Jane found John inside of a seashell that she purchased whimsically while she was on Lake Ontario’s northwestern shore. Certain varieties of shells, apparently, are expensive in Toronto, and Jane assumed this was because of the septentrional orientation. Transit always upped the value of any commodity outside of its own acclimation zone, and just trying to kick your feet out in the form of walking came with taxes and tolls and tickets, Jane knew that. She liked to paint and her familiarity with blue and green eyes were from renderings, pictures and myths. Jane wasn’t from Toronto. Her namesake was a simple heirloom of her mother’s mother’s self-loathing, her mother who’d been named Betty in a town where everything was a simplistic variation on brown hues. Jane herself had been named via a missionary’s book about a spotted dog.
And there was no such thing as growing up, only growing out. Had anything inhabited this shell, Jane wondered when she saw it?
The thing was a conch shell. It almost had a certain stubborn rictus: its wind-breastplate was bleached grim and ivory from whichever climates it had experienced, it had a high spire that still looked proud, a noticeable siphonal canal, and a layer of fuzzy dust from being shelved. Perforation crowned the flared segments.
Jane haggled, but the thrift-store proprietor had large feet and she ended up paying what he asked, only sacrificing her mood and time for the effort.
That same night, beneath an oatmeal-snow sky, she first put the shell to her ear. John said: That’s me in the seashell. If you’re going to listen, we can pretend it’s the ocean. But I won’t come out, I won’t ever fill a room.
And when she whispered back, she said: There are no rooms left in my world, and I don’t want to stay. I will pretend to be the air in your room. We can battle to observe a reflection of space, we can crucify ourselves to the elements. And that will be enough, whether you concede or not.
And so she sat on the bench on old Yonge Street, which had once been considered an extensive avenue, and held the conch aperture upwards under the snow. Porridge crystals landed standing on her hair and built themselves thicker along her scalp partition, white-breath vapor tore from her face and found quick assimilation in the static. She felt the flesh of her hands go thick and finally white.
So, before it was too late, and with a writ of concern on her stiff cheeks, Jane pushed her numb digits into the hole of the conch and moved them about until she found purchase.
Street lamps twinkled, bathing everything around them in whorls of orange or tungsten; a quickening accumulation became a general shroud over Toronto and the northeast seaboard. They shivered and their teeth chattered, they laughed together but hushedly. It quickly became impossible to distinguish the motions from the blanket.
And so that night the wind howled, buffered by the storm, and the vast lake of Ontario blew inward and ashore, raising its frothline to a bench now blank of person and shell.