Fiction by William Grigg
The ground of the flowerbeds where the blue, Mophead hydrangeas grow is
covered in scallop shells that hide the dark New England dirt. By now they have
almost all been broken or chipped by the dog running over them to chase a
Frisbee or a stick or a bone or something else they’ve thrown.
He had brought the shells there only a few at a time from his walks to the
beach. When he would find them he would think they were beautiful and pick
them up to take home, with the unverbalized feeling that they were for something—
as though there was a purpose and people regularly used scallop shells. When he
got home he didn’t know what to do with them, just that because they were
beautiful he needed to have them. So he placed them two or three at a time
around the bushes, eventually running out of bare dirt and stacking them on top of
one another. That was when they told him it was enough and to stop. At the
beach he still found more perfect shells, picking them up then putting them down
because of the new inhibition.
What’s wrong with him?
Who knows? Just old.
They made him retire. They made him retire and they made him keep the
hydrangeas blue. Ardent gardening. Formal. Testing the soil, adding food to
raise the level of aluminum. Removing the vast quantities of shells. Down to a
single layer. It was one of the last things he had—last expressions—and they
made him keep it perfect, cold, sky blue.
They said he had to stop. Dad, you have to stop. It was enough. There
were already layers and layers of shells. The plants weren’t getting enough
water. They were starting to fade to an imperfect mix of purple-blue—an
aesthetically insubstantial hodgepodge. Some bushes even grew pink flowers.
You have to water them.
You have to care for the soil.
You have to keep them blue. Beautiful.
I like the shells, he said. The shells are beautiful.
He still secretly fills the flowerbeds, not really beds, just dirt around the
bushes, because there is not really a lawn. Just the stretches of uncut and sparse
pasture grass. One at a time now, filling the crumbly, fragile dirt with the perfect
asymmetry of the shells. The uncoordinated pattern in black-blue shells, dirty
saffron shells. The image of the oven with the white, striated meat still anchored
in the shell, broiling in butter and salt.
William Grigg was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Fresno, California. He
graduated from Brigham Young University in 2010 with a degree in English. He
is currently homeless, crashing on friends’ and relatives’ couches and sleeping in
his car while he drives around the country—most recently from Boston to Los
The idea for this piece, and the first line exactly as it appears, came to me
while I was riding the shuttle on Nantucket Island and staring at the scallop
shells I had picked up on the beach. I was amazed by their color, size and
thickness. I had taken them with no idea what I was going to do with them,
just knowing that I wanted them. Thus this story.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 5, Number 2
Copyright © 2010
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors