- Lucky Dragon
The second dawn rose in the east, at nine in the morning. Hiroshi had never before seen such radiance. It rivaled the sun. He stood on deck with Yoshi, and the light crushed them beneath its purity. Hiroshi closed his eyes, but even so, the brightness pierced his head. The other crew members clamored to see this strange, unexpected light. But Hiroshi returned to the tasks of the day. He consulted Sanezumi about their current bearing. He examined the nautical charts, the curves and byways of the ocean unfolding beneath his forefinger. Last night, he dreamt of a large school of tuna, a flotilla so dense that the ocean became the blue-black from their scales. Their eyes flashed like diamonds in the waves. Each time the crew pulled in the nets, the smallest of the fish dwarfed him. They entered the hull without struggling, their flesh tender and firm, bellies thick and marbled with fat. When he woke, Hiroshi knew that it was an omen. Dreams were unreliable things, sinuous and slippery as eels, but morning had not yet come, and he felt the gentle listing of the boat with a single coordinate in mind: east.
But soon after the second dawn, Sanezumi pointed at a line of chop on the water’s surface. The water recoiled, and before Hiroshi had time to react, it was upon them. The wall of air thrust over the boat, an avalanche of sky. Their clothes trembled as it passed. The men shouted, necks tense and strained, but nothing penetrated the ringing deep in their ears. Hiroshi’s feet vibrated. His men gestured at the distant blaze blossoming from the horizon. Many had lived through the Tokyo firebombings—Masaru’s left arm was gnarled with scars—but Hiroshi instead remembered the Philippines. His unit had gotten trapped in its position, and he hunkered down in a trench, face pressed against the mud escarpment. Mortars whizzed overhead; shrapnel fell like ice. The Americans were approaching. He felt their progress, a drumbeat in the earth. Only he and Yoshi and a handful of others were still alive. His comrades had sprung from the trench, guns raised in defiance, and were cut down before they [End Page 42] had taken ten steps. Hiroshi should have been with them. In the creaking and moaning of the ship, he sometimes heard the voices of the fallen, calling to him from subterranean depths.
After an hour, the fire had cleared from the sky, but now came the rain of ash. It smelled of electricity. The men watched, mouths agape, awed by flakes the size of flower petals, warm to the touch. It clung where it landed, and when Hiroshi wiped it off, it disintegrated into a glittery sheen. It whispered underfoot. Yoshi flapped his arms, sending forth white plumes, as if he were dancing in a snowstorm. Some men held out plastic bags to catch it as it fell. Hiroshi looked to see from where it had come, but if the sky had once been clear and blue, it was now a peach smear. For a few minutes, the rain was a wonder, a miracle. But ash continued falling for the next three hours. It came down so heavily that the boat seemed mired in fog. The men dared not open their eyes. They left footprints where they walked. The ash gathered on the surface of the water, forming gray masses. The crew retreated inside, waiting for it to stop.
“It’s inside me,” said Yoshi. “It itches.”
Hiroshi exhaled. Residue inside his lungs. He sneezed out pebbles. “You’re imagining things,” he said.
“I feel it in my chest,” Yoshi continued. “Underneath my skin.”
That night, the men were too nauseated to eat. In Sanezumi’s quarters, Hiroshi rested a hand on his navigator’s back. Sanezumi couldn’t even keep water down; after each swallow, he retched, and the water rushed out of his mouth and dribbled onto the floor. You’ll be fine, Hiroshi told him. But in the middle of the night, Sanezumi began vomiting blood.
They spent two weeks at sea, slowly chugging back to Yaizu. Hiroshi...