Amanita–Marti Mattia


You can think of each town along this stretch of the 101 as a different woman. Gearhart in pearls, Seaside flashing her cleavage. Cannon Beach all cutesy-cute but fake, right down to the cannon she stole for a name. Arch Cape, the last beach before the tunnel, is the one who actually spat up that famous cannon back in 1898. She holds her secrets close.

You might extend the metaphor all the way down to California, but let’s linger at Arch Cape. She’s an artist, a deconstructionist who takes and breaks your heart, then puts all the pieces back together. Mostly a loner, she bends to nothing but the weather. She’s wild but true.

Arch Cape’s a good spot for someone who wants to lie low. Like Briney Woodlake, a quite widow with a cottage near an overgrown trailhead. Briney knows the tides on the west side of the highway and the forest mycology on the east. Mussels and Matsutakes, Razor Clams and Chanterelles. Nobody knows where Briney came from or how she makes a living or who sends what to her P.O. box in Tolovana. You can mind your own business in Arch Cape.

Fred Gamble, a stocky Ford executive from Michigan, was on a jumpstart trip to Cannon Beach with his wife Vicki. He left her alone with her spy book and headed to Haystack to see if he could spy any puffins. Not seeing a puffin was just the first disappointment of the day. Back at the Stephanie Inn, Fred saw a guy cramming the last flaky scones into a red cap. Then he heard Vicki’s voice, flirting silkily, not with Fred. She was on her phone, facing the ocean, hips gyrating like she was on a dance floor, or taunting some lover in a cheap motel.

He’d overheard Vicki on the phone several times back home, mocking him. Girl talk, she’d said, then tongued his left earlobe, the stale musk of her saliva arousing lust and disgust. She did have a roster of girlfriends. All women talked trash about their husbands, she’d told Fred. Screw that, he’d thought, and upped his game. Jewelry. Date nights. The Stephanie Inn.

Fred jumped in the rent car, mad at Vicki, mad at life, mad at the water in his eyes. He pulled off the highway up a bumpy little road and stopped by a saggy hemlock.

Stepping out, he heard waves crashing, smelled the stew of the woods mingling with the brew of the sea. Smelled his own sweat under his Brut. Saw the cottage with blue shutters, nodded at the woman with the long gray braid at the picnic table. Asked: “Is there a path along here where a man can get lost without getting lost?”

“Just a second,” Briney said, lifting a mushroom cap to reveal a sporeprint.

“Looks like Amish barn art,” Fred said.

Briney offered tea. Fred had never thought about mushrooms and said so. Briney took him into a dark shed and clicked an ultraviolet penlight to show him the millions of spores floating like a vast Milky Way around a single Amanita Muscaria.

Things made sense then. What he didn’t know about Vicki. She must’ve always had these poisonous emanations, just not visible to the naked eye, is what he decided after he said goodbye to Briney Woodlake.

He drove south, through the tunnel, thinking what a goddamn loser he was, to Vicki anyway. Where the 101 kinked, he parked outside an ice cream place. He’d been cutting calories, but a single vanilla cone couldn’t hurt. He it licked methodically, around and around. Catching each drip felt like a small victory. Driving back through the dark tunnel, he held his breath like he’d done as a child, making a wish as he burst into the astonishing blue world on the other side. More a decision than a wish.

You fight poison with poison, somebody said once. Maybe it was Briney Woodlake who said that. Or Fred, a long time later.

Vicki’s death in Michigan that spring was a mystery. Fred retired early, bought hiking boots, moved to the Oregon coast, the last place the couple had travelled together. People back home found it romantic. He didn’t answer their cards, which they ascribed to the weight of his grief.

Truth is, he was busy with his new love, his true love. The scent of her, her salt on his tongue. Her moods. Her hidden paths. Her lacy white fringe. Her many shades of blue.

Arch Cape loved him back, in her way. Once, Fred was swept out by a sneaker wave but he didn’t fight, so it let him go, delivered him bruised and scraped to the rocky shore. He didn’t get up right away, just lay in her arms, grateful and spent.


Marti Mattia’s background includes fiction, journalism and oral history. Currently at work on her debut novel, she completed her creative writing MFA at Pacific University in 2015 and received a Pushcart Special Mention in 2020. She and her husband Tom divide their time between the Oregon Coast and Austin, Texas.