Michael Griffith

The Beachcomber

The Beachcomber brushed the sand from off it. It was another eye stained with seaweed. He rinsed it in a low tide wave that poured crackling towards him, sounding inside his cold cut ear like sherbet exploding over the sands silver tongue.

He’d found many before, exactly like this. Blue eyes marooned in the pools in rocks, browns washed into his previous footprints, green hazel’s stuck in the grip of sea grass.

Pushing himself up to his evolved stoop, he dropped it into his bulging pocket where six other eyes he’d found this morning, blinked.

Back at his thrown together hut, constructed from flotsam brought in on the tide, thousands upon thousands of eyes, adorning one wall, followed his movements around the ramshackle room.

There was a table made from a broken dingy, a wood burning stove that burnt whatever it touched, a cupboard so dark he called it secrets and a window frame that the sun set through.

He hadn’t always been able to find them. For years the only eyes he could find were his own. Now though, through circumstance and perseverance, he had taught himself how to find them even when buried under several layers of sand; discerning, then following a scant trickle of tears, using in place of a shovel, his hand.

On the weekend when the people came flocking, he’d place a sign above his door that read ‘Other Views’. But most he found had only come for the water.

Unperturbed each night he’d pull his overcoat close, lifting its collar to shield his neck, and grabbing his grubby, rusting bucket, trudge down to the waters edge. And as the waves crashed like distant artillery, and the seagulls stood, quiet and at home in the spray, he’d crouch above the freezing sand and observe the tide recess.

Each night the Ocean would discard them there. Litter them in its diminishing wake, where they’d either roll lost into cold crab holes, or blink to reflect the moon spilling stars.

Bucket in hand, he’d feet scar the washes silver skin and begin loading the pail with frightened orbs. Some screamed in silence to make sense of it all, some remained still, watching others tumble in.

Overloaded, and soaked to the skin, he’d leave the ocean to its outgoing journey, and labour back to his shack, weighed down by his bucket’s inconsolable crying.

Sharp night outside the door, he’d place the weeping bucket on the broken table, and after hanging his overcoat up, retrieve from his deep cupboard called secrets a ‘tinkered with’ slide projector. It was a simple grey box, squat with a worn lens protruding out the front, a hole at the back where the lit candle was placed, and an eye shaped slot crudely carved into the top.

He’d take time to position the slide projector on the table, then further time adjusting its adjustable legs, till finally as the night wind wolfed around his shack and his broken table mistook the tears for sea, he’d lean forward, excited in his chair, and plop a new eye in. Alone in the dark bar a few thousand eyes, he’d watch this eye’s owners life unfurl on the screen that was his cleanest wall.

Every night was like this. Recollections pouring forth to enliven the dark with hints and clues and mysteries. Eye after eye wallpapering the weathered wood with life. It would be morning before the last candle died and exhausted he’d crawl into bed.

There were others like him. Dispersed along the forever beach, in little inconsequential shacks, scouring all their secrets found for different angles or evidence. Always aware as they waited and combed, that with one good find; the catalyst orb, every eye you had found to date and all that you were destined to find, would become an eye of vision.

He had found no such eye, only beauty in ones he had. They were presents from the water, gifts from the sea. Friends on the wall, keeping an eye on everything he’d found. Friends that watched, concerned every morning, the rising tide peak a footprint closer. Sometimes he’d wake to sodden steps and know, somewhere closer than the future, his hut would collapse into its grasp, and all that he’d uncovered, including himself, would return in a wave, to the hungry water.

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