“Messages from the Sea”
The sea licked the white sandy beach, rushing in with a quiet roar. The water reflected the color of peaches and kiwis from the rising sun on the horizon. With each lick of a wave came the scent of salt, so strong someone could stick out a tongue and taste the water.
Marco watched the wave retreat from his family home as he sat on the porch scooping spoonfuls of oatmeal into his mouth, a glass of orange juice not far from reach. He had his arm on autopilot to shovel his morning meal down, chasing the warm oats with orange drink, pulp and bits sicking to his lips. Like the ocean with the beach, Marco licked his lips and tasted the tangy breakfast.
Somewhere inside the home he shared with his parents and three older sisters, the grandfather clock tolled the hour. Seven o’clock. Marco’s mother would soon shout to him to brush his teeth, to get ready for school, to warn him the bus would leave without him if he didn’t, “hustle his buns” as she was apt to say.
He shoved another spoonful of oatmeal in his mouth, eyes mesmerized by the ebb and floor of the ocean. The ocean was not at the mercy of a mother like Marco. The ocean could come and go according to its whim.
A twinkle caught Marco’s attention. Just a second. A flash. Possibly nothing. A trick of the light against the ocean’s glass-like surface.
The boy of twelve squinted into the rising glow of the dawn, waiting. The ocean rolled on contently without care. Overhead the gulls flapped and cawed, searching for their morning nourishment.
There! Another twinkle. Lasting longer. Closer now.
Marco put down his bowl awkwardly. The bottom rotating around, threatening to tip, soggy pale mush splattering against the glass tabletop incased in rot iron. By the time the bowl settled Marco had leapt from the final step at the bottom the switchback stairs that led from his family home down to the beach. His feet landed in the soft sand, still cold from the previous night, and he shot off with eyes fixed on the incoming wave which the reflective light rode to the beach.
Water rushed past Marco’s feet, up to his ankles, as he reached the frothy shore. His toes curled against the chilly water and his body crumbled in upon itself with a shiver.
Flattened hand shielding his eyes from the rising sun’s glare, Marco searched the horizon.
But there was no twinkle.
Had he imagined seeing the reflective glint? Had his anticipation tricked his mind? Had he gone made from waiting weeks and even months for the tide to bring him words from beyond his island’s enclosed shelter?
A breeze caught and tossed Marco’s red scarf about, whipping his eyes.
Marco brushed the scarf tails over his shoulder to bat at his ear with the cooperative efforts of the ocean’s roar and the wind’s howl. Whoosh-crash. Whoosh-crash.
After a short while of standing on his tiptoes, straining to see passed the infinite horizon, over the masts of fishing boats sailing out to adventure after the day’s catch, the boy’s skin became used to the water’s chill. He barely noticed the water hitting his shins. Flowing across his ankles. The foam fizzy and tickling his flesh.
Then something tapped Marco’s leg. His heart skipped and didn’t beat again until he turned his eyes down.
Between his legs, resting atop the dark wet sand was a bottle of a type people drank liquor from.
Marco knew it! He knew he’d seen the glint of the sunray hitting a bottle’s glass surface!
He bent, placing a knee in the sand, and snatched up the bottle before the retreating tide could greedily steal the ocean’s parcel. Finders keepers, Marco though while chuckling inside his head.
The bottle was a dark green. The top corked to keep the contents inside safe and dry. Although the glass surface was foggy, Marco could see that a rolled up piece of paper was tucked in the belly.
Marco retreated to a rock not far from the limit of the ocean’s lapping.
He pried the cork from the bottle’s lips, upended the container, and shook until the rolled up paper slid to the neck and his fingers could pull the paper free.
Many bottles washed ashore on the beach below Marco’s family home, as did many oddities. Driftwood. Shells. Seaweed. The ocean was a scavenger, indiscriminant but prone to anger and tossing about its belongings in fits. Sometimes these things were treasures. But more often the ocean threw away other people’s junk. Most of the bottles were that junk. Trash thrown away first by drunks and high schoolers who partied on the beach. But sometimes, there was a one bottle. A special bottle that would wash up on shore and contain what Marco had come to call The Story. Marco waited and checked every junk bottle for that one special bottle.
Just over a year ago the ocean had started depositing corked green bottles on the beach, each one with a piece of paper torn from a spiral, lined notebook. Sometimes a half sheet or a scrap or a slip. Other times a whole page. Each of these bottles contained a passage from The Story. The tale of a man stranded on a island so much unlike Marco’s own, shipwrecked after his crew turned against him on the eve of a terrible storm. He told the receiver of the bottles how he evaded his mutinous crew each day with a serious of clever traps, false trails through a dense jungle of trees and uneven terrain. All so he may keep hidden the bounty he and his crew had stolen while pirating the high seas. The author of The Story never issued a call for help during his tale. Never did he plead for relief from his island. With a roguish narrative, playful and confident, he simply told whoever would read his tale that he would best every man who’d betrayed him and find a way off the island himself.
For whatever reason, this story came to Marco. To the beach Marco’s family shared with their neighbors. And out of all the bottles that washed up on shore, the dozens Marco checked, he always managed to find the next part of The Story. Each bottled piece unbroken from the previous piece found. Each new part of the tale seeming to begin where the last left off. As if the author meant The Story for Marco and Marco alone.
With a child’s small, nimble fingers Marco began to unroll the paper he’d plucked from the bottle. A pressure rose in his chest, as if sucking in a breath before exhaling the last.
Where was the author today? Which of the men who’d betrayed him would he lead into a deadly noose today? Or perhaps this was the final piece before the author made his way off the island?
A voice cut through the wind and the ocean’s sounds, calling for Marco. It was time for school and his mother would have no son of hers tardy.
Marco let out a suffering sigh, knowing better than to try his mother’s patience. He also wanted to savor this piece of the story. It might be months and a hundred bottles before another special corked bottle washed up on their shore.
So the boy pocketed the rolled paper and placed its seafaring vessel beside the rock he bounded up from. Right next to a dozen similar long-necked bottles wedged nearly up to the necks in the white sands slowly growing warmer with the morning sun.
Scarf tails trailing behind him like pennons, Marco followed the shrill warnings his mother flung on the winds, climbing the beach back toward his family’s home. As he did, he spared one look over his shoulder at the roaring ocean. And not for the first time he wandered just where The Story‘s island might lay out there in the infinity of waves.