Chapter 1: Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. Hayakawa Paperback NV.
I really don’t know anything about books.
This was something that I’m acutely aware of. I’m not proud of it; that’s honestly just the way things are.
It all started when a fax came in one early afternoon. The shop owner, Shinokawa, had stepped out of the shop for lunch, and I was minding the store alone in her place. I was taking advantage of the lull in customers to attach prices tags to the newly discounted books in the cart when the fax machine whirred and spit out a sheet of paper.
“I am looking for a book by Kunieda Shirou, Complete Series of the Ivy Wood Crosspiece, printed by Tougen Publishing. I will also call about this later.”
It looked like an inquiry about our inventory. The shop did receive faxes or phone calls from customers looking for specific items from time to time. Although it was more efficient to search the catalog on our website, many of the elderly customers still did not use cell phones or computers.
I looked over the fax once, then brought it closer to my face to read again. The faint and shaky handwriting was not the only reason I was having trouble reading it. “Tougen” was the name of the publishing company, and Kunieda Shirou was the name of the author. The title, however, was a complete mystery to me.
“Complete series… Ivy…Crosspiece…?”
I just couldn’t understand it. The title didn’t make any sense no matter how I spaced the words. I turned my head to look towards the door leading to the main house. Shinokawa would definitely know if I asked her.
The phone rang just as I placed my hand on the doorknob. I gripped the message in one hand and picked up the phone receiver with my free hand.
“Thank you for calling the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia, this is—”
“—About the fax I sent a moment ago.”
The hoarse male voice on the other end cut me off. His gentle voice had a Kansai accent. He said a moment ago, but it hadn’t even been a minute since he’d sent the fax.
“Do you have it? Kunieda Shirou’s book.”
He pressed me for an answer, sounding rushed. I would have liked it if he had told me the full title of the book, but it looked like he was still waiting for my answer.
“…I’ll go look for it. Would you mind holding for just a moment?”
I stopped myself right as I was about to press the hold button. I did say I was going to look for it, but how I was I going to do that without knowing what type of book this was?
“Er…. Is this book…a novel?”
“Of course it is. Did you not know that?”
I swallowed nervously. I wouldn’t be able to lie here.
“I did not. My apologies.”
I heard a snort on the other end of the line. I couldn’t tell whether it was out of shock, or if he was just holding back laughter.
“Are you the only person in the shop right now?”
“…That is correct.”
“Ah, I see. You’re an amateur, aren’t you?”
He suddenly hung up on me, leaving me hanging. My back was covered in a cold sweat before I realized it.
Customers that are truly angry will not accept any apologies. Never forget that.
The words of my late grandmother who passed away last year came back to me. It was a lesson from someone who had managed a diner in Ofune for decades, but it applied perfectly to this situation.
I had made this customer angry. What kind of bookshop employee would ask a customer a question like that, anyway?
“…Is something the matter?”
A long haired woman suddenly appeared next to me and looked up at my face from behind her glasses. It was the store owner, Shinokawa. I hadn’t noticed her return from the main house.
“Did someone call?”
“It was a question about our stock. They sent us a fax before calling, but….”
I briefed her on what happened with a heavy heart, handing the fax over to her. Her expression suddenly lit up as she read it.
“Ah, it’s The Ivy Bridge of Kiso. This was printed by the Tougen publishing company.”
“It’s a suspension bridge in Kiso. The story itself is incredibly interesting. It’s a legendary novel that was released in the late Taisho era by Kunieda Shirou, about two beautiful siblings on their journey to get revenge on the feudal lord of Kiso for killing their parents. I read it when I was younger. The characters, you see…”
“Pl-please wait a second.”
I brought myself back to reality before I could get sucked into the story. I really wanted to hear the rest of it, but reporting what had happened came first.
“The truth was that the order was canceled. It was my fault, since I’d made a mistake dealing with the customer.”
I tried to keep the explanation as short as possible and didn’t add in any excuses. She listened until the end while nodding her head and leaned on the crutch under her right arm. She stared at the fax in her hand.
“And the customer’s number was also withheld….”
She said that a little regretfully. We couldn’t even call back to apologize now. It was a shame, because we did have the book in stock.
I lowered my head in apology. My misery must have been visible on my face, because she clasped her hands in front of her and tried to cheer me up.
“I-it’s alright…. You see, you just started working here, so it’s okay if you don’t know everything. You might be completely useless right now, but you’ll get better with more experience.”
I knew it, I was completely useless. Hearing her say it so clearly made me even more depressed.
I—the completely useless amateur, Goura Daisuke—started working here while Shinokawa was recovering in the hospital from a leg injury. I initially approached her to ask if she could appraise the Souseki Complete Collection that my late grandmother had left me.
In addition to her vast knowledge about books, Shinokawa also had a special ability. She could instantly unravel the mysteries surrounding books, using only tenuous clues and the stories people told her about them. The secret behind my grandmother’s Souseki Complete Collection was unraveled by her rare insight.
Shinokawa was the one who proposed that I work at the shop. I was still an unemployed graduate at the time, with strength as my only redeeming feature. Although I didn’t read, I still had an interest in books so there was no reason to refuse an invitation from a beautiful woman who loved talking about them.
And so I became an employee at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia and personally witnessed Shinokawa’s incredible ability in solving the mysteries behind old books. However, after the incident surrounding her personal copy of Dazai Osamu’s The Late Years, I decided to quit my job at the shop.
Shinokawa managed to escape from an antiquarian book fanatic with both the book and her life intact. However, the method she used was one that sacrificed our mutual trust. It wasn’t something that I could accept.
Shortly after she was discharged from the hospital, she approached me while I was still looking for another job and presented me with the first edition of The Late Years which she valued above all else in an attempt to repair our relationship. I didn’t accept the book, but instead asked her to explain in detail what The Late Years was about.
That was how we were able to reconcile. After her talk, which continued until the sun set, she suddenly changed her expression and straightened her back.
Her hurried words came out awkwardly. I mentally prepared myself for what was going to come next.
“…go back….to the shop…..”
It looked like she wanted to ask me to work at the shop again. She was blushing up to her ears; her cute face as she turned away tugged at my heartstrings.
Listening to her made something well up within me. It made me consider just asking her to let me work there all the more, but there were circumstances which made that difficult. I had a good feeling about the job interview I had earlier that day. It must have also been hard for her to ask me to abandon my job hunt for sake while I was still wearing my interview suit.
In the end,
“Would it…be alright if I got in touch with you later?”
The conversation ended with that. I watched her take a taxi back to Kita-Kamakura and agonized over the options available to me. Should I should I join a proper company, or should I go back to working part time under the beautiful, yet eccentric antiquarian book shop owner?
As it turned out, there had been no need to think about it too deeply. A few days later, I got a notification from the food company I interviewed with saying I didn’t get the job. They listed rising flour prices, tightened budgets, and the number of applicants that applied as the reason for their decision. There was a note wishing me the best on my future endeavors at the end of the lengthy letter.
I looked up the company on the internet and found that there had been a great number of people who had got their expectations up because their interview had gone oddly well. I had also been one of them. Shinokawa called while I was still depressed about not getting the job. She didn’t have any particular reason to call, but she was faithfully keeping her promise to get in touch with me.
I told her what happened with my job search and asked her if I could start working at the shop again.
“O-of course! I’m looking forward to working with you again.”
She stammered a little and happily obliged. And so I finally returned to the place where I felt I belonged.
“…Could you put these books away next? They go on the second shelf of the bookcase to the far right over there.”
Shinokawa’s faint voice drifted out to me from inside the shop.
I picked up the books piled on the counter and walked to bookshelf that she pointed out near the entrance. This part of the store contained Japanese history related books and had a lot of empty spots in its shelves. I inserted the dark-colored specialty books into the shelf.
Shinokawa had been keeping me busy rotating stock ever since I returned to the store. The bookshop naturally needed to switch out the books that were out on the floor. Although we had many regular customers, nobody would want to go to a store where the product line never changed.
We may have only had old books on our shelves, but that didn’t mean we could always keep the same ones on display. It was common sense, if you thought about it.
The number of customers bringing in their books to the shop had multiplied since Shinokawa returned. They could only sell books in-store at the moment, but there were plans to restart the “in home purchasing” program soon. We would start visiting customers at their homes to buy the books directly once that began.
Shinokawa was on her computer managing online orders while she instructed me on what to do. She was currently updating the online catalog with the latest arrivals.
The atmosphere in the shop was completely different compared to when I worked alone. I chalked it all up to the shop owner’s presence.
But not all of our troubles were gone.
“Shinokawa, where should I put this book?”
I turned towards her and held up Nawa Yumio’s Encyclopedia of Jutte Capture Techniques. She was hidden behind the wall of books stacked on the counter so only part of her face was visible from where I was.
“Put on the third level of that shelf over there, right next to Social Systems of Edo, please.”
Shinokawa replied and went back to what she was doing. She didn’t even try to look up from her book.
Of course, that didn’t stop her from doing customer service, although she did have the tendency to mumble when asking customers for their IDs and performing other shopkeeper duties. When the conversation turned to books, however, she became a real chatterbox.
Her sudden change in demeanor usually startled customers and they often ended up finding some convenient reason to escape the shop
Every time this happened, she would go back to her books, looking exhausted. Although she didn’t want to admit it, her customer service skills weren’t all that great. The problem wasn’t with her ability, but with her personality—she just wasn’t suited for it. So I was the one who operated the cash register and did things that didn’t require much knowledge. For the time being, as an amateur, this was the best I could do.
“It’s about time we closed up the store, isn’t it?”
Shinokawa raised her voice from behind the counter. She looked out the glass door and saw the gentle-looking sun setting over the asphalt. It had already become dusk before I knew it.
“Since I’m already done here, do you want me to total the register?”
“If you could.”
I was now empty handed and was ready to return to the counter when something on one of the bookshelves caught my eye. The Ivy Bridge of Kiso was lined up right next to Edogawa Ranpo’s Complete Collection in the corner where all the old drama and detective novels were.
Against my better judgment, I picked it up off the shelf and turned to the first page. A sudden shiver ran down my back, not because of the contents of the book but rather, because of my “condition”. I quickly ran my eyes over the sentences. The story looked like it was set in the warring states period.
Two men were gossiping about the world’s most unthinkably beautiful prostitute.
“No way, what if there’s an evil spirit possessing that woman….?”
“Evil spirit? What do you mean, possessed?”
“You didn’t know?”
“This is just hearsay, but I head there’s a terrible curse surrounding Niodori.”
“Huh, that’s the first I’ve ever heard of it.”
“They say that it looks like she goes from this world to the underworld whenever night falls. In other words, she dies. And then after just a little while, she comes back to life!”
It looked like Niodori was that prostitute’s name. What did they mean when they said that she came back to life after dying? I was curious and wanted to read a little more, but there was still work to do, so I put the book back.
Shinokawa said earlier that she read the book as a child. But this was definitely a book for adults. There were also a lot of complicated kanji —did she really understood what the book was about?
“She’s been reading difficult books ever since she was young, huh?”
The bespectacled shop owner suddenly looked up from behind her book and I showed her the cover of the The Ivy Bridge of Kiso. She smiled shyly and hid herself behind her book again.
“…I was fast at learning kanji.”
I could only hear her voice.
“I loved reading manga and children’s books, but I was interested in books meant for adults, too. …I would take my monthly allowance and rush over to the Shimano bookstore on my bike and just stare at all of the shelves; every single one. I bought The Ivy Bridge of Kisoback then when it was republished as a paperback.”
The Shimano bookstore was a well-known bookshop turned stationary store. It was close to the Kita-Kamakura station on Wakamiya Street. Everyone who lived near it had entered at least once.
“You said Shimano; does that mean you went towards Ofuna?”
There was also a Shimano bookstore in the shopping district across from Ofuna Station, where I’d go as a kid. We might have passed each other at one point.
“No. I went to both of them. The Ofuna and the Kita-Kamakura stores had different product lines.”
Kita-Kamakura, where we were right now, was located between the Ofune station and the Kamakura station. Even if you were an adult, going between those two stations in one trip would be pretty hard. And the road sloped pretty deep on the way. I tried to imagine the image of an elementary school Shinokawa biking to a bookstore, but couldn’t.
Thinking about it, I don’t know much about her at all.
She was born and raised in the area, inherited the Antiquarian Bookshop from her father who died last year, and really loved books — I didn’t know anything besides that.
“Shinokawa, what kind of…” I started, but I was interrupted.
The glass door clanged open, and a tall, short haired high school girl entered the shop. She had a stiff expression and dignified features. The short sleeved white blouse and grey skirt she had on was the uniform of the high school halfway up the mountain. That was the school I used to go to.
Kosuga Nao lowered her head a little and cautiously looked around the shop. Both her behavior and facial expressions were boyish.
“Is the shop manager here right now?”
“No, it’s okay… I didn’t call ahead.”
Since Shinokawa was hidden, Nao thought there were less people here than there actually were. I gave a questioning sidelong glance at Shinokawa.
I realized this recently, but this girl rarely stayed long when Shinokawa was around. She was involved in a theft in the past, but that matter was settled and the victim happily accepted her apology in the end. The person who led them to a resolution was Shinokawa.
Perhaps this high school girl never forgot her shocked she was when Shinokawa discovered she was the culprit, but Nao claimed that she somehow had a hard time dealing with Shinokawa. It seemed like she thought Shinokawa could always tell what she was thinking. Shinokawa knew she was being avoided too, so she probably hid herself out of consideration.
“The truth is, I came here to discuss something with you, Goura.”
She brought her face closer so she wouldn’t be overheard.
“Discuss? With me?”
“Yeah, is that alright?”
I didn’t know why she’d ask me, but it was still a request from one of our regular customers.
“Have you read A Clockwork Orange?”
“No, I haven’t.”
I had heard of the title, but I had no idea what it was about. I thought it was the title of an old movie, but I guess that was based off of the original work.
It looked like my answer wasn’t what she had been hoping for.
“I thought you’d have read it. You work in a bookshop.”
Since she said that, it meant that she didn’t know about my “condition” which prevented me from reading books. She must have come because she thought I could at least somewhat discuss this with her. But if it was a discussion on books she wanted, the most suitable person for that was hidden in plain sight.
“Sorry about that,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the book written here. Could I ask you to read through them?”
“Just take a minute and read it.”
She took out a folded up paper form the schoolbag hanging on her shoulder and handed it to me. I unfolded the lined paper to read its contents.
The first line had “A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess”, written in neat handwriting. This looked like a book report. The next line had “Year 2, Class 1, Kosuga Yui”—the author’s name.
“My younger sister wrote this. She’s only a second year in middle school right now, but she’s pretty smart.”
“So you have a sister?”
It was the first time I had heard of this. For some reason, she gave off the impression of being an only child.
“I have three siblings, including older brother who’s a little older than you.”
Her expression brightened up as she talked about her siblings. She definitely had a good relationship with them.
“My sister wrote this for her summer vacation homework…but it ended up causing a huge argument at home…”
I began to read.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.
Year 2, Class 1 – Kosuga Yui
The moment I finished reading this book, I immediately went to listen to Beethoven’s 9th symphony since it was mentioned so many times in the story. It was longer than I thought it would be, but the final chorus was incredibly beautiful and made my heart tremble.
I brought this book from an online bookstore without knowing what kind of story it was. I thought it would be about machines or fruit and was surprised when neither showed up in the story.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who got disgusted and couldn’t finish reading this book. The main character, Alex, has a strange way of speaking and constantly does terrible things. He beats up strangers in the street, breaks into homes to steal money, and assaults girls. He feels no remorse no matter what he does and just spends time with his friends talking about music.
Alex is arrested by the police, thrown into prison and ends up being brainwashed after he refuses to repent. He is drugged and forced to watch images of death and brutality as part of something called the “Ludovico Technique”. As a result of that treatment, Alex becomes unable to commit any violence.
Although he becomes a good person, Alex is still incapable of finding happiness. Following a vicious attack from his old friends where he was unable to even fight to defend himself, Alex screams in anguish that he has become just like a clockwork orange. Like a clockwork machine, he no longer had any control of his own actions. The prison chaplain once told Alex that becoming a good person was sometimes a horrifying, unpleasant experience. It gave me the impression that the author was saying that depriving someone of their ability to commit evil did not necessarily mean that they would become a good person. More importantly, perhaps sinning is also part of what makes us human.
There’s nothing wrong with having an interest in things we shouldn’t do; we all have some darkness in our hearts after all.
In the end, Alex’s head was tampered with in a hospital and he goes back to committing crimes again. To add to that, a cabinet minister who wants to use Alex for publicity shows up. Not a single good person appeared in the novel. The only thing that Alex could really trust was his music.
While Alex listened to his beloved Beethoven’s 9th symphony in the hospital, he imagines the world screaming at him. When I listened carefully to the song myself, I thought that perhaps I could hear the world screaming to me as well.
“What did you think?”
I looked up from the paper and saw Nao eagerly awaiting my response.
“This story sure is bleak.”
I was curious about the part where she said that not a single good person appeared. Stories like that were interesting. The main character was an awful guy to begin with, but what about people like the cabinet minister and the chaplain?
“That’s not what I’m talking about, what did you think of her book review?”
“Hmm….well, this is pretty well written for a second year student.”
I didn’t really have any thoughts about it since I hadn’t read the actual novel. I also had no way tell whether or not her assertions were correct.
“I know, right? My little sister is amazing!”
Nao’s eyes were shining even after my noncommittal response.
“She’s loved books ever since she was young, and she’s really good at writing these book reports. Yui has won awards for her writing every year since elementary school.
“In the school book report writing competition. My brother and I never did well. Personally, I think Yui’s writing was always better than what the other kids submitted.”
Wasn’t she just saying that because it was her younger sister? There was no denying that it was a good book report though.
“So what happened?”
Based on the content, it looked like Nao’s sister completed the assignment properly. I couldn’t really find fault with it.
“The book was sold out at the bookstore in front of the station, so Yui asked me to order it from an online bookstore.”
She mentioned the name of the bookstore. I had never used it before, but I heard that they would ship items within the same day if it was in stock.
“I was curious about it at the time, since the book sounded so impressive, and she was going to write a report about it. I tried to read it after it was delivered, but there was way too much violence after all. I mean, it was just gross and cruel. I only read the beginning, but it was still too intense for me.”
“But Yui read it completely, wrote the book report, and turned it in at school. But I guess her school was just too rigid about it.”
“What school does she go to?”
“Seiri. Seiri Girls’ Academy. She started there this year.”
I heard the name and understood. Seiri was a Catholic school, and the grade levels ran from middle to high school. It was famous for being strict. The closest station to it was Ofuna Station, so I saw students and nuns from there often.
“It started when Yui’s homeroom teacher showed my parents the book report the other day, at the parent teacher meeting.
“Her teacher said that it was a well written report,” she continued, “and that he was concerned because she was at a sensitive age. Basically, he was warning her. But my parents were shocked to hear this. They were seriously worried that Yui had also gotten caught up in something inappropriate for her. She’s a good, respectful girl, unlike me.”
I looked over the paper again. There definitely were a couple places where it looked like she sympathized with the main character. Perhaps sinning is also part of what makes us human and there’s nothing wrong with having an interest in things we shouldn’t do came to mind.
Her thoughts on the book were childishly simple, but I suppose there were parents that would be worried.
I tilted my head. What did she mean by Yui was also caught up in something?
“Did you perhaps tell your parents about what happened with Gleaning?”
“Hm? Yeah, I told them.”
She nodded her head as if to say that it were only natural.
“I didn’t tell Yui or my other siblings, but I talked to my parents just in case.”
Gleaning was the name of the book she once stole. The issue was dropped at the victim’s request, so we thought she was going to hide it from her parents. She had a surprisingly honest, or should I say, overly upright, personality.
“My parents started asking Yui and I to show them every book we brought in. It felt like they didn’t even trust their own kids anymore. I understand why they would check my stuff, but Yui didn’t even do anything wrong. I wanted this to stop somehow so I came here to ask you for advice on how to persuade them.”
Now I understood the gist of the problem. It was because Nao was feeling responsible. The reason her parents had such an overboard response this time was because of the trouble she caused with her theft before.
I shot a fleeting glimpse towards the counter. Shinokawa wasn’t making a single sound from behind the wall books. It was probably because she listening hard as we talked.
“Can I keep this book report with me for a bit?”
“Sure, but why?”
“I want to show it to Shinokawa.”
Nao had a sour look on her face that said she didn’t really want Shinokawa to get involved.
“She knows a lot about books and she understands the feelings of book lovers well. That’s why I want to discuss it with her. She would be better suited for this than me.”
I was thinking about what Shinokawa said yesterday. About how she biked to the bookstore every month and happily bought a Taisho era book as a child. She was just like Yui as a child. There was no better person to ask for help and I knew she wouldn’t spare any effort for this.
“I’ll ask her about this and get back in touch with you later. Is that alright?”
Nao thought about it for a little bit and nodded her head.
It was time to close up the shop so I started putting all the change in the coin counter. A chilly autumn wind was blowing in from the half open glass door. Kosuga Nao had forgotten to close it.
I heard the sound of turning pages in the background. Shinokawa was reading the book report. It was now closing time and she finally appeared from behind the mountain of books on the counter.
“What did you think of it?”
She didn’t respond. I stopped what I was doing and turned my head. Shinokawa was seated in a folding chair and had her head tilted back so she could lean on the books behind her.
“Well, this is…how should I say this…”
Shinokawa turned over the paper and read it from the beginning one more time. She had an extremely perplexed expression on her face.
Her frustrated face was attractive, too, and I caught myself being fascinated by it. Before long, she spoke again, still facing downward.
“This book report is…”
“Ah, I was right. So Kosuga brought that thing here.”
The speaker had a rough voice. Before I realized it, a thin, bald man was leaning his elbow on the counter. He looked like he was in his late fifties and wore a gaudy t shirt under a wrinkled red jacket. The plaid patterned bag hanging from his shoulder was filled with old paperback books.
“Oh, Shida, hello.”
“Don’t ‘hello’ me, you oaf. You’re dealing with money here, so pay attention when people come in. What would you do if I were a thief?”
His articulate abuse came flying at me. Shida, the homeless book hunter who lived under the Kugenuma Bridge. He was a regular customer here and made his money selling old books.
“I – it’s been a while.”
Shinokawa struggled clumsily to get up, but Shida waved his hand exaggeratedly to stop her.
“It’s okay, no need to get up, sister. You’re as soft spoken as ever, I see. Why don’t you try speaking up sometimes?”
Shinokawa shyly shrank away. I would have liked him to lay off her a little…she hid herself behind the pile of books again.
“So what brings you here today?” I asked.
“Nah, I’m not here for any particular reason. I just heard this place reopened recently so I came by to say hello and relax. That the paper that Nao’s little sister wrote, isn’t it?”
He pointed his chin at the paper Shinokawa held in her hand.
“How did you know?”
“Because she decided to bring it over to my place. ‘How should I convince my parents? I need your help,’ she said”.
He was unexpectedly good at imitating her voice. Shida was the owner of the Gleaning that Kosuga Nao stole. An odd relationship sprouted up between the victim and the perpetrator ever since the thieving incident. They met once a week near the river to exchange books and talk about their impressions. Nao became closer to him and called him sensei. Shida was pretty fond of her, too.
“So what did you tell her?”
As a book hunter, Shida was also very knowledgeable about books. There was nothing odd about asking for advice from her trusted teacher. However, she came directly here after talking to him, which meant that…
“I told her that it was only natural that her parents were worried. Kosuga looked disappointed, but I just can’t bring myself to like that book.”
I was right. She came here because she couldn’t get any advice from Shida.
“I read it once long ago, and I wouldn’t want to read it again. Hey, Goura, have you read A Clockwork Orange before?”
I shook my head no. The way Shida spit the question out startled me.
“It’s exactly as it’s written in the book report there. The main character does whatever he wants. He does drugs, steals things, assaults women, anything he can get away with. But I’m not saying the author is telling people to do these things, even if he did create a nightmarish world without a speck of hope. It’s paradoxical.
“Well, people can be interested in all sorts of things, so I suppose some of them sympathize with stories like this. The issue isn’t that she thought this way. The problem is that she wrote all of this down and then turned it in at school. If she’s like this in middle school, what kind of adult will she become? It’s not unreasonable that the people around her are worried. That’s probably what her parents are thinking. Am I wrong?”
“Ah, well, you might be right about that.”
Since they were about the same age, Shida could see things from the viewpoint of Yui’s parents. However, was that really a good enough reason for them to check every single book she read? As a middle schooler, she was at an age where she wouldn’t want others to intrude on her life. Things could get complicated.
“Anyway, it would be better if you didn’t get involved in this. Every family has its own way to raise children…ah, look at the time,” said Shida, looking up at the clock.
“Well, then, I’ll be off in a moment. I don’t want to stay too long when you’re closing up.”
He abruptly turned on his heels and left, seemingly agitated.
Silence returned to Biblia Books. I turned my head to look at Shinokawa. She looked at the paper in her lap without moving. It looked like she was engrossed in thinking about something. I was also curious about her extended silence. Nao went to Shida for help first, but he couldn’t see things from her point of view. I found it strange that Shinokawa hadn’t said anything even though this was a discussion about books.
“Is something wrong?”
She looked up suddenly and her hand shook a little when I spoke up.
“N-no…it’s just that….well…just a moment.”
A strange silence hung in the air. The conversation from earlier was still on my mind.
“Come to think of it, you were saying something earlier before Shida came. What was it?”
Now that I thought about it, her attitude had been strange since she started reading the book report. There was no doubt that something was bothering her. She hesitated a little before answering. Before long, she gathered her resolve and spoke.
“There’s something very wrong with this book report.”
“Wrong? How so?”
“About what’s written here…” she began solemnly.
“The person who wrote this never actually read A Clockwork Orange.”
I brought the store sign and wagon inside, locked the glass door, and closed the curtains. The register had been totaled earlier, so my closing duties ended with that.
There was no one else in the shop right now. I returned to the counter and could hear Shinokawa’s uneven footsteps upstairs. She had returned to the main house, saying that there were a few things she needed to pick up before she could give me a detailed explanation.
The book report had been placed on the now tidy counter. I glanced over at the title, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.
Shinokawa had clearly said that the author of the report didn’t actually read the book.
Did that mean that Yui carelessly wrote a report about a book she knew nothing about? I didn’t get the impression that she had cut corners with the report when I read it earlier. In the first place, her homeroom teacher or Shida would have noticed if that were the case.
“Thank you for waiting.”
Shinokawa had returned from the main house and was leaning on her crutch in the doorway. We moved over to the counter, and faced each other on either side of it. She placed the two paperbacks she was holding under her arm on the countertop. They were two different versions of A Clockwork Orange — both of them released by Hayakawa Publishing and translated by Inui Shinichi.
That being said, the books looked completely different. The one on the right featured a man with an evil glint in his eye holding up a knife. The wrapper around it said, “Hayakawa Publishing 50th Anniversary Bestseller.” The book itself looked pretty old and the edges of the front cover were stained with dirt.
I looked over to the book on the left. It didn’t have anything on it besides the title. Going by the design and the condition of the paper, this was the newer book. The wrapper on this one had “A powerful story! Hayakawa Publishing’s 100th Title!” written on it. It looked like both these books were both marketed as masterpieces when they were issued.
“The original Clockwork Orange was published in English in 1962. Although Burgess was a prolific writer who released many books in his time, he is most well-known for this novel, which deals with the subject of youth violence.”
Shinokawa suddenly started explaining in an excited tone. The mild demeanor I had become accustomed to was gone. It was almost like she had become a different person.
“Hayakawa Publishing printed the Japanese version in 1971. This book here is the paperback edition of that publication. I think this was actually the most distributed version of the novel in Japan.”
She pointed to the book with the picture of a man brandishing a knife.
“Is it worth a lot?”
“Not at all. There were many reprints over the course of several decades, so it doesn’t have much value in secondhand bookshops. I would not be surprised to see them gathering dust in a discount bin.”
There was a hint of melancholy in her voice.
She set the first book down and pointed to the plainer one on the left.
“This is the new edition that was published in 2008 and is the version sold in bookstores today. The cover art was completely updated and the font size and book size were slightly increased.”
It was 2010 now, so this would have happened two years ago. I picked up the two books and compared them. The new edition looked a little thicker.
“So is there any difference content-wise?”
Shinokawa’s eyes flashed from behind her glasses the moment I asked this. She leaned forward in excitement and placed both her hands on the counter. Her ample chest trembled slightly under her dress.
“There is! There’s a huge difference between the old version and the new version. Take a look at the final page of both versions and compare them please.”
I looked away from her and opened the old version of the book like she asked. I turned to the page where the story ended right before the translator’s afterword. I ran my eyes over the text as quickly as I could before my “condition” could kick in and force me to stop reading:
Oh, it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come.
I was cured all right.
I understood what the text was saying. Just as written in the book report, it ended with the main character listening to Beethoven after being freed from his brainwashing. The few words with furigana on them really stuck out, but I guess that’s just the kind of book it was.
Next, I opened the newer book from the back and quickly began reading one of the pages towards the end. The final passage started on page 310:
And all that cal. A terrible grahzny vonny world, really, O my brothers. And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lipmusic brrrrrr. And they can kiss my sharries. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal.
This ending was nothing like the one in the first book. I didn’t really understand it, but it looked like he was bidding farewell to the reader.
“Why are they so different?”
“Well, that’s because…”
Stretching her arm out, Shinokawa flipped back to page 291 and pointed to the end of the page — “And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come.”
This was the first ending I had read. This time, however, there was a number 7 on the next page, signaling the beginning of, what seemed to be, the final chapter.
“So what happens after this?”
I was trying to sort everything out in my head.
“Did they add an extra chapter to the new version of the book?”
“No, that’s not it.” She shook her head.
“The new edition is actually the original A Clockwork Orange. That is to say, it’s the complete version.”
She pointed to the area under the title. “The complete edition” was clearly printed there in small text.
“What do you mean?”
This aroused my interest and I unintentionally leaned forward. The distance between us had shrunken considerably, but I wasn’t concerned about that right now. Listening to the book’s story was more important.
“In the version Burgess published in 1962, the story didn’t end when Alex returned to normal.”
She continued in a low voice.
“Alex returns to the world of crime and violence, but before long, he gets tired of living that kind of life. At that time, he is reunited with one of his old friends who has completely reformed himself. This prompts Alex to change the way he thinks and abandon the violent lifestyle he had led until then. The story ends with him declaring that he will raise a family and become a proper adult.”
I raised my voice without thinking.
“In which case, aren’t those endings completely different?”
Shinokawa vigorously nodded her head. Her forehead almost hit my chin.
“It seems Burgess considered Alex’s violent lifestyle to be an ephemeral phase of his growth. He grows into an adult and becomes able to choose between good and evil on his own. It is essentially a coming of age story.
However, when the book was published in America, the publishing company decided to remove the final chapter.”
“Why did they do that?”
“Perhaps they thought that readers would think it was just a tacked-on happy ending. To make things even more complicated, Stanley Kubrick produced the film using the American version of the novel as its source material.”
I knew who Stanley Kubrick was…I think. I once watched a war movie on TV about a merciless drill instructor whipping new recruits into shape. I forgot the title, but that should have also been directed by Kubrick.
She took the wrapper off the old book and revealed the text hidden under the picture of the knife wielding man.
“STANLEY KUBRICK’ S A CLOCKWORK ORANGE”
It was written in a larger font than even Burgess’s own name. It somehow looked like Kubrick was the one who had actually written the book.
“This image on the cover was taken from the movie poster. Due to the immense popularity of the film, the novel was translated into many different languages. The Japanese translation, released in 1971, came out at around the same time as the film. It had the same ending as the American version — which the film was based on –- because the original version had not been widely distributed.”
“Why didn’t the original author do anything about this?”
If my novel had part of it cut out and I became famous throughout the world, I would have been unbearably bitter.
“Due to financial reasons, he couldn’t say anything about the American edition. This wasn’t just limited to the American publishing company. In 1970, the version without the final chapter was also released in the author’s native England.
For a long time, this was the only version that was read in Japan, but in 1980, Hayakawa Publishing published the complete version of the book. This meant that, for a while, both the complete version and the incomplete version were distributed at the same time. However, the complete version went out of print after just a few years.”
“Wouldn’t that mean that the incomplete version was the only one being distributed?”
“That’s what ended up happening. Finally, in 2008, the complete version you see here was published, and the previous version was put out of print.”
I crossed my arms and look down at the two books on the counter. There really was a lot of history behind them.
“There was a period of time when it was unclear which version Burgess considered to be legitimate. Was he just unable to stop them from publishing the incomplete version, or was it that he himself was unable to decide?
However, when the book was published in the United States, he wrote this in the preface:
‘We can destroy what we have written, but we cannot unwrite it.’”
My eyes fell to the paper on the counter and Shinokawa suddenly let out a breath. It might have been that she was just sighing, but she also could have been tired from telling the story.
I stared at her face. The depth of her knowledge surprised me time and time again. Of all the people involved in this, she was the only one to notice the difference in versions.
Even Kosuga Yui, who wrote the ──
“Wait a second, that’s strange.”
I turned my head.
“Bookstores nowadays only have the complete version in stock, right?”
The book report didn’t touch on the final chapter at all. It was almost as if it didn’t exist. Did she read the incomplete version or something?
“Maybe she bought it at an antiquarian bookstore…”
If that were the case, it wouldn’t be strange for her not to write about the final chapter. Shinokawa however, shook her head.
“No, that’s not it. Remember, Nao said that she bought the book for her sister from an online book store.”
“Ah, that’s right.”
Which is to say that Yui had the recently published complete edition. This was becoming more and more incomprehensible.
Shinokawa must have been referring to this when she had said, “The person who wrote this never actually read A Clockwork Orange.” But why would Yui do something like that in the first place?
It might not have been directly related to Kosuga Nao’s request, but this inconsistency was concerning. It seemed something else was going on here.
“What should we do?”
I asked Shinokawa. She closed her eyes in order to gather her thoughts.
“I think…we should clear up this issue with the book report first before giving Kosuga any advice.”
I had the same opinion. The problem, however, was how we were going to do that.
“It would be easiest to hear from the author of the report herself.”
Shinokawa and I could either call Yui over to the shop or we could talk to her over the phone. Regardless, we would still need to ask her sister, Nao, to act as an intermediary.
Considering how much she doted on her younger sister, Nao was not going to be happy about Shinokawa’s involvement.
“…But we don’t have to do that right now.”
Shinokawa spoke slowly, carefully choosing her words. Perhaps she had realized the truth behind this situation.
“You’re going to talk to Nao, right?”
“Could you also ask her if she would be willing to let me borrow something? There’s something important I want to confirm.”
We closed up shop for the week and two days went by.
We barely had any time for rest when the shop opened the next morning. Despite it being so early in the week, there had already been three large purchases from customers who left with their cars filled to the brim with books. The flow of customers never stopped and that kept us occupied the entire day. By the time things started to settle down, the sun had already begun to set.
Kosuga should be coming any day now.
I thought to myself while restocking the bare bookshelves.
I talked to Nao on the phone yesterday and told her about Shinokawa’s request. She asked me all sorts of questions about it, but since I didn’t quite understand what was going on myself, I had no answers for her. Regardless, she finally agreed to deliver it to the store after grumbling a bit.
Shinokawa was today, as always, hidden behind a large wall of books. It might have been just me, but the pile of books on the counter felt like it had grown even higher. Shinokawa had been pricing books and working on web orders ever since she had returned from lunch after switching shifts with me.
An oddly shrill whistle suddenly sounded through the quiet shop. It seemed to have come from Shinokawa.
She was probably doing something enjoyable and had started whistling without even realizing it. I put the final book on the shelf and sneaked back to the counter. I had a good idea of what she was up to, but still wanted see it with my own eyes.
I slowly peered over the wall of books and found her sitting in front of the computer intently reading a paperback. She was so absorbed in the book that she didn’t even notice me looking at her. Just waiting for her to see me wasn’t going to work, so I raised my voice.
She jumped up and turned around, letting out a startled gasp. Her half open lips were pursed in a scowl and she hurriedly closed the book in a fluster. With a snap she sat straight up in her chair. The book she was reading was Ursula K. Le Guin’s Very Far Away from Anywhere Else published by Shueisha.
“I-I was working….”
She said, unconvincingly.
There was no reason to bother making excuses for a part-timer like me. In fact, it kind of made me feel like I was at fault here.
“Sorry, I finished restocking”
“Ah, alright. Well then, next you should get the books over there and….”
Just as Shinokawa grabbed her aluminum crutch in her right hand and tried to get up—
A high school girl noisily opened the glass door and stepped into the shop. She wore the same school uniform as Kosuga Nao and had a dark tan despite the autumn weather. Her hair was tied in a ponytail.
She may have looked like she belonged on the shores of a southern country, but she was actually the shop owner’s younger sister, Shinokawa Ayaka.
It was rare for her to show up in the shop like this after school. Normally she would go directly to the main house through the back door.
“Aya, welcome back.”
Shinokawa smiled at her younger sister and extended her crutch-less arm wide. I tilted my head wondering what was going on, when Shinokawa Ayaka suddenly rushed forward and tightly embraced her sister.
She was a little taller than her older sister.
Ayaka let out an uncharacteristically loud cry and rubbed her cheek against the nape of Shinokawa’s neck. Both of them were smiling from ear to ear. I looked away, feeling embarrassed just watching. What the heck was all this about anyway?
“Alright, time to make dinner.”
After about five seconds, Ayaka let go of her sister as if nothing at all had happened.
“See ya, Goura.”
She lightly greeted me before leaving for the main house.
“What….was that just now?”
I asked Shinokawa when it was just the two of us again. Come to think of it, I didn’t see the two Shinokawa sisters together often. Was this something they always did?
“That was a greeting…?”
Shinokawa blinked in confusion.
“You guys greet each other like that every day?”
“Eh? You don’t do this at your house?”
She said that as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Had the practice of hugging each other taken root in Japanese society while I wasn’t watching?
“No, we don’t do that at my house.”
The Goura household was composed of just my mother and me. Both of us were uncommonly well built. It would probably make more sense if we hugged each other when I was small. However, if we tried it today, it wouldn’t look like anything but a sumo match to an outside observer.
Her voice fell a little.
“My sister and I have done it this way for a long time…because our parents weren’t around.”
The previous owner of the shop, the Shinokawa sister’s father, should have been alive until last year. She must have noticed the dubious expression on my face as she quickly smiled and clarified.
“Ah, of course, he was physically around, but he wasn’t the type to be intimate with his daughters, you see.”
I began to feel a little uneasy. It may have been that way with her father, but –
“What about your mother?”
Come to think of it, I had never heard any stories about Shinokawa’s mother. I had a feeling she hadn’t ever mentioned her mother even once.
“10 years ago…..”
She didn’t continue the explanation and I didn’t get to hear what happened. Perhaps she didn’t want to talk about it. At any rate, it meant that Shinokawa’s mother wasn’t around anymore.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
I dropped the subject.
I lost the chance to continue the conversation and an uneasy silence remained.
It was then that we heard the sound of noisy, boisterous footsteps approaching. The door leading to the main house opened and Shinokawa Ayaka appeared once again. She looked like she was in the middle of changing, with only one of her socks on.
“I almost forgot. Take this. It’s from Kosuga.”
She said, pushing a checkered paper bag into my hands. It wasn’t sealed, but judging by appearances alone, it looked like it could have contained a present.
I tilted my head.
“Kosuga Nao, you know her, right? She had some errands to take care of today and asked me to hand this over to you.”
“Not that. You and Kosuga know each other?”
I heard from Kosuga that she never talked with Shinokawa’s younger sister. They were in the same grade, but different classes.
“I already knew her from before. She’s pretty cool, so she stands out. I got to know her through the culture festival committee. Turns out we went to the same elementary school, but different middle schools.”
“Ah, that’s how it was.”
Now that she mentioned it, both of them must have been in the same school district. It wouldn’t be strange for people born and raised in the same area to go the same schools. And even if they never talked, they’d probably see each other around.
“We were also in the same class three years ago, isn’t that cool!?”
“No, you two should’ve realized this much sooner.”
“Anyway, she said to take this seriously or she’d kick you to death. Well, something like that anyway.”
With a smile, she passed on this disturbing message and ran back into the main house. She didn’t need to do everything while running, I thought.
“Would it be alright if I took a look at it?” Shinokawa asked.
Thankfully, the atmosphere had returned to normal. I gave her the bag and she took out its contents. Hayakawa Publishing’s A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.
So this was the copy of A Clockwork Orange that Kosuga Yui had asked her sister to buy for her. The brand new book, which gave off the smell of paper and had the [complete edition] printed on its cover.
“As expected, the last chapter was included in her copy.” I said.
Shinokawa continued to wordlessly flip through the pages. We were able to confirm which version Kosuga Yui had, but the mystery still remained. Why didn’t she include anything about the final chapter in her book report?
“I knew it.”
I heard her low murmur. With the book still open, Shinokawa stopped her hand.
“I think I know what happened now.”
“What did you find?”
She placed her finger on a folded up piece of paper that was caught between the pages like a bookmark.
Underneath the text that said “Hayakawa Books request card” was a field containing the distributor and shop name. The title of the book was as also printed on the paper alongside a barcode. She pinched the semicircular tab at the top of the slip and pulled it out of the book.
“Do you know what this is?”
“Err…I might have seen something like it before but….”
I didn’t really understand why she was asking this.
She cleared her throat once and smoothly began her explanation.
“This slip is something that’s used for inventory control.”
I nodded wordlessly. I still didn’t get how that was related to the book report.
“Even in secondhand bookshops, this slip is something to check for. If you get a new-looking book that still has a slip in it, you should pay attention. Normally, bookstores take these slips out, so if you see one it might mean that the book was stolen.
I was taken aback.
“That means…this book…”
No, I was certain Nao had said that she bought it from an online bookstore. It didn’t make any sense for a book that was ordered online to be shoplifted.
Or possibly there was another side to this story.
“Umm. Not exactly. That doesn’t necessarily mean that this particular book was stolen.”
My wild imagination withered.
“There are more and more bookstores nowadays that don’t even use these slips. Instead, they read the data they need from the barcode. At least that’s how large online bookstores do it. If that’s how it was, she still could have purchased the book with the slip inside. “
If that was the case, there nothing wrong with seeing the slip still inside the book. In fact, it supported Kosuga Nao’s story that the book was sold out at her neighborhood bookstore and that she bought it online instead.
However, Shinokawa had an uncertain expression on her face.
“The truth is, there’s one more thing I figured out…it was something I wanted to ascertain by borrowing this book.…”
She touched the slip with the tip of her pale finger. She didn’t look very happy about the conclusion she had reached.
“Could you ask Nao’s younger sister to come here in person? If possible, I would like to talk to her alone.
Face to face.”
Arranging a meeting between Kosuga Yui and Shinokawa ended up taking a couple of days. We would have preferred to get in touch with Yui directly, but since she didn’t own a computer or a cell phone, we had to go through her sister, Nao. Negotiating with Nao also slowed things down some.
She suspected that we were more interested in the contents of the book report than persuading her parents.
“What does Shinokawa actually want to talk about!? Spit it out!”
Even if she pressed me like that, I had no way to answer. I just kept repeating that Shinokawa really wanted to talk with Yui face to face.
“In that case, I’m going to come along as well.”
I only noticed this after seeing Nao’s repeated displays of concern for Yui. She still hadn’t told us anything at all about her younger sister’s reaction to all this. Yui probably would not have been happy to learn that Nao was working for her sake.
“Can you just ask Yui herself? You can also ask her if she needs a chaperone then.”
It wasn’t long before we received a message from Kosuga Yui. It said that she wanted to meet with Shinokawa alone.
Yui’s arranged meeting time was on a weekday morning before the shop opened. She apparently already knew where Biblia Books was located. I worked faster than usual and finished up the morning preparations with Shinokawa early in order to prepare for our guest.
The place where the two of them were supposed to have their talk also had a spot prepared for me. Nao had asked me to sit in on their meeting.
“Yui said she would be alright by herself, but I’m still worried. Could you give her support, just in case she needs it?”
She probably had a vague idea of what was going to happen; there was a good chance that this was not going to be a pleasant conversation. The atmosphere resembled the time Kosuga had been summoned by Shinokawa to be questioned about the book she once stole.
Shinokawa was a bit bewildered by my presence, but she accepted it once Yui said that it was okay as well.
“Is today a foundation day or something?”
I asked her while looking up at the clock on the wall. Yui didn’t seem like the type of person who would skip school to come here.
“It might be a compensatory holiday for the school festival. “
Shinokawa answered right away and I nodded, not really convinced.
“How do you know that?”
“Because I also used to attend Seiri Academy”
This was the first I had heard of this. However, her having gone to an all-girls school did explain a few things. Particularly why she was so oblivious to men’s glances. Today she was wearing a light colored knitted V-neck but — wait, no, that’s enough.
“Did you go to an all-girls school for college as well? A mission school, perhaps?”
“Hah? How did you know!?” Her eye went wide behind her glasses.
“Just a hunch.”
That was all I could say as I looked at her. Her personality had surely been like this since long ago.
“I see… I went to a public elementary school, but after that it was all girls schools.”
I nodded as I listened. I wanted to hear more about her past, but our conversation was cut short by the sound of a glass door opening.
A ponytailed girl with metal framed glasses entered the shop. She was wearing a white denim jacket over a one piece checkered dress, her hair tied with a single decorated rubber band. Despite the casual style, the outfit looked like it fit completely within her school’s dress code.
“I’m here, just like my sister said,” Kosuga Yui spoke.
She said this in a formal and openly wary tone. Her faintly rugged features didn’t really resemble that of her older sister’s.
“W-welcome…..over here, please…”
Shinokawa was still seated behind the counter and urged Yui over in subdued tones. It looked like this middle schooler was making her nervous. Really, there had to be a limit to how nervous she could get around strangers.
Yui stepped inside the shop, and neatly closed the front door. I wordlessly moved out of the way and leaned on a glass case. I considered this to ultimately be a conversation between the two of them.
“My name’s Kosuga Yui.”
“Thank you…..for taking the trouble to….”
The delicate conversation started out on the wrong foot. Shinokawa, the adult, had forgotten to introduce herself.
“What did you call me here for?”
Yui stopped in the aisle and looked towards us coldly, her arms crossed. She may have looked different from her sister, but she shared the same strong personality.
“I don’t want to spend too much time here.”
“Nobody asked you people to butt into my business.”
We were taken aback by her derisive tone.
“You want to talk about the book? What would you know?.”
Yui’s words seemed to reflect her annoyance at her sister for getting us involved. The gap between the sisters was a lot deeper than I had thought it was. No, perhaps this was just the younger sister’s one-sided hatred.
“Isn’t Nao doing all of this for your sake?”
“I didn’t ask her to do any of this. I’m fine with having the books I buy checked by our parents. But seeing her argue with them day after day is just annoying.”
It was almost like saying that her sister’s efforts were pointless.
“Why does my book report matter anyway? It would be easier to just let it go.”
“I have four questions for you,” Shinokawa suddenly said in a carrying voice. It was almost as if a switch had been pressed. She had completely changed from timid to bold.
“Did you write this book report at your house?”
Yui looked a little bewildered by Shinokawa’s sudden change, but she obediently answered.
“I normally do my homework at home.”
“Do you often use the library?”
“No…touching books that other people have used…feels uncomfortable.”
Yui took a fleeting glance at the bookshelves to her left. Her words could have been interpreted as provocative in an antiquarian bookshop. She looked docile on the outside, but she had a lot of guts.
“You don’t lend or borrow books from your friends then?”
“I don’t. My friends don’t really read books.”
“What about your family?”
There was a slight pause.
“I can borrow books from my family…but that rarely happens. The people in my family don’t really like reading. At the most they’ll read magazines, but that’s about it.”
That wasn’t right. Her sister Nao should have been borrowing and reading books from Shida lately. It seemed she didn’t count as someone who liked books.
“Is that so? I see…”
“Are we done then? I need to go.”
“I’m sorry, I have one more question for you.” Shinokawa raised her index finger.
“How did you write that book report?”
The inside of the shop became deathly silent. Once again, Kosuga Yui looked like she didn’t understand the significance of the question, but her eyes went wide.
“…by reading the book. That’s my book over there right? It’s the one I read.”
She indicated towards the counter. On top of it was the complete edition of A Clockwork Orange that Nao had lent us.
“This novel had two different endings. The incomplete version that ends when Alex is freed from his brainwashing, and the complete version where Alex decides to reform himself out of his own volition. If you really read the complete version, why did you write your book report about the incomplete version?”
Shinokawa finally got to the heart of the matter. Given the circumstances, Yui should have been trembling in her boots. However, she seemed quite calm.
She was oddly mature, and smiled fearlessly before talking.
“The final chapter wasn’t really interesting so I just decided to ignore it. It felt strange that Alex became a good person so quickly… The ending where Alex listens to Beethoven was a lot cooler.”
It was a logical explanation, but something still felt off. It seemed like she had adapted and made a good excuse after learning of the final chapter.
“’I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come.‘”
Shinokawa quoted the book from memory without hesitating and smiled at Kosuga Yui.
“Certainly a good ending. I was also frightened by it the first time I read the book and thought it was a splendid story.”
“Right, and that’s why in my book report….”
“-but you didn’t even read that far into the book, did you?”
The one who raised his voice was me. Kosuga Yui herself only frowned a little.
“It isn’t like that. I really did read the entire thing.”
“It’s true. You’re saying that I didn’t read it, but do you even have any proof?”
Kosuga Yui didn’t think that Shinokawa would be able to prove anything. However, Shinokawa was unperturbed and held out the copy of A Clockwork Orange that was on the counter to Kosuga Yui.
“Could you look through the book, starting from the first couple pages? It doesn’t matter even if you skim it…go ahead.”
Shinokawa’s tone said she wouldn’t take no for an answer, so the girl reluctantly complied.
Yui snatched her book back and began flipping through the pages. Suddenly the movement stopped. There was a pink slip inserted dozens of pages into the book. She innocently pinched the semicircular tab and pulled the slip out.
“Were you able to read the entire book without pulling out that slip?”
The girl’s fingers stopped.
I finally understood. She would not have been able to read the pages the slip was stuck between without pulling it out. There probably weren’t many people who would insert the slip back in after intentionally pulling it out.
So this is what Shinokawa meant when she said that she understood one more thing from seeing the slip. She could tell whether or not the book’s owner had read through it.
“You did not read this book to the end. The reason why you didn’t realize that there was a different ending in your complete version was that you stopped reading before you finished the book. Despite that, you were still able to write the book report, which leaves only one possible explanation.”
Shinokawa took a deep breath and said it clearly.
“You copied someone else’s book report.”
There was still some time until the store opened for the day. The only thing that could be heard was the sound of the ticking clock. Before long, Kosuga Yui, her face drained of all color, began to speak.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She was shaking a little, but her tone was unexpectedly forceful.
“Are you saying that I copied someone else’s report?”
Shinokawa was taken aback and frowned. She must not have expected to be talked back to.
“…In that case, I’ll ask you one more question. Where did you first hear about A Clockwork Orange?”
Yui was surprised. She looked as if she had been stung.
“This book certainly is a classic title, but it’s a novel that was published overseas more than fifty years ago. Where did you, who doesn’t discuss literature with her friends or family, learn about it? Why did you decide to write a report on this particular book?”
“That is…I happened to see it in a book store and….”
“It should have been out of stock at your neighborhood bookstore. Besides, you wrote here that you ‘bought this book without even knowing what kind of story it was’”.
Shinokawa did not let up. “It was, in truth, the opposite, wasn’t it? You read this book report first, and then decided to read A Clockwork Orange after it caught your interest.
I’m sure you tried writing the book report on your own in the beginning. You wouldn’t have otherwise searched for and bought the book if you didn’t mean write your own report. However, since the report was going badly, you had no choice but to copy this one as a last resort.”
“What you’re saying is completely ridiculous! You don’t even have any proof!”
“You’ll see what my proof is soon enough.” Shinokawa maintained an unperturbed expression even in the face of Yui’s outburst.
“You said that you wrote this book report at home, right? You also said that you didn’t use the library. If that’s true, then the original book report must have been something you found in your own home. Of course, it wasn’t something that one of your family members wrote in the past.
If that were the case, you would have been found out right away. However, there is more than one possible explanation…”
Shinokawa calmly continued speaking in a lecturing tone.
“The elementary school you attended had a book report competition every year, correct? The winning entries should have been compiled into an anthology which was then distributed to all the students.”
Yui’s face froze. Suddenly what Nao had said a few days ago came back to me.
Personally, I think Yui’s writing was always better than what the other kids submitted.
I had thought that what she said back then was odd. There’s no way Nao would have gotten the chance to personally compare her sister’s book report against all the others. That is, unless she looked through the anthology.
“Of course, the competition existed before you started attending that school and the old anthologies should have also been distributed to the students. This book report was definitely written at a point time when the complete version of A Clockwork Orange had not yet been released. It was probably written by someone who attended the school at the same time as your older brother or sister.
Since Nao didn’t notice anything, there’s a good chance that it was written by someone who went to the school at the same time as your eldest brother. From there, I was able to begin my investigation.”
For a brief moment, nobody uttered a word.
Yui, who had been tightly gripping her copy of A Clockwork Orange, suddenly let her hand down, as if all the strength had left it.
“It’s because I thought no one understood me,” She began to murmur, her head hanging down in shame.
“I like reading through the book reports in the old anthologies to find new things to read. There are normally one or two people who write really incredible reports every year. What surprised me the most while reading through the book reports was A Clockwork Orange. It was well written, and the contents were cool and mature. I thought it was great.”
So that meant that there was someone out there who had read this book as an elementary schooler and written a report about it. I guess there would always be children with an uncommon love for books, no matter when or where. Perhaps there was someone like that around me as well.
“I wanted to try the book out for myself, but when I started reading it…Alex was a lot crueler than I thought he would be, and used a lot of difficult words. I stopped reading about a third of the way through.”
Her sister, Nao, had said the exact same thing. The two sisters were unexpectedly similar when it came to taste in books.
“But why did you need to copy the book report?” Shinokawa asked.
“That’s what I don’t understand. If you couldn’t read A Clockwork Orange, why didn’t you use another book for your report?”
Yui’s face flushed red.
For a moment, she seemed very young. Or more accurately, she actually looked her age for once.
“It’s because my sister…umm…told me that she couldn’t read this kind of book.”
“Eh?” Shinokawa replied.
“…My sister got a boyfriend recently”
Shinokawa and I glanced at each other without thinking. It was like she was asking me if it was someone I knew. I shook my head no way.
Nao tried to confess to one of her classmates last month, but she was harshly turned down. That wound up being the beginning of the whole thieving incident. The boy who turned her down ended up being ostracized in school, and tried to burn down the Biblia store sign out of resentment. I heard he was still suspended from school, even now.
“She had been making cakes over the summer and went out a lot. I guess she confessed and it went well. He seemed to be a very smart person since she always borrowed difficult looking books from him. It was almost as if she had gotten more into books than I was.”
My head started to hurt while listening to her. This girl had completely misunderstood everything. The person who Nao exchanged books with wasn’t anything like a boyfriend. It was a homeless book hunter who was older than her parents.
I thought about pointing this out, but decided not to. It would be improper for an outsider like me to reveal something that Nao hadn’t even told her own family.
“…So you wanted to show your sister that you could read books even she couldn’t handle,” Shinokawa said seriously.
All of a sudden, Yui lowered her head deeply.
“Please don’t tell my sister about this. She has a surprisingly strong sense of duty, so I know she’ll definitely tell my parents about it. It would be really bad if that happened.”
“I know what I did was wrong, but only my parents and my teacher have seen the report. Even the person who wrote the original hasn’t realized it yet, so if you keep silent as well…”
“Kosuga Yui,” Shinokawa suddenly called out. Her voice had a weight that made Yui shut her mouth.
“You took a book report from someone who graduated long ago and passed if off as your own. Even if the original author herself doesn’t know, the fact that you copied it still remains. Moreover, you submitted a report about a book that you didn’t read. I think that’s an insult to the original author. Don’t you like reading books?”
Shinokawa placed her hand on her lap behind the counter. I noticed that she was stroking the cover of a book. It was the old copy of A Clockwork Orange with the yellow wrapper around it. It was the book she had shown to me earlier while explaining everything.
“As Burgess said, ‘We can destroy what we have written, but we cannot unwrite it.’ You too cannot undo the fact that you copied this book report. You need to take responsibility.”
Yui pressed her lips together and reflected upon this. She seemed frightened of what was going to happen next.
“You need to confess everything to your sister and ask her what to do. That’s all I can tell you.”
“I’m sure your sister will wrap things up in a way that’s best for you. She should definitely understand how you feel.”
Nao of all people would understand the feelings of someone who did something they shouldn’t have. Moreover, she really cared for her sister.
At last, Kosuga Yui quietly raised her head.
“I understand….that’s what I’ll do.”
There isn’t much else to say about what happened with Yui. Kosuga Nao never gave us any details on what happened afterward.
A few days passed and a thank you letter addressed to Shinokawa arrived at the shop. It looked like things ended up just fine for her. Perhaps she managed to settle everything without telling her parents.
I happened to run into the Kosuga sisters at the Ofuna station bookstore the other day. They were in the paperback corner with their heads near each other, talking happily. It certainly looked like they had become closer.
Although I did say there wasn’t much else to the story, the truth is that I discovered one more piece to the puzzle before all this wrapped up. It happened the day after Kosuga Yui left the shop.
It was just past noon and Shinokawa had gone over to the main house for her lunch break. One of our regular customers had just left after stopping by to say hello, so I was left alone in the shop.
My eyes happened to land on the copy of A Clockwork Orange that had been left forgotten on the counter. It was the old version of the book with the missing final chapter.
Shinokawa had brought this book from the second floor of the main house. It wasn’t part of the store’s inventory. Rather, it came out of her own personal book collection. I read the text on the book wrapper once again, “Hayakawa Publishing 50th Anniversary.”
When on earth did she buy this book?
I flipped a couple pages and looked at the copyright information, “October 5th, 1995. 25th printing.” It was even older than I expected — exactly 15 years old. Of course, it was possible that Shinokawa bought it at a used bookstore, but assuming she bought it new…
“Ah,” I suddenly blurted out.
The doubts lingering in my mind since yesterday suddenly came together, and I remembered what Shinokawa had said:
Even if the author herself didn’t realize it, the fact that you copied the book report remains.
I thought about it a lot, and at no point did Yui say that the author of the original book report was a girl. There was always the possibility that it was a guy.
Moreover, both the Shinokawa family and the Kosuga family lived in the same school district. Since Shinokawa herself had said that she went to a public elementary school, it would be reasonable to assume that she attended the same school as Yui and her siblings. Why didn’t she say anything about that?
“I made you wait, my apologies.”
I raised my head to see where the voice was coming from. Shinokawa had returned from the main house and was closing the door with her hand behind her.
“I was…just…looking for something.”
She noticed the book I had open and gulped. Even so, she steeled herself and decided to approach me anyway.
“I…have something I need to apologize to you about…” As she began to talk, I was surprised to see her look me directly in the eye.
She took a booklet out from under her arm and presented it to me. This was probably the item she had been looking for earlier.
The book was titled Mebuki, which probably came from the word for “buds sprout.” Underneath that it said, “Kamakura city, Iwatani Elementary School, 7th year of the Showa era.” In other words, 1995.
I wordlessly accepted it and flipped through the pages until I got to the table of contents. Everything compiled there was a book report. Mebuki was probably the anthology that published the book report competition. I quickly found the entry I was looking for.
A Clockwork Orange
My eye fell to the next line. —- Year 3, Class 2. Shinokawa Shioriko.
“I’m sorry.” She lowered hear head, her face bright red.
“That…was my book report.”
So that’s how it was.
Shinokawa didn’t solve this puzzle through reasoning this time. She was aware of what Yui had done since the very beginning and only pretended to solve the mystery.
“Why didn’t you say anything right at the start?” There shouldn’t have been any reason to hide the truth.
There also wouldn’t have been any need to provide a drawn out explanation to Kosuga Yui. If Shinokawa had just shown Yui this anthology and declared that this was her book report, everything would have been settled.
“That’s because…well….” she said, her voice tapering out towards the end.
“T-that’s because you said…”
Me? What did I say?
“When Shida said, ‘If she’s like this in middle school, what kind of adult will she become?’, you agreed with him.”
Shinokawa wasn’t in middle school when she wrote the book report, she was in elementary school. Neither Shida nor I realized it at the time, but the “adult” that the writer grew up to be had been right in front of us all along.
“When I wrote this book report, my teachers talked to me about it as well. Of course it would be worrying to see a child write an essay like this. The report still got placed into the anthology since there were also teachers who stuck up for me, but….”
Her voice had grown even quieter.
“It upset me that you thought so as well.”
Come to think of it, she had been trying to say something right before Shida showed up. She had definitely been planning to tell me about everything back then.
My eyes looked back to the first line of the book report.
I bought this book from the Shimano bookstore without knowing what kind of story it was.
This was the only part that was different from Kosuga Yui’s report. Shinokawa must have bike to the bookstore right after getting her allowance.
This time I could imagine what that would’ve looked like.
“What would you think about a child who wrote an essay like this?”
I turned to another page of Mebuki and quickly ran my eyes over the other essays. There were modern literature book reports for books by Mori Ougai, Daizai Osamu and the like. Shinokawa’s report definitely stuck out amongst them.
“I’d think it was unusual, but not that it was necessarily bad,” I answered.
“I would have liked to meet the younger you.”
Shinokawa smiled bashfully.
While it may be true that an elementary school kid wrote a book report like this, so what? Book reports were just that, book reports. Whatever actions someone took after reading them was entirely up to them. Even in this book, didn’t Alex decide to graduate from evil all on his own?
I closed Mebuki and returned it to her. Like Burgess said, you can’t unwrite what you have written. However, there was no need to unwrite this one.
“Now that you’ve also read the complete version, what do you think of it?”
“I want to know what you think about it now.”
Of course, her impressions should have changed now that she knew about the other ending. What did the Shinokawa of today think of the novel? I was more interested in that than anything else.
Shinokawa’s smile became even wider.
“Well, this will take a while but….”
“Then should we close the shop for today?”
“Ah, of course.”
We both began tidying up the shop. She went towards the stacks of books on the counter whistling like she always did.
Although this time, it wasn’t because she was reading a book.