Manta Ray Mantra

by Dena

I am red hot on the sidewalk, red hot on some sunny May Shanghai side street, gawking at a strange little sidewalk seafood market full fish, bottom dwellers, mollusks. A star fish, a turtle. Any fish you wish. It’s lovely. I think of a good meal. I start to feel hungry. All this seafood. Even a manta ray. Holy shit. A manta ray?

Manta ray for sale. Manta ray for sale! This is beyond my scope of expectation. I want to think I am worldly and ready to wrap my senses around anything people might do. I want to think so. Manta ray for sale.

Next to next, odd creatures flounder in bin after bin of shallow water. The only one that registers is the manta ray. People buy other swimmers, haggling and walking away with bags of aquatic captives while I perseverate on the manta ray. I glance at my man. Nonplussed. Watching me look. Patient jaded lover.

Manta ray, manta ray, manta ray. It becomes a manta ray mantra. I decide to breathe.

Manta ray. Manta ray. Manta –

I interrupt myself mid-manta ray chant.

I ask my lover, “Who here has a fish tank big enough to handle a manta ray?”  A wry smile is all I am given.

No one looks rich enough to have such a fish tank. Harried Chinese bargain and hustle to the front of the line. The grandmas shove everyone else out of the way. The people wait to look, perhaps to purchase. They look at me. The grandmas laugh. Chinese people look at my gaping jaw. I am not saving face. I am not poker straight. Manta ray.

I think of Man Ray. I take a photograph of the manta ray.

Manta ray in a bin of water. What will happen to this manta ray? Where is it going? How will it get there? Plane, train or automobile? How much will it cost? Prices are on the bins, but I can’t calculate the conversion over the rhythm of Pacific manta ray chanting.

I think of the Long Beach Aquarium with its pool of manta rays for visitors to touch. They are vinyl smooth, friendly as puppies and peaceful as doves. I find shelter inside that memory. My beautiful little four year old son chanted out loud his own manta ray mantra. “Hi, guys. Oh hi, swimming guys!”

We let them circle to our touch for an hour. “Hi guys!” he repeated for that hour. “Oh hi, swimming guys!”

At home there is a huge, endless fish tank behind reception at a deluxe hotel. It has sharks. Channel Three made a big deal out of the sharks before the grand opening, but they were only dinky little sharks. Hard to spot. Looked like fish. Fish! Not even big fish! I had gone out of my way to see those sharks, but they were jack shit sharks. Manta rays were the only cool thing in that failure of a shark tank.

No. No owner or proprietor of a large fish home would shop for a manta ray on this Little Lost Chinese Street to Nowhere But Other Chinese Streets.

My lover leads me away from the fish market. I cease the manta ray mantra. I do not look back. I let the unexpected manta ray go like a bad date or a stupid argument. I let go of my fear, but my fear jumps back so fast that my blood is rendered cold.

A man in pajamas and Thousand Cloud slippers has a monkey on a leash. He impedes our progress. He appraises me. I look down. A monkey. This is enough. Enough! What a fucked up street. What the fuck is a fucking monkey doing on this fucked up street? I have had it. This is enough. Monkey. Manta ray. Man Ray. I take another photograph.

A monkey! A god damn son of a bitch fucker of a monkey. I hate monkeys. They horrify me with their creepy toes and faces. They are wiry. They will murder your face if you give them a chance. Never let monkeys have access to knives. I am sweating but frozen, so cold.

The monkey man screeches out some class of Chinese, but I know he is saying, “JUMP MONKEY, JUMP.” He won’t stop. He yanks the monkey by the leash but the monkey refuses to jump. I hear the monkey think, “Fuck your mother, you human son of an ass-fucked cunt. The best of you was left behind on the sheets, cocksucker.”

I hate monkeys. I do not like them. I petrify, freeze. A monkey. The manta ray. A monkey.

I shiver hard. I pee a little.

The monkey and the nasty pajama monkey tamer scram once my lover hands over a few coins.

Fucking crazy street! I do not breathe. There is no Monkey Mantra. I do not breathe until we turn the corner to a less eventful street. I just do not breathe. My shaky hand is cold in the warm hand of my lover. Manta ray, manta ray. Manta ray.  Man Ray. Fucking monkey.