The sawdust is strewn in salty, soggy clumps on the cement floor. Spent shells display the range of their demise, some whole with grey flesh clinging to their insides, others broken, and the wizened predecessors smashed into a fine carpeting dust. The room smells of a muddy low-tide. A seagull perches on a rafter, cocking its head to as if leveling the mercury in its brain.
Three tables over is the only other dining patron, a girl no older than nineteen, wearing a velvet mini-skirt and a pair of anklet heels. Her coat is still on and I can hear the bangles on her wrist clank as she reaches for another oyster from the wax-paper lined tray.
I glance at my watch. Thirteen after midnight. Because I am out of state and staying in a mildewed motel with a chain-link fenced pool I think, why not? I’ll ask her to my room and if she wants to be paid, I’ll bargain up to $400, $450 tops.
She doesn’t move when I approach.
I wipe my stubble with a wad of paper napkins. “Do you mind if I steal some of your company?” I smile, pleased with myself for having used what I deem a unique line.
“Please.” She points to an adjacent seat with one free finger, while the others hold the chalice of a shell. Her short nails are painted crimson, the cuticles glisten with oyster juice.
I drag the chair across the concrete.
“What happened to your hand?” She eyes a gauzy wrap encircling my left palm.
“Oh, I have difficulty opening these things.” I flick an empty shell off the tabletop.
“There’s an art to opening an oyster.” Her voice is low and calculated; every word a whisper against a candle flame.
I nod, not knowing anything to say.
“Have you ever kissed a woman?” She slips a whalebone knife between the halves.
“Of course!” I snort out a stentorian laugh. My face has turned a high red. How could she think a thirty-year-old man had never kissed a woman? I drive a BMW and have a masters in business and have had plenty of girlfriends.
“I mean really kissed, not what you think is kissing.” Her mouth is painted a rubious scarlet, deep as pyrope.
“I’ve never had any complaints.” I cock an eyebrow.
She nods slowly. Her eyes never meet my stare, but I can tell they are green. A lock of her hair catches in the corner of her mouth and she fishes it away nonchalantly with the hook of her finger.
“To really kiss a woman you have to begin with a tender brace, corseting her into you.” She picks up an oyster holding it out on the pedestals of her fingertips. “Deducing her weakness, the spot most sensitive and exposed.” She turns the shell, its gnarled bone catches the glint of the exposed light bulbs above us. “Then you seduce your way in.” The knife slips easily inside. “Then you coax her open.” Whittling the blade back the halves separate politely. “Then you take her into yourself.” She traces the tip of her velvety tongue along the lip of the shell. “Mingle your juices.” A thin rivulet of opaque liquid trickles down her chin. “And you envelop her.” Tilting her head the flesh disappears into her mouth and I watch it move down her throat.
Then her lips are close to mine. I taste the warm, salted breeze of her breath. She pauses, giving time for an electric tingling current to concentrate between our mouths. Her tongue parts my lips and intertwines with mine, holding it in a slow dance. We both taste of the bottom of the ocean, of rocks and brine and scales.
“Now you’ve kissed a woman.” She smiles and slips away to disappear down a corridor, leaving the light bulbs swaying in her gentle wake.
I stay until the room saturates into pre-dawn light practicing the artistry of opening oysters.
At three o’clock, I pay her check and leave, running my fingers along the chain-link fences of the shipyards and private docks, licking her taste into my mouth.
Sierra B. Ryan writes in Massachusetts, USA.