by Samantha Barrow
All summer long my father smells of salt drying. The sweaty son of a gym teacher from Queens, his blue and red terrycloth wrist bands litter the line like fireworks amongst the clouds of tennis whites in my parents’ back yard. Salt is the magic that makes the other flavors shine brighter. A seasoning with a function, it keeps our bodies buoyant in the waves. He emerges from the water, and webs cling to his darkening skin. Crystals reflect micro-rainbows, sending the scent of sunblock and seaweed into the breeze.
He pulls bluefish from the water and I learn to love the flavors that other people seek to avoid when they wrinkle their nose to inquire about a variety of fish they haven’t encountered before: “Is it a really fishy fish?” Chewy, oily, and thick with brine, we peel the layers of shimmering necklace off our fresh catch, then lemon and pepper the salty flesh to throw on the grill.
Bluefish are fighters, lean and sleek, the only animals I have ever struck with a can of insect repellent in the bottom of a wooden green dingy, whacking out of fear and preemptive anger for my digits. My mother’s eyes grow stormy with myth as she speaks of her fisherwomen friends who’ve all lost a finger or toe to the tiny razors, blues wear in their mouths, wielded in the tool of their jaw by the one long muscle that is their body.
My father takes us clamming wearing his salt-bleached cut-offs as we introduce urban folks to the pleasures of sticking your toes into the gooey muck of Tashmoo’s belly. I try to explain that sand isn’t dirty. Yes, there are unseen things that slither, and the translucent gummy worms that lollygag about the knee-deep, warm water like possessed panty hose may feel gross, but gross isn’t really all that bad, like the clams themselves, or their delicate, fussy cousin, the oyster. Taste this ocean. Like kissing, it’s a little repulsive and salty at first, but if you can get over the initial shock of slime and intimacy, it can be quite nice and nourishing in a way that fortifies the blood in