Today you wake up late, but Mama doesn’t scold. She plaits the inky waterfall of your hair as you eat your breakfast, then presses an onigiri into your hand and ushers you out into the world. I stand at the door and wave, shielding my eyes against the early morning sun until you are a just a smudge at the edge of my vision.
When I come back inside, I can see you each time I blink. You are a black silhouette, dancing across the walls of the house, the sun a bright blemish threatening to devour you.
Mama sends me to roll up our futons. Momotarō nestles beneath your pillow, the spine frayed and pages yellowing. You tell me I am too old for baby books like this, but you read it to me each night anyway. On the front cover, a peach bobs in the river, holding its secret inside like a memory.
A rumble overhead distracts me. Louder. I scramble to the window but I can’t see anything. Just light, a dazzling flood of light as though the sun is swallowing the sky.
I wake up breathing the earthy scent of tatami mats. Everything is silent. I remember the light, blinding and impossible, and realise I must be dead.
Mama. Mama is calling me. There is glass on the floor. There is glass in Mama’s head. Crimson blankets her face like a mask. She is pulling my hand and we are outside and there is dust and rubble and smoke. Mama is shouting your name in a terrible voice.
Mr Tanaka is lying outside his house. He looks like he has been stung by hornets. His skin is red and slimy. He is puffed up like a fish. Water he says, water. Mama kneels down and touches his face and his skin slides right off on her hand. I scream. Sorry, Mama says. Sorry.
We get to the river and Papa is there. He is grey and bubbling and his eyes are open too wide. He sees us and he is a starving man finding a grain of rice. He holds Mama by the shoulders and says your name in a terrible voice.
There is a girl in the river but she is not you. Her dress is pale pink and she tumbles in the water like the peach from Momotarō. The belt from her dress has come loose and trails behind her like an eel in the water. But it isn’t her belt and it is her insides and I am in Papa’s arms and I am sick on his shoulder.
The city is a sunset. Mama and Papa’s faces glow scarlet and ruby and rust.
They call for you, but you never answer.
Morgan Quinn lives, writes and teaches in North West England. She started writing in June 2020, and fell in love with flash fiction for its wonderful breadth and glorious brevity. Her stories have recently won third prize at Flash 500, and fourth prize (twice!) at Reflex Fiction. She also has flash fiction published or forthcoming with Crow and Crosskeys, Funny Pearls, Fudoki, Retreat West, NFFD and Bath Flash Fiction. She can be found on twitter @voxishwrites.
Photograph of sun over Ogonzancho, Minami Ward, Hiroshima by Warabi Hatogaya, via Wikimedia Commons.