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The Conch Shell Roars


The Cessna Grand Caravan 12-seat seaplane circles a tiny speck in the Andaman Sea on approach. Henrick watches the sky flare into magenta, scarlet, and saffron as dusk closes in. The island, flanked with sands the color of Carrara marble and warm azure waters should exhilarate, but instead his heart sinks. There is no pleasure to be had here.

It has been ten years since his last visit. The familiar fragrance of cashew trees permeates the air over the gentle murmur of waves. A towering vertical mass of limestone marks the way and Henrick begins the final leg of his journey via longtail boat. A sea of spray rushes ahead foretelling of his arrival.

He and Astrid loved to come to this paradise. She came for the snorkeling, spellbound by the colorful corals and displays underwater. And for the titan trigger fish, hawksbill turtles, blue spotted stingrays, the fabulous little nudibranchs, all within arms' reach. He, for the stunning panoramic views aboveground: the sea shining like glass beneath a cerulean sky, where he would while away the hours beneath the faint rustling of palms, reading.

Astrid loved sea life. Even after she waded out of the water limping up the beach, leg dripping with blood, a long tentacle wound around her waist and thigh, its tiny stingers fiercely embedded in her skin, she would stop to look with fascination at the peacock-blue man-o-war bubbles resting on the sand, their intense inky color alluring.

Henrik adored Astrid’s adventurous and playful impulses. He acquiesced of course, when she had wanted to return yet again to this paradise. He had suggested they go back to Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea. Each dawn they had been greeted by a blue-breasted fairywren vocalizing at the window of their bungalow; every pristine vista otherworldly. But they had many opportunities ahead, and one year here or there, they would still cover everything on their bucket list.

The longboat pulls up alongside the dock at the moonlit bay. Tiki lights stand like sentries flanking the path along the beach up to the main compound. The air eerily still and quiet. The beach, empty, save for memories. Henrick drags his feet. His flip-flops catch on nothing, but he stumbles nonetheless, releasing a cry too absurd and overblown for the tiny misstep. Grief like a heavy blanket, drags along the sand.

He smoothes down the edges of his ghost-white linen shirt, now untucked. Strands of silver and gray at his temples curl softly. His hand brushes the wayward wisps to the side, winding the longest unruly curlicue behind his ear. Bending down to pick up a pink conch shell, he rolls it in his hands, feeling its weight and heft. He clutches it to his belly loud like sorrow. There is nowhere to run. Astrid disappeared here. The tsunami pulling her down deep never to be seen again.

Henrick raises the conch to his ear listening for her roar.

First appeared in Cabinet of Heed, 2019