August 6th, 1945
The Murakami Tea House was burning to the ground. Neither Turner Denton nor my family were anywhere in sight. I feared their bodies were lost among the wreckage, their blackened corpses buried underneath a pile of flaming coals that used to be the Tea House.
I resisted the urge to climb into the fire and start digging for their bodies. Instead I walked along the restaurant hoping that perhaps a portion hadn’t caught fire and inside that portion, my wife and son would be waiting, untouched and smiling. But as I circled I saw that flames danced across all four corners of the restaurant.
A twisted ankle and injured knee prevented me from walking faster than an awkward limp so I found a piece of lumber to use as a cane. If Masaru or any of his men happened to catch up to me, they could take me down quickly.
Which is why I needed to find my family and leave Hiroshima as soon as possible.
But how? Most transportation had been destroyed and whatever was left would be part of a massive rescue effort that would likely be supervised by the military.
Was this how I was to repay my debt? Wandering throughout a burning city, on the run from my deranged captain, desperately searching for a family whose fate was unknown?
I had circled back to the front entrance of the Tea House. To the exact spot where Denton was to be waiting with Kimiko and San. Yet all around me were black embers and what looked like twisted car wrecks.
If my family had been in the restaurant they were surely dead, which meant I was free to leave. But if Denton had never brought them to the restaurant they were likely alive, possibly even nearby.
Who was Turner Denton? Why was I trusting him? Why did I believe he would show up with my family? Surely Kimiko had received my letter instructing her to join the mysterious American in Nagasaki but what made me think his motives were true, that he was a man I could trust. He could have taken my secrets to the Americans, and taken my wife with him.
I began to lose all faith in Turner, in his plan, that I would ever see my family again…then I saw the writing. On a brick wall that still stood across the alley from the Tea House, its walls were pristine and unblemished, protected from the blast by the shield of the Tea House, I saw words scratched in black soot.
As if someone had taken a charred piece of lumber, the graffiti read, “Doc K. Meet at the port. Tom A.M. -T.D.”
Doctor K. Doctor Kiyoshi. Meet at the port. Tomorrow A.M. T.D. Turner Denton. With my forearms I rubbed my eyes and looked again. It was written clearly in large black letters so that anyone who stood at the entrance to the Tea House could see them. “Meet at the port. Tomorrow. T.D.”
A change in plans from Turner. Everyone was still alive but how could they meet at the restaurant? It had burned down! So of course Turner returned to the port, to the place we would be headed anyway. To catch a boat. To leave Japan. To never return. I smiled, knowing all would be well.
“Kiyoshi!” A voice called from a distance, like a nighttime echo calling me into a dream. My hearing had not been correct since the bombing and though the voices sounded distant, when I turned I was startled to see Masaru standing just a few meters behind me.
This was impossible. When I last saw him he could barely lift his head. Now he stood mere paces away and only I stood between Masaru and Turner’s message on the wall.
“Kiyoshi! Come back here, you coward!”
My walking stick would make a useful club. I saw myself swinging from the hip like Kaoru Betto to deliver a devastating blow to the side of Masaru’s head.
I held my club before me in a defensive stance; upright blocking my face, two hands gripping one end, elbows out ready to swing.
“Put your weapon down,” Masaru said as he walked towards me.
I took a step back. To break for the port would mean going into the city center, through the heart of the fires. And if I moved, Masaru would see Turner’s message on the wall. If he understood the writing, he would know I was going to the port…and so what?
In his injured state he would never catch me.
So I ran. As best as I could with a tender knee and a twisted ankle. Limping on my stick, I ran. And Masaru followed. His arm was maimed and his face was burned but his legs were healthier than mine. I cut into an alley and between two brick buildings but Masaru was right behind me. I turned corner after corner, trying to lose him but he was catching up fast, and my ankle felt like it could give way and break apart at any moment.
I had one hope: to lose Masaru in the mass of fire and smoke. To disappear into the chaos of rubbish and bodies.
To fade into a spirit and float away from this earth.
To stand alone on the hilltop of time and undo all the wrongs of my life.
I picked up a rock and turned to throw it at my commanding officer but my aim was bad and the rock sailed high. “Coward!” Masaru shouted as he ducked out of the way, his good hand clutching his injured arm.
I threw another rock and then turned towards the burning city. And kept running, directly into the fire.
Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.