“Shush, shush,” hushed the starling, “She’ll hear you.” This was not true. Ethel wouldn’t hear them, not in the usual way at least, because snails don’t have ears. Ethel felt things more than she heard them, through the rumblings and quiverings which travelled along and around her shell and then up into the space where in other creatures, a brain would be.
That’s another thing about snails, they have special brains, which is exactly how Nanna Nora had explained it all to Ethel, back when she was a little snail. That is just the way things were, no ears, a special brain and a whole lot of determination. So, as she’d glided past, her head held high, dropping a passing glance on the watching gaggle of sharp tongued geese and a panicky speckled starling, they may have mistaken her grace for indifference, but Ethel simply hadn’t felt their words yet.
“Look how slow she is,” honked the smallest goose.
“I know,” hissed his brother.
“She’ll never get anywhere,” said their mother, although there was a touch of softness in her gloomy prediction.
Ethel caught the eye of the starling and offered him her brightest smile, she was always smiling because, well why not? The starling was kind and hadn’t joined in with the geese and their thoughtless gabbling, this was clear to Ethel, she noticed things, important things, because Ethel was not a ninny, far from it. Her Nanna Nora had told her, over and over, “Remember Ethel, you are not a ninny, you may take a bit longer to hear things, but if you always try your very best then you will be the best Ethel possible, all you need is effort Ethel”.
“Effort?” mouthed Ethel.
“Yes Ethel, effort,” said Nanna Nora.
“Okaaay,” Ethel had drawled, thinking “That’s easy for you to say!”
However, although the words had twisted her tongue and jumbled her special brain, she hadn’t ever forgotten them and always gave everything her very best effort.
Ethel slinked on and on, until eventually she could feel the smooth round pebbles clacking into each other under her one rippling foot. She had made it to the babbling stream at last and quickly glugged back a delicious mouthful of the cool clear water. Just as she was about to pop inside her swirly shell for a nap, Ethel noticed a soft downy ball of a bird hunched and trembling by the river bank.
“Are you alright? Hey don’t cry little one,” soothed Ethel. The young starling looked sadly into Ethel’s kind open face and Ethel knew, without having to hear the words, that the little bird was lost. She looked closely, taking in the familiar speckles and wondered if this little fella belonged with the starling she’d met this morning. “Have you lost your dad?” she asked gently. The bird nodded.
“I think I know where he is, look there behind me, follow my glimmering trail and it’ll lead you right back to him”. The bird raised its head and gasped in amazement, for behind Ethel, as far as his bright beady eyes could see, lay the most beautiful shimmering path. Nodding his head slowly, in gratitude to the beaming snail, he shook out his wings with a flutter and flew excitedly all the way back to his dad.
It had been such an effort for Ethel to leave that silvery path, but so worthwhile. Nanna Nora would be so proud of Ethel’s very best Ethel, of that she had no doubt.