When the towers fell, a man came running at me shouting oysters, oysters in Spanish before crash – tackling me to the curb. I sank under the weight of him, felt the seep of briny fear from his shirt seams and the swell and collapse of his lungs draw like a riptide against my chest, as we lay there flat and still, our bodies rigid as shell.
Now, idling in one-lane traffic on the ocean road, cinder curls spewing from an upturned four wheeler and Grandmother’s gravelly ashes pulsing lightly on the passenger seat, those words surface and I wonder what he meant. The coverage is poor this far down the isthmus and as the pixelated hourglass spins through its axis, I look outside at everything I’ve forgotten: the strips of furrowed shingle, the sea aster and club rush raking the tideline, the boxed shadow of the power station blunt against the skyline.
We swam there every summer holiday while she was well and we were small, in the thermal plume of spent water flushed from the reactor’s condensers. Even on the coldest days the bay stayed warm and fisherman seeded oyster spats on racks looped back and forth across the discharge basin. We orbited them like electrons, watching the shell-stacks fizz in the current. But no-one else came; perhaps the skim of orange foam that frothed off the waves and clung to our legs like cuckoo spit was warning enough though we didn’t care; we licked it and imagined the taste of salted clementines.
The definition flashes up on the screen: a denotation of surprise or anger which I pass on to the camper behind revving impatience now the four-wheeler is flipped and righted. Shucks. Darn. Shoot I mouth in the rear view mirror. Although it’s Good Grief I understand.
The line of traffic crocodile-files to the shore. The road is new; its hard shoulder staked with caution: Slippery surfaces. Wave break. Algal bloom. We worry there won’t be space to park. The beach fills; day trippers haul windbreakers and coolers across the ouch of pebbles, apply block and wide-brimmed hats, memorize their children’s faces just in case. I remember hers, the way her chin buoyed against the slap of surf.
I sieve the contents of the box into the cold decommissioned shallows; watch it lift and lighten to spindrift, citrus in the sunset before the current catches and carries it towards the pencilled horizon, straight and empty like the old road, devoid of signs of what might be. I feel the pull of it, the undertow of back-then when we knew nothing of disaster, of meltdowns, or her hope that this sullied water might leak heavy and quell the secret growths swelling like pearls inside her. Why would we have thought of such things? We believed in that world: our oyster. Good grief, Good grief.
Mary-Jane Holmes is chief editor of Fish Publishing Ireland. Her work recently won the 2014 Dromineer Flash Fiction Prize and short-listed for the 2014 Bridport Prize (UK) She is an article contributor at Flash Fiction Chronicles and has work published and/or being published in Firewords Quarterly, The Journal Of Compressed Creative Arts, Tishman Review, The Incubator.