It is Short Fiction Month on Rob Weber’s blog Val’s Random Comments. During the month of January he will be reviewing one science fiction or fantasy short story a day. I think this is a very interesting initiative, and I will be trying to keep up with the reading and to post a review for each story too. Weber has given a preliminary list of stories here, if anyone else wishes to follow along.
For his fourth read Weber has chosen a dark fantasy story, “A Cup of Salt Tears” by Isabel Yap, that is available for free online here. It is not my usual sort of reading and I have not read anything else by Isabel Yap. This is one of the advantages of the exercise, to discover new authors and stories, to widen our reading and to renew our appreciation of what we read.
I am a little perplexed at what to make of the story, and it seems to be able to be read in two different ways. I do not agree with the moral stated in the introductory remark that prefaces it.
To keep with the thread of transformation that I have been following in the previous stories, we can say that the heroine Makino has been transformed at the end but in a seemingly negative way.
Makino is courted by a kappa, a demon or dark trickster figure, who claims to have saved her from drowning when she was a little girl and to have fallen in with love her, but may be after her soul. At the end, the kappa seems to have won and eaten her soul, as she feels no more love for her husband Tetsuya:
“She feels just as much affection for Tetsuya as she did before, but nothing else”.
Great affection, but nothing more.
However, if we read the story more symbolically, the reverse can be said to be true: Makino has triumphed over the kappa and its effects on her life and has gained a new perspective based on greater self-knowledge.
The rememoration of a childhood traumatic event (in the terms of the story: of falling into a river and nearly drowning) reveals to Makino that this trauma was at the basis of her self-sacrificial love for her husband (as she gave up Tokyo and modeling for the sake of his job). She manages to free herself from the fixation on the trauma but at the price of loss of soul, flattening of affect.
Or is this just a more realistic, more mature emotion? Has she in fact learnt to “befriend” the trauma and to renounce a particular figure of love?
Her husband is described in terms that recall a kappa: monkeylike, a beaklike mouth, very long fingers:
He was not handsome. There was something monkeylike about his features, and his upper lip formed a strange peak over his lower lip.
Makino allowed Tetsuya to touch her fingers, just as she allowed the “kappa” to touch as a child. They fall in love, marry, and she sacrifices her career for his. Psychologically, it is her husband, or the self-sacrificial love that she feels for him, that is the monster.
The final scene suggests as much. Usually one inscribes the name of a child on a cucumber and throws it in the water, so that the kappa eats the cucumber and not the child. At the end Maniko writes the word “love” on the cucumber before throwing it into the water, so we can imagine that this is to prevent the kappa from eating her love anymore, so that she can pass on to a phase of monster-less, non-traumatic, non-sacrificial love.