It's important to keep your heart in the right place.
Ayumi has a big crush on her teacher, and also a call to the sea... But something is in the water, and it's not love...
A Sunken Heart in Hino Bay by Jeff Carpenter
Music by Ray Mattis http://raymattispresents.bandcamp.com
Produced by Daniel Wilder
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"All life emerged... crawled out from the sea... now I don't know what's crawling out."
HINO BAY HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE/ BIOLOGY CLASS MONDAY - 2:43 PM Ayumi scribbles into her notebook, hunched over her desk, protecting her work. Her eyes are obscured by black horn rims matching her long jet-black hair tied into a pony tail. "Are you like in Grade 3?" A girl beside her with dyed brown hair grabs the notebook off Ayumi's desk. The pen leaves a streak across the page. She turns to a second girl and shows her the notebook. The second girl makes a sour face, gesturing dismissively at the drawings in a lined notebook page. Cartoons. A girl sun-bathing in a boat reading a book. And below her myriad sea creatures frolicking in the deep. An octopus and crab feasting on something. The girl points at a figure farther down the page... A masked scuba diver rising to the surface holding something in his hand... "Oh my god... is that Mr. Hirada? What is that in his hand... what has he got... a pearl? A present? For you?" She and her friend laugh at the suggestion. Ayumi tries to grab it. "Give it back!" "He'd only kiss you if you had gills and a tail!" "She already smells like she does!" "GIVE IT BACK!" There is a crack at the front of the class. The student's heads turn to the front. The teacher rests his hand on a book atop of some scattered papers on his desk. "Ayumi, please see me after class." "Ooooooooohh...!" the two girlfriends coo in chorus. Ayumi holds a stack of textbooks in crossed arms close to her chest. "I'm not sure what's come over you. You were disturbing the class today. And you haven't handed in your assignment yet. Usually you're a very well behaved, punctual student. What's gotten into you?" She can't meet his eyes. "Tomorrow, Mr. Hirada. Tomorrow."
AYUMI'S HOUSEHOLD - MONDAY - 6:49 PM The melted chocolate cools in the bowl on the double boiler. On the counter beside the stove are a box of sea salt, a jar of raspberry jam, a bowl of herring roe, a collection of spoons and heart-shaped moulds. Ayumi's grandfather walks up behind her, looking over her shoulder. Surprises her. "For a boy? It's good you take an interest in normal school life outside of the tales you read in your books. It's good you spend time with people your own age. Dead authors and old men like me are not ideal companions for young girls." Ayumi ignores her grandfather and increases her focus on spooning the jam into the cooled chocolate moulds. With intense deliberation she plucks two individual eggs from the herring roe, and placing them side by side in the raspberry jam. Squishing them together in the gooey jam, they leak their briny golden insides into the surrounding compote. She sprinkles a pinch of sea salt into the moulds, finishing her creation with a flourish. "Could I have a taste of that chocolate though? Reminds me of your grandmother." TUESDAY - VALENTINE'S DAY - 1:56 PM A girl bumps into Ayumi in the hall. She drops her books and makes a desperate grab as the red cardboard box folded in the shape of a clamshell, slips from her fingers. As she bends over to pick them up, she notices a boy (a strong, athletic boy from her gym class) looking at her with a kind of faint smile she hasn't seen before and she sees that her skirt is riding high up her legs. She straightens up and pulls her skirt down. The boy still has the funny look on his face, and he looks weak somehow, as if all his strength has leaked away. Just by looking at her. She feels flushed and rushes to class.
"What's this?" Mr. Hirada flips the cardboard clamshell open on his desk, revealing the chocolates within. Ayumi looks at the Valentine's Day present on display-- one of the heart chocolates cracked from the fall. "It's for... It's for you." "Ayumi, I can't accept this. You know it is inappropriate for a student to offer such gifts to her teacher. I'm sorry. It looks like you put a lot of work into this gift, but I just can't." Ayumi hugs her books tight and shuffles to her seat. Otani, the grizzled old janitor, totters into the classroom and empties the waste paper basket by the teacher's desk. He winks at the gang of girls huddled together, gossiping and giggling. One of the girls with dyed-brown hair leans over to Ayumi and hisses at her. "If you want an older man, I'm pretty sure Mr. Otani is available! But better act quick before one of us snatches him up first!" The huddle of girls convulses with laughter as Otani staggers out the door. Ayumi looks up from her book and over at Mr. Hirada's desk. From her vantage point, she can see that one of the chocolates is missing. There is a space there. It is undeniable! Did she just see Mr. Hirada lick his lips? Did he really?
Ayumi watches intently, her elbows on her desk, chin resting on her knuckles, in rapt attention. "My last dive I saw definite changes... the outflow from these chemical plants is causing untold damage to the ecosystem. I'm finding noticeable mutations in the local sea life. Overlong exposure to this pollution is ravaging local populations." "I've decided to devote my time recording and cataloging these mutations." "We have to do something to change this. We ALL have to do something... what I'm doing is cataloging the mutations. He plops a ziplocked bag holding a fist-sized thing enveloped in gelatinous syrup on the desk. It is a creature curled into a fetal ball. Two appendages pierce the syrupy envelope, terminating in claws. "Know what this is?" No guesses. "It's a fish. Does it look like a fish to you?" The students shake their heads. "I don't think so. I found this swimming off the breakwater in Hino Bay... well it was trying to swim... more like paddling in a circle." "Those.... those bastards... excuse me, those blameless industrialists in the plants on the shore... they've turned Hino Bay into a living science experiment." "All life emerged... it crawled out from the sea... now I don't know what's crawling out." He turns back to the specimen. "This is the caudal fin... the tail of the so-called fish."
An iridescent turquoise caudal fin unfurls in the swirling sea-green water. It swishes to- and-fro, back-and-forth, lazily propelling the creature upward. Breaking the surface, she notices that the creature is her... she is the creature, her bare human body above the water, her scaly torso and tapered tail beneath the waves, trailing off into darkness and the murky depths below. Her long black hair flows out behind her, slowly undulating in the motion of the ripples. She feels the water rise in a soft swell and he is there... beside her in a black rubber wetsuit. A gentle wave pushes them closer together. He pulls off his facemask and removes the regulator from his mouth. He presses it against her lips. 'Breathe. Breathe...' he urges. She opens her mouth, letting him inside her and breathes in, breathes deep and she feels herself going down, down into unconsciousness. Ayumi opens her eyes. She smiles and squeezes the pillow tight to her body. WEDNESDAY - 3:02 PM "The daughter of the Dragon King was Ningyo, Princess of the Deep. She could assume various forms and would often take the form of a beautiful woman who could put any man who ventured into the sea under her spell..." Ayumi stands at the front of the class. "Her magic pearls could turn..." "Ayumi, the assignment was supposed to be about sea life. Real, actual sea life. Dragons don't exist. Why would you... what made you do your assignment on that? I'm going to be forced to give you an F. Please see me after class." Ayumi tries to hold back a faint smile. He slumps back in his chair. Pulls off his tie. Loosens his collar. Unbuttons the top button of his shirt. He leans forward. She can see down his open shirt. There are iridescent scales catching the light on his neck, spreading out and down to his chest. "Mr. Hirada?" "Yes, Ayumi?" "Do you think people can change?" She pivots on her legs, twisting back and forth. "Yes, of course." "Change into something... so wonderful, so strange that you don't know what they might become." "What are you talking about?" Kiss me. Mr. Hirada stares at her. Kiss me. Why couldn't she say it out loud? Her lips strain white against her teeth. She bites her lower lip until she is sure blood will pop and trickle down her chin. She drops a PADI training manual on the teacher's desk. "What's this?" "I'm going to get my diving certificate..." "Really? It's an intensive course. You sure it won't interfere with your school studies?" "No, sir." "I always think of you with your nose in your books, not outside getting your hands dirty." He gives her an approving smile. ... always think of you... ... always think of you... ... always... you... "It's kind of late in the year to undertake such a big thing like this, don't you think?" She takes off her glasses and twirls them in her fingers. She looks straight at Hirada. "I dreamed that we were swimming together last night. And you swam up to me and looked deep into my eyes and said: 'You are the Queen of the Sea and the Sea is the Mother of Life... All Life' and you held me close and you... put your lips on... "Ayumi. This isn't appropriate. You're my student and I'm your teacher." "I want you to teach me. Real things. Not the things I can get from books on my own." "Spending so much time in the water... maybe it's not so good an idea." "But we have to! I'll grow scales... we'll both be as free as the fishes. We'll change into them! We'll be living in the ocean... as sea creatures... forever!" "You must never... NEVER... speak about this again. To anyone! You understand?" Ayumi jams her lips shut, and looks at the floor. "Ayumi..." "Please let me go swimming with you." Silence. "I promise not to talk about these things again." "I'll think about it." AYUMI'S HOUSEHOLD THURSDAY - 6:45 PM Ayumi takes book after book from her book case and puts them down beside the others on her bed. She flips through them, smiles a faint smile, then with the reverence of a funeral places them in a large cardboard box marked with black pen on the side: 500 YEN each.
HINO BAY RECREATION CENTER SATURDAY - 10:54 AM Ayumi plunges into the swimming pool. The weightbelt sinks her to the bottom. The instructor gives her a thumbs-up then turns and ignores her just like he did after she gave him the money from selling all her favourite books. She looks around. Surrounded by water. Everyone else is so far way. She is alone. If anything went wrong... She closes her eyes. Her heart pounds in her head, blood rushes in her ears. She hyperventilates. Her eyes are big. She is going to drown down here. She sucks in water with her air. She sputters and coughs. Blinded by bubbles escaping from her mouth, she drops her weights and scrambles to the surface. The diving instructor swims over to her. "You panicked." He hands Ayumi her weightbelt. "This time breathe slow, breathe deep. Keep calm. Relax. Nothing's going to get you. Sometimes it helps to tell yourself a story to keep your mind focused."
HINO BAY HIGH SCHOOL MONDAY - 2:00 PM Ayumi wears a gold badge embroidered on her jacket. She carries a certificate between her stack of textbooks. She wears a big smile on her face as she walks straight to the science classroom. She takes her seat. A strange woman is at the front desk. Her smile fades. She raises her hand. "Where is Mr. Hirada?" "He is on indefinite leave. My name is Mrs. Kotani and I'm the replacement teacher for this class."
HINO BAY BREAKWATER TUESDAY - 2:43 PM "Shouldn't you be in school?" "Teacher's not there today." A taxi idles, parked but running in a slot by the sea wall. Ayumi struggles with the air tank as she pulls them up out of the trunk. "You need a hand with that, miss?" "Just a couple of trips." She hauls the gear down the breakwater: swim fins, mask under her arms, oxygen tank hanging off one shoulder. The dive tank slips off her shoulder, bangs off her hipbone, bounces off and rebounds into her legs, giving a dull blow to her knee and shin. She cries out, stumbles and drops the tank, which rolls on the ground. "You alone?" She turns back to look at him. "Miss, you alone? I heard it's not good to dive all by yourself." "Oh, I've got someone."
She makes it down to the end of the breakwater; she clambers over the jagged boulders. Ayumi spots a black shape bobbing in the water about 150 meters offshore. It must be him. She dons her scuba gear. Nervously strapping and clicking it all into place. She hobbles into the sea lapping onto the rocks. Once she's up to her chest, she begins paddling out to sea. She looks out toward the horizon. The black shape is gone. She can't see him anywhere. She puts the regulator in her mouth and ducks under the water. It is dark and cold. She breathes in, but short and shallow. She coughs. She has to come up for air. She spits out salty seawater and scans the horizon again. Nothing. She's going to have to go out there. He heart pounds beneath her wetsuit. This is it. She clears her mask and goes under.
She swims in slow steady strokes. She can't help feeling she is being shadowed by something not so far below her, but she fights the enshrouding panic, swallows her fear and breathes in long, deep breaths. She flashes back to books she's read about the sea. Most of them not factual accounts, of course. Deep treasures hidden within the protective maws of giant clams, fierce mortal battles between giant squids and deep diving whales and the jealous octopus dragging divers to their deaths for daring to encroach on its submarine territory. But she kind of remembers the true story Mr. Hirada told her of Ningyo. Or was that her dream? In any case she's having trouble remembering it completely... it was about a girl... who swam out to sea... alone... to find a treasure? A pearl? No, it was to find her lover. Missing at sea. And yes, she finally does find him. He is alive. But he is not alone. He is caught in the embrace of Ningyo. The man's name is Hirada. And who is Ningyo? Ningyo pulls Hirada close, the water lapping against their bare bodies, writhing against him, rubbing off a patina of iridescent scales onto his face and neck. She kisses him all over, runs her tongue along his arm, licks his fingers. Hirada twists his head, looks over his shoulder, eyes the girl from within the arms of the tight embrace. Ningyo turns to see what he is looking at. She hisses a sibilant sigh. "Oh, you brought a pretty one. A little scrawny perhaps..." "Pleased to meet you. I am Ningyo. The first and the last. And you will know the truth of that soon enough." "I'm Ayumi." "Get out of that silly suit of yours. Can't be truly free in the sea until you feel the caress of salt water on your skin." The girl hugs herself. "It's too cold." "Nonsense. How will you ever feel like it is to be a woman if you can't be naked beside a man?" Ayumi looks at Hirada. She lets her mask sink to the depths below. Ningyo helps her out of her wetsuit. A chemical slick surrounds them, warming the water . As Hirada reaches to touch Ayumi, the girl feels Ningyo come up behind her and envelop her. She wraps her arms around Ayumi and pulls her down. Somewhere, an octopus embraces its prey and drags it down to the bottom, holds it down until it drowns, then feasts on it at its leisure. A crab feeds on the scavenged remains of a muscular organ... still beating. A heart. A sunken heart. The chemical spill reaches the sea floor, the precipitate coating everything it touches. A jointed limb telescopes out of the organ and snatches up the crab in its terminating claw. An aortic valve opens up into a tooth-studded maw that bites down on the crustacean, swallowing it whole. An eyelid opens on the veined covering of the organ. An eye blinks and the bubble of a tear trickles out of its corner and races to the surface to expire in the air. The heart sprouts three more limbs and crawls away along the sea bottom, fading into the murky darkness. An empty wetsuit floats on the surface of the sea, bobbing in the gentle swells of the unchanging ever-changing ocean. END © Jeff Carpenter
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