When the Cherry Blossoms Fell

BOOK: When the Cherry Blossoms Fell
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When the
Cherry Blossoms


Text © 2009 Jennifer Maruno

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, digital, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior consent of the publisher.

Cover art and design by Vasiliki Lenis / Emma Dolan

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program.

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) for our publishing activities.

Napoleon Publishing

an imprint of Napoleon & Company

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


13 12 11   5

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Maruno, Jennifer, date-

When the cherry blossoms fell / Jennifer Maruno.

ISBN 978-1-894917-83-4

1. Japanese Canadians--Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945--Juvenile fiction. I. Title.

PS8626.A785W48 2009



Dedicated to
Eiko Kitagawa Maruno.

March 1942

When Michiko arrived home from school, her father's square black case waited on the hardwood floor beside the front door. She sighed. It meant he was leaving. She had hoped he wouldn't go before her birthday. Next week she would be nine.

Itsamu Minagawa, “Sam” to all his friends, was a travelling salesman. His leather sample case carried a selection of fine chocolates and candy. The Imperial Confectionary Company of Canada was sending him on the road again.

The late afternoon sun streamed through the diamond-shaped panels of red glass in the front door. It gave the two cranes on the silk panel hanging above the hall table a rosy glow. Michiko placed her school books on the table, next to a black enamel vase. It looked like it held bare branches, but she knew they would soon be bursting with colour. Her mother was always coaxing something into bloom, even while the landscape slept.

Michiko entered the living room and flopped into a wide-winged armchair. Her small brother Hiro sat on the carpet next to the piano, banging a wooden spoon against
a metal rice pot. Her mother was playing, while her father, in the matching chair, clapped in time to the music.

Michiko gnawed at the tip of her long, dark pigtail. “How long will you be gone?” she asked her father.

“Only a week,” he replied. “The children of the world are running out of candy.”

Michiko didn't return his smile. She needed to talk to him about something that had happened at school that day.

She glanced around the front room of the brick bungalow she had lived in since she was born. On the mantle was a collection of photographs. She knew her mother and father had lived in a different part of Vancouver before she was born. Michiko wondered if that was what the girl at school had meant when she'd told Michiko her family should go back to where they came from. Did the girl think her family should move back to the old neighbourhood, where Aunt Sadie and her grandfather still lived?

Michiko thought about the delicious smells that wafted out of the restaurants in that part of town. She loved to peer into the shop windows at the rows of women pedalling sewing machines, or watch the printing press stamping out wide sheets of paper. The only thing she didn't like were the tubs of fresh fish, knowing they were about to become someone's dinner. She always wanted to tip the barrels and set them free.

Finally, her father Sam hitched up the leg of his pants and kneeled before Hiro. He stroked Hiro's little round face, mussed his hair and planted a kiss on top of his
head. “Goodbye, my little Peach Boy,” Sam murmured. Then he looked up at Michiko and winked.

Last night, her father had told her the tale of a boy born from a peach. He tried to convince her that Hiro had come from a giant peach they'd found at the market in Japantown. Her father was always teasing.

Eiko, her mother, removed the sheets of music from the piano ledge and placed them inside the bench. She wasn't wearing the same clothes she'd had on at breakfast. She had changed from her cornflower print dress and apron into a pink wool skirt and matching sweater. Around her neck lay a single strand of perfectly matched pearls.

Michiko knew there was no time left to talk with her father. She also knew her mother wouldn't explain properly. All she ever said, whether Michiko asked about the blackouts, or the broken windows down the street, was “These are terrible times.”

Eiko removed Sam's heavy wool coat from the closet and held it open for him. He was proud of this coat, hand-tailored and made to measure. The first time he'd worn it, he told Michiko there was a nose hidden inside, and she shook her head in disbelief. His heavy lidded round eyes sparkled when he showed her the label. Stitched in yellow, across the grey silk rectangle, were the words Matsumia and Nose, Quality Clothes. He'd pulled her inside and wrapped it around her as they'd laughed at his joke.

Now Sam slipped in his arms and buttoned it up. He removed his dark felt fedora from its peg and placed it
firmly on his head. Then he picked up his case. “Goodbye, Eiko,” Sam said. He kissed her on the cheek. Then he kissed Hiro and Michiko. His breath smelled of mint candy. “Take care of yourselves,” he whispered.

Michiko followed him out on to the verandah. The scents and colours of their front garden were hidden, the lawn and hedge dusted with snow.

Her mother stood in the front bay window to watch and wave. The sleek black Ford with its long square snout pulled down the driveway. Its whitewalled tires reminded Michiko of her father's mints. She watched until the car was out of sight.

“Will he be back for my birthday?” Michiko asked when she came inside.

Her mother nodded. “He's never missed it yet.”

It rained most of the time her father was away. The snow disappeared.

Michiko spent a lot of time after school drawing at the kitchen table. She used to attend Japanese school before dinner, but it had closed. Michiko didn't mind missing the Japanese history lessons, but she did miss the writing lessons. She enjoyed holding the big heavy brush, learning how to make the large strokes of the
on sheets of newspaper.

Crayons of every colour littered the kitchen table. Michiko practiced drawing umbrellas. Each day, her teacher selected a student to record the weather, and
most of the children drew raindrops. One boy just scratched his crayon across the paper and said it was a puddle. Michiko wanted to draw something special. As she drew a Japanese umbrella, Michiko thought about the place where her father and grandfather were born.
One day I will visit Japan
, she decided.

The doorbell rang. Michiko dropped her crayon and ran down the hall.

Her aunt backed inside, closing her bright red umbrella behind her. Her high-heeled shoes left small puddles on the hardwood floor. Parking her umbrella in the enamelled stand, Aunt Sadie placed a large paisley satchel on the floor.

Michiko hoped Aunt Sadie would be staying over. When she was around, everything became fun and glamourous.

Sadie put down her satchel and removed her raincoat. Over her grey, pencil-thin skirt, she wore a long-sleeved white blouse with frills down the front. A red velvet bow peeped out from her collar, above the long row of pearl buttons. Her lips and nails were the same colour as the bow.

Sadie turned to the mirror and admired her hat. “Pretty, isn't it?” she said. She lifted the thin dotted veil away from her eyes and pushed the box of black feathers with red tips upward and off. “I bought it in San Francisco,” she announced, handing it to her niece. “Mr. Maikawa got me a deal. I only paid $2.98.”

Michiko thought her aunt was the luckiest woman in the world. Not only did she work in a dress shop, she
got to travel with her boss and his family. She knew so much about the world.

“Don't tell me you paid three dollars for a hat,” Eiko exclaimed as she greeted Sadie with Hiro on her hip. He was newly awake from his nap, and one of his chubby cheeks still held the red imprint of a crib bar.

“I wanted it,” Sadie responded with a shrug. “So I paid it.”

Michiko cradled the hat as if it were about to fly away. She raised it a bit to look at the sides.
A cake
, she thought.
It looks like a cake of feathers
. She turned to her mother and said, “This cake isn't just as light as a feather, it's made of feathers.”

Both women stared at her.

“Your niece has quite the imagination,” her mother responded, “like someone I know.”

Eiko lowered Hiro to the dining room carpet, and Michiko sat down beside him. Eiko entered the kitchen and returned with a small tray. She set it on top of the white embroidered tablecloth. On it were two black lacquered bowls filled with miso soup. There were small bowls of crisp yellow radish, small green puckered pickles and rice. Michiko had eaten her lunch in the kitchen with Hiro while her mother had made
. It was the special treat she always made for Michiko's birthday. Her mother formed soft white balls around a spoonful of sweet red bean paste then dusted them with powdered sugar.

Michiko watched the two women slide into their chairs. They had similar oval faces, blue-black shiny
hair and soft almond eyes. She knew, even though they looked alike, that they were very different.

Her mother wore her dark hair in a perfectly pinned bun, never a hair out of place. Her aunt's hair, cut in bangs, was level with her ears. Her hair always swung and flew about her face when she talked. And Sadie talked a lot. She flounced into a room, she laughed loudly and always said what she was thinking.

Michiko's mother said very little. She entered a room quietly and spoke softly. She never argued or offered an opinion. She usually made herself invisible.

BOOK: When the Cherry Blossoms Fell
6.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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