The Flavor of the Past
(Is Like the Belly of the Clam)

by Ariane Lodkochnikov

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

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.
"Disgusting," I said, getting right to the point.
"What?" she asked, in a tone of voice that made it mean, "What now?" "Are you going to put the whole clam in?"
"Sure," she said. "I always do." She opened a clam. With a flick of the knife she severed the adductor muscles and scooped the body free of the shell.
"Blagh," I said.
"Oh, please. Let's not get squeamish."
"Do you know what this part is?" I asked. I poked at the clam with my finger.
She looked at me for a moment, and then she smiled. "It's the belly," she said.
"The belly!" I said, sneering. "It is not. It's the guts."
She began poking at the clam with the knife, exposing the organs, as we had done in biology class. She wasn't neat about it.
"Ma!" I said. "Stop. I don't want to see it."
"You don't want to think about it."
"I don't want to eat it, either."
"You want me to leave the guts out of the chowder?"
"No, you don't, believe me. Did you ever taste a chowder without guts?"
"I don't know."
"Not in this house, you didn't. I don't leave anything out."
"I wish you would," I said.
"Look," she said, "if you're getting too fancy to eat the bellies, you can just sip the broth . . . but you'll still get the good flavor of the bellies."
"Disgusting!" I said, and I went to my room.

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

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