Fantasy Literary Fiction Magical Realism flash fiction loss tragedy

Tōhoku

By Nathan Susnik
Apr 15, 2020 · 501 words · 2 minutes

One of the display units at the Discovery Center of the Centennial Hall.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński via Unsplash.

From the author: Struggling with the grief of losing her parents in the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Ayumi finds a telephone and line back into life.


For Theda

At seventeen, Ayumi walks through the rubble of her old neighborhood. The mere ridiculousness of a ship in the middle of the street makes her want to laugh. But when she reaches her old house, she is solemn and says a prayer. Although she has not seen her parents’ bodies, she is not in denial. It has been months since the wave.

Why then has she not yet cried?

As she turns to leave, she sees a telephone booth in the middle of the field down the street. It stands alone among the rubble, so she goes to it. In the booth is a phone that’s not hooked up, but she picks up the receiver and dials her parents’ number. There are voices on the other end.  “Mom? Dad?” she says. “I miss you.”

And for the first time since the wave, Ayumi cries.

At university, Ayumi meets a man. He’s kind and understanding and tall, but not nearly as handsome as she had dreamed. Still, three out of four isn’t bad, she thinks. This could be it.

She asks Kaito if he would like to meet her parents. Together, they travel to her hometown. Many houses have been rebuilt, but the telephone booth still stands in the field. Ayumi picks up the receiver and dials. Her mother laughs and tells her that she would love to meet her boyfriend, but when Kaito takes the receiver, he frowns. “There’s no one there.”

They are married under a blue sky, surrounded by waving grass. The celebration is in a tent erected next to the phone booth. When the ceremony starts, Ayumi dials her parents’ number and leaves the phone off the hook.

When Mei is born, they buy a house in Ayumi’s hometown. She takes Mei to the field almost every day. Their giggles fill the telephone booth.

When Mei is fourteen, she refuses to go to the telephone booth. “But how will your grandparents ever get to know you?” says Ayumi.

“There’s no one there, Mom,” says Mei. “Stop being crazy.”

When Mei is seventeen years old, Ayumi sits in the telephone booth crying. She tells her parents that she is tired of fighting; she hasn’t spoken with her daughter in months. She has also taken her mother’s advice and seen the doctor about her stomach pain. She’s afraid to tell Kaito the test results.

Ayumi is in pain. She lies in bed, her body much too weak to get out. She sees Mei and Kaito. They tell her that it’s alright. There’s nothing to fear.

Today, Ayumi is better; today, she will go for a walk. The grass waves in the field, and the door to the telephone booth stands open. When she gets there, the telephone rings. She has never heard it ring before. It’s a pleasing little cling-a-ling. She smiles, picks up the receiver, and the voice on the other side is familiar.

“Mom,” it says. “I miss you.”

This story originally appeared in Podcastle.


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Nathan Susnik

Nathan writes stories that often swim the estuaries of tragedy and comedy.