*An Imitation of Cannery Row by John Steinbeck*
It was quiet down at the beach. The air, dark and cold. The fog rolled in by early morning like smoke coming from a fire. The fog enveloped the clams, the water, and the kid, already half-submerged, became invisible from a distance. The clams slowly plopped into an arrangement of wires and cloth that he called a basket. Abalone would hide under the sand but the boy’s smart fingers would always find them. Oysters could be spotted miles off but clams never ended. Clams were always there, down by the beach, in the thousands. Sitting and watching and waiting and listening for the boy to come back. To come back for more of them, for they were his only friends in this world. His shoes were off to the side away from the water. Black tennis shoes that looked more like ragged socks than anything else. They were hand-me-downs, his only and best pair. He had gotten them two years ago and now his toes are bent even when they leave the shoes. His older brother had given them to him to wear to his dad’s funeral. The room had stunk of fishmeal and the table was too tall for him to see his father’s coffin. All the kid remembered was the quiet of the room and holding his mother’s soft hand and looking at those shoes.
After the funeral, he never saw his older brother again or his second mother or his home or his father. After that day, his mom climbed into a bottle and never came out. He was her only child. She could barely walk around, less feed herself. He stopped going to school and wandered the streets for food. That is how the boy met Doc, who introduced him to clamming. He sold some of the clams to Doc and kept enough to feed himself and his mom, when she was home. When she wasn’t, she was sitting on the edge of the cliff wondering if she should jump. The boy didn’t know this, he would spend hours worrying and pacing and thinking and pondering and hoping for his mom to come back, she always did though. Passed the boy’s hole of a house, down Cannery Row, and all the way to the water the boy stood up from his clams. The boy stood up because he had heard a strange sound approaching him. He squinted through the fog, seeing nothing but white. The white seemed to dance along with the strange noise, twirling and twisting. The boy fell back when he saw what had made the noise. The fog looked like smoke was pouring out of the Game Warden’s nose just like a dragon’s. “I knew you would be here.”
“Do you have a permit?” The boy shook his head. “You’re going to have to give those clams to me. Show me to your parents. I’ll give them the ticket for your fines.”
The boy led him up the shore, down Cannery Row, and through the door of his house. It was empty. “Where are your parents?” The boy shrugged. “I’ll be back tomorrow to talk with them. Make sure there is someone here.”
The Game Warden stepped out of the house and walked down Cannery Row. He went into the Bear Flag restaurant and started drinking. He drank until he couldn’t stand up anymore, but the next day he woke up in his bed in his house. He woke up with a pounding headache like there were drums playing inside of his head. He started to head towards the boy’s house. When he opened the door, no one was there. Frustrated, he went down to the shore, but the boy wasn’t there either. He realized he didn’t even know the boy’s name. Could it have all been some kind of hallucination? He shrugged it off and headed back to his office and never saw the boy again.