Second Sun

Yoko Peters sits beneath vaulted ceilings supported by gothic arches as light filters through a faux skylight and begins speaking about August 6th, 1945 like it was yesterday. “I was sipping water from a foundation,” Peters explains, “when a brilliant light shined like a second sun.” She interrupts herself, gets up from table five and walks across a terrazzo floor to take a customer's order.

“Cheeseburger no bun, extra mayo," orders the man seated in a high-backed booth, made of dark mahogany paneling. His friend orders a turkey piccata. Having waited tables for over 40 years, Peters is the oldest server at Portland’s oldest restaurant, Huber’s CafĂ©. Walking towards an archaic computer, Peters enters all the modifiers into a computer order before mumbling "Bakatare.”

In Japanese, baka means idiot and tare means little. "Why can't they just stick to the menu, its already good?" Peters ask rhetorically. After filling some coffee and iced tea, she returns to table five, sits down and continues talking.

Following the explosion of light, a heat wave propagates across the landscape. Light unfolds before Peters' eyes and she falls to the ground thinking this was another bombing raid. As quickly as the wind and heat arrive they ebb, leaving destruction and silence in the wake.

At five years old, Peters had the sense to know something was wrong. Everything had stopped; trains, cars nothing was moving. Nearby were the charred remains of a body leaning against the wall and Peters was unable to tell whether it was a girl or boy. Skin draped on bone, hanging like a Christmas ornament too heavy for its branch. Looking around there were many more bodies littering the ground. The temperature was rising in the land of the rising sun and by days end thermometers would swell past 100 degrees. Peters gets up from table five and walks over to table ten.

Table ten pays their tab but wants change for a parking meter. "What do I look like Bank of Tokyo?" Peters quips. The customers do not receive her commentary well. An experienced waitress, Peters always has change but never likes to dole small bills or coins out. She returns to table five.

Frightened Peters runs home to find her immediate family safe and her home intact except the roof was missing. That night the family slept together in the living room together, huddled beneath a roof of constellations. They were safe but had no idea about the safety of their family. The next day the extent of the damage became more apparent. What the explosion did not destroy, the subsequent fires ravaged the wood and paper framed houses. The town of Kio filled with the soot and acrid smoke, "burning day and night like a sunset," Peters explains.

"Something had to be done about the bodies," Peters shutters before continuing. "They had to burn the bodies for health reasons.” Despite the sheer number of dead, some unknown government agency carried out the macabre task.

The corpses were rounded up and taken to a grammar school; their faces covered by straw and blankets. Peters remembers one woman's hand was outstretched, scratching air. Placed like Lincoln Logs, the bodies were doused on kerosene before being disposed. "I can still remember the smell. I will always remember that smell."

She shutters, walks across the terrazzo floor towards the kitchen to pick up the turkey piccata and cheeseburger no mayo. "Anything else I can get for you?" Peters asks. "No," they respond. Peters walks back over to table five and cries while a restaurant of people ate food.