Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Trigger warning *Graphic content*
"Shhhh..." The air rushes from my mouth as I try to sooth the screaming child, bouncing her on my hip. She has always been a fussy baby and today is no exception. I am so sick of being cooped up in the house with this shrieking baby and dirty dishes. I feel a pulse of anger when I think of how alone I am. My husband still hasn't seen the baby, not that I blame him-- well, maybe I blame him a little. He's the one who went and signed up to fight, anyway. Why am I the one who gets to suffer? It feels like I've been waiting for all of my life: waiting for a folded flag and a knock at the door. Either way, he'll be home soon. I can't wait. Maybe Satsu cries so much because she wants her father. "Hush, Satsu, hush..." I try to sooth, but there's an edge to my voice. I wasn't meant for this. I'm not my mother. I wish she were here. I wish I could give her my milk-swollen breasts and trade places with her at the canning factory.
I scurry around the house, cleaning up one handed. Satsu cries. It's what we both do every morning: I clean, she cries. Maybe I should cry, too. For a moment, I almost give in-- but no, my heart is too hard for tears anymore. She howls as I put her in a yellow dress with tiny purple flowers embroidered on the skirt. Mama spent hours tweaking each one, until she'd created a perfect purple line. I forgo the shoes, it is too hot to need them, and there is no chance I will put her down anyway. For my part, I throw on loose trousers and a billowy cream shirt. The cream color will be a good mask for all of the milky vomit that Satsu will shower me in throughout the day. I don't hate her-- my baby. I don't. I love her. I just thought she'd be different. She's nothing like me. I am quiet, meek. I know that many would be ashamed to admit it, but I love that about myself. I can meld into the background and observe, soak the world in via sounds and smells and sights. I don't need to be loud. Satsu does, apparently. I've been starring at my shoes sitting by the door for long minutes now, thinking about what a terrible mother I am for being unable to understand my own child. Enough.
I slide into my shoes, heft Satsu onto my hip, step outside and close the door, locking it tightly behind me. We are headed to the market a few kilometres outside of town. As I walk down the street, neighbors shout greetings from their front porches. It seems there is a humming in my head, maybe the beginning of a headache? No, it's not just me, the neighbors hear it too. The whole city is humming. With each step the feeling intensifies. It seems to materialize, sending the hairs on the back of my neck shooting upward. Cold sweat slithers between the long muscles of my back. I glance over my shoulder and clutch the baby to my chest. I feel watched: followed. My pulse is pounding, and Satsu stops crying. What..? She's looking in my eyes with a depth too great for an eight month old. My feet slow, stop, feel like they're stuck in hard cement. I feel suspended by my baby's pleading eyes. The whole world is still. We stare at each other and the hum turns into a buzz, turns into a roar. A whistle, and I drag my eyes from Satsu's and look up.
I'm blind. The dazzling bright from above so great, it's burned everything up. I am burning; everything is burning. Where am I? What am I? Who? Satsu. My baby looks like she's screaming, but I can't hear her. Everything hurts, and the sides of my head feel sticky. Why can't I hear? My vision is spinning, pulsing in and out. I let out a shriek. I feel it rip out of my throat, but I cannot hear it. I realize, as the spinning slows, that we have been knocked flat. I am crushing the baby. I struggle to my feet. I hear my heart beat, slow. It's beating so slow. With the slow, thunderous pulsing in my chest, sound returns. I wish it wouldn't. I spin in a circle. The houses that lined the street but a moment ago are gone. In their place are burning piles, or nothing at all. It's snowing, no, that can't be it. Ash is falling from the sky. The heat is agonizing. The people have disappeared. The ones who waved to me a moment ago are gone. Suddenly, a flicker in my periphery--a sign of life-- and now the whole world is screaming. There is a figure running down the middle of the road, screaming the names of..it's family? I cannot tell if it is male or female. I only know it's human because it walks on two legs. It has no hair. Blood seems to seep out of flesh and sprays from it's ears, flaps of skin hang from what might have been a face. I scream and run from it. It doesn't have the strength to follow me.