by Erica Plouffe Lazure
The one big shell we find on the beach today has something living in it. It is a dark, gelatinous tube shaped thing, a sea slug perhaps, and all of us wants the shell but none of us wants to kill the slug to own it. Or, should I say, none of us wants to touch the slug to own it. There are six of us all from school, and I am the finder of the shell. I am the holder. I am the one who normally has no say and no power about our ‘herd’ as my brother calls us, as if we were horses. And sometimes, like now, I almost like to think of us as horses, our hair waving every which way as the wind kicks up, then the ribbons of sand that follow the wind and get in our eyes and hair, and we try to tame the tangles but it never works and we never stop moving, the group of us, on the beach. The herd of us. Someone says that he needs a name. Someone else suggests we crack the shell open to get the slug out. ‘Haven’t you read that bible story about the baby?’ someone says.
‘What was it?’
‘Well, there’s these two mothers and they both say the baby is theirs and the king, or judge, or someone, tells them they can each have the baby if they cut it in half.’
‘That’s stupid. The baby would die.’
‘So, how is this like cutting a baby?’
‘How stupid can you get?’
‘Quit saying ‘stupid’!’
‘If you break the shell, you lose the shell and the slug dies.’
We are all quiet for a moment, and for a herd of horse tweens on a beach, the moment feels long, almost too long. Finally, someone asks, ‘So what happened to the baby?’
‘Oh. The fake mom agreed to cut the baby. But the real mom cried and said ‘no, you keep him!’ Because she couldn’t bear to see her son die. And then the judge guy said, ‘Clearly you are the real mother’ and he let her keep the baby. The end.’
The wind whips up around us again and the sea slug, once attempting to prove a menace, has since retreated into his shell. It is cream and coral, built in layers of patterned sediment, and holds the shape of a delicate scepter. I picture it on my mantle of treasures, where I keep my hardened coral, broken friendship bracelets, marbles, and other trinkets that have become placeholders for memory.
‘We need to give him a name.’
‘No. Lawrence. Lawrence whelk.’
The sea slug shifts uncomfortably in its home in my palm, and I cast my gaze out beyond my herd, toward the steel grey blue ocean, the waves today are stronger, more urgent than usual. I wade in, letting my ankles and feet acclimate to the moving salty water.
‘Where are you going with Lawrence?’
‘No, it’s Moses! That’s the name of the baby! I just remembered!’
I walk in, knee high, and with the surety of a star softball pitch, I cast Lawrence home. I turn toward my herd, expecting a reaction, an outcry, something to praise or critique my unilateral decision, but they’ve moved on to the next thing, the next shell, the next cute boy, the next summer day.
Erica Plouffe Lazure is the author of a flash fiction chapbook, Heard Around Town, and a fiction chapbook, Dry Dock. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, the Greensboro Review, Meridian, American Short Fiction, The Journal of Micro Literature, The Southeast Review, Fiction Southeast, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK), Vestal Review, National Flash Fiction Day Anthology (UK), Litro (UK), and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in Exeter, NH and can be found online at ericaplouffelazure.com.