It was because it was completely unclear, even to myself, which it had been

From Han’s Crime by Shiga Naoya – in the collection The Paper Door and Other Stories. I would like to post the full story but I work daily with intellectual property issues and grudgingly respect the rulings of my betters. The short is that a sort of circus performer, Han, kills his wife through a missed placement during their knife throwing act. When it comes out that there was ill-feeling between the two, Han is arrested and interrogated on the murder:

“But, between my thinking about such a thing and actually deciding to kill her, there was still a wide gap. That day, from early morning on, I felt insanely keyed up. Because of my bodily fatigue, my nerves were edgy, without elasticity. Unable to remain still, I stayed outside all morning. I walked about restlessly, away from the others. I kept thinking that no matter what I would have to do something. But I no longer thought of killing her, as I had the night before. And I was not at all worried about that day’s performance. If I had been, I would not have chosen that particular act….

….A knife in my hand, I stood at a set distance straight across from her. For the first time since the night before, we exchanged looks. Only then did I realize the danger of having chosen this act for tonight. Unless I practiced the utmost care, I thought, there would be trouble. I must alleviate, as best I could, the day’s restless agitation and my strained, edgy nerves. But no matter how I tried, a weariness that had eaten into my heart would not let me. I began to feel that I could not trust my own arm. Closing my eyes, I attempted to calm myself. My body started to sway. The moment came. I drove in the first knife above her head. It went in slightly higher than usual. Then I drove in one knife each under the pits of her arms which were raised to shoulder level. As each knife left my fingertips, something clung to it an instant, as if to hold it back. I felt as if I no longer knew where the knives would go in. Each time one hit, I thought: Thank God. Calm down, calm down, I thought. But I could feel in my arm the constraint that comes from a thing’s having become conscious. I drove in a knife to the left of her throat. I was about to drive in the next one to the right, when suddenly a strange look came over her face. She must have felt an impulse of violent fear. Did she have a premonition that the knife about to fly at her would go through her neck? I don’t know. I only felt that face of violent fear, thrown back at my heart with the same force as the knife. Dizziness struck me. But even so, with all my strength, almost without a target, as though aiming in the dark, I threw the knife …”

The judge was silent.

“I’ve killed her at last, I thought.”

“How do you mean? That you’d done it on purpose?”

“Yes. I suddenly felt as if I had.”

“Afterwards, you knelt by the body in silent prayer…?”

“That was a trick that occurred to me at the moment. I knew everyone thought I seriously believed in Christianity. While pretending to pray, I was thinking about what attitude I should take.”

“You felt sure that what you’d done was intentional?”

“Yes. And I thought right away I could make out it was an accident.”

“But why did you think it was deliberate murder?”

“Because of my feelings, which were unhinged.”

“So you thought you’d skillfully deceived the others?”

“Thinking about it later, I was shocked at myself. I acted surprised in a natural manner, was considerably agitated, and also displayed grief. But any perceptive person, I believe, could have seen that I was playacting. Recalling my behavior, I sweated cold sweat. That night, I decided that I would have to be found innocent. First of all, I was extremely encouraged by the fact that there was not a scrap of objective proof of my crime. Everyone knew we’d been on bad terms, of course, so there was bound to be a suspicion of murder. I couldn’t do anything about that. But if I insisted, throughout, that it was an accident, that would be the end of it. That we’d gotten along badly might make people conjecture, but it was no proof. In the end, I thought, I would be acquitted for lack of evidence. Thinking back over the incident, I made up a rough version of my plea, as plausible as possible, so that it would seem like an accident. Soon, though, for some reason, a doubt rose up in me as to whether I myself believed it was murder. The night before, I had thought about killing her, but was that alone a reason for deciding, myself, that it was murder? Gradually, despite myself, I became unsure. A sudden excitement swept over me. I felt so excited I couldn’t sit still. I was so happy, I was beside myself. I wanted to shout for joy.”

“Was it because you yourself could now believe that it was an accident?”

“No. I’m still unsure of that. It was because it was completely unclear, even to myself, which it had been. It was because I could now tell the truth and be found innocent. Being found innocent meant everything to me now. For that purpose, rather than trying to deceive myself and insisting that it was an accident, it was far better to be able to be honest, even if it meant saying I didn’t know which it was. I could no longer assert that it was an accident, nor, on the other hand, could I say that it was a deliberate act. I was so happy because come what may it was no longer a question of a confession of guilt.”

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