photo of a broken snail shell

Elegy for a Snail by James Maxwell

“I can’t see how anyone could find two hours to do that.”

It was then that he knew the best of whatever it was had now ended. As he lay in the darkness, the lamp’s muted outline resembled the long slender neck of a crane doubled over.

“No, I suppose not,” she said.

It was as if everything in his head had begun shouting at once, starting as a dull murmur and growing louder and shriller until the hollows behind his eyes ached terribly. A quick cough from her, and he shifted his attention from the lamp to the window where he could hear the din of crickets chirping. He attempted to mimic this noise inside his head to drown out the other sounds.

At first he had scoffed at the notion of such a feat until he realized just how honest he was being in his disbelief. He would never allow himself to make time for putting on such a performance, just as he had never allowed himself to make time for so many other things–except one, but that was not worth thinking about. It made life seem unpleasant. He focused on the crickets.

He wished to scribble something down but wasn’t sure what he would write once he reached his desk in the shadows at the far end of the room. A poem maybe, or an elegy for some deceased snail discovered limp as mashed up mush inside its own shell. He didn’t know. But wasn’t that the damned beauty of it, he thought. He turned from the window and arose.

“Where are you going?”

“Nowhere,” he said, and he lay back down next to her.

That would have to wait for now, he thought, just as the crickets must wait for nightfall to craft their sliding sounds.

“I think I’m going to go home.”


“Walk me down?”

“I guess so.”

The creaking of the bed from the shift of their bodies made him uncomfortable and he wondered if anyone downstairs had heard and if they had, what they’d imagined. No, they would be sleeping by this time. A rapid pop and the lock protruded into his palm from the bellybutton of the doorknob.

They said goodnight downstairs in the kitchen. They did not kiss. They embraced briefly, but it felt as if she had stumbled into his arms on accident and their bodies had collided with one another by chance, just as an unpleasant interruption pauses a conversation. She was gone, and as she left he heard, through the open door, the sound of crickets cricketing.

Now the door was closed and he was alone again. How long it would be this time, he did not know.

“Perhaps just one for a night’s souvenir,” he spoke aloud. But he knew he didn’t much feel like it.

James Maxwell resides in Blauvelt, NY, of Rockland County but also lives at a daycare in Congers on the weekend (and he’s well aware how strange that sounds). He makes a living as a special education teaching assistant. He earned his MA in English a few years back but only did it for the money and the women (because really, what else is the point?). James has been writing for a little over 10 years but has only recently started submitting his stories and poetry for publication.

Lead image“broken” (via Flickr user Pimthida)