by Doug Wood
Based on the Toho films.
Used without permission.
Martin was dozing when the front doorbell rang. His guest
had arrived at last. He put aside the manuscript he had
been proofing and slowly got up from the sofa, making
those infernal old-man noises he so despised.
In the foyer, he paused to examine himself in a mirror. No
matter how many times he saw his reflection, he was always
surprised at how old he was. His hair was gray and white yet
still full, the skin wrinkled yet still robust. In his
weight and barrel chest he could still see the presence of
youth. But he knew it was just an illusion. Martin was an
The doorbell rang again. Martin smoothed the crease in his
slacks and straightened his sweater. Then he opened the door
with a broad smile. Standing outside was a slight Asian
woman dressed in a brown business suit. She clutched a
leather briefcase in front of her with both hands. Her hair
was pulled back in a girlish ponytail. She smiled and bowed
"Good afternoon, Professor Martin," she said. There was a
delightful accent to her English.
"Doctor Saegusa, I presume?" Martin almost extended his hand
but caught himself. Instead he bowed his head slightly.
"Welcome to my home. Please, come in." He escorted her into
the living room. "Have a seat anywhere. I'm too old to stand
on formality anymore." She sat on the sofa while Martin
fetched the tea service.
After they had both been served, Dr. Saegusa said, "It is a
great pleasure to finally meet you, Professor Martin."
Martin sipped his tea and grimaced, belatedly remembering
how much he hated it. His wife had always served it to
guests and the old habits still lingered.
"Doctor Saegusa," he said, "the shingle on my wall may
state that I have warmed enough classroom seats to earn a
doctorate, but I never felt the need to inflict my views
on impressionable undergraduates. I'm just an old news hound
with ink under his nails. For what it's worth, the degree is
Dr. Saegusa looked at him, puzzled. "Beg your pardon?"
"Nothing." He smiled warmly. "Just call me 'Martin'.
Everybody else does."
"Thank you...Martin-san. You may call me Miki."
He laughed. "Close enough. So what brings you all the way
from Japan? I was somewhat surprised when my publisher
forwarded your request. What interest could you have in an
old man like me?"
Miki paused a moment. "Godzilla."
Martin silently examined the young woman's face. "So. Him."
"Several times in the past," she explained, "I have assisted
the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center in Tokyo.
I do not work for them in an official capacity, which is why
I did not mention them by name in the letter. One of the things
I noticed in helping them was a lack of source material on the
subject. So I'm doing research for a book on Godzilla that I
hope will change that."
"I see. But...um...didn't someone already write one?" He
paused to think. "Yes, I believe it was called 'The Birth of
Godzilla.' I even tried to read it once. Of course not
knowing a whit of Japanese, it put me right to sleep..."
Martin smiled slightly. But the small joke was lost on the
young woman. Miki only looked uncomfortable.
"Terasawa-san, the author, is a friend of mine," she said,
all but squirming in her seat. "But his book was...somewhat
less than scholarly."
Martin laughed. "So delicately put. I take it he's a tabloid
"Beg you pardon?"
Finally understanding, Miki smiled, demure and embarrassed.
"Well, I don't know how I can be of any help to you. To be
honest, my memory of those days is rather faded with age."
"I was quite surprised to find that you had never written
anything about your experience in Japan, considering that
you witnessed the beginning of it."
Martin shrugged and gestured toward the photos on the
mantlepiece...his wife, children, grandchildren, weddings,
friends and places. "I wanted to, but things intervened."
Martin's voice rose slightly. "In truth, Dr. Saegusa, I
don't remember those days very well. I was a young man then
and now I am old. People forget things. I am terribly sorry
if you came all this way hoping otherwise."
His tone, combined with the steadiness of his still young-
looking blue eyes, closed the topic for good. He could see
that, despite her remarkable reserve, she was disappointed.
But he remained firm -- he did not remember. Perhaps out of
embarrassment for her forwardness, she deftly changed the
subject. They talked of inconsequential things...of books,
travels, his family. She never again broached the subject
for which she had come 6,000 miles to see him.
And after a time that was not too short nor too long, Miki
thanked him for his hospitality and got up to leave. At the
door, before she turned to go, Martin thought he saw
something new in her eyes. Not disappointment or
embarrassment, as he might have expected, but something
like...sorrow, directed at him, for him. But he just
dismissed it and closed the door behind her.
Alone again, his hand on the doorknob began to throb. He
clutched it to his chest and waited for it to subside.
Tokyo is burning.
Everywhere Martin turns from his eighth floor vantage point,
flames leap up, casting a low ceiling of cloud into an angry
red. The heat is overpowering. Looking out the broken window
in front of him is like staring into a blast furnace. Trying
to breath is like sucking in the air above a roaring kiln.
He chokes on the rising ashes of burning buildings and
wooden houses. He nearly retches from the sickly-sweet smell
of boiling flesh and fat.
The sound of ambulances and fire trucks reaches him, but
they are tinny and distant, offering no hope of consolation.
No matter how many there are, he knows in his aching heart
they are not enough. For the sounds of human suffering are
far closer...in the same room, beneath the window, all
around, drowning him in dreadful noise and filling him with
an awful sense of his own impotence.
There is a stabbing pain in his temple and his eyes go
unfocused for a terrifying moment. He touches his forehead
and his fingers come away slick and metallic in the hell-
light. A wave of dizziness washes over him, and he almost
falls to the floor, somehow managing to grab the windowsill.
Unnoticed, the paint there is bubbling from the heat and he
pulls away with a shriek of pain, clutching his wounded hand
to his chest.
Then he hears it. The pain is forgotten as the new sound
quickly drowns out all the rest. Like a giant heartbeat, it
grows louder and louder. Then he feels it. The vibration
comes up through the soles of his feet. It races along his
spine and shakes every bone in his body like seismic
temblors. It seems to go on forever and ever, the sound, the
vibration rising and rising, until he thinks he will go mad.
All at once it stops. The light of burning Tokyo is
extinguished by something standing in front of the building.
Martin's fear is so primitive he cannot move, cannot think.
In the window, a gigantic eye opens and stares at him.
Reflected in the immense brown iris, Martin sees himself...
Martin jerked awake. His heartbeat thrummed in his throat
and chest. He stared around at the darkness of his bedroom.
The drapes were pulled back and the window ajar. Outside a
bright moon illuminated the landscape. A gentle breeze
cooled his sweaty brow. He felt the dampness on his pillow
and knew there would be no more sleep for him that night.
The meeting with Dr. Saegusa earlier that day had irritated
him more than he'd admitted. He needed to re-establish his
equilibrium and there was only one way to do that. He
dressed quickly and left the house through the back door.
Despite the light, the corner of the hedgerow was obscured.
He moved slowly back there, with the exaggerated care of an
old man. Then he found the small opening and passed through.
The stairs leading down to the private beach were weathered
and cracked. Martin descended, hands tight on the handrail,
until he felt his shoes scuff the white sand. The moonlit
ocean surf was quiet as he followed the cliff wall, brushing
his fingers along until he found the alcove he had hewn out
of the rock many years before.
Resting inside the niche, there was a small pedestal hidden
by the shadows. To one side lay a waterproof box of incense
sticks and a pack of matches. When he pulled one out and lit
it, the flickering light of the match momentarily revealed
the kanji carved above: "Remember." It was the only Japanese
word he could draw. He set the now smoldering stick and
silently prayed, remembering the faces.
Sometime later, he didn't know how long, he heard the soft
sound of someone approaching through the sand behind him. He
did not have to look to know who it was.
"How did you know?" he asked.
"I can...sense things," Miki said, quietly.
Martin nodded. He had witnessed many things in his long life.
Many strange and wonderful and terrible things. And so her
reply, as vague as it might have been, was answer enough.
"Before I left Japan," he said, "my newspaper sent me to
Hiroshima to cover the 10th anniversary. One morning I was
standing by the memorial to the dead. An old man walked up,
but we didn't speak at all. There was nothing to say. We just
stood there, side by side, lost in our own thoughts. After a
while, I moved to leave. But before I could move a dozen
steps, the old man suddenly grew furious. There was such
hatred and pain in his eyes. He screamed something at me, I
don't know what, and then spit on me. And he hobbled away,
cursing me at every step. The spit ran down my cheek but
I couldn't wipe it away."
Martin looked at the young Japanese woman standing there in
the sand. But she was silent, her face partially hidden by
"The old man's saliva...it *burned* me," he continued at
last, "but I couldn't move my hands to wipe it clean.
Because I deserved it. Because I was to blame for his pain.
I didn't build the bomb, I didn't push the button. Yet I was
still to blame."
Thinking of that moment, even now so many years later,
Martin's heart was suddenly seized with the same pain
he had felt then. As tears burned in the corners of his
eyes, his chest tightened, his breath turned to a ragged
"Let me help you," Miki said softly. "I can take away the
memories. You would not have to suffer anymore."
"Could you?" Martin's voice cracked. In her eyes, he saw his
own pain reflected there, and he believed her. He didn't
know how she could do what she said she could, but he
believed her implicitly. For a moment, he thought of the
life that might have been, a life without the memories and
the pain, a life in which he might have given all the love
that his wife and children had deserved. Love that had been
denied by the burden of the memories it had been his duty to
keep. But then he shook his head. That was a dream, and he
was far too old for that. Dreams were luxuries for the
"No," Martin said weakly, and then harder as his resolve
reasserted itself: "No." He drew his arm roughly across his
eyes. "I have to remember. It is important that I remember."
He looked at Miki. "Do you understand?"
There were tears in her eyes now as well, tears and
something else. As if she somehow knew more than he had
said. "Wakarimashta. But why only you? Why do you have to
bear it all?"
"I don't know. I never really thought about it. Strength of
character, perhaps?" Martin chuckled ironically. "It just
seemed to me that no one else was willing to except it."
Miki smiled. "Then would you like to at least share it? If
only for tonight?"
Martin wondered if she truly knew what she was asking, but
her eyes shown with sincerity. The pain hadn't been the
worst thing. Being alone, truly alone, that had been worse
by far. All those long years alone with a debt to the dead.
The dead of Hiroshima. Of Nagasaki. And, of course, Tokyo
during those terrible nights in 1954.
Miki held out her hand. Martin hesitated, then he took it
gently. Immediately he felt the power she possessed flare
through him like a white light. Her compassion was almost
overwhelming in its purity, and he nearly panicked, shying
from it as he would from an open flame. But he merely had
been alone too long and he had forgotten that not all fires
burn. And with this belated understanding, the fear soon
passed, and he gave himself freely to the warmth.
Standing together, they held hands until the dawn, looking
out over the ever-changing ocean toward a distant land that
neither could see, except in their memories. Memories both
freshly vivid and faded with age.
And for that night, Martin was not alone. For that night,
and that night only, he had someone to help him remember.
"No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."
-- S.J. Lec