I was on top of a ladder that afternoon, hanging Christmas lights on the roof over the deck, when Julie came outside. She had her conch with her, and was wearing jeans. Ann must have given her the afternoon off.
She squinted up at me, shading her eyes with one hand.
"Isn't this your break?" she asked.
"I finally talked your mother into these, and I wanted to get them up, before it's too late."
"But aren't you going swimming?"
"I've given that up for awhile. You're not looking very happy."
"I'm going to miss this place."
"Yeah," I said, "Hand me the next string, would you?"
I decided to meddle a little.
"Are you sure you want to leave? Even for art school?"
"It's so important to Mom, you know? And painting, Mom says she spotted it before I could walk. It's the thing I was meant to do, my purpose, my, um… my…"
"Yeah. Vocation. That's what she said."
Definitely time for a meddle. I set the lights aside and came down the ladder.
"You remember our conversation about the dolphins the other day? About listening to the sea?"
"You still want to hear it?"
Her eyes measured me before she spoke.
"Well, I've got an idea that you might be one of those who can do it."
"It might take a little work. Would you mind that?"
She smiled a slow, knowing smile.
"Sure. I mean no, I wouldn't mind."
I took the conch out of her hands and turned it over.
"Take this to the beach, and listen to it for twenty minutes. Don't talk to anybody, don't read, don't take a radio. Just listen. Got it?"
She nodded, her eyes grave.
"Do that three times before sunset, and once early tomorrow morning. Then come tell me what it was like."
I considered. Better give it to her straight.
"Except for courage," I said.
"It's hard to hear what you're afraid to know. Go on, now."
A few steps away she stopped and looked back, over her shoulder.
"Thanks," she said.
I nodded and watched her wander toward the water. It was clear to me that the kid needed help sorting things out, and this might just do it. On the other hand, who knew? Maybe she could hear the sea like a dolphin—that would be something, wouldn't it?
I got back on the top of the ladder, and started stringing where I left off. Ann came out the door below me, and began clearing a table on the deck. She didn't look up when she spoke, and at first I wasn't sure she was talking to me.
"What was that all about?" she said.
I realized she must have been listening to us through the door.
"Just a little game. Something to amuse her."
She stopped wiping the table, but she still didn't look up.
"I really want you to understand," she said, "All I want is for her to be free. It's got to start somewhere."
"I know," I said, "That's exactly how I feel."
* * * * *
Julie was right, of course, about hearing the sound of the waves in a conch shell. It is your own pulse, amplified and bounced back by the shape of the shell. What she didn't know is that your pulse is a wave itself, traveling through your blood, connecting your whole body to the rhythm of your heart.
If you could have been a hawk that evening, circling high over the hills behind the restaurant, you would have seen a wonderful sight. Just at sunset, the Christmas lights came on at the restaurant, outlining the roof in red and blue and yellow and green. Behind those lights, the sunset, purple and gold, colored the sky and the sea.
And halfway between the water and the Christmas lights a lovely young woman sat, cross-legged in the sand, her ear to a shell, listening, as the rhythms of the sea without and the sea within became one.