The knife worked feverishly, grab, rotate, stab, slice, twist and discard, grab, rotate, stab, slice, twist and discard, grab, rotate, stab, slice, twist and discard.
The piles beside her grew and diminished in equal proportions.
Above her a gull wheeled and cawed, dived and tried once more to skewer itself a simple meal. It did not realise that the effort involved in missing every time was more than would be taken fishing normally. As they say, it was a bird of very little brain. As always it turned just in time to avoid the flash of silver, the only escape from the monotony of the day for the woman.
Her fingers worked fast, faster than her mind could control them. They suffered the habits more than any other.
Her thoughts had not been on her task for years.
As a young woman she had dreamed of travelling on the boats, of seeing the shells in the water, before they were ripped from home.
Her fingers slowly grew to know their task. Her cuts became fewer and less deep. The shells beside her moved faster.
Later she dreamt of the mountains. The slopes echoed in the slant of a sail, the snow in the bite of the sea breeze.
Her fingers toughened up, fattened and yet became more nimble. They began to lead a life of their own.
Recently she has dreamt only of the gull, wishing she could exchange bodies with it. She longs to be free, to be able to fly out to sea, to look down and see the shells in their homes, to soar to the peak of the mountain and glide down it’s slope.
She wants to follow the boats, sliding around their sails, spinning around their masts.
She needs to feel the wind under her wings and to drop like a stone only to rise on the next turn and disappear into the vast sky.
It dives on the pile of meat once more, trying for the free feed.
Again her knife darts out toward it.
She does not realise that she is desperate to catch it. To damage it, stop it flying. Her jealousy of it has grown inside her to the point where she is desperate to ground it. She knows that she will never have its freedom. She knows that she will never have the thoughtlessness it is not aware of.
She misses, of course. As nimble as her hands are she cannot match the bird.
It turns away on the wind. Drifts lazily up and away. It lets out a shriek of defiance and moves in a circle around her, diving back down from a different angle.
She has to stretch to reach it, leaning back and swinging.
It lifts over her slice effortlessly and drifts away.
She turn back to her shells and looks at her hands as they start their work once more. She thinks about what she has to do next, the shell in her hand. Striking down with her knife she aims for the clasp at the back of the crustacean and misses.
The blood welling in her palm shocks her. She does not feel the pain.
The gull caws and swoops.
She leaps to her feet and grabs it, dragging it down out of the sky.
Her hands take control again and grab, rotate, stab, slice, twist and discard.
She looks down at her dream.
Slowly she sits down on her stool.
The pain in her hand hits like the morning wind, cutting to the bone.
Tears roll down her cheeks as she bends to pick up a new shell.
She doesn’t dream any more.