A palm-of-the-hand story by Yasunari Kawabata you ought to read

Before there was flash fiction, Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata was writing very short pieces he called Palm-of-the-Hand stories. He wrote about 140 we know of, half of which were collected in a book last year, published by FSG Classics. Some of his stories are in the public domain, and even just a few years ago it was very easy to find them online. Now it’s no piece of cake, but I did find this copy of God’s Bones, which is such a powerful work.

A young waitress has a baby who passes away after a day and a half, and she sends a share of the baby’s ashes, the God’s bones of the title, to five men – any of whom could be the father. The men are listed at the story’s beginning – a managing director, an actor, a medical student, a restaurateur, and one other. The main part of the story is the devastating letter from the waitress, destroying these men. And it ends with pure badassery!

But what we like most in this piece is that it was only on the second read we asked ourself about the one other man to receive a letter. He’s barely acknowledged in the story. Hidden away in the first paragraph, not even given a name, and, unlike the first four men, the one other is never mentioned again. And why?

Presumably, the one other man was no other than the man telling the story himself, too ashamed to do any more than hide and act like this all happened distantly and removed. The writer is the fifth man to disappoint the waitress! It’s a detail only close reading would reveal, and yet it adds so much. Love it!

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