Relief Bank by Michael Colbert

He created the first pearl while wildfires flared across the west. It popped out of him when his Grindr hookup knocked on the door, this small pearl flopping in one sigh out of his belly button. When the bead plunked on the floor, his partner plucked it, examined it, asked to show it to the jeweler, and the jeweler said, “We’ve got a live one, authentic oyster.” He hadn’t been eating oysters, too busy fretting over the tangerine moon that rose every night. So the partner pawned the pearl and came back for another night together–kissing, sucking, then the pearl–this one a marble, perfect to pilfer.

When the news broke–Aberdeen’s Hidden Gem, Aberdeen’s Pearlescent Lover–the asking price skyrocketed. Everybody wanted one. Supply was precious. When would this stop?        

More men came, lovers from the grid to kiss, lick, fuck, and then the pearl emerged in a shock of blush, blue, ivory, even rainbow that one time (it sold for a million). He liked to lie in bed after and turn on the news. He’d ask each partner about the fires and get no answer, the men who came too busy polishing the surface of their gemstones. They didn’t hear how fires were displacing whole towns, just left so thrilled by what had come out of his shell.

Maybe he had been clammed up. Holding out for what he thought he needed, he hadn’t let himself consider what he wanted. He could better himself. He got into aphorisms. Live, laugh, love. Giggle. He stopped taking visitors, started spouting gems alone, focusing on himself. He collected the pearls in a candy dish. He boxed them up, walked past the line of suitors out the door and mailed them to a relief center. In fat Sharpie, he penned in his neatest hand his name, his Aberdeen return address. It wasn’t all that much, really, but what else could someone like him ever do?


Michael Colbert is a queer writer based in Maine, where he’s at work on a novel. He holds an MFA from UNC Wilmington, and his writing appears in Esquire, The Florida Review, and The New York Times, among others.