Before we were dating, when we were just good friends Sommelier and I were walking along the beach, he noticed me inspecting clumps of kelp in the sand and asked what I was looking for.
“Jewellery.” I explained, without looking up from my very halfarsed examinations of the sand crusted remains of the seabed.
“Well, people lose jewellery at the beach all the time, rejected lovers throw away engagement rings, people drown…” I gestured vaguely at the waves and the jagged rocks that jutted out from below their surface, “plus I want to find my own engagement ring. I think the universe will give me a ring when it feels that I am ready.” I extrapolated, returning to nudging kelp with my boot. I like to be barefoot at the beach, but Tasmania is often a bit too cold for that.
“That’s……insane.” Sommelier commented, in a tone that suggested that he had tried and failed to think of a more diplomatic phrasing.
“Well, you’ve written an actual fiancé out of your hypothetical scenario entirely, you’re just going to marry the universe?”
“Well, I’d rather marry the universe than most men!” I grumbled. “Plus, I’d have to return the ring anyway, and there might be reward money!”
“Yeah, so proper crazy logic there.” Sommelier won that particular conversation.
Still very much questioning my reasoning, but looking to entertain himself, Sommelier joined in my game of searching for discarded jewellery on the beach. We didn’t find any, obviously; I’ve only ever found things of value when snorkelling and scuba diving, but I did keep all of the sea-glass that we found.
We started dating about 6 months later.
It was with the condensed passionate, burning energy of roughly 5 newly awoken toddlers that Sommelier bounded into our living room, several years later, to inform me that he had recently learned, from a dusty second-hand book, that there were sapphires to be found in Tasmania. We wasted absolutely no time at all in learning everything there was to know about gem-hunting, and spent a year perfecting our talents and bringing some genuinely lack-lustre offerings to our exceedingly patient resident gemmologist Chris Hood, at Metalurges.
On the day of our most significant find to date I stood beside our parked car and said out loud,
“We would like a ten-thousand-dollar star-sapphire, please.” The wind whispered through the impervious leaves above us. Then I turned to Sommelier, “now you tell the fairies what you want.” I demanded.
“I would like a fifty-thousand-dollar sapphire.” He said, with absolutely no trace of seriousness.
“You have to mean it, and you have to say please”
“I would like a more sane girlfriend, please.”
“Joke’s on you. Fairies are huge fans of malicious compliance.”
He just laughed and shook his head, hoisting the clattering bag full of our prospecting pans over his shoulder.
I walked ahead, through the ferns and fallen rocks to the lightly tinkling river. I carried the crowbar with the hook down in front of me, like a snake-catcher’s device, on the off-chance that we ran into a snake here. It was one of the hazards of the hobby.
I dipped my foot in the water, my wetsuit boot filled rapidly with the cold water. Flecks of metal glittered in the pool of dirt thrown up by the disturbance of my entrance. A strong gust of wind ruffled my hair and churned the little waves of the river into a series of sun sparks. The thistle-down barrelled towards me and I stretched out my free hand and snatched it from the air. I never miss the opportunity to wish upon the fluff. I closed my eyes to make my wish, blew it from my grasp and counted, silently to ten.
“I think I can guess what you wished for.” Sommelier had noticed my little superstitious ritual.
“Mhmm,” I was not willing to comment, still counting to ten before speaking.
“It was a puppy!”
“Wrong! Foolish and wrong. It was a whole basket of puppies.” I corrected him.
I was performing the sieve manoeuvre known among prospectors as ‘the bus-driver’ wherein one swills gravel around in the pan in a pattern vaguely reminiscent of utterly irresponsible and actively dangerous steering-wheel practise. Sommelier was sitting beside me in the river, waiting for me to empty the bucket of gravel that I was sorting through so that he could take it back to the centre of the river to refill.
I noticed the stone instantly, and long before I said anything. Like every other sapphire we had seen before it looked completely alien in this context, surrounded by the other, drab coloured river gravel. Unlike every sapphire I had seen before, this was in the top sieve of our gold-prospecting pan; the sieve with the widest mesh. I knew, with certainty, the magnitude of my find. He hadn’t seen it yet, he was watching the zinc glitter in the whirlpools forming against his feet.
“Sapphire!” I sang, in the same way that I announced every time I found one.
“Big as your nail?” He asked, the same as he asked every time. It was what Chris had told us to look for. We had laughed at that advice having only found stones in the grain-of-rice/very-small-gumnut size category until now.
“Big as my pinky-nail.” I confirmed, holding it up to my finger.
“What? Are you sure?”
The edges were worn to a slightly milky pale blue, but when the sun hit it the brilliant white fire inside shone and cast a patch of pure light, as if from a magnifying glass. Dark blue ribbons ran through the stone, shaped like the tongues of flames, the perfect, natural device that playing marbles went to such trouble to replicate. Without much thought I placed the sapphire on my tongue. It’s what they tell you to do, you’re less likely to lose it that way; if you swallow it you can be sure of its general location.
“Confident.” I assured him, my mouth full of gemstone. Whether it was flawed or not remained to be seen and I was careful not to make any statements with regard to its quality.
His wetsuit made a sloshing squelch as he moved around. He reached his hand out and I carefully spat the stone into it. We had long since moved past any squeamishness about this particular step in the prospecting process. He held it between his fingers and up to one of the sunbeams streaming through the rainforest canopy to our secret location. Absently he too put it in his mouth muttering a quiet “mlem” sound as he did, as though it were a piece of popcorn cupped in the palm of his hand. Then he looked around for the plastic spice jar that we stored our finds in. It was still in my pocket, this being our first find of the day, and I passed it to him. With as much gentle reverence as one can manage in such situations he regurgitated our gem-stone into the aforementioned jar, adding a little water to the bottom to wash away the spit.
“You should get back to the same spot, in case there are more about to be washed away.” I pointed out, taking the jar from him and standing it, half buried, in the sand beside me. It was another of the hazards of the hobby that it took place in river rapids and the river wasn’t always ready to part with her treasures. Too long away from the spot we had cleared could very easily see any other sapphires washed away, although the chances of 2 in the same hole were infinitesimally small.
With a heavy grunt he hoisted himself back to his feet and awkwardly stumbled back into position. He had marked with our bright yellow crow-bar. The river swelled in tender, glittering ripples around his waist, then his neck, until he was almost fully submerged.
His head was turned away, his ear pressed against the water. I couldn’t see his arms, but I knew they were groping about in the hole that had been formed when he moved a previously-firmly-centred rock, confectionary scoop in hand, harvesting dirt from the bottom of the river that flowed near the zinc mine. I furtively picked pieces of black spinel from the sieve now dripping muddy water in my lap and placed them on my tongue, also absently muttering “mlem” to myself.
Most people have certain rules regarding the engagement ring that they want – I am vehemently against yellow-gold and large diamonds, and exploitation in general when it comes to my clothing and general foofaraw. Sommelier’s rules surrounding his ring included no accenting stones, and (much more ephemerally) “not a symbol of ownership, but a testament to the relationship as a whole”. We agreed, as a couple, that the rings should reflect how we see each other. Sommelier always collected the jet-black pieces of spinel with a certain reverence. They are a gemstone in their own right, and the ‘guide-stone’ to sapphires, as they occur together in nature and are the same density. As soon as we knew about sapphires and spinel we agreed that, so long as I had a sapphire, Sommelier would have a spinel. I spat the stone that would eventually go into his ring into the spice jar and it clinked softly against the sapphire as it sank to the bottom.
They stayed nestled and quietly rattling in the shallow water of our jar as we spent another hour in the river before accepting that there was nothing else to be found. We dried ourselves a little and changed clothes once we were back at the car. Still smelling of mud we arrived at our hotel and, before we so much as thought of taking a shower ourselves, we eagerly washed our gems in the sink. We dried our findings for the day and lay them on the white sheet of the hotel bed to shine a torch on them.
“You found some great pieces of spinel.” He commented, shining the touch on each fragment of rock before placing them back in the spice jar. He saved the biggest find for last.
The fire inside our sapphire came alive again the second the touch touched it, and a hundred shifting colours danced in its core.
“what exactly did you wish for?” he asked in a gentle whisper.
“top layer sapphire we could use in a ring.” I replied, then added, “you have to be really specific with forest fairies.”
We were both hunched over it, watching the dispersed, flickering, blue-tinged light pour over the neatly tucked bed sheet.
“Well…..dear” He muttered, only he didn’t say ‘dear’.