It is always better to nip a problem in the bud. On the day after I visited Osanai-san’s house, I had had every intention to put an end to the mystery.
Unfortunately, Kengo had apparently gone to the Art Room alone once classes had ended. That was what Osanai-san, who had been gazing out of the window in the direction of the Art Room, told me. That completely derails the plan. I’d intended to explain to Kengo, then have him convey that explanation to Katsube-senpai. Even if Osanai-san says that I can use her as a shield, I feel heavy-hearted imagining her play the role of detective in front of Katsube-senpai and the other members of the Art Club. I have no confidence that she can pull it off.
But it wouldn’t do to delay it any further. Having no other choice, I headed to the Art Room on my own. I knocked and opened the sliding door to see Kengo inside, as per Osanai-san’s information. He was talking to Katsube-senpai in the same spot as we were two days ago. He turned around as he spotted me.
“I never thought you’d come here, Jougorou.”
I responded with a vague smile and sat next to Kengo, who immediately asked, “What about your friend or whoever?”
After taking a deep breath, I looked at Katsube-senpai and recited the words that I’d memorized.
“When I showed my friend the photographs of those paintings I took yesterday, they managed to see the paintings’ aim.”
Katsube-senpai’s eyes widened. Kengo was also momentarily taken aback.
“Really, Jougorou? Who is that?”
“It’s Osanai-san. I believe I’ve introduced you to her before, Kengo.”
Kengo nodded slightly as the name registered in his memory. It’s actually quite amazing that he remembered her after seeing her only once, especially when she can hide her presence so well.
“…Ah, her. I didn’t know she was knowledgeable about paintings.”
“She didn’t need knowledge about paintings for that deduction.”
I asked Katsube-senpai to bring the paintings, and she did so, even with an incredulous look on her face. She arranged the paintings side by side on a table, allowing me to study them and confirm my points.
“What is it, Jougorou?”
“You were saying two days ago that while they’re the same picture, there are differences here and there. Osanai-san noticed that when she first saw the paintings.”
Katsube-senpai objected calmly.
“What’s about it? If you have some time after finishing a painting, wouldn’t you want to touch it up a little?”
“Yes, that is true, but let us count the differences in the two paintings. Kengo, where is it different?”
A slight grimace appeared on Kengo’s face, but he answered as he was asked.
“There’s a white spot on the small horse’s hind leg.”
“The leftmost mountain is at a different angle.”
“That’s all I noticed.”
“How about you, Katsube-senpai?”
However, Katsube-senpai did not answer obediently as Kengo had.
“As I said, what about it?”
It seemed that the upperclassman was starting to feel ticked off at me for asking questions I already knew the answer to. I definitely understand that it’s not a pleasant feeling to have someone act like a detective in front of you. I was feeling apologetic for causing Katsube-senpai’s discomfort, and at the same time uncomfortable for using Osanai-san as a shield.
Not wanting my mental state to be worsened, I decided to answer my own question.
“The time shown on the wall clock in the farmhouse is different. The number of ridges in the field is different. The second tree on the right of the open forest has a different height in each painting. Also, the size of the sun is slightly different.”
Katsube-senpai kept silent. I continued at a faster pace.
“My friend spent thirty minutes comparing the minute details of the paintings, and found all these differences.”
In reality, Osanai-san and I only spent fifteen minutes on that task. It was easy for the first five differences, but we were slow to notice that the angle of the mountain was different.
I looked up to notice Kengo comparing at the two paintings and counting with his fingers. One spot, two spots…
“I see. The paintings are different in six spots.”
“Yes. Those are the ‘Six Mysteries’.”
At that moment, both Kengo and Katsube-senpai looked at me, surprised… Perhaps I was being overly flamboyant there. I should have uttered those lines with a little more disinterest, but I couldn’t shake off my bad habits. I might as well state the conclusion, then. I took a deep breath.
“Basically, these two paintings make up a game of Spot the Difference.
“To ensure that there wouldn’t be differences other than those that he’d planned, the artist drew distinct outlines and filled it in with a thick layer of paint so there wouldn’t be differences in shading. He didn’t make an oil painting, probably because it’s more convenient to copy the sketch on paper.”
Katsube-senpai’s voice was stuck for a moment, but was released in the next moment with an exclamation.
“That’s ridiculous! Which high school student would be happy to find the differences…”
“The person supposed to receive this is three years old.”
In face of the pressure emanating from Katsube-senpai, I managed to continue.
“It’s in the title – ‘For the Three-year-old you’, right?”
Katsube-senpai seemed like she was about to say, “That’s ridiculous” again, but broke off. Using that opportunity, I continued with the words I had decided to say.
“The paintings were drawn on Kent paper because it was the most fitting for them. But they were also in B5 size, which makes me think that they were meant to be mailed. Even though B5 and A4 are not standard letter sizes, there are envelopes for those sizes.
“Ōhama-san asked you to hold on to it until the time is right, which probably means the time of the recipient’s third birthday. Ōhama-san has a brother, and his brother’s child apparently loved seeing Ōhama-san’s paintings. Going by age, the paintings’ recipient should be that child.”
“Indeed, that would explain the strange title. But Jougorou…”
Perhaps acting as a representative for Katsube-senpai, who was seemingly lost for words, Kengo asked a question.
“According to Katsube-senpai, Ōhama-san described these paintings as ‘refined’, but you can’t say that a game of spot the difference is refined. Even if there is such a thing it this world, can you say that this is it?”
“‘As for whether I’m a refined person, I can’t say for sure.’”
“Urgh,” Kengo groaned.
“That was written in the copy that I received from you. And then it went on like this. Hang on a moment.”
I reached into my pocket for the copy.
“‘If you make a case based on the fact that my paintings often contain many vulgar parts, I can only think that you’re basing your argument on mere quantities.’ That’s quite an interesting quote. It shows that the word ‘refined’ is a significant keyword in Ōhama-san’s mind. The interviewer was not emphasizing that word, but Ōhama-san was considerably hung up on it. That means that our definition of the word ‘refined’ does not fit with Ōhama-san’s definition, Osanai-san said.
“Now, how did Ōhama-san perceive the word ‘refined’? If his ‘paintings often contain many vulgar elements’, it follows that they often contain few refined elements. If we turn that around, it means that he makes his paintings with many vulgar elements and few refined elements. That would mean that it’s a concept of quantities, and not a concept of qualities, right?
“I think that deep down, Ōhama-san did not believe in that. When he told Katsube-senpai that the two paintings are refined, he was smiling, and that was a meaningful action. He was looking at the term ‘refined’ with cynical eyes, because the difference between that as a concept of quantities and a concept of qualities has grown fuzzy.”
Since Katsube-senpai didn’t seem to like being questioned by me, I turned towards Kengo.
“I neither support nor oppose Ōhama-san’s view.
“Osanai-san continued on from this line of thought. If Ōhama-san’s concepts of ‘refined’ and ‘vulgar’ were ‘based on mere quantities’, what kind of thing would be ‘the most refined in the world’?”
With his arms folded, Kengo looked at the ceiling.
“I suppose… something that no one can understand would be the most refined.”
“That’s not it. A thing that no one can understand cannot be judged to be refined or vulgar.”
I could see from Kengo’s eyes that he understood.
“If not zero, then one, right?”
“Exactly. They are paintings that are only meant to be judged as good by their recipient, a three-year-old child, who probably likes horses and lives in an area with wide open plains. The child, who might not even be able to read yet, must have liked picture books and playing spot the difference.
“Ōhama-san created these paintings aiming to please only one person. Following his views, or rather, his cynical views, he could have certainly considered this to be one of the most refined works in the world.”
After finishing my statement, I hastily added.
“…That was what Osanai-san said, anyway.”
Kengo groaned as he scratched his head.
Katsube-senpai, who had had an awfully perplexed look on her face, had finally composed herself. Even so, she looked at the two paintings coldly.
“Why did he entrust me with these things, then?”
“The child often came to Ōhama-san’s house. He must have wanted to present it as a surprise gift, and wanted to keep it secret until the child’s birthday. He could be certain of the paintings’ secrecy if he left them at school.”
“So why didn’t he come back for them?”
“Who knows? Perhaps his relationship with the child’s family broke down, causing him to be unable to give the child the paintings as a present… Or perhaps the child’s tastes changed, causing the paintings to be meaningless…”
“You’re wrong. If that’s the case, he could have told me.”
Ah, so she noticed. While she noticed it, I think I shouldn’t say it.
“Basically, he forgot. To him, it might have been a trifle he could easily forget about.”
I blurted out. With great reluctance, I nodded.
“That’s what I think… which was what Osanai-san said.”
“Do you still think these paintings are refined?”
Her voice was markedly dark. Sensing instability, I evaded the question.
“To me, not quite.”
Being an honest person, Kengo gave an honest response.
“In two years, an infant’s tastes can drastically change. There is now no one who can understand these paintings.”
That made me suddenly think of the events at the bookstore some time back. We yearn for an instance in which people feel that they’re having the best time of their lives, because we are unable to beckon such a moment into our lives. However, that instance in these paintings has been lost forever, without anyone having experienced it.
…Of course, that is assuming that the pair of paintings truly contained such an instance in the first place. I don’t believe Ōhama-san’s words. I don’t even consider them. Facing a word like “refined” with a serious attitude is something that a small citizen should avoid doing.
A cold smile crept onto Katsube-senpai’s lips. It was a sneer, absolutely unbefitting of her round face.
“In other words, this is…”
Katsube-senpai stacked the two paintings on top of each other, and ripped the stack in two.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Slush56, Jen Murph, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Anna, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, Jaime Cuellar, Yazmin Arostegui
Thank you very much for all your support!