‘Dry drowning,’ was what they called it, but the newspaper articles were wrong. It was a ‘secondary drowning’ – and this I had learned in my first (and last) year of medical school, along with the fact that I was incurably squeamish in every respect.
“Why would they keep calling it that then?” says Mother, shucking oysters by the sink. She won’t hold them in a dishtowel, and every time she slips in the knife, to crack the hinge, I look away.
“Maybe because it’s alliterative?” I suggest. “It sounds more poetic?”
She’s silent; I feel her eyes on me. I try to suck up the space between us, gulping air.
“It’s like, secondary drowning, so what? Sounds prosaic, uninteresting, right? Whereas, dry drowning, well, how can that happen? If you can drown without water, who’s safe?”
She’s running the tip of the knife around the shell, then twisting to pry it apart – the soft crunch of the blade tells me what she’s doing, though I can’t look.
Slicing the muscle with one deft stroke, she says, “Why must you always be so facetious?”
She releases the shell and bares the flesh. She jabs it towards me. It lies on her palm, glistening.
She knows I can’t stand oysters. (Just another thing he can’t stomach, I heard her tell my father.)
“You think it’s funny? A dead boy?”
Some things take a while. And maybe you think they’re buried deep, but they’re not.
And I think I know what Corey was diving for, what he thought he saw, what made him go down too far, for too long. I see him clambering up onto the pier, slick as a seal. Walking back smiling towards his family, oblivious, the sun hot on the back of his neck and the salt drying slowly between his toes.
Already drowned, but not knowing it. Not knowing yet where the end would come from. That it would not come from deep down, but from a very shallow place.