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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 17: 29 Jan. 2023
Flash Fiction: 581 words
By Jane Salmons

Takotsubo Syndrome


Akemi wearily lowered the takotsubo over the side of his boat. He had arrived as he did every morning before dawn and moored in the rocky shallows; a favourite sculling ground for octopuses. He lay back against the hull, closed his eyes and waited for the warm pink glow of sunrise.

As always, his thoughts turned to Hayami. He pictured her working; her long hair streaked with silver, her face lined yet serene, as she moulded a lump of red clay into a terracotta ventricle. For years, he had visited Hayami in her tiny studio at the back of her kominka, to buy her takotsubo pots. For years, he had pictured their fingers entwined, their lips pressed together, the life they might have shared. How many times had he wanted to tell her his feelings? Somehow, he had never found the words.

The rope trembled. Trapped inside the takotsubo was a soft, boneless mass. Akemi pulled in the rope and smashed the pot. He tried not to look at the creature’s sad cephalopod eyes, as it plopped into the bucket.

His wife would make him takoyaki for lunch. Thirty years of fine cooking. For that, he was grateful. In the large, cast-iron pan, she would fry cubes of octopus, pickled red ginger, green onions and scraps of tempura. She would serve his meal at the low wooden table, her face as expressionless as a Kabuki mask. He would eat the food slowly and silently, then while away the afternoon tinkering with his fishing nets, thinking of Hayami.

The octopus splashed. Akemi lifted the limp, wild animal by the neck, splayed it out on the deck, and smashed it hard between the eyes with his mallet. Grimacing, he turned away. He was too old for this work; too old for this life. Tomorrow morning he would visit Hayami, again. This time, he would find the courage to tell her his feelings. He would find the words. Yes. He owed that to Hayami, to himself and to his wife.


When Akemi entered the studio, he found the door of the scorching kiln swinging open, a tin of magenta-coloured glaze splattered across the walls and Hayami, hair haloed around her, collapsed on the floor. There was a frantic scramble to find the telephone buried beneath a stack of Ceramics Now magazines. The gut-churning emergency call.

“Yes, I think she has a pulse.”

“No, I haven’t moved her.”

“Yes, of course I’ll wait. Hurry please, won’t you?”

Akemi knelt beside Hayami on the cool, white tiles and gently took her hand.

Her eyes flickered open for a fraction of a second; Akemi thought he saw her smile. Then, in the flash of a photophore, there were men with a stretcher, a stethoscope, blue lights, a screaming siren, and the worst journey of Akemi’s life.


“A rare condition. An abnormal ballooning of the heart.”

Akemi stared blankly at the surgeon’s turquoise mask. It was the colour of the ocean; the colour of the hospital wall.

“Some call it broken-hearted syndrome. I’ve seen it before, with grieving widows.”

The surgeon paused and looked quizzically at Akemi.

“Are you her husband?”

Akemi shook his head.

“Her brother-in-law.”


After the storm, as the sun rose and the surf shimmered silver, a solitary octopus propelled itself out of the shallows into the deep, searching for its mate. Idly buffeting between the rocks, a smashed oar was all that remained of Akemi’s boat.

Jane Salmons
Issue 17 (29 January 2023)

is from Stourbridge in the UK. Her first poetry pamphlet, Enter GHOST, was published by dancing girl press in 2022. Her debut poetry collection, The Quiet Spy, was published by Pindrop Press, also in 2022. A recent newcomer to writing flash and micro-fiction, she has stories published with MacQueen’s Quinterly and The Ekphrastic Review. In July 2022, she was thrilled to win the “Pokrass Prize” at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival for her story Miracle Grow, which will also be published in the Festival’s fifth printed anthology, scheduled for release at the end of this year.

Author’s website: https://www.janesalmonspoetry.co.uk

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

The Weightlessness of Love, ekphrastic microfiction by Jane Salmons in MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 12, March 2022)

Passengers, ekphrastic microfiction by Jane Salmons, in Starry, Starry Night: An ekphrastic anthology inspired by Van Gogh’s masterpiece, published by The Ekphrastic Review (25 February 2022)

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