In “The Sand Collar,” by Susan Clements, guest essayist on Sweatpants and Coffee, the ocean haunts a young child in search of her mother’s love:
The Sand Collar
At Hopewell Rocks, I am standing at the edge of the North Atlantic, water swirling around my feet as the lazy waves encroach and slither away. In August of 1961, I am six years old. I poke at a pile of kelp with my toe, and then give it a vicious kick.
In the Bay of Fundy, the tides are among the most extreme in the world. The moon must have a strong pull in this part of Canada. Now at the lowest of lows, columns of rock loom over me like fossilized giants buried up to their necks in sand, their craggy faces capped with pine tree hair. These islands are so very old and so strange, stranded in the drained out bay. Later today the water will come back, forty feet high, and the islands will be islands once more.
But now I am standing alone on the tide flats, snapping seaweed. Each loud pop is more satisfying than the last. My parents and sisters have gone on, leaving me to enjoy my snit. I am in no danger of being swept away. I can hear my sisters calling to each other, but as far as I’m concerned they could all be on the moon.
My eyes lock on the sand collar. My temper is rising faster than any tide, and I’m helpless to stop it from drowning me.
Earlier we’d come upon the sand collar among the tide pools and Mom gave us an on-the-spot marine biology lesson. She told us that sand collars are formed from the excretions of a moon snail laying its eggs. The eggs are embedded in a layer of sand and slimy mucus that hardens into a collar-shaped egg case. After this disgusting procedure, the moon snail oozes away across the sand flats, never to see its offspring again.
“I haven’t seen one of these in years!” I guess Mom was pretty excited about that sand collar.
Dad snapped a picture with his old Minolta. My sisters peered at it like they’d discovered a treasure chest full of gold doubloons. Now that would have been something to get excited about.
“Can we take it home?” Liz asked.
Pam scribbled something in the notebook she always carried around. Show off.
The little tan scrap looked like a lady’s old fashioned lace collar, or maybe a lampshade. It fit right into the palm of my mother’s hand.
The tide has turned. I can tell because the stick Dad stuck in at the water’s edge is half covered up. He’s always measuring the tide that way. The waves are a little livelier now. The sun’s getting low in the sky, and the giants have filled the bay with long shadows.
I pick up the sand collar and heave it into the waves. In seconds, the ocean reclaims it.
Now I’m in big trouble. I’ve sent Mom’s precious discovery back to the briny deep where it belongs. Surely I’ll be punished for this. The sand collar is long gone, but perhaps I can find another one on the tidal flats. Only now the flats are under water, the giants immersed to their chins. This is my punishment: to be swept away to sea with the sand collar, captured by vengeful moon snails that will cover me in mucus and encase me with their eggs. I’ll either go down to Davy Jones’ locker or wash up on the beach where some spiteful little girl will step on me and squash me flat.
“Susie! Susie!” Pam and Liz are back, bearing more sea treasures–hermit crabs, mermaid’s purses, and razor clam shells. Mom and Dad bring up the rear, hauling a heavy bucket.
“Where’s the sand collar?” Liz asks.
Mom pushes up her glasses, fixing me with a penetrating stare that freezes me in place. I know she can see right inside my brain and knows exactly what I’ve done.
“Tide’s coming up fast,” Dad says, checking his measuring stick.
“Come on girls.” Pam and Liz scamper up the path, followed by Dad with the bucket. That leaves Mom and me, looking out on the disappearing giants in the bay.
“Cold?” she asks.
I nod. I am not about to confess to anything.
She zips me up, encasing me snugly into my green hooded sweatshirt, and we climb out of the bay into the sunny land above.
Susan Clements’ writing has appeared in The Buffalo News, Pyramid Lake Women Writer’s Anthology, and In the Air: Your Stories, a Talisman. She received honorable mentions for her personal essay in the 2004 Writers Digest contest and in the Hudson Valley Writer’s Guild 2010 Short Fiction Contest. Susan is Coordinator of Community Relations at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University. Along with her wife, Kay Patterson, and Stella, a rescued pitbull, Susan makes her home in Buffalo, New York.