There was a darker side to my beer and oyster pairing. Firstly I discovered that I don’t actually like oysters. Then I found that the oysters didn’t suffer me gladly either. I’ve seldom had them in my life – maybe as little as twice – so didn’t realise this. On the few occasions I had them they were part of a more varied meal which largely absorbed them. But when I paired them with beer, they were naked and uncompromising and in the middle of the night they sent me on a journey I wasn’t prepared for.
I thought of these molluscs as simple sources of protein to complement beer like Salami, Wurst or beer sticks but those are sides that have been cooked and processed – they’re basically benign. These creatures are raw and elemental and may as well come from the cold of deep space they’re so alien.
They put up a fight too. Cracking them open unleashes the Djinn. The reek clings to your hands, to the sink, to the table, the floor, the screwdriver. It lingers in the fridge from where they spent some time on a plate. Likewise, the bin is now haunted. Even the bottles of beer, cider and mead stank of the maritime as I bundled them into the recycling bin outside which in turn stinks like downwind of Whitstable docks.
Our Labrador doesn’t like oysters either. It’s not the taste nor the smell but the fact I had to push a couple of the armoured molluscs against the inside of the sink and bash them with a hefty screwdriver. Bits of shrapnel rained down on me and the kitchen floor. Milo (the poor canine) trotted away to sanctuary underneath the living room table.
I had to pace myself with each oyster and take a breath before devouring. Towards the end I actually chanted a countdown. Six was the absolute maximum. As the last went down, a bead of sweat emerged.
I retired for the night not just with the oysters dissolving in my gut – a species that evolved within the acid bath of the ocean and then got ingested by a distant land-bound relation with a body temperature the like of which they’ve never experienced. We are furnaces to them. Also within me was most of six bottles of booze or whatever I’d managed to finish before pouring the remainder down the sink.
As I laid back, a foretaste of the sea came with my stomach rolling up towards my chin and flopping back towards my groin heavy with the evening’s bounty. It uttered “splewongel” and aped the tide going in and out. I then regressed into a shallow sleep for a few hours.
Around dusk I suddenly fell at the sea’s edge. The wet sand was abrasive to the skin. The fug of the churning waters, the seaweed and the barnacles clinging to green-cloaked rocks gasped through me. A wave thumped at the coast, the vibration from the impact pulsed up my spine.
In the dark, I checked my breath, the palms of my hands and the bedclothes but I hadn’t inhaled this aroma via the nose. Rather, it was inside me already. It had returned, torn from my memory without me calling it back. There’s a direct link with the olfactory bulb and recollection. It was like a warning.
I found myself at the mouth of a cove with the stench of kelp turning me a limpet pale. Vapour poured off my breath and the elemental stood before me in the gloom. It spoke – its lips the scraping of shells, its tongue a living bivalve rasping wet visceral sounds as it flexed to form vowels. I didn’t make eye contact with the deep blue eyes. I just nodded with humility. Things couldn’t be made clearer.
Directly above my head where I sleep is a small luminous cluster of stars and galaxies. This isn’t an hallucination but a decoration put up by the previous owners of my house for their little girl. I’ve never removed them. They’re of the glow-in-the-dark variety and took on a malign dimension – seemingly in cahoots with the tilting sea. They’re invisible in the light – only shining in the dark. For a moment, they quivered together as if on the surface of a body of water disturbed by the ripples of me treading water. They then coursed to the left on a riptide.
I blinked and had to sit bolt upright in bed and focus on the strips of light coming under the door and tracing the curtains’ edges. I needed a fixed point – a mast or railing to cling to. And then it passed.
It made me think of all the spiritual attributes given to game and food in folklore. To have had a neurologist and biologist taking readings during this night interlude would’ve been interesting. Fly Agaric mushrooms, burning hydrangeas, Peyote, the fine patina of lysergic moulds on barley during the hungry gap in Saxon times. The visions, the experiences, the journeys and the stories that tried to make sense and structure of them. Well, I went back there for a while. It was definitely brought about by an overdose of a food I’m not accustomed to mixed with a load of beer (of which I am). I can also report an absolute zero on the aphrodisiac front. I’m fine now thanks for asking.
The message kids is treat oysters with respect. I’m quite certain those six were my last.