Lit: The Shell Collector

by Andrew Keys on May 14, 2010

I intended to post something of substance written by me today, but it ain’t happenin’. Banner images here are acting up, probably because they know the cat’s away. Please disregard the man behind the curtain and instead be distracted by a favorite passage from a favorite short story:

But it was wading ankle deep, when his toes came upon a small round shell, no longer than a segment of his thumb, that the boy truly was changed. His fingers dug the shell up, he felt the sleek egg of its body, the toothy gap of its aperture. It was the most elegant thing he’d ever held. “That’s a mouse cowry,” the doctor said. “A lovely find. It has brown spots, and darker stripes at its base, like tiger stripes. You can’t see it, can you?”

But he could. He’d never seen anything so clearly in his life… Overnight his world became shells, conchology, the phylum Mollusca… At sixteen, burning for the reefs he had discovered in books… he left Whitehorse for good and crewed sailboats through the tropics: Sanibel Island, St. Lucia, the Batan Islands, Colombo, Bora Bora, Cairns, Mombassa, Moorea. All this blind. His skin went brown, his hair white. His fingers, his senses, his mind – all of him – obsessed over the geometry of exoskeletons, the sculpture of calcium, the evolutionary rationale for ramps, spines, beads, whorls, folds.

The Shell Collector, Anthony Doerr.

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