Comedic Mechanism: Parade of the Jane Does (35/291)

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Translation Notes:
[29] An exchange attributed to Natsume Souseki involves him claiming the best way to translate “I love you” into Japanese is to say “The moon is beautiful.”

Comedic Mechanism: Parade of the Jane Does

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: A Night of Unpleasant Rain – 7
Chapter 2: March of the Saints – 95
Chapter 3: An Unbearable Existence in Suffering – 191
Chapter 4: An Emptiness Devoid of Color Contrast – 257

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[16]

There were several bookshelves arranged in an orderly fashion, and nothing else. In fact it was so orderly it seemed unnatural. It was as if those shelves had been born there, and died without anything about them changing. That was the impression Merry felt.

Merry’s boots clicked on the wooden tiles as she walked across the floor. She had thought the red carpeting on the floor had no sense or purpose to its arrangement, but she was wrong. It seemed to be forming a shape, but standing where she was, she was too close to make out the shape in its entirety.

The bookshelves were filled with paper books, and all of them were exquisitely bound. There were leather bound books, clothed hard covers, books with gold and silver lettering and so on.

One of those books caught Merry’s eye. It was a book with a cloudy yellowish white color that had blackened in places. Merry reached out and ran her fingers along the spine. It had a rough feel to it and she thought that it was as if someone had bound this book with human skin.

The title read, “Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella”.

Merry used her finger from the top of the spine to pull the book out. It was heavy in her arms. When she brought it close and opened the cover, the mouldy smell which wafted from the pages tickled her nose.

[17]

From the pages which had already began to yellow, she read.

ーSeventeen is a perfect and complete number.

That is how it began.

ーSeventeen is a perfect and complete number. As for the reason why…

“It symbolizes death, and death is a sphere. Spheres, within their limited number of fragments repeat over eternity. No one was able to provide proof for what separates the inside and outside of a circle. The only thing they could think of was to fiddle repetitively with the arrangement of a hundred thirty thousand letters, like the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.”

Someone was reciting the words written in the book.

When Merry reflexively looked up, in the gap made when she removed the book, there was a single lip – half of a pair of lips. From the half mouth’s single lip opening were fingertips. Not fingers with fingertips attached, but only the fingertips, twisted and bent like withered birch, bent and packed into a ball.

Merry gasped and slowly started to take a step back when she finally realized.

[18]

The red velvet carpeting was laid out in the shape of of a person. It was a young girl’s silhouette lying on the floor.

Between the folded legs of the silhouette was a single tea set. The porcelain tea cups’ edges were painted gold, and they were filled with a dark red liquid. Floating on the surface was a single flower. It took a few moments for Merry to realize that it was a colombine flower.

“Eighteen is a perfect and complete number. It is a number formed from the multiplication of the numbers three and six. When eighteen is divided by seventeen, one can say that it is the same as a single fragment of sky passing through the gas pipes.”

Merry felt as if her brain had lurched into a spin.

Dizziness… Vertigo…

It felt as if the entire restricted section of the library was spinning, with Merry at its center.

The bookshelf furthest from the entrance had its books pulled randomly from the shelves, and in those void spaces Merry saw a face… a face whose presence suggested it was the face of the entire room.

[19]

As that thought crossed Merry’s mind, from the bookshelf right beside her, the shelf closest to the floor, an arm reached out. The hand attached to the pale arm had only its thumb and pointer finger, with the others missing. That hand picked up a teacup, as another similar arm reached out to the teapot and poured a dark red tea. Merry could smell the faint fragrance of the tea, and it was bold and sickeningly sweet.

“I wonder, is it more appropriate to say, ‘Welcome’, or ‘How dare you!’ in this situation? At least the present me can’t say for certain. Be that as it may, ‘Welcome’ to this mansion with no master to receive you, Miss Ghost.”

The voice was laughing. The human library buried within the bookshelves was laughing.

“Gh-Ghost?”

“You’ve been here before, haven’t you? Here and… somewhere,” The voice cackled.

“Baths in course tea for beauty marks without too much Bengay. (In the end, is there any meaning in translating these words? Bains de gros thé pour grains de beauté sans trop de bengue.) Well then, Miss Ghost. I see you’ve taken the trouble to come all the way down here, after all. How can I help you?”

“U-Um…”

Words crawled their way through the air, without serving any purpose.

[20]

“When you think about it, books are nothing but caskets, the same as I am. Humans are not reproduced in a shower of raucous laughter. Humans are not reproduced. I am searching for a singularity. For that signifies nothing less than a cultivation of the void.”

Merry did not understand the words that were being spoken to her. What she was saying was…

Is ‘she’ the right word?

Merry looked around. There were countless gaps among the countless bookshelves. In those gaps were mixed the parts of a young woman. From the dead middle of one bookshelf, she could see a thin leg sprawled out. But from where the ankle would be, was not a foot but an ear, such that it looked as if a flower was growing there. The ankle and foot instead were suspended from the ceiling, flickering inside a light bulb. One eye opened from the sole of the foot. A rounded, feminine belly was exposed. In another place was a slit, probably her vagina… but from it gazed a single eye. Merry could see her hips and breasts peeking out from gaps in the top shelf. Then there was a white, frilly cloth. It floated out of several gaps in the bookshelf, and probably was what she was wearing. From the book that Merry held open in her hands, was the paired lip of the other she saw before. It was trembling slightly, as if it were breathing.

“Who… Who are you?” That was all that Merry was able to say.

[21]

The human library raised a melancholic smile.

“I have seen it. I have seen how all of this time every single human being has huddled their shoulders and run off doing countless idiotic things, lowering the intelligence of their peers, spreading the rot of their souls by all means possible. You know what they all claimed as the motivation for their actions? Honor.”

“U-Um…”

“Good afternoon, Miss Ghost. I am a witch. A library witch bestowed with the name of ‘Knowledge’. Yes, a library is nothing but a communal graveyard.”

Merry recognized those words. After all, that is just what she had been thinking about.

“Books are caskets. Why? For they consist of others’ souls buried solely for others to observe them. They are no different than the Jane Does laid in their caskets and placed within rose decorated rooms. The collection books and their storage behind locked doors constitutes nothing but the formation of a communal grave. In a way, you could say that a library is a city. We are but a single casket eternally locked within a city.”

Tea spilled from the overflowing teacup and spread out on the floor.

“The only thing that makes me distinct is the name ‘Patchouli Knowledge’.”

The red liquid, still flowing, had spread all the way to Merry’s feet. As it filled in the area outside of the outline of Merry’s boots, the liquid continued to flood the velvet carpet and wooden tiled floor.

[22]

A sea three centimeters deep now filled the restricted section of the library.

“In the mirror I stared at my mouth, my mouth I had injured of my own free will. I hadn’t thought things through. How was I supposed to know whether this was a normal human smile, when the blood gushing from the two gashes on either side of my face made it so hard to see? But after looking intently in the mirror for a while I could finally see. I could finally see that my smile was no human smile. In fact, I was not smiling at all… Well then, Miss Ghost. From where should I begin?”

Silently a finger, a pointer finger and nothing more, reached from the bookshelf and slowly traced Merry’s lips. It continued to move, from her lips to along her jaw, along the path of her tears.

“But the void was not cultivated,” Patchouli continued. “I cannot help but be silent in the face of the fact that it is yet impossible, in the same way that you cannot help but be silent about things which you cannot speak.”

“Is that Wittgenstein?” Merry interjected reflexively. She had read Wittgenstein as a requirement for one of her lectures.

“Yes, his ‘now’ was hundreds of years ago, and his theory is still incomplete.”

“Incomplete?”

“Everything was incomplete, be it the definition of existence, existential meaning… Everything was left incomplete, while everyone died insane. Logic fills the world, and the limits of logic are the limits of the world. In other words, it is impossible to have others accept what which you yourself cannot understand. This is despite the fact that everything exists on an outer shell. For whenever you look into a mirror, you are being looked at by yourself residing within it.”

[23]

Merry heard the sound of something crawling about. When she looked behind herself, she saw a chair. In that chair a young woman’s body was seated. The body was armless and legless, only a torso. The stomach was separated by a grating, a grating that traced along the body’s entrails. Buried in the very center between the heart and stomach behind the grating was a microphone.

A static noise echoed in Merry’s ears. Where the body’s head should be, from its neck upwards, was a birdcage. In the birdcage, tightly fit, was a picture of a blue sky.

[24]

It was an empty sky. But the sky was twisted into an unnatural shape. It shape was almost like that of a human eye. In the very center was a pitch black sphere. That is all there was. (A false mirror, or perhaps a mechanical boy.)

From the microphone howled a noise ridden voice. It produced a resonance in Merry’s ears, and she felt as if they would burst. She felt thousands of rusty needles piercing her brain.

Vertigo… Dull pain… Nausea… Dizziness…

The flickering restricted section and the young woman’s body which would not collapse… Her face in the gaps between bookshelves and her violet bellflower hair… The scarlet velvet carpeting… The geometric layerings of the wooden tiles… The shelves, the ceiling, the spiral stairwell…

All moved with uniform velocity repetitively in different ways. (Many critics discuss the ways in which M.C. Escher’s images define spaces which do not exist, but why will no one talk about the fact that what is necessary is not a pure formulation, but something completely removed from it, and nothing but that?)

The library itself began to move about and become entangled in itself. It was like a fetus in the womb. Yes a fetus kicking in the womb.

[25]

A scarlet puddle spread from Merry’s feet. (Menstrual blood is a crimson pollutant.)

Within was reflected faintly a spinning circular surface.

The tea, which like frozen blood had clung to the surface, cracked and flaked off as it spun, creating a series of patterns, a series of letters by Merry’s feet.

What was it that rose from the surface? That word… Merry no longer remembers.

***

“What you’re telling me sounds far too vague and indeterminate to be a dream… in my opinion anyway.”

Merry sat across from her friend, Usami Renko, on an open café terrace located within the West Kyoto University grounds. Renko looked somewhat annoyed as she responded to Merry’s story, in between sips of her synthetic coffee.

[26]

“Well I’m not disagreeing with you…”

In her hands, Merry felt the temperature of her light brown milk tea in its plastic cup slowly drop as it was exposed to the surrounding air. It was just past noon. Morning lectures were over and afternoon lectures had yet to begin. While the crowds around them were loud and bustling enough to be a nuisance, they all kept passing by, giving Merry the impression that just Renko and her were being left behind somehow.

Merry took a sip of her milk tea and felt only its sweet fragrance pass down her throat. Whether the tea itself was synthetic or not was minor compared to the overwhelming additive flavors of saccharine and synthetic milk, clearly there to mask the cheap flavor of the tea, and Merry felt them stinging on her throbbing tongue.

However, Merry thought as she wiped the bit of milk tea left on her lips with her ring finger, there was no way for her to really know what true milk tea really tasted like. Her impression of the milk tea in her hands was limited to the fact that, “This is a drink that is called ‘milk tea’,” as she could not compare it to the original. True milk tea had long been left only to the realm of high class connoisseurs, and even the price of food plotter cartridges with non-synthetic ingredients far exceeded the budget of a university student.

By Renko and Merry’s generation, all food products were synthesized with 3D plotters. Synthesized end-product food items could be printed by loading cartridges in specialized machines, where the cartridges were filled with a putty composed of various ingredients the product required. The cost of each cartridge depended on the composition of the putty, where the more pure and less complex its composition was, the cheaper it cost. However, if the aim was to accurately reflect a product’s natural flavor, it was necessary to include impure ingredients and randomized variable components in the putty to an appropriate degree, resulting in added costs of production unnecessary for cartridges with only purified ingredients.

[27]

It was in this way that “true flavor” had become a luxury product for the wealthy. But while the luxury of “true flavor” was still available, handmade food items made from natural ingredients simply did not exist anymore. Not only was the manufacturing of such products incredibly inefficient, human rights groups had claimed the working conditions and labor involved were intolerably restrictive of the human rights and freedoms of both men and women, and this had long ago led to a trend of self-regulation and decline of such products within the food industry.

Therefore, for Merry and Renko it was impractical to try to experience the so called “flavors of old”. For them, only the costs registered on the scales. After all, “true flavor” relied heavily on impurities, and these impurities only served to muddy the flavors they were more familiar with.

“Well let’s see then, Miss Merry… You think this is a case of your eyes being too sensitive?”

Renko took another sip of her similarly cheap flavored coffee. (Renko herself had trouble viewing the kind of coffee that she was drinking as a cheap knockoff however. Her reasoning was linked to the arguments above. To Renko, “coffee” was simply a black liquid that was both bitter and acidic, which she only valued as a means to ingest caffeine.)

“Well, it is true that this time I couldn’t tell where the boundary between the dream world and the present was, but…”

Ever since Merry was discharged from the sanatorium in Shinshuu, there had been times where Merry not only could see beyond the boundary between this world and the dream world, but where doing so resulted in a time-displacement which removed her from the present time axis.

[28]

That phenomenon had occurred before when Merry and Renko had shared their senses. However, from the look on Merry’s face, it didn’t seem that she was as sure of what happened as when she had brought back an Izanagi plate fragment.

“…all that I saw… none of it made any sense,” Merry muttered.

“Well if that’s the case, I wonder what you really did see?”

“I have no idea. It was like I was inside a Dali painting.”

“Dali?”

“Oh? Miss Usami the know-it-all doesn’t know who Dali is?”

“Unfortunately I don’t. Care to fill me in on who this dreamer is?”

“He’s not a ‘dreamer’, just an artist.”

“An artist, huh.” Renko rolled her head back and up towards the sky, before putting her over both eyes with a look of disgust written all over her face.

“Stop it. You know I can never understand any of that poetic stuff,” Renko moaned.

“Are you sure? His paintings are as if you took facets of human psychology and fed them directly through a 2D plotter. They’re definitely worth a look.”

[29]

“But you can’t take any of that and boil it down into a set theory. It’s the same as the fact that no matter how you phrase a statement about the moon’s beauty, you can’t convey love.”

“You really don’t have any passion, do you?”

“Well, it’s not like you can make babies with passion.”

“Isn’t passion a necessary part of the process?”

“The way I see it, the kind of relationship you need to make babies is nothing but a form of mutual dependency. Why else do you think god would have necessitated a game-like process for our reproduction?”

“So you won’t recognize passion, but you’ll admit it’s like a game?”

“Well, of course.”

“Either way…” Merry smiled weakly. “I have the feeling our conversation not only lacks passion, but also is starting to get a bit vulgar.”

“Agreed. However…”

Renko paused and took her coffee cup between her thumb and pointer finger of one hand, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum as she rested her head on the palm of her other hand and stared straight at her friend.

“Whether what you saw was a dream or a product of your eyes being too sensitive… I wonder what it was supposed to show or mean,” finished Renko.

[30]

“Was she was saying to me was so abstract, I’m not even sure I’ve conveyed it accurately to you.”

“Well that’s to be expected. You know what they say, the only ones who can memorize Heine poetry are tape recorders. It’s impossible for normal people.”

“Is this you trying to console me?”

“I’m only stating the obvious.”

“If you say so.”

“Anyway, can you still see that human library?”

“No, unless you count me visualizing her when I trace back over my memories. I might be able to meet her again if I go back to the library, but to be honest, I’m not at all thrilled at the thought.”

“Good point. If I were you, I’d want to pass on a second encounter.”

“Right?”

“But I’ll admit, I’d still welcome a first encounter.”

“It was bad enough for me the first time…”

With a clack, Renko set her coffee-filled cup to the side and leaned in towards Merry.

“I wonder if I’d be able to see her, like that time before,” Renko said.

“Like that time before…? Oh, you mean the time with the Izanagi plate?”

[31]

“Yeah. If what you saw was really something beyond the boundary, then I might be able to sense a fragment of it. Then I might be able to help you understand it, don’t you think?”

“Hmm… Well, I’m not sure what you’ll see… but you might be able to see something… Shall we give it a try?”

Renko silently closed her eyes in response. Merry reached out her hand, so that her pointer finger and middle finger hid Renko’s eyes from her view.

Merry heard a squishy clicking sound as if a gear had started moving deep inside her brain, and noise started to fill her consciousness.

Merry felt her pupils convulse and her eyeballs tremble as her and Renko’s consciousnesses connected.

Quietly, she could feel the fibers ripped from both of their egos touch and tangle.

Renko’s consciousness came to Merry as a minor feedback to the signal of her own consciousness, and she felt a rough texture like sand on her tongue. She felt her feeling of balance slowly crumble under a rotating motion.

[32]

To make an analogy, it was as if there was a screen in front of Merry’s eyes that was split in two. The two separate halves were on the same timeline, experienced the same surrounding noise, projected the same crowds around them, but something was off. There was a sort of phase shift between the two sides, as if there was a small frame delay, a delay of less than point-five seconds. While this disparity continued, something different began to be displayed on the right side of the screen. It was as if someone had fed two layers of different film into the same projector. (For the sake of a half-crushed right eye.)

The two layers of screen began to bleed into each other. The fuse was lit. Filaments. Bamboo filaments. Filaments that carried the heat and burned scarlet. They did not glow. Instead only the distinctness of the shadows melted away.

A screen split in two halves. The bustle of students behind the screen. The shadows of people moving past. Mixing projections. Violet bellflower. The human library.

[33]

Scarlet velvet. A clock. A witches clock. It was a machine. A stage of human shaped clocks. Humans.

The gears turned, the human library’s cage’s bird.

There was the image of a human twisted into a rectangle. Beans spilt over the floor. The soft innards of a boiled bean, perhaps a portent of rebellion, an insurrection from the inside.

Images blurred in multiple layers.

A leg of the human library kicked down a man. No, wait. Those two images were from separate layers. That was only the product of the collage. The two images weren’t on the same axis of space, nor on the same axis of time.

Students kept walking by. One of their heads was a cash register.

Merry had only seen cash registers in reference books, in pictures from when people still frequented convenience stores. It was used in monetary exchanges. A machine made specifically to handle physical currency. A machine long dead.

[34]

Now the human library was kicking the back of the student with the cash register head.

There was a hat at the feet of a young man. There were several hats on the ground.

Again, this meant nothing in terms of space. This meant nothing in terms of time.

Upon the countless hats were eyes. A pattern of opened slits in the shape of eyes.

A single slit. It was placed on the ground. Regularity. What could be seen in it was a single spiral.

It was rotating. The hats were following the path of its rotation.

Everything was rotating. A rotating quiescent point.

“The child who suckles is a hot-flesh blower and doesn’t like hot-house cauliflower.” (L’enfant qui tête est un souffleur de chair chaude et n’aime pas le chou-fleur de serre-chaude.) Those letters alone kept spinning.

Merry’s split vision with the two halves split yet again. Now there were four quarters. The upper left and upper right were the same as before, showing the students. In the bottom right were endless diaries. In the bottom left was…

It was… an eye. An non-rotating pupil. Countless boundaries. Proclaiming. Ghost. What was there was. What it was was… a butterfly specimen.

[35]

“Stop!”

Merry’s hand was slapped away.

Merry could see Renko in front of her, her face as white as porcelain, her lips trembling.

“I’m sorry I just… Please…” Renko’s fingers were shaking.

“I-I should be the one apologizing,” said Merry.

“I’m… I’m going to go now, okay?” said Renko, hurriedly gathering her things before leaving without another word.

The bustle of the crowd began to fade away.

After all, it’s almost time for afternoon classes to start, thought Merry, standing up from her chair.

***

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