Several things attracted me to Isabel Yap’s short story. The first, if I’m honest, was Victo Ngai’s illustration because:
I’m not going to put a copy of the painting here. Wait! Stay with me! I’m doing it so you have to go to the story itself. And while you are there, you may as well read it. See? Patience. You shalt be redirected.
Okay, so I’m a shallow person who read A Cup of Salt Tears because she liked the cover. But I was also promised kappa mythology. And ever since Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I’ve thought kappas are pretty cool mythological beings (Thanks Rowling). So I’m not all bad.
Yap’s work here is not complex, but it is beautiful and luxuriant. I was a little skeptical about the kappa’s first appearance in the story, which felt sudden and unsubstantiated, but as I read further I forgave that. This story is achingly lovely – gentle and sad and poignant. It possesses a great deal of emotional resonance because the main character, Makino, is so finely drawn and irresistibly sympathetic.
Makino’s husband, Tetsuya, has fallen sick with an unnamed illness and is slowly dying. Whilst bathing in an onsen, Makino is visited by a kappa. Kappas (forgive English plural) are yōkai that dwell in rivers and lure children and young women to their watery doom. Makino mistrusts the kappa, but knows that it might be able to help Tetsuya. And so she must make a difficult decision.
Like I said, it isn’t a complex plot. But the depth of character and the richness of the descriptions make this work memorable and haunting. Makino’s weariness and worry seep from the page (okay, laptop screen) and bleed out into your mind like ink in water, diffusing and settling inside you.
Read, and see the picture, here.