The beach before dawn is a curious place. The ocean is at one with the darkness and vastness of the sky. Unless a bright moon has been specially ordered for the occasion there is no natural agent to create any poetry of feeling. The remaining stars in the mysterious heavens fractionally light the sand, but only a portion to the properly required human degree.
Sure footing is a must in this sometimes treacherous terrain. Broken bottles and discarded cans can prove a hazard for the beachcomber, and the old and fraying Reeboks Peter wore revealed evidence of just a newly discovered passion for the great outdoors.
Peter was there on the beach long before the sun’s first rays shot their golden streaks over the horizon. It had been his custom for the last few weeks. He wanted to arrive before anyone else to search through the flotsam and jetsam and other discarded pieces the evening tide would inevitably bring forth.
Peter’s search was for items valuable only to him. Torch light in hand, he prowled along the water’s edge like a dog playing with tiddlers. He was hoping to find that certain treasure amongst the piles of smelly seaweed and waterlogged driftwood and, here, on his fifteenth consecutive day of searching, at last he was rewarded.
The bottle was small and appeared to be green. The cork lodged firmly in the top of its neck gave a promise of a communication to be found inside. Carefully, Peter placed the bottle in the haversack he wore over his shoulder and retreated back to the small dunes. There, he stopped to sit down on the cool sand and take the bottle together with a small knife from the haversack to try and loosen the cork.
Day was upon him before he realised. What was only moments ago darkness around him had quickly given way to shapes of familiar landmarks in the distance. There were the beach houses of the wealthy on the point nestled together like a small herd of stubborn Rhino, as if the affluent in this city were an endangered species. He saw the pine trees on the green expanse. It seemed contradictory that they stood so firm and tall like immovable objects, when Peter knew any fierce storm of extreme magnitude could lay them flat in minutes. Beside them by the clubhouse stood brand new shops, a few still empty; a Streets Ice Cream sign waiting for warmer times.
Back to the task at hand, the cork came loose with little effort, and shaken upside down the bottle produced the precious note. Once quickly unfolded, Peter saw the paper contained typed letters. Excitedly he read the message:
All around me is only blue. I can see nothing else. I try to make my way back to you.
Peter read the note over and over again. He wondered, was it from her?
It must have been from her. She said she would try and contact him, that is what she had firmly told him, and she was never a liar.
He re-folded the note and placed it in his top pocket for safekeeping. He would wait for her next message.
The following morning on the shoreline, torch light in hand, he found not one, but two small green bottles. Carefully, he removed the typed notes to read.
Disappointingly, the first note was exactly the same as the one he had collected the day before, but the other was a new communication:
Over the blue of the ocean, I follow the flight of migrating birds to make my way back to you.
Peter re-read it before placing it in his top pocket.
She was trying to find him as she said she would. He knew there would be more notes to come.
It was ten o’clock in the morning when Christine visited his small house. She let herself in with the key Peter had given her, then found him in the kitchen and asked him if he needed any housework done. He didn’t refuse her offer. Instead he politely told her he would rather do it himself. She reminded him that he would only have her at his disposal for a few more weeks. Then the social services assistance program would end.
Christine asked him how he was coping now without Lauren, and he said that it was like she was still all around him; it was like she had never left, as if she was still alive.
Christine, noticeably cautiously, suggested he start a ‘clean-up’.
“I’m sure there are many things of Lauren’s you could give to charity,” she said. “They are no good to her any more. She is in a better place now.”
Peter simply nodded, but did not commit himself either way to dispose of Lauren’s things. What would she do if she returned to find he had given away all of her clothes? She would certainly be very angry.
As far as he was concerned, Lauren was coming back. He didn’t tell Christine that, he didn’t even show her the notes. It was probably out of fear: his fear that she would put scorn on his belief, ridicule his notion that his wife would return to him. Christine would think his senses had left him, perhaps that someone was sending the notes in the bottles to play with his mind. He thought the practical around him would question his sanity.
It didn’t matter. He knew it was true. He had the notes. She was trying to come back to him, just as she had promised at the time of her last breaths. He was looking forward to another early start tomorrow and the search for more messages from the blue. It had become a compulsion, he knew that well. He wondered, when does such a power of influence begin, and when does it end? Or was it simply never ending.
Christine stayed for a time and had a cup of tea with him. They chattered about local issues. He found it nice to chat. The conversation was not as important as the company. She wished him well before she departed. Peter thought she was a nice lady, very caring. She was probably a volunteer, and was not paid to check-in on old widowers like him. He considered she would be at least ten years his junior.
Early the next morning he returned to the darkness of the beach. No light was needed to smell the salty ocean, and the silence had become his friend. Within the silence, not even his own thoughts could be a distraction.
He found another bottle on the shoreline, and excitedly he extracted the typed note it contained to read:
I try and follow the birds but they fly far too fast. All around me is blue. I worry about you.
He looked around for more bottles and found many others–there were almost a dozen of them trapped within the seaweed. Frantically, he gathered them all up into his haversack and brought them back home.
In the quiet of his kitchen, he removed the corks from all of the bottles, one by one. Some of the notes were water-affected and the typing was now illegible, some had just one or two words:
You, and, I search.
Others contained longer messages:
It is for you I search. I wait for the day when I will reach you. I search in the blue.
Where I am I think of you. Here, there is no future, no past, just my search.
He stored the notes away in a secret hiding place behind an antique kettle on his top kitchen shelf, and then he contemplated on his current situation.
Most ongoing actions in any life seem to require some kind of conclusion. There appeared to be no resolution on the edge of his horizon. Life continued as it always had, with no rhyme nor reason, blind and unguided. Time was like the draught horses he remembered seeing as a child. They moved on slow and steady, though their progress as they dragged their burden behind them was inevitable.
Christine paid him another visit later that morning. She mentioned that the council were now funding a men’s shed, and that he should consider visiting it some time. She placed her hand upon his shoulder. He felt the warmth of her touch.
He asked her if she thought someone deceased could make contact from the other side.
She smiled gently, and said, “Anything is possible.”
“I’m sure that Lauren is trying to contact me.”
“From what I’ve heard about Lauren, if anyone could make contact from the other side, it would be her.”
It was reassuring to hear Christine say that, but Peter was still not comfortable enough to show her the notes. The secret was his alone, and not one he felt he could share.
“She told me before she died that if it was at all possible for her she would contact me. She said she would find me from wherever she travelled. It was her promise. The very last words she ever spoke to me were, ‘I will find you again. Happiness be with you always’.”
Christine gave a patient nod.
“Whatever is in your heart will be true for you. We never stop missing the ones we love. They are always in our thoughts. When my husband passed away three years ago, I dreamed about him every night for the first six months.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t realise you have also had a loss.”
He wanted to tell her how much he missed Lauren, but for the first time he became aware that in all these weeks and months since Lauren had passed he had not dreamt about her at all. With the notes he now received, there was no need for dreams. She was out there, looking for him from whatever world was now her home. Perhaps, in reality, she was almost close enough to touch. But, for now, it was the warm touch of another woman he felt with Christine’s hand continuing to caress his shoulder.
“I know that people in this town used to say she was a witch,” he said. “She was a keen student of the occult.”
With this forthright admission, he lowered his head and waited for Christine’s reply.
“The idle need their idle gossip,” she said softly. “They didn’t really know her. You did.”
The next morning, for the first time in weeks, Peter did not go to the beach. Later that afternoon he was sitting in his backyard when a bird dropped from the sky with a dull thud to fall beside him. In his haste to examine the fallen bird, he accidently banged his knee on the backyard table. He limped towards the bird. It was clearly a white dove, its eyes firmly closed in apparent death. It had some sort of band attached to its leg. Removing the band and unwrapping it, he found it to be a message:
Where I am is so unlike where you are. I wish I could fly to you like a bird. It is for you whom I worry. I search for you every day, but I fear there is no escape from this place where I now am.
Without warning, the dove came back to life and flew away into the clouds. Peter stood and watched as it disappeared into a greater white. He felt as though he could feel the Earth’s slow rotation under his feet. With every passing second, time was moving. It was unstoppable in its forward motion.
That afternoon, Christine dropped by with a sponge cake covered with lemon icing. They ate the sweet cake with generous cups of strongly brewed tea. Peter asked her if she would like to stay for dinner. He explained that he had never been much of a chef, though lately, with practice, his cooking was improving.
“I would like that very much,” she said.
For Peter, it seemed to be something right, a natural progression of time.
After a successful dinner and Christine had departed, he went to examine his collection of notes on the top kitchen cupboard. To his astonishment, they were no longer there.
He pondered, what was real in his life, and what was only imagination? Everything was real in some way. It always had been.
Early the next morning he searched the shoreline in the darkness. There was just one green bottle to be found nestled in the seaweed. Its message read:
As much as I search for you, I cannot find you. I am in the blue and you are too far away to see. One day I will find you again, but not for now. Happiness be with you always.
Time was passing rhythmically, but surely, just like those dependable waves softly caressing the beach.
As the Earth continued its dip and the golden streaks of sunshine forced their way over the horizon, Peter felt he could sense her presence in the dawn glow. Not only was she there, she was everywhere: in the rippling waves of the ocean, with the very same blue as her eyes; in the loose, grainy sand beneath his feet, in the wonder of the gradually lightening sky. She was lingering silently in the salty air, but she was still nowhere to be physically seen. In this moment and time she remained naturally separated from view.
He released the note from his fingers to drop into the blue ocean water. He imagined welcoming lights in the distance and slowly turned to walk home.