A man brings home a seashell for his son.
“I found it on the beach,” says the man, who has just come back from a business trip in Florida. “Put it to your ear and you can hear the ocean.” The boy takes the shell, which is as wide across as a coffee cup, and puts it to his ear.
“Oh my God, we are getting so burned,” a high-pitched voice says. The boy takes the shell quickly away and examines it.
“Did you hear it?” the man asks. The boy tries it again.
“That’s no kind of moat,” a heavy voice says. “Donovan, look. Look how Daddy made his moat. You have to really dig.”
“See?” the father says, and bends to down to run his hand through the boy’s hair.
In the hour before dinner the boy keeps the shell pressed to his ear.
“I could really go for clams tonight,” a voice says.
“If Kenny calls me tonight, I’m going to totally tell him to go to Hell. Totally.”
“Now those, gentlemen, are some jugs.”
After the boy is tucked in and he hears his parents go downstairs, he turns on his light and retrieves the shell. He hears someone talking about being sick of a song, a woman’s voice wondering if her bathing suit is really chartreuse, and the happy babbling of a baby. Someone says the lifeguard is never paying attention, and that’s why he had to repeat his senior year, and someone else says the ocean looks dirty. “Like muck. Wait, is muck an actual word?”
Then the boys hears his father’s voice in the shell.
“I’m looking for a shell for my kid,” he says. “Or I guess I could buy one in shop.”
“He’s so cute in those picture,” a woman says. “I wish I could just meet him one time.”
“Yeah, well, you know that can’t happen,” his father says. “”That’s nothing but an invitation for trouble. Serious trouble. Hey, there’s a shell. That one is not bad. Baby, look at this one a minute.”
The boy removes the shell and studies the flecks of brown on the outer edge. He examines it from every angle, holding it over his head, then turns off the light.
The next morning, after his mother has left for breakfast and his father is finishing his coffee, the boy pulls the shell out of his pocket.
“We need to go in five minutes,” the father says while attending to his cell phone.
The boy puts the shell squarely on the table, causing a loud whack. The father takes a minute to looks up and sees that his son’s mouth is twisted slightly, his eyes wide, expectant.
“You like that shell, buddy?” his father says. “You like that?”