Ariana felt the hot sand sliding between her toes, heard the distant crash of the water smashing on promontory rocks. Not for her the water’s edge. The vastness of the ocean was a strange and fearful thing, and creatures lurked beneath it; she’d heard the sailors’ tales when she worked the tavern houses and inns, and did not wish to find herself bewitched beneath the waves.
And yet, her eyes kept straying there. So beautiful and savage was the sea. Swirling and surging now with a contained rage, blue and green and gray by turns, and powerful, flecked with the gold of a high morning sun, the wind like a child’s fingers on her cheeks and in her hair.
The wind hugged her like a lover; her dress clung to her, and a brief and rueful smile touched her lips, for she felt the curves of her body beneath, her childhood faded like a receding wave, once and done, never to be again, which carried a fear of its own.
Do you want to sail, Ariana?
Her heart beat faster with the thought.
Is there someone across the sea who’s named you for his own?
Her body tingled as an image formed in her mind, faceless, strong, with the hands of a sculptor, the hands of a man who could wring emotions from clay and metal and stone.
But what will he do with your heart, Ariana? What will he do with your heart? Will it still be loving when he’s done? Tender, or will he harden it in the kiln of his own soul?
She couldn’t answer, but did she dare find out?
A prod into the sole of her foot made her wince, and she hopped in the sand. It startled more than hurt.
An empty shell, curved and pink and white, gleamed from its sandy sepulcher.
She lifted its wavy, opalescent edge; it was warm to the touch, though there was no life in it.
She’d heard the stupid stories of how the ocean’s crash could be heard; she knew it was something else, but the notion was appealing, and no one was watching.
Plucking it out, emptying the sand, she walked with it awhile, admiring the useless beauty of it; its owner, no longer needing its protection, either abandoned it or was pulled out by a crafty predator.
Looking up, she saw a lone gull pass overhead; it called to her in solitary greeting, and seeing the shell was empty and the girl alive, he flew on.
Sitting on a dune where the sand grasses tickled her legs, she looked out at the mating blue of sky and water on the horizon, and put the shell to her ear.
And listened to the sea song, her heart beating in harmony, and from her thoughts it brought the face of her shadowy lover, and made the vision clear.
And he would sculpt her heart, and she would sing his hands, and when their work was done….
It would be as timeless as warm sand, enduring as stone and metal, beautiful as a seashell, curled and delicate, with thunder in its midst, tempestuous as a wind tossed wave, and fear of the edge and hiding in shadows would be no more.
You would venture beyond the edge, where you are afraid, Ariana?
The shell slipped from her fingers, its silenced song soaked into her soul.
She would go.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
November 22nd 2014