The fish market smelled of the bay at low tide. A powerful aroma, like the yellow froth that crashes the edges of inlets where water can’t escape. A bloody bucket of fish heads sat grizzly near the door and the lights were the flickered fluorescent that make healthy people look ill and fresh food look spoiled. I spent the day being crushed in the waves, held down in the pebbles under freezing water. I was visiting a friend from back home, who lives with his family in Northern California. The Dungeness crabs were in season. They were fat and full of flesh. A bucket of fresh ones, just steamed, sat still warm behind the glass. They were expensive, so we hesitated. Here. Try, the man behind the counter said, a dark mustache curled under his nose like a jumbo shrimp. He pulled out an orange leg that came loose from one of the bodies that looked like flying saucers. He cracked the thigh, rounded and swollen like Popeye’s forearm, with his thumb and forefinger. He slid the white-pink meat unbroken from its armor. The fishmonger broke the flesh in three places. He gave one to my friend and one to me. He ate the third himself. We three stood, chewing and looking at each other. The sweetness and the bare tang of ocean made our minds up for us. So did the way the tendons of tender meat split on our tongues. It felt like a sacrament, my friend said when we walked out with our bag of crabs, recalling our catholic schooling thousands of miles away, a million years ago. He’s not the type given to generous poeticism. The way we shared the crab; it felt like a sacrament. I hadn’t thought of that, but I wished I had. We drove up the coast with the crabs at our feet, echoing the smell of the salty fog climbing through the open window.
The rats are growing. And they’re closing in. They ring the neighborhood, camped patiently like whiskered invaders. I saw a long tail frayed like old rope, dragging through shadows in the leaves at dusk. The rat’s size startled me. It lumbered swollen, big as a house-fed cat. A few blocks away, more evidence of incursions along the line. This rat was flattened by a truck in the road. I rode my bike over its carcass, thin as a photograph, with a long tail winding out toward the double yellow lines. Its body dried out in the weakening autumn sun like a leather strap.
Construction has these rats on the run. Clangs and rattling jackhammers shake the pavement, destroying homes under the ground. Drills prod the river bottom. Cranes teeter like dragons, swinging loads of rebar easy as kindling. People need more spaces to work. To make drugs. Smooth little pills for your brains or veins, or your dick. These workers need to live somewhere. Units go up in a rush, promising slick new lives. Hundreds of construction workers, yellow safety vests aglow, ring the walls. They huddle in the mercy of lunchtime shade. Their rattles push the rats out. And they run for the river, toward me and my tender peace. My old house full of holes.
Jonah James Fontela was born and raised in the Italian-American enclave of New Haven, Connecticut. For the last 15 years, he’s traveled the world as a journalist covering international soccer, including four World Cups on four continents. Through his blog, This is my Body, he explores the mythology of food and family. He examines the alchemy and mystery, the enduring secrets and whispers, of the kitchen. His food writing has appeared in the defunct, but well-loved, magazine meatpaper and his photographs have graced the pages of the Boston Phoenix. He is currently looking for a publisher for his first novel, the Salt in the Oil. He lives a few steps from the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts.