The Silence Of The Clams

I was born on a dark Monday in a land where an unknowable ocean tried to seduce a knowable shore with long caresses and whispers. The pretty shore wasn’t brought up that way though and cried foul. The unknowable ocean claimed it was an insane current that had made him do it, that his head had been turned by a spicy, intoxicating loose-hipped trade-wind. A seachiatrist attested to temporary insandity and eventually the charges were dropped.

Ruling aside – we, the guardians of the shore, didn’t much hold with the insandity defence and we still didn’t trust the sea. Soon after that therefore a long pier was constructed so we could keep an eye on the randy unknowable ocean, and on that pier they decided they may as well erect a new shellfish-processing plant because the old one was broken. This was the shellfish-processing plant that would mark my days and haunt my nights forever.

It happened one night on a Brownie camp-out and sausage-sizzle. We set up our tents on the windy marran grass on the machair just beyond the beach. Picture us, dear reader! See us as we sit round the camp-fire singing “Ging Gang Gooli“, and giggling through “O, ye cannie get to heaven in a girl guide’s bra ‘cos a girl guides bra don’t stretch that far“; all, rosy-cheeked and brown-bobble-hatted, woggles askew, faces smeared with ketchup, cinders and roasted marshmallow but our eyes clear and shining, our young hearts filled with wonder at the stars above and the excitement of a great adventure.

Lying in our tents later that night, transfixing daddy-long-legses with torchlight on the canvas, we laughed and shrieked at Anna’s impressive farts -better than any boy’s – until one by one everyone drifted off to Nod but me. Not nearly ready to sleep, I grabbed my torch and stole out of the tent, hopping in my sleeping-bag over the black dunes and down to the dark shore.

I heard the sea lapping at the beach and sat on the still-warm sand, hugging my knees, thrilling at how the dark brought the world back to sounds and senses and primal things. Brown Owl had told us not to leave our tents and, with a shadow crossing her face, had warned us on no account to wander out near the shellfish processing plant. I remembered her kindly face and thought of how disappointed she would be at my disobedience. But I was determined to see for myself what went on at the end of the pier. I rose and hopped ridiculously up a dune and on to the wooden pier. What work did the processors do in the middle of the night out there? I hopped on.

Creak, complained the wooden boards under my bouncing sleeping-bag. As I approached the building, I could hear voices inside, and made my way towards a window with a lobster pot underneath the sill. Several valiant hop attempts later I was up on the lobster pot and looking right into a long, starkly lit room with great steel tables, at the end of which were massive sinks filled with ice. About half a dozen people stood around in yellow wellies with white smocks and shower caps on, and great yellow rubber gloves that made their hands look grotesquely big and clowny.

Suddenly, the doors at the sea-end of the building were flung open and some men wheeled in a huge metal cart. All conversation stopped. I watched as each processor reached down into his or her smock pocket and draw out a long sharp knive, cruelly curved at the end into a hook, the whole blade like the unspeakable smirk of some devilish slasher-movie fiend. There was a moment of silence as the cart tipped and then a clattering as hungreds and hundreds of pale clams were tipped into the first ice-sink.

And that was when the screaming began. The screaming of molluscs as all hope for them faded. Mummy molluscs, Daddy molluscs and baby molluscs huddling together in terror Knowing that this was the end of their lives. I saw the processor at the first table grab a clam.

The screaming grew louder. I watched in horror as the evil hooked knife glinted in the processor’s hand and he pried the helpless clam’s shell open. Rooted to my lobster-pot I gazed at the pale and shining being inside and time slowed down as I watched the man bring his knife nearer and nearer the tiny animal. Then, for the briefest of moments I saw a tiny mouth open and two tiny red-rimmed eyes flick wide open as the most hideous, heart-breaking wail I have ever heard hit my ears… The screaming….The screaming…

Recoiling in horror I jerked suddenly and my lobster pot toppled sending me sprawling on the damp boardwalk beneath. The screaming!…The screaming!… In a half-seeing panic I tried to get up and hopped a few feet before falling on my face again, gashing my cheek on the rough wood. I had to get away! I lurched and one part hopped to two parts waddled my way back to the shore, my eyes hot and wet with what they’d witnessed and in my ears the terrible screaming, the abominable squelch as the knife sliced through living tissue.

By the time I reached the end of the pier and hurled myself down the dune, I was bleeding and snot-smeared with fear and grief. I vomited then, and every hole in my head seemed at that moment to be leaking me out, leaking out something vital, something I’d never get back. Too afraid to go back to my tent and risk my heaving sobs being heard, I flung myself down on the beach and, pulling my wooly brownie hat down over my ears, I pressed the palms my hands as hard as I could into them. I must have lain like that for an hour or more until, finally exhausted, I fell asleep.

The light was grey when I awoke, bruised from my many falls on the pier, my cheek sticky with blood and my face covered in sand. But what I remember most of all was the stillness of the air that cold morning. And the silence, the silence of the clams…

The waves lapping gently around the bottom of my sleeping bag seemed to rebuke me and all people. Who raped who? they seemed to whisper, solemnly disregarding grammatical concerns. Who raped who?

“Oh, shut up!” I said, but to this day I have never again eaten pork.

34 thoughts on “The Silence Of The Clams”

  1. Sneezy, of course your head is melting if it’s 5.30 in the flippen a.m.! Are you a madman? You must wake up the sparrows wondering around at that hour. Sparrows get really grumpy without their sleep. They don’t perform as well at nest-building and other tasks either.

  2. I was on the point of abstaining from seafood until your parting shot about the “silence of the clams”. I hope Anna is now more ladylike in her manner of breaking wind.

  3. faces smeared with ketchup

    Frankly, the above was the most horrific thing about this tale. I mean, a weenie roast without mustard!?! Good God, woman, what’s wrong with you!?! Putting ketchup on a hot dog just ain’t right.


  4. Nanas, I haven’t seen her for years, but these days, it is said, she talks all her flatulence out.

    Vince, the Golden Ass?? But I was aiming for The Golden Notebook!! Where did I go wrong?

    Conan, when you say bi-valve’s mantle, I have this vision of a plumber’s t-connector wearing a tiny Dick Turpin cloak. I’m sure that can’t be what you mean, but then again, in your world, the stars are shrieking.

    Rand, our Brownie leaders must have bowdlerised weenie roast to sausage-sizzle. Til now I never saw their censoring ways. Now I’m wondering what Ging Gang Goolie Goolie really meant.

  5. I?ve a hurty head today, and you?re making me think all day about. I was going to just say that I?ve forsaken Shanice and now love Anna, but the leaking of you affected me. I don?t get it Sam, but I love it. And since Vincent H above knows his shit, well I?m goosed and a fairly silly goose at that. Can I say that I?d wanted to hug you on the beach, mostly when your were so damaged but also earlier, when you?d snuck out on you own. There?s s song called ?Stars Above? by Maria Doyle Kennedy. I?m also reminded of this by your post, I don?t know why. I?ll think about this again over the weekend when my head?s not so hurty, but I don?t really mind if I don?t get it cause it?s fucking magic.

  6. Cheers, Medbh. These days I’ve switched to eating only cows that have been free to scratch and peck, and grass-fed chickens who’ve lived a full life roaming the wild hills.

    Brianf, asparagus is the seaweed of the land. It’s landweed, over-rated landweed. If only the sprout got the same adulation as asparagus the world would be a better place. Asparagus is such a cheap attention getter with its “ooh look at me I’m so phallic and edgy!” Asparagus obviously has some deep self-esteem issues it needs to work through.

  7. When it started I thought we were going to have a full blown sex- fest; a Nature’s version of the one Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster had on an Hawaaian (spell your own)beach – can’t remember the name of the film. However it was much more gripping than that and it will be some time before the images disappear. BTW was pork a red herring?
    And DO try to be a better girl and do as grown ups tell you. They do know best.

  8. Well, you’ve struck a chord, again.
    There is a business here called, “Clam Haulers”. Somehow, the pronunciation and the spelling got mangled and it became “Clam Hollers”. I peed myself at the imagery, of course, no one else got it…

  9. And the aversion to pork is a real bummer,
    I was about to offer you one of my favorite recipes:
    Ham, Yam, Clam, Spam, & Jam Sammiches.
    Perhaps another time.

  10. Savannah, brownies don’t look that way now. They get to wear trousers and zippy yellow jumpers. We had to wear hankie-thin belted tunics and brown bobble hats. The belts were way cool though, with links hanging off them for pen-knives and whistles and that. Punk rock belts were inspired by the Brownies. Not a lot of people know that.

    fmc, let pee come before giggles, I learnt that lesson in the Brownies too.

    Bock, I haven’t yet met my Hannibal, despite all my hanging round liver and chianti joints.

    Kim, cheers! I got the photees and it looked smashing – a ganache too! I felt spoilt!

    Pat, one of these days I might do a full-blown sex-fest. Perhaps some candle-lit night when the wind rattles the casement and there’s nothing on telly…

    Sea Dreams, you are a culinary genius! The saltiness of the clams playing off the sweetness of the jam, all with the subtle overnotes of the Spam. patent it, immediately, my friend!! You’ll be rich, RICH!

    Conan, it’s just like corn chowder but with more cream and a different spelling.

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