Message in a Bottle


The story so far.......

Photo courtesy of ShutterstockThe creamy green bottle was almost completely submerged under the wet sand next to the harbour wall. Shaded by the hulls of the steely blue fishing boats, it was almost impossible to see until a watery strip of sunlight suddenly allowed it a final attempt to glisten against the sandy pebbles it was nestling within.

Who would notice it first? Would anyone pick it up? The question was soon answered. In between the primary and stripey deckchair hues, the blues and reds of relaxation, the carefully prepared  picnics, the fragile windbreaks, the driftwood clumps and the swirling seaweed, the bottle claimed its winner. The outstretched hand which plucked the beached bottle from its sandy resting place was determined - as if everything for one moment centred on that one swift action.

Its new owner stared fixedly at the neck of the bottle as if searching for an answer. By now, the bottle was swinging aloft - held high above the bobbing seagulls and the dappled waves, the paddling children and the stoic sandcastles.  A lime green, faded label indicated in Olde English typeface that it had once contained ginger beer - apparently made in Northumberland. Who had drunk it? Had they been celebrating at some distant student summer picnic? Walking along another distant beach with their family, looking for the perfect place to unwind and have proper conversations with each other - away from the hurtling demands of their everyday 9 to 5 lives?

The bottle-holder held it up against the now greying light - it was early afternoon, but the September sunshine already seemed somehow more fragile, less robust, slightly less sturdy. But still determined. The ink-stained piece of paper inside the old bottle moved a little as the breeze caught it and revealed one spidery written word - "serendipity."  There was something quite surreal and yet unsurprising about seeing that word. Something familiar and yet unexpected.

Now the question changed to - who had written the note and what did it signify? Had someone written it from the purest joy of appreciating the wonderful coincidences of life - the chance meetings with people we haven't met for years or with people we were always meant to meet? If so, who had they suddenly met and where? Or was it written as a word of advice to the bottle's finder - a reminder to seize every one of life's moments and live each one not just to the brim - but to overflowing? 

Chloe sat down for a moment and leaned back against one of the fishing boats which had been pushed up onto the water's edge. Slowly turning the bottle over, she noticed the date on the label - a competition banner told her she had missed the chance to take part by over 50 years. The closing date was 16th February, 1956. So now another question? When had the spidery note been written?

Slowly, she pulled it from its resting place - a piece of paper so faded and flimsy in its texture as to be almost transparent. As she did so, the note she held crumbled slowly in her hand - leaving her holding the exact outline of the word as the paper pieces around it crumbled to the sands like confetti. The bottle rolled slowly away down towards the sea and Chloe reclaimed it shortly before the growing breeze reunited it with its previous watery home.

Serendipity. What was she to do now? With the bottle? The note? With the decision she had come down to the harbour to try to make? People always told her she thought too much. So maybe, just this once, she'd just sit back and see what happened............




Photo courtesy of Kirsty Elson

On a day like this, it was difficult to tell where the beach at Stysdale ended and the steely sea took over. The fine, seemingly infinite filigree fingers of sand reached out so very far towards the horizon, it was as if they somehow could not, would not, let go of that day's tide. Not without exerting every possible claim they could to stop it going into exile.

Maybe, Amy thought, those fingers of sand knew what she did. Yes, each new rolling, undulating tide brought new gifts, new discoveries, new delights each day. A new canvas to be worked on and savoured, a new panoply of natural colour to shimmer and sparkle on the surf. The greens, blacks and purples of the twirling, intertwining seaweed strands, the mosaics of rose peppered pebbles, the errant golden driftwood shapes.

However, each new tide, each new day, also came back to wipe that glorious picture clean again too, leaving very little trace or silhouette of what had gone before it. Just like the transience of emotions, of moments, memories. Glimpses and fragments to savour - but holding onto them is as impossible as holding on to shifting sand. That was Amy's challenge - how to hold on to that sense of belonging and happiness she had discovered here in this haven.  

Stysdale's sturdy little sand-washed houses stood in a line of unison against the unpredictable Cornish elements. Brightly coloured doors singing in the face of a stern asphalt shy - primary colours jostling for position, asking to be noticed, giggling, dancing, defying onlookers not to be cheered by their presence. How could anyone fail to be cheered by their smiling tones?

Amy noticed them every day as she cycled down to the fishing jetty at the far end of the harbour. She looked for them particularly that morning, holding the images in her head like an affirming talisman from the very moment she had awoken. Maybe even before she had awoken. It seemed as if those azures, lemons and hollies could not be erased from her soul - the vibrancy of those familiar colours seemed to echo across and around her senses, wherever she was.

Would they stay in her soul even if she really did have to leave this place? The ebony starkness of that thought made her shudder involuntarily as she cycled along these so known, so loved streets. The thought of not cycling these streets was not possible for her to translate or decipher - it simply lay as far outside her current reality as to belong in another era entirely - certainly not in her world.

She tried to shrug the uninvited thoughts away as she cycled past her favourite cottages. If she refused to allow them in, surely they couldn't take hold. As she fixed her gaze on the familiar multi-coloured visages, she willed them not to let her go. The brightly hued palette blurred as she free-wheeled past - the sensation almost made her feel airborne.

1955 had been a good year for her - a year of coming home and of finding home. And now that she had discovered that unknown feeling, she wanted to hold onto it firmly, wanted to hold back the tide, wanted to encircle that day's beach treasures and protect them as if their guardian. Fitting, as this place had become her guardian for the last 6 months.

Reaching the jetty, she dug deep into her pocket to find the unwanted railway ticket, pushed so deep inside it would be possible to forget it was there. Still a week to go, she told herself. Plenty of time for things to change. Plenty of time for things to stay the same. Just hold onto this view. Savour the moment. She could see it just as clearly with her eyes closed - the tiny liquorice-striped bobbing boats; the foamy-capped waves gently lapping the harbour walls; the soft, golden, nestling sands.

Photo courtesy of Kirsty Elson

Opening her eyes, she breathed out very, very, very slowly. As if she could somehow slow time down by doing so. And that was when she saw the bottle. Discarded? Washed up?

Something about its unusual colour made her look again.

As soon as Amy's eyes fell on the smoky green bottle, it rolled gently away towards the blackened wall. Distracted by the sight of her very favourite red boat, her gaze was diverted. Older and so much more battered, dented and scraped than all the other glossier, newer boats in the harbour, it had been in her aunt's family for years. Despite its tired, jaded appearance, today -of all days- it reminded her of the sense of anchoring she had come to feel in this comforting place. The deep crimson hull reminded her of the festive season that was almost upon her and also of bright, happy times she had spent here at Christmas over the years of visiting this sanctuary.    

Noticing the group of children playing on the beach, tumbling, turning, throwing their ruby coloured ball into the shafts of sunlight, made her smile. Bouncing the ball over and into the family boat, running after it. Ecstatically happy with the simplest of objects. Perfectly content with their lot. She knew what that lightness felt like and knew she needed to hold onto that feeling at all costs.    

Yesterday's storm had washed another pile of flotsam and jetsam up onto the harbour wall - the  ultimate mix of random items.  Shells, stones, seaweed, pieces of driftwood, feathers, twigs. The objects she had loved to collect whenever she had visited as a child.

Sinking right back into her favourite old bench, she thought again about the decision she had to make. Why was it so difficult? She relished the peace and quiet of this safe haven - away from the constant noise of people giving opinions and advice back in her old city life. The life that was still trying to claim her back to a different and much less attractive variety of flotsam and jetsam. People telling her what decisions she needed to make to start the next year with. Why couldn't they just leave her to make her own mind up about her future? It was her future, after all!

Photo courtesy of Kirsty Elson

The green bottle had, by now, rolled right away from her and was caught in the twisted fronds of fishing nets next to the crimson boat. One of the children noticed it and picked it up. Tommy turned it over and over in his palm, catching fragments of sunshine within its reflection and sending russet red sparkles up into the air, like so many Christmas candles. It gave her a fleeting sense of hope.

What would she be going back to if she left? A place that no longer held anything for her. An empty building. Shadows. Shadowy memories. Nothing that compared with here.

Tommy came running up, with the bottle in his hand. He had spied the competition to "solve the conundrum for £10,000". "What does it mean? It makes no sense!" Amy smiled as soon as she saw it.  She was always the one in her family to solve word puzzles, crosswords, charades. Staring at the label, she had deciphered the code within seconds. I SEE DRY PINT was emblazoned across the back of the label. No wonder the children had been so mystified. It struck her as so ironic that she could solve that kind of word puzzle so quickly, even if she wasn't anywhere near as good at solving the questions in her day-to-day life!

Tommy had run off back to the ball games, the bottle having already lost its attraction. Absentmindedly, she picked it up and twisted it round and round in her hands, watching the iridescent green light and searching deep inside her coat for her trusty notebook to write down the answer to the word game. Maybe it was a sign? Her pencil hovered slowly over each letter as she etched them onto the paper. S.E.R.E.N D.I.P.I.T.Y.

She could stay. Surely that is what this news meant? Or at least, it was about the strongest sign Amy could have received. She checked the details on the bottle again and again. It was definitely legitimate and the competition was definitely current. All she had to do was clean the label up a little and fill her details in.

How could life suddenly change from being so full of confusing questions, rattling around in your head like coins in a money jar, to promising so many unexpected opportunities? How could it?

Standing up carefully to regain her sense of equilibrium (physically, at least - if not mentally) she looked around her. The sky was the same watery blue; the children were still playing together down by the boats. They had long since forgotten about the strange puzzle on the bottle which they had given her to resolve only a few moments before and had moved on to playing with a piece of old twine as a skipping rope. "One, two, three, four", they chanted as the twine rhythmically turned and turned against the wet sand and they all took it in turns to run in and out in time to the chant.

Could life really become that rhythmic for her? Had she ever before had that sense of balance and belonging? She had been brought up to believe that money wasn't that significant - that it didn't change your life in the best of ways sometimes, that it could leave you chasing after it and never quite feeling fulfilled. Was any of this really happening?

But the £10,000 which the competition win offered surely meant that she could not only stay here, she could also fulfil her dream. She could buy the dilapidated, decaying, disused old sweet shop on the corner of the harbour. The place that had long since held (in her imagination at least) the key to all kinds of exciting and seemingly unobtainable options to her future.

Photo courtesy of Kirsty Elson

It is one thing to revel in your present, to immerse yourself in it and refuse to let it go. To want to hold onto something that you care about and to protect it from every kind of attempt to wrestle that present from you.  That was what she had been fighting to do for the last few weeks. Just to hold on. It was quite another thing to turn that present into a realistic and beckoning vision of the future. It required planning. And planning was exactly what she had managed to avoid. What she had hidden away from here in this sleepy little hideaway village.

Walking over to the old shop, the door almost completely crumbled away from its weighty black hinges, she pushed her way inside. Everyone knew it was never locked - it never had to be in this place. No-one was going to damage it in any way - most people just walked past it and wondered how it was still standing up against the elements.

Inside, the old black counter and rickety wooden shelves lay silent and yet simultaneously questioning as she looked around. What will she be selling, they seem to wonder. It just feels right, being inside. Not the musty old smell and the damp wood - but the feel of it, the sense of overwhelmingly warm light that envelopes her, the familiar and yet always breath-taking view of her favourite harbour. She can already imagine it - how it will be, how it will look.

Her inner voice questioned her - what did she know about business? The answer was not much - actually, not anything. But who does, when they start out? As she thought about painting the shop, repairing the walls, fitting new counters and brightly coloured new shelving, the ideas grew stronger and stronger in her mind.

Everyone drew the boats here, didn't they? And rocks, houses, seascapes, pictures of harbours, pictures of boats bobbing in the harbour. All beautiful. All vividly painted and all full of atmosphere and colour. But she wanted to make things - to feel the sense of connection with the sea she loved so much, to use its treasures and enable people to hold a little piece of this wonderful place in their hands.

She had many creations hidden away back at the house already - things she had lovingly made from objects she had discovered on the sand - pieces of wood, screws, abandoned objects in all colours, shapes and sizes. The daily treasure trove of the morning tide. Where had they come from, she often wondered? What was their past? What stories could they tell if they could speak?

This was her chance to give them a voice. Bring them to life again.  Allow them to speak to people - and give people a little piece of this beautiful place to hold onto and to connect with. 

What more fitting way to use the competition prize that had been presented by a bottle washed up on a beach? She had to smile at the irony and the beautiful coincidence. At the way things could so suddenly change in your favour. 

What could she call the shop? What else could it be than Serendipity?

To be continued next month....

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