Cold Storage Facility
From SIGN: A collection of stories by the members of Seventeen Syllables, curated by Guest Editor, Grace Loh Prasad (introduced here)
As my father backs up our old Jeep to the loading dock, I can see in the rearview mirror a row of marlin, their dorsal fins folded like sailcloth. Even with heads and caudal fins removed, they are still huge, as intimidating as torpedoes.
“Wow,” my father says. “Look at those.” I can hear in his amazement that he has never landed anything as big.
Japanese fishermen in bloodstained khaki shorts huddle around the scale, waiting for the buyer to inspect their catch. Two Pohnpeian men with muscular arms load the biggest marlin onto the scale. We exchange imperceptible nods. We were once classmates at Seventh Day Adventist Elementary. But today they are working, and I’m here with my father just to buy ice.
With a fillet knife, the buyer slices a bit of flesh from where the marlin’s body tapers to tail. He rubs it to a paste between his fingers, holds it to his bifocals. He frowns and points to the delivery truck parked next to our Jeep, instructing the Pohnpeians to put the marlin in the flatbed. Had the buyer accepted it, the marlin would be on a chartered flight to Japan tonight. Instead, it will remain on island, a profit loss of $10 a pound for the fishermen, who grumble collectively.
Carrying our empty cooler, my father and I walk past the small crowd around the scale. Before the marlin is carted away, I catch a glimpse inside its hollow belly. Where intestines used to be only ropy veins remain, swinging gently from the tapping of flies swarming inside. The incision at the tail betrays anemic flesh, ruined by the marlin’s increased internal temperature as it leapt from the water, struggling to throw the hook from its mouth. The marlin will be cut into steaks and stuffed into dilapidated iceboxes at the fish market next to the Mobil gas station. The freezer-burnt cross sections will only hint at the marlin’s former grandeur.
My father does not look at the fish now. He pays for ice at the glass booth where the overhead sign reads Teketik Cold Storage Facility of the Traditional Fishing and Nutrition Improvement Project. Donated by the government of Japan as a token of friendship between the Federated States of Micronesia and Japan. March 1986. The year I graduated from high school. The facility doesn’t seem that old, especially here near the water where everything rots from either mildew or rust. The blue paint still looks bright and cheerful, and the deck is white as sand. The Japanese are good at maintaining their facilities.
Inside, where condensation rains from the ceiling, a Pohnpeian boy in a bulky down jacket shovels $3.00 of ice into our cooler. The ice is for our New Year’s Eve party, to keep Budweisers cold in the backyard where my father and his friends will sit on rickety chairs, wave away mosquitoes under the light of a single incandescent bulb, and talk in numbers about the Japanese. Seventy-five-foot boats with monofilament thirty miles long. Thousands of hooks. Double-rigged trawlers. Twenty miles beyond the no-fishing zone. Snagging everything from amberjack to albacore, bonito to frigate mackerel. Discouraged, my father and his friends will shake their heads and wipe sweat from their brows.
My mother will be inside with her friends, wearing a polka-dot dress for prosperity and squeezing calamansi onto pancit noodles for long life, doing what she can to ensure a better year. At midnight, the children will launch bottle rockets and cover their ears. Mokilese teenagers will ride by in pickup trucks, drumming on empty hardtack cans, chanting, “Mokilese! Chuka chuk chuk!” And my sister will write her name in the air with a Roman candle, fleeting sulfuric letters, lightning without thunder.
As my father and I head to the fish market to buy yellowfin for tonight’s sashimi, I think back to a time before the Japanese came to trawl our waters, back to when we used to anchor beyond the barrier reef and fish all night. We’d string water-resistant flashlights over the edge of the boat, and parrot fish would come schooling, slowly passing through the beams of light as if hypnotized. My father would point to where I should aim. We’d cast our lures. And sapphire phosphorescence would shimmer on the surface where our lines hit the water in the dark.
Jay Ruben Dayrit’s work has appeared in a handful of magazines, literary journals and anthologies, including Sycamore Review, Minnesota Review, Santa Clara Review, Nexus, The Yale Quarterly, WIRED Magazine, His 2: brilliant new fiction by gay men (Faber & Faber), and What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine the Future (Riverhead Books). He has taught creative writing at Kearny Street Workshop and San Quentin State Prison. He is a recipient of the Headlands Center for the Arts Artist-in-Residence Grant and the San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artists Grant, and a member of Seventeen Syllables, an Asian Pacific American writers collective. Originally from Kolonia, Pohnpei in the Federated State of Micronesia, he now lives and works in San Francisco.
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Art (modified) NOAA / Rodrigo Friscione Public Domain