A Bright Light 2

I

s someone there?” Yoshiko recognized the voice. It was Mr. Shimizu. For a moment, she was excited and relieved to hear someone familiar. Even in the dark, she struggled to turn in the direction of the voice, but the best she could do was turn her head.

“Mr. Shimizu. Over here.”

“Ah, Hayashi-kun? Are you alright?” he said in a weak voice.

“It’s dark and I can’t move my body. I think something’s on top of me.”

“Me, too. It looks like the building’s collapsed. Just stay still. Someone will come to help us soon.”

Just as Yoshiko was about to answer, she heard a shudder, and whatever was on top of her shifted at an angle downward, freeing her hands. But she was still pinned down from the waist. “I can move my hands, now.”

“The rubble is shifting. Maybe you can wiggle yourself free.”

Yoshiko tried hard to push whatever was on top of her, but she was afraid of pushing too hard. Not seeing what was on her as well as what was around her unnerved her. “I can’t,” she yelled. “I’m scared.”

“Hang in there,” Mr. Shimizu said, when there was anothter big creak and a thud.

Yoshiko let out a scream. Then she covered her mouth instinctively out of embarassment. She didn’t necessarily have a low voice, but she knew that her scream was not very girl-like. Her brother had told her as much a year earlier.

The summer of 1944 was hot and muggy. Sleep was virtually impossible. On one particularly muggy night, she and her brother spent the night drinking cups of cold barley tea in an attempt to cool off.

“Yoshiko, I have to pee.” Tadao confessed.

“Then go, why don’t you?”

“It’s dark,” he whined.

Yoshiko got up from her bedding. “Okay, let’s go,” she sighed in resignation.

In some of the more recent homes, the toilet was isolated down a long hall at one end of the structure. But the house in which they lived–their grandparents’ home–dated back to the Edo period, according to her grandfather, so the toilet was located in a separate structure out back. While spotless, an outhouse is still an outhouse, Yoshiko often opined. There were ten gray stepping stones at even intervals covering the twenty feet between the back door and the toilet. As far back as they could remember, they would jump from stone to stone, yelling the number of the stone they landed on–Two! Four! Seven! Nine! Indeed, this is how they learned the various counters used in Japanese. Yoshiko would say pencil, and Tadao would count using the counters for long narrow objects: ippon, sanbon, gohon, nanahon, as he jumped from stone numbers one, three, five and seven. Then Tadao would yell plates, indicating flat objects, and Yoshiko would call out nimai, yonmai, rokumai, hachimai, as she jumped from stone two to four to six to eight.

In the middle of the night, they did not want to make a ruckus, so they were not going to raise their voice. And, as they often did when not adults were looking, they went barefoot. Out of habit, Yoshiko jumped from stone to stone. Two, four, si… She froze as her foot landed on something wet and gushy. She looked down at her feet and saw in the moonlight that she had squished a frog the size of her fist. Every muscle in her body tensed as she bellowed. “Oooooooooh.”

Tadao started to laugh hysterically, trying to stifle himself by covering his mouth with his hand. But he had buckled over in laughter.

“What!?! Why are you laughing.” Yoshiko was staring at the frog that was still moving.

“Foghorn!”

“Foghorn? Ooooh!” Yoshiko bellowed again when the frog suddenly hopped away into the darkness. She caught her breath, relieved that she did not have to deal with a dead frog. “What do you mean, foghorn?”

Tadao was still laughing. “Your ‘scream’. It sounds like a foghorn.”

My scream sounds like a foghorn? Yoshiko repeated mentally. At that moment, Yoshiko hated her brother. How could he say that? I just yelled in surprised. There’s no need to compare it to a FOGHORN! Tadao, I just hate you. But at least it was only her brother who heard her. She swore that she would never let out a loud voice again, for fear that someone else would hear her foghorn of a scream. And she didn’t, not until a year later when she was pinned beneath a mountain of rubble, one that used to be the municipal building in which she worked.

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