top of page

One Day on the Gaspé Peninsula

Alex E. Harrison

Ruth raised a crustacean from the dead.

As Mother Nature pulled back the curtain of the tide, She listened to shouts of discovery traded back and forth by two children playing on the rocky beach. A girl and a boy. They picked their way along the shoreline in quest of snails that hid in plain sight amongst thousands of stones or in the company of anemones and plankton in shallow pools exposed by the receding current.

Ruth’s older cousin, Fredrik, raced ahead, kicking up water and silt in his determination to win a contest of his own imagining.

For her part, Ruth was content to wander, taking time to study and admire the bounty of peculiar and wondrous lifeforms on display. She handled the sought-after mollusks with care and put each one back where she found it. Although Ruth was only ten, she was an early bloomer and in possession of a rare kind of intuition inherited from the women in their bloodline. She understood that every living thing, from seaweed holding fast to rocks, to spindly-legged creatures that kept to cracks between cobbles, to gulls circling evermore above, to she—a girl—fought for survival. For the right to say, I belong here.

“Ruth!” her cousin screamed. “Ruthie, come look!”

She found Fredrik bent over a big Atlantic rock crab that had somehow washed up onshore. Its broad, oval carapace was broken, with a bowl-shaped crater the size of a boy’s bare heel. Bluish rivulets of blood and saltwater trailed down the fissures of its spotted ochre shell, once marvelous, now ruined.

She looked up at her cousin. “Did you do it on purpose?”

Fredrik shrugged. Using a stick, he prodded one of the crab’s front claws to inspect its black tips. “We can use it as bait to catch a shark.”

Ruth knelt and scooped up the fractured corpse. As she held the dead creature aloft, its limbs swayed and clicked against one another like stiff, plastic wind chimes, four legs and a claw decorating each side of its torso.

Beside her, Fredrik gagged and laughed.

“Stop it,” she said. “Watch.” And humouring her, he did. Once he was quiet, she settled the crab onto her lap and sang to it, an old lullaby passed down through the generations. Just like her mother and all of her aunties, Ruth had a lilting voice that was high and soft against the steady murmur of the sea in the background.

Under Ruth’s ministrations, the crab returned to life. Bit by bit, the fragments of its exoskeleton stretched and fused back together before becoming hard and smooth. The colour of its repaired shell deepened, yellowish brown becoming a gorgeous, rich crimson. It looked bigger now, too. Atop two short, thick stalks, its round eyes opened and seemed to look directly at Ruth.

Her cousin leapt backward. Fredrik pinned Ruth with a furious, horror-struck expression. “How did you do that?”

Ruth had hoped he might react differently, that seeing what she could do, being let in on the secret, might bring them closer together. “I don’t know, I just did. I made it better, see? It’s happy now.”

Fredrik pointed a finger. “You’re a witch!”

He crouched to pick up a handful of rocks. Eyes flashing, he hurled them at her.

“Fredrik, don’t!” She wrapped her body around the crab to protect it. Small stones pelted her back and shoulders, and she felt the wind pick up. On Ruth’s lap, the crab twitched—like her, it could feel Mother Nature growing angry. As the wind got faster and louder, strands of Ruth’s long, dark hair whipped around her like ribbons.

Fredrik stopped, his attention drawn to the darkening clouds and churning teal waves. As the sudden storm intensified, strong, damp gusts came from all directions, knocking him off balance and robbing him of breath. He choked and flailed as though he were drowning.

“I’m not doing it!” Ruth yelled above the squall. Whether or not Fredrik heard, she couldn’t tell.

He took off, possibly to tattle on her. It might have worried Ruth if Fredrik wasn’t always running around telling tall tales. Most people said he had such a good imagination, while they told Ruth not to be so serious. But it didn’t bother her. Healing the world was serious work, and there was a lot of it left to do. As long as it was done under her own will and on her terms—that was important, her mother and aunties repeated often. Choice was power, too.

As Fredrik became nothing more than a retreating spec of colour, the strange storm quieted around Ruth, fading as quickly as it had come. Sunlight poured from a break in the clouds, warming her freckled cheeks.

Ruth set the rock crab on the beach then watched it amble toward the water.

It was not witchcraft but evolution. Women had long honed the power to bring new life to term; being able to restore life was simply the next natural phase of becoming. Ruth stood and brushed herself off, deciding that she might keep that knowledge a secret for a little while longer.

Following the great crab, she stepped with open arms into the sea.

Alex E. Harrison (she/her) is a Canadian writer currently living in Edmonton, Alberta, though she holds the Gaspé Peninsula close to her heart. Her stories have been published in Grain, QWERTY, and The Quilliad. You can find her on Instagram (@alexeharr).

bottom of page