Priscilla was sitting in Gaff’s spot reading a book when he got there.
Gaff arrived at the beach in the afternoon because he spent the morning doing errands with Julia. He shook his head. Julia and her bridge group! He looked around the beach: this was his bridge group, he thought. As he put out the chair and the flag and the fishing rods, Gaff stole looks at Priscilla, waiting for her to start talking. She was troubled by something and he didn’t want to intrude without being asked. He could wait.
Priscilla slid next to him as he greeted Mother Water, dipping his hands into a wave to make the connection with the energy of the planet. He mumbled a prayer of thanksgiving— for his family and friends and for his own health and happiness. He couldn’t imagine being happier. They stood side by side looking out to the horizon, at life sustained by the water of the planet. He glanced at his companion to see her hands empty: no book. The frown was still there, though.
Gaff chuckled as he looked at the tip of his fishing rod to see if he had a nibble. “I was just thinking that I couldn’t be happier and you’ve got that frown.”
Another shake of her head. “I just don’t get it. I’m doing the lessons in this workbook. There’s one for each day—365– and I’ve gotten stuck on the very first one.” Something in the sand caught her eye and she picked up a shark’s tooth. A nod of satisfaction at her good luck. She brushed sand from it.
Gaff grinned. He was used to his friend’s hyperbole. The drama made her more interesting, he thought. “What is it that you don’t get?”
Priscilla jammed the tooth into her pocket as she stooped to pick up something else. “The book says to keep looking around the room telling ourselves that whatever we see doesn’t have meaning.”
Gaff wiped hands on pants before fishing mints out of his pocket. He offered one to Priscilla. “Seems pretty straight forward. What don’t you get?”
Priscilla held the shell for him to see. “This is a shell and it does have meaning. We couldn’t talk about it if it didn’t.”
Gaff poked with a finger and then returned his eyes to the water. “Is this the book that teaches how to see things differently?”
A nod, still inspecting the bit of calcium in her hand.
Gaff looked at Mother Water for insight. “Are you asking for help in seeing things differently and refusing to take the first step?”
She grimaced. “The book does say that we don’t have to believe for it to work… but I guess I’m resistant.”
Gaff nodded. “You keep complaining about the problems getting your manuscript accepted by a publishing house.”
He continued, “My hunch is that talking about a shell is a heck of a lot easier than talking about the editors in New York.”
Priscilla’s head jerked in his direction. “I can talk about them just fine.” Her voice was harsh, strident with anger.
“But it would be hard for you to say that what they tell you doesn’t have any meaning.”
She turned to face him squarely. “Uh hunh. They do have meaning. They determine what I do with my life… and to some extent whether I eat.”
“Is that so? And what about your father?”
The red heat of anger was rising in her face. “Oh, yes, he has meaning all right.”
Gaff patted her arm and then took the shell out of her hand. “This shell… the only meaning it has is that it is called by the word ‘shell.’ Other than that, it has no meaning, no associations for you.”
Priscilla nodded… and then quickly added. “There’s the memory that I found it on the beach here.” She took in their surroundings with a wave of her hand.
He held the shell at shoulder level. “I’m going to give it another meaning, then.” He thought for a bit.
She watched intently, curiosity etched in two lines between her brows.
Gaff’s voice became melodic. He waved his hand over and around the shell several times. “I have given this shell the power to attract love into the life of the person who possesses it.” A few more patterns waved over the shell and Gaff handed it with great ceremony to Priscilla.
She looked at the little shell resting in the middle of her palm and started to smile. “Did you do something to this thing? It feels warm in my hand and tingles.” Then she closed her fist around it and brought it to rest against her heart, with the other hand on top. Her laugh sounded like tinkling bells. “It feels warm like love itself. Are you a magician?”
Gaff shook his head. “I only gave you the idea that it was magic and you gave it that meaning. I could as easily have said it would bring money or misfortune. And then what would you have felt?”
The corners of her mouth turned down slightly. “So really, the shell only has the meaning that someone gives it. Like you told me it brought love, but I could tell someone that this very same shell brings pain. I feel the love and the person I give it to would feel danger.”
Gaff removed his hat to run fingers through his hair as he nodded. Some hair stood on end as he replaced the hat.
She held her hand out flat, with the shell on its palm. “The shell really has no meaning… only the meaning that a person gives it. That I give it… or that you give it.”
Another nod… and a smile. Gaff glanced at the tip of his rod. It was jerking and wiggling: sign of a fish on the hook… first of the day.
She moved with him as he tended the lines. “The shell has no meaning… that is, no emotion is attached to it, but what a person gives it.”
Gaff grinned as he reeled in a big whiting. He smiled. Whiting is good eating. “This fish is just a fish unless you know how good it tastes coming out of Julia’s fry pan.”
Priscilla laughed. “Or how much fun it is to reel in.”
He took the fish off the hook and held it out for her to admire. “I guess that workbook starts with the shell because it’s a lot easier to think that a shell has no meaning than it is that your father has no meaning.”
“Or a rejection letter from an editor…”
Gaff laughed. “That workbook must start small to place the hook. Then it reels you in.”
Priscilla put the shell into her pocket. “I’m going to keep that shell because you put magic into it. What magic can you put into a rejection letter?”
Gaff opened the cooler and worked the whiting into a place under the ice. “It has no meaning apart from the words on the paper: that he won’t publish your book.” He dug around for bait in a plastic bag.
His friend’s head tilted, listening.
Gaff baited the hook and then cast the line into the surf. “Easier to say what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever get published. It doesn’t mean that you are a horrible failure as a writer. It doesn’t mean that the manuscript is bad. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be on the list of bestselling authors one day. It doesn’t mean that you are stupid… It only means that that one editor doesn’t want to publish your novel.”
Priscilla took her place on the cooler as Gaff plopped into his chair. She stared out to Mother Water to see where Gaff got all this wisdom. “All those other meanings are the ones I gave the letter.” She took her book from the sand and brushed it off. “The shell has no meaning for me in and of itself. The ocean has no meaning. The flag has no meaning.”
“You got it!”
She turned to look into her friend’s eyes. “And yet anyone who knows you, knows those things have great meaning… a meaning that boils down to love.”
Gaff smiled out at Mother Water and nodded. “The Way of Love: the source of miracles.”