mustelids afloat on the strait of dreams

Fiction, 3/7/11

On a calm, grayish day in June, a barge plies the Strait of Juan de Fuca en route to Port Angeles, sending up an enormous wake along the Washington side. The wake passes through forests of giant kelp as it rolls shoreward, lifting the gas-filled kelp bladders, humping the formerly placid surface like the shaking-out of a vast aquamarine carpet. Floating amidst the fronds and bladders of kelp are dark, furry shapes, about twenty in all. Sea otters—a raft of them, it’s called. They too rise and fall with the passing of the wake. Most of them are lying on their backs, tethered to kelp strands, indolently preening their fur with claws and teeth that, when not tearing into the flesh of fish and benthic invertebrates, handily double as combs.

One otter, apart from the rest, has his nose buried in a takeout menu. “Cindy’s Café o’ Clams” reads the heading, under which is a slogan: “We clamor for only the best—the rest just isn’t worth a clam.” He is perusing the lunch section, and one item in particular has his undivided attention. “Clam-wich with smoked abalone and urchin roe on brinebread, served with saltines on a bed of sea lettuce.” The menu points out that the Clam-wich “Received five (5) sea stars from ZAGAT ASEA!!!” He decides he will order two, one for himself and one for his girl. Hopefully the delivery scow beats out the afternoon shipping traffic, he thinks—otherwise they might be waiting all night for their supper.

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