Dream Number 9

Dream Number 9


I found the Righa Royal Hotel immediately, which left over an hour to kill in Harajuku. Dreamy shopgirls cleaned boutique windows in the morning cool, and florists hosed down sidewalks. I read magazines in 7-Eleven, keeping a nervous eye on the clock, until it was time to report to the Amadeus Tea Room. It is a wedding-cake world with pasteled, fluted walls with tasteful little floral displays on every carefully spaced table. Aunt Yen would award it her highest decoration: "Rapturous!" I want to spray-paint its creamy carpets, milky walls, and buttery upholstery. I poke the ice in my water. My grandfather is due here in fifteen minutes. Grandfather. The word will acquire a new meaning for me. Weird, how words slip meanings on and off. Until last week, grandfather meant the man in the grainy photo on my grandmother's family altar. "The sea took him off" was all she ever told us about her long-dead husband. Yakushima folklore remembers him as a thief and a boozer who disappeared off the end of the harbor quay one windy night, which explains a lot about my grandmother's attitudes to men in general. Amadeus Tea Room is posh enough to support a butler. He stands behind a sort of pedestal at the pearly gates, examines the reservations book, lords it over the waitresses, and pedals his fingers. Do butlers go to butler school? How much are they paid? I practice pedaling my fingers, and at that very moment the butler looks straight at me. I drop my hands and look out the window, acutely embarrassed. At neighboring tables prosperous housewives discuss the secrets of their trade. Businessmen peruse spreadsheets and tap sparrow-size laptop keyboards. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart looks down from his ceiling fresco, surrounded by margarine cherubs blasting trumpets. He looks puffy and pasty—little wonder he died young. I badly want to smoke one of my Clarks. Mozart has a great view through the panoramic window. Tokyo Tower, PanOpticon, Yoyogi Park—where the dirty old men hang out with telephoto lenses. On a soaring chrome block a giant crane builds a scale model of itself. Water tanks, antennas, rooftops. The weather is stained brown today. A silver teaspoon is struck against a bone china teacup—no, it is the carriage clock on the mantelpiece announcing the arrival of ten o'clock. Butler bows, and guides an elderly man this way.


My grandfather looks at me—I stand up, flustered, suddenly underrehearsed—and he gives me that "Yes, it is me" look you get when you turn up for an appointment with a stranger. I cannot say he looks like me, but I cannot say there is no resemblance either. My grandfather walks with a cane, wears a navy cotton suit and a bootlace tie with a clasp. Butler zips ahead and prepares a chair. My grandfather purses his lips. His skin is sickly gray and mottled, and he fails to hide how much effort walking costs him. "Eiji Miyake, one presumes?" I give a serious eight-eighths bow, searching for the right thing to say. My grandfather gives an amused one-eighth. "Mr. Miyake, I must inform you at the outset that I am not your grandfather." I unbow. "Oh."

Butler withdraws, and the stranger sits down, leaving me marooned on my feet. "But, I am here at your grandfather's behest to discuss matters pertinent to the Tsukiyama family. Be seated, boy." He watches my every motion—his eyebrows are sunken, but the eyes inside are laser-guided. "The name is Raizo. Your grandfather and I go back many decades. I know about you, Miyake. In fact, it was I who brought your advertisement in the personals column to my friend's attention. As you are aware, your grandfather has been convalescent, in the wake of major heart surgery. His doctors' original forecasts were overly optimistic, and, regrettably, he is obliged to remain in the hospital for another three days. Hence I am here, in his stead. Questions?"

"Well . . . can I visit him?"

Mr. Raizo shakes his head. "Your stepmother is helping to nurse him in the ward, and—how can I express this?"

"She thinks I am a leech who wants to suck money from the Tsukiyamas."

"Precisely. Just for the record: is that your intention?"

"No, Mr. Raizo. All I want is to meet my father." If I insist on this often enough, will people finally begin to believe me?

Mr. Raizo is giving nothing away. "Your grandfather believes that secrecy is the wisest strategy to belay your stepmother's misgivings, at this point. Young lady!" Mr. Raizo crooks his finger at a passing waitress. "One of my giant cognacs, if you please. Your poison, Miyake?"

"Uh, green tea, please."

The waitress gives me a well-trained smile. "We have eighteen varieties—"

"Oh, just bring the boy a pot of tea, dammit!"

The waitress bows, her smile undented. "Yes, Admiral."

Admiral? How many of those are there? "Admiral Raizo?"

"All that was long before you were born. 'Mr.' is fine."

"Mr. Raizo. Do you actually know my father?"

"Blunt questions earn blunt answers. Well. I make no secret of the fact that I despise the man. I have assiduously avoided his company for nine years, since the day I learned he sold the Tsukiyama sword."

"A sword?"

"It had been in his—your—family for over five centuries, Miyake. Five hundred years! The snub that your father dealt five centuries of Tsukiyamas—not to mention the Tsukiyamas yet to be born—is immeasurable. Immeasurable! Your grandfather, Takara Tsukiyama, is a man who believes in bloodlines. Your father is a man who believes in joint stock ventures in Formosa. Do you know where the Tsukiyama sword presently resides?" The admiral rasps. "It resides in the boardroom of a pesticide factory in Nebraska! What do you think of that, Miyake?"

"It seems a shame, Mr. Raizo, but—"

"It is a crime, Miyake! Your father is a man devoid of honor! When he separated from your mother he would happily have cut her adrift without a thought for her future! It was your grandfather who ensured her financial survival." This is news to me. "There are codes of honor, even when dealing with concubines. Flesh and blood have meaning, Miyake! Bloodlines are the stuff of life, of identity. Knowing where you are from is a requisite of self-knowledge." The waitress arrives with a silver tray, and places our drinks on lace place mats.

"I agree that bloodlines are important, Mr. Raizo. This is why I am here."

The admiral sniffs his cognac moodily. I sip my soapy tea. "Y'know, Miyake, my doctors told me to lay off this stuff. But I meet more geriatric sailors than I do geriatric doctors." He drains half the glass in a single gulp, tips his head back, and savors every molecule. "Your half-sisters are dead losses, of course. A pair of screeching vulgarities, at some no-name college for half-wits. They rise at eleven o'clock in the morning. They wear white lipstick, astronaut boots, cowboy hats, Ukrainian peasant scarfs. They dye their hair the color of effluence. It is your grandfather's hope that his grandson—you—have principles loftier than those espoused in the latest pop hit."

"Mr. Raizo—forgive me if—I mean, I hope my grandfather doesn't see me as any kind of, uh, future heir. When I say I have no intention of muscling my way into the Tsukiyama family tree, I mean it. I hope my grandfather will see that."

Mr. Raizo rumbles. "Who—meant—what—where—when—why—whose . . . Look, your grandfather wants you to read this." He places a package on the table, wrapped in black cloth. "A loan, not a gift. This journal is his most treasured possession. Guard it with your life, literally if necessary, and bring it when you rendezvous with your grandfather seven days from now. Here. Same time—ten hundred hours—same table. Questions?"

"We've never met—is it wise to trust me with something so—"

"Brazen folly, I say. Make a copy, I told the stubborn fool. Don't entrust some boy you've never even met with the original. But he insisted. A copy would dilute its soul, its uniqueness. His words, not mine."

"I, uh"—I look at the black package—"I am honored."

"Indeed you are. Your father has never read these pages. He would probably auction them to the highest bidder, on his 'Inter Net.'"

"Mr. Raizo: could you tell me what my grandfather wants?"

"Another blunt question." The admiral downs the rest of his cognac. The jewel in his tie-clasp glimmers ocean-abyss blue. "I will tell you this. Growing old is an unwinnable campaign. During this war we witness the ugliest metamorphoses. Faith becomes cynical transactions between liars. Sacrifices turn out to be needless excesses. In a single generation, we saw enemy squadrons become tourist coachloads. You ask what your grandfather wants? I shall tell you. He wants what you want. No more, no less."

A coven of wives blowholes wild laughter.

"Uh, which is?"

Admiral Raizo stands. Butler is already here with his cane. "Meaning."

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Excerpted from Number9Dream by David Mitchell. Copyright © 2002 by David Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.