Return of the Clam Lady

by John Oliver Hodges

David Smoke Another Bowl Truly’s favorite desert is the tapioca, here’s how I know: when we were getting our lights turned on at Juneau Power and Light, David was getting his lights turned on too, and was talking to the lady who did the turning on of the lights, pouring out all the information she did not care to hear: what his favorite veggie was: the mashed potato; what his favorite nut was: the coconut; and what his favorite dessert was: the tapioca. The lady said, “White white white.”

I knew David from when I’d visited Alaska three years before. That’s how I knew folks called him David Smoke Another behind his back.

Chelsea and I filled out the paperwork. We paid the money. As we made for the door, David was still talking to the lady at the other window. I said, “See’ya later Dave,” and his face flipped my way with a look of Do I know you?

“I stayed at your place one night three years ago,” I said. “During a blizzard.”

David’s face lit up. He said, “Shazam, got it,” and we laughed. That was the night he and Beth walked in on me and Marina on his living room rug, “Space Cowboy” by the Steve Miller band playing loud from the vinyl spinning on the turntable. When they opened the door all this cold wind and snow blew into the house. David flipped on the lights: Tadahhhh!!

Doggie dog, that was us.

David had a kid now, he said, a little girl that was his reason for living. He and Beth broke up the year before. He didn’t want to get into it now, but after the breakup Beth started a smear campaign against him, told horrible lies to all the people they knew, and did everything within her power to ruin his life. “I survived,” David said. He said, “Sometimes when I see my face in the mirror I can hardly believe I’m here. I’m supposed to be dead.” I expressed admiration at his fortitude and introduced Chelsea. We should get together and do something soon, we agreed. All this while the lady at the transaction window had been listening—she’d been put on hold—and was not enjoying our conversation. David and I exchanged numbers, but nothing came of it.

Next time I saw David Smoke Another Bowl Truly was at the Clam Lady Party on the shore of Auke Bay, where the mighty Tlingits lived long ago. The Tlingits dragged seals from the waters and brained them and ate them and used their skins for parkas to shield off the rain. They made butter and candles from the blubber, but what did they use the whiskers for, I wonder? Can seal whiskers be used for toothpicks? Pins to sew stuff up with? I don’t know, but at the Clam Lady Party, which is held each year during the Spring Equinox, folks drank good bottled beer: Alaskan Pale Ale, Mirror Pond, special smoked porters from Anchorage and basement batches brewed with Devil’s Club. A great bonfire blazed on the beach, it black all around everywhere but where the fire was. We heard the water brushing out there soothingly against the rocks.

Smoke Another arrived after we’d partied for a long time already, and was with his new girlfriend, Cora who was, you know, pretty fat, pretty beefy, a pretty big girl who wore a black overcoat buttoned up to her neck. Cora wore black gloves, a black scarf, and her head was covered by a black wool cap so that all you saw of her actual flesh was the super pale face that brought to mind a pan of prepackaged biscuits rising in the toaster oven, the kind you don’t separate before cooking, just slide them in and press start. Not to say Cora had no eyes. She had two, and a mouth; but the way her coat cinched her neck, and what with her clothing flowing outward and downward, the bulk of her looked like a saké bottle, and Cora’s face was the blossom on the short-stemmed flower somebody stuffed down into it. The biscuity bloom spoke of pop culture and sunny California, and my wife latched onto Cora sort of, happy over this cool chick to chat with. In Cora Chelsea saw promise and pleasure.

You’d think after six months in Juneau we’d have friends, right? You’d think we’d have neighbors and buddies, but all we had were ourselves. We were just us, which was fine by me. All I needed was my Chelsea. Chelsea makes me laugh. She’s gullible, easy to tease. I love walking around with her, love holding her in my arms on the couch for long periods of time; and did I tell you I love Chelsea’s looks? Her eyes are of a reptile’s, almond-shaped with lenses hued after glacial ice blocking the sun. Of Chelsea’s looks I am smote, or smitten; but it’s her cautious, critical, sometimes caustic and brittle brain to compel me most. Our contrary personalities bind us.

Now as midnight approached our gay emcee, a professor of Russian who’d been fired from the university for playing Strip Twister with his female students, said it was time. Time for what? Well, anybody with problems could write a letter to the lady killed by a clam. As Tlingit legend has it, said lady died during a famine back when the people depended on shellfish for survival. This chieftain’s daughter went down to the beach during low tide one day to collect some grub. A bigass clam latched onto her hand. She couldn’t break free so when the tide came in she drowned. As I had it explained to me, each year during the spring equinox, when the length of the day and night are at a perfect balance, the celestial orbs become vulnerable, and for some reason all the clams and oysters of the world open. The woman comes up onto the shore and if you give her your problems, she will take them back to the clam and your problems too will be drowned. I might not have the facts perfectly straight, but that’s the gist. Tell the Clam Lady your problems, release your problems to her by burning them, and your problems will be solved during the next moon cycle. “Clam Magic!” our gay emcee screamed.

I thought the whole Clam Magic thing was pretty cool, but Chelsea wanted none to do with any of it. Chelsea feared the weird. I’d even say Chelsea is superstitious; but I wanted to participate, so wrote: “Chelsea don’t got no friends, Clam Lady. I’m not enough for her. Make Chelsea love me more. Give Chelsea friends and more friends! Thank you Clam Lady!”

Oh, Chelsea blamed me for “dragging” her to Alaska. I’d said so many great things on it, all raving over the beer and mountains, the Northern Lights and wildlife and summer nights and glaciers. Great stuff, but through Chelsea’s eyes, Alaska plain sucked. When we first arrived our new landlord said a good friend of his was “ate down to the boots” by a bear, and that very afternoon Chelsea walked through the city and ran into a bear on the sidewalk. It rained every day. If it wasn’t raining, it was snowing, and what was the deal with the twenty hour fucking long nights? I’d messed up our lives good.

I threw my letter into the fire, fully expecting the Clam Lady to take hold of these problems and perform her magic. As for David Smoke Another Bowl Truly, he handed his letter to Gay Rex, thinking Rex would burn it straightaway, but Gay Rex took up to reading it out loud:

“Make her suffer, Clam Lady, blind her, get her fired from her new state job. Make her feel extreme emotional pain like I felt when she betrayed me. May her titties rot with cancers, Clam Lady, and when she goes camping have porcupines feast on her eyeballs while she sleeps and—”

Gay Rex quit reading. He threw David’s letter into the fire to the sound of laughter. David’s face in the firelight looked greatly offended, and I couldn’t help but to feel tickled inside. It’s just how he looks is all.

I patted ole Smoke Another on the back, and said, “The intensity of the wish will make it come true, buddy.”

“If that’s true she’ll be dead by this time next year,” David said.

“But you two were such a great couple,” I said. “Every time I saw you two it was nothing but smiles and fun. Not every couple holds hands when they walk around in public, but you two did.”

“I don’t wanna talk about Beth,” David said.

I wanted to know more, but this was no night for grumpy-gussing. It was the Spring Equinox, just past midnight, Baby! From here on out, each day would be a little bit longer, at first only seven seconds longer, then more and more longer until a day’s light blended into the light of the next day. With each lengthening day, our lives too would lengthen, becoming brighter, our bonds stronger. The new days would bring us fresh joys, and cleanliness, purity and light: white white white. David Truly was a funny cat. I liked Smoke Another.

What I loved about Smoke Another were his buttons. They were easy to push. That might be why I turn people off, why Chelsea and I can’t hold onto friends for very long. I just love pushing buttons. While conversing by the fire, David and I exchanged numbers once more, and promised to cut through the bullshit this time and get together.

Now, did I say David’s buttons are easy to push?

I’ll describe David and in the picture that develops you’ll see. He’s not the tallest, five foot seven maybe, and his forearms are beefed up like Popeye’s. It was once pointed out to me by another fellow that each time you saw David, he always had on those rubber boots. David loves his rubber boots, them old things falling apart at the ankles. David repairs their leaks and cracks with duct tape; but maybe that describes a guy who don’t give a shit? Not convinced?

Let me put on David’s head: plop.

David Truly’s hair’s shorn short, though the last time I was in Juneau, three years ago, his hair was long like mine is now. His head is long, holy cow, much taller than wide. His thick treasured mustache he loves more than his boots, I’m thinking. It’s a thick-ass bushy jobber that instead of downplaying his lousy teeth, draws the eye in. Meal in his mouth is him, chewed up grits compacted between his teeth and against his gums. I would call him mealy-mouthed, but doesn’t that suggest trickery? David is more of a straightforward kind of dude, just he’s got no clue that he looks like one of the Village People. You see David, you think disco. You think of the song, “YMCA,” and of the Indian guy who wore a full headdress, and of the black guy who looked like he worked on telephones, and of the man with a hammer. David was the man with a hammer. Don’t mention it to David, though. Don’t think of mentioning the Village People to David. I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you wanna push the hell out of a button of his.

David has a fem accent, I will tell you, sounds a tad might like a gay dude.

It was a party for the books. Seals called to us from the dark. We roasted marshmallows and wieners, and whenever a splash was heard, folks pretended it was the Clam Lady trudging up from the sandy depths of the sea. Kinda scary. We put down lots of beer, but I drove us home safely.

A week later Chelsea starts in on her we-don’t-got-no-friends complaints again, so let’s get together with David and Cora, I said, and called him. He was like, “Yeah, Cora’s real sweet, but we only go out Wednesdays and Sundays due to the smear campaign started by my ex. It’s just embarrassing. Why don’t you and Chelsea come out to my place this weekend? We can break a little bread, nothing big, have a few drinks.”

Sure. On the way there we stopped at Kline’s Wines for Chelsea’s buys: both a red and a white. Chelsea is a connoisseur when it comes to wines and foods and things to wear: jewelry, jeans. She has subscriptions to all the magazines: Vogue, Elle, Lucky, Town and Country. Spends hours looking at the pictures. And when Chelsea eats, out comes Gourmet with pictures in it of blueberries balancing on pancakes. She eats slow, flipping the pages, looking at shots of roasted ducks and lettuce cups, chocolate tarts and glazed meatballs. Me, I watch a little TV when I eat, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and reruns of The Andy Griffith Show.

We arrived at David’s trailer in Lemon Creek. It was a freezing cold night, his trailer park strung up with Christmas lights, and plastic snowmen lit from inside, still left over from the winter holiday season. The trailers were close together, real cozy. Six foot long icicles hung from David’s roof. Chelsea and I both touched one. I took off my glove to feel how sharp the tip was. Then I knocked solid on the door.

Cora opened. We stepped in and took off our shoes and coats and Cora looked surprised. Looked like she was holding her breath, her large bust not covered this time by black wool. All this cleavage going on everywhere. A lot of swirly colorful tattoos of nothing much in particular crowded her boobs, what we could see of them, and curled around her arms of great flesh. “David’s in the shower,” she said, “I’m really stoned right now.”

Chelsea set the wines on the counter, where a loaf of bread on a cutting board sat. There were chips, and some weird white clam dip we tried but didn’t like. This was David’s new pad. He hoped to buy it. David’s passion in life, besides smoking pot and climbing mountains, is making pots. A potter’s wheel was set up behind the couch where he had a little studio going on, and his pots were all around the trailer. Pictures on the walls showed breaching whales, but what grabbed me was the bumper sticker displayed on the counter. Said sticker was leaning against the wall, and was too precious to put on the fridge with a magnet, God forbid. Nor could David remove the backing of this great sticker and then stick it somewhere over that just think if he changed his mind after sticking it? Could he just unstick the sticker to stick it in another place? Not likely.

The sticker was red. Across it, in big white block letters, were the words: I LOVE MY PENIS.

Chelsea and I were about filled with those nasty snacks by now, but here comes David into the kitchen from down the hall. He’s come from the shower and is all freshened up, happy to see us but, strangely, his teeth still looked mealy. You’d think that when he washed himself he’d try to cover the bases. He looked fresh in his short sleeved button-up, but what was the deal with his teeth?

David Smoke Another loaded the bong, hit it, then loaded a hit for Chelsea. Me, I don’t care for the stuff, I’m a pansy these days, but I drank the wine. We got to small talking, learned about ourselves, like where David was from (Buffalo) and where Cora was from (Los Angeles), that she was Jewish and on antidepressants, and we talked of our jobs. David and Cora both worked in Children’s Services, that’s how they met. They spent their days chaperoning high schoolers with disabilities. They each had one kid to care for. They followed the kids to their classes, and drove them to museums and libraries and fast food restaurants, basically hanging out and being a big brother to them, or big sister. Chelsea taught kindergarten, and me, I taught freshman comp at the university Gay Rex was fired from for that Strip Twister business. Somebody took pictures when they were in Russia on a language trip, and when the dean saw the pictures of the half-naked girls, their bodies and dangling boobs all brushing up against Gay Rex, who was only wearing socks, that was it. I wonder what Gay Rex wrote on his slip, what he threw into the fire for the Clam Lady.

After so much small talk David said if we ever see his ex-wife around town, we should snub her, and tell everybody we know that she is an “unstable psychopathic backstabbing bitch” who drove him to three suicide attempts.

“Oh my God, David, I didn’t realize!” I said, pouring on the compassion. “I’m so glad you didn’t kill yourself. That’s terrible. I really feel for you, my brother. How did you try to do it?”

“That’s not important,” David said.

“He jumped off the dock while holding a big rock,” Cora said.

“Really? The dock? What dock?”

“What’s important,” David said, “is I didn’t let that bitch put me under the earth. I thought I knew her. I thought we were in love, but one day out of nowhere like overnight everything changed. I went to bed with a woman I loved, and I thought she loved me, but then I woke up with a disgusting scumbag.”

“You made a fine comeback, buddy,” I said, and slapped David on the back.

“The only thing she ever loved was herself.”

“She must love her daughter, eh?”

David looked at me all suspicious, then he and Cora went out to smoke, leaving Chelsea and I alone on the couch. I could smirk now. I wasn’t being mean. It’s just David was funny and didn’t know it. I could barely help but to love the guy, and I knew Chelsea liked Cora. Whenever it was just Chelsea and Cora talking, they laughed and giggled in their enjoyment of each other. David didn’t like that. David was always sure to interrupt. I said to Chelsea, “I can see the expression on David’s face when he jumped off the dock while holding that bigass rock.”

“Shhh,” Chelsea said, “he might hear you and think we’re making fun of him.”

I was like, “I can’t believe I ate all that bread and that clam dip.”

“That’s you for you.”

“God,” I said. “If I took big bong hits like that I’d be so trashed. Aren’t you trashed? You must be trashed. Are you trashed?”

“I’m good.”

“I know you are,” I said. I reached up Chelsea’s shirt. I felt a nice titty then pulled her shirt up enough to give tender suck, Chelsea laughing, but running fingers through my hair.

“Mmmmm,” I said, biting her nipple.

“Hey,” Chelsea said. She knocked on my scalp.

I pulled away and looked up at her. She looked stoned. “Hey, don’t you want David to walk in on us?” I said.

“No, no, absolutely not.” Just then the door swung wide. Cold air washed across us. It was nice, but Chelsea covered her titties quicketty splitly as David and Cora stepped in. They took off their coats and boots. I noticed the worn duct tape David used to keep his ankles dry. It occurred to me that I might say something about his boots, but really, I wanted David to show us how his potter’s wheel worked. I said, “David, show us how your potter’s wheel works.”

“We’ll have to save that for a rainy night,” David said. By the sound of his voice, sort of monotone, he wasn’t happy. Maybe he and Cora fought out there, I thought.

I said, “David, I noticed your ice ax, how you’ve got it displayed on the wall. Did you know Leon Trotsky displayed his ice ax the exact same way? That’s how Trotsky died. Stalin’s man ripped it off the wall and slammed it over Trotsky’s head.”

David looked at me without expression. Finally he said, “I know what,” and leaned over his stack of record albums. He pulled one out, set it on the turntable. It was the Steve Miller Band. The song was “Space Cowboy.” David stood up, grinning. He folded his arms, and winked at me, and I sorta saw Marina on her knees with arms stretched way out in front of her, the large hands curled up like bear claws. That’s what David and his ex saw the night they opened the door and the Taku Wind crashed against us like a wall of ice breaking apart. Marina started to rise, but just then the lights flipped on. Marina’s response was to stick her face back in the blanket we had spread out on the floor. She was half Eskimo, had great color. I’d met her that night at the Alaskan Hotel and Bar, where she had sung on stage to some folky fiddle type music. She was Beth’s best friend at the time, and that’s how I came to be at their apartment that night. Marina’s ass was on the large side. I continued along on my merry way with it, thinking our intruders would move on, but David like hops into the cozy chair and crosses his arms. That pissed Beth off and she grabbed David’s earlobe and dragged him away. A second later she rushed back in and turned the lights back off. I was drunk enough not to care. A minute later we hear them in their bedroom making a big to do. David was talking dirty to Beth, and my guess is she liked it. He called her a “filthy slut” and a “goddamned whore,” and there were smack sounds, him spanking her beef.

David by now was aware that Chelsea and I had been together back then, which meant I had screwed around on her. David suspected correctly that I’d never told Chelsea of Marina. I’d felt bad on it, but Chelsea didn’t wanna know. She’d told me as much before I visited Alaska. She said, “If you do anything with anybody, don’t tell me when you return.” Now that David was rubbing it in my face, my guilty asshole feeling puffed up inside me like a balloon. If I told Chelsea after all this time, who knew how she’d respond? We’d come to a good place in our marriage, one where we trusted each other despite our mutual forays into adultery. Though I wanted to come clean, common sense said to let it slide.

David laughed, clapped his hands, and he said, “Ice-cream on a stick, Eskimo Pie!”

“What’s he talking about?” Chelsea said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“It’s nothing you need to know about,” David said, and just then I saw Cora wiggle her biscuit face, letting David know that he needed to shut up. Apparently Cora’d been filled in on the whole thing of me and Marina.

David laughed it off, and cried, “Let’s dance!” and held his hand out to Chelsea who, to my surprise, got up and danced with him. I looked at Cora who looked at me as if maybe we too should get up and dance the night away, hey hey hey, but I wasn’t into it. I was thinking of Marina now. I’d had strong feelings for her. She had lived in Juneau all her life and knew of cool secret places off in the woods, caves and strange boulders and waterfalls and abandoned mineshafts and stuff. We swam in the reservoir of Juneau’s drinking water. She took me up through the clouds of Thunder Mountain, where we sunned naked in the alpine, and fucked deliciously on a mound of soft grass overlooking the Mendenhall Glacier. Through the grapevine I’ve heard Marina works on a garbage barge these days servicing cruise ships.

I didn’t quite see, anyway, how it would work, dancing with Cora, she being so fat and me being the bean pole. So Cora and I watched David dance with Chelsea. They tried to groove, but were out of sync. Chelsea tired of it. At one point David let her go, expecting her to come back, but she just plopped down beside me. Before the song even ended David and Cora were outside smoking fresh ciggies.

“They’re acting kinda funny, don’t you think?” I said.

“He’s pouting, acting like a little kid. I think we’d better get out of here.”

That sounded like a plan, but I didn’t wanna go, can’t say why. The feeling was like how it is when you leave the house and know you’re forgetting something. Something was off, so when they returned, I asked David could I look at the photo albums stacked up on the shelf. “Sure,” David said, and I spent the rest of the evening turning those pages, looking at the pictures. What can I say, I’m a picture person. I kept asking David questions, like “What’s her name?” and “What mountain is that?” and “Is that your mother?” and “What happened to that hat? That was your favorite hat, wasn’t it? I remember you wearing that hat the last time I was in Juneau. What happened to it?” and “Do you still have that pet rock you used to carry around?” and lots of other stupid questions. At one point, I’m, you know, sitting on the floor, in the shag, and David, after I ask one of my questions, inches up to me so that his crotch is in my face, you know, I’m on the floor and he is standing. Looking just like that guy from the Village People, he goes into a long answer, sort of nudging himself closer as he talks, looking down at me as I turn the pages of his album. Now I know that David has been to Denali. David once had a gorgeous girlfriend with a Farah Fawcett haircut. David says she turned Republican on him. I know how high David climbed in the Boy Scouts of America: Dweebelo. I know that David’s mother looks like the woman who sang “Doe, a deer,” in The Sound of Music.

David Smoke Another Bowl Truly ushered us out of the trailer when he realized for certain that we’d not come over for some kind of wife-swapping jamboree. We promised to meet again soon, but lo and behold, ran into each other the next night at Marlintini’s during the midget mud wrestling they had going on, a chance encounter. David kept saying I should let my hair down, and Chelsea decided she was not just attracted to Cora, but that they were soul sisters, meaning they knew each other’s thoughts ahead of time, or picked up on them as they formed so that, really, they didn’t need to be articulated at all. Sounded fishy to me, but okay, sure. Chelsea hit the floor dancing with Cora. They grooved well together, and in the dance of things Cora asked Chelsea did I care if they went out together? Chelsea said no, he doesn’t care, without even asking me. The next night they hit Seong’s Sushi Bar on Ninth Street. After that they made out in Chelsea’s car.

Chelsea was high on Cora. She told me of their wonderful date together, how after sushi and kissing they hit Marlintini’s again, where a contest about what man could sing and dance the most like Brittany Spears was going on. They hooted and cheered from their table, and a guy called The Stallion won the contest. Chelsea learned that Cora never drank at the Viking anymore because each time she did somebody played the I-like-big-butts song on the jukebox. Cora said that for some reason she always ended up with guys who were either gay or in the closet or had some sort of mother issue going on. She was like a magnet for those types. “And oh, by the way,” she said to Chelsea, “did you know George Clooney isn’t gay? I know this because I lived in L.A., and happen to be friends with a close relative of his. What really happened is George was molested by his aunt.”

Chelsea thought it was the real thing. When she spoke of Cora her face lit up like something really special was going on in her life. She kept saying she was so relieved to have this new friend, and she said, “Finally I have somebody I can talk to, somebody who doesn’t make fun of me for enjoying the finer things in life.”

“How can you say that?” I said. “I have always loved fine things, including you.”

“You think talking about TV shows is stupid.”

“Not true,” I said. “I merely mentioned that it’s weird how some people talk for hours about movies and TV characters. It’s disconcerting. I try to get people to talk about themselves more. I prefer real people as opposed to imaginary people.”

“Oh, you mean like girls, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“Real girls,” she said, and said, “It’s okay, I don’t care, do what you want, that’s your business.”

“What are you even talking about?” I said.

“I mean you don’t like going to restaurants because it bothers you to have somebody serve you. That’s demented. You have no appreciation for high style and you criticize my jeans and you frown upon my beauty routines. Cora likes my jewelry. I’m so relieved. I’ve actually found somebody, finally, who can appreciate me for who I am.”

“Hey,” I said.

“Shutup,” Chelsea said, and continued to enumerated my flaws, a habit she had fallen into more of late. As she did so, I pictured the Clam Lady stepping down to the water with my letter clutched in her hand, the moonlight raining down on her, making her glow above the luminescent sands. I saw her in her deerskin dress, wading into the water.

“You don’t like diamonds!” Chelsea nearly screamed, and made plans to see Cora that weekend.

In the meantime, I called David Smoke Another, the man who loves tapioca, to see did he know of a good dentist I could see. While talking like out of nowhere he said, “I don’t know if you know this, but my penis is really nice. I don’t say this out of bragging or anything, but I am blessed.”

“Oh, okay.”

“It’s beautiful,” David said, “very large. I mean, it’s not like twelve inches or anything crazy like that, but it’s pretty fucking big, and shiny. I don’t know that I’d want to be on the other end of that thing.”

“I see.”

“Cora and I, we’ve been looking for couples that are like us. What exactly is up with you and Chelsea?”

“Oh, I guess we’re not exactly on the prowl,” I said.

“That’s too bad,” David said. “We’re on the prowl. We had this one girl, but she only wanted it from Cora. She was real young, like twenty-one, and I liked her but when I revealed myself to her she refused. She was on the bed, and was like Ouch. I guess I can’t blame her. I was standing over her, and she saw that thing and was like, Oh shit.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“She thought it would hurt her,” David said, and he said, “You know how when dogs do it, sometimes they get stuck? I’m not saying that that’s what was in her mind, but it might have occurred to her. She may not have known why she felt the way she did, why she out-and-out refused my advances.”

“So how’s the kid?” I said.

“Oh, man, she’s great, you just don’t know, she’s everything to me, but listen. I felt so rejected. It made me hurt inside real bad.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Haven’t you ever been rejected?”

“I guess I came to terms with all that long ago.”

“It’s always fresh for me,” David said. “I hate it.”

“Have you tried forgiving your mother?”

“Wait, what are you talking about? What’s my mother got to do with anything?”

“One might say mothers are the first rejecters, that if you want to stop feeling rejected you gotta confront the source. Ask the source to let you go. Then you can carry on in your life in a normal way.”

“You might be right. I never thought of that.”

“Did the Clam Lady grant your wishes?”

“Oh, God, if only, Beth, what a nightmare. I hurt from it every day. She wants me to suffer for finding others to share myself with, but the truth of the matter is Beth dropped the ball long before I ever cheated on her. I know you’ve cheated on Chelsea. I saw you. That girl was backed onto the end of your rig like a squid on a gig. Man, a bona fide Eskimo, that hair. What happened to her? She and Beth used to be like thieves. I tried to get with her, but she rejected me.”

“That was during my vacation,” I said.

“But you’re still banging her on the side, I know you are.”

“I’m trying to be true to Chelsea.”

“Chelsea’s got some problems. Beautiful woman usually do.”

“Hey, thanks, she is beautiful, I agree.”

“She swings both ways, I can tell it. What do you say we work her up one day? You take the front, I’ll take the back?”

“I don’t think Chelsea would be into that.”

“We’ve been looking for a couple we can groove with. If Rex had kept reading that night at the fire, he would have gotten to that part. It wasn’t all bile. I told the Clam Lady we needed a match. I thought you and Chelsea might be it.”

“Hey, you gotta give the Clam Lady some time, that’s what I’ve heard about her. It doesn’t happen over night, so be patient. I’m sure your ex will get the breast cancer that you wished for her.”

“Well, it’s too bad you’re not on the prowl. Let’s see, I’ve got a call I need to take. Can you wait a few minutes?”

“Actually, David, I guess it’s time we part ways,” I said, and we hung up. Chelsea returned from work. I told her about David and Cora’s desire to “get groovy.” I wasn’t categorically against it, but it grossed all hell out of Chelsea. It pissed her off in the bigtime of things, but she wasn’t gonna let it get her down. She looked so forward to her date with Cora. Thing is, Cora called the next night to call things off. Cora, Chelsea said, was a scammer. That was Chelsea’s final judgment on Cora. All Cora had wanted all along was to bring girls home for David to screw. On their sushi date, Cora had made it seem like they could have a relationship without David, that they could be great friends without David, but Cora was, Chelsea said, a despicable liar, and a “fucking cunt!”

“It’s my fault,” I said. “I told David we weren’t on the prowl. I said it was time we parted ways. It sounded wrong. I feel bad. I think he got the wrong message. I wasn’t saying we should forget about each other forever. He said his penis is all shiny, I’m serious, I mean, he said it wasn’t twelve inches long or anything crazy like that, but when you spit on it it would—”

“Stop it, stop it, why are you doing this to me?”

“I’m just telling you what happened, what we talked about.”

“He must’ve given her an ultimatum,” Chelsea said.

“All I’d meant was our phone call seemed to be over, not that I was categorically against seeing his schlong-along-diggety-do-dong-dohickety-thingamajiggy—”

Chelsea stuck fingers in her ears. That particular thread of things was over, but Chelsea that night repeatedly cursed Cora for being so weak that she could not live five minutes without David Smoke Another Bowl Truly blowing smoke down her neck. David Smoke Another was nothing to brag on. We’d heard the stories his ex old lady told, too—things on veggies, for example, like not just the zucchini, but the Alaskan zucchini, which, if you are up on Alaskan zucchinis, you know, they can get five inches wide, no problem, and don’t you even mention the length. We’d heard the A-word here coming at’cha too, of course, a word I hate to use in any context: abuse. I’d heard it all on David the Smoke, but look him over truly: he’s a Village People dude, for godsake. Call him funny. Look at his bigass mustache that in the wintertime drips icicles. David don’t want nobody to feel bad. Hell. I can see David smacking Beth a bit during sex, calling her “Slutwhore” and stuff as he smacks her ass hard that is so big that what else’re you gonna do with it when looking at it from that particular vantage point? To not smack it would be an insult, I’m thinking, and I just wanna throw a hammer into the picture, a leather tool belt with carpenter’s glue and other stuff stuffed down into the compartments, and let’s not forget the leather construction boots, eh?

The message Cora left on our machine left Chelsea upset in the bigtime of things. Chelsea called Cora back, left a message on her machine saying Call me, for godsake! What’s the matter with you you fucking bitch? Cora never called back. The soul sister in black wool dissed my lovely Chelle of the blond locks. The soul sister in black wool was Jewish, crazy. She was sensitive, funny with biscuity cheeks. This woman loved bacon, short ribs, Polish everything, and Greek meat pies. She was hot all over, here where I was a vegetarian—down down down the drain the promises went, and the pleasures. I took pictures of them the night the midgets wrestled. In one, Chelsea and Cora stare into each other’s eyes, these sparkles going on. These women are in love, but the Clam Lady dropped her scrolls in the sand. I see the water slosh around her ankles. I see Cora reach across the table. She grabs Chelsea’s hand. The woman’s long black hair spreads out across the surface of the sea. Once buried in water she relaxes. Her lungs fill with liquid, and I guess she begins to breathe.


JOHN OLIVER HODGES wrote The Love Box, a collection of short stories available from Livingston Press. His stories have appeared in over eighty journals, and are newly appearing in Novella-T, White Whale Review, Compose, Knee-Jerk Magazine and The Great American Literary Magazine. Over the last decade he has lived in Florida, Mississippi, Alaska, and New York City. Currently he lives in East Orange, New Jersey, and teaches writing at Montclair State University.