Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart Chapter 2: For your eyes only (Part 2)

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Chapter 2 Part 1 | Contents | Chapter 2 Part 3

I don’t know what gave Osanai-san a bigger shock – that her bicycle had been stolen, or that her she’d missed the chance to eat the spring-exclusive strawberry tarts. Another bicycle could be bought, but the strawberry tarts were products exclusive to this spring. On the other hand, the two strawberry tarts only cost three thousand yen in total, but a bicycle would cost at least three times more. In her stunned state, Osanai-san was unable to move her hands, and had dropped the polyester bag of milk on the way home. She showed no reaction even when I tried to call out to her or console her.

The next day, I tried sending her an email between lessons, but there was no reply. While I was in a dilemma regarding whether I should leave her alone, lessons ended for the day, and an email was soon delivered to my phone.

“I’ll come find you, as agreed.”

Seeing that the sender was Kengo, I was reminded of the appointment with him, which I had all but forgotten about.

Well, let’s forget about Osanai-san for a while. She’ll never despair of the world for the sake of a bicycle and strawberry tarts. Moving on from that, I waited for Kengo. A mere two or three minutes after I received the email, Kengo appeared. In his hand was a university notebook. I thought that it contained the picture he mentioned, but I was wrong.

“Where are we going? Since we’re looking at a picture, it’ll be the Art Room, right?”

“Exactly.”

I was wondering if I should bring along my favorite loose-leaf notebook if I had to take notes, but since Kengo already had a notebook, I’ll leave it to him.

The first-year classrooms were concentrated on the fourth floor in the North Block, while the Art Room was on the fourth floor in the South Block. Since the passageway between blocks was on the second floor, we had to go to the third floor and walk across the roof of the passageway.

“I find it strange, Kengo.”

I started as we calmly walked down the stairs.

“That you would be involved in art even when you don’t know what ‘impressionist’ means.”

“Who says I don’t know? I understand the word, and I know what kind of art it describes… though they just look crude to me.”

“So, what about them?”

“I’m supposed to introduce some cultural clubs together. I went to the Art Club to ask about it, and that topic came up. It turned out to be an interesting story, so I decided to give them a big introduction.”

I tilted my head.

“Introduce? Where?”

Kengo gave me an exasperated look, but it soon changed to one of understanding.

“Oh, I didn’t tell you, did I? I joined the Newspaper Club. One of the articles we’re running is an introduction of clubs in the school.”

The Newspaper Club, huh.

That term brings to mind journalists, and I imagine that journalists have intellectual curiosity for a wide range of topics. However, that doesn’t seem to be a good description for Kengo.

“What’s with that smirk?”

“Well…”

Well, the members of the Newspaper Club are not exactly journalists, and the link between journalists and intellectual curiosity is just my guess. I shouldn’t say this aloud.

“I was thinking that you don’t have to be in charge of the Art Club. There are clubs for stuff like Kendo and Judo here, right?”

Kengo said, “Yeah,” and nodded.

“That is so, but I was requested to do this by the upperclassmen. Since it’s a social obligation, I couldn’t refuse.”

That so?

Well, if there’s an obligation, Kengo definitely wouldn’t be able to refuse it.


We reached the front of the Art Room. There was a green felt notice board installed on the wall in the hallway, which was decorated with a few pictures that was really fitting for the area near an Art Room. Canvases can’t be put up on a notice board, so the pictures were all framed. I was wondering if Kengo would knock on the door, but he simply opened it.

“Good afternoon.”

With a light greeting, he entered the room. Since it was an Art Room, I’d expected club member to be in the midst of carving out their youth on canvas, by sitting in a circle and making a sketch of a torso or something. My expectations weren’t far off the mark, except that there were too few club members for them to form a circle, and they were spread out in the room, all drawing different things.

“Hello, Katsube-senpai. I have arrived.”

The one called Katsube was a female student who wasn’t facing a canvas, but was reading a book. She had gentle features on her round face, and was quite far removed from the sternness one would associate with art. I could tell that she was a third-year student from the badge on her chest. When she caught sight of Kengo, the expression on her face relaxed.

“Good, I was waiting. Is the kid behind you from the Newspaper Club as well?”

“No, he’s a friend. I’m not really cut out for art, so I asked for help.”

Now, with the number of people unrelated to art increased from one to two, will be able to achieve something? All I can do now is look forward to the full story. Though if I’m wanted for my wisdom rather than my eye for appraisal, I might be of some use.

Katsube-senpai looked around the room for an instant. Almost all members had stopped drawing, and were looking at us while staying seated. Not a single person was moving their brush with undivided attention. Katsube-senpai waved us over to a table by a window overlooking the courtyard, apparently having judged that we would not be a nuisance to the other members if we talked here. She told us to sit wherever we wanted and wait for a moment, then disappeared into the preparation room.

Katsube-senpai immediately returned with two sheets of paper, which seemed to be smaller than posters. I asked Kengo if they were the pictures in question, and he nodded silently.

“Take a look at this.”

Katsube-senpai placed one piece of paper face down on a nearby table, and laid the other in front of us.

“…Haah.”

I sighed.

If that was a sigh of admiration, it would have been good in terms of life experience, but it was actually a sigh of disappointment.

Well, it was certainly a picture. Since it had no words or numbers, it could only be called a picture.

It was fully covered with pastel colors, depicting a rural scenery. There was a mountain range on the other side of a plain lit up by the brilliant rays of the sun, and a pair of horses, probably parent and child, were galloping in the middle of the picture. On the mountainside was a farmhouse, as well as a small field and an open forest. The subject of the picture wasn’t particularly extraordinary, but the painting style was. The paint was so thick that it was as if multiple layers of pastel colors had been applied, leaving behind no trace of the brushstrokes.

On top of that, there was no contrast in shading and lighting, and the mountains were the same shade of green. The plain was uniformly emerald green, and the sky was light blue everywhere. You could see it as cutting corners, but applying such a thoroughly monotone coat of paint is probably a form of hard work in itself.

Upon further inspection, I noticed that the picture still had some peculiarities. There was a clear distinction between the horses and the plain, between the plain and the mountains, between the farmhouse and the field. More specifically, their outlines were drawn.

If asked to summarize my honest impression of the picture in one phrase, I would have probably gone with “What the heck is this?” Rather than a watercolor painting, oil painting, pastel painting or ink wash painting, the genre it was closer to was…

“What do you think, Jougorou?”

I instinctively let out my honest thoughts.

“It’s like a cel painting1.”

I could hear Katsube-senpai release a small giggle. If not a cel painting, then it would be a drawing in a coloring book.

I felt the back of the picture. It seemed that it wasn’t drawn on art paper, but on Kent paper2. It was in a size I was used to seeing, B5. If B5-sized Kent paper was not being sold somewhere, they must have cut it themselves.

“Did someone in the Art Club draw this?”

“Yes.”

“Is this a good picture?”

“As you can see.”

I asked because I don’t have the eye to make such a judgment. I changed the question.

“So, does this picture contain some artistic message that we don’t get?”

Kengo put a hand on my shoulder.

“That’s it, Jougorou.”

“……”

That means…

“You want me to decipher the artistic message behind this picture?”

“Yeah, that’s basically it. I don’t understand it at all. If only I could see it as a good picture, it would be a lot easier to understand.”

“Sorry Kengo, but I have an appointment with Osanai-san later…”

“Wait, you said you would at least listen to the story.”

I was about to stand up, but some force was put into the hand on my shoulder. Katsube-senpai gave me a pitiful look as I was forcefully made to sit back down.

“The person who painted this graduated last year. It has been here for the last two years.”

“I see.”

I gave a half-hearted reply which showed my lack of motivation.

“In the first place, that person… Katsube-senpai, what was his name again?”

Katsube-senpai nodded once.

“I’ve talked to Doujima-kun about this already, but the artist of this painting was someone called Ōhama-san, and he mainly did oil paintings.”

“Oil paintings? Were his oil paintings like this, too?”

“Not at all. Ōhama-san was a fan of Takahashi Yuichi3, so many of his paintings captured the same atmosphere as the famous painter’s. He said he would eventually aim for Nitten4.”

Takahashi Yuichi. Now, he’s known for his picture of salmon, or was it trout? Seriously, you shouldn’t be trying to get an art analysis from someone like me.

Anyway, if that person called Ōhama did oil paintings, and was in the orthodox party with his declaration to aim for Nitten, this sketch in front of us must be a joke of his, no matter how you think about it. It isn’t something worth keeping for two whole years. My face must have revealed those thoughts, for Katsube-senpai correctly deduced what I was thinking.

“You must be thinking, why keep this for two years?”

I reluctantly nodded.

“Yes, I was.”

“There were some circumstances surrounding it. I haven’t talked about the details with Doujima-kun yet, but…”

As Katsube-senpai shot him a look, Kengo responded in a low voice.

“Circumstances, you say?”

He opened the university notebook that he’d brought along, and took a ballpoint pen from his pocket.

“I want to relay this to the senpai in my club later, so I will be taking notes. Sorry, but I’m a slow writer, so please speak slowly.”

“You’ll be taking notes?”

Katsube-senpai raised her voice in surprise. Since someone in the Newspaper Club taking notes of what is being said amounts to an interview, it was understandable for Katsube-senpai to react that way especially if she didn’t plan on participating in an interview. Although no recording was being done, the upperclassman cleared her throat and kept silent for a moment, probably thinking about where to begin.

“…I see. I think I’ll start from the very beginning. I’m sorry if it goes on for too long.”

With that preface, she started.

“Ōhama-san drew this in the summer of his third year here, although he should have left the club already. I think no one else knew about the painting. Me knowing about it was a coincidence, after all.

“I was surprised when I saw the painting, because I couldn’t think of it as Ōhama-san’s work. Then again, no matter how much he likes art, he doesn’t have to stay true to his beliefs in every single work that he creates. I thought that painting was done on a whim by Ōhama-san.”

“Was that wrong?”

“Ōhama-san can get extremely serious, so I was a little afraid of getting close to him, but he was usually a warm person who often smiled. When I accidentally asked him if it was a doodle, he answered while smiling, that it was the most refined painting in the world.”

Refined…?

I instinctively took another look at the painting that was like a picture in a coloring book, but it did not suddenly emit light, or anything of the sort.

“He said it was too refined for me to understand it. He was putting emphasis on the word ‘refined’, and it seemed like he was trying to hold in his laughter as he said it, so I thought it was just a joke. Wouldn’t you think so too?

“So, I asked if he was joking.”

Katsube-senpai waited for Kengo’s hand to catch up, then continued.

“He swore to the gods that he was serious.

“After taking a few days to complete the painting, he entrusted me with it. ‘I will come and pick it up when the time is right, so hold on to it for me,’ he said. Later on, he graduated before I got the opportunity to talk to him again.”

I interrupted the recount.

“So, it’s been two years?”

Katsube-senpai gave a small nod.

“I’ll also be graduating next year… so I want to do something about this. I was thinking of calling him, but he apparently moved, and I don’t have his new contact information.”

“How about passing it down through Funa High’s Art Club from generation to generation?”

I asked in a joking manner, but Katsube-senpai shook her head firmly.

“To be honest, it’s a nuisance.”

“Oh.”

Saying that it’s a nuisance it quite a drastic evaluation.

Katsube-senpai started to speed up with her words.

“Since there are no other drawings on paper, we have to go out of our way to preserve it. Furthermore, because it’s something that was left in our care, we can’t treat it carelessly. We could certainly leave it here if it has some meaning, but if it’s really a doodle, I’d like to throw it away.”

She made some logical statements with her kindly, round face.

If it’s been two years since the painting was handed over and one year without any contact, that Ōhama person shouldn’t have any complaints if it were disposed of. That said, I can understand why Katsube-senpai is hesitant about throwing it out. It would be unbearable to receive some weird criticisms later on, and if some artistic test was being conducted… that would be quite scary.

I recalled that Katsube-senpai had brought along two pieces of paper.

“Is that picture similar to this one?”

One picture was right before our eyes, but the other was face down. But when I asked that question, Katsube-senpai gave me a quizzical look. I was wondering if I’d failed to hear her talking about it, when Kengo spoke up from the side.

“You haven’t told him about the situation yet.”

“Ah, I see. Right, you currently don’t understand why we think of this as mysterious.”

It’s certainly a weird painting, but I never thought of it as mysterious. If first painting’s like this, no matter how awful the second one is, I probably wouldn’t think of it as mysterious, either. That was what I thought, but…

“This is…”

The second painting was flipped over, and with one glance, I could agree that it was indeed mysterious. A rural landscape, the sun, a mountain range on the other side of a plain. Horses, a farmhouse, a field, an open forest.

The second painting was exactly the same as the first.


Chapter 2 Part 1 | Contents | Chapter 2 Part 3


Captains (Tier 3) : Marieta Tan

Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Yazmin Arostegui, Slush56, _Maki, Jen Murph

Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Anna, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, Jaime Cuellar

Thank you very much for all your support!

  1. A cel is a transparent sheet on which objects are drawn or painted for traditional hand-drawn animation (Like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).
  2. Kent paper is very smooth, has a moderate amount of elasticity and thickness, and is well-suited for many drawing materials and writing instruments, including pencils, pens, and water-soluble paints. Also, use of an eraser produces little scuffing.
  3. A Japanese painter noted for his pioneering work in developing the Western-style art movement in 19th century Japan. His best-known painting is a salmon hung up to dry.
  4. Nitten claims to be the largest combined art exhibition of its kind in the world, attracting a great number of fans and art critics. The exhibition consists five art categories: Japanese and Western Style Painting, Sculpture, Crafts and Calligraphy. During each exhibition, works of the great masters are shown alongside works of the new but talented artists.

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