The Written Sea

He walked with a heavy step through the grove of trees. Tall and stately, Alistair felt small beneath their looming branches. It was 9:57 and a Saturday, which meant the rain was due any second. Alistair looked up and his eyes were met with an ominous sky. He reached into his bag and pulled out a black umbrella, which he unfurled only a second before the ghostlike clouds let loose a torrent storm.

By ten o’ clock, Alistair had quickly woven his way through the small town and arrived at the post office. He stood underneath the red awning, his suit soaked through with the rain, and shook his head like a dog, attempting to rid himself of the water. He gazed out upon the abandoned street, pausing to look at the dark storefronts and the empty tables of the cafe. It was too early for most to be out and the rain had scared away the rest. As Alistair turned back towards the door, he saw the figure of a young woman darting behind a car, her turquoise dress flashing like scales. The rain has tricked you once again, he thought, and slicked back his dark brown hair. He swung open the door of the post office, the bells singing his arrival.

Alistair strode in and watched Bertha’s head snap up, like a dog who smelled fresh meat. She gave him a huge smile and laid her long red nails on her desk.

“Hello, Alistair.” She twirled a large, orange ringlet around one of her fingers and her smile somehow grew.

Alistair approached the desk nervously and gave Bertha a weak smile in return. “Good morning, Bertha.”

The post office was small and brightly lit, a pleasant little place, but Alistair couldn’t help but detest this Saturday morning routine. This was mostly due to Bertha and her intrusive nature.

“Now, what can I do for you today?” she said, batting her huge, green eyes, and leaning towards him. She looked as if she was about to devour him, a feat Alistair wouldn’t put past her.

“Just wondering if you’ve received my letter yet,” Alistair said shyly.

Bertha’s smile dissolved, a rather ugly expression left in its place. She stood up, curling her lip, and turned away from Alistair to examine the many tiny boxes that lined the back wall of the post office.

She turned around again and plopped back into her desk chair. “Nope, nothing. Again.”

Alistair peered behind her. “Doesn’t look like you checked too carefully, though. Perhaps another try?” he said hopefully.

Bertha gave him a murderous expression. She stood up, her long skirt unfurling like the wings of a fury. “Alistair. You have come in here every Saturday and every Saturday, I hope you have come to finally ask me out.”

Alistair weakly pointed behind Bertha. “My- my letter,” he stuttered, but Bertha ignored him.

“But no. You come every Saturday just to see if your letter has finally come from France, and every Saturday, I tell you, no!”

Alistair sighed and looked down at his palms.

“She hasn’t written to you, Alistair! She was lost at sea, remember? There is no letter coming!” Bertha started to pace back and forth behind the mail counter, papers fluttering wherever she stepped. “You are twenty five and you can’t wait for her forever!” She turned back to face him, her eyes flashing. “You must let her go, Alistair!”

Bertha sat down again, let out a long sigh, and began sorting through a box of letters. The door swung open, and in hobbled a rain-soaked Mr. Peterson.

“What’s all this racket I’m hearing?” he said, furrowing his brow and combing his fingers through his large mustache. He walked past Alistair and joined Bertha behind the desk. She stood, flustered, and Alistair was struck with amusement at the sight of a short and stout Mr. Peterson staring up at Bertha with a vexed expression. “Why are you yelling at a customer, Bertha?”

Bertha looked down at the floor with an insolent countenance. “Sorry, father,” she muttered.

Mr. Peterson shook his head. “Alistair, we are so sorry for this little inconvenience.”

Alistair smiled and shook his head. “No trouble at all. I suppose she’s right.”

Bertha turned to her father with a victorious smile. “See?” she shrieked. “I was just trying to help!”

Alistair noticed he had been standing awkwardly in the same spot for almost ten minutes and quietly began to exit.

“Bertha!” yelled Mr. Peterson. “You try to help everyone that comes in here! And most don’t find it quite as helpful!”

Alistair swung the door closed behind him, muffling Bertha’s cries of protest. The rain had stopped and the sky had morphed into a light gray. As Alistair walked down the street, he saw shopkeepers beginning to open up, and mothers pushing babies in strollers. Children chased each other around on the sidewalk and men sat at cafe tables, opening the front pages of their newspapers leisurely. Their days have just began, Alistair thought to himself, and mine have already ended.

Alistair strolled around aimlessly, before realising he had gone in a complete circle. The town of Whittlesbury was a small one, impossible to get lost in. But that meant it was also impossible to find anything new, and Alistair found that he was bored and without a destination.

“Alistair!” Alistair whirled around to see Timothy running at him. “Long time, no see,” he said with a grin, and engulfed Alistair in a hug.

“Hello, Timothy,” said Alistair, extracting himself from the embrace carefully, then smiling back at Timothy. “I wonder, do you have any room for a man in search of some breakfast?”

“Do I?” said Timothy, gesturing at his empty restaurant. “Hope you’re in the mood for pizza!” he called over his shoulder, as he ran back into the small restaurant.

Alistair grimaced and sat down at one of the red outdoor tables. Tim’s Pizza was usually deserted, as no one in town seemed to like Italian food. However, this had never discouraged Timothy, who was always dreaming up new kinds of pizza.

Alistair watched Timothy prepare his meal, using his mermaid shaped tap to fill a glass of beer. Fifteen minutes later, he ran out with a huge tray. “I hope you’ll enjoy my new delicacy, chicken barbecue pizza!” Alistair looked at the giant pizza, and highly doubted he would. Timothy pulled out the chair across from Alistair and sat down. “So, how’s Mr. Alistair?”

“Fine, thank you very much.” Alistair took a small slice of chicken barbecue pizza and cautiously took a bite. It was extremely spicy, and Alistair quickly took a gulp of his water, hoping he didn’t seem rude.

But Timothy appeared not to have noticed. “Well, I found a rather nice girl,” said Timothy looking at Alistair cautiously.

“I’m very happy for you,” said Alistair distractedly, attempting, in vain, to cut his slice with his dull butter knife.

“Well, she’s not for me,” said Timothy carefully. “She’s for you, old buddy.”

Alistair looked up at Timothy, his silverware clattering onto his plate. “Timothy.”

Timothy ran his hands through his black hair warily. “I thought it was a nice idea, Alistair. You haven’t been the same since the boat crash, and I just thought it might be a nice idea-”

“Please leave me alone,” said Alistair, looking morosely down at his breakfast.

“I’m sorry, Alistair, I just thought-”

“Please go.” Timothy got up quietly and walked back into Tim’s Pizza. Alistair got up, left some money on the small table, and walked away. As he crossed the street, he couldn’t help but regret the entire encounter.

Alistair shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers, his head bent over in thought as he made his back to his home. As he walked through the grove for the second time that day, he felt truly lost. The trees seemed to reach for him and he walked cautiously, carefully avoiding the skeletal branches.

Alistair’s house was located in a secluded clearing only minutes from the center of Whittlesbury. It was small and white, and constantly being pounded by the rain. As he climbed up the rickety steps that led to his chipped, red front door, he considered the thought that his little cottage may have become a little worse for wear. He turned the key in the rusty lock, and threw open the door.

The inside of the cottage was no better than the outside. As he walked to the kitchen, Alistair remembered the days when his house had to be spotless. But as he studied his empty refrigerator and his kitchen table, which was covered in newspaper clippings, he realized this was an idea of the old Alistair. He grabbed a box of cereal from the shelf and made his way to his study.

“Never, ever comin’ home again,” crooned a woman’s voice from the living room. “Because it’s filled with you.”

Alistair always left the radio on, but he didn’t ever listen to the songs. As he sat down in his large, leather chair, he remembered the days when every song that played the radio was happy. These days, they all seemed so sad.

“Okay, Alistair,” he said, as a ways of encouragement. “Let’s get this done.” He sifted through a large pile of papers that sat haphazardly on his cluttered desk. He was co-editor of the Whittlesbury Times, but he found no joy in the articles sent to his house. For the third time that month, Alistair quickly picked a few articles to be published, solely based on their titles. He slid them into an envelope and leaned back in his chair.

“Someone used to care,” sang a man soulfully. “Nobody cares anymore.”

His office was covered in photographs, some in frames, others in stacks on his bookcase, on his desk, and all over his tapestry-like rug. Alistair loved to take photographs, until about a year ago, when he smashed  his camera to bits on his asphalt driveway. But he couldn’t bear to get rid of all of his pictures.

His older photographs were of the ocean, mostly. When he had first moved to Whittlesbury, Alistair would go out sailing everyday, taking pictures of the sea, but he quickly found out that this couldn’t make you any money. He had been forced to also take pictures of families around town to retain a steady income.

About a year after this, the pictures began to change. No longer did they depict the ocean from Alistair’s boat. Instead, they portrayed a woman. With short auburn hair and turquoise eyes, she seemed to glow, even while being photographed in the pouring rain. Most of the pictures were of her, picnicking in a long yellow dress, or covered in paint, focused on a colorful canvas. Alistair still had some of her paintings, collecting dust in his attic. Alistair loved all of his pictures, especially the one in which she stuck her head in a large cutout of a mermaid at the town fair.

Alistair was only in one photograph. It was framed on his desk, portraying both of them. She wore a long white gown, with her hair in loose curls. Alistair wore a white suit.

The sky had turned to a calm gray by the time Alistair threw open the heavy curtains. It was about three in the afternoon and the sun peeked out warily behind wispy clouds. Alistair couldn’t hear the melodies wafting from the radio anymore, the sweet songs morphing into a dull roar. As he sorted through the piles of photographs, sitting on the hardwood floor, he had the distinct feeling that one picture was missing. The sky began to darken as Alistair looked for the missing photograph among the thousands spread across his study. Finding a large, sealed cardboard box, he reached into his pocket to retrieve his swiss army knife, hoping that maybe he had found the location of the photograph. He pulled out his wallet hurriedly, taking out his money and various papers in his haste. But while searching for the blade, he found his photograph.

Stuffed in the back pocket of his wallet, beginning to fade with time, it was Alistair’s last photograph. A girl stood in a green, spotted bathing suit, watching the sea from the deck of Alistair’s boat. On the back was written “Honeymoon to France, 1958.” It had been a sunny day in the middle of June, about a year ago. Alistair could hear crashing of waves and laughter, smell the sea salt and the suntan lotion. He watched as the boat collided with a group of large, craggy rocks. He flailed helplessly in the water, holding his photograph above the frenzied waters. As he searched for a woman, all he could see was the white foam collecting above the water and the flash of a turquoise tail.

When the rescue boat pulled him out of the freezing waves, Alistair stood shivering on the deck, his photograph clutched in his left hand.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said a man in a red jacket. “We were unable to find your wife.”


Later, Alistair walked alone at the docks. He waded through the waves, his loafers in one hand. The smell of sea salt surrounded him, as did the immenseness of the great ocean. He closed his eyes, envisioning the small steamer making its way through the vast waters. In his mind’s eye, he saw the boat sink into the green-blue. He remembered an old story about mermaids who made their homes in sunken ships on the ocean floor. Alistair watched the sunset turn the ripples to golden rings, and hoped that some lost things could be found again.

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