a few times already: a rapping on my room's window.
It was a Sunday morning, and a silhouette was blocking out the rays of the sun that were filtering in through the curtains. I could hear the dull sound of a fist knocking against the glass window. I snuggled against the blanket and counted the knocks for a while. Who's that? Is that Mafuyu? Nah, can't be her.
I stumbled to the window and opened it along with the curtain. A pair of denim suspenders and a mustard-yellow blouse came into view. Moving my eyes up, I saw a pair of eyes staring back at me with a headstrong gaze.
So it is indeed Chiaki......
"...... You thought it'd be Mafuyu instead?"
Chiaki questioned me with a very serious expression on her face. I quickly turned my eyes away.
"Then I'm coming in."
Strangely overwhelmed by her imposing attitude, I took a step back. Chiaki removed her shoes and entered through the window frame. She then shut the window and leaned against it. Her head was lowered, and she didn't speak a single word.
I walked back to my bed and sat down. Why on earth is Chiaki here?
"Urm, are you angry about what happened on Friday? I'm sorry, I was—" I mean, she saw through my lie. However, Chiaki shook her head.
"That's not the reason I'm angry."
That's not it—
So she's indeed angry huh?
"I heard from Mafuyu," Chiaki said.
It felt like ice had fallen into my lungs. Chiaki lifted her head and stared at me as though she were trying to see right into my heart.
"Mafuyu...... She was worried about you. She had no idea why you left without saying anything, and was thinking all sorts of wild things. She initially wanted to go to your house, but ended up coming to mine instead, because she dared not do it."
She had originally planned to come to my place? Yesterday? It should've already been really late at night.
"...... What happened?"
Chiaki was practically interrogating me.
I exhaled a sigh, then took a deep breath as I stared at my hands with my head dropped low. I never thought Mafuyu would come looking for me after I ran away.
"Why did you run away?"
Chiaki's voice sounded like it came from far away.
I have to give her an answer. I can't just run away forever.
My voice was jammed in my parched throat. It hurts.
"Yuri said that was his revenge. He's an exceptional violinist, and he's together with Mafuyu, so—they'll probably continue to create lots of impressive recordings together from here on out. And with that, Mafuyu will no longer have time for the band. But someone like me......"
I had no idea what I was talking about, but Chiaki's expression became gentler as she listened to me—and that made me feel like crying.
"Someone like me, who's not that great at playing music, will just be stuck in the same place forever. Because of that, Mafuyu and I will probably......"
Not be together.
Even though I was just muttering whatever came to mind, I guess that was the ultimate reason behind everything. I may never be together with Mafuyu ever again—I was close to tears just thinking about it.
When did I start liking her so much?
I was by her side since the very beginning, and was involved in her sorrow and happiness precisely because I was so close to her. Because I wanted to do something for her...... Because I wanted to follow her.
Why am I only realizing this now, at such an important time like this?
"...... You're really terrible, Nao."
Chiaki murmured. That sentence seeped its way past the almost-healed scars on my face.
"...... Mmm, I know."
"No, you don't understand."
I lifted my head—Chiaki's expression was like the autumn sky. She had finally put on a smile, but behind it, was a touch of loneliness.
"Both of you are terrible people, but Mafuyu's worse than you. She passed this to me despite knowing about it."
After saying that, Chiaki pulled something out of her pocket and shoved it into my hands.
It was a piece of paper that had been folded several times. I opened it, and realized it was a staff paper. The neat handwritten notes evoked a nostalgic and sweet—yet bitter—feeling inside me. I had felt it once before, when I had received Senpai's scores from Chiaki—when my heart had been sent flying with a kick.
And now, it's—
"Practice it before tomorrow—that's what Mafuyu told me to tell you. Why must I accept chores like these......"
Chiaki pulled her hair, turning it into an untidy heap, as she said that with a sad smile on her face.
"But I guess it can't be helped...... 'Love'...... is a painful thing, isn't it?"
"Eh...... A-Ah...... Mmm."
Chiaki opened the window and sat on the window frame. Her hair, held together with a hair clip, was swaying with the incoming wind. I looked past her shoulders to glance at the gloomy skies. Chiaki continued murmuring,
"I think it's much easier to 'hate,' because all we have to do is separate ourselves. 'Love' is just painful, because the distance between us can never be smaller than zero. And I have no idea what to do."
I stared at Chiaki's profile in a daze as I held the score in my hand.
"Distance...... smaller than zero?" Is she talking about Mafuyu and me?
"Yes, because both of you haven't told the other the most important thing, despite the fact that you've been by each other's sides since the very beginning. You two have never expressed your feelings to each other. That's why!"
She continued looking up at the autumn sky, her expression full of sorrow.
"That's why you can't become closer. And yet, it's painful to not know what to do."
So that's what she means by not being able to reduce the distance beyond zero.
Why does Chiaki understand the feelings in my mind so well?
When she turned around, the smile on her face had returned, back to the same cheerful smile she always had.
"I only let you off the hook this time because you wouldn't be able to play the bass if I fractured your arms after punishing you using the Juji Gatame, got it?"
...... Miss Chiaki, the smile on your face is really scary, you know?
"Well then, see you at school tomorrow. If you wimp out and don't come to band practice tomorrow...... how about I let you have a taste of my figure-four leglock? I mean, you can still play the bass even if your legs are snapped in two."
Chiaki nimbly leapt through the window frame after uttering that dangerous line at me. I watched her climb down the tree without any trouble, then shifted my attention back to the score.
This is something Mafuyu wrote for me. For me?
It was the bass part of a certain song. Looking at the phrasings, it's probably intended for the cello or the double bass. We were really bad at expressing our feelings—not only were words incapable of breaking into our souls, they weren't even close to touching them. But our feelings were forever connected by music.
That was why I had to pick up the bass by my bed.
That's the one place I can return to, regardless of how bad things have become.
"Nao, it feels like you aren't aware of the fact that you're a member of the Third Class of First Year."
"Didn't you hear at the class meeting? Didn't we say we'd be coming early to work on the class decorations?"
I made an effort to reach school slightly earlier on Monday, but was scolded by my classmates who had come to school early in the morning to work on the class decorations.
"You didn't regularly attend the practices for the sports meet either."
"Listen up Nao. The only one that can withstand the atrocity of our class-rep and the fellow girls of our class is you, because of the training you've received in the Folk Music Research Club. So we'll leave the food preparation on the actual day of the festival to you."
"...... Then what will you guys be doing?"
"We'll be busy with the other important jobs!"
"Like taking pictures of the waitresses, selling the photos, and appreciating the pictures."
"You guys, enough is enough!" Upon seeing the furious Terada, the guys quickly picked up their tools and returned to their workplaces scattered all over the classroom.
"Listen up, Nao!"
Terada prodded my chest hard when she said that.
"You'll be in the kitchen the whole day, since everyone knows you're good at cooking. You can practice in the home economics room the day before the festival. I don't think there will be any time for you to rest."
"No wait, am I not going to be a waiter?" Didn't they make me put on the waiter's outfit back then?
"Your job also includes taking pictures with our guests while wearing the waiter's attire, so you'll have to rush into the classroom when anyone requests a picture."
"What's the point of that......"
"Do you have a complaint?"
"Nope......" I whimpered. I couldn't complain because I hadn't really participated in any of the class activities.
But I had to thank our busy schedule. Through the corners of my eyes, I saw Mafuyu working on an innovatively designed wooden binder—which would be used for our menus—together with Chiaki and the rest of the girls.
We never had an opportunity to speak with each other, much less exchange looks. But that was for the better, as I had no idea how I should've carried myself while speaking to her. It's impossible for us to carry on like this forever, though, since her seat is right next to mine.
When the bell rang, my classmates quickly began to stuff the half-finished work into the cabinets. The larger items were moved to the space at the back of the classroom.
Mafuyu returned to her seat beside me. I dared not raise my head, and had even hoped that the hustle of the class would continue on forever. Chiaki, who was sitting in front of me, turned her head around to briefly glance at me, then shrugged her shoulders in resignation.
The hustle in our class gradually died down, and the sound of the chairs slowly came to a halt.
A tiny voice reached my ears, but I couldn't hear it clearly. I stared at my table and squeezed out an answer.
"Did you practice it?"
I looked at the pocket of my guitar case. In it, was the score Chiaki had passed on to me yesterday.
"..... More or less. But it's still not......"
"Alright, head to the practice room after school."
Said Mafuyu faintly. It felt like my heart had melted, boiled, and was close to flowing out of my ears. She should be angry. Is she okay with talking to me?
Can I stay by Mafuyu's side?
I gulped and nodded my head.
I ran away from the classroom during lunch break. Mafuyu, who sat beside me, had occasionally been looking at me with those eyes—eyes that looked like they contained the night sky. It seemed like she wanted to say many things to me, but I almost became asphyxiated by her gaze.
I walked along the corridors in dejection and thought to myself, "Everything should be okay if I have a heart-to-heart talk with her. I'll apologize, then ask her the question properly, before I...... convey my feelings to her."
Things wouldn't have turned out like this if I could do just that.
So I ran out of the classroom, now what? Mafuyu might appear in the practice room if I hide in there to kill time (though recently, it has been rare for her to lock herself in the room during lunch break).
All Mafuyu told me was to head to the practice room after school; that was the only agreement between us. And so, the pathetic me decided to follow only that, and delayed concluding the matter. If that's the case, then all I have left is that place.
"I was right after all. The only place you can run to is here. You haven't been here recently, but I had a feeling you would come. Looks like I made the right decision to cast my web here."
Kagurazaka-senpai, who was leaning against the fence and listening to her walkman, took off her earphones and flashed a charming smile at me when she noticed my presence.
"Oh no you don't. I'm not letting you run away."
I turned around, and just as I was about to run away, Senpai came from behind and hugged me to prevent me from doing so.
"Don't you have something to say to me?"
"Urm, well—Hyaa!" Quit exhaling on the back of my ears!
"I'm not angry that you failed to finish the composition last week."
I froze in the Senpai's arms.
"I just feel frustrated when I see you sink into the abyss of your heart without saying a single word, young man. Geez, you and Mafuyu are way too alike. It's painful to watch."
Mafuyu and I are alike......?
"Both of you bumped into each other for the same reasons, and yet, you two passed each other because of same reasons as well. As a bystander, I find you two unbelievably cute."
I'm fine with you calling me cute, but I'm in no mood to be listening to this.
"Right, I'm actually not even in the mood to say things like this. The day of our live performance is fast approaching, but we haven't even decided on our songs yet. The two of you are frustrating to watch, and I can't dote on you two forever."
I was close to slumping to the ground, so I gripped Senpai's arms tightly.
"—Do I really have to be the one to compose the song? Why? Senpai's better......"
"You're better at coming up with great songs, isn't that right? You're different from me. I'm not well versed in composition—"
Senpai pressed her finger against my lips to stop me from talking further. I twisted my upper body to turn my head around. Senpai plugged one of her earphones into my ear all of a sudden, then placed the other into hers. She pushed her old walkman into my hands.
"...... What's this?"
Murmured Senpai, as she placed her hands softly on mine before pressing the play button.
The sound of the waves; the footsteps on the sand; the noise of the portable mini amplifiers. A blurry but gentle dyad. I reflexively held my breath.
Next, I heard a faint singing voice.
I lifted my head and was almost sucked in by Senpai's eyes. We were so close our skin was almost touching. But the only thing connecting us was the thin, long wire of the earphones.
"You do remember, don't you?"
I nodded my head in surprise. How can I possibly forget? It was the sample tape I had recorded during our training camp—the tape filled with my voice and my immature playing of the bass.
"This is the song you stole from me."
Senpai's fingernails scratched my arms lightly.
"You have no idea how big the shock I suffered back then was, right?"
Senpai's sad murmurs overlapped with my singing voice. I couldn't breathe.
"It's really simple, young man. It's much simpler than what you're thinking inside your head. You have the power to make a tune take shape. And that power of yours is something that I lack—"
Senpai dug her nails deep into my arms.
"That's why I delegated the task to you. It's that simple."
"But, but I—"
"I know what you're going to say. This time around, your opponent isn't just me, but also Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer. And that you have no chance of winning. Am I right?"
I hesitated a while, then nodded my head. That is indeed the case, according to how Senpai views it. But if you ask me, the problem is as simple as "I am not confident at composing."
"Mmm, I get it."
Senpai laughed and removed the earphone from my ear. The song that was playing in half my world disappeared, and for a brief moment, it felt like I had been abandoned beneath a starless sky.
A feeling of uneasiness assaulted me and froze my inner body when Senpai took a step back. Is she giving up already? Has Senpai given up on entrusting me with this task? Why do I feel so depressed? Isn't this what I wanted all along?
"I will never give up."
Senpai flashed a sinister smile, then fished something out of her jacket pocket and stuffed it into my hands.
I looked at the object and was rendered speechless.
"Hmm? Isn't it obvious? A sauce cutlet bun, of course. You know, for victory. Though I'm not praying for your victory."
It was indeed a sauce cutlet bun wrapped up in plastic. But what's with the "praying for victory"?
"Because Comrade Ebisawa asked to meet you today after school, right? She's doing the same thing you did before, when you talked about wanting to teach her a lesson because she wouldn't accept what you said."
"The two of you are really alike. And that's why, young man—"
Senpai put on a gentle expression all of a sudden and placed her palm on my chest, close to my heart.
"I hope she'll teach you a really good lesson."
Our afternoon lessons consisted of two hours of physical education, so class had ended without me bumping into Mafuyu. As I was heading to the changing room, exhausted, I saw that the girls that had already finished changing had begun working on sewing the tablecloths and designing the brochures. I didn't see Mafuyu there though.
"She has already made her way to the practice room," said Chiaki. "Hurry up, stupid Nao! It's best you get your ass kicked by Mafuyu!"
"...... Mmm, I get it. I'll go and get my ass kicked by her right now."
Chiaki tilted her head in surprise when she heard my reply. She then returned to being angry and turned her head away.
"I must apologize to Chiaki properly one day," I thought to myself.
But for now—
When I reached the courtyard, the old music building looked gloomier than usual somehow. I could faintly hear a guitar playing Beethoven's bagatelle through the soundproof door. Despite the fixes I had made, the soundproofing still wasn't perfect; sounds still leaked out from inside the room.
It's the same as that day.
I yelled. Beethoven's bagatelle stopped for a moment.
There was no response. I tried pulling the door open, but it was locked.
My gaze fell to my feet, as I was at a loss at what to do. It was then that I noticed a small black hole had been dug under one of the hinges of the soundproof door. A cable connector—that had been fitted for the purpose of the previous showdown—was sitting there. So it has been five months since that showdown huh. It still felt unreal.
It felt like the time I had spent with Mafuyu was way longer than that—but I guess that illusion of mine was caused by the lack of communication between us.
The god of music will be angry if I push the blame onto him, right?
But god, please give me, someone who's not good at expressing himself, a chance.
I opened up my guitar case and pulled out the cable. I plugged one of the ends into my bass, and the other, beneath the hinge. It felt like a faint electrical surge had flowed through my body the instant I plugged the cable into the connector.
"...... Are you ready?"
I finally heard Mafuyu's voice behind the soundproof door. I leaned against the door and replied,
I had zero confidence I would be able to follow her tempo, since I only had one night to prepare for this, but more importantly, I didn't even know what song we were playing. Who's going to be the one to start?
*Giin* The sound of feedback, along with Mafuyu's breathing, could be heard behind my head.
The faint sounds flowing from the strings of the guitar caused me to unconsciously hold my breath. As the violin and viola played long overlapping octaves, another violin squeezed itself in during the brief intervals, playing trills.
Of course, those sounds were produced by none other than Mafuyu's guitar. The timbre was so incredibly clear and comforting, it was difficult to imagine that those sounds were being produced by the hands of a girl. I almost missed the timing of my entrance into the piece. The bone-chilling footsteps of the cello approached me one step at a time, amid the icy clear sounds of the treble. It was a passage filled with unease.
It was a string quartet, one whose harmony was vastly different from what I was familiar with. My body was trembling with the inexplicable harmony, which had an Eastern European style to it. I know this tune; I should have heard it before. From the cello to the viola, and then the viola to the first violin. I searched through my mind as I endured the frustrating melody. It's probably music from the Czech, but it's not Smetana or Dvorak. If that's the case—
I finally got it. Janáček.
It was at that very moment that I really felt like I had been hit by a bolt of electricity, causing me to be unable to find my own melody. Mafuyu's solo of the three melodies were scratching the back of my neck. I got it.
It's Janáček's String Quartet No. 1, <Kreutzer Sonata>.
Despite having the same name as Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 9, there are no traces of <Kreutzer> in the melody of the piece. Because what connects the two pieces, separated by a hundred and twenty years, is something completely unrelated to music.
I desperately gripped my bass and tried to find someplace in the music where I could enter. It was only then that I realized that what Mafuyu wanted me to listen to, was not just that piece she had performed live together with Yuri in that studio.
Mafuyu's guitar didn't give a damn about my bass and just continued its way forward as it weaved out the melody. I couldn't catch up to her—there was no way I could reach her side at all. Mafuyu's back was becoming smaller and smaller.
But I can't remain stagnant.
If I wish to stay by Mafuyu's side, the only thing I can do is run.
I fumbled my bass around without much of a clue. The intermittent and sporadic themes of the quartet aggravated my sense of frustration, causing the bass to continually slip out of my weak grasp. Before long, Mafuyu had constructed a tall arpeggio bridge across the raging waves of the repeating melodies. She then abandoned me just like that. The melody kept rising, and became transparent before finally fading into a cloud of mist, disappearing completely.
I heaved a huge breath, then removed my sweaty palms from the bass and pressed the back of my head against the door. I accomplished nothing. I just stared at the walls of the school building—because tears would've flowed out from my eyes if I had closed them.
For some reason, I knew Mafuyu's body was on the other side of the door.
Despite her being so close to me, I had come up with all sorts of nonsensical thoughts, and had even run away before Mafuyu could even speak. How should I apologize to her? What should I say—
The door behind me opened all of a sudden, causing me to dive into the soil. I hit my head against the ground.
"Geez, you can't keep up at all......"
I directed my gaze towards the source of the sound. Mafuyu, who was standing behind the door, crossed sights with me while my forehead was still stuck on the ground. That made her swallow her words. She ran to my side and knelt down as she peeked at my face with teary eyes.
"...... S-Sorry, are you alright?"
"Eh? Ah, I-I'm fine." I stiffly moved backwards a little, with my butt and hands still on the ground. I then patted the soil off my pants and said, "I'm fine, really. Mmm."
I was at a loss for words again, so I shifted my gaze away from Mafuyu's face. I found myself useless and pathetic.
Mafuyu, however, remained at my side with her lips tightly shut—at a distance at which we would touch each other if I got up even just a little.
Before long, the silence forced the words out of my throat and through my mouth,
"...... Sorry. You took the effort to get me here, and yet, I screwed up. And this <Kreutzer>. You prepared it specifically for me, but I didn't realize it at all...... I'm really sorry."
I finally said it. I took three deep breaths to stabilize my emotions, then slowly moved my eyes onto Mafuyu. Her navy blue eyes reflected that embarrassing face of mine clearly.
Mafuyu lowered her gaze and shook her head.
"You do not have to apologize to me for that."
Her cold voice froze my throat.
"You should apologize to Yuri instead. He was really concerned about that. As for me—"
Mafuyu, whose head had been lowered all this while, pressed her forehead against my chest. A burning sensation arose where her forehead was, and my heart started pumping wildly, like a beast's. I couldn't move my body.
"I long knew you were stupid, dense and slow, and someone who does not take my feelings into consideration at all."
I really felt like crying when she reminded me of my shortcomings.
"However, it is fine as long as you realized this piece is <Kreutzer>."
Mafuyu let her depressed voice fall onto my chest, one word at a time.
I hadn't even realized something as simple as that. I had never considered that she might've been searching for books written by Tolstoy when I bumped into her at the library.
19th century Russian writer Lev Tolstoy had written a novel inspired by Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 9. The novel, whose name was endowed with the same title as Beethoven's sonata, had found its way back into the hands of a musician after a whole century. Janáček used that novel as inspiration for a series of his early works, and named them after the title of the book. Most of his works were lost over the years, so the String Quartet No. 1 was the only piece left to inherit that ill-fated name.
A hundred and twenty years apart, they were linked only by their identical names. Music—novel—music.
Such miracles appeared frequently around the world. That was how music linked the fates of people from different eras and different countries together. I doubt Janáček was afraid of falling under Beethoven's shadow when he was composing his own <Kreutzer>. He just borrowed a few phrases while showing Beethoven his greatest respect. That was how music was interlinked. Almost all the music we had in our hands were remnants found at the ends of the flow of music.
"There is no need for you to be afraid of Mussorgsky."
Mafuyu lifted her head. The tips of our noses were almost touching.
"All you need to do is come up with an ordinary rock piece. Even if the work is copied from others, the music still belongs to you. I...... Chiaki, Kyouko and I—we all want to play the piece composed by you."
No matter how much of it is copied from others, regardless of how humble I am, even if I were to turn my gaze and run away—
I cannot disappear from this place.
Mafuyu pushed my chest hard with both her hands, making me to stumble backwards. I stabilized myself by planting my arms on the ground behind me.
"You played so badly! Practice properly and quickly finish your composition, alright? You could not even catch up to me at all."
I sank into depression when she lectured me right in front of my face.
"Did you think about it properly? Or are you still stuck?"
"I did think about it a little, but......" I was mumbling vaguely. I retracted my chin when Mafuyu's face closed in on me. "When I was fiddling with the synthesizer in my house while trying to compose, I always ended up coming up with some sort of arrangement using the keyboard. But that arrangement won't work for the live performance, so there's no—"
"But you have me."
Mafuyu pressed her right hand into my chest. Different from the hands of Kagurazaka-senpai, not only were Mafuyu's hands soft, their touch felt unreal as well.
'Because I can move my right hand again."
For a moment, I couldn't understand what she was trying to say. I lowered my head to look at her delicate right hand, then stared at Mafuyu's face and muttered with a sense of disbelief,
"What do you mean...... You're willing to play? No, but...... this is a live performance, no?"
"I cannot use that as an excuse any longer. I am about to return...... to that place."
I could feel something getting caught in my throat. An icy flame was burning in Mafuyu's navy blue eyes.
Mafuyu's about to return to the stage once more—that was the first time I had actually heard it straight from her mouth. After I propped my body up, I could still feel the lingering sensation of her maroon hair brushing against my face.
Mafuyu hugged her chest and said, with a painful expression,
"You helped me many times of your own accord. All I am doing this time is doing the same as you did, so why are you still complaining?"
"S-Sorry." I'm not complaining. I'm just finding it hard to believe right away.
"Finish your composition as quickly as you can, and bring that synthesizer to school as well, you hear me?"
I nodded my head vigorously several times.
Mafuyu offered me the right hand she had once lost.
I accepted her hand with a firm grip, and could feel the strength flowing through my arms when I stood up.
I may not be able to stand up on my own, but Mafuyu is here.
The question I had tried asking several times, but had failed to ask in all of my attempts, was swimming in my mouth once again—will Mafuyu stay by my side? Or will she fly to that world and never return? Regardless of the answer, it didn't really matter to me anymore.
I wish to stay by Mafuyu's side. Even if I can't catch up to her—
I can continue running forward.