She lies peacefully beneath the currents, nestled in a bed of tangled seaweed.
A tiny silver fish darts by.
Following closely is larger fish covered with striped frills of white and orange. The smaller fish weaves between the reeds, desperately trying to lose its pursuer. First it turns one way, and then another. Its little fins cut through the water as it skims passed rainbow corals and dark caves, but an unlucky turn leads it straight into the jaws of a larger predator.
After the struggle all is quiet.
As the disturbed sand settles back down to the ground, her shell slowly opens to catch one little grain. She closes her shell with a snap, tucking the grain safely within her belly. Over time the grain grows and grows, becoming more lustrous with each day.
It changes from a dirty grey speck into a beautiful pearl.
The clam drifts off to sleep in her endless blue garden, her precious grain lying hidden from the world.
Underneath the roar of the winter storms, the harbour roils and foams. The ships don’t dare sail at this time of year, and all the fishing boats refuse to leave the safety of the docks.
All except for one.
The little boat bounces over the angry sea like a piece of driftwood. It creeps further out into the steel grey waters, unafraid of the towering waves. The fisherman grasps a rope with both hands and pulls with all the strength left in his tired old arms.
His fishing net rises from the depths.
It spills out onto the deck, empty aside from a tangle of seaweed. He knows that there’s little hope of catching anything during such a storm, but still he throws his net back into the waves.
He can’t afford not to try.
While the other fishermen remain indoors beside a roaring fire, he braves the icy gales and violent surf for one last catch. His arthritic fingers ache with every pull of the rope. Still he labours through the storm, knowing that every fish will matter.
His boat lurches suddenly.
It rushes away from the harbour, carried by an unseen current. Veils of rain soak through him as he fights to steer the boat back towards the vanishing shore. As he passes through another wall of rain, he stops pulling on the line and looks around.
The boat floats quietly in a tiny circle of calm.
For a moment the sun shines through the clouds as schools of fish swirl around him. He throws his net into the teeming waters. And yet, as he pulls it back into the boat, every single fish manages to escape his net.
Instead there’s a battered clam tangled in the ropes.
He picks it up.
It slowly opens in his palm to reveal the treasure within.
Every day for the last two years he has worked in the docks building boats. But not today. He sits in the weathered boathouse, staring into the waves. Clutched in his hand is his reward for two years of tireless labour. He bought it from an old fisherman who was bragging about his prize at the local tavern.
He waits, trying not to fidget as the little cloth bag hangs heavily in his hand.
Tiny beads of condensation gather in his hair as he looks out at the still and silent shore. He brushes them away unconsciously. The air is warm and heavy like a woollen blanket and the pressure descending from the sky feels threatening.
He looks down the shoreline again.
That’s when he spots her wandering along the sand, her red hair whipping out behind her. She walks a little quicker when she spots him, a smile blooming on her lips. Her skirts are made of fine blue silk and he notices how her golden earrings glisten in the light. As she approaches the boathouse, he unwraps the pearl from its cloth with shaking fingers.
His heart pounds as he holds it out to her.
He asks his question.
Her face turns white and she stays silent for much too long. The seconds drag on like hours. He feels a rush of pain spreading through his chest as she gives a small shake of her head. Forcing air back into his lungs, he accepts her answer with a weak smile.
She tells him about the young lieutenant she has fallen in love with.
She tells him how happy her father is and how jealous all her sisters are.
He embraces her one last time before she leaves.
When the wind has erased her footprints from the sand and the water has turned to a midnight black, he leaves the shelter of the boathouse and tosses the pearl to the waves.