Meleah at Momma Mia, Mea Culpa tagged me with this meme ages ago. So sorry I took so long. Basically, what you have to do is take a look at the photo below and write a poem, a story or whatever you like about what the message in the bottle might be.
This is my story. Thank you, Meleah. It was so much fun to write.
THE EVENING TIDE
The water was silver as it brushed the sand. As a kid Ronnie had loved this part of the bay where the sand was soft and whispery on the breakwater. Mermaids’ Rest they had called it because of the cluster of rocks grouped like a throne that faced the open sea. ‘It’s where the mermaids stop before they head out to the deep water,’ she told Jess once. He laughed in that way he had that made you feel what you just said was the most wonderful thing in the world. ‘You don’t really believe in mermaids do you?’ he said laughing again. Ronnie loved that laugh of his with a fierceness that surprised her. She had never felt strongly about someone’s laugh before.
Jess’s father worked at the marina. He owned the marina. The local fishermen and dock workers gave him respect, he had come from nothing; his success was worth acknowledging even if his wife did drive a convertible Mercedes with the top down all year round so people could see her blonde hair fly in the wind like gossamer. She had fake nails with real diamonds in them that had come all the way from South Africa. This meant she had to hire a housekeeper, for if one of her diamonds fell down the sink while she was washing the dishes, there would be hell to pay.
From the start Ronnie and Jess were inseparable. Kindred spirits. Soul mates. All those words that sound whimsical until you experience them for real. They never said it but they knew they would be together forever.
They started sending messages in bottles experimentally, an SOS to the world just like The Police song. After several false starts they discovered the evening tide carried the bottles back and forth within a couple of hours; resting at the jetty that led to Jess’s waterfront mansion and the entrance to the canal which Ronnie’s house backed on to.
The messages were gushing, sentimental, without a trace of insincerity or regret.
I will love you forever. You light up my life. If you ever need me I will be there.
Ronnie kept every message in a shoebox under her bed, a talisman against misfortune.
One day Jess fell ill with the flu. His mother wouldn’t let Ronnie see him, claiming he was contagious. Ronnie didn’t see him for two weeks, for three. In the fourth week she went round to the house on the water demanding to see him but Jess was gone, shipped off to school in America – Yale or Harvard.
‘You can’t see him again.’ Jess’s mother was adamant. ‘We have other plans for Jess that don’t include you. Your situation is too unsuitable.’
Ronnie knew what Jess’s mother meant by her situation. It was her father. He drank all day and painted all night on canvases big as billboards in colours as muted as those found on the sea bed. He lined up each week at the employment office, lost, wandering, begging for mercy. He was kind-hearted but he never got a chance to show it. Despair coated his feet with tar, leaving him stuck like a paper doll on the wrong page.
Jess’s mother meant what she said. He was gone. Ronnie lay down on the breakwater, the sand moist as partly-cooked cake, and waited for a message on the evening tide. She hurt so much she thought she would die. The message in the bottle never came.
Ronnie was forty now. She had not been home for twenty years. Her father was ill. ‘I’m on my last legs, Ronnie girl,’ he said, his delicate painter’s fingers shaking with a palsy that broke Ronnie’s heart. ‘I’m sorry for everything. It hasn’t been much of a life for you.’
‘It’s been a good life,’ Ronnie said. ‘The only life I wanted.’
‘I heard Jess is back,’ her father said. ‘His father died. Left him the house. It’ll be worth a fortune by now. The mother pissed off years ago, married a Duke in Europe or something. She always did fancy herself as something special.’
When it grew dark Ronnie made her way to the mouth of the canal carrying one of her father’s old brandy bottles. There was a message inside.
You said if I ever needed you, you would come. Well, I need you now.
She released the bottle into the water, sobbing in great gulps that felt like a beating on her chest as the bottle caught the tide and drifted off into the night. She was mute, yearning for something she had decided long ago could never be hers, surrendering the last piece of herself she was able to give to the dark water.
She waited until the night was so black she couldn’t make out the shapes of possums sifting through the fig trees for fruit, squealing like children. Until the stars were smaller than gravel flung from land.
Ronnie’s legs ached from the wet ground. Lorikeets began to stir as the sun streaked the ground with splashes of scarlet and tangerine.
The walk to her father’s house was brief but she felt like she had climbed a mountain. She was tired, old. Not maddened by grief, just wizened.
Her father was up. He had the radio on. The BBC World Service. He got it on the internet. Her father was all that mattered now.
Her father was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea with a smile on his face. A man sat across from him. An empty bottle of brandy formed a centrepiece between them.
The man stood up when Ronnie entered the room. A man she hadn’t seen for twenty years but whose face she knew as well as her own. ‘I got your message,’ he said. ‘I thought I would deliver my reply in person.’
He handed her a bottle with a message inside. Ronnie tipped the bottle up, shaking it to release the message. It was damp, the ink smudged, smelling of salt, but the message was clear.
Here I am
It was all she had ever wanted to hear.