The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes (2)

My novel, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, will be released on June 1st. You can find the opening chapters and synopsis here. In the chapter below, we meet the novel’s second protagonist, the reclusive Japanese teenager and maths prodigy, Shuji Nomoto.

Shuji Nomoto stands with his head pressed against the door. He has been listening for ten minutes to his mother, Junko, and his older brother, Yuichi, argue about something inconsequential downstairs. At last he is satisfied there is no one on this floor, but still his muscles pull against him as he puts his fingers on the handle. His grip falters; the sweat on his palm slides against the metal. He swallows hard and listens to the sound of blood in his ears, the quick, quick, quick beat of his heart, the only fragile thing that separates life from death.

Silently. Silently – every day he uses oil from his fried tofu lunch to keep the door from making a sound. A crack of strange light appears from the corridor and Shuji winces. Cooler air and the smell of bean curd catch his face and he feels giddy. He closes his eyes, pushes, feels for the tray with his feet, pulls the door, eases the handle back, turns the lock, and leans back against the door, fighting back shameful tears as he waits for his heart to slow.

Eventually he is calm. He sits at his desk, his back rod-straight, and moves his finger in a perfect nautilus spiral on the mouse pad to bring his laptop back to life. Three years ago, this was the highest specification Sony laptop money could buy. His mother bought the latest model every year for their brilliant son, delighted by the interest he showed in learning, unlike his baseball-obsessed older brother. Now, though, Shuji’s external hard drive is full and he has filled enough of the internal memory to notice the loss of speed sometimes.

Occasionally he looks longingly at the new models, and imagines what he could do with the extra speed and capacity. But he knows how his old machine works, nkwos it’s reliable, and ordering something from the outside world is just too risky. Besides, if he is ever going to prove the Nomoto-Byfield conjecture, it will be brain power, not artificial processing, he needs.

Agnieszka Anonymous has reappeared on Shuji’s screen. He scrolls through the forums. The journalist has posted again. Shuji checks his moderator’s control panel. The journalist’s IP address is in England. It must be deep into the night there. Edgeofdarkness. It’s an interesting name. To Shuji it has a dreamlike quality, although the five syllables of Theedgeofdarkness would be better still.

He imagines the new user for a moment, sitting in a study somewhere on the other side of the world, or perhaps a 24 hour internet café. Another of the ghosts that come out at night to stalk Agnieszka through the hours of darkness. He wonders what it would be like to meet one of his fellow-travellers, to talk over coffee, to share a meal, to touch. After a few moments he turns to the large work surface where his work is laid out and, with a seamless transition, his thoughts return to mathematics.


Shuji’s father, Taichi, was a successful banker. When he died six years ago, Junko was left alone in their large home in Kobe with her two sons. The home wanted for nothing. Each of the three bedrooms had its own bathroom, and the living area was large enough to take the many colleagues of Taichi’s she had regularly entertained.

After Taichi’s death, Junko rattled around the house like the seeds of an honesty plant in their transparent shell. Perhaps it’s because it’s been so long since Shuji has spoken with another person, but now, when he hears his mother and Yuichi’s voices rising up the stairs, they sound so distorted by the vast, empty space of the house it seems they come from a different world.

One morning, when he was 14, Shuji stepped out of the shower and towelled himself dry. He pulled on his underwear, trousers, socks, a vest, and a clean white shirt. He stood in front of the mirror, pulling wax through his short hair, expertly teasing it into spikes between his fingers. Without any warning, he stopped, stared, and saw someone he didn’t recognise staring back at him from the mirror. It was like he was looking at a mannequin in a shop window, a model on a billboard. There was a stranger in his room, and the stranger was him.

He took off his school uniform, emptied the identikit outfits from their drawer, bundled them into a bag, placed them outside his bedroom, closed the door, and locked it behind him. He washed the gel from his hair, dressed in jeans and a Nirvana T-shirt, sat at his desk, fired up his laptop, and began scouring the internet for every reference he could find to the Byfield Effect. He hasn’t spoken to, seen, or been seen by, another person since.

At first he was fascinated. He devoted every second of his time to understanding the Effect. It felt to him as though knowing it better than he knew anything else in or about the world was all that mattered. He had been given a task of monumental importance, but he had no idea what, or why. All he knew was he had to prepare for it by mastering this theory.

The Byfield Effect, named after the English astrophysicist Professor Sydney Byfield, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the subject, is the phenomenon whereby a cluster of waves – to an observer travelling at close to the speed of light, and in the same direction as the waves – appears to behave like a solid object. It marks the point where the Doppler Effect, whereby waves appear expanded or contracted according to their velocity towards or away from an observer, breaks down. The Byfield Effect notes that as the velocity of the observer approximates the velocity of the waves, a point of turbulence occurs and the waves no longer appear as lengthened or shortened versions of themselves, but begin to appear as particles. Known as the Byfield Point, this is the place where quantum physics and the chaotic mathematics of turbulent systems intersect.

Two years later, Shuji saw the clip of Agnieszka Iwanowa’s death. He played the clip through five times. Each time Agnieszka turned her head to the camera, he pressed his face closer to the screen, trying to decipher her words, to make out what she was saying to him. He knew what he was watching change his life forever, but he had no idea how.

Eventually his eyes hurt so much from the concentration he cradled his head in his hands, massaging his brow with his fingertips. Through the gaps between his fingers, he saw on a piece of paper handwriting he recognised as his own: Nomoto-Byfield Conjecture.


~ by yearzerowriters on May 4, 2010.

28 Responses to “The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes (2)”

  1. Sweet, Dan.

  2. Well I’m hooked anyway. I love the atmosphere, the pace of revelation, the intimacy of characterization. Hints of Murakami. The subject matter, theme an absolute favourite. Yummy. Will peruse the opening chapters and definately get the whole thing (rubs hands together gleefully).

    The girl with one of few faces.

  3. Back again, having read the first post to say I think this is may be the novel I wish I’d written (parallel worlds AS WELL. I have those too but with a different tone in my current but have another simmering that I hope can be as beautiful as yours.) Will we be able to hold this in our hands?

  4. I will make sure to send it over to you the moment the edits are done 🙂 Thank you!

    I don’t know if I’m going to do it as an actual book. Because it started life on Facebook and was intended as an interactive effort (although it didn’t end up turning out that way) I would feel slightly like I was cheating the people who commented earlier on if I made money out of it.

  5. Or you could just offer it up for free on smashwords but give people the option of buying a physical copy. Personally, I’d prefer to own a physical copy. Or the way you did Skinbook was very clever, so you could do something like that.

  6. I remember Shuji.

    • Yeah, I’d forgotten I’d written this whole book, and I was reading it again and it’s actually some of the best stuff I’ve written. Which is great. But also kind of sad.

      Problem, Marcella, is I’d feel guilty if people had to pay. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do, but IO’ll do something other than just an ebook.

      • Well people won’t *have* to pay. They can have the option of reading it for free in one format, or pay to have the other. If you timed the release right, I could order yours and Sarah Melville’s new one at the same time. I’m one of those people, I like to have the physical copy of the book.

        At the same time, though, I get that mentality. I don’t want people to have to pay for Black Laces either.

  7. Dude, ziiiiiiiiiiines!
    I’m gonna be a cave-dwelling hermit who only comes out to shout,
    “ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiines!” once or twice a day.
    But, seriously, ziiiiiines.
    Talk to RJXP. He be the zine king.

  8. I agree with Marcella. Offer a print version for those who want it. Probably won’t sell many anyway, unless you can keep the cost down. POD tech has undergone a revolution, but the price is still higher than trad publishing, even before you tack on shipping.

    Daisy’s right too. Zine’s are still the answer for keeping it affordable. I wonder, would a zine work for a novel of 100,000 words? I know a POD version would cost about $20, and that’s keeping royalties down to a minimum. What would be the minimum price on a 100,000 word zine?

    • I don’t know – this is 55,000 words so it might work, though.
      Daisy, I’ll get in touch with RJXP 🙂

    • POD just about comparable to trad publishing now – my book, 86k words, POD’d through Lulu, retails at £8.95/$13.50 before discount, free worldwide delivery through The Book Depository (and Amazon in certain countries). Discounts vary on market demand and have ranged up to 17% bringing price down to £7.45 (currently it’s 4%). I make about a quid on each copy. That seems to me just about viable.

      • Yes, it’s certainly not prohibitive. I think it’s fair to say that it IS prohibitive for mass-market books that people would buy to read on a Sunday afternoon, because then you’re competing with the discount market – but in the undiscounted literary and niche sections, it’s pretty competitive

  9. ha ha ha ha “maths”


  10. I liked this, though, even though I can’t read “maths” without cracking up. Intriguing. I’m just as curious as the characters to want to know what Agnieszka said before she died. I think it’s a safe bet, though, that you never tell us.
    (Please say you don’t tell us! It would be like letting everyone know who killed Laura Palmer. Oh wait . . . yeah, they did that.)


    • Actually, I do, which is a real real risk because I worry people will feel cheated.
      Of course, when I say that I do, it’s probably nothing like anything you’re thinking.

      I love maths. I mean really love it – I tried having treatment a while back but to no avail. Little-known fact: I competed in the 2000 World Mental Arithmetic Championships where you get to do cool things like multiplying two 8 digit numbers in your head 🙂

      • BLECH. I just think it’s funny that you guys pluralise math. It’s MATH. There’s just one, okay? ONE MATH.

        You math people disgust me with your voodoo powers! I had to do two years of summer school to pass my three required math classes in high school. So sad. Five years worth of math in four years of schooling.

        Well, so long she doesn’t say “my father killed me”, it’ll be okay.


        • I’m afraid there are many math’s, depending on what base you use. Common math is in base ten, clocks are in base 60. So are compasses. Arthur C. Clarke said the closest we may come to understanding the language of aliens might be trying to do math in a different base.

          Love math, algebra, trig, calculus, differential equations, systems of linear equations, multivariate calculus. For me it’s as enjoyable as doing a crossword puzzle.

        • “Maths” is the abbreviation of “mathematics”, right? Do you talk about “mathematics” or “mathematic” ? OK? Learn to speak English. Or if you don’t like that, can we just agree on calling it “sums”. Or would you prefer “sum”?

          • Holy hell, guys, I just think it sounds funny because I’m an American and not used to hearing it plural. I’m not saying it’s wrong! I’m saying it sounds funny and slightly endearing, like all British English. I was teasing!

            I guess I should preface every single comment I make with “This is Sarah. Sarah is EXTREMELY sarcastic, especially when she uses lots of caps! No, seriously, half of everything she says is sarcastic.”

            I completely understand the “maths” thing. The last thing I am is an idiot about words.


  11. I wish I had the head for it as its the beautiful everything. Spring 1989, college library I sat in a seat that had James Gleick’s ‘Chaos’ on the shelf above. Fractals blew me away.

    Then there’s gems like this: 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

    About the price of the book, Dan, let us do the ‘math’. I like to lie down with my books under the covers, where kindles don’t belong.


    • I went up to uni in 89 – my wall was absolutely covered in Mandlebrot sets.

      My problem wasn’t the price at all – it was the ethics of this specific book, because it started life as an interactive novel on Facebook – even though there was very little actual interaction and I wrote the whole thing it feels as though I have no moral right to charge for work to which others contributed their time. I guess I should go to the people who first commented on the Facebook group and ask them what they think – they’ll certainly all get a fre copy if there IS a physical version 🙂

      I love 11, and all extensions – it’s just crazy. 9 the same.

      • “even though there was very little actual interaction and I wrote the whole thing it feels as though I have no moral right to charge for work to which others contributed their time.” – Dan, it’s your book, you wrote it. I think I made a couple of comments early on, but that’s easy. People enjoy commenting on other people’s work – much easier than writing your own. The HARD part is thinking up the original idea and then sustaining it through to the bitter end. That’s the real work.

        Everything we write and create is influenced by the people around us. Most of our ideas started off somewhere else, like DJ’s we just stick them all together.

        It’s your book and everyone who commented on it should be pleased they participated and they didn’t even have to pay for the experience.

  12. Yes ask them and maybe give the money away (to poor starving writers in garrets?). Mandelbrot sets! Yes!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: