Do Clams Bite?
Chapter 22: Clams Don’t Bite . . .
YOU CAN READ THE FIRST HALF
AM THIRTY-SEVEN years old now. Margot and Martha, the Glynn twins,
who climbed through the window that night, are now thirty-nine. Raskol
is forty. The events that I have been relating took place early in
the summer after I had finished the fourth grade. I had skipped the
third grade, and my birthday wouldn’t come until the fall, after the school
year had started, so I was, when the Glynn twins came through the window,
not yet nine. I’ll let you work the rest of the ages out for yourself.
If we had been clams, you would have had to throw us back.
I followed the three of them out the window, along the porch roof, and down a maple tree at the far end of the porch. As I slid along a branch that overhung the porch, light from the living room fell on me, and through the window I could see my grandparents, sitting on the scratchy furniture, reading. We walked along the road to the river, and along the river to Raskol’s father’s clamboat. The night was warm. Clouds slipped across the face of the moon. Raskol began undressing as soon as we reached the clamboat, and I saw that we were going to swim in the river. He was in the water quickly, and I wasn’t far behind. The tide was out again now, so the soft, sweet water from the stream flowed out over the dark Bolotomy. I turned onto my back and watched Margot and Martha undress on the flat deck at the stern of the boat, two shadows against the white cabin, bending over, sliding their shorts down to their ankles and stepping out of them, grabbing the hems of their shirts and shooting their arms upward. Then the clouds moved aside, and for a moment before they dove into the water everything glowed with moonlight: the sumptuous skin of the water, like pewter, and Margot and Martha, side by side, before the fluorescent white cabin, two smooth sprites, their hair as soft and bright as the moonlight, and between their long thighs, no penises.
Their dives were sleek and silent, and they swam underwater quite a distance before coming up. During the time that they were underwater, I figured it all out. They were girls. May had been a girl. They had all been girls from the very start. I understood the whole thing, more or less.
A head rose out of the water next to me.
Her features—their features—were still just sketches of what they would eventually become, except for their large eyes, their large watery blue eyes, and their long lashes.
“I’m Martha,” she said, just so that I’d know. She already had the unsettling habit of looking steadily, unblinkingly into my face with those lovely, wide, incredulous eyes. We were treading water, looking at each other, and that steady, doubtful look made me think, as it so often has since, that she was waiting for me to say something, that she probably wouldn’t believe what I said, but that she had expected me to say something, and wondered why I hadn’t come out with it yet. So I came out with it.
“I like the way you look,” I said.
We swam in the river for a while, paddling around, talking, whispering. Whenever a car went by on the road that ran along the water we clung to one of the boats, and to each other, hiding in the shadows. Incidentally, she would place her hand on the small of my back and apply a little pressure to guide me into the shadows; I would put my arm around her waist and hold her close to me, because in her shimmering reflection I thought I’d seen her shiver. After a while, our hands began to wander, and soon we had pretty well satisfied our curiosity.
We swam across the river, to the mouth of the stream, on the side of the river where there were no clamboats, where a large house stood back from the water, separated from it by trim lawns. Raskol and Margot were there, and the four of us stood up in the stream. Even in the shifting light, I could see how very alike Margot and Martha were.
“Let’s go up this stream,” I said. “I want to see where it comes from.”
“You can’t go very far,” said Raskol. “It runs between these houses, and then you come to the street.”
He was right. Whispering and giggling, we walked along in the stream bed, the water barely up to our ankles. Willow trees grew on either side, and the stream was so narrow that their branches mingled and hung in a tangle overhead. We could look into the lighted houses as we passed. We hadn’t gone far before we came to a metal culvert, hardly large enough for us to crawl through.
“See?” said Raskol. “There isn’t much to it. I’ve been through there, but it’s a tight squeeze, and it’s not worth squeezing through. You know what I used to think when I was little? I used to think that this stream came from another world. My brother told me that. He told me that he had crawled through the culvert once and come out in another place like this, but different, different in a way that he couldn’t explain. He made a lot of noise about how I was probably too scared to go there, so one morning I crawled in, and I was scared. I’ve never been so scared. I could see some light, way down at the end, and I thought that must be the other world, so I started getting excited, and I crawled along faster, on my hands and knees in the water. When I got to the end, I thought I had made the biggest discovery anybody ever made. There it was, right there in front of me, this other world that looked just like this one, but a little different. I had to sit down because my heart was pounding so hard. When I got my breath, I started exploring around. And what did I find? The other world was exactly like this one. There were houses just like regular houses. There was a Bolotomy River just like our Bolotomy River. There were clamboats just like real clamboats. There was even a clamboat just like my father’s clamboat, and on it there was a guy just like my father wiping his nose on his sleeve the way my father does. It was spooky. There was something wrong about it—I can’t explain it, but I knew I didn’t want to stay there. So I ran back to the end of the culvert and crawled back through, and when I got back out I felt safe again because I was back home.”
We had started back down the stream, and we walked along quietly for a while pondering the implications of Raskol’s story. Then Margot spoke up.
“Our father used to tell us something like that,” she said. “We used to race to be the first one out the door to play, and we’d wind up squeezing through the door side by side. He wanted to get us to stop racing for the door by having us take turns being first, so he warned us that every time we squeezed through the door side by side we would change into each other. Martha would become Margot and Margot would become Martha. If we wanted to stay who we were, we’d better start going through the door one at a time.”
“We believed him, too,” said Martha. “He told us in such a serious voice, as if he had just noticed what was happening and was worried about us.”
“We spent almost a whole night trying to figure out how many times we had already been through the door side by side, so that we’d know who was who so far.”
“In the morning we decided that it didn’t make any difference, so long as neither of us wanted to switch.”
“So we never squeezed through the door again.”
We giggled at that while we swam across to Raskol’s father’s boat. While we were dressing, Margot and Martha turned those unblinking eyes on me, and I thought that I should say something.
“That’s nothing,” I said. My mouth began filling again, as if I had taken too many of Great-grandmother’s hard candies. I swallowed hard and went on. “When I was little, I used to think that clams could bite.” I laughed uproariously, and they chuckled a little, tentatively.
“I would go out clamming with Grandfather, and I would stand in the water watching him shuffle along. When he felt a clam, he would duck under and bring it up and drop it into the front of his bathing suit. He’d keep dropping clams in until his suit was all lumpy, and then he’d waddle over to the Rambunctious and empty them onto the deck. I knew he wanted me to do the same thing, but I was sure that the first one I dropped in there would bite—”
I hesitated a moment. I didn’t quite have a word for what I wanted to say.
“—me,” I said, using a word that came closer to the essence of my pelecypodophobia than I knew.
“I wanted to ask him, ‘Do clams bite?’ but I knew that if I asked, he would figure out why I was asking and know that I was afraid, so I didn’t ask. I just did what he did, and hoped that all the clams I caught would be asleep. Well, I caught a lot of clams, and none of them bit me, so I figured it out for myself. Clams don’t bite. Girls are just born that way.”
I have often wondered, of a Sunday morning, what imp made me say the things I said on Saturday night. As soon as my last sentence was out, I wondered why I had said it. I blushed, and they laughed. Raskol clamped a strong hand on my shoulder and said, “I knew I was going to like you the minute I saw you fall into the water.”
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Little Follies is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
“My Mother Takes a Tumble,” “Do Clams Bite?,” “Life on the Bolotomy,” “The Static of the Spheres,” “The Fox and the Clam,” “The Girl with the White Fur Muff,” “Take the Long Way Home,” and “Call Me Larry” were originally published in paperback by Apple-Wood Books.
Little Follies was first published in hardcover by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail the author’s imaginary agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.