My daughter is six years old when she finds it: spiraled shell on a slippery gold chain, tucked in my dresser under a chlorine-bleached swimsuit. I come upstairs from making dinner, find her on my bedroom floor, my mother’s shell pressed into the hollow of her stomach. I have kept my daughter from such things: seashells, seafood, sea salt, seaweed scrubs. Anything that might remind her of the old place—the home that isn’t ours anymore, that never was. Shhhh, I whisper, rubbing her back, pressing my face to her kelp-forest hair, and I think of my mother’s rule that grief should be held inside until it ripens, I think of how my mother walked—light and careful, as though every step hurt, as though she had practiced it. When I was pregnant, I tried to keep my daughter from such things: ate only earthy foods, steak and hamburger, baked potatoes, rye bread with butter, winter pomegranates—went to prenatal swim yoga, bobbing in greenish chlorinated water with other pear-shaped, off-balance women—avoided sushi and seafood and ocean breezes and white noise machines and the push and pull of moon phases—on my most anxious days, reminded myself that my baby was not only mine—remembered her father, all green soccer fields and April sunshine and reliable child support checks; her grandfather, a mostly kind man, a ship captain turned teacher, who used to press my mother’s emptiness to his ear like a conch shell, fascinated by the rush of his own heartbeat thrown back at him. For six years I watched my daughter closely and she seemed okay, seemed happy, and now she is crying, her grief cold and heavy against my chest, now I am thinking of my mother, who wore her voice on a chain around her neck, who took it off that day at the sea, who left me on a beach blanket and waded out into the breakers, a little farther each time, her mermaid hair spreading over the swells like spilled oil, like squid ink, and my daughter is crying, my daughter is hungry. Shhhh, I tell her. Not to quiet her. I slit open my palms, extract the sand dollars from inside, string them up like paper moons, and shhhh, I remind her again—like ocean water, three times saltier than blood, four times saltier than tears—and when my daughter looks up at me, I kiss her briny palms, one first and then the other, I feed her saltwater ghosts, cracked open along the hinge, watch as she tilts back her open mouth, swallows them whole.
Lindy Biller is a writer based in the Midwest. Her work has appeared at Longleaf Review, Perhappened, Chestnut Review, Flash Frog, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter @lindymbiller.
Uncovered logs from the distant past and the future beyond.