by Kyle Swan
12th grade, Ridge High School
Teacher: Mrs. Janine Quimby
Honorable-mention prize: $50
Salty air grazes my nose, a moonbeam floodlights my face, my eyes blink open. Lacy drapes dance in the breeze as cicadas murmur and waves pulsate against the shore. The room is dark.
I throw off cool linen sheets and tread surreptitiously across the shaded expanse of floor
I stifle a yelp, looking down to see my illuminated, shattered phone. No new messages. No new calls. No new Snaps. It’s been like that all summer. I think of last night, when I bitterly, cathartically, hurled it across the room. Mom will kill me later.
I pick a glass shard out of my heel, brows furrowed, and slip away through the window, into the night.
We moved from Charleston to Cheyenne last September. Dad’s work or something. It’s June, and we’re back in the swamp for a week, renting our old house. Mom said I could bring friends. I laughed.
I’m at the dock now. The tide swirls against the piling. I watch the rings evanesce as my tears hit the water.
I hear footsteps behind me, smell cigarettes and detergent. A warm, leathery hand rests on my shoulder.
I reach up and touch the shell hanging from my neck.
When I was little, my grandma and I scoured the beach for hours each day. Battling seagulls, incessant waves, and brisk currents, we searched for shells.
Scallops, to be specific.
No live bivalves or cracks allowed. We searched for sublimity until our backs and hands ached. We amassed a substantial scallop stockpile, but Oma wasn’t satisfied. “The perfect shell is here somewhere, my enkel,” she said.
I complained of starvation, of frostbite, of fatigue, using every hyperbole imaginable.
On the last day, as the sun began its descent, a mossy rock took my feet out from under me. Arising from the water like the Kraken, I rounded on Oma, ready to call off the search.
She stood there, a brilliant pink scallop in hand, a radiant grin on her face. That night, she drilled a hole in the scallop, fastening it to my neck with twine.
“I told you,” she chuckled. “Persistence.”
Back on the dock, tears dried, I notice a rope trailing toward the inky abyss. Oma’s hands on mine, we haul in a disgruntled crab entrapped in a wired pot. I poke at the crab, giggling at its retaliatory snaps.
I remember my first crab bite. I was six. Oma and I groomed the marsh for dinner. With gloves and a shellfish gauge, we gathered oysters until we had a full bushel. Mounting the canoe, Oma began to row us to shore. I screeched joyfully as a blue crab scuttled across my feet.
My mirth turned to misery as its claw clamped my pinky toe. I yelped, unable to dislodge the pincer. In one swift motion, Oma pulled the oar from the water and smacked the crab, which scurried away. She snatched it up and dropped it in the cooler.
“Sometimes they bite,” she said, shrugging. That did little to quell my hysterics. Oma dropped the oar and took my foot, massaging it with her hands.
“There’s an old saying my mother used to tell me, ja? She would say the feistiest crabs are always the tastiest and most tender. You just have to work at them a little harder. They’re worth it.”
She shrugged again, regathering the oars.
I helped her boil the crab later, and indeed, it was the best crab I’d ever tasted.
I smile, still savoring the salty meat on my tongue and Oma’s hug that evening. I pull her closer.
We sit on the end of the dock, legs dangling. The water continues to writher under the moon’s embrace. Oma knocks twice on the wooden slats: they don’t budge or creak. My heart swells with pride.
Last summer, when Mom told me we were moving, I shut myself in my room, distraught. I was afraid of losing my friends, of making new friends, of leaving my grandparents behind.
Oma, upon hearing about my demonstration, marched into my room, announcing, “We’re redoing the dock, my enkel!”
“Oma, I’m not really up for that.”
“You’re not helping anyone by wallowing. So, we’re gonna help the next owners by helping. Helping hands make friends. Los!”
Obediently, I followed. Oma’s obstinacy wasn’t worth resisting. We went down to the lumber yard that day and bought wood, saws, nails, and a shovel.
“Have you ever built a dock before?” I asked, as we unloaded the timber.
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