Doctor Yumi Daikokuya kneels in the tidal shallows, in the shelter of the shima—the coastal rocks of the Kuzaki peninsula where she was born.
Her head lies half in the water, as though straining for a whisper. As her tears dissolve in the sea, it occurs to her that the sea, in its turn, dissolves in them, each drop absorbing all the majestic sadness of the Pacific.
“Umi wa gyōsan no Ama no namida ga fukuma rete oru.” The last words she heard her mother say, so long ago.
“The sea holds a multitude of Amas’ tears.”
That rustic Mie-ken dialect she struggled to shed like a snake skin after her departure. Suffering its itch all through university, then Osaka Medical College. So awkward she thought she sounded to her professors, the big city students. The handsome residents who invited her for coffee and ice cream. So much the daughter of a sea woman.
She lets the salt water fill her nose.
So much an Ama.
As hard as she once pushed her mother from her mind, she labors now to remember her. Dirty complexion, lined by the sun and salt. Hands mottled with the scars of sea rocks and shellfish spines. Graceful as a minnow in the freezing water. But stooped and waddling as she shouldered her catch up the beach each morning to warm her sinuses by the fire before starting back down. Already old, more than twenty years ago.
The eldest dive longest, and deepest, Yumi remembers.
The few Ama that remain in Kuzaki are all old now. Hundreds once dove the coast, its treasures buying them a freedom enjoyed by no other women of Asia. Independence from convention, government, husbands. In prolonged cold water immersion, a woman’s body is her advantage, a physical inheritance that can be passed from mother to daughter. If the daughter wishes to follow in that life.
I have heard a wise man say that love is a form of friendship, and friendship a form of love; the line between the two is misty. I happen to know that this holds true because I have roamed that misty line. Time has passed since then, but I cherish the memory of the blue roses in grace and perpetuity — our blue roses. It all began with a fortuitous encounter.
* * *
On a fine day in early April 1999, I was sketching in the sculpture court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I felt hesitant working in such a public space, but this was a homework assignment for the art class I was taking. The object of my sketch was a sculpture of an adorable young woman, a nude, reclining on a moss-covered rock surrounded by an abundance of flowers. The smooth texture of the white marble sensually expressed her lively body, which shone with bright sunlight beneath the glass ceiling of the court.
My drawing materials were simple, just a number 2 pencil, an eraser, and a sheet of heavy white drawing paper. The assignment was to capture the skin of a figure in as much detail as possible. I had almost completed sketching the woman’s body and was working on the rock and flowers. I was not doing badly, I thought, for a small crowd of museum visitors had gathered around me, showing approving faces and nods.
“Ah, this is excellent!” one man exclaimed.
I recognized the voice and turned to see Hans Schmidt, standing amid the crowd wearing a big grin.
“What a surprise!” he continued. “I didn’t know you had such an artistic talent, Mark. How are you?” He came forward and firmly shook my hand.
I greeted him, then pointed to my drawing. “I’ve been working on this for a while. I wasn’t sure how it would come out. But it’s coming along all right, I guess.”
“I don’t know much about drawing, but this looks great.” He gestured enthusiastically to a young woman next to him. “What do you think?”
“It’s pretty.” Her voice sounded like a bell.
“This is Yukari, my wife.” He guided her toward me, his hand lingering at the small of her back.
I swallowed. I knew Hans was married, but this was my first time to meet his wife. Hans’s wife is Japanese? How lovely she is. Hans, you devil, you’re a lucky man!
“Pleased to meet you.” I gently shook her small refined hand. “I’m Mark Sanders. Hans and I are good friends.”
Joseph Éamon Cummins
Dear Reader . . .
One Irish autumn evening,
in a little picturesque train station,
I noticed a graceful young woman sitting alone;
she looked to be waiting for someone to arrive.
Over the next week I re-visited the station on
five occasions to photograph it in different light.
The woman was there every time,
On the day I was to leave
we somehow found ourselves closer to each other.
She smiled at me, warmly. I smiled back.
Our eyes held in a sort of silent conversation.
She leaned closer,
like she was about to talk to me, maybe tell me something.
But suddenly her head dropped;
she turned away.
I sensed that she was waiting for a dream,
a dream that would never show up.
But what if, I thought . . . what if that dream . . .
She inspired this novel.
I couldn’t make her the main character,
she’s too much of a mystery.
So I wrote a bigger story around a driven man,
and married the two.
Thanks for reading it.
Joseph Éamon Cummins
It’s usually a good idea to start with the basics.
My grandfather’s name was Salvatore Scalabenfro. That’s a mouthful, even in Italy.
My father’s name was Vincenzo.
And my name is Andy.
My grandfather was 73 when he died.
My father was 86.
I’m hoping to make it to 90.
I don’t have a job, unless you count substitute teaching. My wife, Christi, is a CPA in the Public Defenders Office.
We have two teenagers—a boy and a girl—Henry and Morgan. Our house is in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island. It’s an unrestored, late-Victorian mansion. It’s not really a mansion. It does have six bedrooms. But it’s not a mansion. It’s more of a bother.
Another thing I should explain is that I couldn’t type this. I mean that I couldn’t write on a computer. I looked at the blank screen and it remained blank. I could only write this story longhand, in those black-and-white, fake-marble-covered composition notebooks. The kind with the wide line spacing. Then I had to have them typed. I couldn’t do that myself either. I tried. But as I typed along, I wondered about every word I had written and became paralyzed. I couldn’t stop myself from reading the stupid story instead of just typing it.
So I hired Agnes. I’ve never met Agnes. I’ve never spoken to Agnes. She’s a widow. Living alone. In Cranston. With more Facebook friends than Lady Gaga. Agnes is a computer whiz—which is remarkable since I’m sure she’s about 103 years old. I could be wrong. I hired her because of her son Clarence. He runs the little coffee counter in the lobby of the building where my wife works, and he recommended his mother. Agnes and I communicate via mail. Actual mail. In envelopes. With stamps. Unlike me, Agnes had no problem typing the words. Even if I wrote her a note—she typed the note. If I wrote in all caps:
AGNES: I WILL CHECK THE STREET NAMES IN THIS PARAGRAPH WHEN I HAVE TIME.
Then Agnes typed:
AGNES: I WILL CHECK THE STREET NAMES IN THIS PARAGRAPH WHEN I HAVE TIME.
Anyway. Having filled up 17 of those black-and-white, fake-marble composition notebooks—and with the hiring of Agnes—my job is done. I’ll leave it to you, Dear Reader—how I love sounding like Nathaniel Hawthorne!—whether it is a story worth reading. It was, I think, a story worth typing.
Lawrence G. Taylor
A Day in the Life of Mr Charlie Cheddar
London. Summer, in the late ’60s
TODAY IS GOING to be an important day, so important that I wouldn’t be turning up for work, which is quite unusual for me. For I seldom stay away from my monotonous assignments, due quite frankly to the financial burden of having chosen to reside in this highly expensive city. My tasks are that of a low-ranking clerk, at one of Her Majesty’s North London Post Offices. And surely I will be missed, for I’m a good white-collar worker. At least that’s what my boss, Mr Armstrong, once or twice implied. It will be quite a busy day, for today is Saturday.
Before Big Ben strikes nine, I’ll have to summon up the courage to inform Mr Armstrong from my landlady’s telephone that I will not be coming in today. The pretext will be an ‘acute stomach ache’. About my absence, Mr Armstrong may not be happy, but I should be able to stand my ground, for I believe he holds me in high esteem: reliable, hardworking and trustworthy.
Mind you, Mr Armstrong isn’t someone easily fooled. It requires a well-performed act of insincerity to mislead him. Mr Armstrong is very rigid in his demeanours and is feared by us who work under his command. He’s a retired sergeant in Her Majesty’s Army, fought in the World War II, and is quite proud of his war effort against ‘them Jerries’. Soon his pension days will be upon him, and much to the delight of most of my colleagues.
This early morning of July already shows promising signs of bright weather. And with some hope, the day will be a turning point in my life. A certain event, planned to take place later on this supposedly blessed day, is expected to transform my lonely and unhappy life into one that will be cheerful and friendly.
Trustingly, it will no longer be an isolated existence, consisting of my mother’s letters of spiritual support, supportive of my ups but mostly downs in this vast, cold (in every sense) metropolis,
Ordinary reality peels away, as if some cosmic hand wipes a film from my eyes. The sounds of cicadas, frogs, crickets and trickling water take on a vibrancy that thrums through my being like a mantra. Ripples from the gentle waterfall spread across the pond, like the vibrations of my mind spreading to all humanity and beyond. Never have I seen trees so luminous with life or such a depth of blue in the pristine sky. The forest and the sky have not changed, merely my perception of them. The limitations of my mind have fallen away and I glimpse beneath the veil.
This is where I belong. This is where I aim to be in every moment of my day. Let the storms of life rage around me. In this, I will remain firm. This is not a thought. It is a knowing. Movement. Like a fish rising from the depths of a clear, still pond, some remnant of ordinary mind surfaces. A desire. Work calls. Someone must put food on the table. I sigh. And the veil falls back as I turn my mind to the mundane.
As a self-employed editor, I make my own work hours, but I don’t always take the time I should for the things I should. Like housework. Argh. Why bother when in a few days everything is dirty again? I’d love a Brownie. Not the chocolate eating kind—though I’d like that too. No. The Brownie I’d like is the Fae kind—the kind that does your housework while you sleep—but it’s dangerous to commune with the Fae world. I don’t believe in faeries anyway. Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell would die if it were up to me.