When I was a little girl my father gave me a shell at the seaside. Not one of the ones you pick up on the beach but one of the ones that would never grow so huge and hyperbolic in the cold native water, which has instead been ripped from the tropics, eviscerated, blasted and basketed to gather dust in one of the tat shops that line the front.
It was a murex very much like this although I think the interior was more orange and white than bright pink. I can still feel the textures – rough, pitted and spiny on the outside, glisteningly cool and smooth on the inside.
“Hold it to your ear,” he said, “and you can hear the sea.” I did, and I could.
“Is that really the sea?” I asked, my eyes no doubt as big as the shell. “Oh yes”, he said. “There’s sea inside every single shell.” “Real sea?” “Yes, real sea. No matter how far away they are from the shore, shells always have the sea in them.” I think I might have surreptitiously shaken it to see if any water came out.
I believed him implicitly, of course. At night I would lie in bed in the dark holding the shell to my ear and travel deep into its cool coilings to the sea itself, breeze-blown and spume-spattered. I still dream of the sea, often.
Perhaps there is an inundation. Sometimes a great wave seen approaching from afar gives sufficient time to scramble to higher ground up tussocky, cropped-grass covered slopes. Other times it is a slow barely noticed indrawing of lapping foam-fingers which forces a retreat up a shingled beach towards a paved esplanade. It is a source of relief that those whom I am responsible for (variations of family, friends and animals) are shepherded to a place of safety. Once there the others melt away as I gaze down at the waters. Sometimes I walk into the water and swim directly towards the horizon, but mostly I don’t.
Always under the waves can be seen the flickering forms of whales. Sometimes the long grey outlines of right whales, sometimes the leaping harlequin of orcas, occasionally the white of Belugas. Often one or more swim up to where I stand and then I know what they know, a deep and ancient knowledge, but cannot remember in the morning.
One day I shall live next to the sea. One day.