ALL IN A MORNING’S WORK • by Lucinda Kempe

In honor of Ric O’Barry and his documentary, The Cove

The gathered fishermen stood on the shore, their rubber wellies white against the sand. Dawn brightened the cove, lighting the green hills surrounding the inlet. Hiroshi dragged on his cigarette and exhaled.

“My son did well in his lesson yesterday.  He speared ten guppies in the tank with bamboo skewers,” he said to the man standing at his side.

Isamu yawned and twitched his shoulders. “Good son,” he said, as he pulled on his wetsuit trousers. “You are a good teacher because you kill well.”

Hiroshi smiled. “I earned my skill in Chile. The numbers there were fantastic. A mecca!” He finished his smoke, dropped the butt and ground it into the sand with his boot toe.

“Time for the morning’s work,” he said.

Isamu zipped the top of his wetsuit and placed his mask over his face. He buckled on his rebreather and sensory equipment. Last, he checked his sheathed gutting knife on his waist belt.

Hiroshi hollered to the dozen men who waited the call. “Let’s at it!”

They advanced to the idling boats and loaded on, four to a boat. Hiroshi and Isamu manned the lead vessel, which wended its way along the floaters that delineated the nets holding the dolphins. The boat reached the pack designated for today’s cull. They dropped in another netted line with floaters to herd the creatures in closer, then killed the motors. Steam from the dolphins’ body heat rose from the water. The men raised their javelin-like spears. Hiroshi gave the cry: “Begin.”

The spears pierced flesh. The dolphins bolted, terrorized; they jumped up and dove back down, hitting each other in the tight space. Spears rose and plunged again. Ropes twined around tail fins. The men yelped and readied their knives. The pace increased.

Another hour and all movement in the water stilled. They hauled the smaller bodies on board, the larger secured to the aft with rope by their tail fins. Hiroshi wiped the frosted lenses of his glasses and breathed.

Isamu adjusted his equipment and slipped off the side of the boat to search underwater for any survivors hiding below the surface.

He quickly resurfaced.  “A calf!” he shouted.

“Dive! Dive!” yelled Hiroshi. Isamu dove. The calf came up near the prow. Hiroshi raised his spear and jabbed into her blowhole. From the other side of the net, among the dolphins segregated for tomorrow’s kill, a lone dolphin began leaping, frantic, diving and rising repeatedly as the calf struggled. Isamu swam alongside, drew his knife and slit the calf’s throat.

“Well done,” said Hiroshi.

Isamu gestured a thumbs up. Hiroshi hooked the calf and hauled her onto the boat. He stopped, covered in sweat and blood. The morning air was crisp and raw. He was glad for it.

“All right. On to the gutting barge,” he called to the boats, whose motors idled. The engines whirred on. The boats, loaded with what would soon be fresh meat for the school children of Taiji, motored away. Hiroshi waved to Isamu, who was still swimming in the blood orange sea that looked like soup.

Isamu watched the men disperse the catch and anchor the boats nearby. He touched the top band of his wetsuit trouser and swam towards the shoal, the words of his pregnant wife Aika, in his head.

“The American media say the meat is riddled with mercury.”

“They’re wrong,” he’d told her. “Americans spread propaganda.”

He’d show her, he thought, as he got out of the water. Red droplets rolled off his equipment and down the skin of his wetsuit. He removed a piece of flesh from his trouser band and put it in a side pocket of the duffle he’d left on the sand. He unbuckled his gear, stuffed his mask inside the duffle. He picked everything up and headed to his car and the appointment at the laboratory with Sensei Chi.

A few hours later, in Sensei’s Chi’s office, Isamu sat, his hands resting on his thighs.

“You’re certain?” he asked once more.

Sensei Chi nodded. “Yes, the levels are as toxic as Minamata in 1956. This is your first child?”

“Second. The first was stillborn last year.”

Sensei Chi cocked his head but did not speak.

Isamu bowed. “Thank you, Sensei.”

He returned to his car and drove until he reached the cove. From inside the vehicle, he watched the dolphins for tomorrow’s killing. Packed in the nets, they surfaced and dove. He thought of the calf in the morning, Hiroshi’s cry of “Begin,” and his wife’s face, the look he’d see in her eyes when he told her about Sensei Chi’s test results.

He looked at the sky. The sun slipped under the horizon, sucking all the color from the day.

Lucinda Kempe writes and lives on Long Island, New York. She is a transplanted Southerner who has found happiness above the Mason Dixon line. She lives in an Arts& Crafts Style house with a husband, their two reproductions, a Labrador named Comus, a Ragdoll and an everyday cat called Mitten.

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