Hyouka:Volume 5 Chapter 2-2
2. Past: 27 Days Ago
It was a lazy morning.
I had stayed up fairly late the previous night. It wasn’t like I was doing anything in particular, but because I had no school the next day, I ended up aimlessly reading and watching TV for a long time.
I had sluggishly woken up late in the morning and saw that there was no one in the living room. I knew that my dad was away for work, but I had no idea what my sister was up to. She might be somewhere in the house, or she might be somewhere outside of Japan. As I unabashedly let out a big yawn, I plopped down onto the sofa.
The remote control was sitting on the low table in front of me. I figured I’d at least turn it on and see what was showing, but I couldn't find anything very interesting, even after changing the channel a couple times. I was still drowsy so the television actually ended up being a little annoying. I had brought the paperback I was reading from my room, so I sank into the couch and opened the pages.
Before reading even a single line, I looked up from the print and muttered to myself.
“It’s kind of dark.”
The curtains were closed. Naturally I would have preferred them to be open, but because I was so comfortably deep in the couch, getting up would be too troublesome. I put the book aside and reached for the remote once more. On top of the table was an ashtray and a lucky cat figure.
This lucky cat was a strange little thing. I couldn’t tell if it was poorly made or if it was purposely designed like this, but the cat almost looked like it was grinning at you. It was holding a large coin like any other lucky cat would, except instead of the usual assortment of bold phrases that might be written on it, like “great happiness,” “fantastic fortune,” or “exceeding wealth,” it only contained a single word, “lucky.” Of course, the only person who would have bought something this half-assed was my sister, but even then, I wondered where she could have possibly bought it.
The inside was hollow, and its arm was spring-loaded so you could move it in an up-and-down beckoning motion. My sister had made some alterations to add onto that feature. She tried making it so that it would shoot an infrared beam. Even though you couldn’t see it in the first place, she had still purposely rigged it so that the beam would specifically come from the eyes.
“If a cat’s going to shoot lasers, then it has to be from the eyes.”
When she told me this, I was speechless, but thinking about it more rationally it’s not like it was all that strange. After all, the remote also used infrared beams. She had essentially just put a remote inside the lucky cat.
Its receiver was connected to the fluorescent light on the ceiling. When you moved its arm to invite good fortune, an infrared beam would fly from its eyes and either illuminate or darken the room. As a result, you could take the string off the ceiling lamp and rejoice over the newly spacious surroundings. Except now, as you had to constantly keep the lucky cat there instead of the string, it continued to get in the way regardless. At least have the common decency to use a cat that was actually lovable.
The lucky cat currently sat on the other end of the table, so I reached towards it. That was the reason I even picked up the remote in the first place. In lieu of a stick, I used it to try and move the lucky cat’s arm. It looked like I should have been able to reach it, but I couldn’t no matter how hard I tried. Had I lifted myself a bit I would have probably been able to reach it, but at that point I might as well be standing. As I tried my hardest to use only my arms while avoiding moving the rest of my body like the plague, a voice called out from behind me.
“Are you finally trying to fully master the art of laziness or something?”
The road to fully mastering energy-preservation was endless; I haven’t yet even seen the heights of its perfection. I turned around and saw my sister. It looked like she had taken an afternoon bath because of the bath towel tightly wrapped around the top of her head. She walked into the kitchen and asked, “Want some coffee?”
“Okay, then pour me some as well while you’re at it.”
She wasn’t going to do it herself? Then why did she even go to the kitchen in the first place?
Because I had gotten so in the mood for coffee, all of the determination and effort that I had previously put into not standing up instantly fizzled away. I slapped my knees to give me the energy I needed to stand up and then went over to the kitchen to start boiling some water. My sister had her back to me as she stared into the refrigerator and eventually found a sandwich to eat. I had no idea why there was a sandwich in the fridge to begin with. Over the years, I had seen all sorts of things being cooled in that fridge, from bee larvae tsukudani to kangaroo burgers. Compared to those, at least a sandwich wasn’t too far removed from normalcy.
“Either dry your hair or eat your food. Don’t do both.”
I said this bitterly towards her as she still had the towel wrapped around her head, but she ignored me. She took out a single egg and spun it in the sink like a top. The egg quickly lost its balance and toppled over.
“Oh come on, it’s raw?”
As she sighed, I figured she must have mistaken the raw egg for a hard-boiled one. It was true that I had made some the evening before, but I ended up eating them myself later that night. I thought it was strange that she even knew I made some in the first place, but who knows. Maybe she saw something like the leftover dishes after I had finished.
Nothing else in fridge must have stood out. She closed the door by pushing it with her lower back and then asked a question from behind me as I was readying some coffee cups.
“Oh yeah, your cold’s gone now, isn’t it.”
“Wasn’t it pretty bad?”
I thought for a little bit and then responded.
“When was this?”
It was true; I had indeed caught a cold this month.
One day, Chitanda had contacted me, asking me for my help because the spring festival was understaffed. A lot of stuff happened, but long story short, I left to go help them and ended up having a pretty strange day. It was hard for even me to believe that all of that had happened within the span of a single day. I could still vividly recall that pretty scene, surrounded on all sides by the early-blooming cherry blossoms.
It was particularly chilly then, especially after the sun had set. Even though I had been saying it was cold, Chitanda continued to insist that it wasn’t because it was already spring at that point. I’m not saying I caught it because of that, but the very next day, I remained cooped up in my bed. Until my sister had returned later that night, I had been the only one in the house, so all of the chills, fevers, and hunger added up to make me a very miserable sight.
My sister was probably talking about that, but that had happened during spring break. I had all but recovered in around two days, so when I went to the opening ceremony I was completely normal.
“That was a month ago.”
“Really? To think already a month has passed. They grow up so fast.”
As she feigned ignorance, she lightly tapped my head. She started to toss around my hair and then said, “Fix your bedhead.”
I’ll do it later.
Someone had so graciously made coffee for her and yet she didn’t even so much as taste it. She suddenly said, “Oh, it’s time,” and returned to her room. I started to read the book I had left on the sofa, but after thirty minutes had passed, she came out of her room again.
“Hey, you aren’t going out today either, right?”
I didn’t have any plans, but I wasn’t too happy with how she said ‘either.’ I answered without looking away from the book.
“I’m not thinking of doing anything.”
“I wonder how much distance you’ve covered throughout your entire lifetime.”
“Siblings need to balance each other out.”
After I said this, she replied in a condescending tone.
“So you’re saying you’ve been resting up on my behalf. Aren’t you a kind one.”
My not leaving the house only compensated for her extravagant use of gasoline, airplane fuel, and other travel costs. As an energy-saving advocate, this was my apology to human civilization for the actions of my idiot sister.
“What a pitiful child.”
She had said something so cruel.
“Well at any rate, continue doing nothing until 2:30.”
“You want me to watch the house?”
“Yeah. If no one comes, you’re free to do whatever.”
I didn’t have any plans to go out in the first place, but just being told this made me feel uncomfortably restricted. As I continued reading the book, I spoke.
“Get me something.”
It looked like she was already putting her shoes on. Her voice rang from the house entrance.
“Then I’ll buy you some candles. You like those, right?”
Because she had mentioned the candles, however, I knew that she hadn’t forgotten what today was. It didn’t look like she was intending on celebrating it, though…
Surely enough, when I was a kid, I loved to blow out the candles on cakes.
Today was my birthday.
What could she have possibly meant by telling me to watch the house until 2:30? I put my book aside part-way, and threw myself face down on the sofa to think. It was my sister. She was probably planning something unnecessary. She had told me to wait because something was probably coming, but what was it?
Having something celebratory arrive while I was here would be wonderfully considerate of her. Because it would be such a decent thing for her to do, I consequently knew that that wasn’t going to be the case. Tomoe Oreki wasn’t the kind of person who did things like that, and even if I was wrong, setting up the delivery time for 2:30 in the afternoon would be far too half-assed for her.
She had told me, “If no one comes, you’re free to do whatever.” That meant that most likely someone would be coming rather than something. Someone who would come on my birthday… Actually, it could be incorrect to assume my birthday played into it at all. It could simply be someone like a bill collector or neighborhood information distributor that was coming. Maybe it was wrong of me to assume that she was setting this all up. Maybe I'd been suspecting her too much.
Even as I said this to myself, however, I couldn’t get rid of the bad premonition lingering in my head. Because I was overly conscious of the time, it was only natural that the second hand seemed to move far too slowly.
I had lost the desire to eat, so I continued to wait without making myself lunch. I finally finished the book I had been reading, but I didn’t have enough time to get into a second one. I switched on the television and turned to a travel program. This was how I passed the time, watching complete strangers enjoying delicious-looking food in a first-class inn.
Thinking back on it, the way she had specifically stated “if they don’t come” meant that it didn’t necessarily mean that they were going to come at 2:30. She wasn’t indicating an arrival time, but rather an arrival period. For example, had I told Satoshi, using the same exact phrasing, “If I don’t come by 2:30, do whatever you want,” I would be saying something along the lines of, “I should actually be arriving earlier, but there’s a possibility that I’ll be late. If I’m not there by 2:30, just assume I won’t be coming.”
That was why, when I heard the doorbell chime at around 5 minutes to 2:00, I assumed that it wasn’t related to the guest that my sister was having me wait for. ‘I wonder if it's a demon. Perhaps it's a snake.’ For some reason, that feeling started to well up inside of me. I put on a pair of slippers and stepped down into the entrance area, taking a peek through the door’s peephole.
It wasn’t a demon, nor was it a snake. Neither was it a bill collector or a neighborhood information distributor.
“Ah, shit. So that’s what it was.”
It slipped from my mouth before I realized it.
Four individuals stood outside: Satoshi, Chitanda, Ibara, and Ōhinata.
As if sensing my presence, Satoshi returned my gaze through the peephole. He showed me a revolting smile and then held up his hand. For all of the various problems she had caused me, there was one thing I was thankful to my sister for.
She had told me to fix my bedhead ahead of time.
There was no helping it. It wasn’t like I could send them away.
At any rate, I took them to the living room and had them sit around the low table. Chitanda and Ōhinata sat on the sofa while Satoshi and Ibara sat on floor cushions.
Satoshi wore a polo shirt and cargo pants. Ibara wore a gray parka and shorts. Chitanda had on a knitted peach-colored sweater and a skirt that reached below her knees. Ōhinata wore a graphic tee and jeans. Staring at this unfamiliarly dressed ensemble around me, I started to grumble.
“Gentlemen, what on earth is this goose before me?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Even as Ibara sat with such well-mannered form, her speech remained unsurprisingly foul. Neglecting Ōhinata as she responded with, “Oh, that’s Sakutarō,” Satoshi started to laugh.
“Are you perhaps wondering what foul wind could have possibly blown us your way?”
I nodded wordlessly.
There was no doubt that they came to celebrate my birthday. After all, Ōhinata was carrying a box tied with a ribbon and featuring the logo of a cake shop that even I knew on the side, so I couldn’t exactly ask them why they had come.
The thing was, however, Satoshi and I had known each other for three years now and not once had we celebrated each other’s birthday. Even had he decided to do this as some kind of joke, there’s no way he’d think to bring the rest of the Classics Club. We just weren’t that kind of group.
Sure we had come together once, purely on a collective whim, to write the anthology. But we weren’t so close as to randomly hang out at someone’s house to kill time. That’s what I had thought, and I was pretty sure the other members felt the same way. As if to suddenly close that distance, something perplexing ended up happening.
“I thought that we’d be a bother if we came so suddenly, but…”
Chitanda’s words were full of consideration. I wasn’t really bothered, but rather…
“I was surprised.”
“I figured you’d be.”
Satoshi shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m equally as surprised. Talking about it is one thing, but I never imagined this would actually happen in reality.”
There were two things I wanted to ask.
“How did you guys know about today, and whose idea was it to come here?”
“Well, it’s a long story…”
Chitanda tilted her head as if trying to decide where to start.
“When Ōhinata asked us if we had ever done something like a party with the entire club, I told her about the culture festival after-party, but then she asked me if we had done anything aside from that, and I told her that I couldn’t think of anything else really, so she…”
It did look like it was shaping up to be a long story. At that moment, however, Ibara cut in and swiftly said, “When I mentioned that your birthday was coming up, Ōhinata said that we should throw you a birthday party.”
“You knew when my birthday was?”
“Only that it was in April. That’s the kind of thing you’d normally remember about someone in your class.”
“That’s because you’re an inconsiderate human being.”
Thinking about it, Ibara has had plenty of chances to learn my birthday up until now. We had been in the same class all throughout elementary and middle school, and especially in elementary school, they often had those “Who has a birthday this month?” posters. If she had remembered my birthday was in April, it’d be easy for her to check the old class anthologies to find my actual birthday.
Without the motive, however, she wouldn’t have done it. In other words, the culprit was Ōhinata.
“So you were the one that came up with it, huh?”
I stared holes into Ōhinata. Her eyes were darting around the living room, but when they finally met mine, she smiled without a hint of trepidation.
“Friends need to be celebrated.”
That motto’s correctness aside, there were ways to celebrate that involved being alone and undisturbed.
“And there’s no one that could be in a bad mood after having a party thrown for them.”
There wasn't a trace of self-doubt in her. And having said that, she planned on making me one of those happy individuals. Yay.
Unfortunately for her however, not a single person had said “Happy Birthday” to me yet.
“That aside, I’m surprised everyone is actually here.”
No matter how hard Ōhinata might’ve tried to push the idea of having a party, it was almost unbelievable that everyone would have gone along with it. Chitanda might have simply wanted to make the new recruit happy, but I couldn’t for the life of me imagine a scenario in which Ibara agreed. As if hearing what I was thinking, the girl in question spoke bluntly.
“I'm going to be watching a movie in the evening, so this is just to kill some time before then. Two hours is all I’ll spare for your celebration.”
Are you a mind-reader?
“We bought drinks so go get some cups.”
You should have bought paper cups too then… I saw Satoshi had brought a paper bag full of snacks. Instead of eating them from the bag, it would probably best if I brought out a tray to stick them on. If I remembered correctly, the wooden tray was in the cupboard. Also, if there was a cake in Ōhinata’s box, then I should pull out a knife and some plates for later. I wonder if we had enough plates to go around. Of course we’ll need spoons as well. Having forks might also not be a bad idea.
As I stood up from my chair and went to the kitchen to search for this and that, a doubt suddenly crossed my mind.
If this was a birthday celebration, then I had the main role.
And yet, why was I the only one up and moving around?
When I brought the utensils and dishes back to the living room, I noticed that the ashtray, the book I had finished reading, and the television remote had all been cleaned up and placed on top of the sideboard. Only the lucky cat had remained, still enshrined in its corner of the table, continuing to expose its unlovable grin.
The snacks that Satoshi had bought turned out to be some fairly fashionable biscuits. Chitanda had mentioned, “They look like they’d be good with jam,” so I also prepared a smaller plate in addition to the larger one for the snacks and brought out some summer mandarin jam from the refrigerator. Upon seeing the jar, Ōhinata exclaimed with joy.
“Oh! That’s ‘MilleFleur’ jam isn’t it!”
Looking at the label, I could see the word “MilleFleur” written on it. Had I not heard the correct way to say it, I probably would have pronounced it something like “Mile Flew.” Making sure I didn’t reveal this thought of mine, I responded, “Yeah,” with my chest puffed out.
“To think you would pull out something like ‘MilleFleur’ so casually, what a classy upperclassman you are, jeez.”
This smiling Ōhinata was a good, honest girl, but there also happened to be a not-so-honest girl in the vicinity. Clearly suspicious, Ibara started to question me.
“Do you even know what that is?”
“Nope, not at all.”
“Then why were you acting like it?!”
“I wanted to look cool. My bad.”
I apologized and asked Ōhinata from the start.
“What is it?”
After learning the truth about my childish vanity, Ōhinata looked at me with unbelievably cold eyes, but she recovered quickly enough and picked up the jar of jam.
“It’s a specialty jam shop. It’s really well-known. I once bought one myself a while back, and, as expected, the taste befits its high price.”
“So it’s expensive, huh?”
I muttered without thinking as I looked at the jar.
“Well, not really. Expensive as jams go, at least.”
I couldn’t imagine this tanned, lightly-dressed Ōhinata doing something like going to a specialty shop to buy jam. I knew it was wrong of me to judge a book by its cover, but still…
“I wonder if it’s a bit of a waste to eat good jam like this with simple biscuits.”
As Satoshi voiced his concerns, however, Chitanda responded with a small smile.
“It should be fine, right?”
And with that, it became fine.
Ōhinata mentioned that she had brought a lighter, so I could only assume it was to be used in lighting birthday candles for the cake. The preparations were ready, but cake would probably happen a little later on.
The drink that Ibara had prepared was carbonated white peach juice that not only resembled champagne, but came in a similar bottle as well.
“Now come on Hōtarō, certainly you have something a little more sophisticated than these.”
Spurred into the kitchen once more by Satoshi’s comment, I pulled out several unused glasses intended for guest-use that hadn’t even been taken out of the box they initially came in. They were short and had no stem. The design etched into it shined as if it were crystal.
“What were these called again?”
Ibara asked this while tilting her head in thought.
“It’s a cup,” I told her, but she wasn’t listening, as per usual.
“It’s not a tumbler glass, nor is it a goblet…”
“Is it a Kiriko glass?”
Ōhinata had proposed this, but it appeared like that wasn’t the case.
“That’s just a decorative variety. No, that’s not it, what was this shape of glass called again?”
“It said whiskey glass on the box.”
A slight show of vexation appeared on Ibara’s face.
I had personally thought that glasses with long stems would be more fitting, but it couldn’t be helped that there weren’t any in the house. There actually might’ve been some laying around, but if that was the case, I didn’t know where they were. To make matters worse, I could only find four whisky glasses, which meant…
“Wait, is Oreki-san the only person with a normal cup?”
…something like that ended up happening. No matter how you looked at it, this was a terrible way to treat today’s main character.
As the juice was passed around, Ōhinata spoke.
“Well then, someone should propose a toast.”
Satoshi and Ibara exchanged glances with each other and then looked over towards Chitanda, almost as if they had planned on doing so ahead of time. Perhaps aware that she would be the one chosen, Chitanda picked up the glass without looking like she intended on refusing.
Wearing an ambiguous smile that suggested she had no idea how to go about this, Chitanda began her speech.
“Umm, today is Oreki-san’s birthday, so let’s celebrate it. I wish I could’ve given you a present, but because this was on such short notice, I have to apologize for not being able to bring one.”
“Your presence is present enough.”
The one who interjected with this statement wasn’t me. It was Satoshi. Hearing him fabricate people’s feelings for them was troubling.
“Hearing that makes me feel better.”
And hearing her feel better after hearing that fabrication was troubling as well.
“Out of all of us, you were the quickest to turn 17. So, umm… congratulations. Cheers.”
We held up the four whiskey glasses and one cup and lightly tapped them together. Although the birthday was supposedly being thrown for my sake, Ōhinata seemed to be the one who was exceptionally happy.
It was at this point that one of my worries had disappeared.
It wasn’t like I had specifically wanted to be told congratulations or anything, but rather, I was anxious that they might have only planned on eating and drinking, returning home immediately after. Now that they had completed the toast, my birthday had been properly celebrated after all.
There was one other thing that I couldn’t say didn’t bug me, however.
It was the lucky cat.
Why was it still on the table? While I was getting the plates and silverware, they had cleaned up the table for me. They had put everything that was on it onto the nearby sideboard, and yet, only the lucky cat had remained.
I wonder if it was a coincidence. No, out of everything on the table, that was easily the thing most likely to get in the way. Even though they were planning on spreading the food around the table, they had to do so now while specifically avoiding the lucky cat. Perhaps someone had been poking around at it to figure out why it had been sitting there?
I had already made a mistake. To think I had so thoughtlessly brought out this amazing summer mandarin jam without knowing just how truly impressive it actually was. Fortunately the conversation veered away from that at least.
I'd have to be careful from now on.
Satoshi’s biscuits were just the slightest bit salty, and as a result, the jam worked really well with it. I’d always thought that I preferred sweet things, but the tartness of the summer mandarin jam proved to be quite refreshing; it was—how should I put this—something like comparing the épée to the foil.
“Fukube-senpai, you’ve come here to hang out before, right?”
As Ōhinata asked this, Satoshi turned to me.
“I don’t think so.”
“I’ve been nearby before, but it was just us meeting up at some park in the area. I think I was borrowing something from him.”
I twisted my head. Just like he said, I had made Satoshi wait in a nearby park a while back while I went there from my house. However…
“Are you sure? I have a vague recollection that you were actually returning something.”
It had only been two years or so and already I couldn’t remember it very well. Of course this vague memory wasn’t going to prove very trustworthy, but I couldn’t sit still while our views were diverging. Agreeing with that, Ōhinata then said, “Perhaps you came two times, once to borrow something and then once to return it.”
Of course, what a reasonable idea.
“Except you never once went all the way to his house, right?”
“I don’t think going to his house would impact our being able to do what we needed to do.”
Ōhinata muttered a dubious sound and brought the whiskey glass to her lips.
“That’s pretty straightforward of you. If it were me, I’d say something like ‘I’d only be a nuisance,’ but I guess it’s because you’re guys.”
Satoshi tilted his head in response.
“I wonder if that’s the case. I’m the type that keeps light acquaintance and is satisfied by that, so those kinds of general conceptions might not apply to me."
I could agree with that.
“I see, I guess people like that exist.”
Ōhinata was deep in thought. Speaking as a guy, I personally didn’t think that Satoshi and I preferred ‘light acquaintance’ to any special degree. It was probably normal. If I had to name it, although Ōhinata was particularly tomboyish, it’s possible that there really weren’t any guys that could talk about these kinds of things easily.
Ōhinata tossed a biscuit into her mouth, and then raised her head to ask another question.
“Can I ask a question? What kind of room do you have?”
My room, huh? I started to brace myself.
“It’s pretty normal. There’s a bed, a desk, and a bookshelf.”
“Isn’t it decorated with anything?”
I don’t think I mentioned anything like that, but I’m sure there was at least something sticking on the wall. As I quietly tried to remember if there was, Ibara suddenly started saying some unnecessary things while petting the lucky cat’s head.
“You should just stop there, Hina-chan. Even this guy is entitled to his privacy.”
She then turned towards me and flashed a cold smile.
“Besides, it’s a guy’s room, so I’m sure you can already imagine what kinds of things are laying around.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what Ibara was imagining, but there was nothing in it that could justify the grin full of contempt directed at me. …Well, there wasn’t much at least.
“I can’t really imagine anything.”
As Ōhinata muttered this, Satoshi responded with a smile.
“Things like textbooks.”
I also contributed.
“Reference books as well.”
“Also dictionaries, right?”
Ibara had an amazed look on her face.
“Are you guys dumb or what?”
The number of biscuits on the snack dish in front of us became progressively fewer. I hadn’t actually thought that they would all be eaten, but if they were, the cake would naturally come next. As I reached for another one, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t eaten anything for lunch. I then had a thought.
“By the way, did you guys have lunch?”
The responses were varied.
Chitanda responded, “A light one.”
Ōhinata responded, “I did.”
Ibara responded, “I had a late breakfast, so not yet.”
Satoshi responded, “I haven’t.”
As I was at the same time today’s main character and host, it was probably my job to suggest something.
“If that’s the case, we can get some pizza.”
“Eh?! But I’d feel terrible if you treated us.”
Chitanda was trying to be thoughtful, but there was no way in hell I was going to treat them.
“We’d obviously split the tab.”
“O… oh, that makes sense.”
At that moment, Satoshi also interjected.
“I agree, at first I was also thinking it might be nice to get pizza. After all, it’d be a perfect idea if there were a lot of people going to be eating. But I forgot about something.”
“Was the pizza place closed?”
“If the pizza place was closed on Saturday would they ever get any business? No, it was, well…”
He glanced at Ibara. Compared to the hesitating Satoshi, Ibara spoke as bluntly as she always had.
“I can’t do cheese. Sorry.”
“…Oh, I see. I didn’t know.”
“I’d be more surprised if you did know my preferences.”
There was occasionally cheese in the school lunches, so It wouldn’t be too strange if I did know, and yet, even then, I didn’t. She told me this earlier, but I guess I was pretty inconsiderate.
“You're also bad with cheese?”
As Ōhinata thrusted a magnificent amount of jam onto the biscuit and then tossed it into her mouth in a similarly magnificent fashion, she suddenly jerked her body forward in curiosity.
“Yeah, a little bit. It’s not like I’m allergic to it, but I just can’t seem to eat it.”
“Is it the taste?”
“It’s probably how it smells. If it’s something like chilled, thin-sliced cheese, it doesn’t really smell, so that’s fine, but I can’t bring myself to even get near it if it’s cooked. You also don’t like it, Hina-chan?”
Upon hearing this, Ōhinata flashed a huge smile.
“This is just something a friend told me, but people should really throw away rotten mandarin oranges and milk.”
I wonder if Ōhinata had a habit of dragging her friends into the mix when she couldn’t think of a good way to word something. As expected, Ibara returned a forced smile.
“It’s be nice to have that kind of resolution, but it still kind of bugs me that that it’s become something like a weak point of mine. I’ll have to get used to it by the time I become an adult.”
If Ibara were to become a hermit in the Pyrenees Mountains and force herself to eat cheese three times every day, I’m sure she would overcome it somehow. She might even have a cheese-related epiphany on the way down. The legends surrounding Ibara Dairy Manufacturers and how they took the world of cheese production by storm would begin then and there. Maybe.
If she simply didn’t like the taste, then it would be fine as long as she didn’t eat it, but as the problem was her not liking the smell, even ordering the pizza would be problematic. Judging by all the pizza shop fliers that were constantly shoved in our mailbox, it’s possible that there were pizzas that didn’t use cheese, but I didn’t necessarily want pizza so bad that I would beg for that possibility. Besides, the biscuits were surprisingly filling.
“Anyways, Oreki-senpai, you really don’t know anything at all about Ibara-senpai, do you. Even though you were in elementary school together?”
“Why’re you bragging about it?” cut in Ibara.
That’s not what I had intended.
Ōhinata, who had been speedily reaching for the snack plate, suddenly stopped. She started to eye up Ibara with a dubious expession.
“Could that mean what I think it means? Have you never been to this house before either, Ibara-senpai?”
“No way in hell. Just because we were in the same school district doesn’t mean that our houses were close.”
“Really? Wait, but…”
Ōhinata looked at Chitanda sitting next to her on the sofa, and then at Satoshi and Ibara. She tilted her head somewhat in confusion.
“We all arrived here without getting even a little lost. I thought one of us had been here before.”
It felt like time had briefly stopped.
So it had come to this.
It had moved from a conversation about my room, and hadn’t even come close to being a discussion about the meaning behind the lucky cat. To think it would end up going in that direction after I had brought up something like getting pizza, it was completely unexpected.
Because I didn’t know something like Ibara’s food preferences, that meant there wasn’t a very strong bond between the two of us, so consequently, she mostly likely had never been to my house before, huh? I see; it did follow logically. This meant, however, that I had already dug my own grave.
Was it still possible for me to change the subject?
No, it was probably too late for that. The conversation had already reached the point of no return. If I desperately tried to interrupt the flow of the conversation, they would only wonder why I was trying to change the topic and become more unnecessarily curious as a result. Ōhinata’s question was dangerously close to revealing the secret that the lucky cat was hinting at. However, things were still only ‘close.’ It wasn’t a direct hit yet.
It was painful, but the only thing I could do was retreat from the conversation while praying for them to quickly start talking about something else on their own.
If only she understood this as well.
Ibara looked at Satoshi.
“That’s, well, you know. Fuku-chan showed us through the streets, right?”
Satoshi showed a look of confusion, and responded, “I was only remembering the map. This neighborhood is a bit confusing, but I‘m pretty skilled when it comes to memorizing things. As for where I got the map, though…”
“I prepared it,” interjected Chitanda.
“That’s right. I got it from Chitanda.”
He pulled out the map from his pocket to show everyone. It wasn’t one of those extremely fancy maps that showed a lot of details about all the residents, but rather a simple one of the district used by the city. My house’s location was marked on it with a red pen.
“Oh, that’s right. That’s because Chi-chan’s been here once before.”
Upon hearing that, Chitanda stiffened her body.
“Remember? That thing last year. When Irisu-senpai came to us over summer break to ask us for our opinions on her video, Chitanda came here to come get him, didn’t she?”
“Ah, no, that was…”
She had a good memory. Certainly enough, Chitanda had come to get me after hearing from Satoshi that I was planning on skipping it, however that time…
“I had gotten close thanks to Fukube-san’s directions, but I never actually ended up finding the house.”
I had received a phone call that day: “I came to get you, but I seem to have become lost, so please come and get me.” I had quickly managed to find her, but it’s like not like she even saw the front of the house that day.
“I knew the address, however, so as long as I had a map, I’d be able to find it.”
“So that’s all it was.”
Ōhinata started to smile brightly again as if she were satisfied by that explanation.
“You'd be able to figure it out if you knew the address, wouldn’t you. For example, let’s see… like something like that.”
As she said that, her face began to darken.
“Something? What would something be, exactly?”
It seemed this first-year was hung up on something strange. There wasn’t a single similarity between the two, but somehow, seeing Ōhinata and Chitanda lined up like that on the couch reminded me of a patch of roots.
“Oh! New Year’s cards!”
As Ōhinata said this, her face instantly lighting up, Satoshi responded with an unnecessary comment.
“Even so, Hōtarō doesn’t do tiring things like that.”
That was incorrect. I had actually tried to send some in the past, but I ran into the same problem. I didn’t know any of their addresses.
“Is that so?”
Temporarily forgetting her attempts at politeness, she looked at me with a distrusting expression.
“It’s obvious people should send New Year’s cards to their friends at least.”
“It’s fine. We all saw each other in person at the end of the year anyways. New Year’s cards are just a substitute for the people you aren’t going to be able to see.”
“That might be the case, but wasn’t the only reason we were able to greet Oreki-san because I had called him on the phone myself?” said Chitanda without realizing it.
Satoshi put the biscuit he was gnawing at back down and started to smile.
“Ah, this New Year’s was really interesting, wasn’t it? After all, Mayaka even…” Satoshi stopped as he felt Ibara’s piercing glare. Even though it probably wasn’t like she had been forced to do it, Ibara’s part-time job as a miko at the shrine had embarrassed her to no end. Of course, Ōhinata had no idea what they were talking about.
“What about Ibara-senpai?”
“Never mind that. We were talking about Oreki’s address, right?”
She forcefully returned the conversation to its previous track. I might’ve been able to bury the subject for good had I continued to talk about what had happened over New Year’s, but if I did do that, Ibara would certainly despise me. That didn’t sound like a very appealing outcome either.
As I stressed over this, Ibara suddenly had a blank look on her face that seemed to wonder why she hadn’t realized something so simple up to this point.
“What about the graduate anthology? If I remember correctly, it’s written there.”
“Oh, I see. That makes a lot of sense,” nodded Ōhinata, and then she titled her head once more.
“But Chitanda-senpai didn’t go to Kaburaya Middle School.”
“No, what she said was correct.”
Chitanda had finally said it.
“Oreki-san had a friend from middle school named Sōda-san. I’ve been to Sōda-san’s house plenty of times now, so I asked him if I could see the graduate anthology.”
With this, Ibara and Satoshi raised their voices at the same time.
“So that’s what it was. You should’ve told us.”
“Is that so? You should’ve told us.”
As she was scolded by these two, Chitanda uncharacteristically shrunk back, looking ashamed.
“I thought about asking you two, but I kept passing you by, and I had forgotten all about it in the clubroom… And then all of a sudden, I had business to take care of at Sōda-san’s house.”
“Now that I think about it, Sōda was in our class, wasn't he? Although, he doesn’t really strike me as the type of guy that would be connected with Oreki.”
Certainly, it wasn’t anything exactly like that. Even though he was the type to space out a lot, he was really good at soccer. There was a long history of lending and borrowing books between the two of us.
“Aren’t his parents kind of famous?”
“They’re on the city council. They don’t act self-important at all, though.”
Puffing out his cheeks for show, Satoshi shook his head in an exaggerated manner.
“That’s Chitanda-san for you. I knew you were incredible, but to think you’d even know one of Hōtarō’s middle school friends. You truly inspire awe.”
“No, it really was just a coincidence.”
“Perhaps you have already heard the rumors surrounding my dark and mysterious past as well.”
As if to get back at Satoshi for ignoring her, Chitanda gracefully placed the palms of her hands on top of her thighs and showed a smile.
“I see. For example, something like a rumor concerning how you began to sing a song after forgetting to turn the mic switch off in the broadcasting room? Nope, I haven’t heard anything like that.”
After a couple seconds, Ibara let out a laugh.
“Hahaha, that’s right! Something like that happened.”
That had happened in the fall of our third year in middle school. It was both an amusing and a sorrowful tale.
“Chi-chan, I’m surprised you know so much about that kind of stuff. I didn't even remember that until you mentioned it.”
Satoshi, who had repeatedly prodded at the grove to be greeted by a snake, sat without saying a single word, his face still frozen in its previously teasing smile. Satoshi was able to tolerate the vast majority of the jokes aimed at him, but as expected, it seemed that incident remained his sole Achilles heel.
I apologized to Satoshi on the inside. After all, the one who told Chitanda about this particular episode was me.
That said, even I didn’t have the callous heart necessary to finish him off by telling Chitanda that what he in fact sang at that moment was some terrible attempt at hip-hop.
However, as Chitanda humbly continued to deny Ibara’s praise, I found it strange that Ōhinata, on the other hand, sat there with her eyes wide-open in shock, her mouth gaping.
As the time for cake quickly approached, I started cleaning up the snack tray and smaller plates for the jam. After I completed my round-trip between the living room and kitchen, only the lucky cat remained on the table. It was only natural that some jam would be spilled no matter how carefully everyone ate, so I brought a kitchen cloth. As I was wiping, I casually muttered, “This is in the way, isn’t it,” and proceeded to move the lucky cat to the side board.
I felt like sighing in relief. As long as I could remove that from the table, I could rest easy. The danger had finally passed by.
I brought out a plate for the cake as well as a knife and forks. The grape juice probably wouldn’t go with the cake very well. I was told that something like coffee or café au lait would work nicely, so I went to the kitchen once more and waited there for the water to boil.
One cannot see the kinds of faces they naturally make, so as a result, I had no way of knowing whether or not I had a good poker-face. I didn’t think that mine was very easy to read. When Satoshi and Ibara, and especially Ōhinata, had been talking about my address, I wondered if they had noticed me feeling like I was walking on dangerously thin ice.
I had already prepared the coffee cups. Instant coffee wasn’t exactly the most suitable way with which to treat a respected guest of honor, but as it was their fault for coming so suddenly, I couldn’t be bothered. I continued to watch the silent kettle, waiting for it to whistle. In my experience, the human gaze undeniably inhibited the heating of water. As long as I continued to watch the kettle, the water inside would never boil. If I were to avert my eyes for even a second, that would be the instant, without fail, at which the the kettle would start to whistle. Of course, from an energy-conserving standpoint, it would be best to simply look away then, but there wasn’t anything else to look at.
“Oreki-san, the wipe cloth.”
As I turned around, I saw Chitanda holding the kitchen cloth.
“Oh, can you put it over there on the edge of the sink for me?”
I returned to watch the kettle. I assumed Chitanda was still there, so I started talking.
“You stayed silent about it, huh.”
Following a short silence, I heard a response that seemed like it would be drowned out by the noise coming from the ventilation fan.
“Yes. …I suppose the chance slipped me by.”
Previously, Chitanda said that she had learned my address by checking the graduate anthology from my middle school. That she had been told it by a friend of mine, Sōda. It was certainly true that I had had a classmate named Sōda. I had no idea what high school he had gone to after that, but it was definitely not Kamiyama High School. It was most likely true that Chitanda had gotten Sōda to show her the anthology. After all, what she said sounded pretty accurate, and Chitanda wasn’t very good at ad-lib, period.
However, it wasn’t the entire truth.
Satoshi had never been to my house before. Of course, Ibara was the same.
That last summer break, Chitanda had managed to get near my house but didn’t make it all the way was also not a lie.
However, no one said anything about her coming only once. Chitanda had previously come to this house before. Chitanda had handed a map to Satoshi, but even had she not done that, she would have been easily able to find her way through these streets herself.
I heard a slightly dissatisfied voice.
“But you ended up not saying anything either.”
“I suppose the chance slipped me by.”
It was something that had happened this month.
The festival that Chitanda had participated in was running low on participants, and because the clothing would fit me, I had been roped in to help out. The festival had ended without an hitch, but it was cold that day. I ended up catching a cold.
Of course Chitanda, being the one that enlisted my help, couldn’t sit still after hearing I was bedridden. When she had called my house in the morning and heard about my situation from my sister, she immediately came over to visit. Her get-well gift was summer mandarin jam. She told me that mixing a little bit with black tea was good for you when you had a cold. I didn’t really drink black tea, however, so afterwards I got a small bowl and simply licked it like that.
It felt awkward to have Chitanda come into my room, so I put up with the cold and met with her in the living room. When you're in a lot of pain, it really isn’t easy to receive a guest. Chitanda understood this of course and returned home several minutes after handing me the get-well jam. It was only for a little while, sure, but she had come regardless.
“This is difficult… I feel bad for Mayaka-san and the others, but they won’t know if we don’t say anything.”
I didn’t respond as I continued to watch the kettle.
That wasn't how it worked at all, so I became nervous.
She said that they wouldn’t know as long as we didn't tell them, but in reality, Chitanda was simply going to be using her actions rather than her words to declare that she had come to this living room before.
The party was beginning to near its climax. It would soon be time for the cake to make its grand entrance. At that moment, some candles would be stuck into it and be thusly lit. Ōhinata had brought the lighter.
Chitanda had probably thought of the arrangements at this point. It’d be more atmospheric if all the lights were to be turned off while the candles were lit. That was her plan, right?
That’s why the lucky cat remained on the table.
Even though the ashtray, the paperback, and the television remote had all been moved to the side board, only the lucky cat remained. That was something that only someone who knew about its ability to turn off the overhead light would do. In other words, it would point out the single person among all four of them who had come to this house once before.
In reality, when Chitanda had come to this living room before, it was dark inside so I had pressed the lucky cat’s arm to turn on the light. Chitanda would not have forgotten that.
What would actually happen if Chitanda were to use the lucky cat’s arm to turn off the lights? Ibara, or perhaps Ōhinata, would probably say something like this:
“Oh my, so the lucky cat functions as a remote, does it? No wonder it was left on the table. But wait a sec, how did you know this was a remote? Now then, Eru Chitanda, not only did you come to this house, to this very living room, but you additionally saw the lucky cat being used as a light switch, didn't you?!”
Had Chitanda remained silent about it when coming with the rest of them to my house, surely she should have moved the lucky cat to the side board as well.
At the moment, however, I couldn’t say any of that. The candles were going to be coming up soon, which meant so was the lucky cat. If I pointed out her mistake and she started to act suspiciously as a result of that, things could get difficult. …As I was thinking this, I realized that my keeping quiet about the get-well visit wasn’t because “the chance slipped me by." It wasn’t like what we did was really all that shady, after all… It was all so absurd.
As I thought this, I couldn’t help but let out a small smile. As if noticing this, Chitanda asked me.
“What is it?”
As I considered telling her that it was nothing at all, I mentioned something that had suddenly entered my mind.
“It’s possible that Ōhinata didn’t buy your earlier story.”
I turned around and tried showing her the meanest smile I could muster, but I couldn’t see my face so I didn’t know how well it turned out.
“Doesn’t saying ‘I asked Sōda’ sound like you might've sewed a lie?”
Chitanda tried to force a smile despite her troubled face.
The kettle’s whistle began to scream its high-pitched scream.
Translator's Notes and References
- See maneki-neko (招き猫): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maneki-neko
- 「招福」, 「大大吉」, 「千万両」, and then 「吉」 respectively.
- Tsukudani is a cooking technique where you boil something in soy sauce to preserve and eat it.
- A Japanese proverb. (鬼が出るか蛇が出るか) It refers to the fear of the unknown.
- This is a line from famous Taishō-era poet Sakutarō Hagiwara’s mysterious existential poem entitled “Death” 「死」, found in his collection, Howling at the Moon 『月に吠える』. Because the poem is short, I’ll translate it here so you can interpret it for yourself. (Source for those curious and able to read Japanese: http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000067/files/859_21656.html)
From the depths of the land I gaze at, Strange hands protrude, Legs protrude, A head intrudes, Gentlemen, What on earth, Is this goose before me? From the depths of the land I gaze at, I make a foolish face, Hands protrude, Legs protrude, A head intrudes.
- From here on, 'biscuits' will refer to confections like these: http://tosaichi.jp/millet/millet-600-7.jpg
- A type of Japanese cut glass. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satsuma_Kiriko_cut_glass
- Both weapons used in fencing, the épée is heavier and more rigid while the foil is much lighter and easier to use.
- This is a reference to a passage in the Zhuangzi: “Virtuous men keep acquaintances light as water, and narrow-minded men keep acquaintances sweet as rice wine.” For information on the Zhuangzi, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhuangzi_(book)
- A range of mountains on the border between France and Spain.
- Shrine maiden.
- A Japanese proverb. (藪をつついて蛇を出す) It means to have something bad happen to you while doing unnecessary things.
- French coffee with milk.
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