Sea Shells

February 25, 2008
By Anna Ingraham, Kennebunk, ME

The girl blinked as salty spray hit her wide, dark eyes. The ocean, which had been so beautiful that morning, now tossed and turned. A wave slapped against the shore and sent water spraying up, hitting her bare arms, but the girl didn’t step back. She stared into the water, wanting to lose herself in that angry green blue, and not caring that the hem of the fine black dress Sandra had made her wear was getting completely soaked with sea. A sudden urge to take off the horrible dress and go swimming hit her, and she almost laughed as the image of Sandra’s horrified face flashed through her mind. She would never get away with it.
A raindrop hit her face, and she glanced up. The clouds that had threatened all afternoon seemed to be finally giving up their burden. The girl titled her head back and smiled softly. “God’s crying,” she whispered.

She didn’t turn when she heard her name, knowing she couldn’t stay much longer but not wanting to leave the angry sea. Sometimes she felt like it was the only person - thing, she had anything in common with. She knew it was strange. She also knew her mother had felt the same way; had felt most at home right here by the ocean. She didn’t like it that they were going to take her mom away to be buried in the family lot. She wouldn’t have wanted that. But then, she wouldn’t have wanted any of this.
She jumped as Sandra appeared next to her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “It’s pouring, if you hadn’t noticed,” Sandra said. “Come inside before you get phenomena!”
She turned away, still staring out over the ocean. “I’d rather stay out here.”
Sandra’s voice softened. “I know, Sam. With all the strangers, the people Mom knew... it’s a little awkward, right? I’m sorry.”
“It’s not that!” She jerked away, frowning, and Sandra took a step back.
“What, then?”
Sam looked up, blinking water out of her eyes furiously. “Do you even care that she’s gone?” she said, her throat dry, although water fell all around.
Sandra looked taken aback. “Of course! Who do you think I am? She was my mother too, you know.”
Sam turned away, shaking her head. “I’ve heard you talking with people. You say things... Things no daughter should say.”
“Things that are true,” Sandra replied softly. “Sam!” She grabbed her arm, forcing Sam to look at her. “Didn’t you see her at the end? She was crazy. She wasn’t here any more.”
“That’s not true!” Sam screamed, feeling sudden hot tears pour out of her eyes. “She wasn’t crazy! How can you call her that? She was never crazy!”
Her sister shook her head sadly, covering her hand with her mouth as though she needed to keep something inside, and then turned and walked away. Sam stared after her with a feeling close to disappointment. She turned back to the ocean and stood there, as the rain soaked her dress, her hair; seeping into her very pores, it seemed, till she felt so heavy with water she wanted to scream.
“Clara!” she called out, voice wobbly. She took a step forward, barely feeling the cold sea splashing around her feet. “Clara! Mom! Mom!”
Her feet slipped on a smooth stone in the ocean bed, and she fell, the stormy waters of the sea excepting her gladly.
The rain continued to fall.

Cold fingers stroked her face and she cracked open her eyes. The sudden light made her head ache. It was morning. Sam turned to her side and wondered faintly what she was doing on the beach. Sand dug into her cheek but she didn't’ bother moving again, too tired to even wonder who could have been touching her face. She wrinkled her forehead as she realized she wasn’t on the normal beach, as she should have been able to see her house. All she saw was sand, and more sand, stretching on for miles. Where was she?
A pair of feet appeared in front of her face, and she blinked. The feet shimmered slightly, and she began to wonder if she was going insane, just like... No, she wouldn’t think that. She sat up quickly and looked into the face of the strangest girl she’d ever seen.
The girl was maybe a little older then Sam, tall, with extraordinary green-blue eyes and hair that was so blonde it shined white in the sun. Or maybe it wasn’t blonde at all - she wasn’t sure. The wind moved a bit of the girls curly hair, and it seemed to go almost pearly green for a moment. She put a hand down to Sam, and Sam looked at it for a moment, still sure there was something faintly odd about her skin. Finally taking it she stood, feeling her bones creak as if she’d been asleep for months. The girl smiled lightly, a questioning look on her face, and Sam cleared her throat, tasting gritty sand in her mouth.
“Who are you?” she finally managed, and then had to cough for a moment, as her throat closed up.
The strange girl frowned in concern, her pretty features going oddly dark, and put a hand on her arm. Sam shrugged her off, swallowing hard, and then looked up to meet her eyes fiercely.
“You can call me Leah,” the girl said softly.
Sam turned away, wanting to challenge her but not having the energy. “Where are we?” she asked, trying not to feel frightened.
“Ithaca,” Leah said, smiling again, and Sam glared at her.
“Isn’t that a town in New York?”
Leah shrugged. “Is it?”
Sam sighed, and walked away, down the beach, trying to see how long it went on. She reached the corner, heart sinking as she went around the bend and saw more beach, stretching on.
“It’s an island,” she grumbled, glancing up at the bright blue sky. “Thanks God. I’m surrounded by my Mothers best friend.”
“It’s hardly His fault,” Leah said, coming up beside her.
“What do you know?”
“Aren’t you the one who wouldn’t come in when your sister said to?”
“How do you know that?” Sam grabbed her arm fiercely, and Leah jerked away, eyes wide.
“Don’t touch me,” she hissed.
“What? Sorry.” Sam stepped away, taken aback, and Leah seemed to relax a little.
“It’s just...” She paused, glancing at Sam’s hair. “You’re still wet.”
Sam looked down at her short brown hair, that dripped salty water down her neck, and laughed. “So?”
“I’m afraid of water.” Leah’s face was still tense, and she looked away uncomfortably.
“You’re on an island and you’re afraid of water.” Sam nodded, as if this was totally believable. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“I live here.” Leah shrugged, still not looking at her, and Sam again tried not to laugh. This girl made absolutely no sense at all.
“So there are other people here? A village, maybe?” She wasn’t even going to bother thinking about how she’d gotten there. What she wanted now was to get back. A village would hopefully have a boat.
“There’s no one else here,” Leah said seriously. “My mother... Used to be. A long time ago.”
“So there’s no way off?” Sam kicked the sand, sending it spraying up in front of them, and didn’t look at the strange girl, afraid her face would show how much the word ‘mother’ had bothered her.
“There is,” Leah said, looking out at the sea, her shining hair shifting in the wind, “but you would never make it.”
“I’m a good swimmer,” Sam said stubbornly.
“You would need more then that.”
Sam looked at her and laughed, almost bitterly, then walked away towards the sea, stopping where her toes met the surf. “Have you noticed people are always telling me what I need?” she said to the air.
“Why are you here?” Leah came up behind her, stopping a few feet away.
“Good question.” Sam didn’t turn. “I’d like to know the answer myself.”
“Are you sad about your mother?”
Sam turned so quickly that water splashed up, and Leah jumped away with a yelp. “What do you know about her?”
“She talked to the sea.” Leah met her eyes, and for the first time Sam really saw the strangeness of her skin, her hair. She didn’t look human.
“What are you?” she whispered.
Leah smiled and turned away. “Have you ever seen a shell covered in mother of pearl?”
“Sure, they wash up on my beach all the time. I have a collection.”
“Just like your mother.” The strange girl nodded, her hair glowing pink for a moment, before fading back to it’s pearly white.
“I’m not like my mother!” Sam’s eyes flashed, and Leah looked taken aback.
“I thought you didn’t think she was crazy?”
Sam ran a hand through her sandy wet hair. “I don’t know. I don’t know what she was. But Sandy has no right to say that to people...” She trailed off. “Am I like her? Are you just in my imagination?”
“If I’m just your imagination then you’re just in my imagination and we’re both in a bit of a pickle.”
Sam snorted, then turned away, spotted something floating on a wave as it washed in, and waded through the water to pick it up.
“Fancy.” she laughed a little. “Mother of pearl.” She tossed it towards Leah, who froze, and didn’t catch it, her face shimmering intensely for a moment.
“What’s the matter now?” Sam demanded.
“Do you know what they are, those shells?” Leah whispered.
“They’re shells...”
Leah shook her head, looking strangely angry. “They’re me.”
“All shells that are covered in mother of pearl,” she said, picking up the small fragment and tilting it gently so the light hit it, sending colors sparking off, “are born like... You. Human in appearance. Mostly.”
“Yeah, right.”
“They grow up just like a human too, able to talk, walk, think - everything. Unless salt water touches them. Then they turn into... This.” She stopped, looking sad, and Sam stared at her.
“You expect me to believe that?”
“Look at my hair; my skin.” She held out her arms and they shimmered stronger then ever before, colors dancing off them. “I am part of the sea. All parts of the sea have souls. Some have bodies for awhile, some don’t.”
Sam backed up slowly, suddenly feeling strangely afraid. “Either I am insane or you’re trying mighty hard to make me think I am.”
“Neither,” Leah said, rolling her eyes. “It’s why I’m so afraid of water,” She turned to the ocean, that trace of sadness still on her face. “My mother-er, the shell, as you call us, who used to live here - she changed. She said we all must, for it is the way of things. But I don’t want to be a hard, little, rocky thing. I won’t.” Her face had gone cold and she looked at Sam with such determination that Sam immediately found herself agreeing with her.
“Of course not!” Said Sam. “If I couldn’t think or move ...” She trailed off, frowning. “Not that I believe you or anything.”
“Do you have a choice?” Leah said softly.
“Yes!” Sam’s eyes sparked angrily. “I do, and you can’t tell me I don’t! I hate it when people do that! I’m not going to believe you, I’m going to go home, and I don’t care what you say and I don’t care what Sandra says, and I-”
“She was crazy, you know,” Leah interrupted quietly.
Sam took a deep breath, then let it out in sudden defeat. “I know,” she said sadly.
“And you’re not.”
Sam met Leah’s eyes, and the fear in her own was evident. “I’ve always been like her... The doctors said it could have passed on to one of us.”
“Trust me.” Leah smiled.
Sam held her gaze for a moment, then broke away, nodding. “I’m going to go.”
“There’s no where to go.”
“I have to try to get back.”
“You’ll die.”
“I have to try.”
Sam turned, and waded into the ocean once again, not stopping when it reached her waist, but starting to swim. On the beach, Leah watched her bobbing head with something close to tears in her eyes.
“She’ll die,” she said.
A gust of wind blew across the sandy beach, spraying water into the air. 'You can save her,' it whispered. Her eyes turned a sudden bright blue, and she smiled. “I can save her.”
She ran forward, and leapt into the ocean.

Cold fingers touched her face once again. She opened her eyes, coughing desperately, and felt water gushing out of her mouth.
“Sam, Sam, oh my gosh Sam, you’re alive! You’re okay! Thank God!” Sandra leaned over her, cradling her head, salty tears bouncing off her face.
“What’s the matter?” Sam croaked.
“Don’t you remember honey?” Sandra said, crying harder. “You almost drowned. I almost lost you, too! I couldn’t bear it!” She covered her face with her hands and turned away, sobbing.
Slowly, Sam reached up to touch her shoulder, feeling something close to tears on her face, too. She looked down at the hand still by her side, and uncurled her fist gently, sucking in her breath. There, in her palm, lay a shell.
It was mother of pearl.

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