a soldier slipped two messages into a ginger beer bottle,
sealed it with a rubber stopper and dropped it into the english channel
85 years later, a fisherman, off the coast of essex,
dredges up the ginger beer bottle, pulls the rubber stopper out,
and retrieves the two messages, one thin and coiled like a nautilus shell,
the other an envelope folded over itself
the first message asks whomever finds the note
to pass the sealed letter onto the soldier's wife
so the fisherman tries, and finds the daughter of the soldier
still living at the same address as the soldier had 85 years before.
when the fisherman slips the envelope into the soldier's daughter's hand,
she looks at it a very long time before breaking the seal
reading it once to herself, slowly, then again, out loud, to the fisherman.
her father asked her mother to write the date and hour she opened the letter,
and sign her name in the right hand corner, keeping it safe on the mantle
behind their wedding photo, so that if she ever got sad,
she could see his words peeking out from behind his face,
like a child playing hide and seek and know, soon, he would come back to her,
and they would both read the letter together, and laugh.
the fisherman looks just past the soldier's daughter,
the daughter now 60 years older than the soldier ever got to be,
on the mantle, the wedding photo balances, unmoved
there's a smudge in the right hand corner of the frame,
the ghost of a fingerprint just touching the edge of the veil haloing
a young woman's face, her smile a little tremulous,
the one you wear when your clothes are brand new,
when you're young and happy and all filled up with life
and someone asks you to stand still and it's almost impossible
because the one you love the most is right next to you
and nobody knows what the two of you do, not for a second,
and it's all you can manage not to throw your arms around him right there,
in front of everyone and his hand finds yours, squeezes,
and joy flares in your eyes just as the camera bulb pops and it's there, forever,
no matter what happens next, whether you live a thousand years
with your husband right next to you
or if somebody decides to start a war in a place a long way away from the two of you
and snatches up the one you love, as if they had any claim to him,
presses a gun into his palm, still warm from your hand,
buttons him into a uniform you wear to kill people
and on the morning he leaves for the front, he thinks of you
and your little daughter, a year old, and, on a whim, borrows an envelope
and scraps of paper and writes a message to you, folds his words over themselves,
slips them into a ginger beer bottle and, doing his best cy young,
pitches it into the channel, two days later, in a field in some french town
whose name he can't pronounce,
he feels the searing heat of a bullet sever the carotid artery and jugular vein
providing the blood and oxygen for his brain, and dies, bleeding out
next to thousands of boys, just off a train, boots so new they squeak when they fall
and you live sixty years without your soldier, watching the photograph
of the scariest and happiest day of your life,
never knowing a letter is meant to live behind it.
the soldier's daughter looks at the fisherman
who's still looking at the boy and girl in the image from 85 years ago.
there's an old, old feeling at the base of her heart that almost floats to the surface
it smells like salt and decay and unfairness and the arbitrary caprices of life,
but she takes her hand with the letter inside it, presses it against the beating,
and love rises up instead.
is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BA in Studio Art. She resides in Graham, NC with her cats Charlie Chaplin and Janis Joplin.