The short story “Autumn Gardening” gives students a new way to understand perspective of the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This unique perspective of a survivor of one of the bombs is meant to point out to readers that there is always more than one side to a story.
Mariko goes out into her yard in November to do some chores. She has received a letter from her friend, Mitsuye, who has asked her to come to an anniversary event of the Hiroshima bombings to tell her story.
Mariko is hesitant to agree to Mitsuye’s request. She has a lot of lingering survivor’s guilt, and she does not want to make her status as a survivor known. She’s afraid of losing her health insurance.
As Mariko sits in her yard, she remembers how she and Mitsuye had been on opposite sides of Hiroshima that day. Mariko blames the scarring on her face for why she never got married, and she feels a flood of fresh guilt at having survived.
Mariko almost trips over a garden rake is overcome by emotions. She flashes back to August 1945, when she was a nurse at the Taruya Surgical Clinic and had to triage victims of the bombing with dwindling supplies. Eventually, she had to choose between victims who looked like they could be saved and those who could not.
Mariko continues reading the letter and a phrase stands out to her: “We can speak for the dead.” Mariko begins to wonder if that is why she survived: so she could give a voice to all of the people she watched die that day.
Mariko decides to weed out the garden beds for the spring, and to bear witness alongside Mitsuye next year. This opportunity, she feels, has given her a new purpose in life, just like the flowers will have new life in the spring.