‘Have you thought anymore about getting a bigger place?’ I asked Shelley as we peered into the depths of the rock pool.
She reached for a piece of seaweed but stopped with a hiss of pain.
‘It’s getting a little snug, isn’t it?’ I nodded to the shell on her back. ‘I went through that, it was like the walls were closing in on me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.’
She shifted casually to release the tension between her claw and her pale pink shell. ‘It’s really not that bad.’ She didn’t go back for the seaweed.
I fished it out and passed it to her. ‘It’s been a good home to you and it’s beautiful but you need something bigger, somewhere with room to grow.’
‘I’m happy here.’
‘I know, I was happy in my first place too. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else but things changed.’ I nibbled on a piece of seaweed. ‘I’ve seen you looking at the other shells. I know you feel it, the desire to break free, to try something new. It’s scary but it means you’re ready.’
‘You make it sound so easy.’
‘It wasn’t. The world seemed so huge and terrifying. All I wanted was to hide away.’
‘I’m not hiding.’ She had hunched back into her shell but she stretched out now.
‘Of course not, but things aren’t right, are they? Not with that crack letting in the sun and the sand.’ Shelley had survived an encounter with a gull.
She swivelled her eyes to try to see the crack. ‘It’s fine, I can’t even tell it’s there.’ She huddled closer into the shadows.
‘Right now your shell feels like the safest place in the world but home is wherever you are, not the walls that surround you.’ I tapped the edge of my conch. ‘You remember my old snail shell, right? It was perfect, so snug, smooth as silk. I thought it was my forever home but things changed, I changed, I grew, and I had to move on.’
‘Yeah but you found somewhere nice.’ She sighed and her antennae drooped. ‘What if I don’t?’
‘What if you do? A gorgeous shell washed up on the beach yesterday. I had to trust that the perfect place would find me and it did. If you’re ready, the right home will find you. And when it does you get to decide what you take with you and what you leave behind. You get to reinvent yourself and it feels amazing, like you can breathe again. The weight of the past is gone and you’re free. The whole world looks different, feels different. It’s exciting.’
‘I don’t know if I can.’
‘I’ve seen you fight off a gull, fall twenty feet and survive. You can do this. I believe in you and you’re not alone, I’m right here with you. Trust me, everything’s going to be okay. Better than okay, it’s going to be amazing.’
I wrote this piece for a writing class. It led me to research hermit crabs and I discovered this amazing video of them swapping shells. It has the bonus of David Attenborough's lovely voice.
Claire Wade is the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition and author of The Choice. She was bed bound for six years with severe ME, trapped in a body that wouldn't do what she wanted. She now writes about women who want to break free from the constraints of their lives, a subject she's deeply familiar with.