Shell Fragments
Ben Penley

Shell Fragments

Every beach in Florida has been ranked #1 at some time, in some category, by some VisitFlorida-sanctioned publication. Earlier this summer, I moved to Lacie’s hometown, what U.S. Beachgoer’s May 2018 issue called “the Whitest Sand Beach.” And, sure, the sand is white. It is practically powder. Put it on your hands and start lifting weights. But the esteemed editorial team at U.S. Beachgoer failed to mention the state of the beach’s surroundings. The surroundings in which people live. The dialysis centers on every street corner, the jagged St. Augustine grass, the intermittent thunderstorms with pulsed dry lightning that, on one occasion, sent a married couple eating seafood ceviche at Frenchie’s Oyster Bar to oblivion.


A few days ago, Lacie decided she’d had enough of me. The seams—already frayed and tensely unsound—broke when Bay News 9 reported on a rhumba of rattlesnakes that bit a child to death on the Pinellas Trail. The parents of the deceased, according to the anchor, filmed the whole thing but didn’t think to intervene. Hearing this, I started on about the area’s lack of redeeming qualities. The moral corruption of the people and place. That perhaps her hometown was uninhabitable.


“You know,” I said, “that child would still be alive in a northern state.”


“Oh, would it?” Lacie said. “We’re the only state with snakes? And irresponsible parents?”


“Who said ‘we’?” I personally renounced the state whenever possible, like the anti-Ponce de León. “I mean, at least in Virginia there’s a temperate climate. Fewer rattlesnakes.”


“Give it up,” Lacie said, rising from the couch. “See yourself out.”


“I’m just saying,” I said, raising my voice so it followed her around the corner.


I fell asleep watching the news on her couch. Reports detailing a murder in a bayside apartment complex, a pile‑up on Highway 19, a feel-good piece about the Dunedin Scottish Festival and all that skirling bagpipe heritage. Lacie was gone the next morning—no note or kiss on the forehead or anything.




Lacie and I met online and, soon after, she told me that I should move to Florida if I wanted things to progress. Lacie valued face-to-face interaction, and if I couldn’t give that to her, well, then that was it. I was looking for something different. Lacie—and her proximity to emerald green water—advertised the promise of it, something new and necessarily better.


When I first moved and was still optimistic, with visions of happy-faced suns and sweet Valencia oranges, I found a job assistant-managing Captain Gill’s Mini Golf, an 18-hole course off the raised highway’s frontage road. In the interview, conducted in a sweltering Tiki ticket hut, Captain Gill said that he had just created the Assistant Manager role. Gill was a large man with the glazed white tongue of someone with perpetual cottonmouth. He told me, wetting his lips, that he traditionally hired two or three high schoolers but was weary with turnover and their acned faces. Just now, Gill was short-staffed on account of an employee walkout due to his unwillingness to install cost-prohibitive AC. He was looking for a steadier employee in terms of commitment and, to be honest, emotional capacity. Someone who would not gripe or take a phone break while sanitizing the rubber club grips, gummy with heat and sweat.

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Ben Penley

graduated in 2017 from UNC-Chapel Hill with a minor in creative writing. He attends pharmacy school at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and lives in Hillsborough.