Close to her always, Chelsea’s fantastic shell conjured unbelievable memories of talking dolphins and open sea. Each year she recalled feeling more and more excited, shedding fear from her memory, focused instead on the moment the dolphin presented her most treasured gift. Her parents teased about her belief but as she grew, they spoke less and less of her obsession. Chelsea was left to her own interpretations.
She routinely nestled an ear into the shell, captivated by its symphony of sounds that brought life to thoughts she found trouble considering. Without instructions or a user’s manual, the shell’s wisdom was difficult to comprehend. In her heart she knew returning to the dolphins was essential to her happiness but each time her ear met the shell’s soft, velvety lip it mentioned nothing of sea.
In school, Chelsea found solace from thoughts through Science class. Though she took keen interest in astrology and weaving stories from stars, persistence beckoned her to a life of aquatic understanding. Through fierce dedication and hard work, young Chelsea grew up and graduated head of her class with a Masters in Marine Biology. In all her studies, Chelsea never learned of mysterious waves or talking dolphins. In fact, she’d learned that scientists seemed unanimous that language among marine mammals remained untranslatable, but such truths only proved that she was aware of answers where others only found mystery. The summer of her graduation she revisited the beach of her youth, shell in hand, hoping that her expensive knowledge would bring results so eagerly sought.
In water she mimicked her youth. She tossed herself into crisp waves and regained herself in hopes of witnessing a bent horizon that would sweep her far off. Instead, she stared ankle-deep at the cusp—lazy at the edge of the world—as gulls cawed and laughed overhead. Swimmers came and went as Chelsea changed positions from surf to sea, glancing towards the beach to decipher where mom had sunbathed that day. As the sun rescinded its golden rays, Chelsea came to understand that no wave would carry her back that day and so resigned to cooling sand.
With ear pressed to shell, she stared at twinkling stars dotting the night sky and wondered what she was doing wrong. The universe held secret meaning for her—she’d been told so. The dolphin said she’d come back, it said she had to—she recalled her figments so vividly. She’d reach them again, of that she was sure, but her incredible fortune brought impatience that kept thoughts submerged even when miles from sea. On the beach she sobbed into her hands as boys cast lines by lantern light.
Chelsea’s shell teased her, waded in her thoughts, beckoning her to steal another listen. Sometimes even Chelsea found her story as hard-to-believe as those she trusted enough to try convincing of her immaculate shell’s power. Just like her father, they too heard waves within the shell–barbed words that dragged against Chelsea’s heart with each utterance.
“It’s the one thing I never hear in the shell.” She’d mumble in response.
Jealousy stirred within her and eventually those who spoke of hearing the gentle shhhhh that escaped her were tossed overboard. Friends became nothing more than reminders of what she wanted—knew awaited her. Nothing would stop her from seizing a vast understanding known only to dolphins from her youth. She had been gifted, and she’d become enlightened once drenched in her own unique sublimity.
Each year she returned more learned to the beach that swept her up so long ago. She’d enter cold water, conch shell clutched in wrinkled fingers, and wait for that wave to wash her out. Each year the midday sun met water’s edge and the moon settled in. The tide rose to regular depths. With a sigh Chelsea would toss the shell onto sand, dry off, and check out of the Showboat Hotel without rest. Those long drives home were the hardest on her ego, hardest to believe in the shell’s power. Time had eroded so much memory that she questioned the story altogether, “Maybe mom bought the shell at a souvenir shop.”
Chelsea’s career as a Marine Biologist peaked the next year, another painful reminder of her childhood destiny.
“What’s the use if I never make it back.” She’d think throughout award ceremonies, never far from the sea. Her peers envied her relentless quest for more knowledge and deeper understanding, unaware that it was meant only to enhance her own standing with a talking dolphin. Otherwise, accomplishments meant nothing to her at all.
“This is the last time.” She said next summer, reluctantly booking a room at the Showboat Hotel.
She stood ankle deep in calm sea and watched the sun again carve a downward path through the sky.
“Give it up, Chels.” She resigned with tear-filled eyes, turning her back to the horizon hours sooner than previous years. For her heart’s sake, Chelsea peered once more at the sea, the reason for all in her life, just in time.
The horizon shot into the sky and blotted out the sun—a monster awakened. It rose with fury and hurdled towards the beach. Creaking and moaning, its hostile march filled Chelsea with terror; her knees locked and teeth vibrated. A bedlam of crashing eruption, hisses, and groans kicked around her skull and threw itself against her temples. Her heart sank, a deep despair stirring within, and the conch shell became warm in her hands. A ball whizzed by her face.
“Sorry!” She strained to hear a boy shout, lapping past in retrieval.
“My god,” She thought, “He doesn’t see it.”
Within seconds it towered before her; a flexed, foamy neck roaring to the sky. The last she saw before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes.
“This is it.” Chelsea whispered as the wave hammered her down into inky black depths.
Much to her relief, Chelsea found herself once again in the middle of the ocean. A guffaw escaped her amid tears.
“Finally.” She cheered, finally living a memory nearly abandoned.
Treading water with shell held tight, Chelsea searched for the fin, “A stone,” she kidded herself, “I was so naive back then.”
With neither stone nor fin in sight, Chelsea kept herself afloat with one hand and held the shell to her ear with the other.
“Waves!” It was her destiny, after all. A muffled voice, her own, trailed and dissipated. It was final. It was settled. She was meant to be out here after all.
The sun-glazed sea did well to disguise a bobbing white pearl, gone unnoticed until water dragged behind towards Chelsea.
“I’ve returned!” She yelled, so happy to find her dearest friend.
The memories, all of them, came flooding back at once. She recalled the fin that held her up and prepared for balance when the white stone vanished from surface and under her wiggling toes. So much time had passed since her last visit that she’d forgotten how big they were—the shadow beneath her enormous. Just then, the dolphin’s words came together, no longer fragmented by wishful thinking and forced fate. She had focused on some words more than others, changing others altogether, but now “much too dangerous for a child” repeated in her head, throbbed her temples, and refilled the dread in her heart.