It had been one year nine months and twenty one days since the blackness. Every day hence Yumi had been drawn back to the beach. Inside her frail and timorous frame a fractured soul wept like an open wound. On most days her enfeebled legs barely held her up. But she kept coming back. On the sand she felt the connection, each docile wave called her name. Something mesmeric perpetually pulling her back.
It had been one year nine months twenty one days and one hour since hell rose up and ripped away her reason to live. On that frigid silent morning the putrid blackness came up and over them and then it just kept coming. She begged it to stop, but it kept coming, driving her down. Yumi could still feel the cold drilling in to her bones; still see the dark bile. It just kept coming and coming and it was blacker than black it was putrid and foul. The devils swill. But it just kept coming, higher and higher, deeper and deeper, surging over her strong, hard and cold; so very cold against her lower back.
Clamour filled her head as the shrieking banshee cry of the tsunami alarm vibrated through the village air. Frightened she ran with baby Meiko tight to her breast, the infant safe in her warm grasp. The surge of the third wave pushed her legs forward cutting her down. The helpless feeble baby tumbling from her loving clutch. The warm soft bundle in the white shawl cast adrift floating beyond her mother’s straining arms. Their eyes connected and spoke, baby Meiko and mother Yumi connecting for an intimate but final moment. The putrescent bubbling water parted and sucked the fresh life down into the heinous evil darkness.
Toshio Ogawa stared at his reflection in the coffee shop window. The dim glass covered in a film of dust threw back an older more desolate face.
It had been one year nine months and twenty one days since the ground under him shifted. One year nine months twenty one days and one hour since his firm grip on her forearm broke and she slithered into the swirling pool of oblivion.
She had smiled at him as she slipped under the churning murkiness, their bond still strong. A black soup of twisted humans and debris charged through the narrow village street. Dirty thick liquid thundered over him, overpowering his grip on her, she thrashed wildly but the fight was lost. He watched hapless, as she evaporated under the bubbling black stew of death.
He was an infectiously optimistic and generous man but since that day he had been in a state of shock and the deepest, darkest depression. His vibrant sparkling brown eyes were no longer turned up at the corners. Now they drooped, drawn down to earth by the raw gravity from under the tainted and useless saline impregnated soil.
In the reflection behind his own wretchedness he noticed Yumi and his dull eyes tracked her forsaken figure as it moved from right to left across the grubby window. Her despondent form a familiar daily sight to him. The defeated woman did not walk with a purposeful gait. Her round shoulders were flaccid while her fragile legs dragged her forward. As she scurried towards the beach on her daily pilgrimage, the head of the young mother never rose to embrace the crisp sun reflecting up from the tranquil Pacific Ocean.
Toshio saw it again in his mind’s eye, he had prayed for it to stop but it kept coming. It just kept coming.
He was disturbed out of his melancholic state by the cheerful ‘ping’ of the small bronze bell. The coffee shop door slid firmly open. Sato-san bowed in his direction, her mature back forming a graceful arc. She was now nearly eighty years old but she looked older.
It had been one year nine months and twenty one days since that day. Her early morning walk had always been the same, peaceful, spiritual and normally uneventful.
She awoke clear headed and prepared as ever with a simple breakfast of steamed rice, miso soup, grilled fish and pickles. By seven thirty five her stride was robust and direct. By eight fifteen Sato-san had scaled the densely wooded escarpment and was in her element. She was deep in the protective woods when the ground rumbled in anger underneath her. Her rugged hands had already plucked more than one hundred small fruits. The huge tremor pulsed through the land shedding ripe plums conveniently by her feet; but she took no interest in the liberated produce. In silent horror she turned and watched through the swaying branches as in the distance the blackness rose up and moved towards the village.
The steady stream of day trippers loved her umeboshi, pickled plums, her hobby had given her a reason to live. The café which was also the post office and village store, sold her delicate hand crafted pickles and jam. The visitors from Tokyo and beyond gave her a living. Now a word she didn’t understand had diminished her existence. She was told that something was found in a jar of pickles in Yokohama bought by well intentioned tourists: Caesium!
Sato-sans umeboshi was finished and so was she.
First she felt the cold wind on her warm cheeks. The chilly gust rode ahead of the shockwave steaming inland ahead of the massive turbulent walls of water. It was a rumble then her elderly ears picked up the hideous roar. She watched in silence and disbelief as the horizon came alive and moved unyieldingly towards her. Tears of pain streaming from her tired face the noise of death and destruction filled her head; taking her breath and soul away. Through the trees she loved, trees that gave her life she watched, muted into submission as the blackness rose towards her.
A violent torrent of flotsam filled the valley below her. Ruptured houses, twisted vehicles, fishing boats and despairing human faces slithered past her incredulous eyes.
The water just kept coming and coming and coming. It was blacker than black it was putrid and foul, the devils brew. She prayed for it to stop but it just kept coming.
Sato-san looked out towards the sea shore and slowly raised her hand to her mouth. The dignified elderly lady inhaled a gasp of cool sea air. Toshio looked frantically in the reflection of the glass scanning it for activity. Unable to see what his crestfallen neighbour was looking at he slowly rose up from the wooden stool. Cautiously he traced the line of Sato-sans gaze until together they watched, both stunned into acquiescent quietness. A beautiful early flurry of snow had begun to drift in.
In the distance they saw Yumi wearing a vivid yuzen dyed kimono as she waded into the Pacific Ocean. Like pistons on a steam engine her weak legs were now driving her forward; she pushed on through the surging surf. Her eyes fixed on the horizon the distrait mothers heart did not rise or fall it beat out a steady calm rhythm.
She punched on into the Pacific Ocean her legs now alive with vitality pouring her forward and deeper. With a tenderness the ocean embraced her, enthusiastically wrapping a saliferous blanket around her waist. The fresh clean water pouring over her favourite delicately embroidered Obi, Kimono belt. Still she carried on into the infinite green sea until her shoulders were draped in the white foaming surf.
Yumi’s head slipped under the thick marine blanket without a fuss. The grieving mother soon to hold baby Meiko once more.