Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
The ghost was her father’s parting gift, presented by a black-clad secretary in a departure lounge at Narita. For the first two hours of the flight to London it lay forgotten in her purse, a smooth dark oblong, one side impressed with the ubiquitous Maas-Neotek logo, the other gently curved to fit the user’s palm. She sat up very straight in her seat in the first-class cabin, her features composed in a small cold mask modeled after her dead mother’s most characteristic expression. The surrounding seats were empty; her father had purchased the space. She refused the meal the nervous steward offered. The vacant seats frightened him, evidence of her father’s wealth and power. The man hesitated, then bowed and withdrew. Very briefly, she allowed the mask her mother’s smile. Ghosts, she thought later, somewhere over Germany, staring at the upholstery of the seat beside her. How well her father treated his ghosts. There were ghosts beyond the window, too, ghosts in the stratosphere of Europe’s winter, partial images that began to form if she let her eyes drift out of focus. Her mother in Ueno Park, face fragile in September sunlight. »The cranes, Kumi! Look at the cranes!« And Kumiko looked across Shinobazu Pond and saw nothing, no cranes at all, only a few hopping black dots that surely were crows. The water was smooth as silk, the color of lead, and pale holograms flickered indistinctly above a distant line of archery stalls. But Kumiko would see the cranes later, many times, in dreams; they were origami, angular things folded from sheets of neon, bright stiff birds sailing the moonscape of her mother’s madness. . . . Remembering her father, the black robe open across a tattooed storm of dragons, slumped behind the vast ebony field of his desk, his eyes flat and bright, like the eyes of a painted doll. »Your mother is dead. Do you understand?« And all around her the planes of shadow in his study, the angular darkness. His hand coming forward, into the lamp’s circle of light, unsteadily, to point at her, the robe’s cuff sliding back to reveal a golden Rolex and more dragons, their manes swirling into waves, pricked out strong and dark around his wrist, pointing. Pointing at her. »Do you understand?« She hadn’t answered, but had run instead, down to a secret place she knew, the warren of the smallest of the cleaning machines. They ticked around her all night, scanning her every few minutes with pink bursts of laser light, until her father came to find her, and, smelling of whiskey and Dunhill cigarettes, carried her to her room on the apartment’s third floor. Remembering the weeks that followed, numb days spent most often in the black-suited company of one secretary or another, cautious men with automatic smiles and tightly furled umbrellas. One of these, the youngest and least cautious, had treated her, on a crowded Ginza sidewalk, in the shadow of the Hattori clock, to an impromptu kendo demonstration, weaving expertly between startled shop girls and wide-eyed tourists, the black umbrella blurring harmlessly through the art’s formal, ancient arcs. And Kumiko had smiled then, her own smile, breaking the funeral mask, and for this her guilt was driven instantly, more deeply and still more sharply, into that place in her heart where she knew her shame and her unworthiness. But most often the secretaries took her shopping, through one vast Ginza department store after another, and in and out of dozens of Shinjuku boutiques recommended by a blue plastic Michelin guide that spoke a stuffy tourist’s Japanese. She purchased only very ugly things, ugly and very expensive things, and the secretaries marched stolidly beside her, the glossy bags in their hard hands. Each afternoon, returning to her father’s apartment, the bags were deposited neatly in her bedroom, where they remained, unopened and untouched, until the maids removed them. And in the seventh week, on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, it was arranged that Kumiko would go to London.
»You will be a guest in the house of my kobun ,« her father said. »But I do not wish to go,« she said, and showed him her mother’s smile. »You must,« he said, and turned away. »There are difficulties,« he said to the shadowed study. »You will be in no danger, in London.« »And when shall I return?« But her father didn’t answer. She bowed and left his study, still wearing her mother’s smile.