She picked through boulders jade with seaweed that slipped like oiled hair under her palms. Her skirt was already wet around the hem – by that evening there would be a pale tide of salt to rinse from the wool.
The wind tugged at her bonnet, caught in the basket swinging from her elbow like a sail, pulling her onward. Driftwood rattled like bones as the waves retreated.
All day she turned the rocks, split them with her hammer, rock after empty rock that she returned to the sea. But there were others … spiralled shells and discs of bone, creatures resembling giant woodlice, curled as if hiding from some ancient storm … And the thrill of those made her forget the rest.
Written for Three Line Tales. See here to join in the fun.
The character in the story is based on Mary Anning, the early nineteenth-century paleontologist and fossil hunter who found the first identified ichthyosaur skeleton, plesiosaurs and pterosaurs. Although she contributed a huge amount to the knowledge and study of marine fossils, being a woman she was not able to take part fully in the scientific community that benefited from her work. She did not always receive full credit for her discoveries and struggled financially for much of her life. She died from cancer at the age of 47.
The nursery rhyme, She sells seashells along the sea shore is supposedly about Mary as she did, indeed, sell fossils to tourists visiting her home town of Lyme Regis in Dorset. To read more about Mary, see here.