Read Spiral Online

Authors: Koji Suzuki

















Mitsuo Ando awoke from a dream in which he was sinking into the sea. The trilling of the telephone insinuated itself into the sound of the surf, and the next minute he was jerked into wakefulness, as though the waves had taken him.

He stretched his arm out over the side of the bed and picked up the receiver.


He waited, but no sound came through the line.

"Hello," he said again, sternly this time, urging the caller to reply. There came a woman's voice, so morose it made him shudder.

"Did you get it?"

The voice filled Ando with fatigue. He felt as if he were being dragged into a dark ditch. The dream from which he'd just awakened flashed before his eyes. A huge wave had suddenly sucked him up off a beach: as he sank to the bottom of the sea he lost all sense of up or down, right or left, until he was helpless against the current… As always, he'd felt a tiny hand grasping at his shin. Every time he had the dream, he felt on his feet the touch of that little hand, those anemone-like fingers slipping away to vanish into the depths of the ocean. There was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent it, and it tortured him. He stretched out his arms, sure that he should be able to reach the body, but he just couldn't get a grip on it. It eluded his grasp every time, leaving behind only a few soft, fine strands of hair.

The woman's voice reminded him with unpleasant vividness of the soft feel of that hair.

"Yes, it arrived," Ando answered, annoyed.

The form for their divorce. It had arrived two or three days ago, with his wife's signature and seal already affixed. All Ando had to do was sign it and stamp his own seal on it, and the paper would have fulfilled the purpose of its existence. But he hadn't done it yet.

"And?" There was weariness in his wife's voice as she prodded him. How could she be so blase about putting an end to seven years of married life?

"And what?"

"I want you to sign it, stamp it, and return it to me."

Ando shook his head. How many times had he tried to make it clear to her? He wanted to start over. But every time he told her so, she would set terms he couldn't meet, as if to prove to him the strength of her determination. He'd been perfectly willing to give up all self-respect and grovel, but lately, he was getting a bit tired of even that.

"Alright. I'll do what you want." Ando surprised himself, giving in so easily.

His wife was silent for a moment, and then rasped, "I think you owe me an explanation."

"About what?" It was a stupid response.

"About what you did to me."

Still clutching the receiver, Ando squeezed his eyes shut.
Is she going to harangue me every morning even after she gets her divorce?
It was a crushing thought.

"It was my fault." But he said it too easily, without putting feeling into the words, and that set her off.

"You never cared for him."

"You're talking nonsense. Listen to yourself!"

"Well, then, why…"

"Don't ask. You already know the answer."

"How could you do such a thing?" Her voice trembled, a harbinger of the frenzy she was warming up to. He wanted to tell her never to call again and then slam down the receiver, but he restrained himself. This was the least he could do. The only reparation he could offer was to silently bear his wife's recriminations, to allow her to vent her grief.

"Say something." She was in tears now.

"Like what? For a year and three months now, we've talked about nothing else. There's nothing left to say."

"Give him back to me!"

It was a cry of pain totally devoid of reason. He didn't need to ask whom she wanted back. Ando wanted him back, too. It was what he'd been praying for every day knowing full well how useless it was.
Bring him back, I beg you! Give him back!

"I can't," he said simply, trying to calm her down.

"I want him back!"

He couldn't bear to hear his wife like this, wrapped up in past misery, unwilling to start a new life. Ando was trying, at least, to live a little more constructively. There was no recovering what was lost, and he'd done his utmost to repair their marriage-to convince her to think about the new life they'd have, if they could. He didn't want to get divorced over this. He was prepared to do anything. It would be worth it, if only they could again be the happy couple they'd once been. But his wife didn't want to look to the future, and she blamed him for everything.

"Give him back!"

"What more do you want me to do?"

"You don't know what you've done!"

Ando sighed, loudly enough to be heard on the other end of the line. She was repeating the same barren phrases; her nerves were clearly fraying. He wanted to introduce her to a psychiatrist friend of his. But his wife's father was a doctor, the head of a hospital; she'd just take it as meddling.

"I'm hanging up now."

"That's it, run away like you always do."

"I want you to forget this. To get over it." He knew it was useless, but he couldn't think of anything else to say.

Ando started to put down the receiver. As he did so, a cry of desperation came from the earpiece. "I want you to bring Takanori back…"

Even after he'd hung up, the name kept spilling from the receiver until its echo filled the room. Without knowing it, Ando was now muttering it himself.

Takanori, Takanori, Takanori.

Ando lay unmoving on the bed for a while, curled up in the fetal position, head in his hands. Then he glanced at the clock and knew he couldn't stay that way forever. It was time to leave for work.

Ando unplugged the phone from the socket so she couldn't call back, then went to stand by the window. When he opened it to get rid of some of the gloom, he heard the cry of a crow. They always flew over from Yoyogi Park to perch on the power lines, but this one sounded closer than usual-it gave him a start. But the avian cry, airy and expansive, also lightened his mood. It was such a contrast to the black depths of the ocean of his dream, and to the desperate cries of his wife for their son. It was Saturday morning, a clear autumn day.

Maybe it was the wonderful weather rubbing him the wrong way, but tears welled up in his eyes. He blew his nose. He was alone in his studio apartment. He collapsed back onto the bed. He thought he'd managed to fight back the tears, but now they came streaming out of the corners of his eyes.

Soon he was sobbing, hugging his pillow and calling his son's name. He hated himself for falling apart like that. Grief's visits weren't regular; it waited until something set it off, and then it kept on coming. He hadn't wept for his son for a couple of weeks. Although the hiatus between his crying spells was getting longer, when the sadness did come, it was just as deep as ever. How long was this going to continue? He could hardly bear to wonder.

Ando took an envelope out from between two books on a shelf and withdrew from it several tangled strands of hair. They were all that was left, physically, of his son. His hand had brushed the child's head, and when he'd tried to pull the boy toward him, these strands had come off. It was some kind of miracle that they'd stayed stuck to his hand all the while he'd been thrashing about in the ocean. They'd gotten twisted around his wedding ring. The body never surfaced. They had been unable to have a proper cremation. The lock of hair was Ando's only relic of his boy.

Ando held the strands to his cheek and recalled the touch of his son's skin. When he closed his eyes, Takanori came back to life in his mind. Ando could almost believe the boy was right there…


When he finished brushing his teeth he just stood in front of the mirror, naked from the waist up. He put his hand to his jaw and rubbed it lightly. He felt the back of his teeth with his tongue: there was still a little plaque clinging to them. He saw a spot on his neck, just below his chin, that the razor had missed. He brought the straight razor to his neck and shaved off the little stumps of beard, and then froze, arrested by his own reflection. He raised his jaw and looked at his pale neck outstretched in the mirror. He shifted his grip on the razor and brought the back of it to the base of his throat, then slowly lowered it from his neck to his chest and then down to his midriff, finally resting it near his navel. A white line ran along the surface of his flesh, between his nipples and down his belly. Imagining his razor was a scalpel, he pictured dissecting his own body. Ando spent his days cutting corpses open, so he knew perfectly well what he'd find inside his chest. His fist-size heart sat cradled between his two pink lungs and was beating firmly. If he concentrated, he could almost hear it. But that persistent pain in his chest-where in his innards did sorrow lodge? Was it the heart? He wanted, with his bare hands, to scoop out the clump of remorse.

The razor felt as if it were going to slip on his sweaty skin, so he put it down on the shelf over the sink. He turned his head to see a thin line of blood on the right side of his throat. He'd nicked himself. He should have felt a little stab of pain where the edge of the blade bit into his skin, but as he stared at the blood he felt nothing. He was lately growing numb to physical pain. Several times already he'd only learned he'd been hurt after seeing the wound. Maybe he was losing his passion for life.

He pressed a towel to his neck and picked up his watch. Eight-thirty. He'd better leave for work. His job was his only salvation these days. Only by immersing himself in work could he elude the clutch of his memories. Ando, a Lecturer in Forensic Medicine at Fukuzawa University Medical School, was also a coroner for the Tokyo Medical Examiner's office. Only when he was conducting an autopsy could he forget the death of his beloved son. Ironically, playing with dead bodies released him from the death that had touched him.

He left his apartment. As he walked through the lobby of his building he looked at his watch. A habit. He was five minutes behind schedule: the five minutes he'd taken to sign and stamp the writ of divorce. In a mere five minutes, the bond that had connected him to his wife had been severed. He was aware of three mailboxes between his apartment and the university. Ando made up his mind to drop the envelope into the first one along the way. He hurried off to the train station.





Today was Ando's turn on autopsy duty. In the M.E.'s office, he ran his gaze over the file for his next corpse. As he compared the Polaroids of the scene, his palms started to sweat, and he had to walk over to the sink several times to wash his hands. It was mid-October and it wasn't warm, but Ando had always been a heavy sweater. He was in the habit of washing his hands several times a day.

He spread the photos out on the table once more. One in particular held his attention. In it, a stocky man sat with his head resting on the edge of a bed, the position he'd been in when he stopped breathing. There were no evident external wounds. The next photo was a close-up of his face. No evidence of blood congestion, no signs of strangulation. In none of the photos could Ando find anything to establish a cause of death. Which was why, even though there was nothing to indicate a crime, the body had been sent to the M.E.'s office for a post-mortem. It looked to be a sudden death, an unnatural one at that, and under the circumstances the body couldn't legally be cremated until the cause of death was discovered.

The corpse was found with both arms and both legs spread wide. Ando knew the man, knew him well-an old friend from college, whom Ando had never dreamed of having to dissect. Ryuji Takayama, who'd been alive up until a mere twelve hours ago, had been a classmate of Ando's through six years of medical school.

Most graduates of their program were aspiring clinicians, and when Ando decided to go into forensic medicine, people called him an oddball behind his back. But Takayama had gone even further off track. He'd led his class at med school, but after graduation he'd started over as an undergraduate in the Department of Philosophy. At the time of his death, he'd been a Lecturer in Philosophy, specializing in logic. Lecturer was the position Ando held in his own department. In other words, even granting that the school had let Takayama re-enroll as a junior, his rise in the department had been meteoric. Thirty-two at the time of his death, he'd been two years younger than Ando, who'd spent a couple of years after high school cramming to get into the university of his choice.

Ando's eyes came to rest on the line where the time of death had been noted: 9:49 the previous evening.

"This time of death is awfully precise," Ando said, glancing up at the tall police lieutenant who had come to observe the autopsy. As far as Ando knew, Takayama had lived alone in his apartment in East Nakano. A bachelor, living alone, dying suddenly at home-it shouldn't have been possible to get such a precise fix on the time of death.

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