by Fiona Perry
He arrives breathless with excitement, clutching a thick plastic bag bulging with shells. At the kitchen table, he points to the bag and tells me they fattened up over winter. At first, they settled as larvae on ropes, before growing to half the length of a thumb, ready to be stuffed like sausage meat into casings known as socks. The runt grouped with the runt, the alpha with the alpha to prevent unfair competition. I imagine it – the swaying of the long mesh tubes, the seething growth of it. I tell him all of this is wonderful, resisting the urge to remind him he is in fact dead. He smiles and asks me to pour vodka for us into his old reko tumblers which have appeared on my counter top. He says that once the molluscs reach full maturation, they are able to travel outside of the sock – by attaching a byssal thread from their beard to an anchor and then shortening it to move. He finds this both funny and moving. Soon afterwards, he says, the sock collapses into the centre of the column. Collapses into the centre of the column, he repeats. He wipes his mouth with his hand. I am standing beside the stove now, frying diced onion and garlic in the big pasta pot I misplaced years ago, into which I squirt tomato paste, let it sizzle, splash in vodka, warm water and cream. He tips the mussels from the bag into the pot, I sprinkle in sea salt and clamp on the lid. He explains that this is where he has been all along, looking after these creatures. His face soft like a monk’s, he announces he must leave after dinner because new larvae always require his attention out in the ocean.