Rustic North

Wellfleet Oyster Fest

You celebrate and consume us. You wear images of us on your shirts and wave banners with our name over your streets. You devote one day to us. You honor us.

We are a mighty clan of Atlantic bivalves, cousins of the pearl makers and of the ancient spiked spondylus. We pump colorless blood. We build ourselves up with lime salt, growing out in a fan. The tide is our cradle and it rocks us; ebb crash, ebb crash, ebb crash. Our bed is made up of our multitude, and when we sleep, we have one dream. When we beat our cilia to breathe. The tiny hairs of our lungs hum in one voice over the ebb and crash. The song is so quiet you can’t hear it, you can only feel it if you are very still and relax all your muscles.

We were born when our mothers and fathers released their seeds into the Atlantic, clouding the water. We huddled together in a cluster and hummed. We trapped debris in the mucus of our gills and digested it. We filtered the water we lived in. We grew out of ourselves, building our own skulls as the brain of us, our internal goop and collective consciousness, grew and grew.

When you release seeds, it is a messy secret. When you eat, you toss papers and plates across the street. You do not filter your air. As you grow, you tick off your progress on the wall in the kitchen.

The sailors floated to us and pillaged our bed. They dragged nets along the sea floor, their grid tangled in noodles of kelp, barnacles clinging to the frayed ropes. With nothing to hold onto, we tumbled in the waves and helplessly fell into the mesh. They scooped us up and dumped us into plastic orange buckets. We sat on the deck in small mountains, in the hot sun. The motor of the boat was loud and we could not hear the waves. We could not sleep.

They brought us to the shore, where there is no rhythmic tide. We knew we were lost. Your streets honk and murmur. Your children shriek. Your music rattles our shells, and we can hear no ebb and crash in the thunk tha thunk thunk. There are always tinny voices everywhere you go, in your car radios, on your televisions, inside your telephones. You would die of loneliness without them. You live in cottages that in time turn green with sea slime. You pave your paths with our shells. When you step on them, our ghosts complain. Crunch, crunch, crunch. They are saying our names: Rick. Cree. Crick. Spray.

You hold a festival in our honor, where we are revered and swallowed in single gulps. There are vendors selling antique nautical maps, door bangers, and figurines made in our likeness, and jewelry crafted from our shells.

Men in boots and drooping wool hats cut us open, rending the tender seal, cracking us apart.

“Is that hard work?” one of you asks a shucker as he tortures us open. He clutches us in his blue rubber glove. He wears a smock so as not to muddy his sweater with our juices.

“It is when you’ve been at it for hours.” He bares the fangs between his beard. “Your hand starts to cramp up.”

We cramp up. We flex shut against his blade but he always wins and we ride the slide of your gullets.

You sprinkle citrus and hot, burning sauces on us, then toss us into your mouths where we slosh between your teeth and slip down your esophagus. We sizzle in your bile. Some of us simmer in a vat of oil, and then are dipped in a white paste. Some are slathered in butter, cheese and herbs and baked in a hot oven until the dairy browns. Some are stewed with cream and give you indigestion.

We mix with ice cream and beer and cotton candy and homemade peanut butter fudge and fried dough and local wine and lobster bisque and onion rings and diet soda and shrimp wrapped in ham and grilled chicken and clam chowder, and, in the case of one toddler who is fond of picking up objects and letting them roll around inside her mouth, a marble.

We are in the belly of a man who stands in the middle of the street carving ducks out of blocks of wood. He pretends not to notice the flock of children encircling him or the growing pile of curled shavings on the toes of his boots as we, freed from our husks, do backflips inside him.

We brine in the bellies of fishermen who’ve come in from the shore to consume us with beer as they stare at the fat deposits on the tourist women who saunter by. The men have good sea legs but they totter as we congeal in the alcohol in their intestines.

We slosh inside the drummer in a nine-piece funk band, who pivots to smack the tom and stomps the bass drum before a swaying crowd. His insides feel like a whirlpool, like getting trapped between two currents.

We sit heavy in the stomachs of the children in the front row, who ate us fried in oil and breadcrumbs. They dance in erratic jerks to the music.

We are wrenched open and fed to you hairy creatures with hot breath. We slip into the cavern of you. But inside you, in your stomachs, in the ocean of your bile, we are churned back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. We listen to the roar of your breathing; it goes inhale exhale, inhale exhale, inhale exhale. Ebb crash, ebb crash. We are rocked to sleep.

Cara Bayles lives, writes, and works in the Greater Boston area.