A Cherry Blossom in a Box
by EN Heim
Flash Fiction — Appeared in Thinkerbeat (http://www.thinkerbeat.com)
It was a treasure all right, a kid’s dream. Rolland, my uncle called it a “Cherry Blossom.” Everything crammed in one small chest. The only thing showing was nuts, bolts, wire, strips of bamboo, and shards of metal, wood, cloth, and paper—jam-packed to the brim. It was in a chest like a pirate’s trove that Uncle Rolland stashed away in the garage for safekeeping. My mouth dropped, and I said, “Gosh golly Uncle Roe…where did you get that?” No mistaking about it; a large red sphere was the only thing intact sticking out of all the bits and fragments of the aircraft.
Squinting one eye and saying in a deep salty tone, “It’s a MXY7-K1 Ohka II, a Kamikaze airplane.” His eyes twisted and turned to indicate the Kamikaze’s suicide brutal power. “Yes, the most feared killing machine of W…W…Two during the war in the Pacific.”
My brother and I stood in awe as he spoke, and told his story of the Blossom in the box. We idolized him. He had lived through that December 7, 1941 infamous day, and had experienced the “war of wars, and the hell of hells.”
“Boys,” he said, “let’s go into the kitchen, and have something to drink. I’m gonna tell ya the story while I get my whistle wet. You boys can have a soda pop.” He led the way, and we sat at the kitchen table as he poured himself a cup of coffee, and gave us each a soda pop to drink.
“It was one of those lazy-daze Sunday mornings,” Rolland said. “Dotting the sky were puffy white clouds floating about leisurely against an endless crystal clear powder-blue heaven. You could see forever. The water was clear, calm, and deep; not a ripple disturbed that serene Sunday morning. It was a perfect day for the beach, a perfect day for swimming in the warm Hawaiian waters of Pearl Harbor.
“You could tell by Lucifer, the morning star, the heat of the day would shine down on us. His rays were like an octopus reaching out to grab. Everybody had plans for picnics and bar hopping, and shore-leave was just a matter of picking up a liberty-pass for that weekend of fun and frolicking.
“Some of the sailors stayed on the ship. There wasn’t much happening in Pearl Harbor Saturday night. The young and the foolish picked over the bars the night before. They were lucky to get a weekend pass to go with their broads and buddies. All that remained on board was the skeleton crew, those who had a family back in the States, or who didn’t want to go on shore. Those sailors who did stay on board wrote letters, wrote in their diaries, played craps in the head, or read hero comics, and listened to the radio: Superman, Gang Busters, and the Shadow. Tokyo Rose was a daily feature. The bored and tired hit the sack early. What did they have to look forward to but their night watch?
“That Saturday night I had the mid-watch. While standing on the bridge, I gazed at the harbor, at the other ships, the stars twinkling bright between clouds, and searching for anything coming up by surprise. Nothing happened during my four hours, it was dead quiet—not even ripples in the water bellow made sounds. I’m sure the Reaper was waiting for the right moment to collect his debts.
“At eight bells, my relief came and I headed for the galley to get something to fill my churning stomach. I hadn’t had anything to eat that night. All that was on my mind was family, my daughters, and my wife. Another companion and I sat at the table sipping coffee and eating bits of cookies and crackers left from the evening meal. We always talked about the same thing: home, family, and things we wish we had done before enlisting, but always about what we were going to do after the war.
“I was dunking a cookie into my coffee, and took a bite. ‘Ya know Sam,’ I said, ‘I heard this is gonna be a big war.’ Sam just glanced at me and didn’t say anything, just nodded. ‘Yeah, I heard them Japs are armin’ up. Can you believe that?’ Sam just nodded again. He wasn’t much of a talker, just a listener, and nodded, but interjecting an ‘uh huh’ here and there. ‘Yeah, I heard them Japs are gonna bring in their Zeros. Did you know they’re the best flyin’ machine in the skies?’ Sam glanced at me and smiled after he dunked his cookie into the coffee and shoved it into his mouth.”
A funny kind of twitch took to the right side of Rolland’s lip, and he shook his head slightly as he gazed at my brother and me. “That’s what I’ve heard…any day…now!” he uttered as if he were back on board ship talking to his chum Sam. His eyes twitched, and his lip did the same as he put the last bit of imaginary soaked cookie into his mouth. He twisted it around with his tongue and took a big gulp. Then, he glanced at his Timex, and gazed at my brother and me as if we were his navy chums. “Yeah…it’s about that time Sam, bushed as hell I am. I’ve been up thirty-six hours, can you believe that, thirty-six Sam?” He gazed at my brother, then me. Squinting his eyes at me as if I were Sam. I didn’t say anything, just returned a measly nod. “Well,” Rolland sighed, “I’m gonna hit the sack. See ya later when I’ve had my twenty-winks.”
Rolland said, “It was a ferocious morning. Suddenly, sailors started screaming down the hall. One sailor was waking everybody in sight, and yelling, ‘The Japs are bombing. They came out of the blue…it’s a surprise attack. The ship is on fire.’ Everyone scurried about, confused, this wasn’t supposed to have happened, but it did.
“I didn’t have time to grab my clothes. The fire was roaring behind the last sailor, as we rushed and scurried to the top. That wasn’t the worst; it was like hell on earth…fire and brimstone.” He whipped his arms and hands around imitating the flogging flames. “Everything was on fire, the ship’s deck; even the water was on fire. Lucifer had turned Pearl Harbor into Hades.”
Rolland glanced right, left, straight ahead as though he were reliving that horrid day. “I ran straight to the ship’s edge, and jumped into the inferno. The Arizona was tall, broad, and mighty, but on that day, it met its misfortune—her guns were at rest and took no aim. Taking to the water, I sank several feet below the burning bedlam, and came up with a gulp or two of salt water before emerging to take in fresh air. The water shrieked its horror as if it was part of Satan’s sanctuary. Splashing here and there, I made a hole for breathing, and then swam under the surface to come up and make another air hole in the holocaust. After swimming for an hour, I realized I swam past Beelzebub’s fiery boundary, and touched solid ground. Then, I waded ashore. Glancing at the wrath behind me, I watched my ship sink below the water’s sizzling surface. It was like watching and hearing the Devil’s choir singing a staccato dirge. Plumes of smoke filled the air. I couldn’t believe I was still alive.”
“Uncle Roe,” I said, “what about the treasure chest…the bits and pieces of the Blossom?” My brother and I nodded eagerly for the answer.
His eyes took a beady stare and gazed at my brother and me. His mouth took a twist. “You mean the Cherry Blossom, my boys?”
My brother’s eyes grew big with anticipation. “Yeah!” we said together, “the Cherry Blossom.”
“The war raged on,” he said. “It wasn’t until almost the end when the Japanese strategy changed. Then, they came out with the Kamikaze, the most feared airplanes in the sky, the Cherry Blossom, as they called it. A suicide bomb, flying at 576 miles an hour…SWISH,” he screamed, “manned to kill its pilot, and anything that stood in its way.”
Rolland made a wide swoop with his hand indicating the plane’s path toward us, and then, “Ratta-tat-tat-tat,” he blurted. My brother and I jump back as if it were coming for us, for me.
“The guns went off in a fierce fire of vengeance,” he continued. “Tracers and flack all over the place aimed at the Kamikaze, one, two, three, round after round, bang, boom, hitting nothing. It was too fast in the air. As it came around it was evident that it was coming straight for our ship.” He paused, glanced at the kitchen ceiling, out through the window, and the backyard beyond, and then turned to give us a squint like all salty sailors do.
I glanced at my brother. My brother glanced back, and we stared at Uncle Rolland. We excitedly asked, “And then…what Uncle Roe?”
He glared at my brother, then me, and he hit his fist in one snap—CRACK! “We hit that Cherry Blossom right on the nose with one of our 50 caliber rounds.” He paused, and my brother and I shouted, “Gosh, golly, Uncle Roe…then what?”
“Then, it went…caw-plop…deep-six,” he whistled the word “six” as he made another smack to his fist—POW! “And…that was it,” he said in a whisper, “all that was left is what you saw my boys…nothing more in that box. Just a Cherry Blossom…bits and pieces…the fiercest killing machine of W…W…Two.”
“What about the bomb…the pilot, Uncle Roe?”
In a deep, grating voice Rolland uttered, “Well…that went down to Davy Jones’ Locker…you know…many fathoms deep…never to be seen again by human eyes. The pilot, I guess he’s down there dealing with Neptune and his deep-sea court.” He closed his eyes, and tears came streaming down his cheeks. “Sam was killed on another day. My buddy I’ll never forget. He got it from another plane. That was in ‘45…two months before the war’s end.” He paused, wiped his eyes. Gazing at us, he slowly said, “That’s the story of the Blossom, the most feared flying machine in the skies.”