The Manta Ray
I went to the marina alone on Thursday. It was mostly just to get out of my apartment (I've been waking up at six in the morning for no apparent reason...last night I tried and tried to stay asleep and still woke up at 6:30) because I didn't want to wake Ayumi, who sleeps until nine like a normal human being, but on another level--and I know this sounds stupid, don't laugh at me--I chose the marina and not some other place because everytime I go there, even now, I feel as if I would find you there, smiling at the end of the fishing pier speaking softly as the sun set. As we did one day a long time ago.
My legs were still sore from running to the marina with Simone on Monday, and I thought about walking off the lactic acid, but then the 51 bus presented itself and I took it down University to the Amtrak station, which is under the bridge where highway 80 meets 580. I walked the rest of the way. It was cloudy, the kind they call overcast, the sky looked like an enormous handmade sheet of gray paper. You know, the kind made out of pulp and screens that leave it textured, not quite flat. There was mist. As I walked along the southernedge of land and water, just feeling the mist like fine rain on my face and not really thinking about anything in particular, it occurred to me how colorless water really was; without the sky to reflect the sea was the grayish green of sludge.
Anyways. I walked past several docks for windsurfing (actually went on some of them, stood on the edge feeling the motion of the waters), past a restaurant named His Lordship which opened at eleven (drat...I was hungry and it was only eight in the morning), past a janitor with a hose, past the largely empty parking lot and onto the pier.
There was a dome-shaped tent at the end of the pier. I felt strange walking toward it, as if I were not myself but someone from another time seeking a guru who lived in the middle of the sea. The pier seemed to stretch itself out as I walked. Maybe because I was hungry. It felt endlessly long.
The sea was very quiet. But every few minutes something not quite as deep as a foghorn beeped, like an alarm clock. By the time I got close enough to see that the tent was not inhabited by someone who would give me answers, the beeps were driving me crazy. I wondered it it bothered the seagulls.
I stuck my head out between two slats of the wall at the end of the pier, ignoring the three fishermen, or, men who were trying to fish, and watched three black birds fly close to the surface of the sea. I heard one of the men, the topless one with green tattoos winding down both arms, calling his two buddies to get him a bucket, but neither of them wanted to get out of the tent. They teased him, "When we see bait, we'll bring you the bucket." When I lost sight of the blackbirds I turned to leave. As I was walking back the fat man with tattooed arms hit a school of small silver fish. They spilled all over the pier, bouncing and gleaming, and one of his friends rushed over with the bucket. I thought they looked a bit like the fish I keep. I kept walking.
It must have been a good morning for fishing, because I saw a small Asian fisherman before me who'd landed a large fish already as well. His wife was taking photographs of him next to the fish, which was still alive, flopping around, and looked at least 2 feet long. I heard somebody walking past him joke, "You'll have to drive your truck out here to carry that one home."
As I got closer I realized that it was not a fish, but a manta ray. I'd assumed the fish was two feet long from head to tail, but that was actually the wingspan; it was sitting on a small neon yellow net, flapping as if it could still swim away. I'd never seen such a big manta ray, but I recognized it as a large version of the smaller specimens I'd seen as a kid at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Its fins made dull, hopeless slapping sounds against the wet cement. It looked like a small black hill, with a duckbill head shaped like a baseball cap and a long tail that was caught on the nylon rope. The tail was bleeding, red on black. Its eyes were glassy, dark grey, and placid...like a cross between a deer and a shark's eyes.
"Too big," said the tiny fisherman, "Gotta put back in the water." He smiled at me, missing teeth. I stayed to watch him put it back in the water. He passed a red nylon rope through the poor creature's head (manta rays have natural holes on either side of their heads?) and tied it in a double knot. His wife handed him a pair of biker gloves. Then he tried to lift the thing by the rope. It was too heavy; he was not strong enough. He dragged it around, leaving blood on the pier. I watched him struggle. His wife was obviously only there to take pictures. She started asking me questions, where I went to school, what I studied, etc. Finally I asked her husband, "Do you need help?" He said no, but I stepped in anyway. Together we were able to lift it as high as the railing, but not quite over. We were not tall enough, and the manta ray was too heavy even for the two of us to lift over our heads. The rope burned in my hand, and I flinched, thinking about the splinters we were putting in the ray's white belly. Then I saw how the cord was cutting into its eye. We dropped it on the pier again, belly up this time, and for an awful second I thought it might have died. Then it flapped again, dreaming of cold water.
We had to lift it from underneath to heave it over into the water. To my surprise, he lashed the cord to the top railing, leaving the manta ray (amazingly still alive) barely enough line to submerge in the water. "This way no lose," he said. I could see the cord still cutting into its head. It squirted water out of its holes and flapped, trying to swim.
The beeping started again, like a death knell. I had blood and clear slime all over my sleeves and black sweatpants. I walked away, suddenly not hungry anymore.