Bud Smith grew up in NJ, and currently lives in Washington Heights. His books are the short story collection, Or Something Like That, the novel, Tollbooth, and the poetry collection, Everything Neon. His writing has appeared at The Nervous Breakdown, Word Riot, the Bicycle Review, among others. He hosts The Unknown Show, edits at JMWW and Uno Kudo, works heavy construction in power plants and refineries.
The seashell spoke to me. All nice things. Don’t alert the guards or anything. The seashell was encouraging.
At first our discussions happened at dawn, while I slouched at the kitchen table. The seashell said things like, “Big day today, bet you do good.”
“Big day? I’m a janitor.”
“Oh, god, quit that job.”
“No one mops like you, but update your résumé.”
“I’ve seen your potential. I watch your dreams. Did you know they flicker in my shell like a movie. Last night’s was wonderful.”
I sipped my coffee. I’m no good with compliments.
After work, if I came home and needed someone to talk to, I knew I could always count on the seashell. As a joke, the seashell would even mimic the sea, the waves, seagulls, but it would sound like if me or you just did it as a gag.
“What’s your name?”
“You don’t wanna know,” it said.
We left it at that.
On Tuesdays, we had Quiz Night. I enjoyed it greatly, partly because I always won. The seashell would ask me question after question, and I always knew the answer.
“Who invaded Spain in 1814?”
“What is the strongest muscle in the human body?”
“How far is the moon in miles?”
“Right now?” I looked out the window, through a sliver between two brick walls. I could see the moon up there, a golden ball, formed many years ago when this planet was struck by an asteroid as big as Mars.
“Far,” I said. “The moon is far.”
“238,855 miles,” the seashell said. “But I’ll accept ‘far’ as a correct answer.”
I don’t know exactly when I started to carry the seashell with me everywhere, but I did, cupping it in both hands, as it made comments on the scenery, like some kind of tour guide. “Nice lawn. Lush.” “Look at those beautiful clouds.” “Check out that seashell mailbox. Ha! Some people have quite a sinister soul.”
Velcro’d on the dashboard the seashell gave directions as I drove. “Turn left here, turn left here, okay, go about a quarter mile and then veer right on Perigee Place.”
It didn’t like to go into my pocket, it’d stab me severely, and I couldn’t blame it, so I began to wear the seashell around my neck, like an oversized, iridescent amulet.
People thought I was a mystic.
I got stranger looks while I mopped at my job. Life evolves.
As I pushed the cart around the grocery store, the seashell would suggest things that I’d never thought to try: fresh tarragon, beets, natural pink sea salt from the Himalayas, water cress.
The nights got longer as the days went nowhere.
“We should get going?” it said, nightly, as I slept.
I’d tap it on the night stand, as if it had a snooze button.
“Stop that! Pack your bags, let’s go.”
“You know where.”
I had to move the seashell into the kitchen, hidden under a glass cake lid. I slept with a duck feather pillow over my head. It wouldn’t stop singing.
The white noise machine helped slightly.
Last Tuesday I was hit crossing the street. I was in a harsh argument with the seashell, and didn’t see the car. Both my legs are shattered now. My arm is broken in six spots. My skull is bruised like a watermelon about to go in the dumpster. The seashell was smashed to dust.
Yet, just last night, while the ward was quiet, and the drugs hummed in me, I heard its voice say, “What’s the capital of Venezuela?”
“Caracas,” I said.
The night nurse peeked in. I said, “I’m fine.”