Nonfiction from Amy R. Martin

Oyster shells gathered together to fill a frame

Photo: Mandy Henry

Oysters

  1. Like some old-timey aristocrat, she sent my husband a clipping in an envelope sealed with a crimson wax heart. When I opened the envelope, it fluttered to the ground like a lady’s handkerchief, like an invitation: Pick me up, it said. It was from the Travel section of The Evening Standard: “The Limfjord is home to the world’s largest concentration of wild European oysters.” She’d drawn smiley-faced stick figures of herself and my husband—miniature flat-shelled bivalve enthusiasts, half-pint hunter-gatherers in rubber gloves and waders—holding hands on the beach at Aalborg, next to a basket brimming with mollusks.
  2. “I will not lend thee a penny,” says Falstaff to Pistol in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. Pistol replies, “Why, then the world’s mine oyster, / Which I with sword will open.” Oysters are notoriously difficult to open, but perhaps inside loiters a pearl, nacred, iridescent, a pale porcelain-white or bluish-gray beauty with a dark speck at its core. Something worth something. “The world is your oyster,” I say to my children. Yours for the taking—with violence, if necessary.
  3. oyster shell drop a bombshell shell company in a nutshell she sells seashells by the seashore shell game shell shock shell out walk on eggshells with silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row come out of your shell no crawl back into your shell you are a shell of your former self
  4. Tourists and adulterers alike bring garnishes like sherry vinegar and shallots, horseradish cream, or dill and lemon juice to Limfjord. Oysters are also delicious with wood sorrel and parsley oil, a Nordic favorite, or, more exotically, with ponzu sauce made with sugar, fresh lime juice, mirin, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar.
  5. My favorite story by Chekhov is “The Lady with the Dog,” but he wrote another called “Oysters.” In that story, while the father begged for money, the son imagined an oyster, which he’d never seen, to be part-fish, part-crab; no, perhaps like a frog with “big, glittering eyes” and “revolting jaws.” When he ate an oyster, he found it slimy, damp, moldy, with a sound of “scrunching” as he tried to eat the shell. Everyone laughed as they watched him. This story is about indifference to the poor, not about oysters. The oysters are incidental. But twenty years after the story was published, Chekhov’s body was taken from Badenweiler, Germany to Moscow, Russia in a refrigerated railway car labeled “For Oysters Only.”
  6. People think oysters are aphrodisiacs, but no scientific studies prove this. Casanova, they say, ate fifty oysters every morning to jumpstart his libido. I don’t think they were Limfjord oysters, though. He also wrote, “Marriage is the tomb of love.”
  7. I ate an oyster not long ago. It was not the golden-hued Limfjord oyster, with its bitter bite and its razor-sharp shell, but it was plump and springy, glacier-cold, oblong like an inkblot or a melanoma, a ragged teardrop the size of my palm. After detaching the oyster with the tines of a tiny fork, I tipped it from the wide end of the shell through my parted lips, where it swelled to fill the empty caverns of my mouth. I bit hard into its flesh, and its liquor pricked the insides of my cheeks and my tongue—it tasted of iron and brine, like the hulls of sunken ships. I let it slither down my throat, still whole, and until just that moment, alive.

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Amy R. Martin is a producer/screenwriter and essayist based in Vienna, Virginia. Her work has appeared in Literary Mama, Pithead Chapel, and Hungry Ghost Magazine, and she is the Stage and Screen Editor for the Southern Review of Books. She has an MFA from the Queens University of Charlotte.

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