The Seashell

by Karen Hughes

Jim walked slowly down the warm, sandy beach, scanning the shore for round, flat stones to skip over the waves. He put his hands into the pockets of his too-big denim shorts, which had been outgrown by at least two older brothers. Ricky ambled cheerfully behind him.

Jim stopped suddenly and looked out at the reflection of the sunset on the sea. Ricky stopped an instant later and nearly ran into him.

"Hey, Ricky, how many fish d'ya think are out there?" He spoke in a distant, detached voice, as though he weren't expecting an answer. "I bet there's a million." He stooped to uncover a partially buried seashell. "You know," he continued, "if we was fisherman, we could catch all them fish." His eyes lit up and he absently worked the shell between his fingers.

"We could get rich that way, Ricky! We could make a thousand dollars. What would you do with all that money, Rick?" Ricky studied his friend's face and didn't answer. "I'd buy a boat. That's it. We could get a real nice boat, all big an' white, with big sails. We could sail out there all day and catch fish." In his excitement, the shell dropped from his fingers. He knelt to pick it up.

"We could be just like that man was in the book I read at school. Remember me tellin' you about it? About the old man who caught the big fish that he wouldn't let go of. Only it was too big to get in the boat, so sharks ate it up." Ricky sat down on the beach and listened to Jim's voice rise and fall. Jim paused to take a breath.

"We wouldn't let any fish get away, would we, Ricky. Not if we were fishermen. You wanna do that?" There was no answer. "Sure you do." There was a short silence. Jim sat down in the sand. An icy breeze danced through his hair and tickled Ricky's ears.

"What'll we call our boat? It needs a real pretty name. You got a name for it, Rick?" Jim thought hard to come up with the perfect name for his imagined vessel. Finally, he exclaimed, "I got it! We'll call her the Seashell. How's that? The Seashell." He tossed his shell a few feet into the water and watched it bob lazily. "She'll float just as easy an' pretty as that one. We'll paint the name on the side in red letters as tall as that baby tree in the yard." He added, almost to himself, "And we'll be famous."

It was dark now, but neither of the figures on the beach seemed to notice: Jim was too absorbed in his dream; Ricky in the gentle movement of the waves. A sudden gust of wind brought Jim back to reality.

"It's gettin' dark. Mom's gonna be worried. I better go." He turned to his silent companion. "C'mon, Ricky." Jim stood up and brushed the sand from his jeans. He started to walk away, but changed his mind and waded a few feet into the water instead. He could still see the shell, just within his reach. He leaned forward, grabbed it, and shoved it deep into his pocket.

"Mom would like this shell, I think. It's pretty." Under his breath, he murmured once more, "The Seashell." Then he turned and waded back to shore.

"C'mon, Ricky," he said again. But Ricky just lay in the sand and watched the moon float on the water.

"Come on, Ricky." Still no response.

"Mom's gonna be worried. I'm not allowed to stay out too late." Nothing. The impatience on Jim's face turned to worry.

"Well, I'm goin' back. You can stay out here as long as you want." He began to slowly walk backwards towards home, but his eyes never left the still outline of his friend. When he saw that Ricky had no intention of following, he grew angry.

"If you don't come home, you--" Ricky interrupted him with a lazy yawn. Jim began to relax.

"I guess you're right," he said. "I guess she won't mind too much if I'm just a few minutes late. After all, I got a real nice seashell for her." He grinned. "And someday, we're gonna have a Seashell of our own." He laughed and turned to his unspeaking friend. "You do like the name 'Seashell,' right, Rick?" Ricky looked at him but made no reply. Jim stared at him, realized he wasn't going to get an answer, and turned towards home. He walked slowly, without looking to see whether Ricky was following.

When he was almost to the front door, he heard footsteps behind him. He turned and, with his hand resting on the doorknob, asked once more, "Do you like the name 'The Seashell'? Do you want to be fishermen with me?" Ricky hesitated, then let out a soft bark. Satisfied, Jim disappeared into the house. Ricky wagged his tail and trotted back down to the beach.


Copyright 1999 by Karen Hughes