Shelly used to sell seashells by the seashore, or that’s what everyone said at least. They were implying something else. But I tried not to think about it. It can be mean to assume things about strangers. Even if they did occasionally fit the prescription people prescribed them. I had met her at a bar some nights back. She had crooked teeth, the kind that poke out in front of each other, and natty hair that shone amber colors when the sun hit it just right. She introduced herself and said “for $20 she could show me some cool tricks,” winking while sucking down her drink. I said something a long the lines of “never paying for poo-tang a day in my life,” which of course as a lie. Anyone who has ever fucked could tell you that they definitely paid, monetarily or otherwise. The only other thing noticeable about Shelly was that she drank like a cowboy. On most nights she’d take six or more shots of bourbon, top it off with a beer, slide down a free shot of tequila someone bought her, and still walk home. I didn’t know where she got her ability to drink from, but it had to come from some deep inner pain, like a heavy drinking ability does for anybody.
One night the two of us were at Randy’s drinking and she asked if I wanted to go for a walk. I figured this was another one of her jokes. I said “There’s no way it can happen, Shelly. I don’t have the money.” Her drink nearly poured out of her nose. She said she “wouldn’t sleep with me even if I paid her.” And those words hurt. But she followed them up by saying it was because I was a “close friend.” Which didn’t make me feel that much better, but I was willing to take the walk with her to move past it.
We paid our tabs and she escorted me down to the beach, which was dark and empty. The high tide brushed against our feet, while we moved up and down the shoreline. Shelly started talking about her life, like most drunkards do. Told me about how her father used to be a door to door insurance salesman, their family dog that knew how to play dead, and her mom that stayed at home with her and her sisters. She basically implied it was a nice, quiet life. This confused me. It made me rethink what everyone claimed about her. We kept walking through the sand and every few feet Shelly would bend down, pick up a seashell, and put it in her purse. It was like watching a child. I pulled a cigarette out and the two of us sat down in the sand. The tide touched our toes and Shelly took out her collection of seashells and rinsed them off. I asked if she wanted a smoke, but she shook her head. The tide had washed a sand dollar next to my foot. Shelly grabbed it. I took a deep inhale off the cigarette and laughed.
“I don’t get you.”
“What’s there to ‘get’?”
“Why you do these things to yourself. Just none of it makes any–“
“I like collecting things. I liked being able to look back and say ‘that was mine.’ Even if it was only for a moment or two. You know?”
“The way I look at it, you only live once. You only get one chance to do everything you ever wanted to do, and then it’s gone. None of us really know what happens next. One day you’re here and the next – you’re gone. And if you can’t look back and say ‘I enjoyed it,’ if you can’t look back and say you collected, or even got, everything you wanted from every soul and place you possibly could, what’s the point?”
“Oh,” I said twisting my cigarette into the sand. “You were talking about seashells.”
“No. Not just the seashells. I was also talking about–“
Shelly’s phone started vibrating and she pulled it out of her purse.
“Hold on one sec, Steve,” she put the phone to her ear and answered. “Hey there handsome… Right now?… Hmmm… I guess so… I can be there in like 15… Oh, you can pick me up… Okay meet me at Randy’s.”
Shelly stood up and placed the phone back in her purse. I could hear the seashells rattling around in there as she bent down and kissed me on the cheek.
“I’ve got to go honey,” she said heading off. “Be good.”
I sat there and watched the moon reflect off the Atlantic. I put another cigarette to my lips and tried to understand it all. But I couldn’t. None of it made much sense. I felt the sand rubbing between my toes. The beach was quiet and the breeze reminded me of cold winters up in Virginia. I took a long inhale and watched the waves go in and out, in and out. I wondered how many years the waves had been doing that. There was an answer to that somewhere, but I wasn’t sure of it. The only thing I was sure of was that Shelly might actually be selling seashells by the seashore, just like everybody said. That, and that I may have gotten the best advice in my life from someone who may or may not be a prostitute.
Phoenix DeSimone is an emerging writer from Virginia. He enjoys drinking and long walks on the beach with no one of particular interest. His work has been published in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, Cough Syrup Magazine, Avalon Literary Review, Children, Churches, and Daddies, Intrinsick, and The Daily Drunk.