By the light of the full moon, she dives for pearls.
She has discovered a secret – one unknown to her husband, whose work it is to fish for them – that it is easier to see a pearl’s nacreous glow in lunar luminescence than under filtered sea-light from the sun. The discovery was an accident, as all the best secrets are.
Drunk on cherry blossom and sake, she had waded naked into the shallows one night for the thrill of the chill water about her limbs. On an impulse – it being such a still night, and she a strong swimmer – she decided to make for the island on the other side of the strand. But halfway across, following her nose to that of the island’s, she saw iridescence dotted beneath her. Stars at the bottom of the sea! She trod water, to make certain that this was no trick of the light, no malevolence designed to lure her to her death. The dots of light remained, and looking up, she saw that there seemed to be a kind of ethereal connection between them and the moon high up in the night sky.
Without thinking, she took in a gulp of air and with all her might kicked and swam for the bottom. At the first attempt she came up short. She gathered herself, steadied her breathing, and once again took in as much air as she could. Then she kicked down harder still, and soon stretched her hand for the bottom, closing it around a shell before propelling herself back towards the moon. On breaking the surface, she heaved in air and spluttered out water. She had lost interest in reaching the island and instead headed back to the shore from which she had swum. She opened her hand, and then the shell of the oyster. The pearl was larger than the ones her husband brought home from his trips much further out to sea. Secretly she added it to his cache, and feigned innocence when the next day, he told her in a puzzled voice that his pearls must have been feeding themselves overnight, for there was one which seemed bigger than it had been the day before.
Ever afterwards, when the moon was full, and as long as the sea was calm and there was no cloud cover, she would slip out of bed, go down to the beach, swim towards the nose of the island, and dive for the oyster bed. She took in her hands as many as she could gather and placed them in a little string bag that she wore around her neck before having to return to the surface for air. Her lungs expanded and she became capable of staying under for minutes at a time. She always added the pearls she gathered to her husband’s cache, and by degrees, their wealth increased. She never told him of her moonlit adventuring, fearing to put an end to her luck, and being reluctant to do anything which might spoil the largely contented peace between them.
One moonlit night, the sea was a little rougher than she would have liked, and every now and again, a bank of clouds moved to obscure the face of the satellite, before rushing onwards. Naked on the beach, she hesitated. But something in the sea called to her, and she placed her trust in the moon, which had never failed her yet. Out she swam, and it was only when she realised that she was closer to the island than she should be but had yet to see the familiar iridescence that she started to panic. She trod water, re-oriented herself, and swam back a little way towards the shore, reckoning her position by its familiar outline. They should have been beneath her then, the pearls, but she could see nothing. A sense of heartbreak rising, she nevertheless kicked down towards the sea bed. But the oysters were gone, or was it that they had all been covered over by some recent seismic disturbance? Instead she saw two yellowy-orange eyes, glowing in the moonlight. Her heart beat hard in both her chest and her ears as the rest of the octopus emerged from a cleft in the rocks.
It was nearly as pale as she, its head bulbous. Despite her fear, she instinctively wanted to touch and stroke it. Its tentacles undulated in the slight current. One stretched out, and its suckers fixed themselves about her wrist with a gentleness which surprised her. She held out her other arm, and the corresponding tentacle took that wrist too. She let herself fall back in the water, pushed by the octopus, which then brought all its other arms into play, wrapping them about her torso every which way. Two of the tentacles worked together to tear the string bag from her neck, and suckers on this arm closed softly but firmly about each of her nipples. The pleasure was such that immediately her body went limp, before reawakening and straining into the feel of each of the many suckers now fastened all over her. She gave herself to the binding about her; she gave herself to the octopus, and when it put its mouth to her labia, she also offered up her body to drowning, letting out a gasp of air; she could think of no sweeter way to die. But no sooner had she sighed what she thought would be her last breath than a second octopus, smaller than the first, put its mouth to hers, kissing her, and somehow breathing back into her the air that she needed to survive this subaqueous encounter. She felt the larger octopus place its beak against her labia and met it with a wet rush. The octopus’ suckers responded by pinching her all over her body; the pain was an unknowable pleasure, the pleasure an exquisite pain.
As if telepathically, each octopus gently pushed its respective beak between her corresponding pairs of lips. She bucked involuntarily but was held firm by the arms of the larger cephalopod. The smaller had wrapped several tentacles about her neck; the end of another played with the nipple of her left-hand breast. It would have been impossible to escape, even if she had wanted to, but she did not. Her hair flowed out into the water, and there was nothing other than the ecstasy she was receiving from the octopuses’ embrace. Nothing could compete with it, not even the thrill of picking a lustrous pearl from an oyster’s flesh on a beach by the light of the moon. Her labia were swollen from the constant teasing motion of the larger cephalopod’s mouth, and soon she was giving it the taste of her own salty liquidity, so much more viscous than the element in which the octopus lived. Her eyes rolled back ahegao in their sockets, and she was only dimly aware of the larger tentacles disengaging those of the smaller octopus, only dimly aware of her body breaking the surface of the water in the octopus’ arms, only dimly aware of it carrying her back towards the beach as air flooded back into her lungs.
In the shallows, it lifted the arm which lay across her breasts, the gentle pinch and pop of the disengaged suckers rousing her from her climax-induced slumber. The octopus put the end of this arm, its third right, to her mouth, letting the topmost sucker cup her bottom lip while the tip of the tentacle flirted suggestively with the upper. She opened her mouth to receive it, moaning quietly as she tasted the not unfamiliar flesh. The rest of the octopus’ tentacles caressed her now less fluidly than they had on the sea bed, but before long she was once again enraptured. She swallowed the octopus’ capsules whole, and the exultancy which she felt as they slipped down her throat and into her mantle cavity brought on the rush of a second climax, coaxed out of her with a gentle firmness that only added to her intoxication.
She came to at dawn, blinking in its light and lying in the wind-dried sand. With one eye open she saw that her pale body was covered in small circles of red. Instead of the tentacle of an octopus at her lips, there were now only questions. To four in particular she would return again and again over the coming days and weeks. Had she dreamed what took place beneath the waves? When the moon was next full, would she dive by its light again? And if she did, would she be diving for pearls, or in the hope of another amorous encounter with the octopuses? Finally – and most vexing of all – what would she tell her husband when she could no longer hide the fact that she was pregnant?
Illustration: The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by Katsushika Hokusai, from Kinoe no Komatsu (Pine Seedlings on the First Rat Day (or Old True Sophisticates of the Club of Delightful Skills)), a three-volume book of shunga erotica first published in 1814. © Trustees of the British Museum.