Paradise Noise - Chapter 5
The Angel and the Caterpillar
Since Shizuki and I didn’t have any special relationship, there was absolutely no reason for me to go to her class, Class 3, just because of her recent absences from the music room after school. She must have gotten either bored, busy, or tired of being bullied by Rinko (most likely). Telling myself that, I tried to avoid going to the north school building. I was afraid of bumping into Shizuki. In other words, I didn’t want to face the possibility of her hating me.
As I spent more time alone, pondering, I began to realize that, lately, I hadn’t posted any videos on the Musa Boy channel.
So, I decided it was time to make a new, original song. I decided to hole myself up in my room, heading to my computer and putting on my headphones.
However, I couldn’t come up with a melody or an idea at all. Time flew by as I just idly moved the mouse cursor around the sequencer software, all with no progress.
It was strange. As I usually had an easier time with this, I wondered about what was wrong with me now.
As I closed my eyes and sank deeper into my consciousness, all I could hear was a clash of sparks between the sounds of the piano and those of the drums.
After listening to Rinko and Shizuki’s performance up close, the music I had been making, by myself, in a dark room, and with a hunched back, seemed so boring and insignificant.
No, I’m not doing this today. I plucked off my headphones and closed my computer.
Ten days after Shizuki’s last music session with Rinko, I met Shizuki outside of school.
Thanks to Hanazono-sensei, I had to go to Shinjuku to deliver something for her instead of going straight home. Carrying a cardboard box, I got on the Yamanote Line and leaned against the door, staring blankly at some of the along-the-track billboard ads for smartphone games and vocational schools. Occasionally, the roof of a car reflected the afternoon sunlight, stinging my eyes. As it was such a beautiful, sunny day, I had been thinking of going home to wash my guitar case and keyboard bag when I was suddenly grabbed by Hanazono-sensei right in front of the shoe rack. I’m so unlucky.
“Here, carry this. Can you take it to a studio called ‘Moon Echo’ in Shinjuku?”
Sensei forcefully handed me a box.
“Give it to a staff member there named Kurokawa. You’ll figure it out once you get there. Hurry up.”
She didn’t tell me what was inside.
Feeling the shaking of the train through my back, I observed the cardboard box. The top was sloppily held together with packaging tape. As it was quite light considering its volume, I had no trouble carrying it. I could even hold it with one hand. There’s nothing solid in here, right? I wonder what’s in it…
The music studio “Moon Echo” was located in the office district of Higashi-Shinjuku. Looking at the floor information board, I saw that this entire six-story building was a studio with a live music club in the basement. For a music enthusiast such as me, this was enough to get me excited.
It seemed to be a very busy studio as the lobby was crowded with band members carrying guitar cases. As I stepped into the studio, I had a strange feeling in my heart: one of sweetness, but tainted with bitterness. On the one hand, these were people who, like me, had devoted a large part of their lives to music. On the other, they were singing on a stage with cocktail lights pouring down on them while I was locked away in a closed room, moving my mouse around and clicking away at rectangles on a sequencer piano roll. The only thing I had going for me were numbers on the lower right corner of my videos posted online.
Stomaching my pointless self-deprecation, I turned to the counter on the left side of the lobby.
And indeed, Hanazono-sensei was right; I would figure things out once I got to this studio. Other than her last name and the fact that she was a staff member, I had not been given any additional information about Kurokawa-san. However, I could intuitively tell at a glance that the young woman behind the counter was the one, mainly because her vibe seemed to resemble Hanazono-sensei’s. She had an eye-catching face and a mischievous look in her eyes. Despite the fact that she dressed in a white business shirt, a black vest, and a pair of slacks, she radiated an irresistible charm.
“…Um, excuse me.”
I called out to the woman.
“Is someone named Kurokawa-san part of the staff here?”
“That’s me…” She answered a little suspiciously. But then, she looked down at the cardboard box I was carrying.
“Ah. By any chance, did Misao ask you to do something for her?”
“Y-Yeah.” Misao was Hanazono-sensei’s first name. I’m glad I was able to find her quickly.
Kurokawa-san took me to a corner of the lobby and opened the box. A bright beige blazer, a red and white checkered skirt, and a gathered skirt came out of the box. Since these three pieces of clothing seemed to be matching, I wondered if it was part of a school uniform. It seemed too flashy for that, though…
“…Do you want to wear it?” Kurokawa-san asked me out of the blue, causing me to flinch.
“Eh, w-what? Of course not!”
“Aw, you looked like you wanted to, though.”
What kind of face looks like that? Did it show on mine? Was it a face that looked like I wanted to cross dress?
“Well, I’m just joking,” Kurokawa-san added without a semblance of a smile. “I had an urgent use for this kind of costume for a show tonight. Misao was the only person I knew who could help me with this; I didn’t know anyone else who could get this for me. I’m sorry for all the trouble.”
Why does Hanazono-sensei have this kind of costume again? It’s not a school uniform, but an idol costume that mimics one, right? Wait, since Kurokawa-san seems to have a close relationship with Sensei, does she have any personal information about her? Maybe she’ll tell me if there’s anything that could help me turn the tables on Sensei by taking advantage of her weaknesses. I stifled the urge to ask, as I was unsure about what Sensei would do if she found out.
“Oh, and by the way, Misao told me to thank you for helping her with the delivery.”
“Eh? …Oh, haa… No problem, it’s fine.”
“She said she would give you this outfit after the show.”
“I don’t want it!”
“Don’t wait until it’s over; come and watch! It’s 2,000 yen including one drink.”
“You’re charging money? It’s not included in the thank you?”
Fed up with her, I prepared to leave. However, something, out of the corner of my eye, caught my attention.
I stopped and turned around. There was the back of a familiar blazer entering the soundproof door labeled “A1 Studio” near the back of the lobby.
After I glanced at her, I did a double-take. The door quickly closed behind her, blocking out the shadows.
It was definitely our high school’s uniform; I was wearing the same thing. Below, she wore a skirt. She had long black hair that almost reached her waist.
She looked familiar.
“…Do you know her?” Kurokawa-san asked me after noticing my gaze. “Well, you do have the same uniform as that girl, don’t you?”
“Oh, I’m not sure. I don’t know if we actually know each other…”
I crossed the lobby and approached Studio A1. The door had a small diamond-shaped window cut into it. However, I didn’t think it would be polite to peek inside. It would be awkward if it was someone I didn’t know at all.
As my internal struggle continued, the sounds of a fierce beat rushed into my ears. The sheer pressure of the beat was so overwhelming that even through the door, I got goosebumps all over my face. Furthermore, the barrage of kicks were so granular that it was hard to believe that it was played on just a single bass pedal. At that point, I didn’t even need to look inside the room to know who it was. There was no other girl, dressed in our high school’s uniform, who could play the drums like this. It was Shizuki.
(TL: A single bass pedal is exactly what it sounds like. There are double bass pedals too, just FYI.)
Why are you practicing in a place like this? Oh, that reminds me… I remember that Hanazono-sensei said that she first saw Shizuki at a rental studio owned by her friend. So, it was this place all along.
If that’s the case, why don’t you play at the school’s music warehouse? It would save money on studio fees, and as a plus, the instruments in the warehouse were much better. You’re still worried about Rinko bullying you, aren’t you?
“Um, that room over there…” I began. But then, I realized that it would be a bad idea to try to get the ending time for a specific room, especially from the owner. It was personal information.
“She has an hour,” Kurokawa-san informed me nonchalantly. Is that really okay?
“Then, uhh, can I wait in the lobby for a while?”
“That’s fine… but are you trying to ambush her? Do you want a disguise?”
Is she trying to get me to wear that costume?
I hunkered down in a corner of the lobby and waited with bated breath. As I flipped through the guitar magazines on the shelf, I snuck a couple glances of my surroundings to see if anyone was looking at me strangely. I was here to kill a little time on an errand, not to stalk around and wait for a girl to come out. That was my desperate attempt at explaining to myself. Of course, the band members hanging out in the lobby were only thinking about their own glorious and popular stage life. They were too self-conscious; they wouldn’t pay any attention to me.
About an hour later—around 4:56 P.M.—I left my spot in the corner.
I pretended to read the flyers for the show piled up on the counter while paying attention to the door of Studio A1. Kurokawa-san, who was still working, gave me a suspicious look. I wanted Shizuki to find me in a natural way when she came out of the studio. It would look like that I just happened to be here on an errand and that I wasn’t intentionally waiting for her.
I felt the pressure change as the soundproof door of the studio opened.
I focused my gaze on the flyer, trying not to look up. Casual does it. Pretend not to notice. Let her notice me.
I heard a voice. Even though I was expecting it, my body jolted. When I looked up from the flyer, I saw that it was Shizuki. With her schoolbag in hand, she strode across the lobby to me. Her face was sweaty and pale, probably due to her intense practice session.
“What brings you here?” Shizuki asked with confusion.
“Hanazono-sensei asked me to run an errand… Why are you here?”
As I am acting surprised, Mr. Kurokawa interrupts me from over the counter on the side.
“He’s been waiting for you since four o’clock. He wanted to pretend that it was a coincidence so he could talk to you.”
Hey, Kurokawa-san? Why are you ruining it? I should’ve known that Hanazono-sensei’s friends were like this, too.
“You wanted to talk to me…?”
Shizuki blinked. She looked a little frightened, though it was probably just my imagination.
“I don’t mean to tell you to take your lover’s quarrel outside, but can you please pay the bill first?” Kurokawa-san said with an irritated voice. I didn’t even get a chance to explain that it wasn’t a lover’s quarrel. Shizuki apologized and ran to the counter to pay for the studio session and then came back to my side.
“…So, what’s this about?”
“Well, since you haven’t come to the warehouse to play drums lately, I was wondering how you were doing.”
We were standing in the corner of the lobby while we talked. There was no point in occupying the couch, as we didn’t actually have that much to talk about.
“I’m too ashamed to have Rinko-san listen to my second-rate drumming. I can’t show my face there until I learn how to play along with her piano.”
“Don’t worry about that. It’s not a place meant for musical sessions anyways.”
“But, Makoto-san. Please be honest with me,” Shizuki pleaded with a strained voice while glancing up at me.
“My performance at that time didn’t complement Rinko-san’s at all, did it?”
I thought that if I were able to effortlessly tell a lie here, swimming smoothly through society would be a piece of cake. However, it was impossible, especially since the topic was related to music. My facial expression would already reveal my true feelings and thoughts on the matter. It was too late to look away at that point.
“…Yeah, well, it… didn’t really mix well. However, both of you were playing together, so it’s not like one of you was solely responsible.”
“My performance was the only thing that was wrong, wasn’t it? I already know.”
Maybe it was a bad idea to ask me directly in the first place? It all came out in my expression. Although, she was completely right. Shizuki’s drumming at that time was pretty dull. From the start, I already thought that their performance was pretty boring. I then lost all interest after Rinko started making demands.
“It was bad enough that Rinko had to nitpick every single detail.”
“Rinko-san’s demands were all very precise. It was my fault for not being able to adjust. I’m sure that Makoto-san understands that.”
Why does it sound like I’m the one to blame?
“I’m going to train harder and become good enough to match that piano before I interrupt your private time together in the afternoon!”
Can you please not use the phrase “private time together”? It might lead to weird misunderstandings, you know?
“You know, as I’ve said many times, Rinko and I don’t always do things together after school. Sometimes she’s in the music room and sometimes she’s not.”
“Then maybe Rinko-san can also use the pillow that has YES and NO written on it…”
“Oh, yeah, I almost forgot,” Shizuki said after clapping her hands together. “I realized that I didn’t need a pillow anymore. Instead, I got myself a cell phone.”
Unmistakably, Shizuki took out a smartphone from her bag. It didn’t have a case, and the LCD screen still had the protective film that was on it when it was shipped.
“Mother bought it for me last week.”
I blinked. Why did her mother suddenly buy it for her? Wasn’t she a stern, old-fashioned mother focused on disciplining her daughter? No, that’s just my image of her, I guess.
Since she didn’t know how to download the LINE app, I had to show her how. It took a bit of time to authenticate her, but eventually, she successfully registered as my friend. Is it really okay for me to be her first contact? I felt a pain in my chest, as I basically just manipulated my way into getting a girl’s LINE.
(PR Note: Smoothness 10/10.)
When Shizuki saw my ID displayed on her friend list, she smiled.
“I’ve been longing for this. LINE with Makoto-san…“
I thought that she might be harboring some strange fantasies about LINE. Isn’t it just a way to communicate?
“If you need anything else, feel free to message me through this. If you don’t want to type, you can send me a sticker.”
“I’ve always wanted to use stickers! How do I send one?”
After I told her, Shizuki searched the sticker shop with sparkling eyes. She eventually settled on one with distorted, yet cute animals dressed in heavy metal outfits. It made sense as she loved heavy metal music. Though, what made no sense was that she immediately started sending it to me. The notifications didn’t stop for a while.
(PR Note: This section was brought to you by NAVER Corporation.)
“Makoto-san, please send me something! I don’t really care which; any sticker will make me happy!”
As I was thinking about whether to send the “Making Comical Faces with the Underside of a Pillbug” sticker which I had bought on impulse but had never sent to anyone because I had no idea how to use the sticker shop, Shizuki suddenly lifted her gaze and saw something over my shoulder, near the entrance of the studio. Her face stiffened.
When I turned around, I saw a middle-aged woman dressed in a Japanese kimono. She was walking slowly into the studio toward us. The surrounding customers were taken aback by her out-of-place, elegant attire, and mannerisms. I didn’t need to hear Shizuki’s mumbling; I could tell by the look on her face. It was her mother.
“Shizuki-san,” Shizuki’s mother said in a voice that sounded like she was breaking the ice.
“So, you’ve been in and out of places like this. Since you’ve been late for your training recently, I was wondering what you were doing.”
Shizuki kept shrinking, almost to the point that she was completely hidden behind me. However, she managed to muster up the courage to ask her mother.
“Mother, how did you know I was here…?”
Shizuki’s mother didn’t answer her question; she just disdainfully glared at the smartphone in Shizuki’s palm. I was terrified. Did this woman have a GPS tracker set up on her daughter’s phone from the start? Did she buy it for Shizuki for the sole purpose of finding out where she went after school?
As if she had noticed my suspicion, Shizuki’s mother stared at me.
“…Shizuki has been in your care. Are you in the same grade?”
Her condescending tone was rather frightening.
“Shizuki is the heir to the name of our school. In order to obtain her teacher’s license as soon as she graduates from high school, she needs to be training more this year. Her hobby in music is definitely a good thing, but I don’t think that there will be any more opportunities for Shizuki to associate with you from now on.”
Seeing her deep bow, chills inadvertently ran up my spine. Shizuki? Hey, Shizuki, why don’t you open your mouth and say something? I tried to signal to her with my eyes, but all she did was stiffen. There was no response from that quivering mouth of hers.
Then, the Yurisaka mother and daughter pair left in a cab.
I couldn’t forget the apologetic look on Shizuki’s face as the backseat door closed. And for the rest of the day, I felt depressed.
When I arrived at school the following week, I found that the ikebana display at the entrance had been renewed.
I peeked into the glass case to see if it was Shizuki’s work. However, I was still shocked to see her name on the nameplate. I couldn’t believe this was her work. It was as if she just followed the instructions in a book. No, it’s just me. I don’t know that much about ikebana, so I can’t tell the difference. I wonder if this was considered a high-level creation.
However, I couldn’t lie about my feelings.
It was a neat, tidy little display, but it didn’t move me at all.
Imagine if this had been the first time I had seen Shizuki’s ikebana display.
Even if I had run into her at the music warehouse after that, I would not have asked her if she wanted to play the drums. Instead, I would have just finished the errand quickly, left her, and gone home. I would not have known that she was a brilliant drummer, and I would not have associated with her after that.
That’s right. What seized me that day was, above all, the flowers. It was a small world burning suffocatingly in a glass cage.
What has become of her?
Since we parted ways at Moon Echo, neither had I seen Shizuki, nor had I heard from her through LINE. It seemed that she had complicated family circumstances, and it probably wasn’t something a stranger should step in.
The only thing I could do was to walk all the way to the restroom of the northern school building through the crosswalk every break time in an attempt to meet her.
Despite the narrowness of my efforts, it paid off, when I ran into Shizuki on the landing of the stairs at lunchtime.
As I was walking up the stairs, Shizuki noticed me when we were one step away from each other. I put my hand on the wall, smiling awkwardly at myself and looking up at her.
(PR Note: “DON!”)
“Long time no see,” I began, trying to break the ice, but she only replied with a distant smile.
In the clear box that Shizuki was carrying on her shoulder, I could see tools such as pruning shears, drills, and wire.
“Oh, um, are you going to the ikebana club?”
“Y-Yeah,” Shizuki nodded apologetically. “Some of the upperclassmen wanted me to teach them again, so I’ll have to be there in a bit.”
Well, it couldn’t be helped if she already had a prior engagement. It’s not that I didn’t have any business with her, but I had come to this school building under the pretense that I didn’t.
“I see. Well, good luck.”
I waved and turned on my heel to head downstairs. However, a separate set of footsteps followed me.
“Wait, Makoto-san!” said Shizuki, who had just rushed down three flights of stairs to the landing to grab and stop me. “I’m sorry about last week!”
I was taken aback, almost hitting my head on the wall behind me.
“…U-Uh, what? …There’s nothing to apologize for.”
“I’m sorry you had to see that in the studio…”
“That didn’t really bother me. In fact, I was worried. That was your mother, right? Did she get mad at you afterwards?”
“Err…” Shizuki mumbled, her eyes downcast. She seemed to be having trouble answering. “She said, ‘Don’t neglect your main duties for music.’”
Your main duty should just be ikebana. You’re still a high school student, you know?
“I can’t even go to that studio anymore, and I’ll have to give up… on drums.”
“Why?” I couldn’t help but shout wildly. “It’s such a waste of talent when you’re so good at drumming. Your parents just found out about the studio, right? You can practice somewhere else—I mean, there are drums in the warehouse.”
“I don’t think I am at the level where I can play along with Rinko-san… I thought the God of Fine Arts might be trying to tell me not to pursue both music and ikebana at the same time. He might think that I wouldn’t concentrate on either of them,” she said with a strained voice.
There is no such god, or if there is, shut him up, is what I wanted to tell her. However, I managed to hold back those thoughts. I was aware that I was angry. It was the same as it was with Rinko. As someone without a special talent, I would get angry when someone with a talent would try to hide it and not show it off.
“What’s so important about ikebana? Is it something that you would sacrifice your whole life for?”
At that time, I hadn’t yet realized that what I was saying was very rude. Shizuki shrank back.
“…It’s the family business…”
“But, you don’t really like it, do you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I noticed the ikebana display at the entrance isn’t as good compared to the one from last week…”
I snapped out of it. What am I saying? You don’t know anything about ikebana or Shizuki’s personal situation. I was too embarrassed to look at Shizuki, so I pressed my forehead against the wall on the landing and regretted it.
“…No, I’m sorry… I actually don’t know anything about ikebana, so I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No…” Shizuki mumbled with a squirming, complicated grimace. “You could tell by just looking at them, right? This week’s kasumi-sou, koutenguwa, and doudan-tsutsuji were no good, right?”
(PR: These are the names of plants which are commonly used in ikebana. kasumi-sou is カスミソウ, koutenguwa is コウテングワ, and doudan-tsutsuji is ドウダンツツジ.)
“It’s not that they’re not good, it’s just that…” I stammered. “While it was also very beautifully done, I think I liked last week’s one better because it was more… vibrant…”
“I think so too. Last week, my advisor at the ikebana club told me that my design was too flowery. He told me that it was too showy, that it was not in line with his teaching methods. He also said that if I wanted to help with the displays, I should make it look more like something that is made by a high school student. So, for this week, I just followed his methods… but I think I just don’t have enough experience…”
I was completely speechless. If the intention was to follow her advisor’s method, then she was not inexperienced; instead, her ikebana perfectly accomplished its purpose. It really looks like something you expected to see from a high school student’s club activity: a pot, a model, with no room for adventuring or being creative. However, there was no way I could honestly speak my thoughts at that moment.
“I’ll have to put more effort into my ikebana from now on.”
A sad smile appeared on Shizuki’s face, forming like the frost on a window pane on a winter morning.
“But, it was really fun to have Makoto-san listen to me and also to have a music session with Rinko-san. I hope you two will continue to play something together, even if it’s just once in a while. I’ll be listening from afar.”
With that, Shizuki bowed her head, walked past me, and went down the stairs.
When the sound of her footsteps had faded away, the noisy atmosphere befitting of a school at lunchtime suddenly came rushing back to me. I leaned against the wall of the landing, looked up at the ceiling, and sighed.
When I told Rinko about Shizuki, she looked at me with disdain.
“You just sulked and left without saying anything? I can’t believe it. Why doesn’t that tongue of yours, which normally just spouts a bunch of nonsense, help you when you need it the most?”
“Why did you have to go so far?”
“Don’t you think it’s a shame that someone with such skill in music is about to give it up?”
Didn’t you also almost give up on music?
“No, well, of course I’m going to miss her. An awful lot, actually. However, I didn’t know if it was okay for me to interfere. That’s why I couldn’t say anything back to her right away…”
I looked at Rinko’s face
“Do you really approve of Shizuki and her skills? Weren’t you always criticizing her when you two performed together the other day?”
“I never said it was bad, though,” explained Rinko, her lips twisting into a grimace. “I just told her to fix what I didn’t like. I wouldn’t have requested those things from her if I didn’t think she was capable.”
“Also, Murase-kun, the only reason why you saw me usually making harsh requests from you is that I’m just interested to see how it would turn out. If I thought that you weren’t capable, I wouldn’t have made those requests in the first place.”
“…That also makes sense… Wait a minute, you almost had me fooled! “How could you make it sound normal to make those harsh requests?”
“So, you’re just going to leave it at that with Yurisaka-san?”
As usual, Rinko completely ignored my protests. I scratched my head.
“I’ll just… Yeah…”
“You wanted to get laid by Yurisaka-san, so you brought her to the warehouse at night and made her do it, didn’t you?
“It wasn’t night, and I didn’t bring her in; all I wanted to do was to play some music! Stop twisting the situation!”
At that time, we were just in the music room, our usual after school place. And since there was no one else in the room besides the two of us, my social standing barely survived.
“Anything else? Since you’re not picky when it comes to girls, I assume you’ve already obtained Yurisaka-san’s LINE, right?”
“What do you mean, ‘not picky’? And about LINE… well, I helped her register for that.”
“Would you look at that?”
“How’d you even come to that conclusion? If I wasn’t picky about girls, wouldn’t I have gotten your contact first?
She folded her arms in agreement. Where the hell is this conversation going?
Rinko suddenly raised her eyebrows indignantly.
“You don’t even have my contact yet, but you have Yurisaka-san’s? I can’t believe you.”
“I don’t understand why you’re getting more and more angry.”
Rinko holds her hand out to me.
“Give me your phone.”
“I need to LINE Yurisaka-san. You can’t think of anything to say to her anyways, can you?”
“Ehhh… What about it?”
“Everything’s going to be fine. I’ll send a few sexual harassment messages alongside vulgar stickers, all while pretending to be you.”
“That’s not okay at all!”
“But I think it would be more confusing for Yurisaka-san if I, Rinko Saejima, sent her sexual harassment messages from your ID.”
“Can you just not include the ‘sexual harassment’ part?”
“Actually, fine. Then, it’s settled. You’ll give me your phone on the condition that I don’t say anything about sexual harassment.”
It’s settled? Huh? Where’s the logic behind that?
Tired of all the hassle, I unlocked my phone and handed it to Rinko. Her eyebrows furrowed when she saw my wallpaper.
“What’s with this creepy bird? You have such weird taste.”
“The shoebill is cute! Leave me alone!”
(TL: Shoebill is a prehistoric-looking bird. Go look it up.)
Rinko started up LINE, and after a couple moments of fiddling with my phone, she thrusted it back at me. When I looked at the screen, I saw the following sent message:
[This is Rinko Saejima from the first year’s class 4. Due to some circumstances, I’m contacting you from Murase Makoto-kun’s phone. Please don’t pry too deeply into the relationship I have with Murase-kun. I just need to talk to you about your decision to quit drumming, so please, come to the music warehouse tomorrow after school.]
…Did you really need to add the part about prying into our relationship? Well, I don’t really know, but I might just be reading into it too much.
“So, what are you going to do?”
“It’s obvious. A musical session. You, bring your guitar and effector.”
(TL: Effectors are devices that are connected between the electric guitar and amplifier in order to process sound from the outside. Effectors allow for many interesting sounds to be created, and it is not rare for guitarists to connect several.)
The rain falling the next day was lukewarm, just like cooling hot water was.
I left my house with my beloved white WASHBURN single cut guitar in its soft case on my back. Since Rinko didn’t tell me what we were going to play, I figured that I should choose this one as it had the least distinctive sound out of the guitars I owned.
However, my guitar, which was wrapped with a plastic cover to prevent it from dampening up, was a nuisance. On the Saikyo Line, I had to keep apologizing to the other commuters as I could only be leaning against the train door.
Also, it attracted a lot of attention in my classroom.
“Murase, is that a guitar?”
“Can you play it?”
…I didn’t want to bring it to my classroom because I knew this would happen. Though, to be fair, it was raining and I was running late, so I really had no choice. Luckily, the bell signalling the start of first period rang, causing everyone to scurry back to their seats. I hurriedly hid the guitar in the gap between my locker and the wall and sat down in my chair.
Throughout the class, I was absentmindedly gazing out the window at the blend between the light drizzle and industrial smoke.
On the other side of the courtyard, the walls of the north school building were being washed by the gentle ripples caused by the rain. The row of windows for the hallways looked like a film strip. If each window represented a frame, it would only take a second and a half to show all those frames from the right edge to the left edge of the school building.
At every break, I took out my phone to check LINE.
The only reply from Shizuki was the one from yesterday.
Considering it was text-only conversation, it was difficult to assess her emotions as she typed her response. Was she surprised, perplexed, or perhaps frightened?
As I waited for the school to end, time flowed like the raindrops running down the window pane. They slowly fell down—and just after one thought—slipped away in a breath—on repeat. Perhaps, it was due to my complicated feelings of anticipation and fear.
What is Rinko intending to do with Shizuki?
Well, naturally, she’s going to make her play the drums. I knew that. Though, is this problem going to be solved after just a single performance? When I dragged Rinko out to the rooftop, she had a personal and a mindset issue. However, Shizuki’s issues were deeply rooted in her family circumstances and her future. Would just one session with her change anything? Is it really ethically correct to try and change her?
The bell rang.
The bustling sounds of the students getting out of their seats brought me back to my senses. I gave up on overthinking it, took my guitar out of its hiding place, and left the classroom.
Shizuki was the first to arrive at the music warehouse. She was kneeling by the face-up bass drum, preparing to remove the drum skin.
Beside her, there was a brand new, holeless drum skin.
When Shizuki noticed me, she stopped what she was doing and bowed to me apologetically.
“What are you doing?”
“I took the liberty of making a hole in the skin, so I thought I’d replace it.”
“Why? It’s really fine, it’s not like there’s anyone else that uses it.”
“But I can’t drum here anymore—”
“Wait, no, you saw my LINE, right? Today, you’ll be having a session with Rinko. I’ve also brought a guitar.”
Shizuki stared at me dumbfoundedly. Huh? Is this really that surprising?
“…A session… what? Your message just said ‘We need to talk’…”
I looked up at the ceiling, recalling the contents of the message. Indeed, it wasn’t mentioned anywhere that we were going to be playing anything. Though, if Rinko wrote it too straightforwardly, Shizuki might not have shown up. No, it probably would have been much better to simply message her to play a song than to call her out with that intimidating text. I honestly didn’t know why Shizuki came.
“At any rate, she wants to have a session together, so why don’t you set the drums back up? I’ll help you tune it.”
Shizuki dug her nails into the edge of the hollow bass drum with a slumped posture.
I put the stuffed animals back in the body, reattached the hoop and head, and tightened the bolts.
“How does the tuning feel?” I asked in a deliberately cheerful voice. In this kind of situation, I think it was more effective to say it in a way as if she already agreed to play, so as not to give her any room to wonder whether to play or not. Maybe.
“U-Um,” Shizuki muttered, her puzzled look fading away slightly. “I’m not really sure what the tuning should sound like… What are we going to play? I have to adjust it depending on the song.”
“Actually, I don’t know either.”
Although we were already this far in, Rinko hadn’t told me what song we were going to play. I was pissed since she even hid it from me, the one who was assisting her. And to top it all off, Rinko was the one that called Shizuki out, but she herself hadn’t even shown up yet.
As a last resort, Shizuki just tuned it to my liking and set it up. She tapped on the hi-hat pedal several times to check the stiffness. Her face was anxious, almost as if she was crossing an iced-over pond.
Then, I took out my guitar. I hooked it up to my effector and through the Roland guitar amp that was hiding in the corner of the warehouse. I then turned everything on.
What am I supposed to do? Even more than drummers, guitarists needed to know the type of song they were playing to select their sound.
Just then, I heard the faint sound of a piano.
An arpeggio rang out quietly. A simple harmonic progression, slowly shifting and fading every two measures, gently tread on.
It must have been Rinko. She was playing in the music room two rooms over. But still.
I couldn’t tell what song it was just from that. Shizuki returned my puzzled gaze, sitting down in the chair in front of the drumset and tightly gripping the drumsticks.
Eventually, though, Shizuki let out a bated breath. She stepped into the beat, nestling to Rinko’s piano. At first, it was a simple 2 & 4 beat. Sensing Rinko’s frustration through the walls, she added a sixteenth to the kick on the second repeat. Her once dull steps, almost as if she were firmly placing her entire shoe sole on the ground, lighten slightly.
Finally, I recognized the song. Shizuki seemed to also recognize the song as well, as her drumming became more stable. Moreover, I now understood why Rinko neither informed me of the song in advance nor told me what I was supposed to do with my guitar and effector.
I hurriedly set up my effector, immediately turning the volume down to zero so as to not disturb the gentle, rhythmic steps. I slung my guitar strap over my shoulder and began singing, trying to keep my voice at a moderate volume to not overpower the drums while not making the vocal sound too muddy.
When you were here before
Couldn’t look you in the eye
You’re just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You’re so f**kin’ special
This was Radiohead’s “Creep”.
This song was written when the band, which was now a monster icebreaker constantly blazing a trail through the northernmost reaches of the sea of music, was still just five overweight, overreaching young men from Oxford. It was written by a depressed Thom Yorke on a bench at his university as he watched the couples around him enjoying their youth. It was the song that shaped, pushed, cursed, and bound Radiohead.
As I hummed along with Rinko’s distant piano playing, I thought about the creation of this song. Listening to Thom’s narration of the demo tape, Colin and Phil laid down a simple, propulsive rhythmic foundation, and Ed traced the chords with fine, blistering, clean-toned arpeggios. We all had a hunch: it’s going to be a great song. It’s going to be a killer tune that will bring people to our shows. The melody is sweet and catchy, plus the lyrics are like a hook: dragging fans in.
However, Jonny, the fifth member of the band, frustratingly stared at the others’ backs, and then turned his gaze down to his Telecaster guitar.
How am I supposed to fit my guitar in here? Layer some long tones like a good boy? Fill in the gaps in the song with some obbligato? No matter how we match it, it’s just going to be like all the other hit songs. It’ll be like a firework; it goes up and down the charts, it disappears, it’s forgotten. Are we all satisfied with that?
I’m not. I’m gonna tear it up.
That’s exactly the role Rinko wanted me to play. She threw the unsuspecting, the defenseless me into the song and let me wreck it with an impulse that comes out of nowhere. That’s why she didn’t tell me beforehand. Because it would dull the energy.
Fine, I’ll do as you want.
To increase the sound pressure, I pressed the pedal of my effector all the way down. I could feel every single molecule of air trembling with excitement. I could see Shizuki next to me shrinking back. Of course, she knew this song. She knew exactly what was approaching, what was going to happen two measures before the chorus.
I gouged the strings with my pick.
It was no longer a musical sound; instead, it was a scream full of a dangerous foreboding, like a train wheel scraping the tracks and on the verge of derailing. Not once, but twice to pry into the backbeat. Three times to lead the chorus yell.
I released the mute, strumming an open chord and straining my voice with passion.
But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doin’ here?
I don’t belong here
When I came to my senses, I realized that the song was still unbroken. Despite the fact that I was strumming with such force and distortion that the walls of the warehouse seemed to be cracking, and howling and yelling to keep from being crushed, the beat, instead of being drowned out, moved forward more forcefully under the foundation of my singing. I was supported by the shimmer of the ride cymbal and the power behind the well-defined kicks, which was absent with Rinko’s piano alone. I glanced beside me and saw Shizuki’s profile behind the flapping of her copper-colored wings. Sweat glistened on her long eyelashes. I couldn’t read any emotion on her face. The music had sucked it all away.
Incredibly, I could still hear the piano in the gaps of my singing. In spite of the distance between me and Rinko, separated by so much concrete, air, and incomprehension, it still came through.
The second repeat of the chorus tore me apart. The wild rhythms of Shizuki rushed in from right beside me. My fingers were bloodied from holding the pick, my throat aching with thirst from each sneering verse. Whenever my singing voice took a break, a tidal wave of piano tone rushed in and eroded my vocal range.
I didn’t have to look at Shizuki anymore; I couldn’t afford to. Her thoughts were clearly conveyed by the response of the sound of repeated clashes. Yes, clashes. It was ridiculous to match her. Drumming was not meant to play along with the other instruments symbiotically. The true form of music was to become one while beating, hurting, devouring, and robbing each other. The more selfish and violent each part was, the more powerful it became when they all clashed to become one wide, running river that splits the earth.
The river bottled up the three of us, cut through the plain with its mouth, and released us into the wide ocean. I prolonged the sigh of feedback as long as I could to spare the reverberation, in hopes that it would last. Rinko’s piano strokes formed the waves that came and went. Shizuki’s cymbal rolls scattered like grains of light that melt in the waves. And I spat the last line of the verse into the sky one last time.
This is no place for me—
Between football, nightclubs, love, and volunteer work, there was no place for Thom Yorke among the college kids. But, he found a place for himself in a studio that smelled of rust, cigarettes, and electricity. A place that was more than just comfortable. It was a place where the four of them, enemies and comrades in arms, could be together, sharpening their bodies and minds together; that was Radiohead.
I turned the volume on my guitar down to zero, causing the tension in the small warehouse to fade away. Shizuki pressed down on the cymbals with her palms to stop the echoes. The sound of the piano from far away was absorbed by the wall and eventually disappeared.
I let out a sigh. Slipping the guitar pick back into my breast pocket, I tried to untangle my left hand from its grip on the guitar’s neck. However, my fingers cramped, clinging to the strings. I couldn’t get them to move. My sweat was forming light patterns on the fretboard.
I finally managed to pull them off and wiped my palms on my slacks.
As I was taking my guitar off my shoulder, my eyes met with Shizuki, who was just standing in place.
Her face, too, was cherry-red and flushed. It turned into an embarrassed rose color. She stood up quickly, held the drumsticks in her hands, and bowed deeply to me.
“…Thank you very much for the session.”
“Eh? …Ah, y-yeah, my pleasure.”
I didn’t expect that reaction from Shizuki. All I could do was give a dumb, absentminded reply. Shizuki put the stick away in her bag and hurriedly left the warehouse.
I was left standing with nothing but my guitar in my hands.
The performance went well—it should’ve.
But, that didn’t mean that things would change. Was I expecting too much?
I slumped over, laid the guitar down, carefully wiped the strings with a cloth, and put it back in the case.
The warehouse door opened violently. I turned around to see if Shizuki had come back, but it was Rinko, who came in with big strides. She looked around the warehouse angrily.
“…She left… Why are you mad? Didn’t we play well?”
“It was perfect. It was so intense that I felt like I was suffocating.”
“That’s good, then.”
“That’s no good. After this, I was planning to lecture you guys.”
“In your lecture… What were you going to tell us?”
“I was going to tell her that you’ve said something along the lines of ‘If you really love music, it’s ridiculous to give it up for trivial personal reasons’.”
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
“Whatever. Murase-kun, I’ll just lecture you instead.”
“Your guitar performance was good, but I couldn’t hear any of your singing. Were you singing seriously?”
“You can’t hear me from where you were!” There are drums and guitars playing loudly, and plus, I don’t have a microphone, you know? It’d be weird if you could hear me from two rooms over.
“You let Yurisaka-san listen but not me?”
“What’s with your mood? If you want to hear it… well, shall I sing it right here and now? If you want, I can play it on my guitar.”
Rinko distorted her face. It looked like she had just found a cockroach at the bottom of her plate after she had finished eating the food on it.
“No thanks. That’s disgusting. Are you insane, playing “Creep” in front of a woman? Don’t you know what shame is? I think it’s the fifth most embarrassing present you can give a woman.”
Wait, I understand what you’re trying to say because of its lyrics, but could you please sugarcoat it a bit?
“…Can you tell me the other four, just for reference?”
“The fourth is ‘The List of Movies that Changed My Life’. The third is an original mug with “100 Favorite Things About You” written all over it. The second one is…”
“I’m sorry, I’m good! I’m sorry for asking!”
The answer to all of my concerns was found at the entrance when I arrived at school the following week.
There was an ikebana display in front of the shoe rack. The moment I saw it, I froze, speechless.
There was no glass case. On a stand covered with a white cloth stood a large pot, a plethora of birch branches stood boldly, around which danced crimson rhododendrons. It seemed that since this work was too large to fit in the case, the artist must’ve had to remove it. In spite of that, it gave the projection that the life force of the flowers and branches was so strong that it had broken through the glass from within. At the same time, it was not vulgar in any way. It was like a forest thriving unnoticed on a distant planet.
The branches were so attention-grabbing that the nameplate of the creator placed beside it was practically hidden. Only the last bit, “zuki”, could be seen. But, I didn’t have to go out of my way to check who it was.
I deliberately walked slowly, staring at the flower pot the entire way to the stairs. Each time I looked away, I became immersed in the fantasy that the flower and its branches were growing each time I glanced back. The contrast of the dull white and bright red permanently remained in my eyes.
After school, I was cleaning my guitar amp in the music warehouse. The door suddenly opened with a bang.
“Excuse the intrusion!”
With her newfound courage, Shizuki stepped into the room.
In addition to her bag, she was carrying a cloth handbag which carried not only her drumsticks, but also her mallets and brushes for various drumming techniques.
“I’m here to interrupt your precious after-school alone time with Rinko!”
Though, I was glad she was back.
“I know I keep saying this, but Rinko and I don’t spend time together every day. In fact, there are more days when she doesn’t come than when she does.”
“So it’s just Makoto and me today! That’s convenient!”
As I was about to ask about what was so convenient, I heard someone playing piano from the other side of the wall.
A series of fortissimo octaves so clear, to the point that it was hard to believe that they were separated by walls, rang out. It was the last movement of Chopin’s Funeral March Sonata. It was Rinko… What was she so upset about?
My doubts were drowned out by the sudden drumming. Shizuki began to play as if she were competing with Rinko. Caught in the middle of this ferocious and perfect ensemble, I felt a crushing pressure. No matter how I look at it, I’m the one who’s bothering them.
I had no choice but to sneak out of the warehouse without being noticed. I didn’t have a guitar or a microphone. I had no performance skills. I couldn’t compete with them. I’m a creep. Let’s just go home. I wrote songs, practiced until blood oozed from my fingers, gazed up at the angels soaring high in the sky, and swore to myself that one day I’ll make it there. I swore to myself that one day I’ll birth my wings and soar to the top of the sky.
(TL: See y’all soon.)