Asololo almost died from moe overload. Or so he says.
Anyway, I've sort of made up my mind for now. Judging from the responses, I think Shinonome Yuuko series is the safer option which a lot more people will enjoy. While Gakusei Shoujo do touch on music, a lot of the focus goes to fantasy elements as well. So currently, my idea is this. Since vol 1 of Shinonome Yuuko can function pretty much as a one-shot by itself, I'll do 1 volume of the series first and see how the response goes. Though the current plan may change if vol 2 of Gakusei Shoujo is mind-blowing.
Back to this. Since it's a pretty long chapter, I'll split it up like I did for vol 3 of SPS. Enjoy. And feel free to comment, I guess.
When I set my eyes on the first page of the score, the song reminds me of a fluttering moth.
The countermelody circles around the burning main melody before diving into the flames. Despite being burnt into nothingness, new moths will spawn from the charred ashes — that's the feeling the song has to me.
Sonata in A♭ major, numbered as "opus postumus", which means it's a posthumous work. And since there's no given title for this sonata, I habitually refer to it as <Fire-thieving Moths>.
Ever since I became a ruffian in the classical music industry, I've been asked a few questions several times, one of which is: "Why don't classical pieces have titles? Wouldn't that make it hard to refer to them?" I touched on this topic briefly during an interview for a magazine — it's an interview on an album, although I had only produced one of the songs there.
"Mr. Nao, are you the one who came up with the album's name <Mutant Butterfly>?"
"Yeah, I did. Back then, no one could come up with a name for the album, so the manager said, 'Hey Nao, name one of your favourite songs!'. To which I replied, 'Beethoven's Sonata no.31 in A♭ major'. But they misheard it as <Mutant Butterfly> instead......" [TL Note: Apparently, "A♭ major" sounds similar to "mutant butterfly" in Japanese]
The interviewer roared with laughter. He then posed that question—
"Still, why are classical pieces named as whatever number and whatever pitch, instead of titles that are easier to understand?"
I've been asked that several times already, so I already had an answer prepared.
"Well...... Here's an analogy. The military buffs usually call fighter jets by their model numbers, don't they? They'll call an 'F-14' as such instead of a 'Tomcat', and they'll rarely refer to the 'SR-71' as 'Blackbird'.It's the same for fans of classical music as well. Calling it by its opus number makes us sound cooler and more knowledgeable, doesn't it?"
Of course, that's just me bullshitting.
I first came into contact with <Fire-thieving Moths> on my twenty-fourth birthday.
And the day before that — the last day when I was twenty-three — happened to be the same day when Mafuyu finished her American tour and returned to Japan. With my work just completed, I drove down to Narita Airport early in the morning.
I'm not sure if it was due to the spring holidays, but the airport was filled with tourists when I arrived at ten, and many of them were travelling as a family. The airport was somewhat packed as a result. I spotted Mafuyu's shiny maroon hair immediately as she made her way through the arrival gate. Mafuyu saw me before I could even wave my hands and ran towards me immediately.
The last time we met was during the New Year. Three months had passed, and it felt like she had become even prettier.
Ebisawa Mafuyu — she's now the world famous pianist with 'mercury fingers'. So who came up with that weird title of hers? Sorry to say this, but it was my dad, Hikawa Tetsurou. And since that title suits Mafuyu's way of playing the piano, her 'ice-beauty' look and her rejecting-stance with the media, it was soon accepted by everyone. The title had even made its way overseas.
Even though we're already in our adult years, to me, Mafuyu's still an ordinary girl who cries easily and gets angry over the slightest reasons. And she would only prove my point as she walked towards me with wobbly steps. It has been three months — I think it should be okay to give her a really tight hug, right? But that tiny thought of mine was immediately overtaken by my rationality when I thought about how we would look to the crowd.
Just as I finished saying that, Mafuyu stopped two meters before me. For some reason she was warily scanning the arrival hall behind me.
"A-Anything wrong?" Did she read my mind and realize my desire to hug her?
"We won't be chased around by anyone, right? And we won't be brought to a strange place again, right?"
"Nah! Why would that happen?"
"Those are my only impressions of Narita Airport....."
I then remembered what happened as Mafuyu mumbled those words with her head lowered.
Mafuyu was always flying all over the place for her tours, but this was only the third time I met her at the airport. The first was during the summer when we were in our first year of high school, while the second was in winter; and in both cases, we were chased about by the security. There was hardly any chance to talk. Ah, those were painful days......
As for the third time — today — Mafuyu had actually requested me to pick her up at the airport. This was the first time she's done this, and it also means Ebichiri won't be around. This was the reason I spent the whole night clearing my work so that I could reach the airport early in the morning.
"Urm....... those were impulsive things we did when we were still young......" I laughed wryly, "But you don't have to worry today. I'm here specially to pick you up!"
Mafuyu nodded her head hard and came right up to me.
"...... I'm back."
Mafuyu's tiny voice was almost drowned by the sounds of rolling luggage. What's wrong? She doesn't look too happy.
But she doesn't seem angry either, so I guess she's just drained out from travelling? She did fly halfway across the globe, and then there's the jet-lag to consider as well. She should be sleeping at this time.
"Where are we going?"
I grabbed Mafuyu's luggage and took my first steps.
"I drove here, so how about sending you home? You should be dead tired, aren't you? You don't look too good."
"Sending me home?"
Mafuyu shot past me and turned around. Looks like I've really pissed her off this time.
"I specially planned my return at a time like this, so why should I go back home?"
"S-Sorry, is there any place you'd like to go?"
Mafuyu shook her head hard.
"Urm....... then? What's going on here?"
"It just means anywhere is fine so long as I can be together with Naomi!"
I must have an incredibly silly expression right now. Mafuyu's face was all red, her eyebrows arching upwards.
"I-I see...... Mmm, I get it. I'm sorry."
I cautiously closed the distance between us and took her hand gently. She returned it with a firm grip.
The announcements were blaring non-stop. As we stepped onto the escalator, I popped the question softly,
"Then...... how about my home?"
Mafuyu nodded. Looking at her from the side, it seemed like she couldn't wait.
We were overwhelmed by fatigue when we reached my home, so after a quick shower we dropped dead onto my bed .
We took another shower after waking up. It was already ten at night when I began preparing our dinner. As for Mafuyu, she walked out of the bathroom with a tired expression, her wet hair wrapped up with a towel. Though our jobs are not really what you'd call normal ones, but it's still a little too much for us to sleep from morning till late into the night. Guess we should reflect on that a little.
While I was preparing the fish in the kitchen, Mafuyu sat herself on my bed and looked around the room. For some strange reason, there was a disappointed expression on her face.
"...... Sorry, my room's really cramped......"
Mafuyu has already visited my room several times, but I still said it deliberately anyway. However, she shook her head instead.
"That's not what I mean. Naomi's room is way too clean. There's nothing I can help out with."
"Really? I though it's a little messy in several areas."
One of the walls in the room was hung up with rows of guitar and basses, followed by a two-tier electric piano and synthesizer — they almost took up the entire space. I had recently converted my music into digital format, so there aren't many CDs left. As of now, I could not convert the books into digital format, so my shelves were filled to the brim with them.
"Naomi, why are you so neat and tidy even though you're his child?"
Mafuyu knows very well about how destructively lazy Tetsurou is. Still, there was this complicated feeling within me when I heard that question of hers. Can you not word it that way?
"Well, a child grows up by looking at the back of his parents. Though there are occasions when the parent serves as a negative example instead."
"At the very least, allow me to help out with our laundry!" Mafuyu stood up.
"But I already washed them while you were in the shower."
"Why did you wash them?" And why are you so angry?
Mafuyu puffed her cheeks and sat herself onto the bed again.
Mafuyu was still a little unhappy when we were having our dinner. She would eat her food silently, only to peek at my face occasionally.
"Urm...... sorry, are the dishes bad?"
"I've ate plenty of food from various hotels and restaurants in America, but Naomi's miso soup is still the best out there."
Then you should be happier when eating my food......
"I wish I can eat your food everyday......."
"Nah, that's impossible. I can't possibly freight them to America everyday!"
"From next month onward, I'll be shifting the focus of my work back to Japan. It's tiring to do tours all the time."
That was surprising. I nearly dropped my bowl onto the floor.
"Eh? Back to Japan...... So that means...... you'll be living here?"
"...... Is that no good?"
"What are you talking about!? Of course it's great! I'm really happy!" I leaned my body forward in excitement. Up till now, the longest Mafuyu had stayed in Japan was a month, and even then we couldn't see each other daily.
"...... And so...... therefore...... I can eat your food...... everyday."
Said Mafuyu as she looked at me shyly.
"But still...... it's not easy for you to do so everyday, isn't it? Your house is of a considerable distance away from mine too......"
I was given a kick in the leg beneath the table. Huh? W-What's going on? She really wants me to send my food to her house everyday?
"Whatever! You're an idiot. Pretend I never said that."
With that, Mafuyu sent a spoonful of sashimi salad into her mouth.
After we were done with dinner, Mafuyu said she wanted to do the dishes. I stopped her immediately.
"Why not?" pouted Mafuyu. "Are you going to say things like how a pianist shouldn't be risking her fingers in chores like this as well?"
"But of course!"
"I hate this. You've done all the housework impeccably, so there's nothing left for me to do!"
"But I don't mind even if you're not doing any of the housework."
"I do!" Don't slam the table! What on earth do you want?
Mafuyu hugged her knees on my bed and turned herself facing the wall — seemed like she was really pissed off. Therefore, while washing the plates, I asked her cautiously,
"Right, I....... I've bought a new electric piano. Wanna give it a go?"
Mafuyu was still throwing a tantrum by wrapping herself up with a blanket, but she finally got off my bed and sat down before the piano. The switch was flicked on. As Mafuyu rested her 'mercury fingers' on the keyboard, I unconsciously placed the dish down and turned off the tap.
One of Mafuyu's unrivaled characteristics is the delicate way she strikes the keyboard, and it was referred to as 'the faintest sound, like the fogs of the night'. It's a shame though, since the electric piano is unable to interpret those plays from her and replicate the sounds accordingly. Still, what should have been a sickeningly sweet E-major melody was turned into what felt like a cup of smoothie; something that was incredibly comforting to listen to.
It's Edward Elgar's <Salut d'Amour>, a heart-warming piano piece which he had dedicated to Caroline Alice, the woman who would later become his wife. As the song is less than three minutes long, I stopped the work at hand and listened to it till it was done.
"...... That's the first time I heard you play that song! Do you like Elgar?"
"Nope," Mafuyu shook her head while facing the keyboard. "I dislike everything other than his Cello Concerto."
Now that's being really clear about what she likes and dislikes! But why play that song then?
"It's fine even if you don't understand...... Is there any song that you'll like to listen to?"
I wasn't sure if she's still angry. I washed the dishes hastily with unease before returning to Mafuyu's side.
"There's lots of stuff that I'd love to listen to you play...... can I really choose? But it's so late already......"
"I'll be staying here tonight."
"Huh?" The lingering sounds of <Salut d'Amour> were totally erased by that strange cry of mine. "Ah, urm....... well...... urm, what I meant was...... I definitely welcome your stay, but is that really okay? Your dad, he should be back in Japan, no? And since you'll be staying in Japan for the long term anyway, there's no hurry for you to do so today......"
"Papa's still in America...... though he should already be on his flight at Dallas."
"What's...... going on?"
"It's just....... If I returned to Japan together with Papa, I won't be able to spend time leisurely together with you. So I sneaked away and returned a day earlier."
...... And I hoped I could see you while you're still the same age as I am — upon hearing that explanation from Mafuyu, I sat down on the small piano chair next to her and leaned myself tightly against her. The reason I had my back facing her was because it was really quite embarrassing. I see, so that's the reason why she came back with only a small piece of luggage on her.
"It seems like Papa has something to discuss with you once he's back in Japan. But since it's rare for me to be able to meet you on your birthday, I really don't want to see you together with Papa."
"Ebichiri has something for me?"
What could that be? Probably something related to Mafuyu, I guess? Whenever Ebichiri's looking for me, his image as a 'world renowned conductor,' etc. disappears and is replaced by that of a silly father who dotes on his daughter too much. Given the option, I'd very much hope that he's looking for me to talk about stuff like speakers or stage performances and so on.
Unknowingly, the hands of the clock on the wall have overlapped one another with their directions pointing upwards. The fourth of April has finally arrived.
"Happy birthday, Naomi!"
"I've specially prepared a birthday present for you. I bought these in Manchester when the BBC Philharmonic invited me to England."
The patchwork bag she gave me was filled with EP's records and cassette tapes. They were said to be live recordings of the Manchester-born performers before they became famous worldwide. There's the Oasis, The Stone Roses and etc. I never expected her to find stuff like these.
"You don't quite like Manchester music, do you?"
"Mmm...... you do know me well."
The so-called Manchester music are bands labelled under the Britpop genre. For reasons unknown to myself, Britpop music isn't quite my cup of tea.
"You may start to like them after listening to these recordings. Or perhaps you may dislike them even more."
"What about you?"
As I turned my head around, Mafuyu was a hair's breadth away from me. She pouted as she thought of an answer.
"I can't really say if I like it or not, but...... it does make me want to share it with you, Naomi."
"...... I love presents like that."
And that's the truth. The reason music exists was so that they can mesmerize the hearts of others and bring them to an unknown place; as for whether the place will be an oasis or a wasteland filled with thorns and rubble — we'll just have to confirm that when we reach the destination.
"That's not all....... from me. I'll play whatever songs you want."
Feels just like the Christmas of a certain year — Mafuyu and I were reminded of the same thing at the same time. Our faces came into contact with each other as we smiled.
"But since it's so late already......" I took a peek at the clock. It'll be boring if I can only listen to gentle melodies that were on the same lines of <Salut d'Amour>. I do hope she can go all out and play.
I hooked the electric piano to the mixer and plugged in two pairs of earphones. The wires and the warm electric signals linked Mafuyu and I together.
"So what will your first request be?"
"I haven't thought of anything yet. There's still time anyway......"
I made my way to the bed which is of a slight distance away from the piano and went deep in thought.
"Are you okay with a slightly longer piece?"
"If you want me to play Wagner's <Der Ring des Nibelungen> rearranged for the piano in its entirety, I'll do just that."
Don't! Do you have any idea how long that'll take?
"Because that means I'll get to be together with Naomi!"
I was secretly glad of the fact that Mafuyu was still facing the piano when she said that. I'm so incredibly happy right now, the expression on my face must be a pretty disgusting one.
"Urm...... Well...... How about Beethoven's <Op. 106> then?"
Her maroon hair bobbled for a brief moment. She raised her slender fingers and placed them onto the keyboard. The first movement, reminiscent of majestic fanfare, began to play through the earphones.
Beethoven's <Piano Sonata No. 29 in B♭ major>—
During Beethoven's time, improvements to the piano were made at a rapid pace. The range of the sounds became wider, while the timbres approached those of the piano in its final pristine form. Whenever the artisans made a new piano, Beethoven would come up with sonatas that would push the pianos to their limits. When it came to Sonata No. 29, he had finally composed a piece which exceeded the instrument's capabilities as well as the musical skills of his time.
In an unexpected twist to even Beethoven himself, the piece which was written for future pianists as well as for a piano of the future was named <Hammerklavier>, the German's name for the fortepiano.
I quite like that term as well, because it does explicitly state that the instrument was made up of hammers and a keyboard. [TL Note: Hammerklavier literally means "hammer-keyboard"]
However, this piece is demanding not only of the instrument itself; it also demands the pianist to reveal everything about himself. The pianist will have to remain focused in the full entirety of the fifty-minute performance, something that is incredibly hard to achieve even for seasoned pianists.
But Mafuyu's playing the <Hammerklavier> right before my eyes — playing a song which she couldn't have done without her fully-recovered fingers.
I closed my eyes and listened to the adagio of the third movement coming from the earphones. It felt as though I was peering into the depths of a spring.
Time spent together with Mafuyu...... there'll be plenty more of times like this.
I received the call the following day. I was trying to rub away the sleepiness on my eyelids with my thumb as I picked up the vibrating cellphone next to my pillow. Whose number is this?
"Hello? This is Ebisawa speaking."
Came a slightly unhappy voice of a man from the other side of a phone. As I was still in a daze, I almost answered with "Which Ebisawa am I speaking to?".
"— Hmm? Ah! You're...... Mr. Ebisawa Chisato?"
I'm not sure if she was awakened by my yell, but Mafuyu, who was sleeping next to me, gave a "Hmm?" and flipped her body around, the tip of her nose pressing tightly into my arm.
"Yes. It has been a while."
"Oh, no, it's okay," I climbed out of the blanket and reflexively sat myself in seiza on the bed.
"I have just returned to Japan and am currently in Tokyo. Mafuyu should have arrived a day earlier than me, but I could not reach her through her phone...... Mmm, so I am wondering if you know where she is. Just in case. Sorry for interrupting you at a time like this, but I just want to make sure."
There were faint hints of a thorny "I have an idea of what's going on, but I don't want to face it anyway" emotion hidden in his words, so I was at a loss of what to say. But Mafuyu just happened to open her eyes slightly right then. Hugging me tightly while still half-asleep, she cooed with a slightly nasal voice, "Naomi? What's going on? What time is it now?" It seemed like Mafuyu's voice was carried over to the other side of the phone as well, because I could hear a painful moan from Ebichiri, which sounded very much like the dying breathes of a cow as it was being strangled. I had an urge to throw my cellphone down the toilet and flush it away.
"Well...... urm...... Mafuyu...... Mafuyu-san's....... at my house right now. Yes, since yesterday......"
Even though he dotes on his daughter to a point where it's beyond salvation, he's also a man who knows his boundaries — I guess that's the biggest misfortune for Ebichiri. All that could be heard was the hot air constantly flowing out the phone, as if he were saying "I know you and Mafuyu are already adults who are fully capable of supporting yourselves and as her parent I'm not in a position where I should talk too much but that and my emotions are two separate matters altogether if you're standing right before me I would have definitely sent you flying with a punch!". The silence was unbearable.
"Today is a holiday, but it's still atrocious for working adults to sleep all the way till noon!"
In the end, he decided to compromise by lecturing us on our living habits instead. But how does he know I had just woken up? Is it because of the laziness in my voice?
"I do not care if you want to emulate the slack life of Hikawa, but do not drag Mafuyu down with you as well."
"Right...... I'm sorry."
Just then, my phone was snatched away from me.
"Papa? Is this Papa? Stop poking your nose into the lives of others! What has this got to do with you!? Didn't I say I'll be taking a break till the following Monday...... W-What's wrong with that!? That's between Naomi and me!"
So what's the father-daughter pair talking about......? I shrunk myself back into the blanket and listened to them quarreling for a while. The cold sensation of the phone came into contact with my ears once more just as I was about to fall asleep.
"Papa says he wants to meet you."
"Huh? Eh? Why?"
Not so that he can punch me, right? Ebichiri's voice came through the phone once more just as I was in a state of panic.
"Back to business, I actually have a favour to ask of you. Do you mind making a trip today? The issue is slightly complicated, so I would like to speak to you in person if that is okay with you."