Today I am delighted to host a fine piece of flash fiction (highly commended in the Bare Fiction Prize 2015) from Amanda Huggins. Amanda also writes poetry, and is a fellow contributor to the Cotton Grass Appreciation Society anthology. You can find out more about Amanda and her work at the end of this post.
THE LAST OF MICHIKO
Every evening Hitoshi kneels on a blue cushion in the doorway that leads out to the garden. He leaves the shoji screens open regardless of the weather, and stays there until long after the sun has set. His heart knows that Michiko will never return, but his stubborn head still finds reasons to hope.
The wind chimes jingle softly through the house, as gentle as her voice, and in the sudden breeze they mimic her laugh. Hitoshi presses his face into a pink kimono, inhaling her faint scent. At his side stands a jar of her homemade adzuki bean paste, as sweet and red as her lips. He has rationed it carefully, but now this final jar is almost empty.
The day’s post is propped up against the screen, and Hitoshi reaches for the bills and a letter from his daughter. She writes each week and always asks him to go and stay. Sometimes he thinks he will, but the trip to Tokyo seems like such a long journey now, and the city blinds him. There are no distances; everything is too densely packed, too close to see. And what about Michiko? He couldn’t risk her returning in his absence.
His son lives nearer, but when Hitoshi sees the car pull up he stays out of sight and doesn’t answer the door. He is saving them from the words that neither can bear to say. His son was the last to see Michiko; he watched the dark water snatch her away as though she were a brittle twig. When Hitoshi imagines it he pictures her hair floating upwards like the darkest seaweed, her skin so pale it appears as blue as the sea.
And though he has tried not to, he blames his son for failing to save her.
Some evenings Hitoshi thinks he hears a faint knocking, but when he goes outside the narrow street is always empty. He peers into the darkness for a moment; remembering the clack of wooden geta on the cobbles, glimpsing the soft light of the lantern outside the noodle shop. He imagines the warmth inside; the kind face of Koko as she pours the sake, and his friend, Wada, sitting at the counter waiting to mull over the old days. But Hitoshi always goes back inside and sits alone again in the dark.
Tonight there is no knocking, but just after seven o’clock he hears the doorbell. When he opens the screen, his neighbour, the young widow Emiko, stands beneath the light cradling a jar in both hands.
‘I found this in the cupboard, Hitoshi-san, the last of Michiko’s bean paste.’
As he takes the jar, Hitoshi stumbles under the weight of its significance. He looks up at Emiko as she backs away, and when their eyes meet she pauses. He bows, and gestures her inside, apologising for his rudeness. She steps past him, her kimono sweeping the tatami like a new broom, and the wind chimes fall silent.
Amanda Huggins writes short fiction and poetry, and was a runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award. Her work has been widely published in anthologies and magazines, and has been placed and shortlisted in numerous competitions including Bripdport, Fish, Bath, and the Colm Toibin Short Story Award. Her first full length short story collection, Separated From the Sea, was published last year by Retreat West Books, and received a Special Mention in the 2019 Saboteur Awards. She has a second collection coming out with them next Spring – Scratched Enamel Heart. The Last of Michiko also appears in her flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses (Chapeltown Books 2018).
Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire and works full-time in engineering. She is currently writing her debut novella and has just completed a full length poetry collection.
You can hear Amanda read at The Red Shed, Wakefield, on November 4th.