He slid his rucksack off his shoulders. While opening the main zip he simultaneously removed the trowel he thought of as The Doer from his belt. He wore three trowels around his belt but The Doer was his favourite because – and you’ve probably guessed this – it got things done. The other two had specific purposes. He dropped the trowel onto the sand. He’d hoped the trowel’s blade would stick into the sand with a Chh sound but it didn’t. It’s pretty cool when it sticks into the sand, he thinks. He removed the nylon backed blanket from his bag and laid it on the sand. The sand wasn’t wet but he knew if he knelt on it for long his knees would be. He fell forward onto his knees, grabbed for The Doer and started to dig. Whatever it was it wasn’t there yesterday and that was good.
“What is it?” Asked a female voice. He stopped digging and looked around and then up. Standing on the wall, silhouetted against the white sky was an onlooker, his worst thing. “I don’t know yet,” he replied. He wanted to change position so his digging was blocked from the person by his back. He didn’t, that would be rude.
“Maybe it’s a clue?” The person said and he chuckled and nodded his head slightly but his bowed head wore a concerned face. The person watching was ruining everything. He expected it in the summer but not on a cold, grey March morning. It hadn’t been a particularly high tide and after digging quite a hole he’d found nothing. It shouldn’t be deep. He sat back on his heels, careful that the trowel in the back of his belt didn’t stab his achilles and grabbed for his metal detector. Holding it midshaft he waved the searchcoil over the hole.
“Ooooh!” Said the girl on the wall and again he nodded slightly. He leant forward and after picking up The Doer he scraped away some sand with the point and then he hit metal.
“Is it a clue?” .
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Is it a…?”
“No,” He said, lifting the object out of the sand where it most definitely had been yesterday and probably months and years beforehand. That’s the thing about beaches, they’re constantly shifting. Shifting sands. Sometimes things are too deep. “It’s a bit of a pole.” He held it up for the girl to see.
“Oh, that’s disappointing,” said the girl.
“Well it’s…” People think it’s all pirate treasure. They think the beach is just full of gold doubloons and pieces of eight. It’s not. It’s full of rusty old poles. That’s not disappointing, that’s just the way it is. He reached behind his back and pulled The Filler out of his belt. The Filler was bigger and more square than The Doer. He pushed the sand into the hole with The Filler. You don’t leave holes for people to twist their ankle in. After that was done he put the pole into the bottom of his rucksack. Why? Well if he’d reburied it he’d dig it up again soon. With some effort he got to his feet and picked up his trowels and slid them into his belt. Then, again with some effort, he grabbed the blanket by two of its corners. He shook it and as he was folding it he was startled by a female voice that was much closer asking, “well it’s what?”
“You said, well it’s… you trailed off. When I said it was disappointing.”
He considered the girl. The woman. She was smiling. “It’s not all pirate treasure,” he told her. She laughed at that.
“Do you find many gold doubloons?”
“How much did your metal detector cost?”
“Seven hundred pounds.”
“It did,” he said and then felt he sounded a bit too defensive there.
“Is that what it’s called, a metal detector?”
“What’s your name?”
“Malcolm. Just Malcolm. Well, Mal. Malcolm.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Well, whatever I find,” replied Mal but he felt under pressure, made worse by the girl’s smile. He hoisted his rucksack back onto his shoulders and with some effort picked up his metal detector.
“What’s my name?” Asked the girl.
“I don’t know.”
“You’re supposed to ask.”
“What’s your name?”
“Charlemagne, King of the Franks.”
“No, it’s Emma.” Emma held out her hand. Mal looked at it and then went to shake it with his left hand. His right hand was holding the detector. He couldn’t shake it with his left hand though, as she was holding out her right hand and so Mal withdrew his left hand and grabbed the detector with it, freeing up his right hand and eventually he shook Emma’s hand. “That was a saga,” She laughed. “Nice to meet you.”
“Can I have a go?”
“Which way are we going?” Asked Emma looking both ways along the beach.
“I’m going home now.”
“Got your pole?”
“A good haul.”
“You won’t find it,” said Emma. Only her eyes were smiling.
“What… what won’t I find?”
“What won’t I find! Like you don’t even know?” she chuckled. “The ring.”
“The ring. The ring you’ve been looking for eighteen years. It’s gone. Somebody found it.”
“It was found that week.”
“I don’t know what…”
“You don’t finish sentences!”
Malcolm stared at Emma. He’d normally do anything to avoid staring at a stranger’s face but he had to. “You know a lot about me,” he said, this time not worried about how defensive he sounded.
“You’re the mad metal detector guy! You’re famous.”
“That’s nice,” he replied looking around.
“Malcolm. Everyday he’s out with his bleeper! He’a a Bilbo Baggins!”
“How would you even…”
“Has it? Okay. Well, I’m going.”
“It wasn’t even important.”
“Not really, it was just a piece of metal.”
“Okay, bye.” Malcolm once again tried to stare at here face he couldn’t. He dropped his gaze to the sand once he’d seen not even her eyes were still smiling.
“Bye,” said Emma.
“Bye!” Said Mal, again, as he headed over to the steps that climbed up through the sea wall. He desperately hoped she wouldn’t follow him. She didn’t. Glancing back down over the wall he saw she was waving at him. It didn’t look like a particularly genuine wave but he returned it and then walked along the bulwarks to his house.
In his small yard he paused and after carefully leaning his metal detector against the wall he slid off his rucksack, opened it and felt for the pole. He took the lid off his metal bin which was three-quarters full and would need taking to the scrapyard before the end of the week, and tossed the pole into it. After replacing the lid he put his equipment away in his small shed. When it was all neat he leant on the workbench, his palms flat and his fingers splayed. He looked at his fingers and then looked out of the small grimy window that faced the harbour. “Fuck,” he said.