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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Word was that no one in all of Hyannis, where I grew up, was supposed to dig for clams at Scantling’s Beach. There was talk about some girls who had come to field hockey camp or whatever kind of camp girls go to. They set off wandering one day, ended up at the beach, took their clothes off, and drowned in the rip tide. They were buried in the mud now. That’s what older kids told you when you were a younger kid.
Scantling’s Beach could have been anywhere on the Cape were it not for Sligo’s Sliders. My dad said Sligo was an Irish name when he first took me to Sligo’s small food shack by the jetty. We didn’t buy anything. I felt bad about that. But we looked over the stock. I didn’t know a slider was a small sandwich. My dad said they were usually burgers. We didn’t see any. Just stacks of fried clams—they looked congealed—on top of small, square-shaped buns.
“They’re clam sliders then,” my dad asked. Sligo was dressed up like a pirate. He had a black bandana on his head, and a red and white polka dot one tied around his neck. He didn’t answer us, probably because he knew we weren’t going to buy anything. He had a selection of plastic buckets on top of his display case with plastic shovels in them, in case you wanted to dig rather than eat on the beach. That’s what appealed to me.
I pedaled my Huffy back to Scantling’s Beach that night. Practically went begging for a grounding, with my parents probably getting the cops to look for me. I don’t think Sligo recognized me. But he sold me a plastic bucket and shovel for $2 and I set about digging up those girls in the sand.
To be honest, I only half-thought I was digging for girls that night. I already had an idea in my mind of what would happen, eventually, but I also knew, even then, that life, like an excavation, passes in stages.
There would be others. Like when I imagined the house that was shaped like a grain silo, but nowhere near as tall, but not so short that we couldn’t fancy it as a stout lighthouse—sans actual light—which leant it some extra charm. I didn’t know there would be you, of course, but I had the concept, even then. Even if I never imagined not having you before I really had you.
I didn’t have any success digging up naked girls that night, so I wandered back up the beach and poked through Sligo’s trash. He was gone. There were some clam sliders on top of the garbage bucket. They looked fresh. I popped one in my mouth. Not bad, I thought, as I waited for someone to come and get me.
That was some grounding after the police came. Months. I had it coming. Put a dent in my digging plans. I’d return, on occasion, from year to year, as I got older. You probably remember walking on that beach. Or not. I never went into the local legends with you. It seemed like it would have been a betrayal of the place, you being from somewhere far away. You know what though? I became more and more certain, with each of these passing years, that there was something certain, unshakable in those legends about buried girls, and I had no doubt I was going to be the person who made the myth a reality. Others must have felt the same way, because people started going to Scantling’s Beach, in droves. Sligo had more business than he could handle, but he never did venture into other forms of sliders. Not burger sliders, pulled pork sliders, barbeque chicken sliders, nothing but clam sliders.
Eventually I came to have what I like to think of as my own honorary bucket, which Sligo kept on top of the glass display case that housed his congealed wares. Maybe my two bucks sent him on his way. I don’t know. We never talked. There was no need.
But one night, I wish we had, or he had been around to lend an ear, anyway. It was cold and I was numb and I was drinking whiskey to keep warm. I started digging up something that felt soft, and big. I thought I was going to dig up you. But what do you know, there it was, my own foot that had sunk into the wet sand, with my big yellow shovel under it. So maybe that’s what you dig up, really, in the end, the whiskey end, not naked girls who had wandered off and got caught in the riptide, or anything that’s not you.
Just a thought. But I will say this for the gulls at Scantling’s Beach, if maybe for no one else: they’d always leave at least the one morsel behind, back on top of Sligo’s trash barrel that was capped off with clam sliders that looked no worse than the ones in the display case. You get to a point in life where you appreciate something like that. So I always finish with at least a portion of a disused clam slider, and I leave my bucket in front of the fish shack for Sligo to put back in its keeping place, until I need it again. And I have myself a nap on the beach, where you can’t fall out of anything, only in.
Colin Fleming’s first book, Dark March: Stories for When the Rest of the World is Asleep, comes outJune 8, from Outpost19, with his second, Between Cloud and Horizon: A Relationship Casebook in Stories, to follow in September from Texas Review Press. His fiction appears in the VQR, Post Road, Boulevard, Black Clock, and Michigan Quarterly Review, and he also writes for The Atlantic,Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, ESPN The Magazine, and The New Yorker. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.