"5 Minutes before Nagasaki" by Eric Dreyer Smith

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Introduction What I like about Eric Smith’s story “5 Minutes before Nagasaki” is that the title really does encompass the piece. By showing just a few lives, random but interlaced in the grimmest possible way, Smith reminds us of the devastation we wreck on one another. The disjointed quality of the narrative proves to be that much more haunting because of the piece’s finality. I’m reading for late July and August at the moment. I’ll be getting back to writers by the beginning of July, so no need to wait: get those short shorts in to flashfiction@sacurrent.com. Still looking for those brave six word story writers, too. You know you want to try. Who doesn’t want to read them?

—Lyle Rosdahl

“5 Minutes before Nagasaki” by Eric Dreyer Smith

“The ground itself was covered by a rolling black smoke. I was told the area would be destroyed, but I didn't know the meaning of an atomic bomb.'' – KB.

Amaya Matsuo was working feverishly in her white-tiled kitchen. Her cousin Hiroshi had just installed new wood cabinets along the wall adjacent to the refrigerator. Hiroshi had learned from his grandfather how to study each piece of wood before selecting it for carpentry. The task is to find the piece of wood yearning for a second life. Though simple, Amaya’s new cabinets spoke to her each day of a harmony between people and nature. The Kasutera, a sponge cake, had been perfected by many generations of effort of Matsuo wives. It was a specialty dish of Nagasaki folk and Amaya took pride in making one of the best cakes in town. The recipe originated in Spain and had been brought to the Japanese city during the 16th century by Portuguese ships along with other unusual items such as guns, tobacco and pumpkins. Amaya smiled as she added her secret ingredients to the traditional recipe; powdered green tea, cocoa and brown sugar. She would please the family come evening time though many of the little ones were out of town due to recent events. Not far from the Matsuo house Kiyoshi and Hana Tanaka were bickering fiercely in their own home. Kiyoshi was insisting once again that Akemi was too old to be sleeping in their bed and that it was time for the nine-year-old boy to be in his own room. Hana was having none of that.  Kiyoshi, that morning, thought he had a chance of convincing his lovely, blacked-haired wife that Akemi was ready for his own bed. It was a lost cause. Hana could not let the boy alone, at least as long as the war and its terrible stories continued. Botan Nakamura’s profession welcomed the scattering of the people and energies, due to the war. Many shops were closed three or four days a week. Currently Botan was rummaging through the pottery on the second floor at 13-10 Shinichi-machi. It was true that there were not as many goods to choose from, but also the authorities were often stretched thin. It could happen that a soldier would find you in the act and then the consequences were deadly, but there was always risk in the life of a thief. Botan was filling his bag with a few lacquered fans imported from Kyoto, a decently decorated tea set and two rather fine dolls. This haul would fetch the thief a pretty penny. It was two minutes before Nagasaki. Nearly a hundred couples were making love, three dozen were dying of old age, there were several births in progress, gravediggers were digging holes, delivery men were on their routes, restaurants were just gearing up for the lunch hour, a secretary took dictation and a retired general happened to be sad. Captain Kermit K. Beahan, after having caught a brief glimpse of a stadium pulled the lever at 11:02 a.m. and “Fat Man” fell from the B-29, named Bock’s Car, onto what, because of fluke was its second choice of targets – Nagasaki. Kermit Beahan pulled the lever in a very American way, a business-like way; a war-like way in a time of war; a way expressing how tired Americans were of fighting and a way perhaps so soulless that it had soul. In all, Kermit was the kind of man you had to find to do a job like this. The plutonium bomb exploded 1650 feet above the city with a yield of 21 kilotons. Amaya, her cake, Hiroshi, his cabinets, Kiyoshi, Hana, Akemi, all beds, Botan, his dolls and the others were destroyed. Later Kermit said, “The ground itself was covered by a rolling black smoke.  I was told the area would be destroyed, but I didn't know the meaning of an atomic bomb.'' At one minute before Nagasaki Daisuke Ohayasji got handed the keys to the first and last car he would ever own. It was a proud moment when he strutted into the modest dealership and was able to make a full payment on the used car. He had worked for years in the factory as lower management in order to come up with the money. Thirty seconds before Nagasaki Haru Kouno was completing his assignment. The mafia paid him to murder Eiji Taniguchi, a small shop owner who had been an errant gambler. It was to be an example to the neighborhood. Planned as a slow death, the beating then strangulation would have been mercifully cut short had it begun three minutes later. As it was by 11:02 am of August 9th, 1945 Eiji Taniguchi had just breathed his last breathe. Kermit Beahan, nicknamed “The Great Artiste”, went on to die at St. John Hospital in Nassau Bay at the age of seventy. He had said he would never apologize for the bomb and that at one point, years after the war, twenty-five Japanese sought him out and confided that the bomb was, “the best way out of a hell of a mess.” --- Lyle Rosdahl, a writer living in San Antonio, edits the flash fiction blog & best of in print for the Current. He created, facilitates and participates in Postcard Fiction Collaborative, a monthly flash fiction response to a photo. You can see more of his work, including photos, paintings and writing, at lylerosdahl.com.

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