The Clam

by Barry Green

Abner once again worked late on Friday, trying to save himself from having to come in Saturday, this time to finish up his part of the annual report that was due Monday. He came close, but just grew too tired after 11 hours of work on that day. So, he headed home, depressed and exhausted.

He walked up the three flights of stairs to his apartment and pulled out his keys to unlock the door. Taped to the door, just above the knob, was an envelope. He pulled off the tape, took the envelope into the kitchen with him and took out a bowl from the cabinet above the sink. After filling the bowl with generic brand corn flakes and adding 2% milk, he sat down at the white painted table, with his jacket still on, to have his sad supper.

Before taking up his spoon, he looked at the envelope he’d laid on the table, picked it up and tore the end off, pulling out a folded sheet of paper. He unfolded and read it.

“To the residents of 1040 Pinkerton Parkway: We’ve had several new folks move into apartments in our building the past few months and, so that we can all meet one another, the Wolenskis are having a little get-together Saturday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m. in our apartment, #3. We’ll have snacks, cookies and other desserts. Please come and meet all our neighbors. Signed – Marvin and Cecilia Wolenski.”

Saturday, October 19, was the next weekend and Abner decided to attend the get-together. Why not?

Maybe he would meet a nice neighbor and have someone to commiserate with after these long work days.

On entering the Wolenski’s apartment, he wrote his name on a ‘Hello, My Name Is’ tag and pasted it over his shirt pocket. Cecilia came over and read his name tag. “Ah, so you’re Abner. I think we met once in the laundry room. How long have you been living here?”

“It’ll be three years in November.”

“That’s nice. Hopefully, we’ll see you around more often. We have three new families for you to meet.” Cecilia pointed to one family, a man and woman, looking like they were in their early 30s, with a small girl at their side, maybe 6 or 7 years old. “Those are the Derns.”

She pointed to a tall man who appeared to be 40 or so years old. “That’s Don. He works for a downtown bank.”

Lastly, Cecilia pointed to a stool in the corner of the open area, near the kitchen, and said, “And that’s Lois. She moved in a few weeks ago and hasn’t said too much. We think she works at a school, but don’t know for sure what she does. Pretty shy, I’d say.”

Again, from Cecilia, “Why don’t you have a snack and introduce yourself to everyone?” And she walked back to the front door to welcome another guest.

Abner looked around and it seemed everyone was engrossed in conversation with someone else. Except for Lois. He stared at her, sitting on the stool in the corner, with nobody else talking in her direction. So, he walked over.

Lois didn’t look quite like the other residents. In fact, she appeared to be a large clam.

He introduced himself and asked which apartment she lived in. But her shell just remained clamped shut. “It’s a bit intimidating meeting all these folks. Especially when they seem to know each other and you don’t know any of them. I’m in apartment #6, on the 3rd floor.” Lois remained closed. Her shell didn’t move and Abner heard no response. He leaned against the wall and looked over at her for a few seconds.

“Our hostess said you work at a school. Do you teach there?”

No response.

“You look like you like the water. Do you get to Platt’s Beach much?” (Platt’s Beach was just a mile from where they lived.)

No response, although Abner thought he saw a slight separation of the top and bottom shells.

“I haven’t had much time to get to the beach, but it’s a nice place this time of year. Just cool enough to keep the bathers away but warm enough to walk and listen to the waves come in.” Abner waited for a response. The separation of the shells closed slowly.

“I think I’ll go get a snack. Can I bring you something?” No response. “I’ll pick out something. Be right back.”

Abner walked into the kitchen and grabbed two paper plates. On one he placed two sesame crackers and two pieces of pepper jack cheese along with a few grapes. On the other plate, he added two brownies and an oatmeal cookie. Then he took two paper cups already filled with lemonade, carefully figured how to carry all four items back to the corner and put the plates on the empty stool next to the one

Lois was perched on and put the cups onto a small table next to the stools.

“I wasn’t sure what you’d want, so got us a mixed platter.” He grinned at his witticism. But still nothing from Lois.

“I forgot napkins. Be right back.”

Abner walked back into the kitchen and grabbed two napkins, then turned to return to Lois but was intercepted by Cecilia, the hostess.

“Did you get her to talk? She seems pretty shy. We’ve seen her a couple of times in the hallway and said hello, but she doesn’t seem to say much. Well, I hope you’re having a nice time.” Then she walked back into the living room, to the other guests.

Abner took the napkins and went back to the corner where he’d left the plates of food. Lois was gone. Maybe to the bathroom? But after waiting 10 minutes and no return, he figured she’d gone home. He wandered through the apartment but didn’t want to interrupt the other guests’ conversations, so turned to Cecilia and said thank you, that he was tired and was going to turn in early but it was a nice party and a good thing to do.

Back in his apartment, he sat at his white kitchen table and rubbed his eyes then went on to bed. That night he dreamed of the ocean.

The next morning, he woke up feeling groggy, but quickly brushed his teeth and got dressed to walk up to the corner store and pick up a Sunday New York Times. When he opened his door, he found a small cardboard box sitting just outside, which he brought in and placed on the kitchen table.

Inside the box was a small jar with sand in it and a note that said, “Thank you for talking with me last night. Maybe we can get a cup of coffee some time and I’ll try to be better about keeping the conversation going.” It was signed “Your neighbor, Lois.”

Abner smiled and walked down the three flights of stairs whistling the tune from an old Bobby Darin song, ‘Beyond the Sea.” He didn’t feel groggy anymore.

* * *

Barry is retired and lives in Ashland, Virginia where he writes poetry and short fiction and takes care of his vegetable garden and the woods that surround it.

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