BellaOnline Literary Review



Sue Ellis

A wire hanger swings from a drawer pull.
Bedroom sheers billow like lungs at the open sash,
drawing in breath to call her back.

Climbing blithely down the storm drain,
from halfway she jumps, trusting in
the outstretched arms of an imagined lover--
limps away, bruise-kneed, into the night.

The Bandon fishing docks came into view as the sun crested through the gorse and myrtlewood trees. Traffic had been light for the last part of her trek down the highway, but Anna felt exposed away from the familiar, spongy trails through the cranberry bogs and sand dunes.

The Fish Shack loomed, its saltwater-licked cedar siding green with algae at the foundation. She stepped up on the boardwalk, rounded a corner, and nearly collided with Jimmy, the owner.

"Anna! You´re out early." He lifted his cap, smoothed a hand across his bald head as if he had hair that needed neatening, then replaced it. Looking past her he asked, "Where´s your Ma?"


He eyed her more closely. "Who brought you to town?"

"Nobody." She shrugged out of her backpack and set it down. "You got any work today?" When he didn´t answer she added, "I can pick shrimp. Mama taught me."

"You out of high school yet?"

"In two weeks." A four-letter word was gouged into a tarred dock support pole set deep into the bay. Anna settled her eyes unseeingly upon it as she waited for an answer.

Everyone knew she wasn´t quite right. Mama said it was because the cord had been wrapped around her neck when she was born. Sometimes Anna stood in front of her mirror and struggled to grasp how different she might be if that hadn´t happened--if the boys would like her, or the girls would invite her places.

"If you´re sure you have permission, I could use an extra pair of hands this morning." Jimmy started to lift his cap again, then caught himself.

Anna wondered if he had a tic. She knew about those. Jimmy smelled like stale beer. He´d probably gone to the Wheelhouse Inn the night before and drunk too much. Sometimes Mama went there. Anna had to get her own breakfast when that happened, but she didn´t mind. Mama waited on her too much. It made her uncomfortable.

"Get yourself a cup of coffee," Jimmy said, "the rest of the women will be here pretty soon. They´ll get things started."

Anna liked that: how Jimmy called them ´the rest of the women.´ She was glad to be finished with girlhood--done with climbing out her bedroom window, pretending someone waited for her.

She plunged long fingers into the bin of shrimp and gathered up dripping handfuls. Within a couple of hours her fingertips were sore from peeling off the soft shells. Lois, Norma and Jean were the other pickers. Anna had seen Jean at school dropping off her grandson. She was the friendliest, but way more helpful than she needed to be, like she´d heard that Anna was slow.

"Is this your first job?" Jean stood beside her checking over the shrimp Anna had shelled, stroking her fingers over the naked pink curves to make sure they were clean.

"No. I mean . . yes. My first job that pays." Anna dried her hands. She didn´t want Jean to help her with the shrimp anymore. She could feel the eyes of the other women at her back as she gathered her things and walked toward the highway, a block away. A few minutes later she heard Jimmy call her name. Ignoring him, she turned to face oncoming traffic and began walking backwards like she´d seen other hitchhikers do, her thumb up like she´d done something right. A car stopped, and the driver, a man she didn´t know, motioned her inside.

"Where you headed?" His hair and the short stubble on his face was reddish-orange.

"Port Orford." She cast about in her mind for a reason to go to Port Orford. Something that wouldn´t sound made-up. "I´m meeting someone there, at Battle Rock. You know--the beach on Main Street."

"I´m headed that direction, so I can drop you." He had a friendly smile. His hands were freckled, Anna noticed. He smelled clean, like he´d had a bath and put on clothes that had hung outside to dry. He couldn´t be too bad a person, she reasoned. She began to relax in spite of the warnings her mother had given her about riding with strangers. She pointed out familiar landmarks as they drove.

Thirty minutes later, he parked the car at Battle Rock Beach and walked with her down to the water. As they stood at the edge of the surf, an otter appeared on the surface of an undulating wave. Close enough for eye contact, Anna thought he looked right at her. He regarded her calmly, the human-like expression finding her no different than his own kind, or that´s what it seemed like. The man beside her looked at her a lot the same way, like she wasn´t any different than anybody else.

For the first time, she wondered if she´d spent her life imagining how people felt about her--and then doing what she thought they expected. In that moment she knew that she could do more with her life, that she needed to expect more from herself so other people would, too. The intensity of her thoughts caused her to fall to her knees in the sand.

"Are you alright?" Her companion touched her arm.

"Yes." Her voice sounded faraway to her own ears. "Thank you for the ride. I´ve got to be going." She knew he watched her as she hiked up the beach and began following the highway back to where they´d come from. Her legs felt rubbery.

She hadn´t gone far when she noticed Jimmy pulled up at the curb. Relief flooded through her. He adjusted his cap as she climbed into the truck.

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