Book Excerpt: The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw
Title: The Last Cherry Blossom
Author: Kathleen Burkinshaw
Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2016
Sumiyo placed her chopsticks on her hashioki and said, “I do, too, Yuriko-chan. I believe it is time for us to return home to Hiroshima.”
I turned from looking out the window and exclaimed, “We can go home to Papa? Really?”
“Hooray!” Even Genji had finally lost interest in day after day of cows in the pasture.
“I can’t wait to see Machiko, too! I have to hear all about her work at the plane factory,” I said. I got up and began to bring the empty dishes to the sink.
“Well, it definitely is too quiet around here,” Aunt Kimiko agreed.
Sumiyo stood up from the table and said, “Good. Then the decision has been made, and we will leave tomorrow morning. We will arrive in time to surprise your papa when he gets home from the office.”
The thought of going home to be with Papa and Machiko kept a smile on my face for the rest of the evening.
The next morning, we were all up with the roosters, ready to head home.
“Yuriko-chan, is your suitcase packed?” Sumiyo asked.
“Could you please help Genji-chan put his in the car? Your Aunt Kimiko and I will follow as soon as we do one last check to be sure nothing is left behind.”
“Come with me, Genji,” I said as I picked up my suitcase in my right hand and his in my left.
It rained the entire train ride to Hiroshima, but I wouldn’t let that dampen my spirits.
“You are not supposed to be here. You should all still be at the country house.” Papa’s voice grew louder, and his lips faded into a thin line as he stood in the entryway to our home, clearly perplexed as to why we were back. But the look in his eyes softened as he spoke. I ran, throwing my arms around him, and squeezing tightly. He looked down at me and said, “Well, prepare to go back to the farm this weekend.” His voice sounded gruff, but that didn’t stop him from hugging me tightly, too.
That night I went to bed early with a bad headache and stomach cramps. The next couple of days were a blur as I was either sleeping or throwing up into a bucket. Papa and Sumiyo took turns watching over me. The only good thing about being sick was not returning to the country house that weekend, as I was too weak to make the train ride there.
On Monday morning, Papa entered my room early. “Joya, Joya, wake up.”
I rolled over to face him. He was standing in the doorway. “Yes, Papa?”
“How are you feeling today?”
I sat up and said, “Well, my head does not hurt finally.
And I have not thrown up since yesterday afternoon.”
“That is good. I am happy to hear this. You will be excused today from going into the center of town with the rest of your classmates. You can return tomorrow to assist them in demolishing the wooden buildings. You should go outside today to get some fresh air.”
“Yes, Papa. It will be nice to get out of this room. But what time is it? Why are you leaving so early? You do not usually leave for the office until noon.”
“I am going to purchase a train ticket for one of the reporters at the newspaper. He needs to visit his injured son.”
“Oh. I hope his son will be okay. Papa, will you be home earlier today since you are going in earlier? Now that I am feeling better, I would love to play hanafuda with you.”
“Hanafuda? I thought you did not care for card games?”
“Well, Sumiyo taught me while we were in the country, and I found I actually like it.” I smiled and shrugged my shoulders.
“That sounds like a wonderful plan. I will make sure I return early in the afternoon.”
I stood up and he walked over to me. He kissed my forehead. As he headed toward my door, I asked, “Papa, you are not still mad that I am home, are you?”
He turned back to me with a smile that crinkled the corner of his eyes and said, “Joya, I am always happiest when you are here with me. I was angry, because I worried about the safety of my family. But I agree with Sumiyo. It was time you returned. I was very lonely.”
“I am so glad, Papa!” I ran and hugged him, and he squeezed me tightly back.
“Joya, I will see you in a few hours, neh?”
“Yes, see you then, Papa.”
After he left, I got back under the covers and read for a short time. Around 7:30 a.m. I decided to get dressed—something I hadn’t done in almost a week. I pulled on a shirt and monpe pants, and I attempted to smooth some of my unruly hair back into the braids I’d slept in. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror. I would not win a beauty prize, but at least I looked presentable.
Downstairs in the kitchen, I took one look at the breakfast on the table, and my stomach reeled as if filled with ocean waves. I decided to skip breakfast and have tea instead. As I finished my cup of tea, I spotted Machiko across the street hanging laundry. She was working the afternoon shift at the factory, and if I wanted to speak with her, I needed to do it that morning. I slipped on my shoes and ran out to catch her before she went inside.
“Machiko, ohayo!” I bent over with my hands on my knees to take deep breaths. When would I realize that my body was not meant to run—especially so soon after being sick? The hot August morning air clung to my skin, making breathing even more difficult.
Machiko turned around. “Good morning, Yuriko!” She gave me a hug. “I’m so happy to see you! It’s been a long two months without you. But aren’t you supposed to be going back to the country?”
I attempted to catch my breath. “Papa decided Sumiyo is as stubborn as he is and that we don’t have to go back.”
Just then, B-sans flew overhead. We both looked up at the sky. There was no siren blaring. A voice from the loudspeaker perched on a pole at the front of the house announced that it was only a weather plane. And weather planes were not a threat as they had never been used in an attack.
After the announcement I began to speak again. “Machiko, can we listen to some jazz this morning before you go to work?”
The deafening hum of a low-flying plane drowned out Machiko’s reply. This time a siren sounded. The hair lifted on the back of my neck.
An ear-shattering popping noise.
An intense burst of white light.
The ground trembled and opened beneath us, as if to swallow us whole. Machiko and I clung to each other and screamed.
Darkness . . .
About the book
The Last Cherry Blossom (distributed by Simon & Schuster, Scholastic), is now a United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs Resource for Teachers and Students and she has recently spoken at the United Nations in NYC. TLCB has been nominated for NC School Library Media Association YA book award and 2019-2020 VSBA, 2018& 2016 Scholastic WNDB Reading Club selection, and Finalist for NC Sir Walter Raleigh Fiction Award, 2018 Sakura Medal, Japan, and SCBWI Crystal Kite Award (southeast region).
About the author
Kathleen Burkinshaw is the daughter of a Hiroshima survivor and a Japanese American author residing in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom, and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja. Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. She has presented her mother’s experience in Hiroshima to middle and high schools for the past 9 years.
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