Mother of Pearl

Fiona McKay


  1. Habitat

Dry-eyed, Meg picks up the kitchen after dinner, smooths out ruffled feelings. Folds the feelings into a drawer with the napkins, with the harsh words. Kids, her husband says. Teens, like that’s an explanation. Maybe it is. He flicks the tv on, and they sit. The programme isn’t her choice, but then, does she even have one. She opens her mouth, but the words slide soundlessly away. Something hard and shining stops them.

Oysters live in shallow marine habitats in an arrangement known as beds or reefs. The layers of molluscs, their hard shells and the nooks between them create spaces for many small creatures to live. The young oysters are known as spat.


  1. Seeding

In holiday mode, they stroll shaded Italian streets. The teens lag behind; the younger ones run ahead. They ask for smoothies, they ask for ice cream, they ask for drinks. They complain about the heat, they complain about the Wi-Fi, they complain about their feet. Meg listens, she soothes, she feels the river of cash flowing over her smooth fingers. She has no traction to slow this river down. She disappoints herself with all this giving, when there’s nothing left for her. A cocktail would be nice. Ian’s enjoying himself, though, so there’s that.

Pearl Oysters, roughly the size of a dinner plate, are farmed for pearls. Farmers open the oyster, make a slit in the mantle between the mollusc and its shell, then introduce an irritant. This process is known as seeding.


  1. Irritant

“So, Ian, is it? As I was saying to your wife, we don’t think it’s dyslexia, or if it is, it’s very insignificant, and rather than allocating our scarce special education resources, if mum here can spend maybe an extra half an hour, to an hour, on the reading every day, there’s no reason why Jamie won’t progress with his peers.”

The words float around Meg’s head, balloons, small birds with angry beaks, wasps. There’s a distance to them; they sound far off, shut out by the hardening shell of her ears. Her skin is tight all over, it won’t stretch to take this in. Instead, it might shatter, but doesn’t.

Over a period of time, the mantle secretes nacre, which covers the irritant to protect the oyster. Pearls can take up to two years to form, and the farmer can seed the same oyster up to four times. The lifespan of the most common pearl oyster is three to fourteen years. Oysters show no evidence of a brain.


  1. Organs

It’s been a while, but that night Ian touches her. His hands are on her breasts, her stomach, her thighs; she knows this, but can’t feel it. Her tight, hard skin has thickened to a wall that keeps her in, keeps everything out. How does a forcefield work, she wonders, if the atoms never really touch. How are there even surfaces to things, she thinks, as she spins away in the darkness.

An oyster is a simple creature, with gills, kidneys, sex organs, and a three-chambered heart pumping colorless blood.


Fiona McKay is a SmokeLong Quarterly Emerging Writer Fellow for 2023. Writes with Writers’HQ. Words now or forthcoming in Bath Flash, Lumiere Review, Janus Literary, The Forge and others. Runner-up in Bath Novella-in-Flash 2023. Her writing has been nominated for Best Microfictions and Best Small Fictions. She is supported by the Arts Council Ireland Agility Award and lives beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland, with her husband and daughter.

Tweets about writing @fionaemckayryan