16 Feb 2018 – After the Flood

Scott Summers365 Stories, General Fiction


Photo by Andrew Measham on Unsplash

I have never found the rainy season gentle.  The rivers and streams, so peaceful throughout the year, bellow with a rage unyielding.  They swell and churn in their anger, roiling with whitecaps and rapids that can be heard across the valley.  For nearly a month each year, the rivers become a dangerous place.

It is in the wake of that torrent that I find the bottle.  It sits upon the river stones, almost otherworldly in its pristine appearance.  The glass, by some miracle, has not shattered.  The cork stopper stuffed into the mouth of the glass holds fast, protecting a thin sliver of paper within.

A message.

A message in a bottle is no way to communicate, but that concern does not overpower my curiosity as I navigate the slick stones to retrieve it.  I place my fingers against the cool glass and press the curvature of the bottle against my palm.  I try to uncap the stopper, but a thin line of sealant — glue, perhaps? — bars my passage.

This, it seems, will require extra work.

The bottle returns home with me and earns a place upon the kitchen countertop.  There is cleaning to be done this day, and even the master of the bottle cannot compete for my attention in the face of necessity.  The children will be home soon.  They will bring their own stories and challenges with them, all of which require a mother’s touch.

My touch, as it happens.

Had I been asked long ago if this was the life I wanted, I am unsure how I would have answered.  I was young and enamored by my childhood sweetheart, Rhys, who twisted my heart into the kind of knots you only hear about in stories and songs.  This was in direct contrast to my own sense of adventure, to my desire to make my own way out in the world.

Rhys and I dated for a time with a kind of fire and passion that burns hot and bright and leaves nothing in its wake.  And when all that kindling burned away and there was little left for Rhys to love, he left me heartbroken in its wake.

Ivan found me a short time later, broken and destitute, and helped me to stand my own two feet.  I loved him for that, enough to take accept his hand in marriage, though the sparks in our relationship had long-since cooled.

He arrives first that afternoon and barely notices me.  Ivan is a distracted man, always living in the future and hardly in the present.  My grandfather told me once that the future is like a garden — a full harvest requires a presence of mind.  I hardly understood what he meant, at the time, though it makes sense to me now.

It was Ivan’s solidity, his drive to push forward to a new dawn that saved me from myself.  In turn, it is what saves him from looking too closely at the cracks in our marriage and the problems steeped within that unsteady foundation.  He simply fails to see it.

He pays no mind to the bottle as he sets his briefcase beside the door and plants a kiss on my cheek.  With hardly a word, he is off to his shop to tinker with his own projects.  He will stay there until his ears catch the sound of clinking glass and silverware as I set the dinner table.

The bottle catches my eye as I do this, nestled just beneath the kitchen counter like a kindly kept secret.  It calls out to me, though I ignore it.  There is still work to be done before I can find the time I need to unravel its mysteries.

The kids arrive shortly before dinner, the two of them arguing over their own school day, and whose assignments are worse.  They are twins, always together and always competitive.  Too busy with their own bickering, I am an afterthought to them as they leave their muddy shoes by the door and hurry up the stairs.

Afternoons like this are tenuous moments, where I can be called upon by husband or child and am obliged to answer.  When all of them are away, I can reside in solidarity.  That is not the case when any of them could call out to me at any moment.

When everyone is fed and satisfied, and the kitchen is cleaned and the dishes are put away, I settle down at the table with a small knife and work the blade around the lip of the glass.  It slices through the glue, and I manage to skewer the cork with the tip of the knife.

There is a thrill in my throat as I work the stopper free.  My mind blossoms with questions, and the power of that anticipation sends chills along my arm.  Where have my passions gone?  Surely, those childhood dreams I held long ago are inside me somewhere.  Perhaps I should find them again, find some way to live again.

I tip the bottle upright and began to work with the parchment.  I suspect that it was rolled more tightly when it was stuffed down the throat of the bottle.  Since then, it has relaxed and is now far too large to be rescued.  I manage to grasp at it with a pair of tweezers and roll it tightly.  As I do, I hold the bottle upside down and coax the paper into the open air.  It falls onto the table in a heap.

My throat is dry and my imagination is wild as I unfurl it.  What if it is a long-lost love note from Rhys?  An apology for the way we left things?  It is a foolish thought, of course — the kind of trite narrative I might expect to find in a dime store novel.  And yet, as my fingers roll back the parchment, I am nearly trembling at the thought.

It is in that between moment that I realize the truth of my own despair.  I glance up, around the home Ivan and I have made and know that I am in a foreign place.  That this place is mine and not mine, a pale imitation of a dream crushed by love and loss.

I hate this place, yet I am a prisoner to it.  I am thankful for all that Ivan has done, yet I am beholden to him.  It is a wash of unfamiliar sorrow that makes me feel as though I am drowning.  I try to crush it down when I feel hot tears streak across my face, but I cannot contain it.

I can only focus on the rolled parchment between my fingertips.

I unfurl the page to its full-length stare.  It is empty.  I turn it over to find the opposite side blank, as well.  In faded lines upon the parchment, I see blurred ink stains soaked through by the pervasive moisture that even glue cannot keep out.

I study it for far too long, flipping the page from back to front.  I know that am I am not searching for a message anymore.

Instead, I am searching for change.