Similar to Mescaline by Kyohnosuke Seaki

Similar to Mescaline

Having declared itself a music city for over half a century, our city finally had a star, Isoko Chopin. She was thirteen when she got a prize at a competition in Bucharest we’d been unfamiliar with. When she won, she smiled lovingly, and said on TV, “If I couldn’t play the piano, I’d be called a fake Chopin back home in Japan.” But looking it up later, I found out all through elementary school she’d taken her paternal surname, Shiogaya. It wasn’t until high school that people started to use the nickname “Ishopin”. She wouldn’t have been the kid who suffered teasing about her name just because her skin and hair were somewhat Slavic. Instead, her Mother’s surname was a powerful selling point.

Her intellect, whatever her parents’ blood, was advanced enough that she understood even difficult pieces of Messiaen. But her ability to play Liszt’s Sonata in B minor with her teenage hands must’ve been largely down to her maternal lineage. It’s amazing how brave she was, getting into battle with the piano. She was a thousand miles away from Japanese femininity, and it felt to me as if she were writhing like a snake on the keyboard, wrapping her prey in a circle and tightening it up. Though the music was fluid and elegant, the performer was not. She had the intensity of an eagle flapping its wings catching a rat. There was no part of her that the crane in our folktale would’ve said of, “Don’t peek at me while I’m weaving.” There was certainly some criticism that her piano was a “piano to show”, including from the National College of Music. When she was a graduate of Moscow Conservatory, an article appeared in a magazine describing her as having “three arms”, and five years later the London Times said the same. Her hands didn’t look big enough to handle the range of a ten-degree chord, but she could hold down and ring even the C sharp, an octave away from the A, so she must have had a hidden third hand coming out of somewhere to join her playing.

In addition to the joke, there was also gossip about whether or not the only thing the audience got a glimpse of from such a “piano to show” was the mysterious hand. An awfully dubious rumor had it she put a dexterous white kid on her lap to let him help her performance. I’m ashamed to say the one who started the rumor seemed to be my aunt, who was a bit dubious by nature herself. She’d never had a single contact with the pianist’s industry, but was a rare and troubled type who, when walking along the bay road at night, would run down alone to the sea shouting, “Don’t pull me there!”

According to my aunt’s intuition, which she told me without the slightest bit of malice, seeing Ishopin on TV, “She’s raising her abortion kid. Right now, he’s still growing up in a way that suits her, but eventually he’s going to rebel. Her performances will be ruined.” This outrageous image replayed later in my mind and persisted throughout Isoko Chopin’s triumphant performance. I was a reporter, assigned to interview her, being as we were both from the same hometown. But I couldn’t ask if she’d had an abortion. The best I could do was say, twice, “Great songs are often born of heartbreaks, aren’t they? Have you experienced any tragic love?”

“I have only very ordinary experiences, so I’m not a composer.” She dodged the question, but I didn’t chase her deeper. Except for that, she was a friendly talker, though I was amazed at how different our upbringings were when she suddenly asked me if I had read Henri Michaux, the poet and mescaline addict.

Ms. Chopin told me an interesting story. She said that, during her practice, she felt a sensation similar to the hallucinations Michaux had detailed down, and that while she beat the keyboard she could feel “one second break into three pieces, a general moment into twenty,” and see “thousands of cracks running like an electric current through the flooding spots of light”. And she felt “something innumerable coming from space, crossing through me and returning to space”. I marveled at her words, but at the same time I wondered, painfully, if she were aging too quickly because she played the piano so intensely. Especially when she smiled, she was no longer lovely. She laughed in a way that seems common for young, talented women who feel like they’ve won the kingdom but have lost their entire virginity, making their beauty look sloppy. I said, to check, “That only happens with the piano, doesn’t it? Do you ever do drugs?”

“No way.” She waved her hand. Then I saw someone wave in the same direction in the space just behind her, where there was nothing but the back of the sofa. They moved together like after-images of each other. But the wrist two times thinner than hers, as white as if it were coated with powder, was waving until I rubbed my eyes.

Born in Japan, Kyohnosuke Seaki studied English literature at Sophia University. He’s never lived in an English-speaking area. In 1992, his novella The Dwarf was appreciated by Takaaki Yoshimoto, the greatest post-war thinker. In 2001, Seaki published a novel A Report on Godzilla (Bungeisha, Tokyo) as well as a social critique regarding a bizarre murder in Kobe. Since 2015, he has won prizes in a few domestic magazines for poems and cinema critique.

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Next: The Buddha’s Fist by Jiaqi Kang

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Art (modified) Henri Michaux CC4.0

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