By Ash Warren
For The First Rule of Nabokov Award
‘You aren’t going to believe this one sir ……’ said the sergeant as he waved his superior into the room.
He was right.
In fact, two things stood out immediately for Inspector Tani.
The first were the skeletal remains of the deceased, dressed in kimono, who had apparently died seated at a large kotatsu table in the centre of living room. The body was slumped across a pile of yellowing papers, the right hand stretched out and still clutching a large black fountain pen.
The second thing he noticed was the life-sized portrait of His Imperial Highness the Emperor in full regalia, hanging on the wall directly in front of them.
The sergeant now proffered him several sheets of a handwritten document.
‘Perhaps you’d better read this first sir.’ he said.
The Inspector put on his glasses and sat down on one of the cushions on the tatami mat floor.
Let us begin, Dear Reader, with the acknowledgment that there is no perfect moment for the truth, as there may be for writing, or for reading. Or in fact for many things.
Even for walking, if you fancy that activity.
You could be like my neighbor, Mrs Terada, who takes advantage of delicious spring mornings like today to waste them walking her particularly vicious, rodent-like Pomeranian around our elegant old neighborhood. This beast, which has long since sensed my disapproval, snarls vigorously at me whenever our paths cross, even as it simpers disgustingly and wags its appendage for all and sundry else. It knows that I know, I know that it knows, just as its owner knows not. That much is clear, for I sometimes hear her laughing as she walks away.
The Inspector raised his eyebrows and glanced at his sergeant, who merely shrugged in reply.
Or you could be more discerning, and spend your time reading this.
You, my Dear Reader, having no doubt discerned the sonorous flow of language above as the outpouring of some master hand, must now have had your curiosity piqued as to whose voice it is that you are now entrusting yourself as you embark upon these pages. To whom do you owe this moment of simple pleasure as you hold this palimpsest in your shaking hands? And should I, your guide, hold myself anonymous as did so many of the ancient greats who hid behind the curtain of some nom de plume?
No, I shall not suffer you, dear acolytes, this cruelty.
Let me reveal myself, and not in any perverse sense, as my grandfather did once on some form of public transport (quite accidentally, or so he claimed to the police at the time).
I am Gonzaimon no Nakahara no Tsuruhashi and I am, quite simply, the last of my kind.
The Inspector cast a sidelong glance at the corpse and noted the lurid yellow polka-dot kimono with the gaudy silver sash.
‘Thank God for that.’ he murmured aloud. His sergeant coughed.
However, before I begin my story, one must acknowledge that what I am about to relate is NOT an easy thing for the polluted mind to grasp.
Do your best though.
I was born and still live in Kagurazaka, just a geisha’s sigh from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, where I was raised by my grandparents, and where my mother was an infrequent visitor. In fact, I only learned much later that she was a woman in a high class profession in Ginza.
And my father? Gradually my suspicions on this matter were confirmed.
My father, (upon whose name my mother would always refuse to be drawn) was clearly a person of such power and estate that any and all lengths were gone to in order to protect his identity.
Of course, the mystery of my father’s name could only mean but one thing.
Yes, I was of noble blood.
And like Prince Genji, who was the son of an Emperor and his favorite concubine, I have come to understand that this was one of those things that was simply not to be spoken of.
And yet…and yet… When I direct my gaze upon the likenesses of our royal family…. the truth of my Lineage seems so clear….
Inspector Tani looked up at the portrait, which looked back unamused.
That same mouth, as one of the younger princes. That same curve of the eyebrow, nay, even that same timbre and inflexion found in His Majesty’s voice….this not only I but many have noted! (‘He’s more royal than the Emperor!’ some of my schoolmates would bawl as they would rush past me at school.)
No. Not more royal. But certainly not less.
Yet I can hear you asking: ‘How has such an enormous secret, one of such State Importance, been hidden so well and for so long?’
For as we all know, not a single breath of this story has ever been heard (until now). Equally convincingly, there is not one shred of concrete evidence to bear witness to these facts.
What could be more telling of a cover-up of vast proportions than this?
The truth of who I am though, can be seen in other ways. It shines through ineffably, though clearly, like the light of the stars. There is that certain refinement of sensitivity, that clear nobility of thought and grandeur of vision, that gentle way of waving….
To know me then, is to know the truth.
And so, read on…
‘How much more of this stuff did you find?’
In reply, the sergeant waved his hand cheerfully in the direction of several large boxes lined up under the portrait, all of which were filled to overflowing with documents in the same florid penmanship.
The Emperor glared down balefully upon them, and the Inspector met his eyes, and sighed.