Detective Kitaguchi knelt down in the flowerbed outside the house. Running his hands through the earth, he brought up a few worms and watched a beetle race off into the dirt.
Sakaide had approached him, “It appears to be about the same as the others, Sir. No trace of a body. And one broken window. Just like all the other cases, the window appears to have been broken from the inside, pushed outward with great force.”
“And no traces of broken glass around the window. A window that has been broken but no traces of anything.” added Kitaguchi, staring down into his hands.
“We did find a note this time though, sir.”
“Yes, a handwritten note left near the window. I have the transcription here…” Young Sakaide consulted his notes.
As I look out I see a kite flying in the sky. It is flying in the same place as yesterday’s sky.
“It is a bit cryptic,” added Sakaide.”I think that…”
“It is paraphrasing a haiku by Buson”, interrupted Kitaguchi. “It is about the impermanence of time.”
“But what does it mean?” asked Sakaide.
Kitaguchi didn’t respond.
The disappearances had been going on for over a year now. In each case, the disappearance was sudden and unexpected. One woman had just arrived home from meeting a friend and was getting ready to go out again and meet another. In fact, tea was being prepared, a set of clothes had been laid out. The state of the house was like a photographic snapshot in time. The arrangement of things suggested movement but all that was left was quiet and stillness. It truly was as if she had suddenly disappeared, or floated away, or been taken. The only thing out of order was the broken window.
It wasn’t all windows, at least in the Western sense. Some cases involved torn shogi screens. But, just like the glass windows, they had been suddenly torn out from the inside as if something had gone out of the house with great force. Had all these people thrown themselves out a window? There was no glass or paper around the windows, however. Not even the traces of footsteps through the gardens.
Kitaguchi reviewed some of the cases to try and understand what had bound all these disappearances together. They were men and women, and of all ages. They included gardeners and industrialists, teachers and artists. One man had just returned home from an operation. Witnesses say that he had been very nervous beforehand but that it had worked out well. He was cheerful in the hospital and looking forward to a life that was not clouded by constant pain. A day after arriving home, he disappeared.
Another woman was a retired dancer. According to statements from her daughter she had just reached that stage of life where she felt full inside with memories of her own accomplishments but also gently easing into the peace of a calmer existence. She had started painting recently and in fact had been in the middle of a painting when she vanished. It was a landscape.
The windows themselves had very little in common. Some looked out onto gardens or skies. But others only looked out onto a bit of terrace or to neighboring houses. As far as they could gather, all disappearances happened during the day and, as far as they could narrow down, most were in the morning hours. Abandoned cups of coffee or tea, an open newspaper, eggs on the counter, were common themes. A radio or television was sometimes still blaring. In many cases a piece of music had just been set to play. Twice they had discovered vintage record players still playing on the innermost grooves, the record still spinning around.
No additional clues had been found, except this last time where one man, a retired artist, had inexplicably scrawled down a Buson haiku. This man lived in a traditional Japanese house with wood and screens and tatami mats. Kitaguchi thought the house was beautiful and, when he wandered around in it, had noticed a spectacular window. It was not the one that had been broken. This one was very wide, running along almost an entire wall of the house. The window, however, was not very high. You could see out and see the landscape beyond but it was difficult to see the sky. He had been entranced by it and young Sakaide had been curious about it too.
“Why make it so wide but then make it so short?” Sakaide had asked.
“It is a window for viewing the snowfall in the winter.” Kitaguchi had answered. “It brings your focus to the snowfall itself and frames it like a picture without any other distractions.”
Kitaguchi had been at home thinking about the Buson haiku, about all of the windows and about what set of tangles might weave together all these people. Where had they gone? What had they seen?
A knock at the door took him out of his thoughts. He knew that knock and knew that it must be his friend Professor Yamada who had a habit of dropping by unexpectedly.
“Come in Yamada,” said Kitaguchi as he opened the door.
“Look, Kitaguchi,” said Yamada, smiling, “I’ve just received this bottle of bourbon from an American friend. And I’m looking for someone to share it with.”
As Yamada poured them their drinks, Kitaguchi filled him in on some of the details around the recent disappearances. Yamada was a great listener and often helped Kitaguchi see more clearly the problems that lay before him.
After Kitaguchi had told Yamada most of what he knew, Yamada leaned back and remained silent for a time. Then he suddenly spoke up.
“Kitaguchi, your case reminds me of something else. You know that before I taught Aesthetics, I used to run my own bar here in Osaka?”
“Yes, I know all that, Yamada. It was a dive bar, as I recall.”
“Yes, well, those are the only types of bars worth running. You get real people and real stories. A lot of local artists used to drop by. They were a rowdy bunch but I can’t say that it was ever boring.”
“As I recall, you closed down the bar because you had run out of money.”
“Yes, it was more of a charitable venture I suppose. Some of my patrons were a bit difficult about paying for their drinks. In any case, did I every tell you about Murakami Saburo? He was one of my regulars.”
“His name sounds familiar. He was a member of the Gutai group, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, exactly. Gutai was a group of radical, experimental artists. Murakami Saburo himself was a fascinating character. He staged what he called 'performances' and he was best known for something he called ‘Breakthroughs’”
“Yes, he would gather together an audience. Then he would setup a large piece of paper or cardboard, something that stretched from floor to ceiling. The important thing is that it divided the room into separate spaces. Then, suddenly, explosively, he would fling himself through the paper. There are still photos of him at this moment of breakthrough, as he called it. He is jumping through the sheet, arms oustretched, with a big smile on his face. The idea, I believe, was to breakthrough from one space to another and in so doing, leave this remnant behind of your experience – the paper with a hole in it."
"The paper would be torn open then? Ripped through?" asked Kitaguchi.
"Yes." replied Yamada, "The paper was not just a record but also acted as a static object, forever marking a specific point in time. I once told him that I thought it was this Time element that defined his work, this record of a moment of action and I think he agreed with me, though he was drunk at the time. He was a big drinker."
The two men continued their own drinks in silence. Kitaguchi got up from his chair and walked over to his record collection. He picked out a worn copy of an old Blue Note record and started playing it. They both loved jazz and would sit for hours listening to old records together.
“You know,” Yamada spoke up, “I love hearing the different instruments appear and start introducing themselves, of course. But I really love that moment when all of them are there – drums, bass, trumpet, piano – and they are all working so beautifully together in synchrony. It is this moment in time, a fleeting moment, that is felt only once. You may play the same recording again tomorrow, but is it still the same moment?”