Day 10: A Match with Mary-san
‘I use my queen to take that pawn.’
“So you’re going to check me next move… hmm, how sweet! You’re sweeter than black tea seasoned with honey, Mary! Don’t look down on me, I’ve already read your plan…! Castling!”
‘I see, then I use my promoted pawn to put you in check.’
“Hah? Oh, then I… oy, there’s nothing I can do here.”
‘Yes, I’ve got you. Checkmate.’
Now then, the free use of Mary’s clairvoyance made this cross-phone game of chess possible, but… at present, I stand with 3 wins and nine losses. Mary’s gotten quite the jump on me.
“Dammit, why can’t I win. You sure this thing isn’t defective?”
‘A defective chessboard or piece won’t change the outcome.’
“… Tsk, since it’s come to that, it can’t be helped. Mary, I’m going to ask you straight out, what was the cause of my defeat?”
I could only wonder. When we started out, I easily won the first three. But ever since then, the star of victory refused to shine on me, and here I am. I’m blanking out on the reason.
‘… No, um, are you serious?’
“Dead serious. From that tone, it looks like you know what’s up.”
When I urged her on with a self-important tone, I got a tired voice in response.
‘I mean Akira, every single time, what’s more, always in the end-game, you use castling without fail. Even if it looks like you’re about to win, you make a pointless king’s castle. If you’re about to lose, why not castle? Because of that, you’re always one move behind, your setup is easy to read, and the movement of your rooks and king are strictly limited… um, why don’t you just stop castling?’
“What? … What!?”
‘The tactic called castling is undoubtedly a valid tactic. But, you see, if you do it every single time, that’s no longer a tactic, it’s just a routine.’
Following on from there, Mary continued nitpicking at my tactics.
I spit out a sigh, good grief, I shrug my shoulders.
“Mary, poor, poor, Mary. You don’t understand a thing.”
‘Um, about what?’
“In the world of chess, you see, there doesn’t exist a single strategy cooler than castling.”
“Listen well, Mary. In castling, the very castle that’s sworn loyalty to the king, at the end of the end, in order to protect the king pushed to the brink, it musters the last of its might to provide one final escape route.”
‘A castle’s sworn loyalty!? Is it a tsukumogami or something!?’
“What exists in it is a high and noble devotion to protect the king, even if it means to sacrifice its body. Ever since the moment Rook resolved himself for his own annihilation in order to protect Hadlar-sama, castling became the coolest tactic in the world to me.”
‘Ah… I guess you could call it a tsukumogami after all…’
Just as I was explaining how- by my own willfulness- playing a game without castling was impossible, Mary offered some sort of incoherent babble of, ‘Then you really don’t have to do it if you’re going to win, right…?’ but that’s irrelevant. It’s cool, so I have to do it.
“But, well, I now know the cause. Next time, I’ll use it to turn the tables on you… on to the next match. I won’t let you run away with a win under your belt.”
‘I don’t really mind, but aren’t you forgetting the penalty?’
“You’re gaining awareness…”
‘I have no doubt in my mind that’s your fault…’
Leaving a click of my tongue, I reach into the emptied-out tissue box and pull out one of the jumbled scraps of paper.
Inside the box were papers detailing various penalties. The loser would have to pull one and carry it out.
Of course, there wasn’t anything particularly harsh included. Unlike me, Mary was outside, after all. They were all the sorts of things one wouldn’t be troubled to do as long as they threw away their shame.
… But, well, there are some things people are just not suited for.
My personal hell was when I got the ‘Act like a baby (5 mins)’ one. I want to sucker-punch the me back from when I held the naive notion Mary would be able to awaken some paternal instinct in me. Consider what’ll happen if you’re the one that becomes the baby.
What was so bad about it? The fact Mary seemed to be vaguely enjoying it all only made it all the more difficult. I got to take a look at my own situation objectively, making me want to cry for real. I don’t want to do it again.
No matter, humans are beings that mature by overcoming harsh experience.
Thinking over such things with hollow eyes, I open the paper to find, ‘Dance a merry jig while reciting a piece of useless trivia,’ had come out.
‘No one sees to gain anything from that one…’
“Who the hell wrote this stupid suggestion?”
‘That would be you.’
Yeah, yeah. It’s because I got bored of thinking up new penalties along the way, and just started writing things at random.
There’s nothing I can do about it, so I stand to my feet, and begin waltzing with elegant steps, unraveling a trifling piece of knowledge.
Just before I could open my mouth, my eyes caught sight of my own silhouette on the wall. What was projected was the form of an idiot, putting his heart and soul into a dance with no music or fans. To be blunt, I felt like dying.
“… Then let me tell you a bit of trivia you’ll never find any use for. That’s my field of expertise.”
‘If that’s your expertise, I’m a little anxious about your future… go ahead.’
Steel…! My heart is made of steel…!
For now, I can only dance like my life depends on it…!
I make a fist as I unveil my wealth of knowledge.
“Mary, do you know about the article of clothing known as bloomers? The one that was once used as exercise clothing in Japan?”
‘Yes, I’ve at least heard of it before…’
“Then that makes matters quick. As functional clothing that provides a full range of motion, bloomers were implemented with exceedingly wholesome intentions, but they were bathed in eyes so sexual as to make a market for ‘Used Bloomer sales’. Do you know why?”
‘Um, how should I put it… isn’t it just because the sleeves are so short?’
On that answer from Mary, I loosen my fist as I nodded.
“Right. Of course, that is a single element of the equation. The shape it takes up with the lower cloth completely severed- as if a mischievous play by god and the devil- intentional or not, bloomers have no choice but to provide daring exposure to the thighs… the sexuality expressed by its pure design, slight as it may be, is nothing worthy of praise, but it isn’t something one is inclined to find fault in.”
‘Um, Akira? Could it be you just wanted to talk about bloomers?’
On Mary’s query, I maintain my beautiful dancing form as I shake my head.
“Perish the thought, Mary. The useless trivia starts here. About those bloomers, Mary. Do you know the origin of the garments?”
‘… It wasn’t as exercise clothing?’
“Unfortunately, you’re wrong… the truth is, what we call bloomers were originally undergarments.”
‘I see… wait, what?’
“At the time bloomers were invented, a woman’s clothing was considerably difficult to wear. I think you’ll understand if you picture victorian dresses and corsets, but the undergarments around were excessively stiff and heavy, definitely not the sort of clothing practical to move around in. Whether they liked it or not, women were demanded to spend their days in silence. Things couldn’t go on like that, and what came out in exchange was the undergarments known as bloomers.”
‘I-is that true?’
“It is. Well, even if I say that, the bloomers back then weren’t the short ones we have now, it seems they had sleeves extending to the knees, and they were made with a bit more leeway. So I get the feeling it’s a little off to say the modern bloomers can have their origins directly traced to undergarments. Whatever the case, a part of their creation story is definitely ingrained in underwear… meaning, Mary, do you get what I’m trying to say?”
‘… I have an inkling, but I don’t want to say it.’
“Then it cannot be helped. I’ll have to be the one.”
I give a bow as I offer my conclusion.
“Bloomers were originally undergarments. In that case, it’s perfectly natural for them to look just a little sexy… that is all. Good night.”
‘Wah. That really was absolutely no use at all.’
“Is this not why you are here?”
‘You do have a point. But Akira, this is your area of expertise…?’
Ignoring Mary’s trembling words, I face the chess board.
“Now onto the next game. There are still plenty of penalties to go. It’s time for you to get your repense.”
‘I get the feeling you said that last time, but… very well.’
Clinking the pieces into their initial positions, I casually tried asking Mary a question.
“… Come to think of it, Mary.”
“What is it?”
“How many days has it been since you departed form Nagasaki?”
I’ve been talking with Mary over the phone day after day, and while I’ve lost my sense of time, I get the feeling quite some time has passed.
Over the line, I heard Mary counting, ‘One, two, three…’ on her fingers before passing on the result.
‘This should be the tenth day.’
“For real? It’s already been that long?”
Ten days. A week and three days. A third of a months.
I mean, of course, when looking at a life as a whole, it’s no time at all, but when you experience it, it’s a considerable amount.
Especially for Mary, who’s been walking every day of that time.
I’m surprised she has the leisure to have such energetic conversations with me.
“So where are you right now?”
‘Now? Let’s see…’
I stopped moving the pieces for a moment, doing some arbitrary calculations.
If Mary’s walking speed is around three kilometers an hour, and she walks around ten hours a day, then ten days puts her at three hundred kilometers, I guess. Going off those numbers, it’s incredible. I doubt that’s the sort of distance a young girl should be walking.
“… Somewhere around Yamaguchi, perhaps?”
Just how did she bridge the Kanmon straits? No wait, as I recall, you’re supposed to be able to walk across…?
Well anyways, my estimates were somewhere around there.
‘Not at all. I think I’m just about to reach Koube Station.’
… My estimates were splendidly off.
That’s a surprise. The pieces I had finally finished setting toppled over across the board.
“What? You’re, where? Koube?”
‘Yes, I’m in Koube… what’s wrong? Ah, I can see Koube Port Tower! Do you want me to send you a commemorative photo?’
‘Got it! I’ll get right to it~.’
A few minutes after leaving those words, what was sent over was definitely a photo of Mary with Koube Port Tower in the backdrop.
As expected, she was covering her eyes, but there was no way I would mistake her.
It feels as if I’ve been entranced by a demon.
‘Did it come out well?’
“Y-yeah. It came out fine… Eh? Why? Why are you in Koube?”
I let my surprise flow into the phone line that connected once more.
I mean, no matter how I look at it, it doesn’t and up. That’s more than twice my approximations. From Mary’s tone when she talked about the turbo baba and such, Mary’s walking speed shouldn’t be too different from my estimate…
‘? No, that should be about right. I mean, I can go around seventy kilometers per day.’
“Oy, I don’t want to imagine it, but… are you walking all throughout the day?”
‘Yes, that’s right. We’re in business twenty-four seven, every day of the year… w-what’s wrong?’
Dumbfounded, blankly, I open my mouth like an idiot.
All day? 24 hours? 1440 minutes? 86400 seconds?
“T-twenty four hours, you… what about sleep!?”
‘Wah! D-don’t raise your voice all of a sudden…!’
“Ah, I’m sorry…”
“Umm, sleep, was it? I don’t need it. Even like this, I’m an irregularity, after all.”
… Oh dear, oh my.
I thought I understood the fact Mary was an urban legend. But since we were able to talk normally, play normally, it seems that recognition of her had flown out the window. Understanding and experience are separate, or rather, I see, she’s right. She’s an irregularity, I see…
Perhaps noticing me staring into the distance, Mary opened her mouth in a fluster.
‘… Um… am I creepy?’
… Creepy, eh. Hmm.
When she actually poses the question… I’m not really feeling it.
“No, that’s not how it is. I was just surprised.”
“Yeah. To summarize, it’s like that. How a dolphin and tuna can continue swimming half-asleep, right? If I just think of Mary-san as maryne life, it’s not like you’re saying anything too crazy.”
‘Marine life!? Isn’t that the crazier view!?’
“You’re something of a lungfish anyways.”
‘M-Mary-san’s image is…!’
… But, I see.
A normal human like me spends eight hours, around a third of the day asleep.
Yet even so, there are times I feel a nagging boredom, so Mary who spends an even longer day than me must be even more bored. The reason Mary wants to have such long conversations with me might be to distract herself from the tedium.
Something suddenly came to mind, so I call out to Mary who was muttering, ‘lungfish…’ to herself.
“… Come to think of it, this picture…”
‘Eep! … Yes, what is it?’
“You don’t tan, do you.”
Thinking back, just like in the picture I got the first time Mary called me, her skin was a pale white. Even when she’d been walking ten days under the blazing sun.
‘Ah, yes. The irregularity called Mary-san has her base in a doll, so she can’t tan… no, even without that, I’m an irregularity, so any physical injuries fix themselves instantly.’
“Eh? So physical attacks have no effect on irregularities? Then how do you get rid of them?”
‘You want to get rid of me!? Am I going to be exorcised!?’
“Ah, no, that’s not what I meant. Just wanted to know for reference.”
When I asked, Mary threw it out to the wind.
‘I think salt might work. Maybe. Two hundred yen a kilogram.’
“Oy, are you making stuff up?”
‘I mean, I haven’t the slightest idea. Getting rid of one temporarily is one thing, but the moment an urban legend’s essence is erased is the moment it’s forgotten by mankind.’
“Ah, I see. In a sense, you’re a fleeting lot.”
I don’t really get if that makes them strong or not.
… In that case…
“What about the Purple Mirror? In a sense, that urban legend’s essence is one that lies in being forgotten, right?”
‘Ah, Mr. Purple Mirror, is it? Pained by self-contradiction, I hear he develops a stomach ulcer around the coming of age ceremony each year.’
Where exactly is a mirror’s stomach?
There might be a surprising number of urban legends cradling their own share of darkness.
“Well whatever the case. I now know your arrival at my place isn’t that far into the future… which means…”
“When you get to my place, what exactly do you plan on doing?”
That’s right. Thinking back, I’ve never actually asked Mary what she intends to do once she gets here… because playing with her every day was fun.
‘What do you mean by what?’
“No, the Mary-san legend generally ends with the line, ‘I’m right behind you’. So what happens after that? … You aren’t going to kill me, are you?”
‘I’m not, I’m not, I’m not! What are you talking about!? That’s impossible!’
“Then what will you do?”
I sensed a cold bead of sweat run down my back. Oy oy, to go silent there, it can’t be you…?
“O-oy, Mary. Don’t tell me…”
‘No, um…… I don’t know either.’
“… Say what?”
On Mary’s words, I blankly open my mouth.
‘T-there’s no helping it! I mean, I’m still just a Mary-san in training!’
“… No, that logic is messed up. Even for a trainee, you should at least know the job you’re training for.”
‘You’re mistaken. When it comes to Mary-san, she’s an irregularity that ends the moment you turn around.’
“… What do you mean by that?”
I tilt my head.
I mean, she’s right. I know that Mary-san is an urban legend that ends right after you turn around , but so what? She doesn’t know what happens after you turn?
‘You don’t get it? With Mary-san, you see, it’s precisely because you don’t know what happens when you turn around, that the urban legend continues to hold its popularity.’
‘Hypothetically, purely hypothetically, okay? Let’s just say that Mary-san is the sort of irregularity that kills the target as soon as they turn. In that instance, she’s already a failure.’
‘I mean, then who’s going to pass on the story?’
‘Mary-san is an irregularity without a definite conclusion. It’s precisely because the outcome is unknown that the urban legend has survived… so it’s all handled case by case.’
“Is that how it works?”
‘That’s how it works. If you want to compare it to a business, for irregularities, humans are the customers. The Kuchisake Onna is famous as a dangerous one, but in exchange, the ways to counteract her are just as famous, right? There’s no real merit to needlessly laying hands on customers if it doesn’t boost sales, so there really aren’t too many urban legends who just inflict harm on people, no questions asked.’
Meaning the moment the target turns around, the narrative is over. Whatever happens next is all up to how Mary-san feels. Well, in a sense, I guess you could call it obvious, but…
But, well. That’s a bit of a relief.
I try proposing something.
“… Then why don’t you try asking your senior in the business?”
‘Senior, is it?’
“Yeah. The fact that you’re a trainee means there inevitably must be an active one, right? I’m a bit interested, so why don’t you ask how she handles it?”
Mary seemed to show some interest in my proposal.
‘Ooh! Nice idea! I’ll write up an email at once!’
“Ah, so the active Mary-san uses e-mail.”
What this Mary uses is a free messaging app. Is this that generational gap?
A few minutes later, Mary called me again.
“Mary, you already got in touch? That was fast.”
‘Phones are our tools of the trade, after all. If you call yourself Mary-san, you can never neglect to check… um, I’m going to read it word for word, okay?’
“Sure, go ahead.”
It sounded like Mary was scrolling down the screen as she spoke into the smartphone’s receiver.
‘Umm… [Mary, for you to hold an interest in such a thing, it seems the day you graduate from being a trainee isn’t far off]… Ehehe. Yay, she praised me!’
“Yeah, yeah, you’re amazing. Go on.”
‘You could be a little happier for me… then I’ll start reading… [In the end, we’re just talking about my lived experience, don’t try too hard to adhere to what I’m telling you. Now getting right to it, option one. Snatch their wallet and run.]’
“That’s just pickpocketing!”
When I thought she was saying something respectable, it was all wasted.
Forget not trying hard to adhere, I don’t want Mary to use this person for reference at all.
‘U-um! I’m sure she had some sort of reason! Umm, continuing on…! … [Option two, kick them in the crotch and run].’
“It’s decided! Your senior Mary-san is just a villain!”
‘U-umm, umm! … [Options one and two are mainly to be used on people who piss you off. It is possible to get in combos after the initial blow. This is a surprise attack from behind, the success rate is 100%.]’
“How mean-spirited! Jesus!”
She’s just an indiscriminate attacker.
Perhaps Mary sensed that as well, she frantically started reading on.
‘T-that shouldn’t be everything! … [Option three. Erase your presence and run. If your target is yakuza or someone super scary, I highly recommend taking this option.]’
“This trash isn’t even giving space for anyone to stand up for her!”
Run away if they’re scary? What do you think your null physical damage attribute is for?
My image of Mary-san is already in shattered pieces strewn about the floor.
‘… Ah! This one looks alright! [Option four, if you’re dealing with a child, give them candy and pat them on the head before taking your leave.]’
“She’s blatantly trying to redeem herself…”
… But. This is, well, I guess it’s not bad.
It’s not like it moved me, but being kind to children is a large plus. It’s not like Mary-san is 100% trash, if she was a delinquent, she’d be the type of delinquent who’d take in a dog on a rainy day.
Meaning, I’m sure, it’s something like that…
‘… [Option five. If the target is smitten with you, have them treat you to a meal and pay for your cab before you take your leave. (Take caution, make sure they have no way of getting in touch with you afterwards)]’
“As I thought! That’s actually kinda a relief!”
The style with which she drops a mildly raised evaluation to the depths of the earth, I don’t hate it. After one lap, her complete trashiness is looking refreshing.
Mary’s voice was growing disheartened.
‘I-it looks like the next one’s the last one… [Option six, if the target is your type, go back to his place and have some crazy s–]…!?’
Mary’s voice cut off. From across the line, I could hear some, ‘wawawawawa…!’ and, ‘W-what am I supposed…!?’ in the distance.
Exactly three minutes later, Mary spoke.
‘O-option six. If you like the person, it seems you can engage in some night-time sports…’
“At this point, just come out and say it!”
What’s with that half-assed translation?
On the contrary, it’s kinda erotic!
“For now, Mary. Switch out with the active Mary-san.”
‘A-Akira!? I-I don’t think you should do that sort of thing! In the first place, there’s no way she would keep you company! S-so, um, you’ll h-h-have to put up with m…’
“Come back once you’ve got another ten years on you. I’ve got no interest in little girls.”
‘Akira, you idiot!’
Following a click, the call was disconnected.
The next day, Mary was a little angry.
 Tsukumogami: An inanimate object that obtains a soul after serving its master a hundred years. A variant of yokai.
 This is a reference to Dragon Quest: The Great Adventure of Dai, where Rook Warrior Block switches places with his king, Former Demon King Hadlar in order to save him and transport him to safety.
 The Kanmon Straits connect Honshu and Kyushu
 Two hundred yen is around two USD.