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“A Sea Change” was originally published in The Summerset Review. Read the full story there. Below, please enjoy an excerpt of the story.
A Sea Change
My mother lights another Winston and, eying me closely, blows the smoke out the side of her mouth. She is circling, looking for a way into my confidence.
“So she’s moving out?”
“Tomorrow.” I am watching the frantic maneuvers of a hummingbird confused by the red plastic flowers.
She tilts her head; I can feel her frowning. “Did something happen, Jenny? Did you have a fight?”
I shake my head no.
She leans forward, lowers her voice. “Another woman?”
I look at the black windows of her sunglasses. Cosmetic surgery has pulled out most of her wrinkles and her face, shiny and taut, is straining with anticipation. Her glossy red lips are parted. Even her hair is shimmering, waiting.
I know she blames me for losing Antonia. I don’t fix myself up, she contends, don’t pay enough attention to my clothes and my nails.
She cannot imagine how hard I tried—first my methods and then some of hers. How can I explain that it wasn’t my fault, that I was up against an octopus and never stood a chance.
It started, of course, at the aquarium. Everything was fine until Antonia got a job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Not two weeks later I brought some oysters home and when I put them on the table she blanched, nearly knocked the chair over getting to her feet. That was the beginning of the end.
Which is pretty ironic considering how we met. Imagine a lovely dark-haired woman sitting alone in a restaurant. She is watching the sun melt into the Pacific. Her wine glass blazes in the orange light as she raises it to her lips. On the table is a plate of oysters, her second.
It was only by chance that I saw her. I came out of the kitchen for a club soda and there she was, stunning as a coral reef.
From behind a vase of forsythia I watched her lift each shivering oyster from its icy bed and even then I could feel the undertow, could see the water rising. There was nothing I could do but flip my apron to the clean side and head straight for her table.
Striking up a conversation was easy enough. There were the oysters, all twelve of which I had pried open, not to mention the mixed greens I had tossed for her, the focaccia I had made. Everything she put in her mouth had first been in my hands.
And so I asked how she liked the oysters and told her they were Quilcenes, fresh from Tomales Bay, and then I mentioned the Olympias I was getting in and had she ever tried them. She had the most provocative lips I’d ever seen. She smiled a lot and nodded here and there, and if she thought my presence in the dining room was odd (and it was) she didn’t let on; maybe she was flirting too. In any case she came back for my bivalves every Friday afternoon. The waiters, who caught on quickly, would let me know the minute she arrived, and each time I saw her, backlit in that window, my stomach would start to do flip flops. Sometimes I had trouble with her oysters because my hands would be shaking so much. I must have opened over a hundred of them before I finally got the nerve to ask her out.
Jean Ryan is a native Vermonter who lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. Nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister. Her debut collection of short stories, Survival Skills, was published in 2013 by Ashland Creek Press and was short-listed for a Lambda Literary Award. She has recently finished a second collection of stories, Savages, which she hopes to publish soon.
Image: Flickr / Ray Sadler