I’m blaming this entire work in progress on two things: Sting and Disney.
Sting because I got the notion for this story as I drove to work this week, and I’ve been waiting to write it as I let it sort of take hold in my head. Disney, because, well…we need a happy ending in this fairy-tale-ish story that I intended to be a little far-fetched, but still a little quirky and fun.
I’m planning to add it (when it’s entirely done…remember…this is a WIP, with the potential to change a lot) to my collection of short stories to be released late summer.
Hope you like it, and feel free to offer comments, as I love reader feedback.
ISO Love in a Bottle
The first time Lizzie saw the bottle float by, she moved her buttocks to the edge of the dock and tried to grab it with her two bare feet as it bobbed below her. The second time it floated back around, the tide had become a little bit higher, and she placed herself tummy down on the dock and tried to reach it with her hands. No luck. The third time she saw it, the sun causing it to glisten in the water as the light reflected off the glass, two young boys had arrived at the pier with their mother, who sat along the shore with a book, to go crabbing. The boys ran up on the pier with their bucket and crabbing gear.
“May I borrow your net for a moment,” she asked one of the kids, and the one with the blonde hair falling over his eyes cautiously handed over the net.
“You’ll give in back, right?” he asked, hesitant to let go of it.
“I’ll give it back in two shakes,” she said.
“Whatever that means,” the boy said under his breath.
Lizzie raced toward the back of the pier where she believed the current would take the bottle. When she saw it moving her way, she steadied herself, legs wide apart, and gently put the net into the water, the two boys following and watching from not too far behind her. She caught it and pulled the bottle up from the water. Inside the bottle was rolled up paper, and she could see as she pulled it closer that there was writing on it.
“You got it!” the boy with the blonde hair shouted.
“I did,” she said, turning to them with a smile.
“Awesome!” the other kid, wearing a red Nike hat, said.
“What is it?” the boys asked, curious about the prize that was inside their net.
“I’m going to read the note.”
“What if it’s from a pirate? How will you get a note back to his ship?”
“That’s a very good question,” she said, taken with the boy’s astute insight. “Thank you for letting me use your net. I’ll read it and tell you what it says.”
“Promise?” the boys asked.
“Promise,” she said. “Now, you’d better get back to your crabbing before the they scurry away.”
The boys began lowering their stinky chicken wings tied with strings into the water, fastening them to the iron boat hooks on the dock. Lizzie walked back over to where she was sitting, feeling the breeze come off the water, as the sun warmed her body all over.
Her hand was shaking, and she felt like a child opening a present on Christmas morning after the long anticipation of the season.
A message in a bottle.
Suddenly, the sound of Sting’s voice popped into her head. Not the sound of Sting’s voice in the studio version The Police recorded years ago, but the one he performed acoustically on Inside the Actors Studio, a show she never misses. She was holding it. A message in a bottle.
Sting had always been one of her favorite artists. That voice, so unique, so definitively…Sting. Message in a Bottle had always been one of her favorite songs. She liked the rock version, the punk version, the acoustic version, and even the recent Bruno Mars version.
And now, here she was, sitting on a dock, uncorking a message in a bottle.
She popped the cork, which took a moment. The bottle had been properly sealed so no water could get inside it, although it looked as if some moisture had broken through. Using her pinky finger to pull the letter out, careful not to rip it at all, she finagled her way inside and began to shimmy it out. Trying to keep it in its rolled form, she got an edge and with the bottle secured between her two legs, she used her other hand to catch the edge of the paper and began to gently pull.
It took a few minutes of careful maneuvering, but soon, it was fully out of the bottle. Message out of the bottle. She began to unfurl it, noticing the penmanship and artistry of the writing.
The letter began:
Dear B.O. (that would be Bottle Opener, not Body Odor):
They say it’s always good to break the ice with a little humor.
I’m glad that this letter has found you. You are probably wondering its origin. Where did it originate and from whom?
Let me assure you, I am not a pirate or a psychopath. I didn’t cast this letter off the side of a ship, nor did I pitch it off some Treasure Island. As disappointing and unexciting as this sounds, I cast it into the water from my kayak as I floated along the Chesapeake Bay as a sort of social experiment. It didn’t happen without concern, you realize. I worried that a boat would hit it and destroy both the bottle and the engine. I worried that it would get pummeled along some of the rockier parts of the Bay. (And here is where I must offer my sincere apologies to the folks at Save the Bay—it was not meant to harm the environment). However, in this age of digital communication, online dating, and virtual chat rooms, I decided to see if I could meet someone through the old method of a message in a bottle.
It may sound ridiculous to you, whoever you are who has found this bottle, but after the dissolution of three horrible sequential relationships—I thought maybe I’d go in search of love in an old-fashioned way and leave it to the universe. I figured it might work out better than a fix up by friends, a computer telling me who might be my best match, or my mother’s friends trying to hook me up with a friend of a friend of a friend.
So, here I am.
I’m a college-educated male, heterosexual, thirty-five, single, and I’ve never been married. I love dogs, but I don’t have one. I play golf twice a month, and Field of Dreams is the one movie that can almost make me cry. I like to read, which is good, because being alone most of the time offers plenty of time for that. I run three times a week and lift weights twice a week, so I try to keep in shape. I just started biking, but what I’d really like to have is a boat along with the kayak I mentioned previously, only I’m sometimes indecisive and don’t know exactly which one I want to buy. I have good friends who maybe raised an eyebrow when I told them of this bottle experiment, but they generally think I’m a good guy with a solid head on his shoulders. I live in a moderate home near the water, but not on it, and I have a solid job as an actuary, where I crunch numbers and analyze things. Mostly I solve problems related to risk.
And so here I am today taking a risk: a last-ditch, ridiculous risk, to see if someone out there might have the potential to be my better half. Or at least my other half. Or maybe just someone to go to the local firehouse with on Friday nights to play Bingo. (That last part was a joke.)
If you are a woman reading this and happen to be single seeking a nice man to spend time with, I may be your guy. I like drinking wine or a cold Blue Moon at sunset as the sun fades over the water, and I may even recite one of the two lines of Wordsworth I remember from my days taking poetry class as one of my general electives. I’ll keep those particular passages to myself for now, but please know I’ve got two memorized lines of prose set aside as romantic arsenal.
If this bottle finds its way into your hands and you have the slightest inclination to see who is the author of this letter, I have a plan.
For the next six months, on the first Friday of every month, I’ll be waiting to meet you at a restaurant called The Bridges in Queenstown, Maryland near the Kent Narrows Bridge. I’ll be sitting in the far right corner of the restaurant overlooking the docks and water at 7 p.m. wearing a yellow golf shirt and khaki shorts (unless it gets cold, then I may be in jeans depending upon the month you find this letter and seek out its owner). I have dark hair and brown eyes, and I’m about 5’10”. I’ll be waiting.
Please join me. Take a risk. What have you got to lose?
Lizzie held the note in her hands and looked out across the water.
Charming, she thought.
She had no way of knowing the date of the letter, as it was not written on the paper. Nick had neglected to do that. Would he still be there waiting on Friday nights? Was the letter months old or years old? Was he really thirty-five, or was he forty by now? And was he even still single? Maybe he had found someone in between writing the letter and now and had recited Wordsworth to someone new as they drank a cold Blue Moon and rode off into the sunset together.
Lizzie slapped herself.
Get a grip, she thought.
This is fantasy. Made up. It’s not real. People don’t meet like this…not this way.
No…they meet on Match.com or at a bar downtown at one in the morning when they’ve had one too many. They meet at work or at a sports event. They meet at a business mixer or at a corporate function or through friends and colleagues.
They don’t meet by reading a charming, eloquent, and heartfelt message in a bottle.
Today happened to be Thursday. Tomorrow would be the first Friday in July, and she was sitting here in her spot enjoying her summer break from teaching contemplating acting on this message. She lived her life so conservatively, so by the book. She’d never done anything impulsive in her life. Lizzie felt the wind in her face and wondered why Joe left her right after New Year’s for the young blonde he hired in accounting. She still wasn’t entirely over the hurt of it.
Lizzie was thirty-seven, a couple of years older than Nick, the letter-writer, depending upon, of course, when he penned that letter.
She, in fact, was single.
And she loved Wordsworth.
The two kids approached her with a big blue crab in their net.
“Look at this guy we got!” they exclaimed, proud of their conquest.
“Amazing!” she said. “What a catch? Are you going to keep him or thrown him back?”
“Throw him back, of course,” the kid wearing the Nike hat said. “We don’t know how to cook them and my mother won’t boil the crabs. She says that’s mean to do to animals.”
“Well then, just be excited about capturing him, and let him swim free when you’re ready,” she said.
“What did the letter say,” the blonde-haired kid asked, pointing to the letter she was clutching in her hand.
“Well, see that spot over there where the sand is white and it meets the river?”
“Yes,” they said.
“Apparently, the guy who wrote this letter, who may or may not be a pirate, said that’s the spot where he found some cool things that washed up to shore. You may want to investigate when you’re done crabbing and see if you find any loot…or any interesting items.”
It was a half-lie, she knew. But how do explain a desperate, but adorable love letter to a couple of six year olds? Plus, when she was little, she did find several interesting things that washed up on the shore over there…some fish skeletons, an old watch, and a St. Christopher necklace.
“Cool,” the boys said. “See ya.” And they walked back over to their bucket of smelly chicken and twine.
Lizzie showered and did her makeup and hair. She took her time to look just right. I mean, we were talking about Wordsworth, after all. Would he be surprised to know that she teaches high school English? Would he want to read some of her own intimate poetry she’d been hiding in her bedside table, too afraid to share with anyone? She put her hair in a high ponytail and wore the red spaghetti-string summer dress she loved. She selected a simple pair of silver earrings and her favorite bracelet. On her feet: a pair of cream-colored espadrilles. Not too fancy or too casual, she thought.
She informed her own match-making mother that she was potentially meeting someone on a blind date if the timing worked out, and when her mother inquired as to how she knew the gentleman, Lizzie told her that she didn’t know him, but that she was meeting in a public place and that she would be fine. She also reassured her that she had her cellphone on her with the ringer turned way up high just in case, which settled her mother’s nerves. She didn’t tell her about the message, the bottle, or the sentiments expressed on the page.
On her drive across the Bay Bridge, she opened her moon roof and let the smell of the summer’s air fill her car. It was a beautiful evening. She had tucked the letter into her purse, leaving the bottle behind on her kitchen counter. She found the playlist she wanted. The Police.
She cranked the volume, and began to sing along…
“Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, oh
Another lonely day, with no one here but me, oh
More loneliness than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair, oh…
I’ll send an S.O.S to the world…”
“Can I help you?”
“Yes,” Lizzie said. “I’m meeting someone…a man named Nick?”
“Not sure,” the hostess said. “Is this a blind date?”
“Kind of,” Lizzie said, not knowing fully what it was, but not wanting to take the time to explain. “I’ll just go look for him.”
“Sure,” the hostess said, then turning to the next people in line.
Lizzie walked inside the restaurant. The views of the water were spectacular, and it was a beautiful night to sit outside. He said he’d be wearing a yellow shirt and khaki shorts and that he’d been in the corner. She scanned the room for anyone in yellow, and then allowed her eyes to move to the right side of the restaurant where the walls met in the corner near the window.
A man having dinner in a yellow shirt wearing khakis.
Lizzie’s hands began to tremble, and she swallowed hard.
He was handsome, with dark hair and a receding hairline. He looked fit, and had tanned skin from being outside. Lizzie conjured up all the courage she typically never had and dared herself to walk over to him and give this thing a try.As she approached him, he looked at her, and she reached inside her purse to grab the message that was inside the bottle.
He looked up at her and smiled.
“I believe this belongs to you,” she said, holding out the letter for him to see.
He stood and pulled out the vacant chair at the table, motioning her to join him.
“And I believe this chair belongs to you,” he said.
copyright 2018/Stephanie Verni/from The Postcard & Other Short Stories & Poems