“That geezer is an extraordinary goldfish lover,” Mayuzumi said, crossing her legs. “It doesn’t matter what kind. In fact, he values the unusual ones. Unorthodox, as far as collectors go.”
She was already on the bed wearing a nightgown. She had no plans of going out. The carpeted room was no different than a hotel room, except that there were no windows. Swinging her bare feet, she continued.
“For example, once he caught a goldfish that could only live in fire. It was the soul of a woman who died in a fire. She took on the form because she had been staring at a goldfish in an aquarium right before she died. But it vanished not long after because of poor handling. A sad story, really. Her soul taking on a different form meant that she still had some attachment to the world of the living.”
It vanished because of him.
He was willing to kill goldfish to satiate his desires.
Hardly an enthusiast.
“As you may have noticed, that old man maintains a close relationship with espers. In order to collect rare goldfish, he deepened his relationship with some wretched clans. In his mind, goldfish are above humans, and he himself stands above them. Otherwise, he would take better care of his goldfish. That’s why I don’t like him. Goldfish are more beautiful than that geezer. The fact that they don’t talk already makes them better than him.” She snorted.
Behind her, Shirayuki was sitting on a chair, staring at the desk. In front of her was a nightgown that Mayuzumi lent her. There was even a cap with pom poms. She remained motionless, studying the nightgown made of thin, white fabric.
Perhaps she was wondering whether to put it on or not.
“He loves goldfish, but he wants a partner. That’s how materialistic he is. A true enthusiast would love only goldfish. Or consider separating wife from goldfish. Whichever one he puts on top is a different matter. He needs to treat them as two different things first. He can’t do that, so he turned humans into goldfish. Do you know what this means? By the way, he’s not an esper. He can’t turn a goldfish into a human. But he can turn a human into a goldfish.”
An enigmatic question. I bit my lip. A hunched back flashed in my mind. Where did he go after killing his master? What was he doing now?
“Are you referring to Kugutsu?” I asked, thinking back about the man.
“Yes. The old man has raised them with his own hands since they were very young. And the result is what you see now. Did you see their eyes? They look like fish eyes. They don’t talk, they don’t laugh, they don’t defy him. He raised them to look like goldfish at first glance. You heard what he said, didn’t you? I would have grown to be a beautiful goldfish. The thought alone makes me shudder. How in the world did he even raise them?”
Even Kugutsu, who was relentlessly treated like a dog by his master, still had the will of a human being. But those girls didn’t have that. They were missing something important.
Mayuzumi waved her manicured nail and grinned.
“So by fish he could slaughter, he meant that,” I muttered.
“Yes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ‘fish’ he was referring to was a human being,” Mayuzumi said flatly.
I swallowed my agitation, but the child began to spin around in my stomach. I rubbed my belly to calm her down, but she wouldn’t stop laughing.
“But that has nothing to do with this case. Those are two different matters. So you learned that he’s a monster. Now what? It’ll only bring you down. Go back to your room.” She waved her hand, and the sleeve of her nightgown ruffled.
But hers did not look like the fin of a goldfish.
“There are two types of people in this world. Those who feel better despising others, and those who feel awful. You belong to the latter, don’t you?”
Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m no saint. The reason I came to ask Mayuzumi while already having an idea of her answer was simply because of curiosity. Knowing the old man’s abnormality would not change anything. But I felt it was necessary to know.
Abnormal people, abnormal thoughts, twisted emotions. I’d been looking away from all of them for a long time. That’s why I feel like I need to know. How ugly and warped the things I am involved in now are. That is no different from mere curiosity. But that was okay. I simply absorbed what Mayuzumi told me.
And that was it.
I couldn’t do anything.
“O’ pretty goldfish
Wearing red clothes
I will give you a treat
If you wake up”
When I returned to our room and opened the door, an unexpected sight greeted me. Yuusuke was sitting on the bed, singing a nursery rhyme. The two girls were crouched at his feet. Yuusuke was singing while juggling. Not beanbags, but the drinking glasses that were sitting on the table. The glasses glittered as he tossed them back and forth between his hands. The girls’ dark eyes betrayed no emotion, but it felt like they were earnestly following the glasses with their eyes.
They looked like children watching a circus.
“The red goldfish
Makes a tiny bubble
Then wakes up
From its afternoon nap”
The glasses clinked as they settled in Yuusuke’s hand. He raised his hands to ask for an applause, but the girls did not respond. They just looked up at Yuusuke with blank expressions. Still, Yuusuke laughed merrily and patted their little heads.
“Ah, welcome back. Odagiri-san,” he said when he finally noticed me.
“I didn’t know you could sing nursery rhymes. And what’s up with that?”
“Oh, these things? I just saw them on the desk, so I used them for some juggling. We didn’t have a lot of toys at home back then, so I learned a lot of stuff to play with Aki. I know quite a few old games as well. Bet you didn’t expect that one, huh?”
Yuusuke laughed. Yukihito, on the other hand, was frozen on the bed. Yuusuke’s amiable smile was a stark contrast to the expression I saw from him earlier. Far too different from the toothy, skull-like grin. There was a lot of tenderness in the way he stroked the girls’ heads.
Was this what he was like before he broke down?
Before his mother and sister-in-law hang themselves.
Before he drove his father to suicide.
Suddenly, the girls stood up. Pulling on Yuusuke’s hand, they started walking, their faces devoid of emotion still. They wanted to take Yuusuke somewhere. Stumbling, he looked back at me.
“I’m going out for a bit, Odagiri-san. Apparently this mansion has a backyard. I’m gonna go play with these kids. I don’t know when I’ll be back, so just go to bed before me.”
“Backyard? Wait a minute. You can’t just go around on your own.”
“There’s only two beds, and it’s a pain to ask for an extra futon. Don’t worry about me. I’ll just lie down wherever when I get back.”
With a wave of his hand, Yuusuke bolted out, leaving the door open. I peeked outside, and saw the three of them running down the spiral staircase. Red and black sleeves fluttered away. They looked like they were diving to the bottom of an aquarium. I followed them with my gaze. Yuusuke laughed as they pulled him by the hand. The look on his face was something I had never seen before. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, the girls pulled Yuusuke’s hand even harder.
A languid voice called the girls. The girls stopped and turned around. The old man, still seated on the couch, crossly opened his left eye. The eyelid over his right eye, which remained closed, was twitching.
“Come,” he said.
The girls silently walked over, when they were pulled from behind. Still they tried to walk, but they couldn’t move forward.
Yuusuke was holding their hands tightly. A twisted smile was plastered on his face.
A spine-chilling, vicious sneer.
“Is there something wrong, dear guest?” the old man asked.
Yuusuke’s smile widened.
“Excuse me,” I said. “May I have a moment?”
The old man moved his head slightly. I darted in front of Yuusuke, hiding him behind me. The old man snorted as he crossed his fingers.
“…Odagiri-san?” Yuusuke muttered, puzzled.
“Go play with them,” I whispered. “They invited you to the backyard, right?”