11 July, Daisuke Takada

文字数 5,086文字

The Key


My employer is speech-impaired, and communicates with the wider world using sign language. As a result, my duties include the role of interpreter, a job which often proves indistinguishable from that of a servant catering to his every beck and call. When we make excursions out into town, I have to step in as an intermediary to facilitate conversation. My employer is an exacting man, and grows impatient whenever my hands sign too slowly, on even the slightest time lag. Although I can more or less interpret smoothly at the usual retinue of shops where we are a regular presence, days like today are another matter entirely. As my employer imperiously mills about the booths piled high with dusty bric-a-brac at the flea market, I anxiously trail one step behind him, as if treading on eggshells.
  The first vendor tries his luck, and eagerly hawks an expensive bolt of fabric:
  Ma’am, what do you think of this exquisite Eastern chintz? Go on, hold it up and let’s see how it looks.
  My employer signs dismissively:
  I wouldn’t be caught dead in such a gaudy floral print. It looks like the upholstery on a chair at my grandparents’ house.
  Thank you, but he says it’s not quite what he’s looking for today. . . .
  Might I interest you in this tin incense burner? A rarity from the south, it would make a lovely addition to your bedside table at night.
  I’d sooner fall asleep with a mosquito-coil burning beneath my pillow.
  He has a rather sensitive nose, so we’ll have to pass. . . .
  Despite his aristocratic status, my employer isn’t interested in such fineries. Instead, he is drawn to what can only be described as junk. He stops suddenly in front of one particular vendor’s table, a haphazard array of bits and bobs scattered across a threadbare rug. The little trinkets look like the sort of things that you might find forgotten in the back of any messy cabinet drawer: rusty nails and screws, lonely mouthpieces separated from the rest of smoking pipes, copper paperweights that have turned a bright shade of green, incomplete sets of silverware, and a timeworn set of keys.
  What could be more useless than a bunch of keys without their matching locks?
  Perhaps somewhere in the world, there is someone with a set of locks, searching for these keys.
  The old proprietress picks up the keychain, and begins slowly flipping through each key with gnarled, arthritic fingers. My employer watches the old woman closely, her kerchiefed gray head bowed in concentration. Eventually, the jangling stops, and she presents my employer with an exceptionally dull brass key.
  My employer raises an eyebrow with uncharacteristic curiosity. The corner of his mouth budges into a rare half-smile, and he nods knowingly.
  I’ll take it. Buy it with the stipend I pay you, at whatever price she asks.
  At the asking price? But you always like to haggle! I see you’re awfully generous when it comes to spending someone else’s pocket change. . . .
  I quickly paid for the key, and hurried to catch up with my employer, who had already moved a few booths ahead. It seemed doubtful that a single key could have any value. Besides, my employer’s identity was no secret in this village. I suspected that the old woman cunningly capitalized on his excursion down from the castle and sold the key for a princely profit. Handing the key over to my employer, I commented on the perplexing nature of this impulse purchase.
  It’s quite unlike you to buy something as impractical as a key without a lock. Perhaps you have a bit of a sentimental streak, after all.
  Turning the key over in his palm, my employer pointed to the jagged metal teeth with his delicate fingers.
  Did you not notice? This key is cut into the letter M, just like my first initial.
  Do you think the old woman knew?
  I imagine that the presence of a sign-language interpreter was a rather conspicuous clue.
  As someone who prides himself as a man of logic and reason, my employer loathes the occult, and would never confess to falling under the spell of the supernatural. But I couldn’t help but think this key symbolized something more than mere coincidence. Surely, there was some deeper meaning in how the old woman deliberately chose this particular key, and handed it over without hesitation. I trembled with the premonition that we might someday find the matching lock.
  Seeing as how the key had thus found its way into the hands of my employer, it could only mean one thing: the lock must belong to a book.
  Somewhere in the world, a book awaits our key, ready to reveal long-hidden secrets with a soft metallic click. But it seemed that for the time being, this newfound knowledge would have to remain shrouded in mystery.


Translated by Daniel González/Arranged by TranNet KK

Daisuke Takada
Made his debut in 2013 with

Toshokan

no

majo

(The library witch), for which he won the 45th Mephisto Prize. His other works include

Toshokan

no

majo:

Karasu

no

tsutekoto

(The library witch: The crow’s message), and

Mahori

.

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