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memoir: shells

(Image via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY 4.0)

(Image via Wikimedia Commons – CC BY 4.0)

I can still close my eyes and remember summer holidays as a kid.

The car trip we made each year, to the small beach town on the other side of the mountain ranges.

The smell of eucalyptus and the soaked earth under the vine tangled rain forest, swallowing up the road as our car made its measured pace up the winding mountainside.

Air thick with anticipation and sticky humidity; bell birds echoing through the dark trees, reminding me this was some place different and special.


The wind made my hair dance as I hung my 10-year-old head out the window of the faded yellow Fiat, the scorching sun flickering across my nose.

Filled with excitement that soon I would be on the lookout for the ocean, in between the trees that blurred around us.

Dying to be the first one in the car to spot the water.

All arguments with my teenage sisters pretty much stopped in summer.

We instead joined forces in our excitement, ensuring we were a united front on important issues like later bed times, daily ice creams and hours spent in the waves without interruption.

All stresses and worries of my parents stopped too. They would smile at each other more on our holidays, and hold hands and kiss, as we marched behind them proudly, down palm-tree-lined streets at dusk.

Coming from a dusty, flat country town to the beach meant that everything as we arrived was shiny and intoxicating.

It felt like a different planet.

All of it a hazy, heated mosaic before me: the caravans on the second-hand lots reflecting the sun’s glare, which made me squint; the giant pointy alien-like palm trees adorning the car yards on our way in to town.

Cars, topped with surfboards parked along the forest’s edge, an assurance of waves just beyond.

The cicada’s constant pulsing, sometimes almost deafening as a backing track to it all.

Broken motel signs promising vacancy behind stark white and blue cement rendered walls.

It wouldn’t take long for us to submerge, sinking into it all too.

Stripy beach umbrellas driven into soft sand, thongs melting to our feet like the tar beneath them.

Hours upon hours were spent in the salty, sandy waves crashing me around, like a lone sock in a washing machine. Sea lice biting at my skin until I was forced to come in, parents calling from the shore line, “five more minutes!” before they bundled me up in a bright beach towel, heated from the sun’s rays.

As nightfall happened upon us at some point, while we were preoccupied with the magic of the day, jumpers were thrown over our swimmers and the race was on to find the biggest walking stick on the beach, popping stranded Blue-Bottle’s bellies along the wet sand with our heels, as we would squeal in delight.

I still stand in the fruit market today and think back to the whole watermelons Dad would chop up every afternoon, as we slurped on a slice as big as our heads, in our sand-logged swimmers. The brightest, deepest pink with the blackest of seeds.

We learnt about trailblazing with our cousins through the forests; slashing our way like proper explorers, making new trails for us to use as a short cut to the beach closest to the house we stayed in.

It was a moment in time, gone so fast.

It seemed like forever to me until the next summer rolled around and we made our way across the green mountains again.

I thought the anticipation would kill me.

At the end of my summer I had nothing to show for it but the peeling bubbled, brown skin across my shoulder tops.

It is why I made the decision to at least collect some shells along the shoreline each summer.

The only way I could manage to capture a piece of the magic in my pocket, to take back with me when things felt flat and dusty again.

Now I wish I had something to hold on to, something like anticipation or a handful of seashells. Something to not make me feel so flat and dusty.


Days are blurring fast like the trees on the mountainside, and I feel I have nothing to move towards and nothing to show for it.

I would give anything to be that kid again with my head out the window squealing in delight for what was coming up around the bend. For all I had ahead of me in life, which, to me at that age, was everything.

The shells I have collected as an adult aren’t worth keeping. They are now scars on my lower belly, wrinkles around my eyes and injections in the drawer of the fridge.

And I fucking hate each one of them.

I live near the beach now; it never lost it’s magic. It seems that only I somehow have.

Maybe I should start collecting shells again and trick myself.

Maybe I should stick my head out the car window more often and feel the breeze dance across my face.

Get it back somehow.

Dive in the waves for hours and laugh and only come in when the sea lice have bitten my skin raw.

I am lucky because I at least have someone back on the sand with a big bright beach towel to bundle me up with when I finally come in; I do have that tiny magical shell, always.

Until the next exciting thing comes my way, I pocket what I can for now.


Emma Brooker is a writer based in Newcastle, NSW. You can read more of her work here.

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