Human Song

by Shannon McLeod Read author interview August 26, 2019

We pull off at the side of the highway in Somewhere, Maine looking to sing to the snails. There’s a deep shoulder of gravel here, so we assume it to be a parking lot. The sky and the water and the rocks are all the same homesick color. I remember how the bookstore owner had described it earlier when he suggested adding this stop to our trip, and I think, Any place can be scenic, depending upon the scenes in your head.

I follow Caleb onto the rocks towards the water. I’m wearing worthless sandals that slip off and keep finding places to get stuck. The whole trip Caleb’s been pointing out my lack of adequate preparation, how I brought a backpack too small for even my sleeping bag, so we’ve had to share one on our overnight hikes. It’s new: his irritation with sharing. I reach out for his forearm to steady myself, but he hurries ahead. We crouch at a tide pool dotted with cochlear-shaped shells. He picks one up and starts singing Radiohead.

“It’s too sad. No one would get out of bed for that,” I say and take the shell into my own palm. I think about the kinds of songs I listened to when I’d had enough of my own bleak monotony, when I grew tired of my own depressions. I sing George Michael, then Spice Girls, then the Beatles.

“If they’re not coming out for Ringo, there’s nothing that’ll do it,” says Caleb. I’ve begun to feel this way about him, too. That nothing I can possibly do will bring him back to me. Caleb stands now, his knees cracking.

“We drove all this way and you’re giving up already, huh?” I say.

“Let me know when you figure out what works.” He walks to the shore.

I begin oohing, ahhing. Maybe the lyrics were what muddled the procedure. I try sonorous tones, thinking, perhaps mimicking the sea might help. When I reach the notes that sound best against the wind, I see the snail’s grey flesh wriggle. “It’s working!” I shiver with minute satisfaction.

Caleb returns, squats back down, and looks closely. “Keep singing,” he says. I try changing my mouth shape, adjusting pitch. “It’s not moving. You’re seeing things.” He stands and pulls a stone from his jacket pocket. He attempts to skip it in the ocean. The surf reaches its hands to the stone and pulls it in greedily. I set down the snail and reach for another. This one is a warm maroon-hue, and it’s already peeking out of its shell. It’s antennae look like an eager pair of eyes. I sing to it, wait, watch for a stirring.

About the Author:

Shannon McLeod is the author of the essay chapbook PATHETIC (Etchings Press). Her writing has appeared in Tin House Online, Necessary Fiction, Hobart, Joyland, Wigleaf, and Prairie Schooner, among other publications. She teaches high school English in Virginia. You can find Shannon on twitter @OcqueocSAM.

About the Artist:

Sibylle Schwarz is a German artist who works independently in Stuttgart, Paris and Benin. Her work has been exhibited internationally, and she has worked with high-profile clients such as the New York Times Magazine, Dior, and Bloomingdale's.