Extra Episode – VIII

Dupré
“Once more, from the same point.”
Dupré
“…What did you do wrong? Hmph, I don’t particularly feel like telling you.”
Dupré
“If I must, all I can say is, ‘All of it.’”

……

Dupré
“Again!”

……

Dupré
“What is this gutless piano-playing…? You pass yourself off as some sort of number-one promising young pianist, but I find myself hideously disappointed.”
Dupré
“You think you’ll pass as anything worth notice here in Paris, just because you found some success in your home country?”
Dupré
“Perhaps with an audience that was mostly your own relatives, showering you in applause at some play-recital, you developed a misconception of yourself.”

……

Dupré
“Enough! There’s no point in any more.”
Dupré
“I can see why Youko never had you play a concerto before this.”
Dupré
“I’ve never seen such a complacent pianist. You’ll be of no use to my orchestra.”

……

Kazusa
“…!”

……

Kazusa
“Phew…”

After just barely managing to take a shower, my body, mind, and energy all gave out, and I collapsed into bed without drying off.

I didn’t care that the water dripping off my hair and skin was soaking into the sheets. I just lay there, face down.

Kazusa
“Fine, sure, I’ll quit… But first, I’m beating the hell out of that bastard.”

That was my impression after my first day of full rehearsal, for this concert I had looked forward to so eagerly.

I had been in Paris for a week…

My planned meet-up with the orchestra at the start got pushed later and later, and until yesterday, I had only been able to practice on my own.

I arrived in Paris full of determination, having left my sick mother in Vienna, and yet, before I even started to play, that determination was suddenly broken down.

During these days, robbed of whatever meaning there may have been in my coming all the way to Paris, my stress only grew.

And today was my long-awaited first day with all the orchestra members present…

But, during the entire three-hour-long rehearsal, apart from me, only the violins played.

I heard not the performance of the orchestra, but the lecherous conductor, raining down abuse on me in French, seeming like an entirely different person from the one I met at that party.

I hadn’t made a single mistake. It wasn’t a piece that required much in the way of technical skill in the first place.

And yet, he never made any show of approval.

As a result, the first day ended without getting past the first bar, let alone the entire piece.

And, to make things even worse…

Kazusa
“Emma-san? It’s me, Kazusa. …How has Mom been since then?”

For the past three days or so, Mom’s condition had been less than favorable.

Kazusa
“I see… Still no visitors allowed?”

I had asked Emma-san to visit the hospital as much as possible, in my place, but she hadn’t been able to see Mom for a while.

Kazusa
“What did the doctor say? …Uh-huh, okay. Got it.”

According to her explanation, it didn’t sound like it was anything immediately dire, but Mom was definitely getting weaker, and she wasn’t eating much, either.

Kazusa
“…A message? Sure, read it to me.”

A single message from the nurse, whom I had asked to let me know of any good news or developments.

And the content of that message was…

Kazusa
“…Thanks. I’ll call you again tomorrow.”

‘Don’t come back to Vienna, for any reason, until the concert has ended.’

‘You must make clôture a success.’

‘And it can’t just be an ordinary success. It has to be the kind of success that puts the media all throughout Europe into an uproar.’

Kazusa
“Pretty tall order…”

There was still a tiny bit of my self-assured mother left in those sentences.

It gave me a tiny bit of comfort.

But I wanted to talk to her.

I didn’t care how faint-hearted she was. I could deal with it if I found myself on the edge of tears after talking to her, her frailty leaving me in despair.

Yeah. I wanted to talk to Mom…

‘What the hell is with him? He hardly even sees me as human, let alone a woman!’

‘I told you, he’s a completely different person when he’s standing onstage.’

‘He completely ignored thirty people for three hours. Everyone at the back was playing cards…’

‘That’s an everyday occurrence in his orchestra. He always picks on newcomers.’

‘How the hell can all of them just go along with it…?’

‘Well, he’s a genius conductor. I mean, I discovered him myself.’

‘Genius or no genius, his personality is a disaster. I’ve never had my piano playing ripped apart like this in my life.’

‘I’m pretty sure I’ve told you there was something missing from your playing before.’

‘It’s not the same as the dry way you do it, Mom. He’s pig-headed, he doesn’t let me get a word in edgewise, he’s condescending, he nitpicks everything from my personality to my life…’

‘I can picture your rehearsal now… I wish I’d been there to see it.’

‘I’m gonna end up hating the piano after this…’

‘Oh? You like playing the piano? I was sure that you were only doing it to get his attention…’

‘Shut up!’

……

Kazusa
“…”

My suite at the Integral Hotel in Paris reminded me of the place where Mom and I had lived together, somehow.

Yes… The place where I had lived with Mom half a year ago, in that country…

Kazusa
“Japan, huh…”

My final concert in Japan, which that bastard conductor had so kindly called a “play-recital.”

Come to think of it, my motivation then had been something like this, too.

Was my piano playing only good enough to scoop up some faint hope out of the despair of being rejected by the world?

…Had I even managed to do that, actually?

For example… if this concert were to be a success, would it save Mom?

Would my performance give her hope for living, and allow her to keep going for a long while yet?

Or would she be satisfied enough by my performance to feel that she no longer had any regrets, and…?

Was it not possible that my playing clôture would end up being a requiem for Mom…?

Even if it were, should I still throw everything into playing it? Should I remove every regret that might remain to her? Should I give everything that I had to give…?

Kazusa
“…This is ridiculous.”

…Yeah, right. Imagining something like that right now was nothing short of hubris.

The way things were going, I couldn’t begin to conceive of this concert going well.

But, what was there for me to do? I couldn’t even complain except in my own imagination.

Because the mother I knew best, strong, effortless, ready to accept anything, only existed in my imagination any more.

My changed mother. Weepy, nostalgic, like some old lady… grown weak, like any ordinary person.

Was there no way for her to go back to how she was…?

Come to think of it…

Whenever I talked to my teacher, Flügel, about Mom, our opinions always clashed…

‘The Youko you know is different from the one I know, Kazusa.’

‘Youko as I knew her was full of ambition, jealousy, and conflict, an immature, inexperienced, wild young person. You don’t even compare.’

‘As she got older and gained more experience, she transformed, little by little, into the aloof Youko of today.’

‘So, from my perspective, Youko is a changed woman.’

Hearing that, I realized that there were two people within Mom as I knew her.

The first was the one who was completely indifferent to me when I was a kid…

Youko Touma, the pursuer, interested only in how far she could transcend in the performances she gave.

The other one was Youko Touma, my beloved mother, who had been so easy-going until just recently.

‘Change, growth, and maturity. You can’t conflate getting older with declining.’

‘Change is an inevitable fact of being human.’

‘You just refuse to change, Kazusa…’

Kazusa
“…”

No good. I was starting to doze off.

If I fell asleep like this, I would catch a cold. …I might actually end up cancelling my contract.

Kazusa
“Yawn…”

As usual, a vaguely familiar ceiling filled my dim field of vision.

At the same time, that conversation with my teacher filled my head.

Change was inevitable?

Then, I would play the piano… so that I could guide Mom to age in the way I wanted her to.

Like I played the piano then, to push him away, to give him back to her.

That would work, right? That was the only way, right…?

……

.

Haruki
“Touma.”
Kazusa
“…(zzz)”
Haruki
“Touma… Hey… Sorry, but I need you to get up.”
Kazusa
“…Hnn?”

Haruki
“…”
Kazusa
“…?”

Oh, this was… the first time he and I ever…

He told me that he fell for me with one look back then.

That he got caught up in watching me, crashed out in the classroom…

Why would he tell me that five years later…? Stupid.

……

Haruki
“You know…”
Kazusa
“What now?”
Haruki
“I think this might be the first time you ever started a conversation with me, Touma.”
Kazusa
“…No, I didn’t.”
Haruki
“Thanks.”
Kazusa
“Shut up.”

And this was the first day we ever really talked.

Relying only on the thought that he might be there, I came all the way to school, suffering under the blazing sun, and searched desperately for the right timing to go and talk to him…

…God. Stupid girl.

By that point, I was already in love, wasn’t I…?

……

Setsuna
“Say, Touma-san. Don’t you think we could be good friends?”
Kazusa
“No way. Why would you think that?”
Setsuna
“Well… We have similar tastes, for one thing.”
Kazusa
“I have no idea what you mean by that.”
Setsuna
“You don’t?”

But she already knew.

Before we got to know each other, she had already seen through my feelings.

So infuriatingly smart. So dangerous that I wanted to cry.

And so, I accepted her. I accepted a type of relationship even more difficult than unrequited love—friendship.

……

Setsuna
“Well, let’s go. Touma-san, Haruki-kun. …Sorry, everything got all crowded because of me.”
Kazusa
“Really not a fan of that humble-bragging thing you do… Kitahara, let’s go.”
Haruki
“Right! …And you’d better laugh at me if I miss my solo!”
Setsuna
“Of course we’ll laugh.”
Kazusa
“I’ll laugh and point.”
Haruki
“Rgh…”

As a result, we became a trio. A group of irreplaceable friends.

I knew. I knew how painful, how sad, that would make things…

That someone would have to back out, and no matter who it was, the pain would be excruciating.

But, I couldn’t stand up against that sweet temptation. I wanted friends… I was just like her…

……

Kazusa
“That… That’s not something I wanna hear from my best friend’s boyfriend!”
Haruki
“?!”
Kazusa
“You were the one who left me first! You moved somewhere unreachable!”
Haruki
“Ah…”
Kazusa
“Unreachable, but still always right there! You were the one who came up with that torture!”

Yes, I knew things would end up this way…

But I backed away, and pushed. I broke the three of us. I made a mess of our irreplaceable group.

……

Kazusa
“Hey, Kitahara… I was really in love with you.”
Haruki
“I know…!”
Kazusa
“When Setsuna took you from me, it hurt like hell because of that…”
Kazusa
“I said it… I’m sorry, Setsuna. But… it’s just a voice, anyway. We’ll never see each other again…”

This was how I ripped it apart.

I hurt the one I loved, hurt my best friend, ran away on my own…

If only I could have avoided getting hurt myself… If only I could have just forgotten…

……

???
“Haruki…?”
Haruki
“…Huh? What, you’re already here, Se—?!”
Haruki
“…What…”
Kazusa
“Haruki…”
Haruki
“Kazu…sa?”

Really… if only I could have just forgotten about it, after five years had passed.

Change was an inevitable part of being human… Inevitable, right? Then, why did I…

……

Kazusa
“Oh, make sure there’s plenty of meat.”
Haruki
“I know.”
Kazusa
“Oh, I don’t need any fish, though.”
Haruki
“…You shouldn’t be that picky.”
Kazusa
“No cabbage or onions, either. Actually, don’t give me any vegetables at all.”
Haruki
“…You can’t just reject the entire meaning of this stew. The vegetables are the point.”

Why couldn’t I live like Mom, like other people?

Would I be able to fill five years’ worth of blank space with just one day, sitting around the same dining table?

……

Kazusa
“You swear? Do you swear to make me your wife, Haruki?”
Haruki
“I do… In sickness and in health…”
Kazusa
“For better or worse?”
Haruki
“For richer, for poorer…”
Kazusa
“You’ll love me, and honor me, and comfort me, and help me…”
Haruki
“I swear, as long as I live, I will devote myself to you…”

After having these feelings for so long, I knew it was pointless, but I still went with it…

Because, after this…

…Was I really going to keep on with this dream? Was I going to make myself see the end of it?

What an idiot… Couldn’t I have at least let it end happily in my dreams?

Wouldn’t letting it end here be best…?

……

Kazusa
“Let go…”
Haruki
“…”
Kazusa
“We have to smile when we split up… We can’t keep dragging this out…”
Haruki
“…”
Kazusa
“Haruki,,, you…”
Haruki
“I’m not holding on.”
Kazusa
“…”
Haruki
“Just pull your hand away, and you’ll be free. You can go anywhere.”
Kazusa
“…Don’t make me do this. I wanted you to let go first.”
Haruki
“No.”
Kazusa
“I wanted you to drop me…”
Haruki
“How could I possibly—“
Kazusa
“It’s not fair…!”
Haruki
“For which one of us?”
Kazusa
“…”
Haruki
“…”
Kazusa
“So stupid…!”
Haruki
“Like I said, which one of us…?!”

Kazusa
“AaaaaaaAAAAAh!”
Kazusa
“…Ah… aah… ah…!”

I had seen it all the way through… even though I didn’t want to.

Kazusa
“…Ah… ahaaah… ah!”

It was like a revolving lantern…

The few hundred days that my life overlapped with his.

For me, it was an eternity. Half of my life.

Kazusa
“Ha, ha ha…”

I thought I had finally stopped having that dream… I had tried so hard not to think about it…

The worlds we inhabited were different. Our hearts, and our bodies, were in completely different places.

He belonged to her now…

Kazusa
“I’m so stupid…”

I checked my address book. Of course, his number was no longer there. I had erased it from my memory entirely, as far as I knew.

…In other words, this was reality. A world that wasn’t Japan, or half a year ago, or five years ago.

Kazusa
“Haruki…”

Six years since we met. Five years since we parted. Half a year since we parted again.

I hadn’t managed to change in five years, so how could anyone expect me to change in just half a year…?


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