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 trampled underfoot.

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
comments to the writer: Knob'