Friday, August 2, 2013
Whoever said magic don't exist ain't never been to that little coquina beach down past the harbor. Those shells spell out words ain't no one got an explanation for yet. Oh, they'll try to tell you that it's some kids playing a prank, but I know for certain kids don't mess with stuff like that. We follow the signs. We don't make 'em.
Just last week, I was waving my metal detector across the sand, looking for stray quarters. I use them to buy orange Nehis at the corner store cause my momma won't part with her money for what she calls liquid sugar. But they were my Pop's favorite. At least that's what she claimed. In sixteen years, I ain't never met him.
There was no one on the beach that early. The sand was nice and flat from the midnight tide. Not even a footprint from early morning joggers. That's how I knew nothing natural made what I saw. No footprints.
I was counting up my change to see if I had enough for a drink or two when a tiny ray of sunshine peeked over the edge of the world and showed me the glory. There, spread out for only me and God, were those tiny little white shells, thin as a pinky nail. They spelled out the words, “Follow the sun.” Now, I didn't claim to know what it meant. I just knew those coquinas had washed up with the surf and planted themselves in the sand for me to find. So I looked to the sun.
A few more rays rose up to claim the sky. They stretched long fingers across the water, across the sand, and up into the dunes. Little bursts of light danced between the sea oats.
“That's simply the sun reflecting off the sand,” our teacher would say. But I knew better.
Jimmy Dunston got a message one time, and he ignored it. The coquinas told him to “Dive deep.” He didn't, because he was late to his job at the Stop n' Go. If he'd just done what he was told, he would have been able to quit his job a thousand times over. That afternoon, a diver discovered fifteen gold doubloons just off our coast. They must have drifted there from some wreck. The guy sold them at auction for plum near a million. Jimmy tells that story every day while he's pumping gas for the tourists. I reckon he'll never get out of that job now, because if you ignore the coquinas once, they don't forget.
I shouldered my metal detector and hiked up to the dunes. The sparkles grew brighter. There were four of them, marking my destination like stars in the night. My heart thumped. I rubbed my palms against my Levis. It wouldn't do to dig with sweaty hands.
I pawed through the fine powder until my fingers touched metal. It weren't no quarters, and it weren't no gold doubloons neither. It was an old license plate with rusted letters and bent corners. 7W-76311.
I plopped myself down on the dune then and watched the sun come up. I squinted my eyes, and when the bottom of that orange ball cleared the horizon, I asked my question.
“Why'd you give me a license plate, dammit? I ain't got no car.” My momma would have slapped me good for speaking like that, but I figured I had a right to be angry. I did what I was told. Where was my treasure?
Of course, the sun didn't answer me. It wasn't live like them coquinas. And anyhow, it was too far away to hear me. So, I picked up my metal detector and my plate, and I headed toward the corner store for my Nehi.
Afterwards, I passed by Sal's Auto Parts Yard. I'd never had reason to go in there before, but seeing as how I didn't really need that license plate, I figured I might get a few cents for it. He greeted me with a two-fingered wave and spit some snuff out the side of his mouth before speaking to me.
“Whatcha got there?”
“Old plate.” I took a swig from my Nehi. “What you give me for it?”
“Well, I dunno. Lemme see.”
I handed it over. He tapped his fingers against the numbers.
“What?” I said.
“This here plate. It's mine. It disappeared off an old Chevy a few weeks back. You steal this, boy?”
“Then, where'd you get it?”
Sal worked the snuff around in his mouth for a bit. There was a story going round that he found his dog on that beach, a dog that saved his life when a jack broke and landed a truck on his leg. He knew the power of them coquinas.
“I've only known one person who drank those things.” He pointed to my bottle.
I looked at the bottle myself. The white letters stood strong against the clear glass. “Habit I picked up from my Pop.”
“I see.” He folded his arms across his chest and thought for a minute as he blinked up toward the sun. He looked like he was deciding something. “Come with me,” he said.
I followed him to the back corner of the yard where the sun glinting off the windshields near blinded me. How he worked in that oven all day was beyond me.
He stopped at the Chevy he'd mentioned before and dropped the plate by one of the wheels. “Do you know this car, son?”
I didn't recall. “No, sir.”
“Well, take a look at this.” He popped open the trunk, and inside were bout a hundred Nehi bottles. A damn fine collection if you asked me. “What's your name, son?”
“Billy Lundley, sir.” I shook my head. “William. I was named after my Pop.”
“And what's your momma's name?”
“Well, William. Does this make sense to you?” He slammed the trunk shut and bent down so his face was near the silver chrome bumper. He pointed two fingers to a pair of initials carved into the side.
W. L. + S. R.
I tilted my head, certain I hadn't seen it right. “How long have you had this?”
“Years. Probably got it around the time you was born. It had been in a terrible accident, but I fixed it up and waited for the right owner to come along. I figure you might be him.”
“But I ain't got no money. Not enough for this anyway.”
“Consider it a gift,” he said. “I know better than to go against them coquinas. And I figure you do too.”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
I stared at the plate. 7W-76311. Guess them coquinas sent me a treasure after all.
Photo by: Fadzly @ Shutterhack