Gekkou Volume 1 Chapter 2
The first lesson was English, but I don’t remember anything of it. I was pondering the accident of Youko Tsukimori’s father.
I also played with the thought of browsing some news sites on my mobile phone—hidden from the eyes of the teacher, of course—but I decided against it because I was known as a fairly well-behaving student. I kept telling myself that I was keeping the best for last and spent a painful hour like this.
The very moment the English lesson ended, I rushed out of the classroom, fired up for details about the accident, and headed straight to the library room.
It should have today’s newspaper, and since there was a casualty, there had to be an article about it.
And just as I had expected, there was an article that dealt with the accident in question. I was a bit disappointed when I started reading; there was an article, sure, but it was a short one and written very briefly in a corner of the local news page.
However, as I read on, my heartbeat became faster. In the text I found some of the keywords I was looking for.
“…on his way home on a mountain pass…”
“…a sharp curve with poor sight distance…”
“…there have been casualties before…”
“…too much speed due to the slope…”
There were several text passages that reminded me of the “Feigned Traffic Accident Murder Recipe” as noted in the murder recipe. I couldn’t help getting excited at the thought that “Youko Tsukimori had executed her murder plan.”
…and also, I couldn’t help feeling a chill run down my spine when I imagined the accident with that thought in mind.
Just as important were the unwritten facts.
The article wouldn’t have been this tiny if the Police had considered the possibility of murder. Similarly, I wouldn’t have remained oblivious until arriving at school.
Had I gotten something fatally wrong?
The plan looked childish at first glance, like an uncertain trick that relied on several shaky elements.
But maybe she executed that plan exactly because of those flaws?
Who would presume the existence of such a clumsy murder plan?
Who would see a schemed murder in something that looked like nothing but an accident?
And as the facts showed, the police were convinced that it was simply a traffic accident. The same applied to my classmates; everyone considered Tsukimori a poor girl who had lost her father in an accident.
I bet even the victim himself wouldn’t have dreamed of her being a murderer.
Nor would I have, if I hadn’t known of the murder recipe.
Probably it wouldn’t even have been much of a problem if the plan had failed. It was based on luck anyway; if you look only at the probability, it was unlikely to succeed in the first place.
But exactly that aspect was the point of the murder recipe.
There were multiple plans written in it that were all dependent on random external circumstances. So wasn’t she expecting them to fail from the very beginning?
Tsukimori’s target was her father—someone who was always close to her and, hence, gave her countless opportunities to kill him. It may be a coarse expression, but you could say that “even a bad shot hits the mark given enough tries.”
Tsukimori certainly did not intend to just pull it off as fast as possible. She merely wanted him to die sooner or later. I guess that’s how she felt about it.
She did not, however, want to get busted for it.
I had noticed from the time I had first read the recipe that the plan was not designed chiefly for killing, but rather for living on normally after executing it.
In that case, the results made it evident. Tsukimori had done it—
—the perfect murder.
I couldn’t help thinking so.
Of course, this was all just a product of my mind and far too baseless to be considered certain.
I knew her no better than my classmates. When it came to her, Kamogawa was actually much more knowledgeable than I. These thoughts were merely an extension to my usual “imagine and enjoy” pastime and not something upright like “solving a case”.
However, for some reason I just couldn’t call my guess a cheap delusion and call it quits.
The homeroom after that day’s classes was about Tsukimori’s father’s death.
“I think everyone knows of the passing of Tsukimori’s father. A funeral is being held tomorrow afternoon, which I am going to attend. Thus, the fifth lesson, biology, is going to be self-study.”
When the word “self-study” left our class teacher Ukai’s mouth, a wave of joy went through the ranks of my classmates.
“Hey, that’s called tactless, you know? Empathize a little with Tsukimori who has just lost one of her parents!” Ukai rebuked us—not with an especially strong tone, but the classroom became silent. It was a heavy silence.
Apparently content with the unexpected contemplation of his students, he closed this matter.
“Moreover, the class officers are required to come along to the funeral as the representatives of the class. I’m counting on you. Okay, homeroom’s closed.”
Right when Ukai was about to finish: “Sensei!” Usami raised her hand, “The female class officer is Youko herself.”
“Aah, you’re right. Well then, Usami, may I ask you?”
“The other one was you, Nonomiya, right? I expect you to be there.”
I nodded calmly and secretly grinned to myself.
It was exactly what I had wished for. I had not even dreamed that I would have the chance to attend the funeral officially like this.
Actually, after reading the article in the library I had pondered about how I might be able to go to the funeral, because I had wanted to obtain more information on Tsukimori. While I had reckoned that the ceremonies would be beyond reach, I had thought that I could at least attend the wake of the deceased.
“Only the two of you?! That’s not fair!”
After making sure that Ukai had left, Kamogawa scowled alternately at Usami and me.
“Who was the irresponsible guy that nominated me for class officer at the beginning of the term again?”
Just this once I was grateful for that irresponsible personality of his, though.
“Dunno? I’m a man who doesn’t look back at times gone past.”
“Your irresponsibility deserves admiration. In a bad sense.”
“It’s an honor!!”
I could only smile wryly at Kamogawa’s haughty answer.
“Kamogawa, you brute! Didn’t you listen to Ukai-sensei? You’re being tactless…” pouted a serious Usami on noticing his easy-going attitude.
“This is a misunderstanding, Usami. I am merely worried about a fellow classmate who has lost a dear one, you know?” Kamogawa assured us with a meek expression.
“That’s a lie. It’s clear that you only want to meet Youko-san because of your ulterior motives!” claimed Usami.
“No, idiot! I would never have ulterior motives! I simply wish to soothe Tsukimori in these hard times,” he objected instantly, “Well, but sure, I would not be averse to her falling in love with me in the process, heh!”
“You really are a brute, Kamogawa!” Usami seemed completely dumbfounded.
As was I: “Kamogawa, perk your ears: that’s what we call an ulterior motive.”
“Ahaa, I see! You never stop learning, do you?” Kamogawa evaded my remark with feigned ignorance. There’s no cure for a Kamogawa.
“…I hope you don’t have an ulterior motive too, Nonomiya?”
She realized that Kamogawa was beyond hope and set me as her new target.
“Of course not. I am going to the funeral ceremony because I’m a class officer, not because I wish for it myself,” I put on a powerless smile. “Also, I don’t like the gloomy air at funerals. To be honest, I would rather not go.”
“Right? I knew you weren’t like Kamogawa!”
Usami flashed a brilliant smile as if she herself had been praised.
“Your attitudes towards me and Nonomiya are way too different! I sense discrimination! If I were from America, I would take you to court right now!”
“But you’re Japanese from head to toe. And it’s the difference between your daily behaviors that distinguishes you from Nonomiya. Blame yourself?”
While of a completely different nature, I had an ulterior motive too. To tell the truth, I loved funerals. Especially because you could sneak a peek at all kinds of humans.
I was looking forward to the next day’s funeral with the same sentiments as going to a concert of my favorite artist.
After ending the third lesson, Usami and I were brought to the funeral home in Ukai’s car. There was not one cloud in the broad blue sky outside the window.
During the ride I was able to gather some details about Tsukimori’s family environment from Ukai.
Her family consisted of her two parents and herself, their only child. This was actually quite surprising to me because her mature behavior had led me to believe that she’d have someone to look after, such as a younger sibling.
Apparently her father had been the head of a construction design company. Since my own father worked at a bank near that company, I planned on asking him about it afterward.
As soon as we had arrived at the funeral home and had gone through the formalities at the entrance, we proceeded to the hall that was marked with a sign reading “Tsukimori.”
A lot of flower offerings were being made, so that the line led out of the hall. It was as though I was watching the scene of an arcade that had installed a new game machine.
The dim, wide room was packed with people in mourning clothes. The altar seemed much more magnificent to me than the ones in any past funerals I had attended.
We sat down in the seats that had been prepared for common attendants and waited patiently for the beginning of the ceremony.
My eyes searched for Tsukimori and found her sitting near the altar where the relatives had gathered. She was comforting the woman beside her who hung her head, supporting her and stroking her back.
From the looks of it, I suspected it could be her mother. She was a beautiful lady who resembled Tsukimori.
I was, however, surprised at how composed Tsukimori apparently was.
It was then that I recalled that I had once asked Usami why all the girls called Tsukimori with a “-san” added to her name. Her answer had been: “Youko-san may be the same age as us, but doesn’t she kind of look and behave very maturely? So basically, someone started calling her Youko-san, which then led to the current state.”
Indeed. I was almost unsure of who the mother and who the daughter was.
“…I’m so sorry for Youko-san.”
I looked to my side and found Usami with watery eyes. She not only gave the feeling of “born to be a little sister,” but actually had an elder brother.
“Come on, don’t cry,” I said as I produced a handkerchief.
“Just look at how she’s keeping calm though she’s bound to be sad in reality! If it was me, I wouldn’t be able to…”
Usami seized the handkerchief from my hands and rubbed her eyes with it. Certainly, Usami would probably cry her lungs out.
But I was reluctant to agree with her that Tsukimori was saddened about her father’s death.
If I was right on Tsukimori wishing for his death…then she was pleased rather than sorrowful, because in that case this funeral was actually an event to celebrate the success of her murder plan.
As time went by, the seats of the hall gradually filled and before I knew it, the whole hall was painted black.
From every direction I could hear whispers that had been lowered in respect of the solemn mood that accompanied funeral homes. I decided to listen attentively to that chattering as a combined means of killing time and gathering information.
I focused on the conversation of two women that were meekly talking in the row right before me. I would have loved to jot it down!
Their chatter was interrupted midways. I would have preferred to listen a little longer, but there was no helping it since the ceremony had begun.
The sutra conducted by the priest resounded clearly throughout the hall.
The solemn mood set my mind at rest and thus produced the perfect environment for indulging myself in my thoughts. I chose to replay the conversation I had just heard in my mind and put the data in order:
Her father’s reputation was extremely good.
First they had talked about his looks, which wasn’t too surprising, considering he was Tsukimori’s father. A glance at the picture on the altar showed that he had looked like some performer and made me comprehend why he was popular with them.
Then, they continued with his company’s and his family’s economic situation. While it was a S.M.E., the business went smoothly and their private living standard was quite high as well. Apparently, their home had been newly built two years ago, with a complex design as one would expect from the director of a construction design business.
Lastly, they had talked about his family itself. Both father and mother had been fairly sociable and on good terms with their neighbors. The women had also raised the subject of Tsukimori. She was valued as a beautiful daughter with good manners.
I let out a sigh.
Admittedly, I was happy that I could get my hands on new information, but there had been nothing that could ignite my fantasies. The newspaper had gotten me too excited and caused me to have too high expectations of the funeral.
I breathed in the silent air of the hall.
Pulling myself together, I decided to give myself over to the tranquil mood of the room again. It was a promising funeral, after all! It would be a waste not to take advantage of the occasion and spy on some human relationships.
No need to rush things. The longer this game of ours lasted, the better.
When I turned my gaze towards the area near the altar, I noticed that Tsukimori’s mother had broken down in tears.
Her wailing was apparently also the reason why the women in my surroundings provided me with a background of sobbing voices. By the way, Usami was still crying as well.
However, there were no tears in Tsukimori’s eyes.
Her gaze was captivatingly fixed on the altar.
Because her black mourning dress emphasized the brightness of her skin, it almost seemed as though Tsukimori herself was gleaming. More than the deceased man himself, more than the richly decorated altar or the whining mother or everyone else in the room, it was Tsukimori and her silent appearance that stood out.
To me, Tsukimori appeared like the moon late at night.
It was time for the coffin’s departure. While sounding its loud and sober horn, the hearse departed before the eyes of the people in black.
The relatives of the deceased, Tsukimori among them, left the hall temporarily and headed to the crematory. The three of us decided that we would wait for her return so that we could at least exchange a few words with her.
“You two must be hungry, right? Let me treat you to lunch today. But keep it a secret from the others, okay?”
“Yay! You hear this, Nonomiya?” Usami rejoiced without any restraint. This must be one of those infamous mood swings.
Well, being fond of the word “secret”, I also gladly accepted his offer.
Moments later, we were slurping ramen in a shop near the funeral home.
“—You two may not be quite aware of it yet, but death is an inescapable part of life,” Ukai said suddenly, his glasses fogged by the steam of his soup. “Saying this may be tactless towards Tsukimori, but still I would like you to treasure the impressions of this very uncommon and sad happening: the passing of a comrade’s father.”
Usami nodded earnestly, her mouth stuffed with noodles like a squirrel.
“Indeed. I was reminded that there is a limit to our lives—and also that this makes life all the more valuable.” Being in my class teacher’s company, I chose my words carefully when relaying my impressions.
“You’re amazing, Nonomiya,” Usami praised me with wide eyes after gulping down her noodles.
“Of course. Unlike you, I wasn’t crying all the way through the ceremony.”
“I-I had lots of thoughts crossing my mind, too!”
“Eh? Ah, um, that I’m sorry for her…”
“…T-That I’m sorry for her?”
“I heard that already.”
“N-No, don’t get me wrong! In truth I have been thinking about much more than this, it’s just that I can’t put it into words as well as you!”
Ukai laughed from listening to our conversation.
“Well, well, let’s settle down with the conclusion that both of you had your respective thoughts, okay? Nonomiya was more analytical and Usami more emotional.” Ukai went between and solved it like a teacher.
–Life’s interesting because there’s a limit to it. The thrill of not knowing when it ends is what gives you the awareness of being alive.
At first glance it might seem contradictory that death, the antithesis of life, highlights the value of life, but it actually makes sense. I even conceived the idea that most things in the world might work in a similar way.
At that very moment, enthralled by the risky murder recipe—I was most definitely living.
We greeted Tsukimori when she came back to the hall.
Ukai first expressed his deepest sympathy before assuring her: “Don’t be concerned about school. Take your time and return when you’re comfortable.”
“Thank you very much for your thoughtfulness. However, I have it in mind to attend school normally from the day after tomorrow because I think it will help me to distract myself.” She smiled weakly. “…I am a little anxious about leaving my mother alone at home, as she has been hit especially hard, but her siblings and my father’s siblings both assured me that they will be supporting her for a while.”
Tsukimori seemed exhausted. From the looks of it, she hadn’t been sleeping properly.
But while knowing it was pretty tactless, I couldn’t help being under the impression that her white face, now accentuated by her mourning dress, looked even more sensual than at school.
“I see. At any rate, be sure not to over-strain yourself and feel free to consult me anytime.” Ukai patted her on the shoulder.
“Thank you for coming as well, Chizuru, Nonomiya-kun.”
“Everyone in the class is worried about you.”
“I feel blessed.”
Usami was on the verge of tears again, apparently moved by Tsukimori’s brave behavior.
I poked her head and said: “Shouldn’t you calm down a bit? You wanted to express your condolences properly, right?”
“…Yeah,” Usami nodded teary-eyed. “Um…Youko-san, it will be hard on you, but…i-it will whe hard on yhew, but…”
Usami began weeping mid-sentence because she couldn’t bear it anymore.
Tsukimori didn’t hesitate to embrace Usami’s round head and comforted her, “Thank you, Chizuru. I’m very happy that you are so worried about me.” While stroking her head like a loving sister, she murmured, “…I think you can consider yourself happy if you have someone that worries about you.” After that, she whispered her thanks to Usami again and again.
The gentle and fragile girl at that moment did not look in the least like someone who would plan a murder to me.