How would I describe the memory of the feeling of a shell?
A sensory-led writing exercise I gave myself at bedtime last night and worked on in the dark.
I imagine running my finger over the back of a medium sized shell. Something dislodges under the weight of my thumb and falls away in a tiny clump, I’m not sure if it’s sand, or a part of the shell itself, or both. I think of the shell as dry, warm, with a grainy texture that is almost granite-like.
It’s odd when I try to remember the feeling- the touching sensation- of a shell, it conjures more of a place, a mood, maybe even a soundscape before I can think of where the small ridges of my skin meet the more pronounced undulations of this lost little home. I don’t really want to think of those other things, so I try to delve deeper into my senses- my body in relation to other ridged objects; the slats of a wooden recliner wedging my body fat into new curves; the motion of my hand propelling a mallet over the cuts on the back of a wooden güiro.
I think about running my nails over the shell to produce a sound, how it hurts a little when I pull them across but when I strum forward over it I remember it must feel like running your finger over a comb, or letting a stick bang rhythmically along the poles of a fence as you walk. I push the pad of my thumb flat into the ridges and imagine how I could see the shape copied, temporarily, onto my skin.
In my mind-hand I turn the shell over to rub the smooth inner surface.
My thumb always rubs the inside of shells. Instinctively I explore their topology, toying with pressure, using the lip to gently press the blood away from my skin for just a second before nestling into that centre point that’s most protected. I like it to sit where the shell used to join with another just like it- my thumb making a new hinge. I think ‘are shells made of the same material as fingernails?’ I can’t remember if skin and hair and fingernails and shells are all made of the same stuff, but it begins to feel unnerving. Something about the idea of rubbing my skin-shell against another one, something about how easy a shell is to crush into sand.
I can never quite tell the difference between imagination and memory. I feel like my shell story is a mental collage made from so many distinct, vivid snippets of moments I’ve lived and touched and felt, but as I write it I come to find it flowing in a way that imagination doesn’t often flow for me. I suddenly feel as though I’m writing a fiction, but I - who have held so many shells in my life - surely cannot be imagining this feeling, so I push on.
I try to imagine being a mollusc- maybe me as a mollusc. My bare skin against this expanse of slightly pearlescent floor, cool like marble, and walls rounding seamlessly around my body. I like thinking about the way the sunshine breaches the part-open seam at the end of the shell, sending slight ripples of colour across my cool, dark little space. I like the way the sounds of the shore are muffled by the walls but the rich, strong smell of the sea and the weeds and the other creatures and the people waft in at intervals, filling my alone-space for a second with vibrance.
I started to think I would like to be a mollusc until I remembered being underwater and couldn’t bear to imagine it anymore.
I think I would like to be a small person, held in a shell. I’d like to feel someone’s thumb, thrumming along the outside of the ridges of my other-body, pressed into their skin- my outline a brief imprint on theirs.