Sadness marked all of Masako Harada’s life. And now after 80 years, she was dying of cancer alone in a hospital in Los Angeles. Both her son and husband died during World War II: her son drowning in the Snake River in the Minidoka Relocation Camp and her husband fighting on the battlefield in Italy a month before the end of the war. She feared facing her husband and son Bobby in the afterlife. So Masako clung tenaciously to life.
The young doctor scratched his reddish-brown beard as he sat down at the computer to document Masako’s final decline. He felt her pulse as she tried to suck air into her failing lungs in shallow rasping breaths from an oxygen mask. The machinery that kept her alive beeped rhythmically. She had rallied earlier today after weeks of listlessness. Her throat rattled.
A middle-aged nurse came in with a tray of medications. “How is she doing?” the doctor inquired.
“It is amazing she is still alive,” the nurse said, straightening her uniform. “She keeps speaking to a boy she calls Bobby in Japanese.”
“The cancer has spread all over her body,” the doctor said. “Keep her comfortable. That is all we can do.”
After the nurse attached a syringe of morphine to Masako’s IV, the doctor and nurse left the room. The nurse sat down at the nurses’ station. Light streamed from the doorway of Room 328.
Alex dreaded going to school. The other boys bullied him. “Japs ahoy!” they said even though Alex was Chinese American, not Japanese. He wished his family had never moved to Idaho.
In Los Angeles, Chinese kids and kids from around the world were everywhere. But here in Idaho, he and his little sister Amy were the only Asians at the school. His father, a nuclear engineer, worked at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls. He had a few Mexican and Indian students in his class. But most of the children and nearly all the teachers were white. The white kids were bad enough. Carlos, a large Hispanic kid on his baseball team, was the worst of all.
Mrs. Jenson, his fifth-grade teacher, took the class to Minidoka National Historic Site to teach the children about diversity. Minidoka was one of ten concentration camps that housed 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry who lived in Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington during World War II. Gone were the tarpaper army barracks that once housed the 13,000 inmates. Only the concrete foundations remained.
At Minidoka, Alex kept hearing footsteps shuffling behind him. But whenever he turned to see who was following him, no one was there.
Although Alex was the last one to get on the bus back to school, he thought he heard someone get on behind him. But when Alex turned there was no one behind him. Alex’s classmates learned little from the experience. “I say they are still Japs,” Walter said.
Maria, his only friend at school, started avoiding him. “Why don’t you stand up for yourself,” she whispered to him one day.
But Alex’s mother told him he must bear it. “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you,” his mother said. But words did hurt him.
One day at baseball practice, Alex was standing at second base when Carlos ran over him, knocking him down. As Alex got up and dusted himself off, the other kids laughed at him.
“Carlos, Alex is your teammate,” Coach Johnson said. He made the team run laps around the bases. All the other kids liked Carlos because he was the best hitter on the team.
After the practice, Coach Johnson asked Alex to stay behind and helped him carry the equipment bag to his car. “Son,” he said, “I would like to help you but I can’t. It will only make things worse. You have to learn to stand up for yourself.”
Alex’s mother waited for him at her SUV. She waived to the coach. “How was baseball practice?” she asked Alex.
“Everything was great,” he said.
But something in his voice said everything was not great.
The next morning when Alex got on the school bus and sat down he saw a little Asian boy in his yard with a baseball mitt watching him.
Goro and his fellow soldiers, members of the 442nd Regimental Combat team, climbed the steep precipice of Mount Folgorito in an attempt to break the Gothic line, the German defensive line that stretched across the Italian peninsula. Several comrades fell silently to their death, not uttering a sound.
The 442nd was an all-Japanese American combat unit with white officers. By the end of the war, they had become the most decorated unit of its size and duration of fighting in the history of the United States. The unit had previously spearheaded the breakout at Anzio and rescued the “Lost Battalion” in the Vosges Mountains.
When General DeWitt decided to incarcerate the West Coast Japanese Americans, Gen. Mark Clark opposed him. Now, the Japanese American fighting force was one of his most dependable units. The motto of the unit was “Go for broke.”
Another comrade lost his footing in the dark, and weighted down by his equipment, lost his balance and fell into the abyss below. I may die here in this foreign land. If I fall, they may never even find my body. He remembered his nightmares, telling him he would soon die. Goro put it out of his mind. This was just his imagination. The war would be soon over.
While training, the men often spoke about their love for America. Half the men were from Hawaii and the other men were from the continental United States. The men from Hawaii were free. Most of the men from the continental United States had been imprisoned in concentration camps. Goro’s family was at Minidoka in Idaho.
Goro took a deep breath. He thought about his wife Masako and son Bobby, waiting for him at Minidoka. He heard the words of his mother: “Gaman, we will endure.” He resolved to make it up the cliff.
The nurse came into Masako’s room. The doctor followed her. Masako had gone into cardiac arrest. The doctor began CPR. Masako’s late father appeared in her room and sat on her bed.
Masako left her body, floating above the doctor and nurse trying to save her life. Another doctor ran into her room. Masako was now bathed in light. She peered down the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel her father and mother beckoned her to join them.
The light spoke to her. “Everything will be okay.”
She was a baby growing up in a small village in Japan. Then an eighteen-year-old mail order bride on a ship to America. She was to marry Goro, a young American born Japanese man, serving in the army. For her American style wedding, she wore white. Goro looked so handsome in his new suit. She was pleased.
She quietly made love with Goro, in their tar paper covered barracks in the Idaho desert. The barracks housed five families, strangers separated by cloth partitions. The camp was hot and dusty during the summer and freezing during the winter. It was the last time she saw him alive.
Then she saw herself waiting for camp officials to tell her that her 10-year-old son Bobby had drowned in the river. She had many times dreamed he would drown before they told her.
She had to identify his body. The doctor handed her his clothes. Bobby had a stick of juicy fruit gum in his shirt pocket. His hair was still wet when she saw his lifeless body. His face was swollen. Her mother told her ”Shikata ga nai, it cannot be helped.”
She never told Goro that their son had died. When she wrote to Goro she always told him that Bobby was playing baseball. Oh, how Bobby loved baseball. How could she ever face Goro?
Before Bobby was buried, Masako laid his baseball glove in his coffin. Oh, how Bobby loved his Marty Marion baseball mitt!
After baseball practice, Alex finished his regular school work. He took a look at the baseball box scores in the newspapers. The Dodgers won yesterday. He then completed his extra packages of math homework provided by a special on-line course his mother had enrolled him in. It was past midnight.
“Is everything finished?” his mother asked.
“You know I do not push you for myself,” his mother said. “I am pushing you so you will have opportunity in the future. Do you understand?”
She looked over his homework. “You made a mistake. Do you see you made a mistake?”
“Yes, mother, I will redo it.”
“You can’t afford to make mistakes like this. You are not careful enough. Your father and I did not get to Harvard by luck. We had to be perfect.”
Alex took out his pencil and redid the math problem.
His mother looked it over again. “Okay, now it is fine.”
Alex climbed into bed.
“Is there something bothering you?”
“I know there is. I can tell. Did something happen at baseball practice?
“Baseball is not important,” she said. “It is not going to help you get into an Ivy league school. We are going to take tennis lessons this summer.”
That night, Alex was visited in his dreams by a Japanese American boy named Bobby dressed in a rolled up cotton shirt and khaki pants. The boy stood outside Alex’s window in the backyard with his baseball mitt, an old Marty Marion glove from the 1930s. He motioned Alex to come outside. He was the same Asian boy Alex had seen in his yard with a baseball mitt.
Alex quickly dressed and grabbed his Ken Griffey, Jr. glove, removing the string tied around the baseball in the pocket.
“Do you want some gum?” the boy asked. “Juicy fruit.”
“My mom doesn’t allow me to chew gum,” Alex replied. “Sugar is bad for the teeth.”
“Suit yourself. Can I see your glove?”
Alex handed the boy his baseball mitt.
“Who’s Ken Griffey, Jr.?” the boy asked.
“One of the great baseball players.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Black? Black players don’t play in the major leagues,” the boy said.
“Haven’t you heard of Jackie Robinson?”
“Never heard of him.”
“Mrs. Jenson said he broke the color line. That is my number. 42.”
“Huh,” the boy said. “Interesting. My name is Bobby.”
“My name is Alex.”
“Are you Japanese?”
“No, I’m Chinese.”
“Well, Alex, let’s see what you got.”
Bobby was small but strong. When he threw the ball, it stung in the mitt.
“How do you throw so hard?” Alex asked.
“You have to raise your arm,” Bobby said. “You throw like a girl.”
“Yeah. Better. Here, catch this one. Fly ball!”
“Can you hit?”
“Will you teach me?”
“Let’s play some pepper. I will first teach you how to bunt.”
“Can I see your mitt? It looks like the kind of old glove Babe Ruth wore. Wow, there is no pocket.”
“I took all the stuffing out,” Bobby said. “I like to feel the ball.”
“It looks like it hurts.”
“Gaman!” Bobby said. “We will endure.”
Goro and his comrades charged the surprised German defenders. He could hear the rattle of gunfire and blasts of grenades as they moved forward. He could hear the bullets like little hornets as they whizzed by his head. Goro and his comrades charged the small farmhouse on top of the mountain and as others laid down covering fire.
Goro saw a German soldier in the window. He stopped, lifted his M-1 rifle, quickly aimed and fired, hitting the soldier in the chest.
As Goro waved his squad forward, a large explosion engulfed his body. Goro felt himself flying in the air in slow motion. When he hit the ground, he was consumed in fire.
A comrade tried to put out the flames. “Goro! Goro! Can you hear me? Medic! Medic!”
A medic cut his jacket from his right arm, cleaned his upper arm and then injected morphine into his arm. “Gaman,” Goro said before he lost consciousness.
Masako wandered about the knee-high grass of the meadow, filled with the most beautiful flowers – chrysanthemums, dandelions, orchids, tulips, roses and sunflowers. The sky was a cloudless pastel blue, the purest blue she had ever seen in all her life. A river babbled from beyond the treeline.
Butterflies, bees and dragonflies filled this Garden of Eden, flying from flower to flower. A cardinal called from the nearby forest. A cool wind blew against her face, filling her nose with the sumptuous fragrance of the meadow.
A large horse with a shiny black coat and a braided mane ran toward Masako. “Welcome to Elysian Fields,” he said.
When Goro awoke, his comrades were carrying him on a stretcher. Strangely, he could not feel anything. He had a premonition that his son Bobby was dead. “Where is Bobby?” he croaked.
“Hang on, buddy,” the medic said. “We’ve got to get you to the doctor.”
Goro asked the medic to show him the picture of his wife and son. The medic took out the photograph from his burned jacket. He showed him the torn and partially burned photograph.
The mortally wounded man began to shake and convulse. The stretcher bearers set him down.
Goro found himself floating above his comrades. He could see the stretcher bearers calling to him, as blood ran from his mouth. “C’mon, Goro,” said one of the stretcher bearers. “You are going to make it.”
At the baseball game on Saturday, Coach Johnson looked at Alex after the second inning. “Chen, right field.”
The game was tied at 2-2. The first two hitters struck out and then the third hitter doubled. The next hitter hit a fly ball to Alex.
“Oh, Christ,” said Carlos who was playing shortstop.
“C’mon Alex, just like we practiced,” Bobby said. Alex started to circle under the ball, his heart pounding so loud he could hear it. “Gaman!” Bobby said. To everyone’s amazement, Alex caught the baseball. The parents cheered.
As Alex ran in from the outfield, the players patted him on the back and shook his hand. Even Carlos shook his hand.
“Great catch, Chen,” Coach Johnson said. “Now, let’s get some runs on the board.”
The first batter popped out. Alex was the next one up.
Alex got in the left side of the batter’s box.
“I hope he walks,” Carlos said. The other players snickered.
Alex to everyone’s surprise laid down a drag bunt. “C’mon Chen!” Coach Johnson said. No one could deny that Alex could fly.
The third baseman could only pick up the ball and hold it.
Alex looked into the dugout. Coach Johnson looked him in the eye and then grabbed his right ear lobe, the steal sign.
When the pitcher released the ball to the plate, Alex broke for second. He could feel his cleats dig into the dirt as he accelerated.
The catcher threw the ball in the dirt and it skipped into the outfield. Alex ran to third base and then slid.
The hitter struck out.
Now, Carlos came to the plate. He smashed a line drive into left field and Alex scored.
The kids for the next game were arriving and warming up.
Carlos came in to pitch the last inning. He struck out all three hitters. The Dodgers won the game 3-2.
The players gathered in a circle. “Two, four, six, eight! Who do we appreciate? The Reds, The Reds, Yay!” The players threw their gloves into the air. The two teams then lined up and slapped each others’ hands.
The black stallion transformed into Goro, as young as he was their last day together. He held out his hand and smiled. She was so startled she momentarily forgot about her fear of facing Goro about their son Bobby’s death. When Goro took Masako’s hand in his hand, she too became young again.
“Now, let’s find Bobby,” he said.
Her heart sank and she pulled her hand away. “You know about Bobby?”
Goro kissed her cheek. “Let’s find Bobby.”
The next game, Alex batted leadoff and started in right field. Alex and Bobby continued to practice at night.
Both Alex’s team, the Dodgers, and the opposing team, the Giants, were undefeated and tied for first place. The Giants’ pitcher Smith was the hardest-throwing pitcher in the league.
As Smith warmed up at the start of the game, Bobby whispered in Alex’s ear. “If you see one that you can lay the bat on, bunt it. Remember, let the ball hit the bat.”
The first pitch was a rocket. Alex swung and missed. Pop. He could hear it hit the catcher’s glove. “This kid can’t hit,” the catcher said. “Put it down the middle.”
The next pitch came down the middle. Alex laid down a perfect bunt down the third-base line and then tore down to first base. “Safe!” said the umpire on the late throw.
Alex then stole second base and then third base. The second hitter walked and Carlos hit a homerun. 3-0.
The next time Alex came up, Smith threw the pitch at his head. Alex hit the ground. The catcher laughed.
The umpire said: “I want no more of this. The next pitcher to throw at a hitter will be outta here.”
Bobby whispered in Alex’s ear. “Drag one down the first base line and when the pitcher moves to field it, let him have it. Gaman!”
The next pitch was right over the plate. Alex laid down the bunt down the first base line. When Smith bent to field it, Alex tumbled into him full force, sending him sprawling to the ground.
The Giants coach came running out. “He should be out. He did that intentionally.”
“Part of the game,” the umpire said.
Alex stole second and third base. Carlos hit a high fly ball to centerfield. The centerfielder timed the ball, hanging back and then running forward at the last moment to get momentum into his throw home.
“Tag,” Bobby whispered to Alex as he was waiting on their base until the centerfielder caught the ball. As soon as the centerfielder caught the ball, the third-base coach yelled “Go!”
Alex raced home, his cleats digging into the dirt as he ran home. “If the catcher blocks the plate, knock him over,” Bobby said.
Alex the catcher and the ball met at home plate at the same time. Alex crashed into the catcher, dressed in a panoply of full gear. In the end, the catcher lay on his back, the ball rolling away. The umpire crossed his arms and then spread them wide. “Safe!” The Dodgers won 4-0.
Coach Johnson gave Alex the game ball.
“Man, that was tough playing,” Carlos said.
“Gaman!” Alex replied.
The sun was going down. The last players had left the baseball field. Bobby stood at second base, pretending to scoop up a ground ball and throwing to first base. “Son, we knew we’d find you here at the baseball field,” Goro told Bobby. “Time to go home.” Goro was dressed in his Sunday best, gray flannel suit and black dress shoes.
“But there are more games next week,” Bobby protested.
“Look who is here,” Goro told Bobby, putting his arm around Bobby’s shoulder and pointing to the black Packard in the parking lot. “Your mother is waiting for us in the car.”
Bobby looked up at his father in surprise.
“Time to come home, Bobby.”
Mark Kodama is a trial attorney and former newspaper reporter who lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two sons. He is currently working on Las Vegas Tales, a work of philosophy, sugar-coated with meter and rhyme and told through stories. More than 150 of his short stories, poems and essays have been published in anthologies, including those published by Black Hare Press, Clarendon Publishing House, Eerie River Publishing, Escaped Ink Press and Devil’s Party Press. His stories and poems have appeared in Writers and Readers Magazine, the Academy of Hearts and Mind Magazine, Café Lit, Commuter Lit, Dastaan World Magazine, Dissident Voice, Jakob’s Horror Box, Indie’s Nest, Inner Circle Writers’ Group Magazine, Literary Yard, Magazine of History and Fiction, Mercurial Stories, Portland Metrozine, Potato Soup Journal, PPP Ezine, Spillwords, Tuck Magazine and World of Myths Magazine. His stories and poems appear in Ancients, Apocalypse, Blaze, Cadence, Unravel, Dragon Bone Soup, Enigma, Fox Hollow Stories, Glamour, Hate, Tall Tales and Short Stories, Gleam, Fireburst, Latin Anthology, Maelstrom, Pride, Tempest and What Sort of Fuckery Is This? “Land of the Pharaohs” won Story of the Month at World of Myths and “The Summer Camp” appears in Potato Soup Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1 (Best of).