[Editor's Note: Each Wednesday, FF.Net will feature a reprint of our favorite flashes that originally appeared in print.]
by Michael Martone
"It was after the raid on Tokyo. We children were told to collect scraps of cloth. Anything we could find. We picked over the countryside; we stripped the scarecrows. I remember this remnant from my sister's obi. Red silk suns bounced like balls. And these patches were quilted together by the women in the prefecture. The seams were waxed as if to make the stitches rainproof. Instead they held air, gasses, and the rags billowed out into balloons, the heavy heads of chrysanthemums. The balloons bobbed as the soldiers attached the bombs. And then they rose up to the high wind, so many, like planets, heading into the rising sun and America…"
I had stopped translating before he reached this point. I let his words fly away. It was a luncheon meeting. I looked down at the tables. The white napkins looked like mountain peaks of a range hung with clouds. We were high above them on the stage. I am yonsei, the fourth American generation. Four is an unlucky number in Japan. The old man, the mayor, was trying to say that the world was knit together with threads we could not see, that the wind was a bridge between people. It was a hot day. I told these beat businessmen about children long ago releasing the bright balloons, how they disappeared ages and ages ago. And all of them looked up as if to catch the first sight of the balloons returning to earth, a bright scrap of joy.
This story won the first The World's Best Short Short-Story Contest held by Florida State University and was originally printed in Sundog magazine and then later appeared in Stern's Micro Fictions. Michael Martone reprinted it in his books Seeing Eye and Double-Wide. It has also appeared in several other anthologies. It appears here with the author's permission, © Michael Martone.
Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on August 22, 1955, and he has often wondered, as the earth spun and, as it spun, circled the sun, just what date would be the date of his death. Every anniversary in which he partakes each year is freighted with this slight nagging question as he repeats and repeats and repeats and repeats the calendar of possibility. Is this the day? Or this one? Or this? He is reminded of such musings each day when in the daily paper advertisements have been taken in memory of some now-long-dead relative of someone else. Often, the ads are printed on the deceased's birthday, or if a father, on Father's Day, or a mother, on Mother's Day. But sometimes, the chatty message, directly addressed usually to the loved one ("We miss you Pop Pop") commemorates the day of the dead one's death. Martone wonders if there is a zodiac for the dying, an astrology for the dead as there is one that casts its influence, its will, over the newly minted. Martone likes the idea that one's course of life is plotted by the arrangement of the heavenly bodies at the time of birth. Or is it the time of conception? In any case, the notion that a particular concoction of electromagnetic forces monkeys with one's subatomic genetic grouting in order to predestine the randomness of one's life is intriguing to Martone. It is as if the physics of the universe are acting in concert or in conflict to narrate an interesting, eventful, illustrative, entertaining life that most often masquerades as a series of random accidents, happenstance, bad breaks, and stupid moves. Death, being for some (and for Martone devotedly hoped for) a mere transition in the ongoing incremental perturbation of life post-life, rearranges the dénouement into another a mirroring rising action on the other side. There, is some kind of dark matter at work, a negative mechanical deus ex machina, nudging this new plot of plot points there in the grave plot? He wonders. So, to play it safe, Martone celebrates each day as if it is his last, the end of his story, his deathday, on which he lights the candles on the cake and never blows them out, swallowing his breath, telling everyone the wish he didn't make.