The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: AWABI by Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Sumiko’s Daughters

Sumiko’s grandmother resisted the diving  mask. It would make them see too well, she said,  they would find and kill too many hidden snails.  And the mask magnified everything. It made her  fearful of kidnapping babies. 

10.6 centimeters. Use a ruler. A smidgen smaller and  you have to release them. Find somewhere dark and narrow  with kelp nearby. Give awabi babies every chance. Her grandmother balked at the wetsuit, too.  Disrespectful, she said, to go to the ocean like that.  You don’t see whales going around like that. Like umib ōzu. Plus you’re more likely to snag something and get stuck.  Then you’d drown. Wouldn’t happen if you dressed the way  your mother made you. 

The umibōzu were demons. They were glossy,  black, humanoid giants who thrashed the sea and stirred up deadly typhoons. Sumiko imagined her grandmother in a glossy, black, skin-tight outfit,  sneaking up on a boat and leaping out of the water to give all the men on the vessel the fright of their lives. The idea made Sumiko giggle. It made her grandmother scowl. Yet it was Sumiko’s grandmother (while her daughter-in-law, Sumiko’s mother, roared with laughter) who was the first  Nagata ama to wear clothes into the water. Skirt and blouse, pearl-white, they’d go down in history as the “traditional” costume of Japanese ama.  These outfits, amagi, offered little warmth, flailed in the water, and were designed in the twentieth century by the Mikimoto Pearl Company in Toba.

This selection comes from the book, AWABI, available from Digging Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Winner of the 2018 Digging Press Chapbook Series Award. Mandy-Suzanne Wong deftly explores the complex world of the ama—ocean women, mostly elderly, who eke out a living while diving deep to capture abalone, snails, and otherworldly sea creatures for food. Suffused with lyrical imagery and profound longing, Wong creates evocative moments of love, pride, jealousy, misunderstanding, and sacrifice in this duet of short stories. She’s also the author of the novel Drafts of a Suicide Note (Regal House, Oct 2019), which was a a finalist for the Permafrost Book Prize, a semifinalist for the Conium Review Book Prize, shortlisted for the SFWP Literary Award, awarded an honorable mention in the Leapfrog Fiction Contest, and nominated for the Foreword Indies Book Prize. Her stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Waccamaw, Little Patuxent Review, The Island Review, The Spectacle, Quail Bell, and other venues. Her work has also been shortlisted for the Aeon Award (UK) and taken first prize in the Eyelands International Flash Fiction Competition (Greece). I’m an Afro-Chino-Cuban woman, a native of Bermuda.
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.

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