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Somewhere still, my uncle is now there


On a humid summer afternoon in Kawasaki, my mother sailed into the house, leaving her heeled sandals in the doorway before stepping up onto the dark and polished wooden floor of the kitchen.  I was sitting at a low table with my 4-year-old cousin and aunt, who saw me cringe as my mother stormed into the room.  Punishment seemed to become magnified in Japan, where my mother’s anger was always theatrical.

She began to scream, waving her hand in circles until I could do nothing but stare at my lap.

“No evening fireworks.  Nothing. You’re a very bad girl,” she pronounced, punctuating each word with great emphasis.

I sat cross-legged, fused to my spot on top of the seat cushion at the kitchen table, waiting as my uncles entered the home.  My mother would relay my simpleton acts with great flourish to her younger brother, my uncle Mineo, and not a word was said in response.

Instead, my uncle waited for my aunt to put away the dinner dishes.

He grabbed a set of fireworks I had bought for the evening, then stood at the doorway.  He smiled as he called my name, motioning me to come outside with him.  I was far too frightened to move, feeling my mother’s wrathful eyes boring holes into my light cotton dress.

My uncle continued to call me as my cousins ran out the door into the evening, and I slowly rose and walked towards him.

We eventually made our way outside, where my uncle began to set his lighter to the fireworks.   My cousins and I began to run in circles beneath the sparks and flashes, smelling the lingering sulfur that clung to the evening humidity.  My mother was the only one left among us to scowl, her every edict and punishment trampled by my uncle.

Even after it was all over and we settled back into the warm house, my uncle never seemed to let go of me.  He never would.

Many years later, as he lay on the hospital bed, I held onto his hands as the doctor turned off the machines that fueled the blood that continued to pump through his failing body.  He would die a few minutes later, and it was I who finally had to let go of my uncle.

(c) 2014 Slow Suburban Death.  All rights reserved.

Published inChildhoodJapanShort Stories

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