Pete and Ellie teased each other about the conch shell for months, their
laughter rippling warmly through the calm waters of their loving relationship.
The huge shell came from the charity shop where Ellie worked as deputy manager.
From the state it had been in when she first saw it, she guessed that the
previous owner had used it as a flowerpot. Deciding it was unsellable the
manager had dropped it onto the forlorn pile of rejects, but later that day
Ellie rescued it and brought it home to the flat.
While Pete watched, she attacked it with a bottlebrush and the pearly pink
beauty of the shell’s interior emerged - gleaming, from the crust of filth that
had covered it. Pete was amazed at the transformation; he told her she was lucky
to find it, because conch shells were collectors items and usually very
expensive. She placed the shell, carefully, in the middle of the mantelshelf,
under the gold-framed mirror and each day her morning face was reflected above
it, as she hurriedly made up for work. They got into the habit of tucking their
lottery tickets into it for luck.
Pete searched the Web to find out where the shell might have come from and
printed out some pages for her. The pictures showed an opulent holiday home in
the Bahamas called Conch'd Out, promising views of the ocean, "from every room".
The dreaming island of Eleuthera floated, pink-sanded, in the clear sparkling
loveliness of Caribbean waters. Ellie laughed at him, and looked at the printout
They joked about the contrast between Eleuthera and Weston-Super-Mare, which was
the actual destination for their annual holiday that year. Secretly, Pete
reviewed their finances and knew they would never be able to afford the Bahamas.
He bought an extra lottery ticket that week.
Weston-Super-Mare was a holiday to remember. When Ellie looked back on it
afterwards, she saw it as a series of memory snap shots. They stayed at a neat,
clean and pretty little B&B run by a neat, clean and pretty elderly lady. The
views in the Cheddar Gorge were stunning and they walked all around it, looking
down on the twisting road from the dizzying heights of menacing crags. Their leg
muscles ached with all the exercise.
In the afternoons, they stopped at little teashops that served warm, yeasty,
homemade scones that crumbled under piles of strawberry jam and local clotted
cream. On rainy days they wandered around the ancient town of Wells with its
beautiful cathedral and winding, narrow streets, full of quaintly overhanging
During that holiday they both enjoyed their trips to the beach the most, even
though they wisecracked about it being Weston-Super-Mud. They trawled slowly up
and down along the water's edge, heads down, beachcombing. They found odd shaped
pieces of driftwood, crystal banded pebbles and sea-tumbled, rainbow coloured
Ellie teased that their conch shell would look a bit out of place on this
seashore, probably as out of place as they would look on the sands of Eleuthera.
Pete flipped a rope of glittering spray at her with his bare foot. As he raced
off, she ran threateningly toward him over the brown, gritty sand and they
chased each other, laughing, like children playing tag. Finally they collapsed,
puffed out, beside a breakwater, warmed by the August sun.
The breakwater had trapped some shells, a rare find on this beach – most of the
shells they had seen were broken or slimy green. One perfect little shell lay on
its own, smoothly white and banded with blue. Pete placed it on the palm of
Ellie's hand and kissed her lingeringly; she closed her eyes, luxuriating in the
kiss, the warmth of the sun and the sound of soft susurration as the waves broke
against the shore. She put the shell carefully into her pocket and, holding
hands, they walked into town for an ice cream.
When they returned to the flat Ellie found the small shell undamaged in her coat
pocket and she placed it beside the larger conch shell, with an amused smile.
It was not many weeks after that holiday, that she opened the flat door to two
Their words, "Road traffic accident,” and, "Dead on arrival," swam in and out of
focus as she struggled to surface back to reality. They couldn't be talking
about Pete. Not Pete. He was due back from work any minute – their evening meal
was in the oven. It couldn’t be true, she didn’t believe them.
She made the officers leave.
She found it impossible to fit what had happened into any kind of continuing
pattern of coherent thought. It overwhelmed her. She sat on the floor of the
sitting room with her arms wrapped around her knees and she didn’t move until
the smell of burning from the kitchen forced her to her feet.
There followed weeks of being not quite alive herself; dreary weeks of
unrelieved cold, of stumbling at every turn over new realisations of being
without Pete. She clung by her nails to the wreckage of their happy life.
Ellie’s friend, Maureen, helped her through the grim and interminable
practicalities; she was sympathetic and endlessly patient. They were both amazed
when, during the clearing away of all the compulsory legal flotsam, they
discovered a life insurance document. Ellie hadn't known that Pete had taken out
extra life cover; Maureen wondered if it had been a potential retirement fund.
They were amazed to discover that the pay out, in the event of his sudden death,
was nearly a hundred thousand pounds.
Ellie was disbelieving and stunned; she wanted to discuss it with Pete, she
wanted to share the new monetary safe harbour with him. What was the use of
money now? The paradox of her material well-being, coupled with her spiritual
and loving loss, made her want to scream out loud with frustration and regret.
Frozen with grief, she managed only to maintain the old daily routines: up;
dress; make up; hair; work. She refused to deal with anything out of the
ordinary, and she ignored her health.
Often, she would see Maureen and her husband Jim in the evenings or during the
long lonely stretches of the weekends. Maureen said she was worried about her
and encouraged her to visit the doctor but Ellie refused to go. Maureen
tentatively suggested to her that Eleuthera might, now, be within reach. But Ellie
was angry that her friend would even suggest it, and answered Maureen back
But one evening she picked up the conch shell from the mantelpiece; holding its
smooth, knobbly, coolness she remembered joking with Pete about the Bahamas and
she unearthed the printout of the pink-sanded beach. Ellie heard the echo of
their laughter. And she felt numb suddenly, like a yacht becalmed.
In the morning, it seemed that she had made a decision while she slept. She
walked to the Travel Agent in her lunch break and booked the trip. The
preparations were a bothersome duty and she did them under sufferance, like a
task set for homework, she was not excited, but felt a curious inevitability, a
necessity of going.
As the plane took off, Ellie felt a sudden panic, a cutting off, as if she left
But when she arrived, the island was magical: a beautiful whisper of peace,
light and clarity. Each day, Ellie walked along the translucent pink beach,
beside warm aquamarine water, salted with sparkles. She felt separated from her
life back home and it gave her space to think. The murmuring tranquillity of the
ocean, and the healing calm of Eluethera, began to lull her awake.
Soothed by the island, she gradually started to accept that her life was not
During her walks she saw, cushioned in the sand, huge pink-lined conch shells,
identical to the one back home. One day, she sat in the mirror-bright water and
studied one of the shells.
Sculpted into whorling perfection by the soft creature that had lived, protected
within it, this solid exterior of mathematically perfect spirals was left
behind, cast up on the beach. The shells were a tangible reminder of the
evolutionary ages through which their species had swum, warmly oblivious – and
Ellie listened to the soft sigh of the ocean and cupped her clasped hands,
protectively, over her belly. She finally felt ready to know, and to accept,
what she had been denying for weeks. For the first time, she allowed awareness of
the new life held within her body to penetrate the fog of her anguish.
She was still conscious of the depth of her grief, but the strength of her
growing faith in the certainty of natural cycles soothed her. As she felt the
tide of anticipation for their child begin to rise within her, Ellie understood
that the love and laughter she had shared with Pete would be more lasting than
Conch Shell On The Seven Mile Beach
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