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It stands out among the smoothly undulating waves of sand, stormy gray and creamy white against the endless hills of tan. The first thing she notices as she picks it up is that it is a conch shell, mostly gray but with a few white and brown stripes, and spikes that have weathered down to a blunt tip. She brushes the sand off of its smooth surface, inspects the pearly insides, and determines that this shell seems different from all the others.
She turns around, brandishing the shell in the air, and shouts, “Look what I found!” to the other person following behind her. “Look Mom!”
Her mom bends down, and touches the ridges on the shell gently. “It’s very beautiful. I’ve never seen a conch shell like this one before.”
The girl smiles very slightly. She knows her mom is still a little sad because her dad had not come to visit yet, and she wants to cheer her up. “Can I keep it so I can show it to Dad when he comes?”
There is a small glimmer in her mother’s eyes, but she doesn’t pay any attention to it. “Keep it. I think this shell is special.” With that, her mom stands, and walks away, head turned towards the ocean. She’s been looking at the ocean for a long time now.
The shell lies in the little girl’s hand, heavy and cold. She clasps her hands to bring the shell to her ear; she can hear the soft breath of the sea.
She does not understand what they mean by suicide. It is such a harsh word, and it simply cannot be what has happened to her mom. She shakes her head furiously. Her mom had only gone down to the beach for a swim, promising to be back soon. But months had gone by, until she was all alone, like she is now.
Her thoughts wander to her dad. Perhaps her mom had only gone to search for him. She will be back soon, she thinks bitterly. I need her.
She doesn’t even realize she has the gray and white conch shell in her hand.
Someone knocks on the door. “Miss?” The officer with the funny-looking six-sided hat pokes his head through. “Are you alright?”
No, she wants to say. I’m not.
“I just came to tell you that Mrs. Katherine has agreed to adopt you…”
Who’s Mrs. Katherine? Oh right, she is her mom’s best friend.
“…to tell you that lives always go on, even after there are -”
“Where is my mom?” Her voice is quiet, hopeless.
The officer sighs. “I’m sorry, miss, but it’s been a year, and we don’t think we can find her. She’s gone.”
In the morning, she wakes up in her new home, one she doesn’t really want to live in. Sinking to the floor, she holds onto the shell for dear life. Everything around her is blindingly bright, and she can’t see through all the colors. Her face feels hot, until she is aware of the tears running from her eyes.
“…lives always go on…”
She instinctively raises the shell to her ear, and gasps in confusion.
She can no longer hear the breathing.
The sea breeze swept over the cliff, as she stood near the edge of the drop, eyes closed. It felt so peaceful here, standing above the ocean, yet she was about to do the unthinkable.
No. She’d been slowly dying ever since she’d last been here, with her husband. They had just celebrated their sixth anniversary, and were very proud of their daughter, who looked just like him. Being locked in a close embrace, the two of them had been unaware of the cliff they were standing upon, but their quiet words of love were cut short when the ground beneath her husband’s feet vanished. His feet had slipped, and although she tried to hold him, it was too late; she was forced to watch as his normally tender and loving expression changed into one of pure horror, and his body plummeted into the frothing sea below.
Afterwards, she had not been brave enough to tell her daughter of her father’s death. In her mind, she still refused to believe he was dead. Perhaps this was why she wanted to leave. Because of her cowardice, her daughter believed that she still had a father. Dimly, she wondered if her daughter would hate her for what she was about to do.
“Can I keep it so I can show it to Daddy when he comes?”
“Keep it. I think this shell is special.”
Her daughter would be better off living with somebody else. Yes, she still loved her, but she also loved another, someone she would have died for.
She opened her eyes. The sun was setting, the sky ablaze with fire.
“Look what I found! Look Mommy!”
“It’s very beautiful.”
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered into the wind. “Please forgive me.”
She hoped that her daughter would keep the shell in remembrance.
And then, the sea was rising up to envelop her, and she breathed one more time.