John D. Ritchie
Flash Fiction Winner
Sumi Washabi knelt on the tatami mat and pressed her forehead into the
fibres. Bowed before the shrine she had made from salvage, she begged
again to be released from the pain. Not from the pain of her burns, but
from the deep wrenching ache in her chest. The pain that came from
insupportable loss. All she had were her memories, and even those were
being consumed by fire.
On September 1st, 1923, Tokyo had burned. The crowded wooden houses set
alight by thousands of cooking fires scattered by the worst earthquake
in living memory. Huge areas had been flattened in seconds and within
minutes were ablaze: furious, red-hot winds burning people as they ran.
Fleeing the flames, Sumi had become separated from her husband and
parents, each one carrying one of her children. She saw them being
swept away by a torrent of terrified people a moment before she was
Sumi had survived. Though every moment, since she had awoken to her
terrible loss, she had had to fight her desperate desire to join her
family. Today, however, she might finally be able to grant her own
wish. It was forty days since her parents, husband and children had
died and to honour their spirits she had prepared rice paper lanterns.
Each one adorned with clusters of pink flowers she had made. The white
rice paper dyed with her own blood. At dusk she would light the
lanterns and lay them and herself on the Sumida river.
First published: November, 2006
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