“Don’t cut yourself.” I can smell the sea from his blue sofa as he shucks us more oysters. I’m wrapped in his childhood blanket, working on my fiction writing. I’m thankful that Linus is home and I can keep my socks. It’s too cold to go out—all of Manhattan is prohibitively inside. The city smells of burning wood and cold.
The other night, we hit Aquagrill—picked five out of twenty-five different types of oysters and slurped. Shit, I ate them so fast I forgot about the mignonette. Later in the evening, in from the cold, we dove under covers, where the sheets were too cold—he let me put my cold hands and feet on his warmest parts. Tented in my white down bed I commanded, “Tell me a story.” It was a plead. He was tired and his voice was growing dim. He began, anyway, with the story of Phebius. It’s 2:00 a.m.
It’s 9:45 a.m. I don’t want to get out of my nest, but my to-do list has grown—off to breakfast—let’s go. “So how did you enjoy my bedtime story last night?”
I never remember these stories; I only enjoy them when he retells them to me the next day over eggs. Phebius was destitute; pockets inside out broke, with a family to feed. I imagined little baby birds, beaks open and chirping… waiting for a tube of worm. Phebius prays to god, “Please, I’m a good man—please help me through this.” He grips the earth and prays aloud. He rests his forehead in his hands and notices beneath him a rock that wasn’t previously there. It’s symmetric and unlike any rock he’s ever seen. “Dumb rock.” He chucks it, and he buries his head in his hands. Another rock, this time, hits his foot. He is literally stuck. He begins to bang this odd rock into another to crack it. He’s certain it can be pried open. He uses his tools, but to no avail. His wife! She would have something, as all good women always do. Her nail file is used to pry open the rock. It’s no rock at all, in fact, there’s a liquidy glob inside, a tonsil in a pearly shell, and what’s this bead? How lovely. Our young Phebius has done it. He sets up a booth, with ketchup and horseradish… fresh shucked oysters… pearl earrings, broaches, and heavy necklaces are sold by the wife.
Behind every great man is a woman with a nail file.