THE SINGING SCALLOP
by Annabelle Blomeley
The Singing Scallop Restaurant held its fifteenth anniversary on the day Hurricane Robert starting raining down onto the town of Winnie Shores. Out the windows, customers could see what looked like ten foot waves, with nothing but gray clouds off in the horizon.
The Singing Scallop herself looked like it could be blown away if someone sneezed in its direction. The walls were aged wood, and the roof was made of shiny tin. Colorful signs and knick-knacks covered the walls, both inside and outside, making it look like an antique store from a distance. The building had started off small, but after years of growing and growing, the restaurant now had three add-ons, each one looking slightly different than the last. The first main room was called the Jellyfish Room, because ribbons and dried seaweed hung from the ceiling like tentacles. The second was the Stingray Room with a giant stuffed Stingray on the wall named Sting, the third was the Scallop Room, and the fourth was the Gift Shop.
The Singing Scallop was known for her authentic “beach bum” vibe, various types of fried fish, stellar views of the ocean, and tastefully made side dishes. But most of all, she was known for being named after scallops but then not selling scallops. It was a nice contradiction that tourists loved mentioning when they went home after vacation.
Despite the hurricane, dozens of people were crowded in each of the Singing Scallop’s creaky rooms. The regulars stayed in the Scallop room; they were comprised of local fisherman and the owners of the town’s notorious tourist traps. The Tourists themselves stayed in the Stingray and Jellyfish Rooms; and as Bill the Regular said, “They’re quaking straight outta their flip flops ‘cause of this tiny-ass Hurricane.”
And they were scared, no matter how many fried shrimp and crabcakes that they crammed into their mouths. Their eyes looked like they were at a tennis match, going from the window to the TVs that hung on the walls. They were watching a weatherman with gel-slicked brown hair and a gray suit. He was frantically pointing to the eye of Hurricane Robert.
“Don’t you worry,” the owner, Ruth, told the customers, shaking her head and putting her fists on her hips. “The Singin’ Scallop ain’t never fallen to a couple of raindrops and sea breezes.” She then laughed, her hearty giggles filling the room.
Ruth herself was middle-aged, with dyed bleach blonde hair and brown roots. She had laugh lines and her skin was tan from the sun.
“Are you sure we’ll be okay?” a little boy whimpered beside her, rocking back and forth on his feet nervously.
Ruth turned to him and smiled. “Where ya from?” she asked, kneeling down and putting her elbows on her knees.
“Tennessee,” the boy said, looking at his mom anxiously.
“Well, lemme show you something that you can’t find in Tennessee,” Ruth said, taking the boy’s hand and bringing him over to the corner of the Scallop Room, where a large aquarium stood. Green grass was floating rhythmically in the water and if you looked hard enough, you could spot some shells sitting at the bottom.
Ruth glanced into the water for a couple of seconds before reaching her hand in and pulling out the biggest shell, which snapped shut when her finger touched it.
“This here is Verlon,” she said. “He’s my most favorite scallop that I’ve ever caught.”
“There’s a scallop in there?” the boy asked, eyeing the shell.
“Well, yeah!” Ruth answered. She motioned for the boy to watch, and then set the scallop back into the water. Right as it touched the surface, the shell opened up and by snapping up and down, swam straight back into the grass.
“There’s tons of other scallops in there: Jane, Albert, Bernard, Matilda. But Verlon’s been here for years,” Ruth explained. “He was supposed to be dead by three Christmases ago yet he keeps on fighting.” She looked at the boy. “If Verlon can make it, so can we.”
The boy smiled and walked back to his parents, who were both eating french fries while looking anxiously out the window.
Ruth sighed and walked up to some of the Regulars, who were all eating shrimp smeared in butter and laughing at each other’s jokes.
“Can’t believe Verlon’s still kicking, Ruth,” Amos said, in between mouthfuls of homemade chips and hushpuppies. He was sitting with his pals, all of whom came to The Singing Scallop every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They told Ruth that on Mondays they needed a pick me up, on Wednesdays they were celebrating half the week being over, and on Fridays they just wanted some food.
“Does he still hum to you, Ruth?” Jack asked, twirling his fork in his hand.
Ruth turned and shrugged. “Not as loud as he used to.” She smiled sadly and walked away, swinging open the doors to the kitchen. She shuffled over to the corner of the room where another aquarium stood in the back. Ruth always said that having scallops in the kitchen would bring good luck to the restaurant, so she kept a couple near the prep table. When she made it to the tank, Ruth closed her eyes and put her ears near the bucket, trying to focus on listening, yearning to hear the hum. She blocked out the sound of the dishwasher and the sizzle of food being fried, until she heard a tiny song erupt from the basket. It reminded her of all the years past.
Ruth first went scalloping when she was about to turn thirty-six. She was working at Daisy’s Diner as a waitress, and the local scalloper had just finished dropping off that day’s scallops.
“You should come with us some time,” the scalloper said, dropping a box in front of Ruth’s feet. “The scallops are mighty feisty this time of year.”
And so Ruth went scalloping, and as she sat on the scalloper’s boat, she realized that she didn’t know how to scallop and she didn’t know the people she was scalloping with. They all wore scuba suits, and Ruth wore her bathing suit. They all knew what they were doing, Ruth did not.
The scalloper threw some goggles, flippers, and a bag at Ruth, and told her to hurry on up because it was about to rain. Scallops don’t like the rain.
“Now ya just dive into the grass at the bottom right there,” the scalloper said, pointing to the bottom of the water. “And when ya see a scallop, grab it and put it in the bag.”
Ruth stood at the edge of the boat, looking down at the water. She nodded at the scalloper, even though her stomach was churning and she felt cold.
“Well, then go!” the man said, nudging her from behind right as she jumped in.
Ruth hit the water, warmth overcoming her body and her hair floating around her. She looked around and saw the bottom of the boat: a figure looming overhead like storm clouds. She turned around and saw nothing but blue and gray water, tiny particles floating in front of her nose.
Suddenly she became aware of the burning in her lungs, and frantically started splashing around. Finally she kicked up and popped into the surface, sputtering and coughing.
“Oh, shit! You didn’t tell me you didn’t know how to swim!” the scalloper yelled at Ruth from above.
Ruth looked up, treading water and fumbling with her goggles. “I can swim!”
“Then swim!” everyone on the boat screamed.
Ruth frowned and taking in one more breath, pushed down into the water. A calmness washed over her. No one was yelling at her, no one was looking at her.
So Ruth dove down deeper until she made it to the green grass that swayed in the waves. She looked around, pushing away the leaves, finding nothing in the bush. Ruth stopped to gather her senses, and just as she was about to go up for air, she heard a tiny voice, humming in the distance. She turned her head to the left, towards the song, and swam over to it. Frantically searching for the singer in the grass. The hum got louder and louder the more Ruth looked. And just as her lungs almost gave out, her hand moved a leaf. Sitting in the sand was the scallop.
Ruth grabbed it and started to swim towards the surface, feeling the shell’s ridges push against her palms. As she popped out of the water, she held the scallop up into the air.
“I got one!” she screamed at the boat, smiling and laughing to herself.
The scalloper appeared on the boat. “Good job! Now go get more.” He turned around and left Ruth’s view. Frowning, Ruth grabbed the bag that hung on her hip, and carefully set the scallop inside.
And with that, she went straight back in. This time she followed hum after hum after hum. The scallops sounded like an underwater choir, each one hitting a different note and coming together to harmonize. Ruth grabbed scallop after scallop until her bag was about to burst. She looked at the last scallop in her hand. Its shell was a pale pink, with brown stripes going down the side. Ruth smiled and let it go, watching it flutter back down into the grass.
With the last of her strength, Ruth swam to the surface. She reached for the boat’s ladder and pulled herself up, humming under her breath. Hoisting her bag up, she fell onto the boat’s deck, and tried to catch her breath.
“What in the hell?” the scalloper said, walking up to Ruth. “Did ya put rocks in the bag or something?”
Ruth looked up, confused. “No, these’re scallops!”
“Good Lord above! I ain’t never seen anyone get this many scallops during one trip! Are you messing with me?” the scalloper cried, grabbing the bag that Ruth held out in front of her. He opened it gently and Ruth watched his eyes grow wide.
“How in the world?” he murmured, gazing among the piles of scallops in the bag.
Ruth sat up and leaned against the railing of the boat as the scalloper turned to her. She shivered as it started to rain, water hitting her face and getting stuck in her already damp hair.
“How did you do it?” the scalloper said softly, not once taking his eyes off of the bag.
“You can hear ‘em,” Ruth said, wringing out her towel.
“The scallops! They sing!” Ruth exclaimed, grabbing a scallop out of the bag and putting it up to her ear. “Well, I mean, they do underwater.” Ruth could hear nothing but the crash of waves and the murmur of the boat’s engine.
With this the scalloper looked up. “You can’t hear scallops!” he laughed. “Are you crazy?” He patted Ruth on the back and walked away giggling under his breath.
Ruth shrugged and they sat in silence for the rest of the ride. She watched as they anchored and moored, finally hopping onto the deck and taking her bag of humming scallops along with her.
“Order for table eight!” one of the cooks yelled, snapping Ruth out of her daze.
“I’ll get it!” she said, grabbing two of the plates and balancing them on her forearms, and holding the other two in her hands. She started to walk, opening the door with her back and strutting all the way back to the Jellyfish Room. As she set the plates down on the table, the little boy from before tugged on her white apron.
“How did you meet Verlon?” he asked quietly when she turned around. His parents were arguing whether or not to take the chance and leave or stay and wait it out. From the tv on the other side of the room, the weatherman told everyone to stay put and get to high ground.
Ruth looked at the boy. “I was out scallopin’ in my brand new boat a couple of years back. It was right when this place finally took off,” she started, gesturing to the restaurant. “My bag was almost full, ya see, and so I was only trying to find a couple more because although they don’t move much, scallops need a pretty big tank to live in. So I listened and listened until I heard Verlon singing his pipes off over by a rock.” Ruth stopped for a moment to wave at one of the regulars, who was putting his raincoat on.
“Imma get home, Ruth! Thanks again!” the man said, opening the door. A blast of wind slammed the door shut and everyone jumped.
“Be safe, George!” Ruth yelled, turning back to the boy. “Anyways, so I went to the rock and found Verlon perched on another smaller rock. I remember thinking, How in the world can this one scallop sing better than my entire church’s choir?” Ruth laughed and the boy smiled.
“And so I put him in the bag, went all the way back to the restaurant, and I swear the whole time Verlon just sang and sang in the back of my truck! I’m surprised he didn’t die from overexertion or some crap like that!” Ruth continued to pause so she could laugh, her eyes twinkling in the fluorescent lighting.
“Scallops sing?” the little boy asked, pushing his hair back.
The boy smiled as his parents waved him over. Ruth stood back up and looked around, swinging back and forth on her heels. The sky was darker now, almost as dark as Jane the Scallop’s stormy gray shell. The waves were getting scarily close, stopping mere inches before the walls of The Singing Scallop. The rain was coming down hard, as if Ruth was staring straight into a waterfall. Every couple of minutes the floors would shake from thunder and the lightbulbs would flicker. Children were crying and parents kept their heads in their hands.
Suddenly, the weatherman showed up on all the screens, his brown hair looking slightly more unkempt than usual. “We are now under a state of emergency. Everyone evacuate to either high ground or further inland, and never drive your car into a flooded area…” he said, pointing with his hand to the big swirl of a storm on the green screen behind him.
Ruth looked away, blocking out his warnings to the best of her ability. But the words “get out now!” repeated in her head over and over again.
“Ruth!” a man yelled from the other room. All the customers looked up, fear etched across their faces.
Ruth ran to the door of the Scallop Room, putting her hand on the old wooden door frame and stopping. On the opposite side of the room, the floors glinted with water, and the window laid in pieces on the ground. Wind whistled through the cracks and gusts of the cold hit Ruth and the Regulars in the face, making goosebumps stand up on their arms.
“Dammit,” Ruth muttered, staring straight into the sea, which was now right out of her window.
The Regulars grabbed their jackets and leftovers. Jack walked to Ruth, putting his hand on her shoulder.
“I’m going inland to stay with my brother and his family. He’s a fancy doctor so he’s got two guest bedrooms. I’d be happy to drive ya up there, Ruth,” he said, watching the waves outside the window get closer and closer. “I can even wait for ya to kick everyone out.”
Ruth turned to him and smiled. “It’s fine. Thanks for offerin’ though.”
Jack grinned. “Be safe, Ruth.”
Ruth only nodded, staring as the water splashed against the floor like it was beating a drum. To get her mind off of it, she walked to the kitchen, where the cooks and waitresses were huddled and anxiously talking.
“I’ll let y’all out soon. Don’t you worry,” Ruth said, grabbing a sponge and starting to wash the dishes that had piled higher than she had ever seen them before.
It took her awhile, but by the time the dishes were done, all of the waitresses had packed up their bags and the cooks had hung up their aprons. They were silently shuffling out the door, covering their eyes with their hands to avoid the wind and rain.
Ruth wiped her hands on her pants and walked into the dining rooms. She saw the little boy wave goodbye, as well as most of the tourists and even the Regulars. Only a handful remained, and they were all leaving.
Ruth now stood in The Singing Scallop alone. She went and grabbed her phone, along with her jacket. And then she went back into the Scallop Room, surrounded by water and the leftover food of the customers. More windows had been knocked out, so much that she felt like she was standing outside. Her ankles were completely covered in seawater and the bottom part of her pants were soaked. Ruth sat in one of the chairs and leaned back, crossing her legs and putting her hands over her stomach. She sat there and lost track of time, watching as the chairs’ legs were covered by water, as napkins floated on the surface, even as the tvs finally went out and the weatherman’s cries to evacuate were hushed. The sky was dark and for awhile, it scared Ruth. She had never seen a sky that dark before, even on a normal night she could see the moon and stars.
There was a silence that engulfed the room; nothing but waves splashing against the walls like torpedoes. In the distance, Ruth could see a wave coming towards her. It was higher than the others and looked stronger, too. It seemed like a dream, like there was no way it would actually come and hit the Singing Scallop.
Ruth stood up and watched as it got closer and closer. Ten feet away, six, four, three, zero. It passed by all the broken windows, heading straight towards the Scallop tank.
“No!” Ruth screamed right as the water made impact on the glass and everything shattered. The water spilled out of the tank like a waterfall and one by one the scallops started raining down into the ocean.
“Verlon!” Ruth sputtered, diving into the water and swimming to the edge of the building. Her eyes burned with salt, but she spotted Verlon’s black stripes fluttering further out into the sea. His song flooded the water, so much that the waves couldn’t be heard anymore. All Ruth could hear was Verlon, whose voice was getting further and further away.
About the Author:
Annabelle Blomeley is studying creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, AL. She has been published in Cadence Literary Magazine and Aura Literary Magazine’s Fall Issue.