Mr. Blackmore was crouching in the water watching the minnows as I sloshed through the mud and water back to the car. Was the tide coming in? He stood up and puffed his chest out when I was near.
“Where the heck’ve you been? It’s not safe here.”
“I couldn’t sit still. I found this.” I unfolded the note and handed it to him.
“What’s it say?”
“It’s addressed to me and it says to get out of here. That Emi’s not here. To go back to Abiko.”
“Who’s it from?”
“What’s it mean?”
“I’m not sure. It may mean we’re too late. It’s Emi… I saw her name on a residents’ list at the school. The name was crossed out. This note was on her house. The whole house was destroyed. She couldn’t have lived through the tsunami. The note is right. She can’t be here.”
“She must be.”
“Think about it, Mr. Blackmore. Even if she did make it through, she can’t still be here. In this place.”
Mr. Blackmore looked back toward the school.
“There’s something else I didn’t tell you,” I said.
“Her name was read out on television last night as one of the confirmed dead. I didn’t want to believe it was true. But look around us. This is a city of the dead. And if she was here, then now, well, I don’t know how to say it, then her body…”
Mr. Blackmore fell to his knees into the mud and looked down, “… is in the ocean.”
He bowed his head and clasped his hands together in front of his face. He stayed kneeling in the stinking mud with his eyes shut.
I didn’t know where to look, so I retreated to the car and made myself busy. I wiped the windscreen with my sleeve. Then I opened and closed the glove compartment, trying to memorise its contents. An oily cloth. An ice scraper. A manual. A crumpled tissue smeared with make-up. An empty, crumpled-up cigarette packet, and, what, a chocolate bar wrapper? No, it was chewing gum.
And still Mr. Blackmore knelt in the mud.
Should I speak to him? What would I say? What were the right words? There were none. The labels didn’t fit.
I had Emi’s last books from the library on the back seat. I got halfway through the chapter in the business English book on bills of lading, whatever they were, before I remembered the second book wasn’t a textbook. Under the Banner of Heaven. I’d got through all the reviews on the inside page “Compelling… provocative… illuminating… a gripping tale” when something wouldn’t stop bothering me. Was that really Ono’s voice I heard? How did he get here? Who was he talking to? Where was he now? And Uncle Kentaro…
“Mr. Blackmore, we have to get out of here now.”
Mr. Blackmore struggled to his feet. He took his cowboy hat from his head and pitched it away into the water around. He waded back to the car, sat in the driver’s seat, and slipped the car into reverse.
“Are you OK?” I said.
He reached his arm over my seat and looked out the back window as he backed the car away from the school, back to the only road out of Ishinomaki.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” he said. I wasn’t sure if that was true, and it sounded like Mr. Blackmore wasn’t sure either.
I unfolded the note and read the Japanese again. Emi-chan wa imasen. Emi’s not here. Or you could translate it differently:
There is no Emi.
Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.
That was a chapter of Half Life: A Hana Walker Mystery. I’m publishing a chapter a day in sequence on this blog to promote the book. You can buy HALF LIFE as a paperback from Create Space here or as a Kindle download from any Amazon site including links to the book here at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.jp.
The sequel, Prime Life, is coming out in the New Year.