Abalone Courage

By Elani Wales

I wear it sometimes, to remind me.

Once there was an abalone. It lived in the waters off the coast near Anchor Bay, my dad’s old surfing hangout. It would have clung fast in the cold dark water, tucked safely under the waves as they rolled in. It would have held on until it couldn’t one day, knocked loose and undone, until someone found the treasure inside it. All abalone shells are miracles of color, but this one is special. The pearly lights and bright pinks and ocean blues are so vivid they look more real than real, but you can rub the pad of your thumb across it and tell that it’s true. Someone made it into a ring so wide it covers a whole section of my middle finger, an oval of rainbows set in heavy silver.

It was in the last days, when we already knew the end was coming, and the only question was when. Hospice had been and gone and been and gone, as they tried and failed to limit my dad’s suffering. He had been a painter, once. Huge canvasses full of wild strokes and the sea, full of sunlight and the texture of rocky beaches. No more. Cancer takes everything from you, including the strength of your hands. He could use coloring books still, more or less. And we could still talk, because I had learned the trick of speaking clearly and not noticeably slowly. Of waiting for him to win the battle with failing, choked lungs before he could answer. So there was still some kind of happiness and some last time together, even then.

It was even after that, when the morphine wasn’t enough and there were no more gaps in suffering and waiting. I rolled him to the table in his wheelchair, because it was also after he was too tired to refuse the help. We sat and talked, one last time, and I saw it on his hand. An oval set in heavy silver, shining with all the colors from his paintings, from the coloring books, from the windy coast where he lived when he met my mom. He was so tired, and he had so few choices left, but he had made one. When there was nothing left, he chose beauty.

I wear it sometimes, to remind me.

Elani Wales is a certified German to English translator and poet. Her work has been published in W.E.I.R.D. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where her work is informed by a rotating cast of barn owls, ravens with surprisingly loud opinions, and a big floppy dog. In the digital world, she can be found at poet.elaniwales.com.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Digital Watercolor)

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