Shiny Bits In Between (excerpt #2 from Chapter 2, shed my old skin)

Sally collects people like I collect seashells, picking up whichever catches her fancy and then returning all but one to the sea. She always knows which is the most extraordinary. Like her favorite steward, Raul. He's the only one she allows into her room. Once when she fell ill, he visited her between shifts and insisted on staying by her side until she was well, mopping her forehead with a compress of chamomile, yarrow and lemon balm, feeding her sun-warmed figs he'd picked from a bough on a nearby island. She loves that he knows the names of all the stars, and recites them to her like poetry. And Ms. Godfrey, an English expat who suffers from dementia and always wears pearls from the sea. She tells Sally different versions of her life depending on her mood, always in a clipped duchess voice so that all her experiences sound like fairytales from a storybook. My aunt discerns the extraordinary based on their understanding of other worlds. Is that what I'm searching for when I select only the most precious shells from the hundreds I've held in my hand? A unique hue, pitted skin, or a sheen like a baby's tooth—talismans that grant entry into another world or perhaps just a new understanding of this one. As much as I admire how Aunt Sally lives her life, it isn't for me. I need tethering, a permanent place to settle and possibly find some peace. It's time.