Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
The First Witch, Macbeth
If you spend a lot of time at something you can become really good at it.
When I was a girl, I spent a lot of time complaining. By the time I was a
teenager, I was a master.
I really had only one complaint. I thought my parents' life, which I had the misfortune to share, was disgusting. My father was a bayman. My mother was a bayman's wife. He brought home fish, clams, crabs, eels, all that sort of thing. She cooked it. Our house, everything in it "our whole life" smelled of fish. I wanted to wash my hands of it. That's the general idea, but there was no end of disgusting details.
Accumulating those details was the occupation of my adolescence. It gave my life meaning and kept me from being bored. Because I was always looking for the disgusting part of an experience, everything interested me.
Consider high school biology lab. Many of my friends "most of my friends" thought that this was the ultimate waste of time. It wasn't going to teach them anything they would ever need in real life. I knew better. I knew that I would probably learn something disgusting - and I was right.
We were required to dissect examples of some of the lower life forms, beginning with earthworms and progressing to clams en route to frogs. I didn't really mind dissecting a worm, but the clam was another matter, because I had a different relationship with clams than I had with worms. I ate clams.
When I learned exactly what I had been eating, I was thrilled to find that it was very disgusting. I could hardly wait to share this new complaint with my mother.
Luck was on my side. When I got home from school I found her
opening clams for chowder.
Years passed. Many years passed. I rose above my parents' lot. I sipped life from the top of the bowl, and I tried to ignore the dark gritty bits at the bottom, where my parents had lived, where I had come from. I tried to pretend that there were no clam bellies in my past, no life that smelled of fish. I tried to cut that part out and throw it away. I wasn't a gourmet, you understand. I was a snob.
A time came when I changed my mind about my past, even about my past self. I decided to stop fighting the past. Instead, I decided to use it. Since that time, I have been putting the whole clam into my chowder, and I've been putting my whole past into my self. My life as a bayman's daughter might have seemed disgusting to the girl I used to be, but it had a certain flavor, and it flavored me despite my efforts to deny it. I still prefer to sip from the top of the bowl, thank you, but I savor the flavor of the bellies. They add a darkness to the mix, and I know I'm richer for it.
Ariane Lodkochnikov is a fictional character who appears in Eric KraftÕs novel What a Piece of Work I Am.
Other Short Stories by Eric Kraft