Hey guys, here's chapter 13. Enjoy.
As I was doing the chapter, I felt really sorry for that one character. Poor thing.
"Nao, hey Nao! I'm going out soon, so fix me my breakfast!"
The rattling of my shoulders forced me to slowly open my eyes. It was as if my body was stuck to the bed sheets—I could feel my skin tearing apart when I twisted my neck.
I fixed my sight on the ceiling for a while, to allow my eyes to become accustomed to the bright surroundings, then shot a glance at Tetsurou's face.
"...... This is the worst morning of my life......"
So what awaits me after the worst night of my life, is Tetsurou waking me up in the morning?
"Hurry up and fix me my breakfast! I have something to discuss with Company M today, but they're not willing to fork out any lunch money."
Enough. Quit shaking me, my head hurts. I swatted Tetsurou's hands away and sat up with a frown. It's a little too bright in here. What time is it already?
"Oh right, I called school and asked for a leave on your behalf, since you still weren't up at eight. Ain't I a nice daddy?"
"It's already ten, damn it! If you were making the call anyway, why didn't you just wake me up at eight instead!?"
A brief glance at the clock was enough to fully wake me up. I leapt off my bed and questioned Tetsurou.
"So you're pushing the blame onto someone else and ignoring the fact that you were lazing around in bed. Kids nowadays."
Nothing pissed me off more than being retorted by a sound argument from Tetsurou. Whatever, I'm too ashamed to see Chiaki or Kagurazaka-senpai anyway, so I might as well just rest. I pulled my blanket up over my head.
"My breakfast!" said Tetsurou, in an embarrassing voice.
"There's Weider in Jelly in the fridge."
"Can you heat that up and use it as gravy on rice?"
Do as you please.
I didn't offer a retort because I thought he was just kidding, but when he actually walked out of the room without saying anything, I caught up to him and made my way to the kitchen.
I waited for Tetsurou to finish a simple meal of Chinese-don before sending him off to work.
"Have you listened to Mafuyu's tape in its entirety? From beginning to end?"
Asked Tetsurou, with his head turned around as he was putting his shoes on at the door.
Of course I have. All the way to the tarantella of <Kreutzer Sonata>. That was how I had noticed the invisible injury to Mafuyu's right hand. Why's he bringing this up all of a sudden?
"In any case, it'd be best if you listened to it all the way to the end."
And with that said, Tetsurou left. The sound of the exhaust was getting further and further away.
What does he mean by that? I don't understand him. And it's not like I want to listen to that tape again—it was just way too painful.
I shook my head to stop those thoughts of mine. My vision was still blurry, so I decided to take a shower. The shirt on my body was all wrinkled since I had worn my uniform to sleep.
After I finished showering, I returned to the living room while I was drying my hair with a towel. Despite the fantastic weather outside, I felt cold—even after putting on a wool cardigan over my thick sweatshirt. When did I start not giving a damn about skipping classes? When did it all begin?
Was it when my life began to revolve around the band?
I fished out the tape that had dropped beneath my bed, and carefully brought it back to the living room on the first floor as if I was holding an egg.
After pressing the play button, I turned the volume down and curled myself up on the sofa.
What came flowing to me out of the speakers was the beautiful melody of the violin sonata <Spring>. Beethoven was an inconceivable composer. It was a scenic view, but he didn't express it simply with just a beautiful phrase; he arranged it so that specific places in the piece would stab you deep in your heart, inflicting more and more sorrow as the piece progressed.
I shouldn't be listening to this. I didn't want to imagine Mafuyu hammering the keys with her delicate, blood-stained fingers. But I remained motionlessly curled up on the sofa, listening to <Kreutzer Sonata> even after it had already started. It felt like Yuri's violin was severing my head from my neck, while Mafuyu's piano was inflicting wounds to each and every bone in my body—but the pain was actually pretty comfortable to me.
Mafuyu is about to leave my side.
But even so, it's still possible I'll be able to hear her piano in the future. Having abandoned the guitar, Mafuyu will definitely return back to that world after she's done with her rehabilitation in America.
Is this okay?
Am I okay with this?
The strength in my arms, which were rubbing my knees, increased. I huddled my body to dodge the intense dance and the violent clashes between Mafuyu and Yuri—to escape the sparks, heat, and pain released by the tarantella of the final movement.
<Kreutzer> was finally over. The remaining reverberations were sucked dry by the silence of the winter noon, and all that was left was the sound of the tape rotating.
Feketerigó was already broken.
If this is what Mafuyu wants, then nothing I think or do matters anymore.
If Mafuyu were seeking help, I would definitely be there to bring her back somehow. But this time, it's different. Mafuyu's heading across the ocean of her own accord; and the ones being left behind are the three of us—
*Pa*. I lifted my head. It came from the sound system. The cassette player had already spun to the end of the A-side, so it was changing sides automatically.
There was a brief interval of suffocating white noise.
And then, flowing from the bottom, came the pure and clean sounds of the Stratocaster. Each and every note was as clear as a silver strand of rain, and they all merged into a seamless harmony that flowed into my ears. It was a brilliant arpeggio.
It wasn't any song in particular—just a phrase that Mafuyu always strummed as warm-up every time she played the guitar. The upward-spiraling air bubbles of the semitone; and the flock of birds weaving between the clouds and the ground. Sounds, sounds, and more sounds, arranged together in perfect geometry and a perfect distance away from each other, were all injected into my veins.
So there were such recordings on the B-side, huh. I totally didn't realize. Is this what Tetsurou was referring to?
I imagined the dirty walls, the amplifiers, the synthesizers and the chairs, all arranged on the floor of our practice room. There was Mafuyu, strumming her guitar with her head lowered. And Chiaki, all warmed up, smashing the hi-hat as she barged into the rhythm. Kagurazaka-senpai would then flick on the switch of the microphone with a smile, causing a minute noise to streak through the air. That was how we would usually start.
A scene that would no longer return.
I shut my eyes to savour the sweet hallucination.
But the tape came to a sudden halt, and I was thrown back into the empty living room once more. What had been left behind in that rocking practice room though, was my heart.
If I could just hug my knees, plug my ears and wait for numerous nights and mornings to pass by, things would be settled with me cleanly forgetting about everything. Left alone, a broken object would just break down even further. That was the natural progression of things, and was also the easier path for me to take. I understood that much at least.
So I stood up from the sofa.
I returned to my room and promptly began packing my toolbox. When I was done, I went downstairs to search through the storage cabinet, where there was a plastic drawer filled with all the junk I had collected up until then. I did organize that stuff at a minimal level, but it still took me quite a bit of time to find everything I needed.
When night arrived, I made my way over to Chiaki's house, which was only five minutes away.
I had thought about calling her prior to my visit, but I had no idea what to say to her. And it would've been troublesome if she had forbidden me from going, so I was left with no other option but to pay her a sudden visit at night.
"Oh my, it's Nao. Chiaki? She's here. Come on in. Have you had dinner already? Chiaki~ Nao's here—"
It had been a while since I had last visited the Aihara household, but Chiaki's mom was the same as ever. She yelled in the direction of Chiaki's room, which was located on the second floor, and pulled me through the door without saying anything else.
A flurry of footsteps came scuttling down the stairs just as I was about to speak.
Chiaki was wearing a pair of hot pants and a T-shirt—her outfit was so skimpy it hardly felt like it was a winter night. Her half-opened jaws were stuttering for a good five seconds or so, and her face was all red.
"W-W-What are you doing here!? You idiot! How dare you come here!?"
I reflexively shielded my head with my toolbox; but thankfully, Chiaki didn't have anything in her hands that she could throw at me.
"Now, no quarrelling at the entrance. You two should go upstairs right now."
That was the only time I had ever felt especially grateful for Chiaki's mom's tough stance. After saying that, she pushed Chiaki and me up the stairs, and there we were, in Chiaki's messy room, surrounded by stacks and stacks of magazines, as well as an air of silence. Chiaki's mom then came in with a tray of drinks and snacks.
"....... Urm, alcohol's a little......" I waved my hands frantically when I saw the bottle of alcohol on the tray.
"Oh, but Chiaki's drinking already."
She's right! Lying on the floor were three mini Shaoxing wine flasks.
"Sheesh, you've done this several times already. You should know that Nao doesn't drink."
Chiaki snatched the plate of snacks and pushed her mom out of the room, along with the tray she was carrying.
But when it was just us again, the room became silent once more. Chiaki grabbed a handful of kaki-pi and dumped them into her mouth in frustration.
What should I do? I couldn't look her straight in the eyes at all.
After finishing the snacks and wine, Chiaki heaved a long sigh and hugged a huge dolphin plushie in her chest.
"...... Mafuyu called."
Said Chiaki softly. I lifted my head in shock. I couldn't see her expression clearly, as the dolphin plushie was covering her face, but it seemed like her eyes were a little wet.
"She said she's heading to America, and that she won't be coming to school again......"
"And she actually said 'sorry.' That's so unfair of her. There's nothing I can say if she apologizes, right?"
Her words stabbed deeply into me.
I had been wondering if I should apologize to Chiaki, but that was an insensitive thought. "Sorry" was a cold, despicable curse that was used to end all forms of communication between people. I gripped the tool in my hand tightly.
"Oh right, what are you here for, Nao? I'm currently..... urm, really drunk, and my mind's in a mess right now. I may just punch you or cry right in front of you, you know?"
I shifted my eyes to the toolbox, then exchanged gazes with Chiaki.
"...... I'm here to fix the record player."
The dolphin plushie slipped off of Chiaki's thighs.
"Your gramophone's broken, isn't it? Think about it. Isn't it silly that you can't listen to a rare present that you've received from me?"
Chiaki looked towards the wall, tongue-tied. Nailed onto the wall with a thumbtack, was a vinyl record. It was <Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band>.
It was only then that Chiaki noticed the toolbox next to me.
"Where is it? In the cupboard?"
"A-Ah, well, urm.....!"
Chiaki scooted to her feet and dashed to the cupboard with unsteady steps.
"You can't look inside the cupboard! Turn around!" She was fine with me walking into her messy room, so I had no idea why she was forbidding me from looking inside her cupboard. But I turned my head around anyway.
I opened up my toolbox as I faced the dusty old machine. I first took out a plastic bag filled with replacement parts, then wiped the machine clean with a wet towel.
At first, it was tough working under the scrutiny of Chiaki's unwavering gaze, but not long after, my fingers were already in the mood to fiddle with the machine. I replaced the gramophone's needle, adjusted the slanted turntable and located the short circuits with a multimeter.
Easy. It's just a machine after all. I just have to fix it if it's broken. But there were lots of things in the world that were irreparable even after being broken.
After checking the spinning turntable with a flick of the switch, I looked in Chiaki's direction.
"I want to check if the sound's alright. May I?"
Chiaki shot a glance at the record on the wall. Her nod was so faint, it was barely detectable by the naked eye.
I borrowed the audio cables of the sound system and connected them to the gramophone, then placed the record on the turntable. A fuzzy feeling arose in my chest the moment I lowered the needle. There was a sweet noise.
Cheers flowed from the boombox. And an irritating guitar phrase followed. Then came the brass instruments that overpowered the harmony of Paul, John and George.
I turned my head towards Chiaki, perhaps with a hint of smugness on my face. Chiaki was hugging her dolphin and beaver plushies, and had curled herself up as though she were trying to hide from something. Her eyes were boring into me—and the spinning turntable as well.
"...... Ah, s-sorry. U-Urm, I'm done."
As I was stretching my hands out to stop the record from spinning,
"Don't switch it off!"
I turned my head around. Chiaki's eyes were visibly filled with tears.
"It's okay. Let it run. I want to listen to it."
Chiaki then tossed a cushion in my direction. It hit my leg and dropped down next to her.
We sat down together and listened carefully to The Beatles amid the noise, amid the illusory concert that was created by stuffing the dreams of four people into a nonsensical joke.
They did hold an actual concert years after the album was produced, but it was held on the roof of a building; and they didn't publicize it, or obtain any permits for it. They disbanded the following year.
I suddenly remembered something Senpai had said some time ago. It's very easy for someone to disappear one day, never to come back again.
She's right. Mafuyu has disappeared. All because of my stupidity.
But even so, Chiaki's still here by my side. Staying beside me.
"....... Why me? ...... Are there no better guys out there?"
The atmosphere became strange all of a sudden. The music that was flowing out of the boombox suddenly sounded as though it were being produced by some cheap speakers instead. Chiaki sprang up in a really imposing manner, and it was then that I realized what I had said.
Chiaki's trembling voice came from above me. I timidly lifted my head, and saw Chiaki's blushing face in-between the dolphin and beaver plushies.
"W-What!? What did you just say!?"
"Urm, no, that's not what I meant....... No actually, I did mean that, but, u-urm......"
The beaver and dolphin plushies suddenly came smashing down on me.
"Idiot! Why do you have to say that at a time like this...... D-Do you even know how much I......!"
I used my arms to shield my head with all my might. In addition to the furious attack of the plushies, Chiaki was sending flying kicks at me as well. But through the openings in my arms, I could see that Chiaki was really crying.
That further confirmed my suspicions. I had done some really horrible things to Chiaki. She was always behind me, supporting me; she was always there to knock on my tightly shut window; and was always by my side, to the point that I had taken her body warmth for granted. But even so......
The word "sorry" was a really despicable word, which was why I didn't say anything. Because I was in love with Mafuyu. Even though she was no longer around, I was still so deeply in love with her.
*Pa. pa*. The plushies were finally released from Chiaki's hands, and her knees collapsed weakly to the floor. She then gripped my shoulders and moved her face in close, dousing my clothes in her warmth.
"My feelings for Nao......"
Her words were swallowed up by her tears.
At that moment, the banter of the oboe started flowing out of the boombox. It was <When I'm Sixty-Four>.
Paul McCartney's feigned youthful voice was causing Chiaki's shoulders to tremble.
Will you still need me, When I'm sixty-four?
And if you say the word, I could stay with you.
I could be handy mending a fuse, when your lights have gone.
When the song entered the second verse, Chiaki's shoulders were trembling even harder; and her hands, that were grasping my shoulders, started to twitch. When Paul reached the part about scrimping and saving and having grandchildren, Chiaki finally lifted her head.
Chiaki lay on the floor, laughing wildly as she faced the ceiling. She didn't even notice that she was squishing her plushies.
"A-Ahaha, w-what's this? W-Why did it play this song at a time like this? T-This is too much of a coincidence!"
Chiaki was laughing maniacally while rolling on the floor with her curled body. All I could do was look on speechlessly.
It is indeed...... a coincidence.
In the end, Chiaki kept laughing all the way until the end of the song. And when she sat up, her eyes were still red and puffy from the tears, but the gloominess that had shrouded her was gone.
"Ahh~ Sheesh, this is terrible. How did I manage to laugh at a time like this? I don't get it."
After saying that, she wiped the tears away from the corners of her eyes with her fingertip.
"Say no more."
Chiaki's words forced my own back down my throat. There was nothing I could say.
So it's actually true. We humans can look so much more depressed when we're smiling.
"It's okay. I understand."
So Chiaki knew there was nothing I could do. That sentence hurt way more than the attack with the plushies and the kicks to my side.
We then sat down, side by side, and listened to the rest of <Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band>.
Neither of us said a word. But from the remaining body heat on my shoulders, and the slight pain carved onto my skin, I could tell that Chiaki had already moved forward, to a place that was out of my reach.
Despite the fact that we were sitting beside each other like we usually did, the nameless, illusory warmth that had always existed between us was destroyed on that very night.
So the only thing I could rely on were the songs being spewed out by the record.
The end to the live performance was approaching, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band's words of farewell were swallowed up by the cloud-piercing roars of the crowd. It felt as though Mafuyu's footsteps were gradually approaching me. The piano prelude in <A Day in the Life> made me shed tears again, as it always did.
Even without turning my head, I knew Chiaki was crying again.
Each and every news article sung by John.
The usual busy morning, woven together by Paul.
We had lived through it thousands of times already, and I was sure we would continue to weave it thousands more times. Ordinary but irreplaceable—the cruel everyday life.
"Let's perform live."
I said that when the record was over, and the remnants of the piano were still buzzing faintly around us.
"Even if Mafuyu's no longer around, the three of us still have to get on stage. Let's make this our best performance together."
With her teary eyes fixed on the boombox, Chiaki slowly nodded her head.
And then, the dog whistle—that almost inaudible shrill—rang from the other side, far away.