Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Choice, by Nicholas Sparks

She and Kevin had been a couple since their senior year at the University of North Carolina. He got to know her family, and she got to know his. They fought and made up, broke up and reunited. They balanced each other. They were good for each other. There would be no contest if the choice came down to Kevin or Travis, not even close. Having reached clarity on the issue, she decided it didn't matter whether Travis was flirting. He could flirt all he wanted; in the end, she knew exactly what she wanted in her life. She was sure of it.

--The Choice, page 73

I've been a devoted Nicholas Sparks fan since falling in love with Message in a Bottle. Aside from that novel, which remains a personal favorite, I've read five of his other works (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, The Rescue, A Bend in the Road, and The Wedding). He has published 13 novels throughout his career to date, with The Choice as his most recent (September 2007).
The Choice, despite my admiration of Sparks, was a disappointment. Before I explain why, here's a brief synopsis.

Gabby, a woman in her late twenties, moves to Beaufort, North Carolina to be closer to her boyfriend, Kevin, and gain some independence from her family. She's been with Kevin for several years and is in love with him; she worries, though, that he'll never be ready to get married. Gabby's new neighbor, Travis, is in his early thirties and a hopeless bachelor. He's dated several women but never felt that spark, and his married friends tease him about his single status. Overall, though, Travis is happy and leads a fulfilling life among his friends and family and in his job as the town veterinarian. He never realized anything was missing until Gabby moved in next door.

Likewise, Gabby never knew her life suffered from a void until meeting Travis. She'd always followed the rules and followed a rather safe existence. Travis, by contrast, unabashedly reveled in adventure and risk-taking. He'd spent some time traveling the world with no set destinations in mind, soaking in various cultures and living in the moment. Even once he'd settled in Beaufort, Travis spent his off-hours water skiing, parasailing, riding his motorcycle, and genuinely enjoying the world around him. His vivid and enthusiastic personality immediately attracted Gabby; Gabby's beauty and previously unsatisfied sense of adventure attracted Travis. Hey now, let's make a love story.

But, wait. Gabby has Kevin. She's in love with Kevin. He's a sweet and caring boyfriend, despite his apparent commitment-phobia. But Travis is handsome and fun, and he won't stop flirting with her. They also share an uncanny connection that seems to defy the short duration of their acquaintance. What's Gabby going to do?

She has to make a choice. Let's recall the name of the novel. And let's read the quote at the start of this review. Hmmmmm.

That's when Sparks throws a wrench into our expectations. The decision-making has only just begun, and when Gabby chooses between Kevin and Travis, the novel is only half over. Travis will soon have an even more agonizing choice to make, and it does not involve another love interest. It's a complete twist in the novel and has the potential to be enthralling and engaging.

However, I feel that this twist is unexpected (as twists should be) yet also unsatisfying (as twists shouldn't be). I'll leave you to make your own assessment of this plot surprise, but I will say that for me, it didn't work. The second half of the novel felt unnatural and somewhat disjointed from the first half. The novel's ending is predictable (as we often expect from love stories) but also unfulfilling (even though, on the surface, it seems to offer us what we wanted). Finding a balance between predictability and surprise is an enigma for the author of love stories; yet sometimes, they find a way to succeed. Sparks usually emerges as a master of this technique, but in this case, he's fallen short.

Furthermore, several of Sparks' characterizations in this novel seem either inadequate or artificial. Kevin, for instance, appears only through phone conversations and Gabby's memories; only once does he actually appear in person to take part in the novel's action. Considering the weight of Gabby's choice in the first half of the novel, this inattention is problematic.

Also, Travis' sister, Stephanie, is portrayed as an outgoing girl who speaks her mind through honest advice and playful quips; however, I found her character to be a bit over-the-top, and her constant banter quickly grew tiresome. Usually, even Sparks' minor characters are endearing and quietly unique, and so these defective characterizations only added to the disappointment created by the faulty plot twist.

I currently own another Sparks novel that I've yet to read: The Guardian. I hope that this novel can restore my high opinion of a long-time favorite author.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Goodness knows I'm no poet. Yet I still engage in poetry writing every now and then simply because I enjoy it. I think that everyone needs some sort of creative outlet, even if the product isn't as stunning as they'd wish. So tonight, upon finishing my book review of The Kite Runner, I decided to read about haikus. I hadn't written one since middle school, probably, and I'd forgotten the syllabic scheme. After skimming Wikipedia and playfully toying with words, I came up with the haikus below. They follow a 5-7-5 syllabic pattern, except for the last one. And the first one is purely silly.


The grass is greener
On the other side, perhaps.
But I prefer pink.


Seeping through the cracks,
This wind feels cold and lonely;
Whispers of good-bye.


Independence Day:
Diamond spectrums in the sky,
A blanket for two.


Steal me with a sly,
Premeditated kiss.
They’ll never find out.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

I want to tear myself from this place, from this reality, rise up like a cloud and float away, melt into this humid summer night and dissolve somewhere far, over the hills. But I am here, my legs blocks of concrete, my lungs empty of air, my throat burning. There will be no floating away. There will be no other reality tonight.

--The Kite Runner, page 345


Three summers ago, I spent several weeks absorbing the lyrical prose, profound imagery, and touching characterizations contained within Anna Karenina. This Tolstoy novel remains one of my favorite books, and I've rarely encountered a reading experience that comes close to rivaling it; usually, only "classics" can tempt me to question Anna Karenina's place on my list. However, Khaled Hosseini, with his first novel (published in 2003), has provided such a spellbinding and heartbreaking work of art and shifted the balance of my "favorite books" hierarchy. Its contemporary setting and concerns mesh seamlessly with universal emotions, hopes, and fears. This novel is at once timely and timeless. It is at once devastating and healing.

The Kite Runner is narrated by Amir, who opens the novel by saying: "I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975." This single sentence is the launching point for the rest of the novel because everything -- literally, everything -- that Amir holds important in his life can be traced in some way to that fateful watershed moment. "Today" refers to December 2001, the time frame in which Amir begins his narrative. Thus, after the brief opening chapter, Amir dives into the past and takes the reader on a journey through his childhood, young adulthood, and ultimately the birth of his manhood. This is a tale of memories carefully woven together, of traumas and miracles and tragedies and moments of triumph. This is a tale of guilt born from a buried past; it is a tale of the hope -- however miniscule -- for a redeeming peace.

Even before the winter of 1975, Amir's childhood is far from perfect. His mother died giving birth to him, and his father, Baba, never seems to offer the unflinching love and approval that young Amir craves. Baba is a tall, imposing figure whose intimidating personality and stature command both his household and the family's neighborhood in Kabul. He is well-known, well-respected, and well-feared. Amir, by contrast, is unathletic, timid, and nonconfrontational. Instead of playing sports, he reads books and writes stories of his own. His friend, Hassan, stands up for him in fights with other boys, to the chagrin of Baba.

Hassan, roughly Amir's age, is the son of Baba's servant, Ali. Ali and Hassan have lived in a servant's hut on Baba's property for as long as Amir can remember. Despite the contrast between living conditions (Baba's house is regal), Hassan and Amir are steady companions. However, their differences go beyond economic; Hassan is a Hazara, an ethnic minority shunned and abused within society. Thus, perhaps for this reason (he never fully explicates why), Amir does not refer to Hassan as his "friend" even though he spends all of his free time with him, climbing trees and running through the streets. Hassan, loyal to the core, never seems to mind. The boys' favorite activity is "kite running," a Kabul tradition that involves the flying and "cutting down" of multiple opponents' kites until only one kite remains in the sky. The most talented kite runners chase after the fallen kites, fighting to the finish for the coveted prizes. Of this game, Hassan and Amir are masters. It is the element of their childhoods which they hold most dear, and crucially, they share it together.

However, the winter of 1975 comes along, and Amir is determined to win the yearly kite running competition. He feels that such a feat would finally make his father proud and finally allow him to be seen as a worthy son, a strong young man. All of his energy is focused on this competition; he cannot sleep the night before. The competition proves fortunate for Amir; after hours of battling kites in the sky, Amir finds himself among the final two fliers still standing. Loyal Hassan pledges to run the final kite, and when Amir cuts the last opponent's kite down, leaving only his victorious in the sky, Hassan keeps his promise. Off he runs to capture that kite for Amir. However, when Hassan returns with the kite, and when Amir returns to a proud Baba, everything has been irrevocably changed. One day -- one incident -- is all it takes to shatter Amir's world and leave the twelve-year old reeling, struggling, grasping for any fragments of the life he formerly knew. His decisions that winter have far-reaching consequences, ones which he never could have forseen but which later torment his heart and mind.

Indeed, Amir's battles can be seen as a microcosm of Afghanistan at large. As Amir grows up, his native country is ravaged by the Soviets, internal factions, religious extremism, and every conceivable form of violence. Amir and Baba flee to America in 1981 to start a new life there, free from the instability and danger of their homeland. But even here, in the land of opportunity, Amir cannot find peace. Likewise, Afghanistan is torn apart, its prior beauty destroyed at the hands of captors and power-hungry tyrants. As the 1980s and 1990s progress, these battles rage on, and Amir's fiercest battle is within his own heart and his own conscience. The winter of 1975, and the secrets he holds from that time, gnaw at him and refuse to go away. Finally, a phone call from an old friend forces Amir to face his past, fight a battle he never could have imagined, and either reject or embrace his one chance for redemption.

Throughout the novel, we see the raw pain of reality; we see a nation cruelly dissembled and a man equally torn apart. These realities seem inescapable both for the people of Afghanistan and for Amir. The quote that I selected above, one of my favorites from the text, depicts the bleak sense of resignation that reality can impose upon our lives. But Hosseini offers the hope that perhaps we can be saved; perhaps we can transcend the ugliest, vilest, and most despicable of realities. If this is to be done, though, we must first battle our fears, our insecurities, and the ghosts we carry from the past. We must find faith, whether in God, our loved ones, or our promises. Only then can we hope to walk, even run, forward without the burden of history on our shoulders and within our souls.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Poem #3

Memorial Day Weekend

Barbecue smoke and sunscreen infuse my senses
As I take the first sip of summer
From a transparent Dixie cup.
Horizontal lines are embedded into my thighs
Where the lounge chair has left its tattoo.
I lean to leave a mark on you, too:
Maybelline, red,
On your lips that taste like chlorine.
You wave a temporary farewell
Before tossing your towel over your shoulder,
Your swim trunks dripping
And your feet leaving water marks

On the hot cement.

You’ll be showered and dressed
In ten minutes or less,
Before I can finish the “Celebrity Gossip.”
Page after glossy page,
I envy one girl’s tan,
Another girl’s calves.
As for me?
An hour a day on the treadmill,
The master of sun salutations,
Yet I still frown at my own reflection.

Later, over dinner,
You reach to wipe A-1 sauce
As it slowly dribbles down my chin.
We hold hands as the stars appear.
My thumb traces circles in your palm,
And maybe it’s okay that my nails are unpolished;
Because somehow I sense
That you see beyond
My black mascara,
My silky dresses,
My vanilla lotions.
Somehow I sense that you see to the core of me,
Perhaps even further.

Somehow I need you to.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Love and Glory, by Robert B. Parker

It's my first 'summer of 08' read. It only took a few days to complete. It's an unassuming, tiny paperback containing 200 pages, slightly yellowed since the novel's 1983 publication (I bought a used copy for under a dollar). It doesn't even enjoy an entry on Wikipedia (perhaps I'll write one). The novel is Love and Glory, and on the cover, Publisher's Weekly offers its opinion of the book's contents: "A genuine, haunting love story." If I had any qualms about devoting a few hours to this book, they were erased upon reading that description.

I'm the most hopeless romantic you'll ever meet. Sadly, though, this book did not meet my expectations.

I'm reminded of the summer, several years ago, in which I read some of James Patterson's works. Patterson writes thrilling suspense stories and murder mysteries, though they're often too gruesome for me. I remember being physically revolted by Roses are Red, even though it provided an enjoyable read for the most part. However, Patterson strayed from his traditional suspense stories to write Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, a touching, heartfelt love story that nearly brought me to tears. This story was so unlike his general canon, but Patterson succeeded with it through his artful mastery of portraying human emotion. I truly wish he'd published more such sentimental novels instead of the murder mysteries.

Anyway, Parker's Love and Glory is also a marked diversion from the author's main canon. Parker is most reputed for his "Spenser Novels," which are detective stories, and Love and Glory is supposed to be a heartfelt love story. I say "supposed" because I feel that Parker failed to accomplish the same feat that Patterson did; and I believe he failed, in large part, because of his over-reliance upon and flawed use of intertextuality.

I knew very little about the concept of intertextuality until this past semester, when we learned about it in my Literary Theory class. Intertextuality, briefly defined, is an author's use of prior texts to create meaning in his own, "new" text. It's when an author borrows themes, plot lines, even archetypic characters, from the immense canon of literature, and resituates them in a new arena.

That probably still sounds too abstract. And it never truly made sense to me until reading Love and Glory and being struck by its similarities to The Great Gatsby, which happens to be my favorite modernist novel; I've studied it in-depth for the past two semesters, and I've read it more times than I can count.

Love and Glory is a first person narrative, chronicling the youth and early manhood of Boone Adams, an English major at Colby University who slacks in his studies yet actually possesses a brilliant and creative mind. At the start of Freshman year, he falls in love with fellow-collegian Jennifer Grayle, and from that moment on, he was determined to make her love him too. Boone and Jennifer finally start to date during Sophomore Year, but Boone is kicked out of college because of his bad grades and prankster ways. Soon after, he's drafted into the Korean War and is forced to leave his comfortable lifestyle and the woman he loves. She promises that she'll love him while he's gone and wait for his return, but months later, she writes Boone a "Dear John" letter explaining that she's engaged to someone else. So begins Boone's quest to win her back and, in his words, make himself whole again.

Already, the similarities between this novel and Gatsby are striking. Gatsby loses Daisy to Tom Buchanan, a rich, socially elite, star football player who has the power and prestige that Gatsby had lacked. Boone loses Jennifer to John Merchent, a rich, socially elite, star basketball player, who has the power and prestige that Boone had lacked. Both Gatsby and Boone lose their women during the war. And both return from the war with a fierce determination to win their women back.

But the similarities don't end there. And I won't even try to extrapolate every single one. But here is a somewhat brief list:

1) Boone, as a character, is completely detached from his family. We never learn anything about his pre-Colby life, and he seems to be completely autonomous from his heritage. Likewise, Gatsby is a lone figure who creates his own identity (even changing his name) and is removed from all familial associations.

2) Both Boone and Gatsby have to hit rock bottom before rebuilding their lives and, in a sense, being reborn. Boone even credits Jennifer with his desire for "rebirth." Gatsby works on the river with Dan Cody, and Boone works as both a carpenter's assistant and a cook's assistant. In both of these jobs, Boone works with Dan Cody-like figures who are strong, manly, and benevolent. These apprentice type situations allow both Boone and Gatsby to "become men" and create new lives for themselves.

3) Gatsby, according to Nick Carraway's narrative, follows Daisy as if she were his "Grail." Boone is in love with Jennifer Grayle and follows her to achieve meaning in life. Enough said.

4) Daisy's marriage is less-than-perfect, and her relationship with her daughter seems artificial. Jennifer's marriage to John Merchent, as Boone eventually learns, is less-than-perfect, and her relationship with her own young daughter is troubled.

5) Daisy is characterized by her thrilling, almost musical voice, and her captivating conversation that nearly entrances the men upon whom she bestows her rapt attention. Jennifer is also characterized as possessing such communicative power, and Boone observes that when she listens to him speak, it's as if she truly cares about every word he has to say. He also suspects that other men feel the exact same way in her presence.

6) After the war, Boone goes west in search of himself (in fact, all the way to California), and after he "becomes a man," he goes East to rebuild his life. Likewise, both Nick Carraway and Gatsby go East to build new lives for themselves because the East seems to hold the promise of glittering dreams and financial fortune. And love.

7) Boone is consistently described by his clothes and his "oxford shirts." Gatsby is characterized by his meticulous wardrobe and his purported Oxford education.

8) Both books contain discussions of racial discrimination.

I could continue with this list, but hopefully the points already noted have made the intertextual elements clear. Perhaps most significantly of all, though, Boone cites The Great Gatsby within his narrative as the book that motivated him to get his life on track and win back Jennifer. He's inspired by Gatsby's rags-to-riches story, and he embarks on his own Horatio Alger-like quest to become a self-made man.

That's where my criticism comes in.

Citing Fitzgerald and his masterpiece within the novel is a huge mistake. By doing this, Parker not only makes it completely obvious who he's imitating, but he also creates a new set of expectations for the reader. Employing intertextual elements, in my opinion, can only be fruitful in two instances. First, the author must employ them so deftly and seamlessly that we are consciously unaware of their presence; we simply fall in love with a story because its archetypal themes ring true on a deeper level without marked identification of their existence. Alternately, the author must employ them so overtly and overwhelmingly that we are consciously aware of their presence but also intrigued and engaged as a result; we fall in love with a story because it follows a familiar pattern, it satisfies some emotional need, or it resituates a "timeless" tale within a modern context.

Parker does neither.

Sure, he over-infuses his text with Gatsby overtones, but by mentioning the classic within the narrative, Parker shows his cards where he shouldn't have. The conclusion of Love and Glory is notably different from Gatsby; I won't describe further, of course, but the result seems unnatural, disappointing, and anti-climactic. Parker echoes Fitzgerald for nearly 200 pages but then at the end, he sharply deviates and creates a new theme that is disparate, surprising, and unsatisfying (even though it is superfically "romantic").

Further, the characters never truly come to life for me. I suppose I felt some sympathy for Boone, but there was just something missing. A true love story must contain that certain sparkle, that indescribable, fantastical magic that makes the reader wistful, yearning, nostalgic, hopeful, and at peace. Some lines from the novel were poignant, but most of the supposed romantic scenes felt emotionally vapid.

I wouldn't recommend this book to those who are looking for a worthwhile love story. However, I do recommend it to those who have read and enjoyed The Great Gatsby because the two novels' connectedness is worth exploring. I'd like very much to hear others' opinions. It's a short and easy read, so give it a shot.

Meanwhile, I look forward to starting a new novel tomorrow.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Poem #2

I can only work on research papers for so long before I need a diversion. Just a few minutes ago, I glanced out the window to gauge how long it'd be before another thunderstorm hit. The sky is progressively growing darker, and the wind is calm as if preparing for a night of tumult. I love the feel of this.

As I gazed out the window, a blue jay came into view. He was beautiful, and it seemed as if he was looking right at me. So I wrote a short poem, changing the setting to morningtime. It's nothing grand (I literally wrote it in less than five minutes), but it was still fun to write about something unrelated to my current scholarly project.


Hello, blue jay.
You peer into my window with
Inquisitive, beady eyes,
Your beautiful feathers displayed proudly,
Preparing for flight.

You’re perched on a power line,
Greeting a timeless morning
Balanced upon the most modern of symbols.

How many of your ancestors
Have graced the windows of women like me,
In years gone by?
How many times have we envied your wings,
Even as we feared the open sky?

Off you go,
Aiming toward the old maple tree
With roots as deep as love.
I think I’d want to land there, too.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Short Story

I recently posted a short story. Since then, I've done a bit of editing. So here is the updated version!



The sun burned at the horizon as I stepped outside, balancing my cup of coffee in one hand while gently closing the door behind me. This condo was more than just a seaside rental; it had turned into a second home, a young lovers’ paradise. We’d stayed there for three consecutive summers, and at the end of each August we bid the place a solemn farewell through car windows nearly blocked by luggage. The location was ideal; walk the length of a football field, and you were at the shore, where the waves tumbled in softly, leaving bubbles and foam on the smooth sand. Every now and then, a thunderstorm would intrude upon our haven’s tranquility, but we never minded. The upstairs bedroom opened onto a balcony, and while the storm raged outside, we’d pull back the curtains and watch as the ocean churned in a wild chaos. We rarely got out of bed on those days.

This morning, though, was quiet as an old churchyard cemetery. I could almost feel the ghosts around me as my bare feet touched upon the cool, stone walkway. The air seemed electrified, but I heard nothing except the whisper of the waves as they approached then fell back, came closer then receded. Tourist season was over. It was the first of September, and another summer had burst into life and then abruptly, tragically died. Only this time, I mourned its loss alone.

I lifted my small, Styrofoam cup to my lips, tasting the overly sweet coffee while inhaling its fragrant steam. The hot liquid flowed down my throat and slowly soothed the burning caused by a sleepless night of tears. Through puffy eyes, I saw old Samuel hobbling down his driveway to retrieve the morning paper. He bent slowly, carefully, to pluck the parcel from the ground, and as he stood back up, his eyes caught mine and his face burst into a smile. I loved the man like a grandfather, and he loved me like the children (and grandchildren) he’d never had. But I didn’t want him to see me like this. I chided myself for not leaving out the back door.

"Good morning, sunshine!” he said in his usual upbeat sing-song.

His voice was raspy yet comforting, and for a moment I wanted to run to him and bury my face against his shoulder and sob. Instead I forced a smile accompanied by my usual, “Morning, Pops, what’s new?”

“Oh, nothing much,” he predictably replied as he began opening the plastic bag with trembling fingers. “The world’s a crazy place. I’m afraid to see today’s headlines.” He feared the state of world affairs, but he compulsively read The New York Times from cover to cover every day without fail. Sometimes I think his anxiety over everyone else’s futures kept him from feeling lonely.

“Yeah, it’s sad to see.” Armageddon could strike tomorrow, and yet no emotion stirred in me. The state of world affairs meant nothing compared to the state of my own. But I had to play the part. “Gas prices are sky rocketing even worse, huh?”

“What’s that? You ate something that gave you gas?”

I forced a half-hearted laugh. “No, no, I meant gasoline. You know, for our cars.” I inched closer. He looked up from his paper and stared into my face with a sage’s perception. Without any words, he knew what had happened, and I recognized his own recognition. But before he could verbalize anything, I turned and walked quickly toward the beach, my feet pounding hard against the stone pathway.

It seemed like five football fields this time, but at last I reached the shore. I tossed my now empty cup into a nearby trash receptacle, and I walked straight into the water. The waves sloshed up against my shorts, and the coolness of the morning ocean gave me goosebumps.

I stood there unaware of passing time, gazing toward the middle of the sea and hoping some solace would come to the shore, especially for me. But there were no boats in sight. There weren’t even any people. The unlikely loneliness of the beach on this morning, along with the cold water, sent chills down my spine, yet I found myself frozen in place. I could not retreat. Maybe I expected him to come up behind me, like he loved to do, and wrap his arms around my waist before snuggling his face next to mine. Together, we’d watch the waves roll in, and I’d never felt more connected to eternity than in those moments. There was something about the ocean, and something about love; and the union of the two gave birth to an almost-miracle.

As I reminisced in this way, I impulsively felt for the ring finger on my left hand. The shimmering golden band, which the jeweler had melded with my engagement band, had become a part of my own body. It had taken on human properties; it had represented life. But now, my heart raced as I tried to locate the tiny circle. All I could feel was flesh. The ring was gone, and I had to raise my pale, naked hand to my face to visually witness its absence. Total disbelief and panic set in, and I frantically splashed around in the water trying to locate the one remaining symbol of “us.”

No longer daunted by the chilly water, or the fact that I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, I dove into the water, eyes open and arms flailing. The ring had to be somewhere. It had to be. I hadn’t gone in too deep, and the waves were gentle this morning. The undertow couldn’t have carried it far. The shifting sand couldn’t have been that greedy. God couldn’t have been that cruel.

People had begun to come out to the shore for their morning walks, and a few gave me strange looks as they passed. Luckily, the walkers were few and far between, though I really didn’t care who saw me sloshing in the water, hair soaked, limbs trembling from the cold and the fear. This was my ring. It was my heartache. No one else could possibly understand.

The sun rose higher in the sky, and the wind shifted. Grey clouds began to obscure the brightness, and I was familiar enough with seaside climate to expect a storm within an hour. Maybe less. I still hadn’t found the ring, and I was exhausted from my attempts at its recovery. Nearly defeated, I trudged from the water and onto the sand, taking a moment to sit down and breathe. I spat sand and dirt from my mouth, and I squeezed water and tears from my eyes. It was a burning, salty mixture.

Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I saw someone running toward me. It was a little girl, about five or six years old, and she had something sheltered inside her small fist. A tall woman followed from a distance, but the girl’s speed brought her to me just seconds after I first noticed her. “Look what I found!” she exclaimed, her bright brown eyes glistening with joy and her dark curls framing an angelic face.

My heart leapt. I was speechless as she unclenched her fingers from around her precious discovery.

My heart fell. It was a small seashell. But to her, it was the whole world.

“Isn’t it pretty? Mommy says it was home for an animal. But the animal isn’t in there anymore.”

As my heart rate slowed, I carefully took the shell from the girl’s hand and tried to conceal my disappointment. “It’s – it’s beautiful,” I stammered, examining its mother-of-pearl sheen and the tiny points that interrupted its otherwise smooth surface. “Do you know what this type of shell is called?” The girl shook her head. “It’s a conch. And it did hold a tiny animal. This tiny little shell protected an animal’s life!”

The girl smiled and turned as her mother approached. “I’m so sorry she ran up to you like that,” the woman said with an apologetic smile. “She’s never been the shy type.”

I laughed. “Oh, that’s alright.” For a moment, I’d almost forgotten about the ring.

“Well, come on honey, let’s get going. Daddy’s waiting to cook us breakfast.” My stomach sank, but I retained my smile as I bid the woman and her child a farewell.

But then, as they walked away, the girl suddenly turned again, and she ran back up to me. Without a word, she stared into my face, just as Samuel had done earlier, and took my hand. She pressed the tiny shell into my palm, closed my fingers around it, and gave me the brightest, most loving smile. Stunned into silence, I felt her little fingers leave mine, and she walked happily away with her mother.

What seemed like a lifetime later, I pried my lethargic legs from the sand, and rose. I examined the tiny conch as the thunder rolled in. It truly was perfect to observe. No chips, nothing broken. But who knew what had been concealed inside for countless years and countless human lifetimes.

I walked slowly back to the condo, the conch held safely in my left hand. Upon reaching my place, I turned the doorknob and passed through the threshold, feeling the cool, wooden floor beneath my sandy feet. I walked into the living room and sank into my favorite beanbag chair. With the shell still in my hand, I fell asleep just as the first sheets of rain began to cleanse the windowpanes.