Mazzy wanted to walk on the beach. I thought she was crazy. I’ve always thought she was a little nuts, anyway. It was bitter cold—twenty-six degrees, and it was well after noon, so the temperature wasn’t going to rise much, if any at all. The sun was as high in the sky as it would go before making its descent back the other way. The wind blew off the ocean, dropping the temperature another ten or so degrees. We had tried the beach earlier, but that gust whipped her blond hair about her head. It cut through my coat and sweater and the t beneath it. It made my face hurt and my nose run and my body oh so cold. We gave up then after only a few minutes.
Still, Mazzy wanted to walk on the beach.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘I want to look for shells.’
‘I know what you mean. Why do you want to look for them now?’
‘We can add them to your collection.’
With that, I donned my long shirt, my sweater and jacket. She pulled on only a thin coat, not enough to keep the chill from her skin, much less the wind from her bones.
‘You’ll be cold,’ I said.
She regarded me with pale blue eyes that hid a truth in them that I didn’t see.
It didn’t take long to get to the beach. My hands shoved deep into jean pockets, I still shivered, even with the layers I wore. Mazzy gave no indication she was cold at all.
There were clouds rolling in, brought by the wind. A threat of rain hung in the air.
‘We shouldn’t stay out long,’ I said.
‘You can always go back,’ she remarked, knowing I wouldn’t leave her.
For the next hour we picked up shells to add to a collection I had started years before, when I was only a child of six. I picked up one with frozen fingers, dropped it back to the sand, and plucked it up again. By then the sun was setting behind the darkened clouds, casting a purple hue in the sky. I stared at the piece for a moment, before flipping it into the incoming tide.
‘Why do you throw back the broken ones?’ Mazzy asked. In her hand she held the curved piece of a shell—it was just a piece, and nothing more.
‘It’s broken—it’s not worth anything.’
Again, she regarded me with those pale blue eyes. They were sadder than I had ever seen. She held up her piece, turned it over in her hand. ‘Is that how you see them? Just broken pieces that have no meaning. Pieces so insignificant you can’t see the beauty in them?’
‘There is no beauty in broken things.’
She frowned, turned her head down and whispered, ‘A shell is like a life—fragile and easily broken. Each one should be looked at for what it is: once something beautiful before the world destroyed it, before people destroyed it.’ Then she dropped the broken shell back to the sand, and turned away from me.
I wanted to chase after her, but I couldn’t. Even if it had been a hot sunny day, my legs would not have moved, and my voice certainly couldn’t be bothered to speak up when I needed it to most. It was the single biggest mistake of my life.
I looked to the sand. The piece of shell was there. I bent, picked it up and had a hard time standing upright, thanks to the cold that had seeped into my bones. With the dying sun sinking further into the horizon, I caught a glimpse of the purple edge of the shell, the way it turned red, then pink. It was a beautiful fragment of something much larger. It was like Mazzy, and in that moment I understood her grief.
Life had been cruel to her, but she kept going, kept putting one foot in front of the other…at least until then.
‘Mazzy,’ I called, but she was gone. I looked up the beach in the direction she had gone, but didn’t see her. I saw shoe prints in the sand that led to the water. You can figure it out from there, right? I don’t need to go into all the details of how I called her name until I was hoarse, or that I ran into the water up to my knees, even as the tide rolled in harder and harder, pushed along by the bellowing wind, or how her body washed up on the shore three days later, bloated and blue and nipped at by hungry fish, or how I cried until no more tears would come and still my heart lay shattered in millions of tiny pieces. Or do I?
All that really matters is Mazzy is dead, and I can’t help but believe part of it is my fault. The words I said echo in my skull, haunting me daily, keeping me awake until the early hours of morning.
There is no beauty in broken things.
I was wrong.
Mazzy was a broken shell, but she was beautiful in her own special way.
I once had a collection of seashells. They were whole and carefully cleaned and sat in boxes in my closet. They were beautiful. They still sit in their boxes, but I haven’t added any to them since Mazzy left. Now I walk the beach in search of the beauty of broken shells…