Tsukumodo:Volume 1 Memories and Notes
The word memory means "past experience retained in the mind." The scientific definition reads "information from outside the human body stored within the human body by copying the data into the synapses of the biological neural network".
But knowing that doesn't make my memory any better.
If I consider the outcome of poor memorization, well, the result of the exams becomes a very unpleasant affair.
Unlike the nationwide mock exams that test your knowledge, the midterms and finals test whether you paid attention during class.
Good grades don't really mean much to me. I'm okay as long as I can avoid supplementary exams. Memorizing the school books is enough to get me there.
Except that that's exactly what's so terrible and difficult to accomplish.
Are there no easier methods to remember things?
Come to think of it, I heard that you can remember anything if you write it on a note and eat it. I once gave it a shot for an exam.
...I suffered from an upset stomach for my trouble.
Why do I address this subject?
Well, because a teacher, who had already finished marking our exams, made a certain remark as I was leaving.
"The supplementary exam will cover the same subjects. Prepare yourself accordingly."
Right, then. Today's dinner is a bundle of memos.
But just where do I get them...?
...do photocopies also count?
My mother passed at the hospital after falling down the stairs at home.
Death by accident. Her death was set aside with those three words.
But I had seen the truth.
I saw. Through a gap in the door of the room I'd been locked into, I saw. With swollen cheeks and bereft of clothes, I saw.
I saw him push her down.
I desperately tried to get a hearing, but no one believed me.
The truth is going to fade away and be forgotten.
I will forget before long, too.
I have a bad memory, so I will forget.
I don't want to.
So I wrote it down.
In a notebook my mother had once given to me along with the advice that I should record everything that I absolutely didn't want to forget inside it.
It was not just a memento of her.
It was a special notebook—different from those I usually used—whose contents I never forget.
Therefore, I recorded it.
In order not to forget, I recorded it.
I recorded the truth behind my mother's death.
...Someone's here. Sheesh. It might be him. He'll destroy this if he finds it. I'll forget if he does.
I don't want to.
The door opened slowly.
It was his hands.
He had come, after all.
I closed the notebook and looked for a place to hide it. However, I couldn't decide on a place because none seemed certain.
The door was still being opened.
With my gaze I compared the notebook that contained the truth of her death and the slowly opening door.
There was no time.
I tore off the page I had just written, pushed it into my mouth and gulped it down.
I concealed the truth of her death in my stomach.
Now I won't forget.
I won't forget for the rest of my life......
A while after waking up, I was so confused that I didn't know where I was.
I felt as though my consciousness had been gotten caught in between dream and reality.
After gazing at the patterns in the wooden ceiling for a few moments, I got a clear mind.
It took me a few more minutes to recognize that I lived here.
Fragments of my memories from before waking up were still in my head.
I'd had a dream.
But I had forgotten what it was about in these few minutes.
Leaving me with an irksome feeling, the memory of the dream had disappeared.
What kind of dream was it?
This memory wasn't going to return,
Unless I made a note, I couldn't recall memories that had disappeared.
Again. As always.
I couldn't recall things I wanted to recall.
Even though I couldn't forget things I wanted to forget.
I had trouble coping with the frustration of my helplessness.
I buried my face in the pillow and covered myself under the blanket, curling up in the darkness.
The moment my vision went black, a miracle occurred along with a sensation of sparks flying.
—I remembered. I remembered my dream.
It was a dream of my past.
At the same time, it also answered my question.
I finally realized why I couldn't forget it.
Because of exams, there were no afternoon classes.
I was, despite everything, a mere student and, naturally, went to school. Since I went to school, I naturally also took classes. Since I took classes, I naturally also had to take exams when the time arrived. And, since I had to take exams, I naturally also had to take supplementary exams. Right. "Naturally." I disregard any opinions that claim otherwise.
Anyway, I went to the shop a little early even though my shift was scheduled for evening like always. I planned on studying for the supplementary exam the next day. Am I not dilligent?
To my surprise, however, there was a customer.
It was extremely rare for someone else to be present other than the owner, Towako-san, or my workmate, Saki. One could take the shop's lack of customers for granted. One might ask, "What the hell?," but I've had enough of that question.
From her appearance, the unexpected customer was in her early twenties. However, her presence made her seem a little older. She seemed fragile somehow, or insecure. The sad expression on her face may have augmented that impression.
Listening to her at a table that was for sale—a fake of a table with the ability of keeping everything on it even when flipping the table over like the pops of the showa era loved to do—was Towako-san.
Since when did we offer counseling?
That moment, Saki came out of the living room with a tray of black tea and our eyes met.
"Quite rare that we have a customer, huh?"
"It's an acquaintance of an acquaintance of Towako-san."
I thought about asking her for some black tea as well, but without leaving me any opportunity to enjoy some tea, Towako-san beckoned me over, "You came at just the right time. Tokiya, take a seat!"
I didn't know what "right time" it was, but I obediently sat down next to her. The woman on the other side greeted me with a nod, but looked a little perplexed.
"This is my part-timer. And this is Etsuko Uwajima," Towako-san introduced us to each other. "She's come her because of a problem she has. Join me in listening to her."
She loved to bargain over a Relic she was eyeing, but apparently she was bored of listening to someone's problems and planned on pushing the job onto me.
While I didn't have enough experience to counsel an adult woman, I wasn't so immature as to decline.
"All right, I am sorry, but may I ask you to start all over again?"
Etsuko-san nodded without seeming offended, and started calmly.
"To tell the truth, there is something I just can't seem to forget."
"I have a bad memory and often forget things. This is due to the brain damage I received in a traffic accident when I was young."
Unsure what to say, I nodded vaguely. She continued without minding.
"I have absolutely no memory of anything before the accident. The memories right after the accident, too, have become very vague. I remember almost nothing from that period. Apparently, the portion of the brain that manages my memories was damaged in the accident. Moreover, I don't only forget about my past, but I am also very forgetful about everything," she said and gave a few examples to elaborate. "I immediately forget things like faces or the locations of shops I frequent. Sometimes, I forget to take my money at the bank or to wrap my purchases even though I take the change. Also, one time I was searching for something but forgot what I was looking for in the process. It's been like this since I was a child, and because of that I was often scolded. In elementary school, for example, I set the record of forgetting something one week in a row. ...Or was it two weeks? No, three weeks?"
She talked rather leisurely, or "other-wordly" perhaps. As a side note, she took a whole five minutes for the explanation so far. That should give an idea of just how sluggishly—excuse me, I mean how leisurely her way of speaking was.
I had taken a side-glance at Towako-san, but she pretty much allowed the explanation go in one ear and out the other. For her, that pace and nature had to be hard to endure.
Suddenly, the woman took a laptop out of her bag and started to look something up.
What was so important to pause and look it up?
"...Ah, it was in high school. I remember now."
She had checked that up as it seemed. Had she stored her personal history on that laptop or something?
To be honest, I didn't give a shit. To begin with, didn't she kinda recall the wrong part there?
"Ah, but it's not like I forget each and every thing. I can memorize things like the multiplication tables or how to buy tickets."
Amnesia only involves forgetting part of one's experiences, like one's memories, but does not include bare knowledge. Besides, memorization itself doesn't decrease, so new memories are retained just fine.
Apparently, it's like the way to the old memories is being cut off.
In her case, it might have been something similar.
"Anyhow, once my mother, concerned about me, told me that I could memorize things if I wrote them on a notepad and ate it. When I tried it out, I really became able to memorize all kinds of things. Since then I have been eating notes to fight against my forgetfulness. I can keep things in mind quite a long time thanks to that. Quite the progress, isn't it?"
Like I care.
"...Um, is something wrong?" I asked.
Etsuko-san was holding her cheek and cocking her head absent-mindedly.
"Hello?" I asked again, upon which she peeked into my face.
"Excuse me, but what have I been talking about?"
Can I go home already?
"...and that's where you stopped."
I went to the trouble of repeating what she had said.
"Ah, I see," she said as she clapped her hands together with a beaming smile.
"Um, so what concern brings you here today?"
"Yes, listen please. As I said, I am still memorizing things by eating memos, and those memories fade away after a while, but there is one memory I just can't seem to forget. I really want to, but I can't..."
"This is the notebook I mentioned."
With these words, Etsuko-san pointed at a notebook on the table.
It was soft to the touch and of high quality, and had a binding made of Japanese paper. Just, apart from that it was a boringly normal A4 notebook that contained unlined blank pages. If I had to tell if it looked tasty or not, well, no, it didn't. Although that was no problem.
Unsure how to react, I looked to the side. Towako-san gave me a nod. That's when I realized that this notebook was a Relic.
"I once had an acquaintance of mine show it to me. Probably there's no doubt."
"What kind of power does it have?"
"You don't forget anything you note down in it. Whatever is written in there remains in your memory—no matter how much time passes, word for word."
So in short, I guess she's written something in it and can't forget it anymore.
"As soon as you've written something, is it really impossible to forget it?"
"No, you just have to erase it to revoke its effect. You can use an eraser or even just strike it out."
"Hey, then it's quite the simple task."
If she was unable to forget that memory, we just had to erase the corresponding text.
"Just, you know...," she sighed and showed me the opened notebook.
I saw the traces of torn-off pages.
"She's eaten the note."
"Exactly," the woman nodded in agreement.
A notebook that lets you remember everything you write in it.
A notebook that lets you forget something again if you erase it.
Then what happens if one were to eat a page?
"Dunno, no one has ever tried," Towako-san explained curtly. "But sweet Jesus, this is the first time I heard of someone eating a Relic! You never know what happens in life, though, and that's what makes it fun."
"Eating a memo isn't new, though."
That eating a memo will enable you to remember anything you've written on it is just a superstition some fool came up with when he was driven into a corner by his exams. But there are people who have to rely on such a superstition (can't talk about others).
She happened to be one of these people as well.
And in her case, she happened to have eaten a memo from a Relic.
"Normally, it's a really simple item... you remember what you write, and if you don't need it anymore, you just erase it," Towako-san said.
"If erasing does the trick, perhaps she'll forget when the note is digested?" I suggested.
"Unless she's eaten it today, it should be long digested by now."
"Then maybe in her shi—UGH!"
Saki hit me with a tray. With good reason.
We were having a slightly late lunch. Saki's homemade cod roe spaghetti.
Only I, Saki and Towako-san were sitting around the lunch table. We had noted down Etsuko-san's contact information and sent her on her way.
The notebook itself was still here, as we were going to investigate it.
Etsuko Uwajima-san. 21 years old.
She had received the notebook from her mother when she was young and was told to write everything in it she didn't want to forget. We didn't know how her mother had obtained the notebook, nor did we know if she had known about Relics, but, at the very least, she seemed to have been aware of its power.
She had passed away ten years ago. Apparently, she had slipped on the stairs and fallen badly, resulting in her death. Her parents were divorced, so the father had not been there. I couldn't ask for details about her family environment, but I guessed it was a rather complicated one. At the moment she lived alone. Her address was about three stations from here. That was about all we knew about her.
"She remembers stuff like this, huh."
Despite her lackluster memory, she was able to tell us these things rather easily. Well, for part of it she had used her computer, though.
"Keep in mind that there are two factors you must distinguish. Otherwise you'll get confused," Towako-san said.
"I am already. So, what factors do you mean?"
"First, she lost her memory due to an accident, which has also made her memories thereafter ambiguous and uncertain."
"The other one?" I asked.
"She's simply forgetful from nature."
"Yeah, she was quite the airhead..."
I looked at Saki. Wasn't she also an airhead in a sense?
"What?" She looked back at me expressionlessly upon noticing my gaze.
I turned back to Towako-san.
"I'm no expert in this field either, so I'm basing this on common knowledge and my own guesswork," she started, "A human brain has a short-term memory and a long-term memory. Furthermore, the latter consists of the episodic memory, used for recollections, and the semantic memory, used for factual knowledge. None of this is new to you, right?"
Never heard of it.
"The accident probably damaged her long-time memory. I guess it's true that she can remember almost nothing from her past, but in her computer she has a decent amount of data that fills in the gaps. That's why she remembers her mother for example."
So the hard disk of her computer is supplementing her brain?
"And as for why she forgets to take her money at the bank and had forgotten things during elementary school, well, she's a scatterbrain. It's not just her—these things can happen to everyone. Everyone forgets his or her short-term memory within a few minutes, after all. It's just that normally, you repeat those things in mind or look at a memo, so you can store it in your long-term memory. A scatterbrain tends to neglect doing so, or just gets distracted with something else."
Does that mean that I can't remember anything from classes because it never reaches the long-term memory? I don't study at home after all.
"In her explanation, she mixed the damage of her memory and her forgetfulness, which made her story incoherent. Looks like she didn't notice it herself, though. At any rate," she sighed, "The notebook Relic makes her remember things without paying heed to her mind structure."
"So, what do we do?"
"Well, I think I'll solve her problem. It's rude to leave her to her own devices after accepting her request for advise. Besides, there's a reward. A reward!"
The ratio is 1:3, huh... That's how bad our sales are.
"But is there really a need to do anything? After all, she has written it into her notebook because she didn't want to forget."
"Presently, she wants to forget. Although I don't know what."
Right. In the end, we couldn't find out what she wanted to forget.
She asked us not to press her on it because it were private. We accepted for now, since we deemed it possible to find "a way to forget" even without knowing "what to forget".
Nonetheless, I was somewhat interested in whatever it was that could be troublesome to remember.
"That said, this hasn't happened before, so there's nothing we could research. Let's wait and see for a while."
"I agree... By the way, she was introduced to you by an acquaintance, right?"
"What kind of person is it?"
"What do you mean by 'what kind'?"
"Nah, I just wondered if it's someone like you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Well, someone who isn't only a sucker for Relics, but oddities of all kinds, and who loves to try them out on others. In other words, an oddball that can't adapt to society...?
"No, don't tell me. If you do, one of my important part-timers might come to a bad end."
She'd rather reflect on her actions than restrain herself and not ask. That said, I was not so stupid as to voluntarily go in harm's way.
"So what kind of person is it?"
"Oh, just an old friend. A nuisance that gives Relics to people on a whim," Towako-san muttered with an absent gaze.
As the matter had been settled for the time being, I decided to study.
I had a supplementary exam the following day; there was enough pressure to get me into the mood.
If I'd had even just a tenth of my current willingness at school, then I wouldn't have to suffer now...
Well, I knew only too well that this was impossible, though.
"Didn't your exams end today?" Saki asked with an observant look.
"You got yourself a supplementary exam, didn't ya?" Towako-san hit the bull's eye.
Well, it was a bad excuse anyway, since I never did homework.
"You're quite the maverick for wanting to take a supplementary exam," Saki remarked in a flat voice.
I would have laughed back at her if that had been sarcasm. But in her case, she apparently didn't know what a supplementary exam was. There we have another oddball who can't adapt to society.
"Even though I helped you so much yesterday...," Towako-san sighed.
You call that help?
I admit that doing it like a quiz and asking me questions is a perfectly valid way to study, but I have a strong feeling that it was more just me helping her kill time.
"Alrighty, repetition time. Explain the Doppler effect!"
"Uuhm, aah, let me think... that's that swaying of the pitch when an ambulance passed by or when you come by a railroad crossing."
"Not examples, tell me the definition."
"Umm, something about... the source of waves..."
"Weell, there were a few..."
That was a problem I hadn't been able to answer after three tries the other day. Of course this had also been in the exam, but it was questionable if I had answered correctly. Since I hadn't been able to answer it in the shop, I had given up on it when I came across it in the exam.
Towako-san let out a deep sigh.
"If your grades drop too much, I won't be able to let you work here."
"They're not high enough to drop."
"Don't act big, you fool," she said and tore off a page from the notebook Relic for some reason. "Here. It belongs to someone else, so I can't give you the whole thing, but a page should be okay."
She tossed me the torn-off page.
"M-May I really?"
"It'd rub me the wrong way if your grades dropped because of my shop. Note only the things down you can't remember whatever you try."
Suddenly, for the first time, she looked like an angel to me.
Studying had never been so effective in my life.
After all, everything went straight into my head as soon as I had written it down. For the first time in my life, I had fun studying. I was now able to accept the statement that studying was fun if you caught on.
I noted down everything the exam covered, writing as tiny as I could. I couldn't get everything on the page, front and back, but it was enough to avoid falling flat.
To my surprise, Towako-san prepared Tonkatsu for dinner to raise my spirits and make me "win" against the exam. She was just like a mother to her son who had to take an entrance examination.
It was always Saki who prepared the meals, so I was surprised Towako-san could actually cook. She couldn't wash and clean, but cooking was something different according to her.
"Yum, really tasty!"
"Hehe, looking in a different light at me now?" Towako-san boasted with a smirk. "Okay, we're doing some repetition while eating! Question: What is the Doppler effect?"
"A phenomenon that occurs due to the relative motion of a wave and its source, or a wave and its observer. The formula to calculate the frequency if the source approaches the observer is..."
I smirked like Towako-san, "Hehe," and answered with ease like reciting the one times table. The answer came out so fluently, I could hardly believe this was my mouth.
I was able to answer almost all questions Towako-san asked me—except for the ones that weren't written in the Relic.
I've got it! My preparations are perfect.
It was also the first time that I couldn't wait for my exams.
01:00pm: I went to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop (FAKE) with my notebook—the memento of my mother.
I talked with Towako Setsutsu, the owner, and her employees, Saki Maino and Tokiya Kurusu.
What I talked about: myself. My name, my address, my phone number and my age. My accident. My defective memory. The notebook.
What I learned about: the notebook. Confirmed that it lets me remember everything I write in it, as my mother said, and it's known as a "Relic". In order to forget, I only have to erase or cross out the corresponding section. But it's unknown what happens to sections I have eaten.
They are looking for a way to let me forget the memory in question.
I have left the notebook in their care. (←important!)
On the way home I made my purchases.
What I bought: chicken breast meat, potatoes and onions for dinner. Furthermore: tissues and a packet of toothbrushes.
For dinner I prepared chicken sauteed with a potato salad, an onion soup and French bread.
...Having written my diary to that point, I took a breath.
I called it diary, but as a matter of fact, you could say I traced my memories. After writing all that had happened that day before the memories faded, I copied the text to my computer.
I did so to help me remember these things when I forgot about them in the future.
As for the text I'd written on a memo, I was going to eat it to make my memories hold longer. I usually ate such memos distributed on my lunch, my dinner and before going to bed. Eating memos to remember things is said to be a superstition, but to me it had already become a habit, because I had been doing it since I was young on the order of my mother.
The notebooks I was using were common ones you can buy in every store and not the Relic she had bequeathed to me. Because it was all stored in my computer as well, I used such notebooks unless it was something I wanted to remember no matter what.
I fetched some water and tore the page off the notebook. I then crumpled it up, making it a little easier to eat. I used to throw up or upset my stomach in the past, but by now I had become used to it.
I soaked the page in water and put it into my mouth. It wasn't a pleasant taste at all, but still I kept chewing to make it squashier.
Previously I had mixed it into my meals, but I couldn't do so anymore as of late.
The chime rang.
I stopped chewing and gulped the page down.
I washed it down with the remaining water and headed to the entrance.
It was Hideki-san who had come home from work.
Hideki-san entered and I welcomed him with a smile.
He was my fiancé I was going to marry soon. We had known each other since childhood, and after going separate ways for a while, we met again and started dating each other.
"Aah, I'm starving! Is dinner ready?"
"Yes, it's prepared. I just have to warm it up."
He lived in the house next to mine, and always came for dinner after work. Therefore, I couldn't mix the notes into my meals anymore, but I didn't mind it.
"What's for today?"
"Chicken sauteed with a potato salad, an onion soup and French bread."
Thank goodness, I remembered it.
"Could I have some rice instead of bread?"
"There are leftovers from yesterday, I'll warm them up for you."
I have to add this and eat it before going to sleep.
With these thoughts in mind, I took out a pan to fry the chicken breast.
After dinner, we made ourselves comfortable and watched TV.
When I made us some tea and came back from the kitchen, Hideki-san raised a subject, "On the way here I heard our neighbors talking about a suspicious person lingering in this area."
"Yeah. Make sure you lock the door when you leave, okay?"
Indeed. This was a serious matter for me, as I often forgot to lock up.
"What does he look like?" I asked, since knowing his features was going to help me identify him.
"Wait a second."
I prepared a pen and a notebook, so I wouldn't forget.
As Hideki-san knew about my accident and the after effects on my memory, he patiently waited for me.
"...They said it's a man about fifty or sixty. He's been walking around in these quarters wearing a jumper and was covering his face with a cap."
"Fifty or sixty...?"
A fearful notion crossed my mind.
I shook that thought off right away. He wasn't supposed to know where I was. It had to be someone else. I told myself to stop having such useless premonitions.
"Does it ring a bell with you? Did you see him or no?"
"Ah, no. I just thought that quite a lot fall under these conditions."
"Well, indeed." He didn't consider suspicious characters or criminals a direct threat. While he took note of the case, apparently he wasn't bothered that much and changed the subject. "Anyways, there's something I wanted to ask you about our wedding ceremony!"
"Do you even remember the date?"
There was a date that came to mind, but I was too unsure to put it into words. I had no confidence. If I was wrong, he would certainly be offended. My defective memory aside, it would be outrageous to forget such an important thing.
I know... I really do... but...
"Just joking! I mean, you wouldn't forget that, now would you?" he laughed without showing any doubt.
I felt a pang of conscience.
"Anyway, a friend of mine is planning on making a slideshow for the wedding reception. You know, that thing where you show old photos. For that I'd like to have a few of you, too. Where do you keep them?"
"They are in a cardboard in the room over there... I think. I'll take a look."
"Ah, there's no hurry. Let's pick some together another time."
"Then about your guests..."
My heart skipped a beat.
"Are you sure you only want to invite your grandparents from your relatives?"
"Yes. I don't really maintain contact with my relatives, you know. I'm sorry. I know, you have invited a lot..."
"I don't mind, but are you sure you don't want to get in touch with your father?"
"...yes. I'm sorry."
"No, don't worry. Sorry for pestering you about it. All right! We have a lot to do!" Hideki-san laughed.
I was seized by unrest, afraid that I might ruin his smile.
The next day.
There were two other students in the classroom, desperately cramming with their books and notes before the supplementary exam started.
Give it your best shot, my friends. Struggle to your heart's content! As you have no choice! Unlike me.
I watched them from behind—just like a certain colonel who once said "Aha, some human garbage!" while looking down on the mob.
"Is everyone here?" asked the teacher as he entered through the door at the rear. "Quite confident today, aren't you?" he said upon noticing that I wasn't struggling to do my last preparations. "You look like you have completed your preparations."
"Something like that, yes."
"Now if only you'd make that be the case at the normal exams as well."
"Let's not go into that!"
"Hahaha, very well, then show me what you can," the teacher said, apparently reassured by my self-confidence.
He distributed the exercise sheets to the three of us. I was devoid of fear of what awaited me on the other side of the turned sheets.
He, he, he! No problem, my dear teacher. Lean back and let me show you my skill!
"You have sixty minutes. You can leave when you're done. The test covers the same subjects as the previous one. I even made the problems a little easier. Try to ease your tension a little and you'll be able to use your full power."
You made them easier? Oh, but my dear teacher, there was no need to do that.
Well? Since I'm not alone, I guess you had no other choice.
Allow me to thank you on their behalf.
I shall respond in kind to the goodwill you've shown your students with a good grade.
As soon as I heard the start call, swiftly flipped around the paper.
Lots of questions leaped to my eye.
Making up my mind, I tightened my grip on the pen and—
"How was the exam?" Towako-san asked right away when I came rushing in.
I ignored her and started searching my study materials I had used the day before.
"Welcome back. How was the..." Saki was eager to know as well.
"It's not there! Nowhere! Hey, where is the torn-off note that I put here?!"
"Yes! Look, there was a paper with the exam questions on it, right?"
"Didn't you bring it to school?"
I hadn't, since there had been no need to.
"It's not there?" she asked.
"I'm asking because it's not!"
I started rummaging through the trash bin. However, I didn't find the note on which I had written the scope of the exam in the minutest details.
"Looks like it ended up as expected, heh," Towako-san chuckled, seeing my fruitless search attempt.
With a queasy feeling, I pressed on her. "What's that supposed to mean? As expected?"
"By 'as expected' I mean that the result I expected became reality!"
"That's not what I want to hear... Towako-san, you know where the note is, don't you?"
Towako-san pointed at me with a broad smile.
"If I had it, I wouldn't be searching, now would I? I didn't take it with me!"
"I know that you didn't. To be exact, you couldn't. Ah no, should I say that you did, in this case?"
"Tell me where it is, already!"
"As I said, right there!"
She pointed at me once more. Specifically, at the center if my body—my stomach.
"Or is it perhaps already over there, to be exact?" she corrected herself and moved her finger toward the restroom.
"But yes. I blended that note into yesterday's Tonkatsu. You loved it, didn't you? Your Relic-flavored cutlet," she said with a brazen face. "So we learned that digesting a memo has the same effect as erasing the text. That's a step forward!"
So that was why she had prepared dinner the other day.
She dared use me as a laboratory rat...
"Good boys don't abuse a Relic to pass an exam, you know?"
Towako-san laughed teasingly and flicked my forehead.
My face turned ashen.
Ashen white like a corpse.
...Incidentally, I was in for a second supplementary exam.
With the exam slated for the following week, I started looking for a solution to this case.
My teacher probably thought that a day wasn't enough. He gave me a full week of time to study. I still vividly remember the raging smile—sounds strange, but is the truth—he showed me when he told me that, holding my blank answer sheet. That smile was going to haunt my nightmares. I wasn't going to remember that face forever. Even without the notebook Relic.
It was then that Towako-san and I made a deal.
She promised to give me a page of that notebook if I solved the case.
I wasn't going to fail this time. In other words, I wasn't going to eat it.
No, don't you tell me to study! If that would suffice, I wouldn't be relying on a notebook for that exam to begin with.
Concerning the reason why Etsuko-san couldn't forget that certain memory:
In my case, I forgot about the text when I ate and digested it. Pretty obvious, now that I thought about it, since the text was erased by stomach acid after all.
She visited just yesterday. It was very unlikely that her memory had yet to have been digested at that point, as she must have eaten it at least prior to the day before yesterday.
So why was she unable to forget nonetheless?
There was only one conceivable answer.
Which is to say, she hadn't eaten that memo.
She claimed to have done so, but her word wasn't of much weight in lieu of her poor memory and her forgetful nature. Perhaps, she had confused it with some other scrap she had eaten, or she had simply put it somewhere and had forgotten to eat it.
If I managed to locate that memo and erase it, she would be able to forget it.
Therefore, I decided to search her house.
Using the address Etsuko-san had told us, Saki and I headed to her house.
The reason for taking Saki with me was that I thought there might be spots a man should not rummage about, since Etsuko-san lived alone.
We passed by a closed elementary school that served us as a point of orientation, and entered the residential area not far from there. It didn't take long until we found the house in question. Etsuko-san was sweeping right before the entrance.
When I greeted her, she bowed her head in reply and said, "Excuse me, but do we know each other?"
"...I'm Tokiya Kurusu."
Etsuko-san took a notepad out of the pocket of her apron and clapped her hands together after she had looked something up. I sneaked a peek and found out that it was some sort of memo of her schedule today.
"Welcome! I've been waiting for you."
But you forgot!
Before I could make that remark, a man left the house next door. He was about in his late twenties and gave Etsuko-san a wave when he saw her. Apparently able to memorize at least the face of her neighbor, she greeted him with a smile.
The man looked at Etsuko-san and then at us. Perhaps we seemed like curious combination to him.
"Who are they?"
Searching for an answer, Etsuko muttered, "Umm..."
She didn't know how to put it.
"We are from the Tsukumodo Antique Shop. We have come to acquire items like antiques or old furniture."
At the perfect moment, Saki started her business talk. This was the pattern we often used in situations where we had to reveal ourselves. After all, we couldn't just give anyone an explanation of what Relics were.
"If you are interested as well, be welcome to get in touch with us."
"No, I do not have anything of interest for you."
While he wasn't suspicious of us, he quickly left and didn't want to have anything to do with us. After seeing that he had gone around the next corner, Etsuko-san let us in.
"Excuse the mess."
This was no empty phrase. There were indeed piles of cardboard boxes in the corridor and so forth. However, it was not like she had neglected cleaning the house.
"I haven't put everything in order yet since I moved here."
Now I got why there were cardboard boxes in the corridor and the living room. At the same time, the probability that she had left the scrap somewhere and forgotten about it grew. Or perhaps she had lost it while she was tidying things away from her move.
"Okay, let's begin, shall we?"
Because we couldn't just tell her, "You haven't eaten the memo but left it somewhere," we told her that she might have another Relic that caused her to remember.
While she owned one, she hadn't known about Relics until she heard it from us, so she believed us quite easily.
Etsuko-san lived alone in a two-storied house. Judging from the stains on the walls and the scars in the posts, the building wasn't new. To be honest, I had no clue why she would move into such a house instead of an apartment.
After we had been led to the living room, we decided on ask a few question for starters.
"That memory is still there, right?"
My faint hope that she might have forgotten by now was blasted in a snap.
"Okay, then could you tell us what's been going on recently? Specifically, have you done anything special during the last week?"
Etsuko-san opened her laptop and looked back at her actions this week.
"You even forget things that only happened a week ago?" I asked.
"Not everything, but parts."
"By the way, what are you always writing in your computer?"
"A diary on a daily basis."
On my request, she let me take a look. There were folders for every year and month, and in there were a bunch of text files for every day.
"In the beginning, I used real diaries, but they grew so much in number that it became bothersome to carry them around. Therefore, I switched to a computer."
Judging from the file size, her diary entries were very long.
"Okay, one week ago I stood up at seven in the morning. Then I had breakfast. I had toast, fried egg and salad. I also drank some black tea..."
"...You don't have to tell us such things."
How detailed did she write her entries? Anyway, that kind of information wasn't much use to us.
"Um, did you go somewhere during this week?" I asked.
Etsuko-san navigated her computer.
"Only when I made my purchases, and perhaps to your shop for some advise."
"...Did you take the notebook Relic with you for your purchases?"
"No. A a basic rule, I don't carry it around. Only my computer and perhaps a notepad."
This eliminates the possibility that she has dropped it somewhere.
"...By the way, when did you move here?"
"Just recently. At the beginning of the month...," she said and took a look at her computer. "Yes. At the beginning of the month."
About two weeks ago... So I guess I should inquire about her move, too...
That moment, Saki posed a question.
"When did you eat the memo anyway?"
Right. I hadn't asked that question. It had slipped my mind because I was confident that she hadn't eaten it. With that information, we knew until when she had the memo, and could investigate on Etsuko-san's actions thereafter.
I was thoughtless—I wasn't in the position to talk badly about Etsuko-san.
"Um... wait a moment, please."
She started looking it up on her computer. She had opened several folders, so the search was taking some time. She had probably no idea where it was.
"By the way, it ate it after moving here, right?"
If she had eaten—or more like, torn off—the note before moving, her previous house would come into question as well. If her memo had ended up in the trash bin but still got off undamaged, then we might already be at our wits' end.
"In your previous house?"
That put a spoke in my wheel. To my surprise, however, Etsuko-san shook her head.
"No. I ate it here!"
"Huh? But didn't you just say you ate it before moving here?"
...She lost me.
"Um, but when was that anyway? You needn't look it up. Just roughly. Um, one week... no, one month ago?"
"No," she shook her head.
"Ten years ago."
According to the explanation she gave us, she had lived in this house until ten years ago, and had moved somewhere else, just to return recently.
But she had eaten that note ten years ago. In other words, when she still lived here—which was ten years from now, and with two moves in between. Of course, we had no idea where that scrap of paper was.
We took a look around in the house just to be sure, but naturally our search remained fruitless.
"Should we set the house on fire and erase it for good?"
"Have you lost it?"
I quickly said, "Just joking!" when Saki scolded me. Although I was half-serious.
We had gone into Etsuko-san's room and were still searching for the memo.
It was a completely ordinary room with a desk, a bookshelf and a wardrobe, and a curtain atop the window. There were several post-it notes on the wardrobe that marked what was inside. She had probably developed her own tricks for her daily life. What puzzled me was that there were cardboard boxes here as well.
I asked Saki to search the bookshelf and the desk, whereas I went for the cardboard boxes. I had already gotten permission from Etsuko-san.
I unsealed one of the boxes and took an album out of it.
Since she didn't mind if we looked, I flicked through it.
"We're not here to play around," I complained to Saki who was peeking at the album over my shoulders, but still we continued looking through it.
It started off with photos of a baby, and recorded her gradual growth to a young girl. Around the time she went to elementary school, she started to resemble her current self. And at the time, she had still had her parents at both sides.
There was also a picture of her time at the hospital. She stood there with a bandage wrapped around her head and a flower bouquet in her hands. She was surrounded by a doctor and nurses. It was probably a picture of her discharge, and the only one of that time.
A few pages after, her father disappeared from the photos.
It was a couple of years after the accident. Only her mother remained at her side.
There had been no large span between the divorce and the decease of her mother; after only a few pictures, her parents were replaced by an aged man and woman on the pictures.
I suspected they were Etsuko-san's grandparents who had taken her in. They appeared on the photographs of her graduation from elementary, middle and high school, as well as her coming-of-age celebration. It seemed like a kind-hearted old couple.
I paged back to the last picture with her parents.
It was about ten years ago, when she was in elementary school.
It had immediately rang a bell with me when she told me that she had used the notebook ten years ago.
Her mother's accidental death, ten years ago.
The memory she had recorded in the Relic, ten years ago.
These two facts could not be unrelated.
The thing she wanted to forget was bound to have something to do with her mother's decease.
I had no idea what exactly she had recorded.
But I strongly doubted it was something pleasant.
There was probably more to it.
Something she couldn't tell anyone.
I had no clue what it was—no I did. But I sealed that thought away, because it was a crazy thought and absolutely not something to say carelessly.
I pushed the box with albums aside and pulled another one to me. It was labeled at the side as "Diaries (1)".
"Do you plan on reading the diaries as well?"
"I'll just skim through them. I'll try my best not to read anything."
I did have permission, but I had no intention of violating her privacy. That said, I was ready to read sections that might contain a clue.
I took out the diaries. They were all of high quality and had a leather binding. Quite extravagant and mature for an elementary schooler to use.
The diaries had their year marked on the cover.
They started fifteen years ago, about the time she was in the first year of elementary school.
"I suppose she started after she had met with an accident," Saki commented.
No wonder the diaries were of high quality and leather-bound!
To her, the memories recorded in those diaries were an irreplaceable treasure.
At least her parents must have thought so when they bought them for her.
I opened one of the diaries and found a clumsy handwriting that didn't match the splendidly made diary. The size of the letters was as irregular as it gets, there were misspellings all over the page, and the grammar had been ignored entirely. It was well-nigh unreadable.
Nevertheless, I was sure she had read through these entries again and again when she wanted to recall old memories.
The pages were worn with frequent use, and there were places that had gotten wet and had dried up, although I didn't know whether the cause was sweat or tears.
As time went by, the entries changed into a proper writing. However, I was taken aback by all the details.
Not only did they contain the events of every day, but also what time she stood up, what she ate, which train she took, what she was doing and thinking during the day, and so forth. Therefore, the number of diaries was quite overwhelming.
Probably this also served as some sort of rehabilitation. It was hard to guess how much time she had spent everyday to write those diaries.
I took another diary.
One that was written just ten years ago. The period of time she had used the Relic.
With a sting of remorse, I opened the diary.
Among other things, it contained the entry of the day of her mother's decease.
As always, it started with the time she stood up and what she had for breakfast, and contained a detailed report of her experiences at school.
However, it mentioned that she was scolded by her mother for neglecting her diary for once. Apparently, she had played together with her friends instead of going straight home.
There was a touch of irony in the fact that her mother fell from the stairs on that day of all days. Moreover, it happened when Etsuko-san was in the midst of writing her diary. The entry of that day stopped there.
I flipped the page. In the next entry she wrote about the decease of her mother at the hospital and the wake that was going to be held.
Even after that, she had continued writing her diary without skipping a day.
However, I didn't find anything she may have wanted to hide.
Well, if there was, she wouldn't have allowed me to freely look through them.
The entry that day that was broken off unfinished... how was it supposed to end?
...Or was the continuation written in the Relic?
"Why don't you take a break?" Etsuko-san startled me, standing beside me all of a sudden.
Even though I had permission, I couldn't help feeling a little awkward when I closed the diary.
"Y-You have a stunning collection of diaries there!"
"Yes. It has become so many because I kept writing them," she answered without any concerns. "So, how about it?"
"Eh? ...Ah, the break? Yes."
We accepted her proposal and put the diaries back into their cardboard box.
While at it, I was seized by misgivings.
Is it okay for us to help her erase that memory?
We didn't know what she wanted to forget.
But it couldn't be anything good.
But no matter how much she wanted to forget, what if it was a memory that was meant to be remembered?
"Um, may I ask you a question?"
"...Why do you want to forget about it?"
After a moment's silence, she answered with a sad face,
"Because I want to start a new life."
While drinking a cup of coffee, we were taking a break in the living room.
As we had already been searching for a few hours, I had gotten a stiff neck. However, my doubts were fruitless. We didn't even find any hints.
The odds were against us finding a ten years old scrap of paper.
But still, why did Etsuko-san get the wish to forget that memory now of all times?
What was the reason that a memory she had left untouched for ten years became unnecessary?
"May I ask a question?" Saki, who had been silent so far, said.
"Yes, go ahead."
"What's the relationship between you and the man we saw earlier?"
Against all my expectations, she asked something entirely unrelated.
I already prepared myself to make a remark, when suddenly Etsuko-san turned as red as a beet and cast her eyes down.
"To tell the truth, we're marrying next month."
Saki had probably guessed their relationship right away. I had not. What a sharp-eyed girl.
"Congratulations," Saki said bluntly as if she didn't know the meaning of Etsuko-san's words, but Etsuko-san gave her thanks without taking offense. "How did you get to know him?"
"He's a childhood friend, or perhaps, he was something like the boy next door? We lost contact entirely when I moved away, but he happened to frequent the shop I worked at, you know..."
I listened to her without going into the question whether she was really able to work.
"But at first, I didn't realize who he is. Not only me, but it was the same for him. Because I used my father's surname when I still lived here, he didn't realize who I am, either. It stayed that way until I visited his parents to introduce myself. That was quite the surprise."
"A fateful encounter."
Etsuko-san was smiling, but a shadow or some sort of hesitation loomed in her expression.
"Is there a problem?" I asked thoughtlessly, suspecting she had marriage blues.
However, this time she tensed up visibly.
I regretted my own stupidity.
Hadn't I thought about it just moments ago?!
About the reason why a memory she had left untouched for ten years became unnecessary!
If she had to forget it now, there was only one reason.
The memory she wanted to forget was an obstacle to her wedding—to her happiness.
Hence, she wanted to forget it before her marriage.
Suddenly, the telephone rang, breaking the heavy silence.
Etsuko-san stood up after asking to be excused, and went to the telephone. She accepted the call after she had picked up the pen that was placed next to the phone with a notepad. She had probably formed a habit of recording her calls.
"Yes, Uwajima speaki... father..."
My full attention was directed at Etsuko-san's voice and her holding the breath.
If my memory served me right, she did no longer keep in contact with her divorced father. I didn't want to be rude, but I couldn't help perking up my ears.
"...How did you find out? Grandpa? I see..."
Apparently, she hadn't informed her father that she moved back here. Her grandfather had gotten in touch with him when the wedding became official.
They kept talking for a while.
The reunion of father and daughter was everything but touching. Etsuko-san didn't wish to see him again. She was rejecting any contact with him.
"...Do you remember what I said at mother's funeral? Please forget it. I will do so, too. And please keep away from me," she said one-sidedly and hung up and let out a sigh.
Her face was full of distress. However, recalling our presence, she quickly slapped on a smile.
"Did you keep in contact with your father?"
"No. This was the first time since the funeral of my mother. ...Despite everything, I recognized him by his voice. You remember such things forever, don't you?"
Etsuko-san seemed to be surprised about the fact that she had recognized her father by phone.
It had been about ten years. I felt that this was the bonds between parent and child, and completely unrelated to memory and such.
"What kind of father was he?"
"He's not a bad person. He would just often get into an argument with my mother about my upbringing. He was against keeping such a diary. He wanted to bring me up like a normal child. My mother often said he was too concerned about the eyes of the neighborhood. I think so as well."
Indeed, keeping such a detailed diary was a little abnormal from a normal perspective. But as there was an accident, this couldn't be helped. But her father had apparently been unable to think so.
"Do you have a grudge against him?"
"That's not the problem. It's something entirely different. I neither hate him, nor do I bear a grudge against him. I just don't want to have anything to do with someone my mother has severed all contact with... since it's like I were betraying her. And I don't want to betray her any more."
Does keeping in touch with her father her mother has broken contact equal betraying her? Or was there another reason to it?
Either way, judging from the way she talked, she wasn't down on her father or anything, but merely kept away because of her mother.
But still, I couldn't help being surprised that she remembered that sort of thing rather well.
"Oh, did I dampen the mood...? Ah, right. Please wait a moment."
Etsuko-san forcefully put on a bright face and went into another room. She returned carrying a snow-white wedding dress.
I'm not versed in wedding dresses, but it looked like a slightly old design.
"My father chose this dress for my mother. Hideki-san offered me to be a new one or rent one, but I insisted on wearing this. I want to show at least a little filial piety."
Etsuko-san held the dress in front of her.
She would have looked great in it.
"Come here, Maino-san."
Beckoned over by Etsuko-san, Saki walked hesitantly to her.
Etsuko-san turned Saki around and held the dress in front of her.
"Do you like it, Kurusu-san?" With a mischievous smile, she asked for my impressions.
Don't abuse me to brighten the mood... I can't say that I like it, now can I?
"Fine feathers make fine birds."
"I knew you'd say that."
"What? Did you want me to praise you?"
"Don't get angry!"
"I'm not angry."
"But you are!"
I heard Etsuko-san whisper into her ear, "He's just shy," when Saki turned away from me.
Please say such things hidden from me.
Saki's fashion show continued for a while until Etsuko-san was satisfied, and then she went back to the other room to stow away the dress.
Saki looked at me with an inquiring look. No, she wasn't asking for my impressions.
Etsuko-san had been behaving a little strange since the call from her father. The scene she had made just now had been obviously forced. Probably it was just sympathy I had, but I hoped her marriage would bring her happiness, because of the worries about her parents and her accident and its after effects were tormenting her.
I wanted to let her forget "that memory" whatever it was going to take. Saki was probably of the same mind.
Suddenly, I noticed something moving outside the window. I opened the curtain and took a look out of the window. Someone was peeking into the house from behind the wall. He quickly ducked, but it was already too late for him.
"Who are you!"
I rushed out without even answering her.
I quickly looked in the direction the man escaped. He was just going around the corner. I hurried after him.
When I came around the same corner, I spotted him from behind.
He wasn't so far away. Without wanting to brag, I'm in good form. As I sped after him, he ran round another corner.
As we were in a residential area, there were lots of branches, but there were almost no people on the streets, so I wasn't going to lose him.
He kept fleeing desperately. But I was faster. The distance between us gradually shrunk. I reached out. Just a little more. The man turned around to take a look behind—that moment his speed dropped slightly. My hand touched him.
I took a leap at him.
With full vigor, the both of us rolled on the ground.
However, my hand didn't let go of him.
I grabbed the prone man and turned him face-up.
I knew his face.
When I returned to my room to put away my wedding dress, the boxed-in diaries and an opened album caught my eye.
They were things that meant much more to me than the wedding dress.
The precious diaries mother had bought for me.
The precious picture of me and my mother.
Out of worry about me and my defective memory, she had bought countless diaries for me. She had taken countless photographs of me for the album. Not only on our vacation, but also when there was an event at school or even on normal days.
Thanks to her, I was able to keep a lot of my recollections.
If it hadn't been for my mother, and if I hadn't continued doing as she had told me, I would have been empty like a blank sheet by now.
But I was going to betray her.
I was going to betray my mother who had wished for my happiness more than anyone else.
"Forgive me... Mom..."
I embraced the diary. I couldn't suppress my tears.
"Forgive me... Mom, but I will throw that memory away and become happy."
Even now I still hesitated to erase that memory.
But a word from my mother had brought me to that decision.
"I don't need anything if you attain happiness!"
These were words she had left behind for me the day before she passed away.
She hadn't foreseen her death, but these words became something like her last will by chance.
And her will lived on in my heart.
Therefore, I was going to betray her.
I was able to protect her last will, even if I betrayed her.
"You have wished for my happiness more than anyone else, so you'll understand, right?"
"I'll attain happiness. So please forgive me."
Suddenly, the bell rang.
I put away the diary and headed toward the entrance after wiping off my tears.
Kurusu-san and Maino-san weren't in the living room.
Although perplexed, I still went to the door and looked through the peephole. I held my breath.
"Could you get off me for starters?" he said, smiling wryly. Apparently he wasn't going to flee anymore.
For the time being, I decided to listen to him and got off him.
Hideki-san stood up as he brushed off the stains from his suit. I followed suit.
"Oh boy, I used to be a marathon runner when I was young, but looks like I get too little exercise."
"You peeked into the house just now, right?" I asked to be sure, but he admitted it right away. "Why did you do that?"
"I was worried! Look, you know Etsuko-san. After hearing that story about buying off antiques, I suspected that you meant to deceive her. Since I couldn't shake of my worries, I came back to take a look. But watching you guys would have been like saying 'I don't trust you', so I watched from outside."
Understanding what he wanted to say, I nodded.
From his perspective, it was only natural to be worried about her. All the more because he knew her well.
"May I ask?"
"What did you come for? I've never heard of any antiques in her belongings."
"As there seems to be a misunderstanding, let me tell you that the articles our shop handles are a little different from the antiques you know. Excuse the lacking explanation, but let's just say they're special."
Relics are not commonly known. If I had told him we handled tools with a special power, he would have grown even more suspicious of us.
Maybe next time we should pose as employees from a second-hand shop who came for household utensils and electric appliances.
"In other words, in her house there is something of value for our shop. It's something she has inherited from her mother, and..."
"Tokiya," Saki called as she rushed to me with a wild breath.
Apparently, she had followed me.
"Thank goodness. I was about to get lost."
"Then why didn't you just stay there?"
"I had no idea what was going on when you rushed out all of a sudden! ...Hideki-san? Hideki-san was that suspicious character?"
"Suspicious character? Now don't exaggerate. Hideki-san was only watching what we were doing."
"Really? On my way here I heard people talk about a suspicious character that has been lingering about again, so I was sure it was him."
"Aah, about that. Recently there have been reports of a suspicious character in these quarters. I haven't seen him myself, but according to our neighbors, he has been peeping at her house. But it's not me! He's said to be about fifty."
A suspicious character peeping at Etsuko-san's house who's about fifty years old?
She hadn't mentioned anything about such a person. We had no one in mind.
No, wait. A man who's about fifty? I have never met him, but there is a suspect.
If we consider how old Etsuko-san is, he should be about that age.
"He's appeared recently?"
It had also ben recently that her grandparents had gotten in touch with him. As it was the house he had lived in the past, it would be no surprise if he knew the address.
Come to think of it, there was a phone call not long ago. What if that was to check if she was at home...?
"That man might be Etsuko-san's father."
"No, her father divorced and isn't around anymore. They haven't met in over ten years."
"Eh? Why do you..."
I was going to ask why he knew, but of course he did. Hideki-san was her childhood friend and most likely knew her father in person.
I noticed another thing.
It was not only Etsuko-san and her father who knew about what happened ten years ago. Hideki-san might know as well.
But as a mere employee at an antique shop, I was not in the position to ask him about it.
To begin with, there was no time anyway.
"Saki, we're going back! Hideki-san, you too!"
Leaving behind only these words, I ran back to Etsuko-san's house without waiting for an answer.
Perhaps it was a crazy thought.
Perhaps it was absurd.
But it was something I had been thinking the whole time. Ever since I realized that there was a connection between the ten-years old memory she wanted to forget and her mother's decease.
If it was only an accident, there was no secret to hide.
If it was only an accident, there was no secret to forget.
This is a hypothesis.
But if Etsuko-san and Hideki-san's reunion had triggered something—
If they shared a secret and their marriage was a thorn in her father's flesh, it would make sense if his action was triggered now.
But what was he going to do after such a long time? That was the question.
I opened the door and rushed into her house.
"Etsuko-san!" I yelled, but there was no reply.
I rushed through the corridor and jumped into the living room.
Etsuko-san was nowhere to be seen. But in her room, I found a man.
A man, who was about fifty and had partly white hair, turned to me, surprised. In his hands, an album and a diary.
"W-Who are you?"
"You're Etsuko-san's father, aren't you?"
"Where is she?"
Even though I talked in a strong voice, she didn't appear.
"What have you done to her?!"
"Calm down," said Saki, who had come in a few moments later, as she clung to me from behind and held me back from attacking the old man. "Her shoes aren't here. Where did she go?"
"Aah, she was called out by phone and just left. She asked me to look after the house."
"Look after the house?"
I felt how my boiling blood cooled down after hearing that surprising answer.
"This is also his house, so why should he not be here?" Saki said.
However, after hearing that, Etsuko-san's father straightened himself and said with a bitter smile,
"This isn't my house anymore! I have abandoned this place. I don't even have the right to call myself her father anymore. As you said, I shouldn't be here," he declared and stood up. "You two, are you her friends?"
"Ah, yeah. Kind of," I nodded vaguely as I didn't know how to reply.
"Can I leave the house in your care, then? I think I'll take my leave."
"Eh? Don't you want to wait for her return?"
"I actually came to give her the money I had set aside for her marriage, but she won't accept it. I'm going to hand it over to my father-in-law instead... Please convey my greetings to her. And also tell her that I won't bother her anymore."
"W-Wait a moment, please! Saki, go fetch Etsuko-san."
I was unsure if I could just let him go, so I wanted Saki to bring Etsuko-san, but her father said,
"She's meeting Hideki-kun right now, so please don't disturb them."
What did he just say? —Hideki-san?
"There was a call from him just now. Or do you not know Hideki-kun? He's her husband-to-be!"
"We know. But Hideki-san has been together with us until just now."
Come to think of it, he hadn't come back here with us.
"When did you get the call?"
"Just now. A few moments before you arrived here. It seemed like an urgent matter."
What's that supposed to mean... almost as if to make us miss her...
I started to feel strong qualms.
Had I gotten something completely the wrong way?
A thought crossed my mind. A thought I had had earlier.
It's not only Etsuko-san and her father who know about what happened ten years ago. Hideki-san might know as well.
Why did I miss the possibility that was a step ahead from there?
The possibility that Hideki-san, her childhood friend, was involved in the incident.
"I'm sorry, but please tell us if you know what happened ten years ago."
Her father's grew visibly pale.
"Right. Her mother passed away. What happened at the time?" I added.
"...My wife slipped and fell from the stairs. Unfortunately, she..."
"That's all? What about Etsuko-san at the time?"
"Apparently, she was locked in her room in the second floor because she had misbehaved."
"That's all? Didn't she say anything more?"
"Please tell us! It's important!"
After a short silence, he muttered, "....All right."
"She said that Hideki-kun had pushed her mother down."
I was left speechless.
"I only met her once at the funeral. She told me then. But at the time, he was still in elementary school, so he would have never done that. I suspect she made this up because she didn't want to blame herself, because she believed this wouldn't have happened if she hadn't misbehaved."
Finally I realized what the ten-years old memory she wanted to forget was.
Etsuko-san witnessed ten years ago how Hideki-san killed her mother. But her father didn't believe her. No one believed her.
Because she didn't trust her own memory, she wrote the truth down in the Relic and ate it to make sure she wouldn't forget. I don't know why she ate it. Either to make herself remember, or to hide it.
However, she met Hideki-san again.
She met him again without knowing who he was—and fell in love.
Therefore, she wanted to forget the truth about her mother's death. She wanted to forget that the man she loved had killed her mother.
"Tell me one more thing," I asked. "Has her brain really been damaged and caused her memory to be defective?"
Her father widened his eyes.
That was enough for me.
"Her memory is operating properly, right?"
While talking to Etsuko-san, I entertained doubts several times. When we asked her about her past, she would always consult her computer. But there were never any contradictions to what she had said before.
While she was forgetful and a scatterbrain, her long-term memory seemed just fine. Everything she had forgotten was quite normal.
I don't remember how long my record of forgetting things in elementary school was, either. I don't remember what I ate a week ago. But she considered forgetting such things strange.
She had no confidence in her memory... no, she was obsessed with thinking so.
"...It's like you said. Her memory is operating perfectly fine! She has only suffered from a loss of memory, but her memory itself remained undamaged. Sure, she's very forgetful and has trouble remembering faces, but there's no big difference from others. The doctor also confirmed that there was no problem to her brain."
"Then why is it that she thinks so about herself...?"
"My wife is the origin. When Etsuko forgot something, she would persuade herself that the accident was to blame and forced Etsuko to memorize lots of useless things. She bought diaries for her and made her write her diary every day. In extreme detail, Etsuko had to write what she had thought and what she had done, and even pointless things like what she had eaten. If she didn't write the diary, my wife would beat her and lock her up in her room until she completed the entry. Naked, at that. I often got into an argument with my wife because of that. This was also the cause for our divorce. When I rebuked her and told her that she was going to far, she yelled at me that I was not thinking about Etsuko. But I could understand why she became like that."
"Was there a reason?"
"Etsuko's accident. But not the accident itself... after meeting with the accident, she was unconscious for a week. When she finally woke up and looked at her mother, her first words were:
—'Who are you?'
Most likely her memories were only a little mixed up. She recognized her shortly after. But this didn't deaden the shock my wife had gotten. From the fact that Etsuko had lost memories of her past, she arrived at the idea that Etsuko's memory had gotten defective. Therefore, she tried to make her remember more than necessary. Because of that, Etsuko also started to believe that her memory were defective. No matter how much I told her otherwise, she just wouldn't believe me."
Etsuko-san had told us that she could not forget what had happened ten years ago. No wonder. Who would forget the death of one's mother after only ten years? It's a matter of course that one can't forget it for a lifetime. It's a matter of course to remember.
The information of her defective memory had misled me.
It was a completely normal thing.
"I'm sorry, but did she say where she went?"
"Mm, she left in a hurry, you know. But I think she wrote a memo...?"
I went to the phone.
Next to the phone was a notepad and a pen. A rather thick notepad. She had most likely the habit of taking notes, since she had no confidence in her memory. It may go without saying, but the memo where she had noted the meeting point had been torn off.
But it was still there. The meeting place was still written there.
I took the pen and moved it over the new memo. While paying attention not to press to hard, I painted the memo black. Fine white lines became visible on the black surface. The pressure of her pen stroke had left an impression on the underlying sheet.
But all the impressions that had been made over time overlapped and made it impossible to read it.
Because several letters overlapped each other, it looked only like a pattern that couldn't be read at all or that could be read as anything.
I sharpened my eyes and looked again at the memo. However, the more I tried, the more I failed to make sense of it.
Saki's uneasy voice stroked my back.
It was then that a painful noise crossed my mind—
Etsuko-san and Hideki-san were facing each other.
I don't know where this is.
Etsuko-san was standing with her back to a fence, and Hideki-san was standing in front of her.
I was watching this scene from afar. To be more exact, it was like looking down from a higher building at the roof of a lower building.
Etsuko-san was shaking her head.
I couldn't make out her expression. I could only see her back. Most likely she was appealing to him, but I couldn't understand what she said.
Hideki-san slowly approached her.
She took a step back but had to stop because she bumped against the fence.
Behind the fence was nothing.
My field of vision moved downward.
Below the fence was a wall with windows. There were a lot of window glasses that were neatly arranged in a regular interval. An apartment house? No. There was a round clock on the wall.
My field of vision moved back up.
At the same time, Etsuko-san bent back and was pushed over the fence.
Saki's strong voice brought me back.
The future my artificial right eye—a Relic named "Vision"—had shown me, was the worst that could happen.
"If we don't do something, Etsuko-san is going to be..."
I was about to say killed, but I held myself back. I couldn't say this in front of her father. But Saki had apparently guessed.
"Where is she?" she asked.
A fenced roof, regularly arranged windows, a clock on the wall.
The only building that incorporated all of these elements was a school.
"They are at school."
I looked again at the memo. The unreadable letters. Within them I could recognize something.
"It's that closed school."
The place "Vision" had shown to me was no doubt a roof of a school.
Etsuko-san was going to be pushed off the roof by Hideki-san.
I looked at the clock. The time was 18:45. The time I had read off the clock at the school was a few minutes before 19:00.
We could still make it in time. But we didn't have much. We had to hurry.
I rushed out of the house and ran toward the closed school.
I jumped over the chained metal school gate and entered the school area.
Saki was probably unable to keep up with me and still underway. But I couldn't wait for her.
This school consisted of two buildings with a courtyard in between. The buildings were marked as "Building A" and "Building B". Nearly all window glasses were already broken and the courtyard was covered by a cloud of dust, indicating the age of the school. The doors had been broken off, too, destroyed by someone thoughtless. This made it easy to advance into the buildings.
According to "Vision", they were on the roof.
The question was on which.
I compared the two buildings.
However, both of them looked the same, making it hard to determine which one "Vision" had shown to me.
They were only connected at the first floor, so I would have to go all the way down to the first floor if I picked the wrong one.
The building "Vision" had shown to me had a fence, windows and a clock.
But those existed on both buildings.
Which one is it?
I compared the two school buildings like one of those "Spot The Difference" games.
But I didn't find out which it was.
I turned around to the school gate. There was no sign of Saki.
"What's that slowpoke doing!"
If she had been here, we could have split into groups...!
A look at the clock revealed to me that it was soon 19:00.
The time limit was almost over. No time to wait for Saki.
Which one do I pick?
I'll have to go by instinct.
The moment I thought so, I noticed.
There was one difference.
Both had three floors, but either because of a miscalculation or because of the ground, the Building A was somewhat taller.
Without a moment's hesitation, I selected the lower building—Building B—and entered it.
There was no guarantee that it really was Building B.
My only reason was that in my vision, I had looked down from a higher building at a lower building. However, the only function "Vision" has is to show me someone's death. The perspective does not matter in any way. In other words, it was not sure if I had looked down from Building A at Building B.
However, right now I had nothing else to rely on.
I rushed up to the roof at a breath and opened the metal door.
My prediction proved true.
But I was fatally out of luck.
No, I mustn't blame my luck for it.
If anything, I had to blame it on my slow-wittedness or my indecision.
By the time I arrived at the roof, Etsuko-san was nowhere to be seen anymore.
The only thing I saw was Hideki-san's back and a figure that was disappearing beyond the fence.
Hideki-san turned around.
His eyes were bloodshot and his breath was wild. In contrast to his absurdly heavily shivering lips, his eyes were widened so much he couldn't even wink anymore.
He only required a few seconds to regain his composure after recognizing me.
By just that, he regained his composure.
Even though he had pushed down his wife-to-be, he regained his damn composure in a mere few seconds.
"Why are you here?"
"To stop you from killing her...!"
Hideki-san widened his eyes even more. Had he thought I hadn't seen him?
"Don't even try to tell me it was an accident," I declared.
He swallowed the word he was about to say.
"Tell me, why?"
"...To protect myself."
He realized that he couldn't talk himself out anymore, and admitted that he had pushed her down. But I couldn't make sense of his reason.
"To protect yourself?"
"Yes. She's given you the gist of it, hasn't she?"
"...About what happened ten years ago?"
Hideki-san nodded silently.
"So you did kill her mother?"
He contorted his face because I had apparently opened an old wound.
"That was an accident. Just because Etsuko played with me before going home, she was beaten and locked in by that hag. I didn't know what she was so angry about. Etsuko was crying. Crying to let her out. Therefore, I tried to help her. When I did so, I got in a quarrel with her mother, and eventually she lost balance and... I was still a child and desperate to help Etsuko... It wasn't on purpose..."
To Etsuko-san's mother, keeping the diary was more important than playing. She wanted her daughter to write her diary even if it meant to lock her in. But to Hideki-san, this was of no importance. He only wanted to help his crying friend.
But that didn't matter right now. Those regrets were completely insignificant.
For they didn't explain anything.
"That doesn't make a reason to kill her!"
"Even if she approached me to take revenge?"
His contorted face became even more twisted. A laugh resounded. But a bitter laugh.
"It's a ridiculous story! Because she had changed her surname, I started going out with her without even realizing that she was Etsuko. I didn't realize until I visited my parents to introduce her as my fiancee.
My heart sank to my boots when she said that she had once lived here, while pointing at the house next to ours... After that, she bothered to move back into her previous house. It was then that I realized that she had approached me, making it look like coincidence!"
"She showed no sign of such an intention."
"But she did when she was alone with me. Every day. As if there was no need to hide it anymore, because I had noticed. She provocatively wrote those detailed diaries, saying that it was to remember that day's events. To tell me indirectly that she hadn't forgotten what I had done! But every time I unobtrusively asked her about her past, she feigned ignorance. On purpose. To make a fool of me!
...I experienced firsthand what 'applying the screws by degrees' means! I couldn't sleep in the same room like her anymore. I couldn't sleep because I was so afraid of what she might do to me. The decisive factor was that she got in touch with her father after ten years. I tried to convince myself that she did so for our wedding ceremony. But she kept denying it. Even though I asked her about it several times. I was sure they had a scheme. Every time I heard the rumor of a suspicious guy peeking at her house, I thought he was really observing my house. I lived in fear that he might break in, and didn't sleep a wink. I was at my limit."
"Therefore, you called her out to this roof and wanted to make things clear?"
"She denied it, didn't she?"
"Oh, she did. But..."
"Of course she did. Because she never had such intentions to begin with."
"You don't know anything!"
"But I do. After all, she asked us to erase her memories from ten years ago."
Hideki-san pulled a baffled face, as if he was unable to understand me.
"She tried to forget. Because she loved you from heart, she tried to forget what happened ten years ago. But she couldn't, so she asked us for help."
"It seems like you think that she got in touch with her father behind your back, but it was her grandfather who got in touch with him. She didn't tell you because she didn't know for real. Today was the first time they talked with each other."
"I learned from no one else but her father that she had said that you killed her mother ten years ago. She didn't tell us a word about it. No, she even tried to eliminate that truth by erasing her memory of it."
"Lies...," Hideki-san whispered aghast.
"Tell me... you're lying..."
I don't know if he searched for someone to ask or if he wanted to check if the one he was supposed to ask still lived, but he leaned over the fence and looked down.
That moment, the old fence started to bend over.
Unstoppable, but almost like in slow-motion, the fence broke and Hideki-san disappeared from the roof.
Nearly a week had passed since that day.
I was studying hard at the shop because the second supplementary exam was on the following day.
I decided against using the notebook Relic. In the end, the notebook stayed in our care, but when thinking about the emotions Etsuko-san's mother had given it to her daughter with, I couldn't use it carelessly.
Forgetting is a gift given to man.
But how do we forget things?
I believe that is because we stop thinking about them.
However bitter a memory is, it gradually fades away with time. Because we stop thinking about that "something" in our cruelly unstoppable daily lives, the memory fades away.
Until we forget it one day.
But on the other hand, as long as we keep thinking about it, we will absolutely not forget it. The memory won't even fade.
The death of her dear mother. The big mistake of her loved one. No way she would just stop thinking about it.
She must have recalled it every time she opened her diary—the diaries she had received from her mother.
Despite everything, her memories had surely faded a little.
Those ten years had surely made her bitter memories fade a little.
But she met Hideki-san again.
From the day she realized who he was, she started thinking about it again. She recalled that day over and over.
She wanted to forget those memories because she loved him. But the more she wanted to do so, the more she recalled.
Her strong wish to forget had, quite the reverse, fortified her memories over and over and turned it into a firm and clear memory. What an irony.
"But why did Etsuko-san move to the house next to Hideki-san's?" I wondered.
"Probably she wanted to be together with her mother. In the house full of memories, even just for the little while until her wedding. I think this was Etsuko-san's subtle way of atoning for her sin," Saki said as she put a cup of black tea in front of me.
The sweet fragrance of black tea tickled my nose. By the way, Towako-san was pulling a grimace while looking at our sales figures.
It was the same sight as always. Will there be a day I forget this sight?
Suddenly, the door opened and the attached bell announced the arrival of a customer.
Saki went to welcome the customer.
It was Etsuko-san.
By a miracle, she had come off with just a light blow because she had bounced against an awning and then fell on a mat that had been left there by chance. As regards Hideki-san, he unfortunately hadn't had as much luck and missed the mat. Even worse, he had fallen right on the fence that had stuck into the ground and—
"Thank you very much for your help. And forgive me for the belated thanks."
She had undergone investigation.
As we had been involved as well, we received notification from the Police that this case was set aside as an accident in the end.
The Police don't know that Hideki-san tried to kill her. Just like they don't know that he had killed Etsuko-san's mother.
"Did you come for this?" Towako-san asked as she held the notebook aloft.
Etsuko-san shook her head. "You can keep it."
"Are you sure? Didn't we agree that I'd just take a few pages?"
"It's okay. I have enough mementos of my mother, and I don't need it anymore."
"Oh?" I noticed that she didn't have her computer with her.
She looked at me and nodded.
"I don't carry it around any longer. I finally managed to believe my father. My brain has taken no damage and my memory is not defective."
Perhaps it was this kind of confidence she had needed the whole time.
Not a bunch of diaries, and certainly not a notebook that let her remember anything.
"It's really curious. So far I used to believe my memory was cloudy, but now it seems awfully clear to me."
A tear rolled down her cheek.
She looked very, very sorrowful.
"Truly, it's all so clear. Be it my mother's death or Hideki-san's attempt to kill me, I remember it all so clearly.
—It's all so unbearably clear. So..."
"Is there a notebook that makes me forget everything I write in it?"
- A fried pork cutlet. It is often prepared before important exams and the likes—because "katsu" also means "to win"
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