The man with the metal detector didn’t return my greeting. Maybe he’s just focused on finding coins and jewelry or maybe he just can’t see me through his sunglasses I thought. Something about him bothered me. I don’t think it was the shades. The other people I saw on the beach that evening – an older couple enjoying (or enduring, to judge by their pained smiles) a pre- or post-prandial stroll, a pair of heavyset young women spreading a blanket not far from a public entrance to the shore – also wore sunglasses. A decent enough crowd I supposed for an offseason Thursday evening. The older couple nodded, the young women waved, displayed their bottle of wine, pointed, comically I thought, to their eyes. I wanted to join them. Instead I shrugged, flourished my empty plastic bag in the almost windless air.
“If you’re still here in an hour, I’ll have a glass with you.”
“It’s a date!”
I tried not to think of that lanky man, wondered instead about the local predilection for sunglasses. It was hard enough to see in the foggy twilight without them. I almost stepped on a dead gull on my way down here.
I scanned the wet sand ahead of me on the lookout for sea glass, again felt my foot hit something, this time a dead horseshoe crab. A few of its companions also lay dead or dormant a little further away from the receding tide. Never having been to Rhode Island before, I wondered if so much death was typical of the shoreline here. I remembered how the secretary told me this was the best local spot for sea glass. “Why is it called Shade Beach?” I asked her, “Does it have a lot of trees?”
“It’s not that kind of shade.”
I paused. “Is it haunted?”
“This is New England. Everything is haunted.”
As if the South isn’t.
A small group of plovers running in and out with the tide scattered my gloomy thoughts. A few of them stopped, pecked at the sand. Whenever I watch animals – small birds and crabs mostly – moving in sympathy with water, foraging and evading capture, I have the same clichéd thought: they’re just like us, oscillating between work and family, drudgery and recreation, until one day we stop. And always I’m rescued by a variation of the same cheery chestnut: I transcend that – I raised my logoed bag triumphantly – I hunt for sea glass!
And so I resumed my search in earnest. Though I walked for close to half an hour, I hadn’t gathered much when I saw her a good twenty yards away. She sat on her dark blanket, chin resting on her knees. She didn’t beckon, didn’t even move her head. Even so I felt I should approach her.
She was thin. Her sunglasses were neither plain nor stylish. Her blanket was spread as though for two. I sat down next to her. She didn’t move. “You didn’t get much sea glass.”
“How do you know I’m looking for it?”
“I have ways.”
“Oh, what else do you know about me?”
“Not much. I haven’t seen you here before.”
“It’s my first time. I’m here on business. I fly back to Savannah tomorrow.”
“And your colleagues aren’t taking you out?”
“We’ll meet for drinks and snacks in a few hours.”
“Not right after work?”
“No, most of them have families. We’re a family-oriented company.”
She revealed ungleaming teeth. “How nice. Where are you going?”
I named the chain.
“We think like our customers. There’s a reason why those restaurants are successful. Our firm is profitable too.” Even in that failing light I could see she was bored. “How about you? What brings you to Shade Beach?”
She put her bony birdlike arm on my shoulders. “I’m here with my man. Maybe you saw him.”
I thought of the mean metal detector man. “How would I know him?”
“He carries a lightsaber.”
“And I’m unoriginal?”
“That stupid movie has nothing to do with our world.”
I couldn’t make out her expression, anticipated instead the appetizers I’d soon wash down with cold beer.
Her grip tightened on my far shoulder, I turned to embrace her. Her bones felt soft, her body insubstantial, so different from the buttery flesh of the women in my past. We almost burrowed into the sand. The mention of her armed man – did she call out his name? – added urgency and frisson to our brief coupling.
“Aren’t you supposed to meet your friends?”
“They’ll think I fell asleep at the motel. I told them I was tired.”
I heard sandals shuffling in the sand, turned, saw a tall dark man in dark clothes. I barely discerned a small black object in his right hand. The stars and waning moon were obscured by the fog. My companion withdrew from me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Something came over me.”
He stood there for a while, didn’t say or do anything. I slowly got up, stammered more apologies to both of them, gathered my bag, made sure I had everything, turned again to gauge their reactions, saw a stream of light issue from a spot near where a gunslinger’s gun would be, then another, then nothing.
Clyde Liffey lives near the water. He tweets rarely @ClydeLiffey.