• Tina Beattie

Metal Detecting

Updated: Mar 18


I go over the dunes to the beach to pray, as I intend to do every morning - and sometimes succeed. I'm too late to see the sunrise, but early enough to have the beach to myself - almost. The sky, sea and sand are pewter grey.


Far in the distance, a solitary figure makes his way slowly along the water's edge, sweeping his metal detector patiently in front of him as he goes. I wonder if he's ever discovered anything worth keeping, other than a few stray coins. The hollow drumbeat of hooves reverberates across the sands, alerting me to two horses galloping through the receding tide, barely visible against the horizon.


I walk slowly, patiently, my soul sweeping the emptiness as I try to pray, attentive to the signs that might alert me to buried treasure - the pearl of great price, the bright field with the pot of gold. How would I recognise it? A whisper in my ear? A sign written in the skies? A voice calling to me out of the wind or through the calm murmur of the waves? There is only ever silence and absence - the absence that is felt as a yearning for the lover who never arrives, for the mother who will never come again, for the beloved friend separated by more than physical distance, for the soft warm bodies of the children who have grown and gone, for the soft warm bodies of their children whom I have not seen for too long.


Their names are my prayers whispered into the breeze and carried away to swirl among the gulls above the dunes. A raven eyes me across a tidal pool and saws noisily against the air. Something buried in the sand catches my eye. It's a scallop shell. I dig it up and rinse it in the pool. The water is icy cold against my fingertips. I think shells must be like fingerprints. Each unique, each a singular work of art, never to be repeated, numbered and known, belonging, desired into being.

I walk on and pick up a rusted piece of metal, pitted with holes. Where has it come from, to wash up on this beach for me to find? What stories might it tell of its voyages across the seas, of the gales that battered it and the waves that swallowed it? Who made those holes through it - the swirling seas or human hands? I put it in my pocket, beside the shell.


I climb back up over the dunes, my pockets heavy with treasures and my heart heavy with the jewelled names of my beloved ones. I turn for one last glance at the silver sky, sea and sand.


See you tomorrow, whispers the wind. Come back soon, murmur the waves.


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