By Rose McMackin
On the waterfront, you can buy oysters on ice and sit out in the sun to shuck them yourself.
We buy a dozen — they come to us in wet grey-green shells — and two cans of beer.
The water is calm today, seagulls wheeling overhead. I pick up some rags while he finds a table. We sit. Pop the tops on our beer cans in silence.
He sips at his drink and then takes the first one, a deep-cupped Kumamoto, from the tray of ice. He spins the oyster so it’s tucked firmly against the rag and works the blunt shucking knife into the hinge. There’s a scratching sound as he feels for an opening and then, with a jerk, the blade catches a gap and he levers it in a twisting motion, lifting the top of the shell away from the bottom half.
He runs the knife under the soft flesh, separating it from the shell, and then passes it to me. He picks up the next one and shucks it just as easily. He holds it out towards me and we Cheers the little shells against each other. I tip my head back and swallow the oyster whole and I can taste the entire ocean.
We put the empty shells back into the tray of ice, cups facing down. He’s grinning. It’s that low, bright sunlight of late summer and I can’t decide if his hair is blond or brown. I never could make up my mind.
He picks up another one and runs the knife along the seam again. This oyster gives itself up less easily and I watch his brow furrow as he tries to find an opening.
“I came here on a date,” he says, working the knife along the ruffled edge. “It was—” and he holds his breath with the exertion and then the knife catches. He finishes his sentence. “It was while we were taking that time apart.”
My hands go numb and I bite my lip but he’s sweeping the blade under the meat, cutting it free, and I can see the oyster then, it’s pink and wet and exposed to sunlight now and still alive. I try not to think about this last part because I’m supposed to eat it. I look down. I don’t say anything. I don’t complain, that’s my thing, I decided a long time ago.
He passes me the just-opened oyster and I take it even though I know how to shuck. At a certain point, I stopped doing it, but it’s not because I forgot how.
“She was cool.” He drinks from his beer again and smiles at me — that crooked smile — and says, “Better to be honest, right?” and I turn and look out at the ocean so he won’t see my face, but he turns back to his tray of oysters then.
We sit like that for hours, as the sun creeps towards the horizon. Him shucking and me staring out at the water, thinking about leaving but making no move to go.
Rose McMackin’s work has appeared in Juked Magazine and The Noyo River Review. She lives in Seattle with a dog who performs all his own stunts.