Double Snail Shells

Rebecca is an MFA candidate at BYU emphasizing in fiction. She loves reading, eating, and watching cozy movies.

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Creative Nonfiction
This story isn’t a cute story or a quaint story, but it is a true story that I can’t quite make sense of. There was traveling and there was cancer, and then there were snail shells that have to mean something, but even after all this time, I don’t know what.

Mike was dying. Stage four melanoma that had metastasized to his lungs with tumors that were sure to break all of our hearts. I was sad, but he isn’t my dad, he’s your dad—which isn’t quite the same, is it?

I prayed, you prayed, your mom prayed, your sisters prayed.

“Do people get better from this?” your mom asked the doctor.

“Yes, I have a list,” the doctor said, pointing to his laptop.

We went back and forth. California, Utah, there and back again. Ready to drive through the night if it meant being with him for his last moments.


I had to mail your mom her parking placard. We'd left it in our car.

This is where the story gets strange. As I walked to the mailbox, I came across two snail shells. They weren’t the typical shells I’d expect to see, the kind that would appear when it rained and large snails oozed onto the sidewalks with their bulbous shells dotting my path. No, these were the little kind that have narrow, almost pointed shells. They lay on the ground in their dull grey beauty, totally empty.

I squatted down to look at them because things like snail shells intrigue me. It was a rare sighting. That had to be a good sign, a pleasant omen in my path. I smiled and then slid the placard into the slot.


Your dad got worse and was put in the hospital again. We went back.

We waited with your mom and sisters in the hospital. We bought your dad shoes—Kobe sneakers—that he would never wear. I tried to be helpful. I offered to check the mail.

As I approached the mailbox, I saw them there in the gutter. Snail shells. Long and cylindrical just like the ones I’d seen over 600 miles away at my own mailbox in Utah. It felt uncanny.

But then, as I slid the pile of mail out of the box, I saw the placard I’d sent.

It was one of the most full-circle moments I’ve ever experienced. I spied a couple shells as I mailed a placard back to its home, and days later, after spying some more shells, I pulled the placard out of its own mailbox. It was almost unbelievable. I had mailed something two states away, and yet there I was taking it out of the mailbox, its yellow envelope looking up at me with my own handwriting on its face. What did it mean?

I didn't know.


Your dad had a hospital bed set up in the living room. We came back and watched him recline, decline, deteriorate.

“This is hell,” your mom said.

I don’t know what anyone said to that. What can anyone say to that? She was right.

We watched him die.


I don't know what it's like without a dad, but you do.

And yet I’m still trying to figure out what double snail shells mean. I read them as a sign. Were they an omen of death though? I don’t believe it. Could they have represented the Kobe sneakers Mike never got to wear, their shells paralleling the empty sneakers—one sits beside Mike’s body in his casket and the other sits in a case next to your side of the bed? Could they have represented a connection with family that goes far beyond time and distance, like those shells I saw when I pulled something out of a mailbox that I, myself, had mailed?

Maybe the snail shells didn’t mean anything.

I don’t think I can believe that though. It was a rare shell-sight as I mailed that placard, and then it was another rare sight of different shells, in a different state, as I received what I’d mailed to someone else. They couldn’t have only portended death.

I'll check the gutter again.