The Great Wave by Lisa Thornton

Runner Up - The 2024 We Love Short Shorts Contest

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painting of three boats toss in a storm with Mt. Fuji in the background.

My son loves Under the Wave off Kanagawa, the Japanese woodblock print by Hokusai. He has loved it since he saw it on television as a toddler.

Three boats toss in a storm with Mt. Fuji in the background. A great wave is suspended in an arc, just beginning to crest.

What does he love? The tempest? The licking, reaching foam? Does he think it will all be okay? I’ve seen footage from a tsunami. He hasn’t. I’ve seen the dead face of someone I love.

The boats tip. One drives directly into the wave. How can he love this fear? This uncertainty? What about all those men in the boats? Hunched over, rowing? Worried looks on their faces. Will they make it? We don’t know, of course, because there is no Under the Wave off Kanagawa Part II.

Maybe that’s what he loves, the drama. The frozen, ultimate moment.

Does he think I will keep him safe? Does he think I, his mother, can hold back the wave?

A poster of the print hangs above my son’s bed. I gaze at the deep blues at night, putting him to sleep. The pale sky. The snow-tipped mountain serene in the background. I don’t know what I can do.

Can I prepare him for the loss of the boats? Can I prepare him for the loss of men? I tuck him in and turn off the light. I can be here when the wave breaks.

Meet the Contributor

lisa thorntonLisa Thornton is a writer and nurse. She has work in SmokeLong Quarterly, JMWW Journal, Pithead Chapel and other literary magazines. She has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and Bridport Flash Fiction Prize. She lives in Illinois with her husband and son and can be found on Twitter/X @thorntonforreal.

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