– April Naoko Heck –

Early August, 1945

My great-grandmother, Obaasan, is living with her daughter and son-in-law in a two-room house. A house that has just lost one member but will soon gain another—her daughter pregnant with her first child. The child who would one day become my mother.

Morning. A knock on the door. A young man, his upper lip beaded with sweat, delivers a letter. Anothercall for volunteers. Is volunteers in quotation marks? Each household must send at least one person into Hiroshima the next morning. The meeting point: Otake’s train station. Bring rope, the letter says. Their task would be to clear emergency lanes for fire- and rescue-trucks in anticipation of American air raids.

Her son-in-law rips the notice in half and refused to go.

Later, when no one is looking, Obaasan pastes the words together with a smear of soft rice.

With her daughter pregnant, who else would obey the emperor’s command?



Then my mother told me:
“When my mother went
to the temple to search
among the people
lying in rows, she barely
recognized her mother
except for the fabric of her shirt.
‘Is that you?’ my mother said.
A monk gave her a skull
from the crematorium
and prescribed crushed
powdered bone for burns.
And like one neighbor believed
in ground potato as a salve—
another ate pounds of tomatoes—
Obaaan believed that the bone
saved her. ‘It was like lighting,’
she’d always say, ‘must’ve been electricity.’”