Chapter 1: Shinjuku
April in Tokyo.
Aerie drowsed in bed, her brain a wad of fuzz, a dull ache in her neck. Sharp pains shot through when she tried and failed to roll over. She must have slept wrong. Really wrong. She couldn’t even summon her own muscles.
Some terrible, yet familiar music sifted into the room, a brainless and boring post-industrial techno, the sort her geekier friends at Berklee would have liked. The present mix incorporated giggling Japanese voices, footsteps clapping on hard linoleum, clanking steel, creaking hinges. These more organic sounds were underpinned by electronic rhythms – a bright and widely spaced “bing! … bing! … bing!” overlain with a quicker cycling but duller “wup-wup, wup-wup, wup-wup,” while beneath it all chugged a steady “wirra-wirra-wirra-wirra-wirra.” All together, the staggered timing of their overlapping grooves produced a sort of syncopation.
The piece went on way too long. It was completely amorphous, without climax, dynamics or resolution. It reminded her of those bad student compositions she had been sometimes forced to accompany. Total amateurs. It needed a bass part to weave together its dissolute elements and provide a rhythmic center. To Aerie, basses were hammers and every musical problem was a nail.
She searched for the perfect bass line in her head, notes that would provide the piece a frame with some rebar and i-beam to it. She conjured something reggae-ish and syncopated, with flurries of notes followed by windows of space for reflection. Something like: Ba-dum Badumba Dum. Space. Ba-dum Badumba. Repeat. That would turn this mushy ambience into something more compelling.
Aerie’s flicked open to find a stainless steel post with clear tubing dangling down from it. She lay in a cold bed with a scaffold clamped over her neck and cupping her chin. A bag of physiologic saline dripped into the catheter feeding into her wrist.
She remembered getting hurt. She couldn’t remember how. Her thoughts had the half-life of soap bubbles. As soon as one would form, it would pop.
The sliver of window visible between the curtains brought a familiar view –the Hilton hotel in Ochanomizu, the green bridge traversing the Kanda River. She knew the streets below for their many guitar shops. It was where she bought strings for her bass. In the streets beyond lurked gaudy pachinko parlors and pay-by-the-hour love hotels. This was Tokyo. How she knew all this, she had no clue.
She looked around the room as far her neck would allow. Shojo fairies pranced on pink wallpaper. A purple teddy bear grinned from a bookshelf.
“I’m twenty-five, for Chrissakes,” she grumbled to herself. “Why’d they stick me in a pediatrics ward?”
She wracked her weedy mind for a clue for how she ended up in this hospital. Other than a stomach bug, she had been healthy since arriving in Tokyo. It couldn’t be a car accident. She always walked or took the train to gigs. Had she been hit crossing the street? Her limbs seemed intact and other than a foggy brain and a slight headache, her head was fine. She slipped her fingers under her johnnie, finding nothing but intact, goose-pimpled skin.
Most of the pain centered around her neck. A rigid plastic collar confined it, and there were bandages beneath. Confirming this triggered a vague unease but no nuggets of tangible memory could congeal. The truth hovered just beyond her grasp at the edge of her consciousness, like some neglected but forgotten chore.
A bento box sealed with plastic film lay unopened on a bedside tray. A world sports show on FNN news blared from a monitor.
An aged female voice murmured on the other side of the curtain splitting her room. A man chatted with her. They were making fun of American football. It puzzled Aerie how she knew what they were saying. Though, she remembered coming to Japan, she couldn’t recall ever learning Nihongo. How long had she lived here?
It had to have something to do with jazz. Why else would she come to Tokyo? She didn’t even like sushi.
She wriggled up higher on her pillows, triggering stabs of pain beneath the clammy plastic collar. She winced and cried out.
The man who had been ridiculing the NFL pulled aside the curtain and hustled to her bedside. He pocketed a cigarette he must have been itching to light, and pulled out a notebook and pen. He plopped down in a pink and green vinyl chair and leaned forward, eyes bulging, studying her with a wry smile.