His souvenir shack a mile from the beach smells of salt and tobacco. The ship bell greets you, and you and your mother are enclosed in a dark room. You hold her hand. Tiny lights shine on trinkets teetering high on shelves all around. Everywhere you look you see something new: a figure of a sailor dog in a yellow slicker at the wheel—a basket of white rope bracelets—small metal spoons in plastic cases—on the wall, ever-cresting waves trapped in gold frames.
You can pick out one thing.
Your steps on the wooden floor cry a lost whale.
You stop holding your mother’s hand. It’s like choosing between 100 ice cream flavors.
You go to the darkest corner to feel around. You read embroidered mini-pillows by fingers’ touch: Wells, Maine; Life’s a Beach. On the floor, you find a pail full of spider rings. They tickle your palms as you dig in. You try one on and wonder if anyone will notice if you walk out with it, because then you could get two things.
Mom’s silhouette is near the door, looking at puzzles.
Then, from the back, he ambles out. Burly, gray-bearded man in denim overalls with a pipe. Like a sailor who’d lost his job.
The baby whale crushed under his weight.
“Good day to ya.” He says to your mother as he sighs on his stool behind the register.
You crawl along the floor of the shop, feeling for more. You find a bucket of taffy, your favorite. You stuff your pocket with ten, keep three out.
At the register, you spill the three taffy next to mom’s lighthouse puzzle on the counter. “Just some taffy, there, kid?” he says.
He is so much bigger than you, even when sitting. And way smellier.
Yeah, you whisper. Hands in pockets.
He eyes you and presses the keys in the register hard like they’re stuck. They are stuck. “Wait,” he says. Your face is hot. “Something’s wrong.”
The waves in the painting behind the register begins to move, cresting in front of your eyes. The floor is creaking, like something coming alive. The room is swaying, like it’s all about to crash. His eyes pierce you like a knife in your back. You feel the spider on your skin, and it’s crawling inside. You put everything you took on the counter and the world is realigned.