Emma Phillips June 2021 Second Prize

Strong Like Carp

by Emma Phillips

Aoi-chan was strong like a carp. Even when the bombs fell, she hardly flinched, although her best friend Megumi said she laid upon her futon each night and cried the Edo river. Megumi did not have fighting spirit. Aoi was like the Koi she used to feed before the war, when she walked through Sensô-ji Temple with her father.

“See,” Otosan declared, “they dance their beauty but find their strength together. Stay proud, my daughter. Remember your Japanese heart.” Otosan was in the Imperial Army. Aoi ran their stall with her mother now, selling eggs from her grandmother’s chickens and tending each scrap of their yard to grow vegetables. The Koi had disappeared but Aoi kept them safe inside and when the fire bombing started, she drew a pond for them in the ashes. Her father sent her paper cranes inscribed with the symbol for courage.

Aoi joined the search and rescue teams. Her thin fingers and keen eyesight helped pluck survivors from the rubble. The Koi led her to them. Each day they swam through the broken streets and gave her hope. The radio said the Emperor would never surrender but Aoi heard Japan was losing the war. She fed her worries to the fish.

By the time the atom bombs landed, her shoal had multiplied. Their rainbow scales dazzled Aoi and she held onto their tails. In the morning, they were gone, leaving dust on the edge of her eyelids. Where the Koi had led her home, she found American soldiers handing out candy. Aoi refused to chew gum, cursed when Megumi spat pink bubbles from her lips the shape of peaches. Her father returned. Otosan taught Aoi to chase the Koi upstream again. “Old life has gone,” her father said, “now a new one starts.”

About the Author

Emma Phillips lives close to the M5 in Devon with her husband, son and guinea pigs. She teaches in a primary school and has become addicted to Flash Fiction over the past year. She has lived in Japan and China and loves to sing karaoke badly. Her work has been published in Blink Ink, Popshot and Mslexia. If she were a fish, she’d like to be a carp.

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