by Suzannah V Evans
ONE CLAM FELL from the sky and clattered to the ground. A second one followed, shattering into splinters of white and grey. A third, a fourth, a fifth. Suddenly the sky was full of falling white objects, as if the clouds were undoing themselves and tumbling like rocks. Brash sound filled the air, as if pigeons were scrambling over roofs and causing all the tiles to plummet at once. The clams were like white rain. The clams were like snow shards. The clams were like bone fragments tossed out of a boat at sea.
In the midst of the falling clams, one woman danced. She had red ribbons tied about her feet and she wore a ragged brown skirt. A grey shirt covered her upper body; grey hair covered her head. She danced with her hands held up to the sky, weaving around the falling objects, catching the occasional clam shell in her palms. When she caught a shell, she would blow on it and let it topple easily from her fingers. Sometimes she would lob a clam towards the nearest house, being careful not to strike the brickwork. The clam, when thrown this way, was a present from her to the house.
Clackity-clack-clack-clack-clack, struck the clams. The woman twisted her hips, rolled her back, spun, arched her neck, clicked her fingers. Clickity-click-click-click-click, she snapped. She threw her head back, her hair tumbling like the sea, and shook herself vigorously. She waltzed over the crushed shells on the ground. She backflipped. She circled her wrists in elaborate patternings of air. As she danced, her skirt whirled around her body, stirring the air, fluting in the breeze like an underwater anemone. Click, clack, click. The sounds rose to a percussive beat and the woman rocked her hips, grinned up to the sky.
It didn’t often rain like this, but when it did, the villagers stayed inside. They bolted their doors and checked their food provisions. They shut their eyes and hoped that their roofs were strong enough to withstand the clattering. They caressed each other’s wrists, made cups of tea, took to their knitting. The children crawled under their beds and made dens, pretending they were deep undersea and that the clack-clack-clack-clack was the noise of whales, hunting. With the extra loud clacks, they squealed and twisted like dolphins.
Only the woman with her ribbons was outside. A ginger cat, who had missed the first warning clam, was locked out, but had found an empty flowerpot to cower under. There had once been a cat, a small tabby with patches of white on her ears and chest, who had enjoyed chasing the clams. She would leap out at the first clack with her paws outstretched, chasing after the clams as if they were butterflies. The village family who looked after her had been worried, and took to bribing her with sardines when they felt a downpour coming on. As the woman danced, the ginger cat observed her, peeking out of the flowerpot with quivering whiskers.
The villagers also observed the woman as she spun. Some gathered by their windows, pointing and murmuring. Others pushed their children upstairs, warning them about the pain of clam splinters, recounting past head traumas, discussing hypothetical bruising. The children moaned, but were quickly placated with hot drinks and biscuits. Conversation rose and dissipated like the ocean’s currents. It rolled like a wave through the houses, lighting up the villagers’ faces and then leaving them ponderous. They wondered if they should go outside and pull the woman to safety. She was very old, they noted. Her grey hair contained the tones of the sky, blending with it at times so that the woman seemed part-woman, part-air, or the air part-woman. Some worried that she might float away, her soul seeking the place full of clams.
The woman felt these whispers as she moved. They came like a tidal pulsing, curling into her shell-ears, susurrating like sea sighs. The weight of them was like the weight of water, filled with shadows and slow-moving sea creatures. Around her, she felt a great shuddering. And still she danced. With her hips, she butted the whispers from her body, sending them shivering and fragmented into the air. Her fingers twisted the whispers out from her hair, where they were intertwined, and spun them into long ropes away from her. The bright sound of her click-click-click-click shocked the remaining whispers, and they fled, fast as horses, back into the houses. The woman danced. She danced. Fingers spinning like whirlpools, skirt flying, eyes wide and glinting, chest open, feet wheeling. Wheeling, whirling, wheeling, whirling. Clackity-clack-clack-clack, clickity-click-click-click.
Suzannah V. Evans is a poet, editor, and critic. Her writing has appeared in the TLS, New Welsh Review, Eborakon, The North, Coast to Coast to Coast, Tears in the Fence, and elsewhere. She is Reviews Editor for The Compass and an AHRC Northern Bridge doctoral student at Durham University.