SEA SHELL • by Robin Vandenberg Herrnfeld

Amanda hasn’t slept all night and now, up at dawn, the thought comes loud and clear: It was a mistake not to go.

“You really missed something,” Sarah had said over the phone yesterday. “Most of the old crowd showed up. Great to see. And Jeff was there. He’d hoped to see you.”

So after not appearing at the 10th, Amanda thinks, he comes to the 20th class reunion, and I don’t go because I think he won’t come and I don’t want to drive all that way for nothing. She wonders how it would it have been to see him now, twenty years later.

The early morning sky is grey with low-lying clouds and the stretch of wet sand glistens pink in the light of the rising sun. Waves lap around her feet and the sand feels firm and cool when the water retreats and leaves its tide-mark of white froth on the beach.

She spots a shell washed up in front of her and stoops to pick it up. It’s an unusual shell, pearly-pinkish, like one her mother had. Most of Mom’s shells were kept in little bowls or glass vases all over the house. Ornaments in the living room, the bedroom, the kitchen. Useless decoration, Amanda had always thought. Shells in bowls gathering dust. But this was a special shell, Mom had said, and she kept it in a place all of its own on her bedside table.

Amanda’s shell, now, really is striking. She turns it over and over in her hand, looks at it from all sides. But she has never shared her mother’s passion for collecting sea shells, so she lets it fall.

As she walks on, Amanda tries not to crush any of the shells. So many shells scattered across the sand, like so many missed opportunities, she thinks. Like her life. Has she been sidestepping opportunities the way she sidesteps these shells instead of making the most of them?

It strikes her that she has never really known what it is she wants from life. She’s just bumbled along, never knowing exactly where she was going, taking what comes instead of living out her dreams. How many things has she missed just because she never reached out to grasp at the possibilities?

Maybe it was just that she had always wanted Jeff. And now she has missed him. If she had just gone to the reunion, their paths would have crossed and who knows, maybe they would have continued down the same path together? Maybe he had just been waiting for the phone call she hadn’t had the courage to make after he’d gone off to college, maybe waiting for the letter she never wrote, the way she waited for his that never came.

She remembers the shell, the special shell, and all of a sudden it becomes terribly important to her. She has to find it, collect it. Because it is telling her something. To change, to try to find a direction. Make more out of her life. It’s telling her to go find him.

Amanda turns and hurries to the place where she’d let the shell fall from her hand onto the sand, but it is gone. Long since washed back to sea by the tide.

Robin Vandenberg Herrnfeld grew up in California but has lived in Germany for the last twenty-some years. She studied literature in the US and Germany and started writing short stories around five years ago. Her true-life account of a Neo-Nazi victim was published in 2007.

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