Bathing the giant was a public affair.
To the young minds on the other side of the glass, his scrubbing of the red-skinned squid's mantle was a choreographed dance. The parents, however, observed him with minds of a different kind. Genjirou Tanigaki was one of the few aquarists' that didn’t wear a wet suit in the tank, but after the release of that wretchedly erotic masterpiece featuring him with a squid, he began working in a suit. The choice to wear a wet suit disturbed Kōkai, her suckers were accustomed to touching his skin. She became so distressed by it that he returned to cleaning her in his flimsy swimming briefs.
“Your ass looks so good in those,” said Inkarmat.
Genjirou turned and opened his arms, “What are you doing down here?”
“Don’t get too close,” she crinkled her nose. “You smell like that thing,”
“Her name is Kōkai,” he scolded.
“How can you stand her tentacles all over you?” she asked.
“We’ve had this conversation before,” he said. “The tentacles never touch me,”
“Arms, tentacles, same thing,” she dried his back with a towel.
“Are you still buying me lunch?” he asked.
“That’s what I came to tell you,” she said. “An hour later than usual,”
“What’s going on?” he asked.
Inkarmat displayed a mischievous smile.
“Online tracking says I got a package on its way,”
“Do you even know his name yet?” he asked.
“It’s Rikimatsu Ariko,” she said. “I always get a name first,”
“You certainly got mine,” he said.
“Your name and your virginity,” she whispered. “Not bad for a year's work,”
Genjirou laughed, “What was I thinking?”
“You were captivated,” Inkarmat bragged. “Most people are when they meet me,”
“I was also drunk,” he added.
“I had to ply you with Saps,” she said. “You were such a cold fish, but you warmed up when it counted,”
Though his romantic relationship with Inkarmat was long ended, he valued their lasting friendship. He was also grateful for her assistance in getting Kōkai a tank here; the squid was nearing the end of her life-span, and he wanted those last days to be in the most modern of facilities.
“I need to get back to my desk,” she said, eyes on her watch.
Genjirou tipped down for a kiss on the cheek, “What time for lunch?”
“One-thirty,” she said. “Sorry so late,”
“It’s fine,” he said. “I ate a big breakfast,”
“Anyone I know?” she asked.
“No,” he frowned. “Get back to work,”
Inkarmat giggled before leaving him to get dressed. Once suited up, he ventured inside to talk with the children. A cacophony of high-pitched voices erupted as he approached Kōkai’s tank window.
The children were always excited to see him, and as always they wanted to know what Kōkai ate and when she slept, and how she peed and pooped. After explaining these vital facts, he pointed out the difference between tentacles and arms and detailed the rest of Kōkai’s anatomy.
The parents today were all housewives, stay for one familiar face.
He'd been coming for three weeks now, dressed in scrubs with an employee identification badge around his neck—just like the one Genjirou kept in his locker out back of the tanks. He always took a position to the right of Kōkai’s tank, watching her in silence, sometimes for almost an hour.
After the children were ushered out, the man remained.
“Hello,” Genjirou stepped into place beside him.
The man’s framed eyes held him, but he wasn’t smiling.
“I’m sorry if I interrupted you,” said Genjirou.
“You didn’t interrupt me,” his accent was pure Ibarakian, about as close to southern Tōhoku as one could get without being in it.
Genjirou folded his arms over his chest, “Her name is-”
“—I know what her name is,” he said, flatly.
Genjirou was intruding, “You have a good-”
“—Where did you find Kōkai?”
“Her mother was killed by my father,” Genjirou rolled his eyes. “That sounds so dramatic, like a movie or something. My family are squid fishers, and Kōkai’s mother was harvested,”
“Did she fit in the palm of your hand?”
“She did!” Genjirou smiled. “She was so tiny, I couldn’t throw her back into the sea, so I kept her, and now we’re here.”
“How many years is she?” he asked.
“Three and a half,” Genjirou replied.
“You’re going to lose her soon,” he gazed at Kōkai through the glass. “I’m sorry,”
His words carried no emotion as they passed from his thin lips, but the reverence on his face as he regarded the water was touching.
“I became an aquarist because of her,” said Genjirou, his hand on the glass. Kōkai crawled over the rock and sand and butted the tail fin on her crown to his palm. “When she’s gone, I don’t know what I’ll do,”
“Your name is Tanigaki, right?” he asked.
“It is,” said Genjirou. “Have we met?”
“No,” he said. “We’ve never met,”
Genjirou waited for him to say something more, but he didn’t.
“You have a-”
“—I’m Doctor Ogata,” he said, eyes on Kōkai. “My field is zoo dentistry. I work with all kinds of animals, but large predators are my specialty,”
“That sounds dangerous,” Genjirou said.
“They’re drugged before I touch them,” he spoke without a hint of affability.
Genjirou suddenly felt like an idiot, “You have a good day Doc-”
“—Do you want to have dinner with me tonight?” he asked.
“Dinner?” Genjirou asked.
“That thing you eat at the end of the day,” he said, stonily.
“I know what dinner is,” Genjirou softened. “I was caught off guard by your invitation,”
He stared at him, “I can’t believe no one’s ever asked you to dinner,”
“Listen, Doctor Ogata,” Genjirou took a breath. “I can’t shake the feeling that I’m interrupting you somehow, so you when asked me to eat, it caught me off guard,”
“My personality is for shit,” he mused. “That’s to be expected,”
Genjirou smiled, “I didn’t say that,”
“I’ve got a root canal to perform on a Bengal tiger in fifteen minutes,” he pulled out his phone. “Can I get your contact info for tonight?”
Genjirou recited his phone number without hesitation.
“I’ll text you when I’m done,” he said, then walked away.
Inkarmat elbowed him in line at the buffet.
“That’s all you’re getting?” she asked.
“I’m eating light,” he said. “I’ve got a date later,”
“Genji!” she followed him to their table. “Details, please!”
“I met him this afternoon,” he shook salt over his salad.
“One of the parents?” she asked, smiling.
“No, he works here,” he said. “He’s a dentist over in cats,”
Inkarmat grimaced, “Doctor Ogata?”
“What’s wrong with him?” he asked.
“What’s right with him?” she countered.
“I think he’s cute,” he said, sipping his smoothie.
“Genji,” she scowled. “You’re too much of a man for a cold fish like Ogata,”
“I like cold fish,” he said.
“He’s a dickhead,” she said, making Genjirou smile. “He never smiles, you say hello to him, and he never says it back. He’s a walking talking empty room,”
“You hit on him, didn’t you?” he asked.
“Of course, I did,” she said. “You know I love a man with scars,”
“I guess he’s not like me,” he grinned.
“Sexual preference aside," she said. "Being human is required when working among the living,”
“He's a little awkward,” he said.
“I bet he takes you to his space ship tonight,” she said.
“He’s not an alien!” he laughed.
“I bet you a hundred yen that’s exactly what he is,” she said.
“There’s something about him,” said Genjirou. “He's attractive,”
“All the interesting people I’ve set you up with,” she complained. “And you fixate on the creepiest man at work,”
“Interesting?” he argued. “Kirawus didn’t have a job, Mister Nihei was old enough to be my father, and don’t even get me started on that mess you got me into with Kiroranke,”
“Kiroranke was a mistake,” she nodded. “My only mistake,”
“Wrong,” he said. “I’m still recovering from the weeks I wasted dating your gynecologist,”
“She was stable and interesting to talk to,” said Inkarmat.
“All Doc Ienaga talked about was work,” he said. “I like pussy, but I don’t want talk about every waking moment of the day,”
“She talk about mine?” she asked.
“No comment,” he said. “Every woman you’ve ever hooked me up with was so self-absorbed. I never got a word in edgewise with any of them,”
“Confidence is your kink,” she said. “Your words, not mine,”
“There’s a fine line between confidence and vanity,” he countered.
“I bet that Ogata is ate up with himself,” she said.
“I’ll find out tonight,” he said, crunching on a crouton.
Genjirou didn’t expect the Moliere.
The dining room was small, the atmosphere carpeted café, and the waiter deferred to Ogata without even looking at Genjirou.
This snub was forgotten when Ogata suggested Genjirou order for them both. The only caveat being that Ogata was a beer and sake man who wanted no part in Genjirou's choice of wine. He ordered them the venison but was shocked at how miniature the piece was on his big plate. He had it on good authority that European restaurants served large portions, nothing as wonderful as the American's, but still.
Ogata’s first name was Hyakunosuke, and as suspected, he was from Ibaraki; and that’s all Genjirou got out of him after their food arrived.
“Thank you for bringing me here,” said Genjirou. “Most people hear about my life as a fisherman and then take me to get seafood,”
“I don’t eat anything with a shell,” he said, cutting into his filet.
“Venison’s in season right now,” Genjirou said. “This is so good,”
“It’s my first time eating it,” he nodded. “I like it,”
“I’m from Ani,” said Genjirou. “My grandfather was a Matagi,”
“I didn’t think there were any Matagi left,” he said.
“There aren’t,” Genjirou said. “There won’t be many squid fisherman left either after this season,”
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Overfishing,” Genjirou sipped his wine. “Water’s getting warmer,”
“It’s good you found another life for yourself,” he said, focusing on his food.
“How did you get into animal dentistry?” Genjirou asked.
“I started out in dental college through the Defense Force,” he said.
“I was in the GSD, Ninth-Division,” said Genjirou. “Explains why you keep calling me Tanigaki and not minding it when I call you, Ogata,”
“I was in the First-Division,” his eyes lifted. “I’m surprised you weren’t in the maritime services,”
“I spent my childhood at sea,” Genjirou said, glass in hand. “I wanted a change,”
“You went back home after service?” he asked.
“I did,” said Genjirou. “Back on the boats,”
“Is this considered French food?” he asked.
“No,” said Genjirou. “It’s haute, but not ethnically French,”
“European, then,” he said with a smile spread across his face.
What a perfect smile. Yes, his teeth are perfect, too.
Genjirou’s heart quickened, “You’re not missing anything,”
“You’ve eaten French?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” Genjirou laughed.
Ogata stared at him.
“I dated an artist from Paris,” Genjirou explained. “He was summering over in Hakodate. We broke up when he painted this weird picture of Kōkai and me,”
Genjirou cast his eyes down, “You know the shunga called Tako to ama?”
“The diver with the two octopi?”
“That’s it,” said Genjirou. “He did one like that with Kōkai and me,”
“You didn’t pose for it?”
“He took pictures me while I was in the tank with her one day,” he said. “Bathing her, nothing gross or weird,”
“Gross and weird?”
“Sorry, I don’t get tentacle porn,” Genjirou said.
“You mean arm porn,” Ogata nodded. “Since most tentacles have hooks,”
“Yes, thank you!” Genjirou slapped the table playfully. “At first, I was a little put-off by the piece. He wasn’t kinky or anything. Obviously, the art didn’t reflect his personality. But then he exhibited the damn thing in Tokyo and invited me to the showing. I was mortified because the photos were right there next to the damn painting,”
“There’s photos?” Ogata asked.
“I got those back after I refused to see him again. If he’d asked me before showing it or putting it on the market, I might’ve been reasonable about it all. He sold it, for like, hundreds of thousands of dollars," Genjirou couldn't stop himself from babbling. "I’m thankful no prints are being sold anywhere, but it’s on the internet,”
Ogata said nothing more on the matter, and this made Genjirou regret sharing the story when not even two more beers brought another word from Ogata.
“You’re not much of a talker, are you?”
Ogata took a swig of his third beer and thought about it.
“No,” he said.
Genjirou masked a smile behind his fist.
“Why am I here, Ogata?”
“I wanted your company,” he said.
“All I’ve done is talk about myself,” Genjirou said. “I’m not complaining, my last few outings I didn’t get to say much. It’s made me conscious of dominating the conversation, but we haven’t really talked to each other tonight-”
“—I don’t feel dominated,” he said.
“What do you feel?” Genjirou asked.
“Entertained,” he said.
Genjirou cleared his throat, bringing over the waiter.
“Can I get some black tea please,” he asked. “Sugar and evaporated milk on the side,”
“I’ll have the same,” said Ogata.
“I like it when my tea doesn’t taste like tea,” he said.
“That’s how I take my coffee,” Ogata added.
He eyed the room, “It’s getting late,”
“We can leave after this if you’d like,” Ogata eyed his phone.
“I’d like,” he took a breath. “To know why I’m here other than for your entertainment,”
“I guess I could’ve gone to a hostess club,” Ogata said.
Genjirou’s cheeks went hot.
Ogata blinked, “That came out wrong, I’m sorry,”
Genjirou sighed and closed his eyes.
“Are you having a bad time?” Ogata asked.
“Nope,” he declared. “Oddly enough, I’ve enjoyed myself,”
The hot tea arrived in a kettle and Genjirou dumped sugar and milk into his cup before pouring in his tea.
“Pour mine, please,” Ogata held up his cup.
“Now you’re at a hostess club,” he said, reaching across the table and obliging.
Ogata paused, “I’m sorry, Tanigaki-”
“—It’s fine, Ogata,” he said.
“I wanted you nice and relaxed,”
“I appreciate that thank you,” he said. “Why do you need my so relaxed?”
“I have plans for you,”
Genjirou stared at Ogata over the rim of his cup.
“I can’t take you back to my space ship if you’re nervous,”
“Oh no,” Genjirou deflated. “You were in the commissary today,”
“My assistant was there,” Ogata smiled. “Overheard the conversation,”
“I’m so sorry, Ogata,” he said. “We meant no disrespect,”
“He told me exactly what was said,” Ogata grinned.
“Inkarmat speaks her mind,” he explained.
Ogata nodded, “I’m more than aware of her mind,”
He wanted to crawl under the table.
“You can make it up to me, Tanigaki,” Ogata said.
“Make it up to you?” he asked, smiling.
Ogata leaned in and lowered his voice.
“I invited you out because I want to have sex with you,”
“What?” he asked, scanning the room for listeners. “You want to what?”
“You’re an attractive man,” he said. “I want to have sex with you, Tanigaki,”
Genjirou gulped his tea, “That’s very forward of you,”
“If I’ve been presumptuous-”
“—I’m not the village virgin,” he said. “But I don’t know you,”
“I feel like I know you,” said Ogata. “And I know what I want,”
“And there’s nothing wrong with knowing what you want,” he said.
“I want you and I to be together tonight,” Ogata said.
“What about tomorrow?” he asked; talk of a relationship’s future on a first date was repellent to any player.
“If you’re not due back at the zoo in the morning,” Ogata said. “We can sleep in, and then spend the day together,”
“That’s not usually how it works,” Genjirou joked.
“I want to have sex with you,” Ogata said. “More than once, Tanigaki.”
"Okay," Genjirou nodded. "I mean, I understand what you want, not okay, we're going to do anything,"
"I live twenty minutes across town," said Ogata. "Can you think about it for twenty minutes?"
Ogata’s penthouse overlooked the Sapporo skyline.
Shoes off at the door, Genjirou stepped into what seemed a sparse yet elegant ryokan. Teak wood covered the floors, and the walls were lined with polished tiles. The sunken living room contained traditional furniture and a large screen television; Genjirou didn’t trust anyone who didn’t own a TV.
The opposite wall was comprised of a saltwater aquarium.
The brain corals were alive with colors seen only south of Okinawa. Tangs flitted about the water displaying their bold black, white and yellow patches. A variety of vibrant dragonets skimmed the sand, while schools of anthias drifted on invisible channels.
Hundreds of stalks of pontederifolia and balansae centered the tank, while a jungle of barteri, nana, fern, and crispus dangled from above in too many shades of green to count.
“You were drinking the Cuvée Misawa Rouge, right?”
Ogata stood there with a bottle in hand and two glasses.
“Yes, thank you,” said Genjirou. “How many liters is this?”
“Seven-thousand,” said Ogata.
“It’s its own room,” he laughed.
“Comprises of this wall here, a wall in my bathroom,” Ogata came up behind him and brought a full glass around to his chest. “And a wall in my bedroom,”
Genjirou walked to the chubadai and sat cross-legged on one of the cushions beside it. Glancing his surroundings he noticed the ceiling in the kitchen; the belly of a narrow lap pool ran its length.
“You've got a pool upstairs?”
Ogata joined him on the floor, “It’s considered a rooftop terrace,”
“Is that how you stay in shape?”
Ogata shrugged, “I don’t have time for a gym,”
“Who designed your water-system?”
“The zoo put it in as part of my compensation,” said Ogata.
“For the next twenty-five years,” Ogata raised his glass.
“No tinfoils, huh?”
“I had about thirty tin-barbs,” Ogata set his glass down and leaned back on his hands. “They started eating the plants. Want to see the pool?”
“I can see it from here,” Genjirou said, then pointed at the pool. “May I ask why you have a clear lined pool?”
“I like watching,” said Ogata.
“Watching what?” he asked.
“Men swimming,” Ogata said. “Their bodies moving in the water,”
"You invite men in here," he asked. "To swim?"
"No," said Ogata. "I usually pay escorts,"
Genjirou downed his wine, “Did you grow up around the water?”
“I wasn’t allowed in the water,” Ogata said. “We lived in rice crop country, and there were snakes in the ponds and lakes,”
“My dad tossed me into the sea the minute I could walk,” he said.
“I learned to swim in junior high,” said Ogata. “Want to see my ceph?”
Genjirou started, “You’ve got an octopus?”
“A briareus, I’ve had him a few months,” Ogata stood and offered a hand. “He’s got his own quartered space in the tank,”
“That was smart,” Genjirou took his hand and let the man pull him up. “They like to eat their tank mates,”
“He’s in my bedroom,” said Ogata.
Genjirou hesitated, “There better a briar in there,”
Ogata’s bedroom was dark stay for the tank lights that illuminated a space along the floor. Live rocks abounded between thick yards of seagrass. The water was warm in this part of the tank, the glass partition unseen with the naked eye.
Genjirou studied each rock, “Where are you?”
Ogata brought his hand down onto a switch and dimmed the light inside. Marine blue glowed upon one of the rocks. The briar had camouflaged itself, but in the dark, there was no hiding its faint bioluminescence. It crawled off the rock and trawled over the sand, its tendrils curled in every direction as it moved.
“What’s his name?” he asked.
“Bel Homme,” said Ogata, who stood there with hand aimed at the painting on the opposite wall.
Genjirou wanted to die.
Under the waters of a storm-ravaged sea, a blood red Architeuthis held a naked muscular man in its arms. One of its sharpened tentacles curled around his waist and wounded his hip, while the other held his arms over his head. The man’s chiseled hairy figure was contorted so that his impaled mouth and violated ass were displayed clearly, as the beasts many arms agitated his erogenous zones.
“It was you,” he glared Ogata. “You bought this!”
“When I first saw you at the zoo,” he said. “You were my type, completely. A fucking bear cub, just like the man in this painting. Then I saw you with Kōkai, and it just blew my mind. My fantasy came true, Tanigaki-”
“—is that why you brought me here?”
“I didn’t realize the man in this piece was you,” eyes down, he smoothed his hair with a steady hand. “I felt freakish enough taking you out to dinner when all I wanted was to screw you because you looked like him, but you started talking about the painting-”
“—I’m supposed to believe this shit?”
“I wouldn’t believe it,” Ogata stared at him. “I can’t control what you think, Tanigaki, but I would still very much like to have sex with you,”
Genjirou huffed a sigh, “You’re really lousy with people, Ogata,”
“I know,” he said. “It’s why my patients are all animals,”
“You want a piece of me,” Genjirou hitched his thumb at the painting. “Cover this shit with something, and get me another glass of wine,”
“I called you all day yesterday,” Inkarmat shuffled over and hiking up her skirt, sat down beside him on the concrete poolside. “Did you spend the night with him?”
“Good morning,” said Genjirou.
“Where are the other bears?” she asked.
“They’re cleaning this pool today,” he laughed. “Since the polar bears are on display,”
“Well,” she nudged him. “Did you spend the night with him?”
Genjirou refused to answer.
“He’s a pod person, isn’t he?”
“No,” said Genjirou. “He's ex-military,”
“Did you serve together?”
“He was a few years ahead of me,” he said. “Stationed in Nima,”
“I thought he was from Tōhoku,”
“Ibaraki,” he said. “Not from outer space,”
“If not an alien,” she said. “Then a serial killer,”
“Will you stop,”
“You slept with him, didn’t you!” she whispered. “Genji, you just met him!”
“It was an impulsive decision,”
“How was it?” she asked.
“Amazing, and I’m not saying that to justify my reckless behavior,” said Genjirou. “He’s like the master of foreplay,”
“How big is he?” she asked, smiling.
“Not big at all, thank you,” he said.
“When you told me Kiroranke was too big,” she shook her head. “I knew you needed mental help,”
“I’m not a size queen like you,” he said.
“That’s hilarious considering how endowed you are,” she laughed.
“My rectum isn’t a vagina,” he said.
Inkarmat giggled, “Mine is,”
“I love you,” Genjirou wrapped his arm around her and kissed her head.
“You really bottomed for him?”
“What’s it like to be so heterosexual?”
“There’s always a top and a bottom,”
“No, there isn’t,”
“Yes, I did,”
“Foreplay must’ve been good,”
“He touched me in places I didn’t know I liked to be touched,”
“A man with a hundred hands?”
“I honestly think he considers himself an octopus,”
Inkarmat laughed, “Of course he does he bought that damned painting didn’t he?”
Genjirou glared at her.
“I mean, who hasn’t seen it, right?” she stuttered. “Everyone knows about it,”
“Inkarmat,” he jumped to his feet. “You didn’t?”
She joined him with her hands up, “Most of the staff was there for a party after the administrator put the tank into his apartment, I saw the painting. I might’ve mentioned the guy in it looked like a guy working at the zoo with a squid,”
“Inkarmat!” he cried.
“I had no idea he was going to visit you,” she cried. “What kind of weirdo does that?”
Genjirou marched toward her.
“Don’t even think about it,” she shouted, finger raised. “This is a Donna Karan suit!”
Genjirou scooped Inkarmat up in his arms and jumped into the cold water.