Part 1: The Genesis
Steven ran down the dirt path, ready to exhaust his energy before the day even started. Each step made a dusty noise and the lack of any noticeable bumps in the dirt told him that many people had walked, ran, skipped or stepped quietly on that same path.
"C'mon, you guys!" he said, "It's the Ocean Festival!"
It was one of those days that Beach City planned to make up for the fact that there were simply no holidays of interest in August. But at the same time, it was worth having a day to celebrate that massive body of water that blanketed the horizon. After all, humans relied on it for travel, trade, food, recreation and beauty. Although he wasn't on the sand at that very moment, he wasn't far from it and he could still smell the salt in the air as a reminder that, indeed, no matter how many times the ocean shaped itself from millions of years of continental drift, it wasn't going to go anywhere (unless an angry gem were to hold it hostage, that is).
"Steven, the festival will run all day," shouted Pearl from afar, "We don't have to rush!" She wore a lovely pear-green dress over her usual ballerina outfit along with a floppy sunhat to protect her pale skin. Garnet wore the two-piece bathing suit that she wore when The Pizzas were invited over for that crazy cookout. Amethyst decided to repurpose the shower curtain and make a dress out of it. Steven didn't know whether she got it from his bathroom or one of the many trash heaps in her room. However, Steven didn't care to go back and check because they were already on the other side of Beach City.
Once they walked through the entrance arch, they saw so much going on: There were exhibits on ocean processes, sea creature petting zoos, midway games where the prizes were plush dolphins and all sorts of rides and entertainment. All around him, everyone was busy with something, whether it was ordering food or paying attention to a lecture or strapping in and receiving the stomach-turning adrenaline rush that was the payoff of waiting for forty minutes in line. Much like any event with all sorts of fun attractions, Steven didn't know which one to flock to first.
"I wanna go to all of them at once!" he said while jumping up and down.
"With enough magical practice, I'll bet you can manage that," said Garnet, "But for now, let's pick one."
"Hmm…" he said. Since his mind couldn't decide what to do first, he went with his gut… and his gut told him what any gut would tell somebody before noon, namely that it needed fuel.
"Can we get something to eat?" he asked.
"Always my favorite activity!" said Amethyst, "Besides cheating at Ski-Ball… which I intend on doing afterward."
"All right," she said, "Garnet and I will patiently wait as you take in your necessary nourishment."
Steven never liked to see anyone left out, especially Pearl, who had always struggled with being self-conscious. "It's a special occasion, Pearl. What do you say you try eating some food?"
Pearl gasped and put her fingers over her lips like a woman on a poster of a 1950's horror film. "No! Are you crazy? Eating isn't what gems do! It's what organic organisms do!"
"Pearl, what did we say about belittling others for being organic organisms?" asked Garnet.
"No! I'm not belittling him, Garnet. I'm saying that gems are different and don't need to eat. Therefore, there is no need to pressure a gem to eat."
"Pearl, I'm not pressuring you to do anything! I just suggested that you try some food since fair food is delicious!"
"Besides, if anyone's gonna pressure you to eat something, it would be me," said Amethyst. "In any case… C'mooooooooon, Pearl. Don't you want to step out of your comfort zone and experience the pleasure of tasting food… digesting food… excreting food…" Amethyst then started looking dazed and relaxed by her words.
Steven, feeling suddenly unsettled, backed off a bit. To him, the concept of the body eating and processing food was nothing out of the ordinary but to Amethyst, it was an amazing experience that the others of her kind were missing out on.
"No matter how pleasurable it is, it still sounds disgusting," said Pearl.
"Suit yourself," said Amethyst, "But you're still coming with us."
Pearl sighed. "All right."
The four of them walked past the festival-goers and they eventually decided to stop at Land Lubber's Seafood. The place specialized in the fried variety and the man behind the counter looked sweaty and active, although Steven couldn't tell whether the sweat was from the activity or the thick wall of heat coming off the fryers. Steven could hear the crackling of the grease and the smell of the cooking made his mouth water in preparation for the salty, fatty treat that he was about to get.
Steven saw a chalk board propped up on the counter. In powder blue chalk, there was written, "Today's oysters come from Uncle Dizzy's Oyster Farm." Beach City always prided itself on local food during the seasons when it was available. This provider seemed familiar and Steven couldn't put his finger on why… until he eventually did.
"Say, Garnet," said Steven, "Isn't Uncle Dizzy's Oyster Farm that place that's located not too far from the abandoned kindergarten?"
"Oh yeah!" said Amethyst, "He's that guy who's always saying…" In a sudden burst of light, she then transformed into a purple, gem-chested version of the elderly bumpkin who they remember encountering on occasion. She waved her arm in the air angrily. "Git off mah farm yeh kids!"
Steven laughed at Amethyst's spot-on impression, although he shouldn't have been surprised at how spot-on she was.
Garnet couldn't help but snicker.
"It's funny because we're far from being kids," she said, "Or at least Pearl and I are."
Amethyst turned back into her default form, not seeming to mind that Garnet called her immature. She was more focused on her artificial hunger at that moment.
Steven thought about Uncle Dizzy. His dad told him that the nickname "Dizzy" was because he suffered from a rather severe case of vertigo and the childhood nickname stuck. However, the "uncle" part puzzled him. It suggested that everyone in the world was his niece or nephew. Surely, there were two people who called him son, four people who called him grandson, probably a woman who called him husband. But did he have any real nieces or nephews that called him Uncle? Anyone calling him cousin or brother… or dad?
The aproned man came up to the counter looking exhausted but happy to be in such a festive environment.
"What can I get you guys today?" he asked in a regional accent.
"I'll take the fried oyster plate!" said Amethyst, "With extra fries! And a cola!"
"And I'll also take the fried oyster plate with a cola," said Steven.
"And I'll just have an iced tea," said Pearl.
"That'll be thirty dollars," said the man.
Pearl paid him and they waited for their fare, although she didn't have to wait long for hers since all he had to do was reach into the cooler. As Pearl stood there, she shifted her eyes lazily as she pressed open the dripping wet can of iced tea. Steven watched as she drank the beverage; her thin throat had lumps sliding down it rhythmically as she gulped. When she took the can away from her lips, she sighed.
"That hit the spot," she said.
The man in the apron served up Steven and Amethyst's food. Each plate had crispy, golden brown clams piled atop a mound of yellow fries. These food items glistened with grease, which soaked through their respective plates. A lemon wedge accompanied them as a tangy compliment to the salty dish, along with a modest plastic cup of tartar sauce.
In another burst of light, Amethyst shape-shifted into a purple paper-shredder and downed her entire plate while making a prolonged, buzzing crunch. She managed to spray some tartar sauce onto Pearl's face, who took it just about as well as one would expect. She grabbed a napkin and rubbed her cheek until it was chafed.
"Amethyst, why can't you eat politely like Steven?" she asked. Although she wasn't saying it outright, she was admitting that the man that brought her into a jealous fit in her younger years did a pretty good job at raising his kid.
"There's nothing wrong with experimenting while eating, Pearl," said Amethyst after she changed back, "I call it experim-eating."
"Well I like it!" said Steven, "It's very creative!" He blew on one of his fried clams and popped it into his mouth. He crunched the hot, salty skin before getting to the even hotter soft center.
"And I say it's a perfect day for experimenting… huh, Pearl? Huh? Huh? Knowhatimean? Knowhatimean?" Amethyst nudged Pearl, imitating a popular sketch from an old British comedy show that Greg had shown her.
Pearl sighed and gave an eye roll so great it looked like it hurt her head.
"All right, fine," she said, "If it means that you'll leave me alone, I will try eating something."
"Success!" said Amethyst.
"Lucky for you, we have some food right here," said Steven, looking down at his oysters.
"Don't you think we should try to give her something simple?" asked Garnet, "Like one of those cheese sticks that you peel?"
"Garnet, look around you," said Amethyst, "We're at a festival. It's fried stuff and sweet stuff all around."
"And by tasting an oyster, it would be like she was tasting Beach City itself!" said Steven.
"I always admired your poetic spirit, Steven," said Pearl. Although she agreed to the experiment, she had that majestic, deer-like stance that told everyone that she was still prepared to run away from the situation if necessary.
Steven grabbed a plastic fork from the condiments table and stuck it into one of the smaller oysters on his plate. He held it up to Pearl in all of its deep-fried splendor. "Here you go."
Pearl took the fork very cautiously. This was nothing like all those times that she would bake pies and enjoy every bit of the experience (even if she was enjoying no bit of the pie). She held the oyster up to her dainty nose and sniffed it. She then leaned away in disgust.
"It smells like the ocean…" she said.
"Duh, because it's seafood," said Amethyst.
"You don't have to do this if you don't want to," said Garnet.
"No… I should get it over with."
Steven couldn't believe how nerve-wracked Pearl was… actually, he could believe it. He could swear that he felt calmer and more controlled at the doctor's office before getting a shot than Pearl was at this very moment. This woman acted as a foster mother of sorts when his own mother could not comfort him from scary things that weren't actually scary and yet here she was afraid of a piece of food.
Pearl closed her eyes and opened her mouth. When she stuck the fried oyster inside, she closed her lips and slid the fork out quickly.
"I know how to do this," she said while keeping the oyster on her tongue, "I've seen you do it all the time." She moved her jaw up and down very slowly. She looked like a squeezed piece of putty with the way that she scrunched her face. She blushed powder blue much like she did whenever she felt a powerful emotion.
Steven clutched the hand that wasn't holding his lunch and he felt a sense of victorious elation as Pearl was getting closer to swallowing the bit of food.
"She's going to do it…" he whispered.
Pearl's stopped chewing and opened her eyes wide. She let out a combination of a whine and a hum – an alarm made by someone rather than something. She spit the slimy, partially-chew clam onto the ground and then spit some more to make sure there were no traces of the offending food in her saliva.
"That was awful!" she said, "It's like I was putting the ocean inside my body!"
"Yeah, that's almost what Steven said," said Amethyst.
Steven's heart sunk a little. He was hoping that Pearl would be a true parents figure and show that trying new things wasn't scary. It was a good thing that he already knew this and that there weren't any impressionable little kids around to take in the lesson that adults weren't perfect… or maybe there should have been? They need to find out sooner or later.
"It was squishy and salty and the oils burned by tongue and I think there was a hard part that I couldn't crush with my teeth!"
"It was probably a piece of shell," said Garnet, "Oysters do grow in shells, you know."
Amethyst spotted a stray cup rolling on the ground. It had either escaped from someone distracted by the fun atmosphere or it simply grabbed a ride on the wind from an overly full garbage can. She grabbed the cup before it could go on its merry way and ran back over to the chewed piece of food on the ground. She squatted down and used her right hand to sweep the oyster into the cup along with the bit of dirt that was around it.
"Well…" said Steven, "I guess what matters is that you tried something new… or you tried to try something new. Next time we can try with a little sliver of tofu."
"Maybe," said Peal. She struggled to get her face back into its original look of content but some sourness remained. "But I think I would have to be crazy to try this again."
"Don't judge all food by how one piece of it tastes."
Pearl looked at Amethyst, who looked satisfied for reasons that simply did not fit the situation. Although she enjoyed screwing around with Pearl and laughed at her misfortunes, she usually did something to let her know of this, such as laughing and saying a quip.
"Amethyst, what do you have in that cup?" asked Pearl, "I thought your drink came in a can?"
"It's the oyster you tried," she said, "I'm keeping it for posterity sake. I want to let generations of humans know that Pearl once tried food."
"Oh good ness gracious, I'm going to be sick all over again."
Garnet rested her hand on Pearl's shoulder.
"Don't worry, Pearl," said Garnet, "I'm sure Amethyst will keep that thing in her room. Now let's go do some other activity to clear our minds of this weird event."
Steven expected Amethyst to do something like this. But remembering what his mother was like (from stories he was told, that is), she found beauty in all things on earth, whether it was on the land, in the sea, in the air, soft or rigid, dirty or clean, natural or man-made. Perhaps there was untold beauty in a spit-out piece of seafood that only he could see?
He looked inside the cup that Amethyst was holding and peered at the oyster once more, which lost its crunchy skin and was broken apart in its dirt-seasoned lump. He saw nothing of value from any perspective, not from his mother's perspective or someone who was a fan of seafood. Maybe he wasn't doing this right?
"Are you sure you want to keep that?" he asked.
"Of course!" said Amethyst, "It has a shiny thing in it. And I like shiny things."
That's what Steven was doing wrong. He wasn't looking close enough. There was a tiny, shiny bit in there that glimmered at just the right position in the sunlight.
"Oh man," said Amethyst, "I dunno about you but I'm ready to go on the tilt-o-whirl and throw up what I just ate."
Since Steven loved rides, he left the shiny thing in the back of his mind, a hard feat since shiny things by their very nature were hard to ignore.