“That’s a nice one.”
“Really nice.” He nestled the shell in the palm of his hand and admired its colours. With a grubby, sandy forefinger he gently pressed the centre of the turreted shell. “It’s strong.” I could tell he had his heart set on it. His little eyes flickered back and forth, analysing every groove it wore in the resting sun.
“I don’t think they’ll let you keep that one.”
“I want it.”
“You’ll need to find a round one.”
“Okay.” He pocketed the shell as if I told him to. He smiled at me and comfortably began to stroll up the beach.
“Charlie? Did you hear me?” He stopped.
“I just wanted to see what it’d be like to keep it.” Tears brewed from his now fragile eyes. “There’s a small box in my dresser – it’s got a gold crown on the lid. There’s a small combination lock on the front. The code is 345634. Could you put it in there please? I hope to see it again.”
And then it hit him. Despite the sea air, sandy socks, salty chips, browning sunbathers and calling seagulls, he couldn’t lock out the concrete walls, the iron bars, the mashed potato. That’s all it was and all that will ever be – Charlie would never knock on number 45 Oakgrove Road.
“I’ll guess I’ll have to find it again, here on the beach.” He dropped the shell in front of him. “Remember where I left it.”
“I’ll remember.” The officer took Charlie’s arm and slowly walked him back to the car.
I debated on taking the shell, bringing it in for him. Letting him keep it close. He wouldn’t mean harm with it. It was the youth inside him that lusted the beautiful token.
I thought I should leave it, like it was his last mark on the outside world, to be taken back into the sea when the gentle tide rode in.
But I took the shell to rest in his dresser, hoping in a perfect world he’d be out to hold it again.