By Minyoung Lee
On Sundays, they walked to the beach and lined up seashells by the seashore. They looked for the time when the tide was the lowest, when the water pulled back to expose shiny stones and jagged seashells embedded in the slick mud like mosaic tiles, pinks and corals and ivory cream, when little brown birds scuttled around the frothy baby waves, plucking at the holes bubbling in the mud. His mom liked the shells that were shattered long ago, their once-rough edges polished by the waves breathing over them. The boy liked the shells that were perfect and clean, ones you could buy from a store to place on the bathroom sink.
If all the shells on this beach could be ordered in a line, they would guide his mom back home from where she was lost. But every time the boy’s line grew as long as he was tall, the climbing tide lapped against it, pushing away a shell or two, forging the clean edge into wobbly stubs. A single orange shell flipped over, and the boy ran over to flip it back. And once the boy was back at the end of the line to make it longer, another wave tossed away the gray spotted shell. By the time the water reached where the boy was standing, tucking away half of the seashells that were once exposed on the beach, the boy’s feet were muddied and his toenails caked in sand, and the line he was building was still incomplete.
The boy clenched his fists and looked down at his feet. He listened to the waves singing as they danced towards them.
“She wants you to know she is still here,” they seemed to say. “She wants you to know she still loves the sea.”
The waves giggled over the boy’s toes. They sighed and whispered. They brushed the wet sand away until his tan feet shone.