14. The Blue Period

A definite change started to take place when my lifespan went below fifty days.
As I said before, there were lots of people who took offense to my actions, which were both famous and infamous. There were numerous people who would see me happily talking to an invisible person, and say cruel things loud enough for me and passersby to hear.
Of course, I had no right to complain. I was the one who made them feel unpleasant in the first place.

One day, at a bar, I got involved with three men. They were loud, sharp-eyed, always taking opportunities to make themselves look tough, and from their numbers and stature I knew I needed to be careful about offending them.
Probably out of boredom, when they saw me drinking alone and talking to an empty seat, they purposefully sat next to me and talked to me, trying to provoke me.
Maybe at one point I would have tried to stand up for myself and say something back, but I just couldn't devote energy to that anymore, so I waited it out until they got bored.

But they didn't get bored - upon realizing I wasn't saying anything back, they took advantage of it to up the attitude even further.
I considered leaving the bar, but seeing how much time they seemed to have on their hands, I thought they might just follow me.
"This is problematic," Miyagi said with a concerned look.

Just as I was worrying about what to do, I heard a voice from behind say "Huh? Is that you, Mr. Kusunoki?"
It was a man's voice. I couldn't identify anyone who talked to me like that, so I was surprised enough as it was, but what he followed with made both Miyagi and I too stunned to speak.
"You're with Ms. Miyagi again today?"

I turned to look. I did indeed know this man.
He was the man who lived next door at the apartment. The man who'd always given me a disturbed look watching me go in and out while talking to Miyagi.
I seemed to remember his name was Shinbashi.

Shinbashi walked right up to me, turned to one of the guys bothering me, and said "I'm very sorry, but could you give up this seat?"
His words were polite, but his tone was oppressive. Shinbashi was over six foot and looked at him like he was used to threatening people, so the man he spoke to changed his attitude very quickly.

Once Shinbashi sat next to me, he faced not me, but Miyagi. "I always hear about you from Mr. Kusunoki, but I've never talked to you myself. Nice to meet you. I'm Shinbashi."
Miyagi's face was frozen in shock, but Shinbashi nodded as if she'd made some kind of reply. "Yes, that's right. I'm honored you remember. We've passed by in the apartment many times."
It wasn't much of a conversation. Thus it was clear that Shinbashi couldn't actually see Miyagi.
Maybe this man is just "pretending" he can see Miyagi, I thought.

The men pestering me seemingly gave up with Shinbashi's appearance and prepared to leave. Once the three were gone, Shinbashi sighed with relief and threw away his polite smile for his usual sullen look.
"Let me just say first," Shinbashi clarified, "I don't necessarily believe this "Miyagi" girl honestly exists."
"I know. You were just helping, huh?", I said. "Thanks, I'm grateful."
He shook his head. "No, it's not really that either."
"Then what is it?"

"You may not admit this, but... at least personally, this is what I think. I see what you're doing as sort of a performance, attempting to fool as many people as you can into believing this "Miyagi" really exists. You're attempting to prove through perfect pantomime that people's common sense can be shaken. ...And that attempt has succeeded on me somewhat."

"You mean you feel Miyagi's existence to an extent?"
"I don't like to admit it, but I believe so," Shinbashi said, shrugging his shoulders. "And while I'm at it, I'm somewhat interested in the change taking place within myself. I wonder that if I were to actively accept "Ms. Miyagi's" existence like you're causing me to, I'll eventually be able to see her for real."

"Miyagi," I began, "isn't that tall. She has fair skin, and I would say she's more delicate than not. Usually she has sober eyes, but sometimes she'll show a modest smile. Her eyes are a little bad, but when she needs to read small writing, she wears thinly-framed glasses, and they suit her really well. Her hair's shoulder-length, and tends to curl in at the ends."

"...I wonder why," Shinbashi said, tilting his head. "Every single one of those characteristics matches how I imagined Miyagi."
"Miyagi's right in front of you now. Why do you think that is?"
Shinbashi closed his eyes and thought. "I'm not sure of that part."
"She wants a handshake," I said. "Hold out your right hand, will you?"

He did so, his face half-doubting, half-believing. Miyagi looked at the hand gladly and grabbed it with both of hers.
Watching his own hand shake up and down, Shinbashi said, "Am I to believe Ms. Miyagi is shaking my hand?"
"Yep. You think you're moving it yourself, but actually, Miyagi's shaking it. Seems pretty happy about it."

"Would you tell Mr. Shinbashi "thank you very much"?", Miyagi requested.
"Miyagi told me to say "thank you very much"," I conveyed.
"I somehow felt she might," Shinbashi said with wonder. "Don't mention it."

With me as an intermediary, Miyagi and Shinbashi exchanged a few more words.
Before going back to the table he had been at before, Shinbashi turned back and told me this.

"I somehow doubt that I'm the only one who can sense Ms. Miyagi's presence at your side. I think everyone feels it temporarily, but simply dismisses it as a stupid illusion. But if there's an opportunity - such as learning that they're not the only one feeling that illusion - I wonder if Ms. Miyagi's existence might be very quickly accepted by everyone. ...Of course, what I'm saying has no basis. But I hope to be right."

Shinbashi was right.

It was hard to believe, but after that event, people around us started to accept Miyagi's existence.
Of course, it wasn't that people seriously believed in the existence of this invisible person. It was more like people accepted my nonsense, like a mutual agreement, and played along with it.
Miyagi's existence didn't quite reach the level of "supposedly exists," but still, it was definitely a big change.

While we frequently made appearances as the town's places of amusement, the high school culture festival, and other local festivals, I became a little bit famous.
As someone who enjoyed a comical happiness, I came to be treated as a pitiable, but amusing person. More than a few people came to watch me, holding hands with and hugging my fictional girlfriend, in a warm way.

One night, Miyagi and I were invited to Shinbashi's place.
"I have some alcohol left at my apartment, and I have to drink it all before I go home. ...Mr. Kusunoki, Ms. Miyagi, would you drink it with me?"

We went into the neighboring room and found three of his friends already drinking. One man, two women.
The drunks had already heard about me from Shinbashi, and they asked one question after another about Miyagi. I answered each and every one.

"So li'l Miyagi's right here?", asked Suzumi, a tall girl with heavy makeup who was drunkenly touching Miyagi's arm. "Now that you say it, I feel like she is."
She couldn't sense anything through touch, but maybe Miyagi's presence wasn't completely gone. Miyagi softly held Suzumi's hand.

A quick-thinking man named Asakura had a few questions for me about Miyagi, trying to catch me on an inconsistency.
But he found it interesting how everything matched up, and started doing things like putting the cushion he was using where Miyagi was, and giving her a glass of alcohol.
"I like that kind of girl," Asakura said. "It's probably a good thing I can't see Ms. Miyagi, or else I'd soon fall for her."
"Doesn't matter either way. Miyagi likes me."
"Don't go saying things like that," Miyagi said, hitting me with a cushion.

Riko, a short girl with a neat face who was the most drunk, looked up at me while lying on the floor.
"Misser Kusunoki, Misser Kusunoki, show us how much you like Ms. Miyagi!", she said with sleepy eyes.
"I wanna see too," Suzumi agreed. Shinbashi and Asakura gave me expectant glances.

"Miyagi," I called.
I kissed Miyagi on her slightly-reddened face. The drunks gave a cheer.
I was surprised myself what an absurd thing I was doing. None of the people here honestly believed in Miyagi's existence. They must have thought of me as a crazed, happy fool.

But what was wrong with that?
That summer, I was the best clown in town. For better or worse.

Some days passed after that, until one sunny afternoon.
The doorbell rang, and I heard Shinbashi's voice. When I opened the door, he threw something at me. I caught it in my palm and looked - they were car keys.

"I'm going home," Shinbashi said. "So I won't need it for a while. You can borrow it if you want. How about going to the beach or mountains with Ms. Miyagi?"
I thanked him again and again.

As he was leaving, Shinbashi said this.
"You know, I just can't see you as a liar. I really can't believe that Ms. Miyagi is just a fabrication of some pantomime. ...Maybe by some chance there really is a world that only you can see. Maybe the world as the rest of us see it is only a small part of what's really there, only the things that we're allowed to see."

After seeing him get on the bus and leave, I looked up at the sky.
As ever, the sunlight was dizzying. But I smelled a faint trace of autumn in the air.
The tsukutsuku-boushi were crying all at once, bringing an end to summer.

At night, I slept in the bed with Miyagi. The border between the sides had at some point vanished.
Miyagi slept facing me. It was a sound sleep, as peaceful as a child's. I adored her face in sleep, never getting used to it, never getting tired of it.

I left the bed, careful not to wake her. I drank some water in the kitchen, and when I went back to my room, I noticed the sketchbook on the floor in front of the dressing room door.
I picked it up, turned on the light by the sink, and slowly opened to the first page.

There was much more drawn in there than I'd expected.

The waiting room at the train station. The restaurant where I met Naruse. The elementary school where the time capsule was buried. My and Himeno's secret base. The room flooded with a thousand paper cranes. The old library. The stands at the summer festival. The riverfront we walked down the day before I met Himeno. The viewing platform. The community center we stayed at. The Cub. The candy store. A vending machine. A public phone. Starry Lake. The old bookstore. The swan boat. The Ferris wheel.

And me sleeping.

I turned to a new page and started drawing Miyagi sleeping in return.
Probably because of my drowsiness, I didn't realize it had been years since I'd drawn any art without stopping until after I was done.
Art, which I'd thought was only frustrating.

When I looked at my completed drawing, I was filled with a surprising sense of satisfaction. But I also had a tiny feeling that something was amiss.
It was easy to overlook. It was minor enough that if I just thought about something else for a moment, it would go away entirely.
I could have ignored it, closed the sketchbook, put it beside the bed near Miyagi, and been able to sleep happily awaiting her reaction in the morning.

But I was sure of something.
I concentrated to the best of my ability. I strained my senses to find the source of the wrongness.
I reached for it like a letter floating in a dark, stormy sea, my hand slipping as I tried to grab it.

After a few dozen minutes, as I pulled my hand back in defeat, it landed right in my palm.
I very, very carefully lifted it out of the water. And suddenly, I understood.

The next moment, as if possessed, I intently moved the pencil across the sketchbook.
I continued for the entire night.

A few days later, I took Miyagi to see some fireworks. Walking the sunset footpath, crossing the railroad tracks, going through the shopping district, we arrived at the elementary school.
It was a famous local fireworks display, and it was a bigger affair than I expected, with many more carts. There were enough visitors as to make me wonder how the town had room for all these people.

When children saw me walking and holding hangs with Miyagi, they laughed “It's Mr. Kusunoki!”
They were laughs of approval. Weirdos are popular with kids too. I raised the hand I was holding Miyagi's with in response to their jeers.

While in line for grilled chicken, a group of boys in high school approached and teased “What a girl you've got there!”
"Great, isn't she? Well you can't have her," I said, holding Miyagi's shoulder, and they guffawed.

That made me happy. Even if they didn't believe it, everyone enjoyed my “Miyagi's right there!” nonsense.
It was much better to imagine that I had a fictitious girlfriend than to think I was really alone.

The announcement came that the show was starting, and a few seconds later, the first firework went up.
Orange light filled the sky, the crowd cheered, and the delayed sound shook the air.

It had been a long time since I'd seen fireworks up close. Compared to my expectations, they were much bigger, much more colorful, and disappeared much quicker.
I'd also forgotten that the huge fireworks take a few seconds to spread out, and hadn't even imagined how much the explosive sound reverberated in the pit of your stomach.

Dozens of fireworks went up. We laid behind a building where we could be alone, watching them.
Suddenly, I wanted to sneak a look at her face, and once I saw her in the moment the sky was lit up, it seemed she was thinking the same, and our eyes met.

"We're a good match," I laughed. "That's happened before. In the bed."
"So it did," Miyagi shyly smiled. "But you can see me anytime, Mr. Kusunoki, so you should watch the fireworks."
"Incidentally, that may not be true."

Maybe my timing could have been better.
I would be laying myself bare in the fireworks' glare.

"Well, you're right that I have tomorrow off, but I will be back the day after. Unlike last time, it will only be one day I'm gone."
"That's not the problem."
"Then what is the problem?"

"...Hey, Miyagi. I'm kind of popular in town. Half the smiles I get are sneers, but the other half come from pure fondness. Whatever sorts of smiles they are, I'm proud. I was convinced something this good would never happen."
I lifted myself up and looked down at Miyagi with my hands on the ground.

"When I was in elementary school, there was this guy I hated. He was actually really smart, but he hid it and acted like a fool to get people to like him. ...But recently, I've come to understand. I couldn't help being envious of him. I think I wanted to do what he was doing from the start. And thanks to you, Miyagi, I made it happen. I succeeded at making friends with the world."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Miyagi raised herself and took the same position.

"...So what are you really trying to say?"
"Thanks for everything, I suppose," I said. "I really don't know what to say."
"And for everything to come, yes?", Miyagi questioned. "You still have over a month left. It seems a bit soon for "thanks for everything.""

"Hey, Miyagi? You said you wanted to know my wish, and I promised I'd tell you when I thought of it."
There were seconds of pause.
"Yes. I'll do anything that I can."
"Okay. Then I'll be honest. Miyagi, when I die, forget about me completely. That's my meager wish."

After her immediate reply, Miyagi seemed to guess at my intention.
She picked up on what I was going to do tomorrow.

"...Um, Mr. Kusunoki. I'm sure you wouldn't, but please don't do anything stupid. I'm begging you."

I shook my head.
"Think about it. Who would have expected thirty-yen me to live such wonderful final days? Probably nobody. Not even you could have predicted it from reading my evaluation or whatever. I should've lived the worst life imaginable, but I got some serious happiness. So then your future is just as uncertain, Miyagi. Maybe someone else reliable will show up and make you much happier."

"They won't."
"But you never should've showed up for me either, Miyagi. So then -"
"They won't!"
Without leaving me time to respond, Miyagi pushed me to the ground.
As I laid flat, she buried her face in my arm.

"...Mr. Kusunoki, I'm begging you."
It was the first time I'd heard her speak through tears.

"I'm begging you, stay with me for at least this last month. I can put up with everything else. The fact that you'll die soon, the fact I can't see you on my days off, the fact that others can't see us holding hands, the fact that I'll have to live alone thirty years more, all of it. So at least for now - at least while you're with me, don't throw yourself away. I'm begging you."

I stroked Miyagi's head as she wailed.
Back at the apartment, Miyagi and I slept holding each other.
Her tears didn't stop to the very end.

Miyagi left the apartment in the middle of the night.
We hugged again at the front door, and she parted from me with hints of regret, giving me a lonely smile.
"Goodbye. You made me happy."
With that, she bowed her head and turned away.
She walked slowly into the moonlight.

The next morning, I headed to the old building with my replacement observer.
The place where Miyagi and I first met.

And there, I sold thirty days of my lifespan.
In truth, I was going to sell absolutely all of it. But they wouldn't let you sell those final three days.

The observer looked at the results and was shocked.
"Did you come here knowin' this was gonna happen?"
"Yep," I said.

The thirty-some woman at the counter who audited me looked bewildered.
"...I honestly can't recommend this. At this point, money can't be that much of a concern, can it? After all... in the next thirty days, you're going to paint pictures that end up in art textbooks for years to come.”

She looked toward the sketchbook I held at my side.
"Listen carefully. If you leave here without doing this, you'll have thirty-three days left to fervently paint. In that time, your observer will always be there, giving you courage. She absolutely won't blame you for your choice. And after death, your name will survive in the history of art forever. You should know all that yourself, shouldn't you? ...Just what about that dissatisfies you? I can't understand."

"Just like money is pointless once I die, so is fame."
"Don't you want to be eternal?"
"Even if I am eternal in a world without me, that's nothing to be glad about," I said.

"The world's plainest pictures."
That's what my paintings were called, and while they caused a lot of dispute, they ultimately sold for very high prices.
But of course, since I'd sold those thirty days, that was "no longer a possibility, but a thing that would now never happen."

This is what I thought. Maybe in my original life, over a really long period of time, my ability to draw that kind of art would eventually blossom. And just before that happened, I was destined to lose my chance because of the bike accident.
But by selling my lifespan, and most importantly by having Miyagi there, the huge amount of time I originally wasn't given was shortened to the extreme. Thanks to that, my talent could bloom before my lifespan ended.
That was my thought.

I used to be very proficient at art.
I could copy scenery in front of me as accurately as a photo like it was nothing, and used my understanding of that to naturally master switching it to another form without anyone teaching me.
At galleries, I could look at a painting and plainly understand, in some place very distant from language, why "something that shouldn't have been painted so" was "something that had to be painted so."
My way of looking at things wasn't completely correct. But the fact I had an incredible talent was something anyone who knew me at the time had to recognize.

In the winter when I was 17, I gave up on art. I thought that continuing on in the way I had been, I wouldn't be famous like I promised Himeno. At best, I could be a "jack of all trades" sort of artist.
Though that would have been considerable success in the eyes of most, to keep my promise with Himeno, I had to be outrageously special. I needed revolution. So I wouldn't allow myself to just keep drawing on momentum.
The next time I picked up a paintbrush would be once everything had come together within me. Until I could capture the world in a viewpoint totally unlike everyone else's, I wouldn't let myself paint.
That was what I decided.

Maybe that decision in itself wasn't mistaken. But in the summer when I was 19, I still hadn't solidified my view of things, so out of haste, I again picked up the brush.
It wasn't until long afterward that I realized it was a time when I absolutely shouldn't have been drawing.
As a result, I lost my ability to draw. I couldn't even draw a proper apple. As soon as I thought to draw something, I was filled with outrageous confusion. Like I was going to scream.
I was attacked with anxiety like stepping out into air. I no longer had a sense for what lines and what colors I needed.

I realized I had lost my talent. Furthermore, I didn't have any will to struggle and get it back. It was too late to start from scratch. I dropped my brush, ran from the competition, and retreated inside.
At some point, I became too desperate to have my art approved of by everyone. I think that was the primary cause of my confusion.
The mistake of trying to draw for everyone was a severe one. When that mistake reached its peak, it created a situation of not being able to draw.
Universality isn't what's going to get people's favor. You get that when you go deep into the well of yourself, toil to bring something back, and produce something that's wholly individual at a glance.

To notice that required me to be rid of all concerns, and just for pure enjoyment, draw for myself.
And it was Miyagi who gave me that opportunity. With her as my subject, I could "draw" in a realm completely different from what I considered "drawing" to mean before.

After that, I spent all night drawing landscapes, the ones I had pictured before I slept every night since I was five.
The world I wanted to live in, memories that I'd never had, a somewhere I'd never been, a someday that could have been past or future.
I didn't even realize it, but I had long been piling them up. And it was drawing Miyagi that made me understand how to express them.
Maybe I'd been awaiting that moment. Though it was only just before my death, my talent was finally perfected.

According to the woman who did my evaluation, the paintings I was to create in my last thirty days were "paintings that even de Chirico would consider too sentimental."
That was the only explanation she gave me, but I thought, yeah, that does sound like the sort of stuff I'd make.

Selling the part of my life in which I'd paint those and get my name in a little corner of history fetched me a ridiculous sum that made me doubt my eyes.
With just thirty days, I came just short of fully repaying Miyagi's debt. Still, she would be free in three more years of work.

"Thirty days more valuable than thirty years, huh?", the observer laughed as we parted.
And so I denied eternity.

The summer Himeno once made a prediction of was drawing to a close.
Her prediction was half-wrong.
Not even in the end was I ever rich, ever famous.
But her prediction was half-right.
"Something really good" happened, all right. And like she said, deep down, I could be "glad I lived."

Chapter 15

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