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Cypraea leucodon

Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. Dearest Consuelo, my heart yearns for home. When they found the spiral-bound notebook in the cupboard, and this note in one of its last few pagesthe first sixty sheets or so having been ripped off for sundry messages, leaving furrowed bits of paper in the coil, like autumn leavesthe cold had just begun to settle in Graz, and the niece who had come to gather his effects could still push the kitchen window out to let the air in while she lit a cigarette and sat on a stool. The gust that blew in off the street had many hands, ravishing her nape, stealing her smoke, flailing against the ramparts of sweaty cheese, spilt wine, and peppered sausageand, wafting above them like a pennant, the sweetish tang of linseed oil, from her uncles half-hearted forays into painting, that had built up in the room. She drew her scarf more tightly around her neck, and as the landlady opened more drawers in her uncles bedroom, she wondered how a man born on Bantayan island in the Southern Philippines could find himself so far afield, coughing up clotted blood in an Austrian city known mainly for its museum of medieval armor. She was, herself, a burns-unit nurse in Great Yarmouth, two hours by slow train east of London. It was a long way from Dumaguete, much farther still for all the years she had been there, on the edge of another ocean. What did her uncle know about being alone? But she had been to the continent many times now, on happier vacations with tour-bus groups. She barely knew this man, who had once sent her a postcard of a swimmers furry behind, tucked into an autographed copy of his book of comic verse, neither of which she appreciated, and she had flown to Graz only upon her mothers pleading, so that she might retrieve anything of value for the family. So deep was she in thought, so consumed by her dismay at finding nothing but books, dank angular landscapes, an easel, tubes leaking paint, and moldy laundryno savings or investment certificates, no deeds to exotic property, no ancient cointhat she failed to notice a seashell, a spotted cowrie known to fanciers as a cypraea leucodon, perched on the sill of the window she had opened. It had obviously not come from Graz, nor even from the Mediterranean. Indeed, it had lived in two hundred feet of water off Cebua rarity that cost collectors a pretty penny. The man had found it in his mothers sewing box and had taken it with him to Europe as a memento. He had kept it like a talisman, fondled it till it shone, and now, as bluish darkness followed the cold into Graz on the wheels of evening, it glinted in the glow of a wakened street lampalmost alive, almost at homebecoming, at that instant, the rarest of its kind in the whole world. [500 words]

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