Mieko and the Fifth Treasure

  Table of Contents

  Title Page



  Copyright Page












  Author’s Note

  Mieko has lost the most important part of painting—the fifth treasure.

  Mieko wanted to stay home. She was bitter about leaving her parents. She was bitter about leaving her friends. She was frightened about going to a new school And she hated the horrible bomb that had ruined everything.

  “With all the bitterness and hate inside of me,” she thought, “there isn’t room for any beauty.” The fifth treasure was gone.

  “A sensitively and beautifully crafted story. This author has created a vivid portrait of courage, drawn from a time that deserves to be remembered.”

  —Publishers Weekly, starred review

  “A warm, sensitive, and well-written story with wide appeal.”

  —School Library Journal


  The Summer of the Swans

  Betsy Byars Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

  Eleanor Coerr Letters from Rifka

  Karen Hesse The Lost Flower Children

  Janet Taylor Lisle Last Summer with Maizon

  Jacqueline Woodson

  In the midst of the world’s corruption, A heart of pure white jade.

  The author wishes to acknowledge Mr. Terumasa Matsunaga, of Nagasaki, for

  his valuable and generous assistance in reading the manuscript for accuracy.

  Special thanks to Mr. Cecil Uyehara for his expertise and artistry, and

  to my editior, Kate Gallagher, for her caring attention.

  To the children of Nagasaki


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Pumam Books for Young Readers,

  345 Hudson Street, NewYork, New York 10014, U.S.A.

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

  Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

  Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

  First published in the United States of America by G. P. Putnam’s Sons,

  a division of The Putnam & Grosset Group, 1993

  Published by Puffin Books,

  a division of Penguin Putnam Books for.Young Readers, 2003

  9 10

  Copyright © Eleanor Coerr, 1993 Calligraphy by Cecil H. Uyehara All rights reserved


  Coerr, Eleanor. Mieko and the fifth treasure / by Eleanor Coerr.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Staying with her grandparents after the atomic bomb has been dropped on Nagasaki, ten-year-old Mieko feels that the happiness in her heart has departed forever and she will no longer be able to produce a beautiful drawing for the contest at school.

  [ 1. Nagasaki-shi (Japan)—History—Bombardment,

  1945-Fiction. 2. Japan—Fiction.

  3.Artists—Fiction. 4. Contests-Fiction. 5. Schools—Fiction.)

  1. Title. PZ7.C6567Mh 1993

  92-14660 CIP AC [Fic]—dc20

  eISBN : 978-1-101-07705-4




  “Mieko, come down to breakfast!” Grandma’s cheery voice floated up from the kitchen. “It’s time you got out of bed.”

  But Mieko was not in bed. She was sitting very still and feeling very sorry for herself.

  “In a minute,” she called back.

  Mieko stared at the art supplies lined up on the red lacquer chest. Her art teacher, Mr. Araki, had called them “the four treasures. ” There was a fine sable brush, an inkstick, an inkstone shaped like a lily pond, and a roll of rice paper. Mieko had used them to paint Japanese word-pictures. Calligraphy was what she liked to do more than anything else in the world.

  Mr. Araki had also told her, “Mieko, you are one of the lucky few who are born with the fifth treasure—beauty in the heart. When you paint, that beauty flows from your heart to your hand, to the brush, and out onto the paper. With lots of practice, you will surely become a great artist.”

  Mieko didn’t really understand what beauty in the heart meant, but she knew that she was never so happy as when she had a brush in her hand, with every stroke getting better.

  Mieko sighed. She thought about how wonderful it had been to sit alone in her room and paint. She used to weave brushstrokes, curves, and dots into word-pictures that seemed to have a life of their own. Her two black strokes for “man” looked like two legs striding across the fields. She could almost hear the raindrops in her word-picture for “rain. ” When she painted, she was in a magical world.

  But everything was different now.

  She would never forget the day when The Thunderbolt—the atom bomb—was dropped on Nagasaki, sending shock waves out to her town. It was like the end of the world. Windows shattered and roof tiles flew through the air. Mieko was knocked to the ground. When she had put up an arm to shield her face, a jagged piece of glass had torn into her hand, ripping a deep gash from her fingers to the wrist. Blood was everywhere. Now, two weeks later, the wound still throbbed painfully underneath the bandage.

  “Nothing serious,” Father had said in his soothing doctor’s voice. “Your hand will heal quickly and you will soon be painting again.”

  Mieko did not believe him. The wound looked awful. And her hand was useless. Besides, she had seen many around her with worse injuries, and Father had told them “nothing serious,” too. He said that to make his patients feel better.

  And now she had been shipped to Grandpa’s farm.

  “Just for a few months, Mieko,” Mother had explained, forcing a smile. “We must remain here to take care of the injured. Besides, the fresh air and farm food will be good for you.”

  Mieko wanted to stay home. She was bitter about leaving her parents. She was bitter about leaving her friends. She was frightened about going to a new school. And she hated the horrible bomb that had ruined everything.

  “With all the bitterness and hate inside of me,” she thought, “there isn’t room for any beauty. ” The fifth treasure was gone.

  “Breakfast is waiting, Mieko!” Grandma called again.

  Mieko gave a quick brush to her bangs and went downstairs.

  She sat at the low table and tried to pick up her chopsticks. When they fell with a clatter, Grandma picked them up and fed Mieko as though she were a little baby. Her plump face wreathed in smiles, Grandma poked food into Mieko’s mouth, then carefully wiped her chin.

  “Good food cures everything,” Grandma said.

  Mieko did not mind the attention, especially when she felt so sorry for herself.

  “My!” Grandma gave Mieko’s arm a little pinch. “You are as thin as a young bamboo. We saved this special white rice for an important occasion like having you here with us. You must eat every grain.”

  Mieko remembered that Mother always called it “silver rice. ” She felt a wave of homesickness. Tears stung her eyes and she could hardly swallow.

  Grandma put her arms around Mieko and rocked her bac
k and forth. “Hush, hush!” she crooned. “You are just tired from that long train ride yesterday. ”

  “You will feel better tomorrow,” said Grandpa.

  Mieko hung her head, knowing that they did not understand. How could tomorrow be better? She would never paint word-pictures again, and she would never feel the joy of having the fifth treasure. She would hear the bomb over and over again, and know that things at home would never be the same.

  After supper they all had baths in the backyard tub and put on cotton kimonos. Then they sat outside to enjoy the evening breeze. Twilight fell and crickets began to sing. Mieko thought they sounded sad.

  Grandpa pointed to a large rock in the tiny garden behind the house.

  “See that?” he said proudly. “Last year I hauled it down the mountain in the cart. Mieko, can you read the words carved into my rock?”

  Mieko studied the strokes that formed the word-pictures, but they were difficult to make out. She shook her head.

  “ ‘Spilled water never returns to the glass,’ ” Grandpa explained. “It means that one should not worry about things that cannot be changed.”

  He paused to puff on his cigarette. Then he went on, “Like Japan losing the war. Like all that has been lost or hurt by the bomb.” And glancing quickly at Mieko, “Like your hand being injured, and your parents sending you to us.”

  Grandma smiled, patting Mieko’s shoulder. “I know it’s not easy for a ten-year-old to understand, but you must try.”

  Mieko blinked back the tears. She did not want to understand. The only thing she wanted was to be back home, with everything like it was before.

  At bedtime Grandma laid out a futon and hung a mosquito net over it for Mieko.

  When she saw the four treasures on top of the chest, Grandma nodded approvingly. “I see that you did not forget your calligraphy supplies. Good. You will soon be practicing again.”

  “No, I won’t!” Mieko burst out. She shoved the four treasures into a drawer. “The bomb spoiled everything, Grandma. I’ll never, never paint again.”

  “Don’t talk like that,” Grandma said, flustered. “Your hand will get better ...”

  “But my fingers will always be stiff and awkward like dried-up shrimp,” Mieko said in a small voice. “And my brushstrokes will look like sticks.”

  She threw herself onto the futon and pulled the sheet up over her head.

  Grandma sighed.

  “I’ll write to your parents and tell them that you arrived safely,” she said, turning out the light. “Good-night.”

  It was the first time Mieko had ever been away from home alone. She longed for her own bedroom, where her teacher’s painting hung on the wall and Mother’s peach tree rustled its leaves outside her window.

  What if something happened to Mother and Father? What if they got sick and died? What if she never saw them again? Finally, exhausted, Mieko stuffed a pillow against her mouth and cried herself to sleep.

  That night she had a nightmare. A plane was droning overhead and then a big bomb exploded in her face. Mieko woke up screaming.

  Grandpa knelt by the futon.

  “The war is over now,” he said, putting his arms around her. “There are no more bombs.”

  But Mieko could not stop the sobs shaking her whole body.

  “Shh—shh! You must stop crying,” Grandpa whispered. “Your tears will not help those who were killed by the atom bomb. Their souls must swim across the River of Death to heaven. Every tear you shed drops into the river and makes it deeper.”

  Mieko shuddered, imagining what it would be like to struggle in that icy cold water. Gradually, she became quiet.

  Grandpa straightened the bedclothes.

  “Enough of dreary thoughts,” he said. “Try to sleep like my rock in the garden.”

  As soon as he was gone Mieko went to the open window. She pushed up her bangs, letting the night air cool her damp forehead. With no moonlight Mieko could barely see Grandpa’s rock. She was sorry for it, so awfully alone out there in the swallowing dark. It looked as alone as she felt.



  Every morning Mieko put on the dress that Grandma had sewn out of an old summer cotton kimono. It had no buttons or belt so that Mieko could easily slip it over her head. Grandma had taken the long-sleeved blouses and baggy trousers that Mieko had brought and put them into the scrapbag.

  “I don’t understand why the government made girls wear those hot, prickly outfits,” she said. “Thank goodness the war is over and you can put on decent clothes again.”

  She sat back on her heels and looked Mieko up and down.

  “Much better,” she said with a satisfied smile. “Yes, Mieko, you look like a girl again.”

  There was always much to do around the farm. Grandma never seemed to stop working—cooking, cleaning, sweeping, or mending. Mieko tried to help. She fed the chickens, collected eggs, polished the wooden porch, lit the fire underneath the deep bathtub in the afternoon, and sprinkled water on the cracked dry earth of the road to keep the dust down.

  Kitchen work was the most difficult because Mieko’s hand was clumsy and it hurt whenever she tried to hold a knife or spoon. She took a long time slicing eggplants and cucumbers with her left hand.

  Once Mieko dropped a whole dish of chopped fish onto the floor. She stood there looking down at the mess, biting her lip.

  “I’m not good for anything!” she cried.

  Grandma scooped up the fish, talking all the while.

  “Never mind, Mieko. It’s just a little thing. When the doctor came last week he said that your hand will soon be as good as new. Then you will have no more accidents. ”

  Mieko was silent. She knew it would never be as good as new.

  As the summer days dragged on, Mieko worried more and more about school. Her grandparents had not mentioned it, and she hoped that they had forgotten.

  But one muggy September morning when they were eating rice and miso soup, Grandma calmly said, “Mieko, you will be going to school next week. ”

  Mieko almost dropped the porcelain spoon that she was trying to carry to her mouth. She was not hungry any more.

  For several moments there were only the sounds of a farm morning—hens clucking and birds scolding in the garden.

  Grandma and Grandpa exchanged worried glances.

  “You must go to school,” Grandpa said. “It is important to keep up with your studies.”

  Mieko knew all that. But a strange school? With children she did not know? And with a hideous, twisted hand?

  “Maybe they won’t like me, ” she said in a low voice.

  “Not like you!” Grandma’s bright eyes sent off sparks. “Why would the others not like you? You are a nice girl with good manners and new clothes. ” And she brought out a school uniform, neatly sewn and pressed.

  “Here!” She handed it to Mieko. “I made it for a surprise. Go try it on.”

  Mieko did not like that kind of surprise. Trembling, she slowly pulled on the navy skirt and white blouse that smelled of camphor.

  “I saved these pieces of cloth all through the war, ” Grandma said, giving the skirt a tug to straighten it. She beamed. “A perfect fit.”

  Mieko lowered her eyes. “Thank you, Grandma,” she murmured.

  The first day of school arrived. That morning, Mieko came into the kitchen, looking a little pale.

  “I think I’m getting some kind of germ,” she said, coughing. “My throat is sore. I think I’m coming down with mumps.”

  “Open your mouth and say ahhhh, ” Grandma said in, her no-nonsense voice.

  She held Mieko’s tongue down with a spoon and peered inside. Then she felt Mieko’s neck.

  “Your throat is fine, and your glands are not even the tiniest bit swollen.”

  “Do I have to go today?” Mieko pleaded. “Do I, Grandma?”

  Grandma paid no attention. She continued stuffing rice into beancurd envelopes that looked like fat sails. Then she pack
ed them neatly into a lunchbox.

  “Such heat!” she said, dabbing at her neck with the edge of her apron. “Mieko, don’t walk too fast this morning. ”

  “I don’t even know where the school is, ” Mieko said. “And ... and I might get lost.”

  “I will take you there on my way to the field, ” Grandpa interrupted. “Now scoot upstairs and get ready.”

  “Don’t forget your art supplies, ” Grandma called, putting a piece of dried fish into the lunchbox for a treat.

  Mieko thought it was silly to bring the four treasures when she was not going to use them. But to please Grandma, she stuck them into her black leather schoolbag.

  She took such a long time getting ready that Grandpa finally stomped upstairs. Mieko was combing her hair and fussing with her uniform.

  “Come on!” he said firmly. “You don’t want to be late on your first day.”

  “It is the first day that is so scary,” Mieko wailed. “I will sit in the wrong seat ... say the wrong things ... and everyone will stare at my hand.”

  Mieko thought that the new puckered red skin looked even worse than the scabs that were coming off.

  But there was no escape. She trudged alongside Grandpa to school, clutching his work-roughened hand all the way. When they got there, she hung back.

  “Go on in,” Grandpa said, giving her a gentle push. “You will be all right. ”

  Mieko watched him stride away until he turned the corner. For an instant she stood there, paralyzed with fear. Then she took a long, shaky breath and walked slowly through the doorway.



  Mieko slipped out of her geta and put them in one of the shoe boxes in the hall. She wiped her moist hands on her skirt and shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for a teacher to come along and direct her to the right classroom. She pictured her teacher looking old and mean.

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