Chapter 2: Love Letter
“This definitely has to be a test that examines the patient’s nerves or some kind of condition,” Asaba thought. “In order to make me lose track of what the real questions are, she’s mixing in a bunch of dummy questions. Or maybe there aren’t any real or dummy questions, and she just gives me random questions one after the after, to try to get me to think. Maybe whatever I answer doesn’t actually matter at all, and what’s important is what kind of reaction I have when I answer. Maybe my hand shakes or my eyes swim without me even realizing it.”
But, putting that aside for the moment, “Does that question absolutely have to be June 24th?” Asaba asked.
He wasn’t returned with an answer, but rather with a question. “When you became ill, did your heart rate increase?”
“Um, I don’t believe so.”
“Globular plasma, a mirage, or a weather balloon. If you were to take a picture of one, which would you pick?”
“Mantell. Chiles-Whitted. What comes next?”
It sounded familiar. The answer came tumbling out from inside of his head. There were three major incidents in the history of UFO sightings. Captain Mantell’s crash, the Chiles-Whitted encounter. “The third would be the Gorman UFO dogfight,” he thought to himself.
“When you became ill, did your vision go white, or did you see flickering lights?”
“Who’s been standing behind you this entire time?”
Asaba couldn’t move a muscle.
“Any visual or auditory hallucinations? You haven’t had anything like seeing your hands with seven fingers, or hearing voices talking about removing your organs? Are you familiar with the term Adamski helix spinal cord receptors?”
Cicadas were chirping outside of the nurse’s office.
“What the hell’s wrong with this person?” Asaba thought.
Outside of the window, the overflowing summer sunlight seemed to melt into white the contours of everything it came into contact with.
The nurse’s office was poorly lit, almost unnaturally cool, and had the smell of aged medicine faintly wafting through the air. The window curtains silently filled with wind and fluttered like ghosts. The eye-catching red crosses scattered about were probably traps in order to dispel the fears of its victims. Posters expounding the dangers of smoking, colored pictures of lungs covered in cancerous growths, tiled walls reminiscent of operating rooms, beds that lacked any semblance of warmth, poisonous looking glass bottles lined up in cabinets, a large pair of heartless forceps, the distilled water of unapproachable medicine from the Orient, the ever unchanging white washbasin that took hundreds of people’s vomit and excreta.
“Just think about it,” he told himself. “Before anybody realized it, Kurobe-sensei was gone. Extended medical leave. Despite the fact that she was so lively. Then Shiina-sensei came to this school in her place, and instantly became a popular figure. This is all just an alien conspiracy. This place is just a sterile hell that smells like medicine. This person before me is actually just an alien minion. Shiina-sensei is indeed an amazing beauty, has an understanding personality, and is popular among both boys and girls, but when nobody’s watching, her head splits wide open and tentacles come flailing out. At night, the people abducted by UFOs are brought here to this nurse’s office, and Shiina-sensei shuffles around in her slippers, flailing her tentacles about, and performs terrifying human experiments sending fountains of blood flying around everywh—“
“Asaba-kun? Hey, Asaba-kun, what’s wrong!? Do you feel sick again!?”
Asaba came to his senses not because he was being called out to in a loud voice, or because his shoulders were being shaken; but rather, because he sensed the fragrance of Shiina Mayumi’s shampoo, slightly wafting from her hair. Shiina Mayumi’s face, which was already mere inches away, moved even closer to Asaba’s, and she pressed her forehead up against his to check for a fever.
“I—! I’m okay, I feel fine. Um, I just spaced out a little.” He immediately felt embarrassed, and hastily pulled his head away.
“You sure?” Shiina Mayumi was staring intently at Asaba. She had an extremely worried face. “Alright then, have a look at this.”
She held a ballpoint pen in front of Asaba’s eyes. The pen’s body was made of clear plastic, with a blonde woman in a red swimsuit inside of it. The swimsuit was actually made of fine grains of red-colored sand. The sand slowly fell off of her before Asaba’s eyes, and the blonde woman was soon completely naked. Asaba instinctively began to worry about the meaning of life.
“I’m going to move the ballpoint pen, so follow the tip with your eyes,” she said. Shiina Mayumi moved the ballpoint pen up, down, left, and right, and carefully observed the movements of Asaba’s eyes. Asaba tried to focus on the tip of the moving ballpoint pen, but before long, he felt a spreading oozing pain deep within his eyes. “Does your head hurt?”
Asaba nodded. Shiina Mayumi placed her right hand over Asaba’s face to cover his eyes, placed her left hand on the back of his head, and moved his head so that it faced upwards. The pain in his eyes immediately disappeared.
“It doesn’t hurt anymore, right?” She asked.
Asaba nodded. Shiina Mayumi looked up at the ceiling and contemplated something. She let out a small sigh, and, having reached some kind of a conclusion, fired herself up and rose from her chair.
“I think you’ll be fine now, but you should lie down a little and rest your body. Oh, and drink this. It’ll let you sleep better.”
She spoke in a forceful tone of voice. He was given two yellow pills and a paper cup filled with barley tea. Asaba was pressured by the force of her words, and drank the medicine like he was told to. He slowly lay down on the bed and covered himself with the blanket.
“Sleep easy,” she said. Shiina Mayumi forcefully closed the dividing curtain.
The instant he lay down, a feeling of drowsiness arose from the very core of his body. “I wonder if the medicine I just took is already taking effect,” he thought. “This feels way too fast. Or maybe I had already used up all of my energy without even knowing it.
Outside of the dividing curtain, Shiina Mayumi muttered, “Goddamnit.”
Slipper footsteps shuffled across the nurse’s office. There was the sound of her heavily lowering herself into her seat, the sound of her picking up the telephone receiver, and the sound of her aggressively punching in numbers with such force that the phone was rattling. As he was slowly being swept over by drowsiness, he followed every single sound he could hear outside of the curtain.
Shiina-sensei was trying to call someone.
He thought that she was calling the teacher to let him know that he was going to miss third period, but he was wrong. It was a long phone number. It was an outside line. Naturally, he had no idea where she was calling.
He felt so sleepy.
The person on the other line picked up immediately.
“Hello. This is backup Shiina. Right, from the nurse’s office. I understand. I don’t need you of all people telling me that. It’s fine, just put me through to Enomoto— Huh? Hello!?”
“Piece of shit hung up on me,” he heard Shiina Mayumi mutter. He heard the sound of the telephone receiver getting slammed down, the sound of buttons violently pressed again, and after a while, suddenly, “You piece of shit, don’t fuck with me, you’ve got huge balls hanging up on your superior, you bastard!! Just shut up, you’re so annoying. Hurry up and get me Eno— Aaaahhhh damnit!! It’s fine!! If anyone says anything to you, I’ll cover your ass, so get me Enomoto right now!!
At the bottom of a thick layer of drowsiness, Asaba was absent-mindedly surprised. “I wonder who Enomoto is.”
After quite a long time, “Enomoto” finally answered the phone.
“Do you know why I called?”
An extremely short pause.
“Wrong! You’re the only person that would do that in the middle of work, you moron!”
Shiina Mayumi scoffed. “Don’t play dumb. Okay, I’ll give you a hint. Who do you think is here right now?”
Another short pause.
“Stop fucking pretending like you don’t know! You used the mist cocktail on Asaba-kun last night, didn’t you!? Why the hell would you do something so dangerous like that!? There’s already been several people who took that and—“
Reacting to hearing his own name, Asaba’s consciousness, which had been sinking into the depths of slumber, slightly recovered.
“You can’t just say, ‘I didn’t know’ to a problem like this!! How did you plan to take responsibility if the worst case scenario happened!? Even if you planted a bug on him, there are other better alternatives—“
She suddenly stopped talking. There was a very long pause where she was probably carefully listening to the voice that was offering an explanation. Eventually, he heard her sigh, exhaling from her nose into the telephone receiver. “Well? What did you put in?”
A pause; the length it took to speak one word.
“No, I think it’s a sensible decision. I think I would’ve done the same thing.”
He heard the sound of her rising from her chair, and the sound of her shuffling around the room in her slippers. Her voice shifted towards the window. She was probably holding the phone and talking, walking around the room.
“Yeah, it’s not like that. He would’ve been dead a long time ago if it hit the bug. I can’t say for certain until I perform a detailed examination, but I’m pretty sure they’re mist flashbacks.”
The sound of her closing a window.
Yet another pause.
“Of course, you idiot. Anyway, this is all I’m going to say. Right now, all I am is a middle school nurse. I’m hiding your morning-after hangover-in-the-toilet and hitting it with glucose. If you don’t care whether or not your entire project goes up in flames, you just do whatever the hell you want to out in the open. But you can’t just go telling me to fix an overdose of mist with Mercurochrome1 or Seirogan2. It’s just plain impossible. You’ll put me in a tight spot if you ask me to do strange favors for you. Make this the last, and I mean last, time that you don’t fully brief me. Understood?”
Without waiting even a second for an answer, she slammed the telephone receiver back down.
Silence returned to the nurse’s office.
With her back to the light shining through the window, Shiina Mayumi’s figure standing beside the bed turned into a lightly colored shadow on the dividing curtain, and indistinctly hovered about. Shiina Mayumi’s shadow stared directly down at Asaba’s head, almost as if she could see him through the curtains.
Before long, she asked, “Asaba-kun? Are you awake?”
“Y’know, Kana-cha—“ Shiina Mayumi hesitated. She continued, in a tone of voice like she was half talking to herself, “Please get along well with Iriya-san.”
At that point, Asaba was already long asleep, deep in slumber.
1. Mercurochrome: Mercurochrome (Merbromin) is a topical antiseptic used for minor cuts and scrapes. It is an organomercuric disodium salt compound and a fluorescein.
2. Seirogan: a pharmaceutical drug, sold as a treatment of the digestive tract (especially as an antidiarrhoeal), whose main active ingredient is “wood creosote” (also wood-tar creosote, or beechwood creosote)
*Basically, she’s listing these common school-administered medicines to show that a school nurse is clearly ill-equipped to deal with such a problem.