Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart Chapter 4: A Swelling in the Mind (Part 1)

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(Note about chapter title: This is part of an old saying: “Keeping silent is like having a swelling in the mind”, meaning that if you don’t say whatever you want to say, you will be left feeling uneasy and unsatisfied.)

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Chapter 3 Part 4 | Contents | Chapter 4 Part 2

What is the area where the Calvin-Benson cycle, also known as a dark reaction, which uses the substrates of a chloroplast, occur?1 That was the question I had to solve. I was pretty sure I’d memorized it, but I just couldn’t recall. In other words, I hadn’t memorized it well.

All the other blanks were mostly filled. I was a little unsure as to whether the four ATGC proteins in DNA were nucleotides, nulecotides, or something else entirely, and there were some multiple choice questions that I’d decided to leave to luck and instinct, but I’d answered all the other questions. The only one left was the question about the location of the Calvin-Benson cycle. I would probably be able to recall the entire word if I just knew the first letter. A, i, u, … no, there’s not enough time. I should start from the N row. Na, ni, nu, … this is meaningless. Ah, I was so sure I had that memorized, too. Work, hippocampus! Link up, neurons! While we’re at it, it’d be nice if time stopped, too.

However, time, as well as my hippocampus and neurons, did not work as I wanted them to. The bell rang, signifying the end of the designated time.

“Time’s up. Put down your pencils, and pass your papers to the front.”

The invigilator called out. During the examination, the seating order was based on alphabetical order, and following that, my seat was at the back of the classroom. Having no choice, I stopped and handed in my answer paper which still had one blank. I wasn’t exactly aiming for a high score, but I was certainly frustrated that my memory had failed me.

Anyway, with Science 1 complete, all mid-term examinations were over. As if having waited impatiently for their chance, someone in the class pushed a window wide open. A refreshing, comforting breeze blew in. Well, nothing I can do now that it’s over. It was 12 in the afternoon. I hadn’t pulled an all-nighter to study, but I’d stayed up quite late last night. I suppose I’ll hurry home and take an afternoon nap.

I returned home and took a light lunch. After changing into comfortable clothes, I lay down on my bed. Half-asleep, I wondered if I would be able to drift off to sleep, when I was roused by the ringing of the telephone. Almost thirty minutes had passed. My mind was clear, as if I’d just awakened from a deep sleep. In this state, I could easily recall terms like stroma and stromatolite2. Anyway, stroma is the answer for the question about the Calvin-Benson cycle. Too late to do anything about it, though. But more importantly, I should answer the telephone.

With light footsteps, I moved to the living room and answered the ringing telephone. The caller was Osanai-san.

“Yeah? What is it?”

“Yes, um…”

Her voice was devoid of energy. Osanai-san’s voice probably sounds weak to people not used to it, but there was quite a subtle difference with her usual voice.

“Do you have anything on later?”

“Nope, nothing.”

“I see.”

I could hear her exhale, seemingly relieved.

“Um, could you come with me for a while?”

That’s rare. Osanai-san actually called me out when both of us had returned home already. Well, the exams were over, and I’d already shrugged off my drowsiness. Prepared to comply with almost anything, I answered brightly.

“Sure, where?”

“Umm…”

A weird silence followed. Osanai-san then spoke in a voice that seemed like it could disappear at any moment.

“Humpty Dumpty.”

What? I instinctively put more energy in the hand holding the receiver.

“If I remember correctly, Humpty Dumpty’s the place where…”

“Don’t say it… Please don’t say anything.”

I see, so there’s some circumstances regarding this. There’s no helping it, then. Osanai-san was the one who’d sealed Humpty Dumpty away. If she’s decided to go there, it’s not my place to stop her.

“Alright, I won’t ask. So, where and when do we meet?”

“How about three o’clock in front of the shop?”

I glanced at the clock. Looks like there’s still time. I consented, and hung up.

After changing and tidying myself, I left my house while dragging my bicycle. The weather was quite troublesome, being too hot for spring clothes and too cold for summer wear. On the way, I felt a little uneasy about the contents of my wallet, so I stopped at a bank. Even with that detour, as well as my relaxed pace of traveling, I reached the small shop made out of red bricks before the appointed time. With the bricks surrounded by a thick growth of camellia, it looked like a house of candy. The chimney sticking out of the triangular roof also made it look all the more lovely. Well, it’s a place that a little citizen guy like myself cannot enter on his own.

By the way, it’s a cake shop. I studied the shop’s signboard. “Humpty Dumpty” was written in yellow letters that seemed to pop out of the sign, causing me to let out a chuckle. “Cake Shop Humpty Dumpty”. In traditional Japanese, it would be “Western Confectionary – Spilt Water Will Not Return to the Tray”3. It was a name with enough impact to make you hesitate and think, “Just one bite?” The shop with the spring-exclusive strawberry tarts was called Alice, but I can assure you that the owners of all dessert shops in this town are not all Dodgson4 fans. Those are the only two shops with an Alice-related name, to my knowledge. Strictly speaking, Humpty Dumpty originated from Mother Goose, not Through the Looking-Glass, but it would be interesting if there were a shop called “Sweets Shop Jabberwock”.

I could clearly tell that the shop was focused on a strong, sweet taste, paired with other flavors like butter and brandy. Instead of producing a flat taste, it strikes an esoteric balance, and thus it is Osanai-san’s favorite shop, by a long shot. However, she liked it too much that she ate too much, and firmly resolved never to enter the shop again. Incidentally, I was also with her on the day she made that resolution. The volume of cake she polished off was certainly larger than the capacity of her stomach.

Recalling that moment, I laughed.

“You’re laughing alone…”

A voice came from behind. I couldn’t even hear the sound of her bicycle stopping or her footsteps. I turned around with a smile on my face.

“Ah, how long were you here for?”

“I just arrived.”

Osanai-san’s expression was stiff. There’s definitely something going on here, I thought.

“Let’s go.”

With just those two words, Osanai-san quickly walked off towards the shop. Good grief. I was about to follow behind her, when I noticed a small flyer pasted on the door. A cake buffet today from two to five o’clock, for 1,500 yen per person.

I see, so it’s a buffet…

There was no background music playing in the store.

“I’ll have a standard chiffon and a coffee.”

So she’s warming up by starting with a chiffon? That was what I thought, but…

“…and a mille-feuille, and a panna cotta, and a strawberry shortcake.”

She’s going all out right off the bat, huh.

For the time being, I ordered a coffee. Since I was accompanying Osanai-san, I was obliged to eat cake too, so I also ordered a Mont Blanc. I probably wouldn’t be able to eat two of those, so I ordered it à la carte, rather than as part of the buffet. Only when we reached the table for two did I realize that it was not the season for chestnuts, so I should have ordered something more seasonal. Perhaps Osanai-san had considered that when she added the mille-feuille and strawberry shortcake. What a deep thought process.

That said, the Mont Blanc that was brought over was not inedible. However, as expected, one of those was enough to make me feel stuffed. I drank my coffee in small sips. Osanai-san had already finished off the panna cotta, and was busy cutting up the pie pastry of the mille-feuille. She first collapsed it on its side, then stuck the knife in vertically. After that, she pierced through the piece of pie pastry with a fork. She chewed lightly and wordlessly, with more power concentrated in her knife and fork than seemingly necessary.

I asked as a smile formed on my face.

“Did something happen?”

“Nope.”

Osanai-san gave an immediate response as she poked at the fragments of mille-feuille. Of course, there was something she wanted to talk about. That was why she called me. Osanai-san is not a person cute enough to enter the shop alone, but it didn’t seem like she was going to talk about it easily. Apparently, I hadn’t given it enough consideration.  I took another sip of my coffee.

“…How was the test?”

I meant that as a lead to whatever was on Osanai-san’s mind. I thought that her tongue would become more slippery if she participated in some idle chatter, so I brought up a seasonal topic. However, as soon as I finished my question, Osanai-san’s fork stopped moving. Her gaze, which had been focused on the mille-feuille on the plate, moved slightly upwards for an instant.

“I think it went pretty well.”

“I see. That’s good.”

“But then…”

After moving the last fragment of mille-feuille to her mouth, Osanai-san pulled the chiffon towards herself without a pause.

“Science 1 was a little…”

“Oh, really?” I interjected, “What a coincidence. There was something I was unable to recall in Science 1.”

“Me too, but I managed to remember it in the end.”

With one stroke, she pushed the knife into the chiffon, which was a little larger than the other cakes.

“It was the question about the enzyme that converts peptone and proteins to polypeptide. The word ‘peptidase’5 appeared in my head, and I couldn’t think of anything else.”

“I really thought of the correct answer, right before the test ended. But at that moment…”

As if frustrated by that, Osanai-san cut the chiffon, which was still too big to be eaten, into two clean pieces. The two slices of chiffon tilted unsteadily and fell onto the plate.

“Some glass broke.”

“Huh?”

With her fork, she stabbed one of the pieces of chiffon that had fallen on its side and delivered it to her mouth.

“An energy drink bottle fell from one of the lockers at the back of the classroom and shattered, making a really loud sound… and that made me forget all about the question. We had a tough time cleaning up after the test, too, although the bottle was empty.”

“Yeah, that must be tough.”

Osanai-san looked at me again with upturned eyes. This time, she seemed to be studying my reaction, fixedly. Judging that I wasn’t about to continue, she let out a small sigh.

“That’s why I felt sad… so I searched for you, Kobato-kun.”

There seemed to be a leap in her logic.

However, after some thinking, I realized that not giving enough in the way of explanations is not the same as having a leap in logic. Anyway, Osanai-san didn’t look for me because she was sad. I’m willing to bet anything that she did that because she was annoyed. I definitely can’t say that out loud, though.

Instead, I played dumb.

“I see. Were you searching for me since the test ended?”

“Yup.”

Wow, seriously? That could mean that Osanai-san had gone without lunch. They say that there is a separate intestine for alcohol, a separate brain for Go, and a separate stomach for desserts, but what of an absolutely famished Osanai-san taking on the challenge of a cake buffet? That would be a really interesting situation. But more importantly…

“If you were looking for me, you should have sent an email to my mobile phone.”

Osanai-san replied reproachfully.

“I did, but you didn’t reply.”

“Eh?”

I hurriedly checked my pockets. It wasn’t there. Come to think of it, I don’t remember removing it from my uniform pocket. So was it there the whole time…? Oh, now I remember.

“Ah, my phone’s at school.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, the battery went flat before the test, so I put it in the table, but I forgot to take it back.”

“I see.”

Osanai-san placed the knife and fork down, and looked up.

“…Are you going to retrieve it?”

Hmm…

Well, I suppose. I nodded.

“Yeah, I’ll be off for a while.”

“I’ll be eating cake here, then.”

With those words, she returned to the slicing of her chiffon. It is indeed interesting to see her indulge in sweet desserts, but I should finish up what I have to do.

It should be simple. All I need to do is investigate the scene.


Chapter 3 Part 4 | Contents | Chapter 4 Part 2


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

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

Thank you very much for all your support!

  1. The answer, according to Wikipedia, is the stroma, which is the fluid-filled area of a chloroplast outside the thylakoid membranes, although I can’t say I understand what all that means.
  2. Stromatolites are layered sedimentary formations that are created by photosynthetic cyanobacteria. These microorganisms produce adhesive compounds that cement sand and other rocky materials to form mineral “microbial mats”. In turn, these mats build up layer by layer, growing gradually over time.
  3. “Cake Shop Humpty Dumpty” is in katakana, which is used for borrowed words, but “Western Confectionary – Spilt Water Will Not Return to the Tray” is written only in kanji and hiragana. By the way, the phrase “Spilt Water Will Not Return to the Tray” means “you can’t unscramble a scrambled egg”. Sorry, just had to squeeze in an egg-related saying.
  4. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is Lewis Carroll’s less well-known real name.
  5. The correct answer is pepsin, which is a kind of peptidase.

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