Hi guys! Today’s short story was inspired by an article I read in the New York Times about a couple of men who, many years after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, still go diving every day looking for remains of their loved ones. It’s so sad, they understand I think the futility of the search, but something compels them to never give up, and it becomes a ritual to honor the dead, or sorts, or at least that’s what I thought of it. So as I’m reading this article, of course, I say to myself, “What if…?” and this story spilled out of my head, complete.
By the way, the title “Dakō” means “we embrace” in Japanese.
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Written and narrated by Rob Dircks
Today will be different.
Today I will find her.
The others have all given up. I do not judge them. 2,703 days is a very long time.
But they do not know the secret.
The secret is to surrender completely to the sea, to allow it to embrace you completely, allow it to pull you into its darkness just like it did my dear Himari. For only then can you hear the voice, each day growing stronger, not fainter, drawing you closer, pushing you onward, not giving up, never giving up. I can do nothing else. I still hear her voice.
I sit on the dock at the Tobigasaki fish market, watching the little waves lap against my feet, inviting me in. The wetsuit protects me from the cold, but a chill still reaches through the rubber, feeling so familiar, like it has missed me since yesterday.
I release myself, and fall into the water. The sea lifts my tank, welcoming me home, sharing the burden of this heavy, permanent companion on my back. As the water reaches past my ears, and the world falls silent, I close my eyes, and feel what it must have felt like for her, seven years ago, feel it as if it were happening to me.
I am on the top of the bank building, standing twelve floors up, amazed that at this height I am ankle deep in water. The tsunami is not like I had imagined as a child, a single giant wave, but is more like a storm in solid form, a great endless volume rushing forward, relentlessly, omnipotently, sweeping all in its path away, submerging what had never been submerged. There is a ladder to the top of the air conditioning unit, a few feet above me. Would those few feet make any difference at all? I laugh, I don’t know why, as the sea swirls around my shoulders, demanding I let go.
I open my eyes now, and begin breathing, rhythmic breathing through my regulator, in time with the chirichiri – the sound of the world under the sea. The first time I dove, so long ago, I had expected only silence, nothing. But the ocean has a sound, like the sound of burning hair, or a snake hissing, a symphony of all the countless living and dead creatures, the living sea itself, whispering in my ear clues that I struggle to understand.
I move with the chirichiri to a new place today, being careful to keep my flippers up and not disturb the sleeping seabed. I look at my watch for elapsed time; it is not a diving watch, but the watch Hirami gave me as a gift on my birthday, gold with a red face, because she knew I adored Ferraris. I smile at the memory, and in the next moment I notice a chair, a small wooden chair with a ladder back like you might find in a convention center, sitting remarkably like it would on land, upright, and I have the strange urge to sit on it, and watch the sea give me a business presentation. A laugh escapes my mouth, and I lift my head to watch my little laugh bubbles race their way the twenty feet or so to the surface.
When I look back down, the chair is gone.
Then there is a cloud of dust, I must have kicked it up inadvertently, and I can see nothing now. I remove my regulator and call out to the endless void, “Himari! Are you there?”
More bubbles are my only response.
My heart bangs against my chest, begging to be released. I reinsert the regulator and force myself to breathe, breathe, breathe with the sea, and let myself and the cloud of debris settle down.
The chair, of course, is there, where I saw it first.
I have hallucinated again. It doesn’t usually happen this early on a dive, but these are new surroundings and I am anxious. I reach out to the chair and grab one of the finials to make sure it’s real. Some of its aging gold paint rubs off onto my glove. It is real.
There is something about touching this chair, though, touching this thing that doesn’t belong here, like an uninvited guest that won’t leave, and I feel suddenly like I am the thing that doesn’t belong, that I have been a guest here and far overstayed my welcome, and that perhaps I should finally leave. Forever.
I weep at the thought, my moans silent and unheard, this my first thought in seven years of giving up, the feeling even worse that I have never felt closer to my love. I am sorry, Himari. I do not know the secret after all. I have failed.
I close my eyes.
And feel a hand on my shoulder.
I wake to the sounds of buzzing. I can feel I am sitting on the chair in my kitchen, my head resting on the table. I pry my eyes open, groggy, and see the source of the sound, flies swirling around my uneaten piece of fish, the plate inches from my nose. Flies. Himari would never have stood for this.
I remember our tenth anniversary, she made my favorite, salmon, and dressed in that white shirt with the little embroidered stars I liked so much, and wore her necklace with the turquoise scarab. A fly appeared in the kitchen and she shrieked. “Itsuki! Keep it away from the fish!” And she handed me the fly swatter, with a shy smile. “Will you protect me, my hero?”
And so I swatted and swatted all around the cabinets, to no avail, until I accidentally swatted her bottom. Or was it an accident? Her eyes widened, and for a moment I couldn’t tell if she was about to cry, but she grinned and then laughed, and we both laughed until our sides hurt. She had such beautiful dimples when she laughed. Ahh, Himari.
I bolt up from the chair, sending it falling on its back, feeling light headed, suddenly remembering. Yesterday. Was it real? Did it happen? Or am I insane? I rush to the mud room, kneeling at the gear bag, frantically finding my wetsuit and fumbling for the gloves.
Tiny flecks of gold paint.
Yes. It happened. It was real.
I rush to gather what I need, exchange a new tank, and throw it all into the back of the car.
I have made this pilgrimage so many times I don’t even remember getting here, to the dock, but here I am, feet feeling the cold embrace of the water. And some vague amount of time later – I’m finding it hard to keep track today, my watch seems to have stopped – I am at the chair at the bottom of the sea.
And Himari is sitting in the chair.
She looks up and smiles, and reaches out her hand.
I cannot breathe. Fear chokes me. This cannot be happening. In my most fantastical imaginings, I find her skeleton, or some of the bones of her spine with the scarab necklace. That is all. Something to identify her, complete her story, to end her suffering and mine. But not this. How can this be?
I struggle to turn and flee, and she speaks.
“Itsuki. I have found you. Do not be afraid.”
I turn back, against the terror that threatens to consume me, and look at her again.
“I have been looking for you, Itsuki.”
“Did you think I would ever give up searching for you?”
“How are you alive?”
“Come to me, Itsuki.”
She reaches out again, now with both hands, and I feel the surrender again, just like on the top of the bank building, the letting go of the world I imagined was real, letting it go and instead giving myself fully to the world that is truly real, the world of Himari.
“There were… flies in the kitchen when I left… I’m sorry…”
Soundlessly she laughs, and strokes my hair, and kisses me on the small part of my face that is not covered by my mask. I look into her eyes, those most beautiful eyes, and the world begins to dissolve, and like the paint on the chair, slowly I am becoming one with the sea. Thank you, Himari, my love. I have finally come to rest.
I leave the embrace, let go of my hero, my wonderful husband, Itsuki, and again look down through my mask at the skeleton laying next to the old chair. I lift the wrist to get a better look at the watch, and yes, it is gold with a red face, just like a Ferrari.
I have been diving for 2,703 days.
I have finally found him.
My brave Itsuki, who seven years ago saved me from the tsunami by pushing me up a ladder to the top of an air conditioning unit, giving his own life to the sea.
I have found you, Itsuki, and you have found me.
Now rest, my love.
Copyright ©2018 Rob Dircks