Last weekend, my son came back from a sleepover and dumped his overnight bag on the back steps. It sat there in the hot sun for many hours. Finally, I picked it up and decided to clean it out. I reached in and noticed something was moving at the bottom of the bag.
It was a bivalve. A clammy sort of thing, with the penile appendage poking out of its shell. Ah yes, a clam indeed. I had eaten this sort of thing at seafood establishments, with drawn butter. I regretted that now. The penile appendage was wiggling. The clam was alive.
It was sitting next to his pajamas and toothbrush, along with a fair amount of sand. There were two linty pennies at the bottom of the bag. I picked the clam up between my thumb and forefinger. It pulsed against my skin. Its movements were foreign, alien. Yet it lived, and I lived. It sat all day in the hot sun and still lived.
“Please take it outside,” I said to my son.
“We thought it was dead,” he said. He and his friend had found the clam in the Mamaroneck river.
“It’s not dead but it’s gonna be soon!”
He took the clam outside. He didn’t come back in. We walked out to find out where he’d gone. He was around the side of the house, crying, heartbroken.
His whole body shook with the tragedy. And I remembered that hopelessness. I pitied every aphid, every butterfly, every ant I’d trapped as a child. I remembered the little rabbit that I’d saved from a cat that had shaken it and ruined its organs; it had died and gone stiff in its shoebox of grass clippings. I had been struck with an overwhelming grief, and no one else had even winced.
My husband said: “Look. Go and get it. We’re going to return it to the river. We’re going to save its life.”
My son perked up and ran out, but he’d wedged the clam under a piece of concrete by the back steps and couldn’t get it out. We fetched the cooking tongs and pulled the poor clam free. Then they got in the car and drove it down to the river, right to the spot where he’d found it. I watched them go.
When they returned my son’s face was calm.
“Is the clam alive?” I said.
“And do you feel better?”
“Much better, yes.”
I thank my husband for doing that small thing.