A Bucket of Shells

Grandma Sherry

It was a sunny day, though that was always subject to change in Florida. One minute the sun was shining and the next, the storm clouds roll in and shake the windows. Even that kind of weather can become predictable if you watch the wind and the time for long enough. Either way, the sun was sweltering in the summer heat which made being outside somewhat unbearable. 

It was this same summer heat that was causing Vanessa's legs to stick to her leather seat as her mother drove them across the state itself. Vanessa looked out the window, but Florida’s highways were as boring as the town in which they were headed towards. A small coastal town on the east coast of Florida was a fitting place to enjoy the summer if you all you wanted to do was lie down on the beach and eat. These were two past times that Vanessa only cared to do in small doses. In short, she really was not looking forward to being there for the summer or for the next year.

“Oh please don’t look so glum, Vanessa,” her mother said, casting wary eyes in the rearview mirror. “This will be fun. A summer with grandma, who isn’t getting any younger. Let me remind you of that. Besides, your father and I will be there soon.” 

“Yippee,” Vanessa responded, letting her eyes drift outside once more.

“Vanessa, really,” her mother answered, her voice huffing. “You never know you might have a good time.” 

Vanessa couldn’t stop herself from feeling annoyed at the prospect of spending both the summer and her final year of high school in a tiny town without any of her friends. She did not like the sound of spending time with her grandmother, who was a bit old and batty. She did not like most of things that were happening to her and she hated even more that she was not in control of any of these decision. 

The hours passed by on the highway continuously in this way: her mother convincing her to cheer up, Vanessa being annoyed and her mother responding in an exacerbated way. Vanessa wondered how long they could continue this way until, at last, the rolled up to a dingy looking house on the beach. The house was yellow, in spots, but peeling away in most others. The stairs were broken and the porch seemed to just barely being holding up against the tropical humidity and continuous rain. 

Vanessa’s grandmother was actually resting on this very porch. She was asleep. She was sitting in an equally shabby looking rocking chair. Her long white hair cascaded around her and down her shoulders. Her hands were laying slacked inside two separate sand buckets: one labeled ‘pretty’ and the other ‘ugly.’ The sound of the doors opening and slamming shut did not wake her nor did the jumbled noises of bags being lifted onto the ground. 

It was not until Vanessa’s mother walked up the steps and grabbed her mother’s shoulders. “Hey, Ma. Wake up,” she said, shaking her shoulders slightly. Her grandmother awoke almost in a blur of a loud rasping breath, wild movements of white hair and her rocking chair launching backwards. 

“Oh,” she said, dropping a handful of something back in the bucket where they made a tinkling sort of sound. “It’s you. Thought it was so stupid kids again. See what they did to my window,” she said, twitching her head to the side. There was, indeed, a shattered window with a garbage bag taped up around it.

“Oh, Ma,” her mother said, affectionately brushing her hair. “I can have Larry fix that, you know? We’ll all be here soon enough.”

Vanessa, with her duffle bag slugged over her shoulder, walked up the steps. She was close enough now to see that the buckets were full of shells and smaller rocks and were divided between what Grandma Sherry deemed as ugly or pretty. Vanessa almost smiled, but was more confused than anything else. 

“Oh, V. I’m so glad you’re here!” Her grandmother said, hopping up and launching at her. She moved quicker than you’d expect for both someone her age and someone who was just sleeping. “I haven’t seen you in ages. Aren’t you a fine looking woman?” She said, with a chuckle and wrapped a finger in her chocolate locks.

Vanessa always remembered her grandmother quite fondly though still an old woman. She was a quirky with a fascination for shells and an oddly happy way of going about life. She always brought Vanessa shells when she came to visit, as if they were really special, even though Vanessa and her family did actually live in Florida, just not on the coast. She always slid Vanessa $5 even when she got older and realized that kind of money did not actually get you too far. She would also always put Vanessa to bed by playing with her curls until she was drowsy and kissing her forehead when it was bed time. It was nice when she was younger, but all of that now seemed sort of out of place

“Let’s go inside,” she said as she pulled Vanessa inside the house.

The inside of the home was far better put together than the outside of the house. The home was decorated in a traditional beachy style: white whicker furniture and vases of shells gracing every tables' surface. The kitchen was spotless and completely white with the only spot of color being the turquoise fridge and coffee machine. Vanessa glanced around because her grandmother always came to them and this was the first time she ever visited. Though, in truth, it did look exactly as she imagined it would look: clean, beachy and a bit quirky.

“V, your bedroom for the summer is the second door at the right,” her grandmother called. “Water, Cami?” She asked her mother as Vanessa headed towards her room. She left her mother and grandmother in the kitchen to allow herself a reprieve from her mother’s relentlessly cheery disposition.

Her room was a bit more bland than she expected and devoid of any shells (which was yet another surprise). The bed was white with a soft pink quilt on top and the dresser was white as well. The window was facing the shining sun, though as it set it did not cast in as much light. All that meant to Vanessa was that she’d be waking up a lot earlier than she ever planned to over this summer. She dropped her bags down onto the bed and kicked off her shoes with a huff. Tears were suddenly stinging her eyes and this moment alone was something she was really looking forward to. Frustration and a feeling of loneliness overwhelmed her, but it was kept company with the feeling of knowing this was her best choice.

She blinked, hurriedly wiped her eyes and went to join her mother once more. She stepped into the hallway, but stopped because her mother’s voice was low and hurried.

“Listen, Ma. Vanessa is having a rough summer and I think she’s more okay with being here than she will let on. Just make sure you know where she’s going and what she’s up to. After everything that happened,” her mother paused and sighed. “We’re moving here to keep her away from trouble.”

“Cami, I’ll do my best, but I’m not going to chain her up like a princess in a rather shabby tower. She’s still a kid. Kids make mistakes,” her grandmother said in response. Vanessa felt the weight on her chest disappear in that moment. She was already punished harshly for her actions at the end of last year. She closed her eyes again, suppressing more tears.

“Is everything okay?” Vanessa said, walking back into the kitchen.

“Of course, V,” her grandmother said with a smile. “We were just talking about what to eat for dinner. Your mother does not want pizza. I always enjoy pizza. We can’t seem to agree,” she said with a chuckle. Her blue eyes were sparkling as she spoke and Vanessa was not sure exactly what the meant, but she felt comforted by it. As much as she was not excited to be here, something felt right just in one look.

“Well, I think pizza sounds perfect,” Vanessa said. “I’m gonna unpack.”

“Pizza it is!” Her grandmother called as Vanessa turned back to her room.

The rest of the afternoon passed full of unpacking and little quips from her mother as she helped. She only uttered words of encouragement about getting a nice tan, spending time on the beach and in the water. She mentioned starting at a new school with a complete new beginning. Vanessa pretended the words were comforting, but there are things that can happen that can change a person forever. She felt changed in a way she never expected and she was not sure what all of that meant.

When the pizza finally came and her bags were unpacked, the three women all sat on the couch with small smiles on their faces. They ate, they talked and they laughed. It was bright like the sun that was shining just a few hours ago. They told old stories: Cami of her daughter and Sherry of hers. They laughed until their bellies were full, their hearts were happy and a quiet settled down over them.

“You have to leave so soon, Cami?” Grandma Sherry asked.

Her daughter grabbed her hand and smiled. “Yes, got to wrap things up at the house and bring everything else, but this is just a glimpse at what the next year will look like, right?” Her mother’s brown eyes shone bright with excitement and hope. Vanessa forced a soft smile and laid her hand on top of her mother’s and grandmother’s.

“Yeah, I sure do hope so,” Vanessa said, leaning her head against her grandmother’s shoulder.