Eastham, Cape Cod Bay. May 1999.
It was still dark when Jane let her body fall into the twin bed where I was sleeping. I woke with a start and she was whispering in my ear.
“Low tide in half an hour Bobe.” She said in a sultry voice, half laughing at my misery.
The sheets were stuck to me and I had to swallow a hiccup before I rolled through the heartburn of whisky and horseradish to the small bathroom.
The digital clock read 5:45. I had been asleep for three hours. I had a vague semblance of promising Wendy that I would go razor clamming with her younger sister in the morning and she had written a note to Jane to wake me before she went. I splashed water in my face and gagged quietly in the sleeping house. I could hear the sun breaking the horizon and Wendy whispered to me from the other twin bed as I put on my clothes.
“Bring a sweatshirt, it’s cold.” she said in her slumber under an old Grammy quilt. “And bring back some clams or you have to shuck the oysters at dinner.”
Wendy and everyone else in the house knew that I was in unrequited fearful love with her. Our bond had formed in Prague four years before and we were fast friends and peas in a pod. Her boyfriend was a hunky smile okay guy and I never made a move. I had left her standing on the steps of the Vienna Opera House and I hadn’t been the same since. I was visiting her and her family at their house on the Cape, which they rented out in the summer. We were readying the place for the summer renters and preparing for her older sister’s thirtieth birthday bash.
The night before this morning, we had played cards and drank whisky and ate oysters on the half shell. Her father and mother were high school sweethearts and before they bought and rehabbed the house we were staying in, had camped at the Cape every year. The house was small and about a half-mile from the beach and a few miles from the rocky bay side. Her pops and her mother’s brothers were all union electricians, carpenters, painters. The summer renters paid the mortgage. Her parents always said my name like it had a W in it, “Bwahb”.
I smelled coffee and a mug of Sanka was sitting on the counter. Jane was sitting at the kitchen table with her mother, Susan.
“Hey Bwahb, you still drunk?” Susan said, smiling all dark hair.
“Possibly, that was fun last night.” I said nervous. I had only met her the night before over a roast beast dinner and was trying to piece the events.
“We made you a cup of coffee.”
“Thanks,” I choked, “This is great.”
Jane told me to meet her out back, which I thought was out front because it faced the street but I was wrong.
I found Jane and three neighbor kids in the road of blossoming weeds with a yellow Lab that was dragging a giant stick.
“Neighbor kids,” Jane said, pointing to the blond haired bunch. “Mary, Danny and Patrick.”
“That’s Archie.” The littlest Patrick said, pointing to the tail of the dog.
I mumbled my pleasantries and followed them down the wildflower road. Danny walked right next to me the whole way
Pre dawn periwinkle sky is a great time of day. I had just chugged a cup of coffee and was feeling better. Jane is a beautiful, sweet girl and the kids were a funny bonus. Archie wagged his tail and dragged his stick. We were hunting razor clams.
The kids all had tin buckets and swung them in unison as they walked. I hadn’t a clue of the idiosyncrasies of catching the beasts, but they all assured me that they would teach me and that it was easy.
When we got to the beach and climbed over the dune of sand that crumbled down to the shore, we all took our shoes off and rolled up our pants. Low tide was an understatement, the ocean was three hundred yards away from where it was the afternoon before. The sun hued the horizon like a kaleidoscope, ready to spin the day. Nine year old Danny took me under his wing grabbing my hand in the stillness. Our feet slapped until he stopped and pointed to a small bubbling hole. He crouched down and stuck two fingers at a ninety degree angle toward the hole. Then, he dug around the hole and struggled out a boomerang shaped mollusk.
“See, it’s easy.” He said, dropping it into his bucket with a clang.
Jane sauntered up and told Danny to go catch her some oysters. He ran down the beach with Archie in tow.
“Wanna smoke?” Jane asked, producing a spliff.
“Here’s how it goes Bobe, the clams are just under the sand and they have a long muscle that sucks them down when they think some bird or something is trying to get ‘em. You have to stick your fingers in the sand to pin them and hold them there until you dig out around them. Then, you have to slowly rock and roll them out slowly
. Give it a try, they are always in bubbling holes. They might be regular clams but if you feel a stone
, just call me.”.
She lit the joint.
”Everyone is in love with Wendy, Bobe.” She toked the roach and crunched it on the rock we were sitting on.
I was weary and uncomfortable.
“You don’t have a chance. Hunks gob at her every chance they get. I have a friend…”
“Jane, let’s go catch some clams.” I muttered with nickels in my throat.
I was a pro after a few tries. Mary followed me around all enamored with my stagger and I filled her bucket simultaneously tossing Archies’ stick into the ocean. When our buckets were full and we were ready to leave, Danny was missing. We worried until I yelled loud and Danny came round the cove pushing a large rock the size of the second ball of a snowman. It was covered in oysters.
Jane and I laughed and she showed me how to chisel them off and we filled another bucket.
When we parted ways, Danny split his bucket of oysters with me and I worked out a deal with Mary involving a bouquet of purple flowers for some of the clams I had harvested. Jane told me to hold on as they went next door.
Jane and I walked around front swinging out buckets into breakfast. Dave shook my hand heartily and looked into my bucket. He hugged me and went inside to melt some butter and boil water. We had toast and homemade jam and razor clams and the yokes of eggs for breakfast. When we were all full off the worms and eggs, Wendy took the bowl the clams were in and removed the shells. She tilted the bowl to her pouty lips and drank the briny contents.
“That was all your love for me.” Wendy said after she swallowed.