Ume | By Kelly Luce


It was her best, if a bit outdated: silk from Harada, the print and colors elegant, not too feminine. When meeting another woman’s husband, one ought not overstate things. She twisted her hair upwards and pinned the bundle with a black lacquered kanzashi, revealing a finger’s width of skin above her collar. The first time he’d kissed her there, he’d shuddered. He called her ume, after the mouth-puckering sweet and sour plum.

Afterward, she walked outside. Stooped figures tottered, flesh and clothing hanging from bones like rags. Only a few cried out. It was as if the world had gone mute, as if the air through which sound normally traveled had been vacuumed away. It burned, so they went to the water. After a couple of hours, the rivers filled with bodies. Maggots took up in the limbs of the dead and dying.

Every time she closed her eyes, a bulb flashed and a vision of umeboshi filled her mind. The pickled plum was a deep shade of pink and wrinkled like a grandmother. She couldn’t help but experience, over and over, the moment before the first bite, the way the mouth watered.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Wikimedia Commons – “The patient’s skin is burned in a pattern corresponding to the dark portions of a kimono worn at the time of the explosion,” c. 1945, National Archives and Records Administration College Park

Kelly Luce’s debut story collection, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, is forthcoming from A Strange Object in October 2013. She’s currently a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, TX. Find her online here.