Fiction by Lisa Lynn Biggar
My dad or one of my four uncles would go get the clams in the morning, around four bushels, and then put them in the tub of the downstairs bathroom so we could scrub them. My cousins and I would work in shifts, scrubbing the sand off them (the worst was eating a clam that wasn’t scrubbed properly, the grit crunching between your teeth). My dad would be in charge of steaming the clams on the stove on the back porch. Platter after platter of clams, served with melted butter, would be placed on the tables in the backyard of the farmhouse in northeast PA.
Nearly all the family would be there, extended family as well, along with friends and neighbors. My uncle Vince would grill the chicken, my grandmother would cook the corn on the cob, straight off the stalk into the pot. My mother would make the baked beans, my aunt Patty the decadent Texas Sheet Cake. Others would bring potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, deviled eggs, ambrosia salad with Cool Whip. . .
When we were finally full, my cousins and I would spray paint the clam shells and sell them as ash trays for 25 cents each. Most of the adults smoked back then and drank lots of beer. Once I spray painted a clam shell black and then painted “smoking kills” on it with white paint. My uncle Alec bought it, laughing about it. But it wasn’t a joke. Smoking killed my best friend’s mom who was dating my uncle Ross then. I can still see her smoking a cigarette like a movie star at one of the clam bakes, her long, teased red hair, dyed blonde, her long legs and arms freckled. She had a throaty voice that hinted at what was to come—but then she was more alive than anyone I had ever known.
She and my uncle Ross were crazy together. Once I saw them coming out of the cornfield at night buck naked under the light of a full moon. Apparently, they had lost their clothes on the hillside. And once my uncle pulled out his pocket knife and slashed Suzette’s phone cord in her apartment. It’s a wonder they survived their short-lived relationship.
That day, at the clambake, Suzette was sitting on my uncle’s lap, talking about dreams, the meaning of them. She had checked our every book at her local library. That’s what she would do—completely immerse herself in one subject at a time.
“A snake means someone’s imminent death,” she said, blowing out smoke.
“I can fly in my dreams,” my uncle said. “I soar all over the world.”
“That’s your soul flying,” she said. “We forget that we know how to fly.”
I asked her if she wanted to buy a clam shell.
“Sure,” she said, picking out a bright pink one for her ashes.
Lisa Lynn Biggar received her MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is currently marketing a short story cycle set on the eastern shore of Maryland. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Main Street Rag, Bluestem Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Kentucky Review, The Delmarva Review, Superstition Review and Pithead Chapel. She’s the fiction editor for Little Patuxent Review and co-owns and operates a cut flower farm in Maryland with her husband and two cats.
Photo by Fabrício Severo on Unsplash