The Broadcaster’s Wife


Emily woke early and without disturbing Jim, headed down to the kitchen.

She wanted to think. Something was going on with her that needed quiet time to work out.

There was no one to talk to about it because frankly everyone she knew was part of the problem. This was the sad reality she faced when alone, having her coffee, and planning her day. But an hour or so later it would be shoved to the back of her mind as she was swept into another day of routines and obligations that defined her. She was Emily, wife to a successful news broadcaster and mother to twin boys now off at college. She filled her time with whatever was expected and suggested by those who knew her value to the community in which they all lived.

After a few weeks of suppressing conflicting thoughts Emily had come to the conclusion that she absolutely hated her life, hated what she had become and hated herself for letting it happen.

Somewhere along this road to self-discovery she missed some telltale signs of anxiety. Like how her hands on the steering wheel of the latest car Jim thought she would look good in, had moved from the left hand loosely on the steering wheel while the right adjusted the rear view mirror to see herself, to the traditionally cautious two hands on the wheel at ten and two o’clock positions with her body leaning forward. She hated that car and the messages it sent – rich, superior, well maintained.

Lately she preferred to use “the family car”, the one she drove the boys to ball practice with and then delivered them to college in. She missed them and felt closer to them using this car. Well that was what she told Jim when he wanted to know why the Miata was now parked in the garage. Her hands had now moved to eleven and one o’clock.

She also wasn’t conscious of how often she was using paper napkins instead of linen. And how she was making excuses to miss out on the workshops offered to members of the country club. Did it really matter whose Ikebana arrangement was judged superior to another when sooner than later the pedals would drop off and the perfectly placed leaf would curl up and ruin everything. Every single one of those arrangements of forced control was going to be defeated by the very Nature they were presenting. How she spent her days was not making much sense to her anymore.

And she began coming up with excuses for not playing tennis with Donna on Wednesday mornings and mahjong with Maureen on Thursday afternoons. What used to be fun with the ones she had considered to be friends was becoming predictable, then boring and finally tedious.

Emily wanted out of those friendships, out of the club and truth be told, out of her marriage.

She had fallen hard for Jim twenty-five years ago. He was handsome (still was), came from a “good” family, or so her father told her, and was hell-bent on getting Emily to marry him. And it worked. She helped him advance his career in broadcasting by keeping herself as attractive as possible in a community where everything was about appearances. She gave him two healthy boys to brag about, kept a perfect house for him to come home to, performed admirably and smiled along the way. The benefits of all that effort was being appreciated and well-cared for….maintained in the manner to which Emily had become accustomed. And it was all good for many years.

That is until Jim made his way to the top of the heap in conservative cable news. The way he could look his audience in the eye through a camera and spew vitriolic commentary was surpassed by none. This was his game and his to lose if he could not do it convincingly. He was good. This was his calling.

Those closest to him were sure it was an act, a live performance of theatrics. It was part of the job and no one bothered to question the integrity of what he was saying. No one seemed to grasp that he was talking to an audience that was becoming more and more unwilling to seek out opposing points of view. If the ratings were up, it meant more viewers. More viewers meant more job security. It was the perfect connection for Jim’s arrogance and his audience’s ignorance.

And of course with the club they belonged to being predominantly conservative with the built in biases of any closed, members-only community, Jim was quite the man to be admired. After all he was saying things out loud that most of them previously had the good sense to keep to themselves.

Emily and the boys went along with it, privately believing it was all an act. And a very good one. Of course they could believe whatever they wanted in the protected bubble they all lived in. No one could possibly be in disagreement with what Jim and his news network were doing if you stayed inside that circle or others like it.

But that all changed when the boys went off to college. Here there were so many points of view to be tossed about, discussed, and conclusions come to. Education is exposure to knowledge that is just sitting there waiting to be absorbed by open minds. Then put to use in ways that deepen understandings of how things are, were, and could be. The boys took to this learning opportunity like they had been wanting it without even knowing it existed.

The result: fewer trips home to try and get their father to understand how many people his words affected. But they were unsuccessful in getting this through to him. Jim was the classic example of, if you say it enough then it becomes true. His sons were dumbfounded by the way their father had lost all rational reasoning, all interest in seeing how much he manipulated people into closing off any discourse. They saw how their father had managed to get the very people who put him in this position of power to either become believers or simply be replaced.

He was someone they no longer admired. Frankly, they saw him as an asshole, pure and simple. If he wanted to cut the funding for their college education when they told them how they felt, then go ahead, they’d just go public with what they thought of him. Jim’s ego and arrogance could not take a blow like that coming from his own children so he set up accounts for them to finish their education and after that as far as Jim was concerned, he was done with them. It was a solution each could live with. Unfortunately their mother was still residing in the bubble she helped create from the day their parents married. The boys accepted the fact that it would likely remain that way.


So now here she is, sipping her coffee in the silence of early morning, wondering when to leave and how to create some damage in the process. His arrogance would have to be his undoing. His genuine belief that he was infallible, that his words were all that mattered and his audience would remain as gullible as he counted on them to be. Without the blind stupidity of others her husband was nothing. How pathetic that thought struck Emily.

She hated being the wife that stood by him all the way to this. And hated more the thought of looking like those loutish politicians’ wives, medicated just enough to stand close through their husbands’ public apologies.  No, Emily was not going to be any part of Jim’s attempt to salvage the image he had created. He’d be standing alone in that final attempt to manipulate an audience. But how to make that moment happen?


And then it struck her! She would write a book! A book that could be directed to the tastes of Jim’s audience. A confessional of sorts with the promise of redemption. Yes, that’s it! It would have to be a slow careful delivery of words to have it sink in. There could be no nuanced meaning, nothing open to interpretation, simple words telling a story of how a person can suffer under the influence and control of another. How easy it is to be the victim of one’s own desire to feel that they are a part of something.

Keeping it simple. Keeping it slow. With constant repetition of the salient points. The only difference in the delivery of her written message and Jim’s spoken words would be that she would give her audience the opportunity to pause, reflect, and read again….maybe even to a neighbor or family member.

And if it took the form of a confessional diary? Believers would follow. Diaries are secrets exposed. Diaries bear witness to truth. And diaries lend themselves to a slow paced-out delivery that creates anticipation in the growing followers. Yes, this would take him down and get her free.

A few weeks later Emily had confirmed with a lawyer that slander was unlikely if her writing took the form of serial fiction under a pseudonym. She could describe Jim in many ways but not use his name. And even if Jim might want to file suit after seeing himself in Emily’s writings, his ego would prevent him from taking an action that would most certainly identify him as the character in her fictional diaries.

So what was the best way to reach the public?

Considering what Jim’s audience was most likely to read besides the one liners on their cell phone feeds, Emily came to only one conclusion. It had to be a magazine that was right in front of them as they stood in line at the grocery store, a popular weekly magazine with a concentration on society news….what celebrities were up to in their private lives.

An appointment was made by Emily and her lawyer to discuss the proposal. The editors quickly agreed to the terms of anonymity and looked forward to Emily’s first installment of “Diary of a Broadcaster’s Wife”.

“………and our dinner must be perfect. The salmon cooked the way he likes it, sitting on a bed of romaine with mango chutney. A nicely chilled chardonnay. Everything the way he likes it, the way he expects it. I take a sip from my glass and wait for him to arrive, telling me again tonight how grateful he is that people no longer read but wait to be told…….”


The end


This is a short story that I wrote a few yeas ago based on a prompt from my writing instructor.

She handed out papers that were not to be turned over until every student had one. Then face to face with these cropped portrait images from magazines, we were to list positive qualities of the person we saw and negative qualities. This person was totally foreign to me but unlike some of the students, I was not going to trade him in. We were given a short time to list qualities and then write a short story, very short.

Here is Tony.

And the story that came from from our brief time together….



Tony was combing his hair in the practiced sweeping motions he used on his older clientele. Just enough product to keep it in place and just enough styling to create an illusion. Tony was all about illusion, not even he knew if there actually was anyone inside those tight black jeans, T shirts and body-hugging black leather jacket.

God, he loved seeing himself in that jacket with all those shiny silver zippers. Pulling those hanging little tabs up and down, back and forth just to hear that sound. He loved that jacket and how it made him feel – pretty but tough. And that was how Tony saw himself – it was all he saw.

One more bit of lifting in the back and he was ready to go. Putting the comb down on the edge of the sink, he noticed the grey hairs. There weren’t that many but enough. Enough that he reached for the phone and dialed Flo.

“Can you open for me this morning? I will be just a bit later getting into town. Something I need to take care of here before I come in.”

“Sure honey. Take all the time you need. It’s a slow morning for me and your first appointment isn’t until 11:30. Everything alright?”

“Yeah, just some personal maintenance that’s easier to do here than at the shop. You know how I like to look my best.”

“It’s what drew us to this business, honey. See you when you get in.”


Flo hung up the phone and reached for the small bag inside her purse. With Tony not coming in for a while, there was time. Not only time for her to have a small hit, but come down from it as well. She was going to stop doing this. She knew she was. Just not today. Today she needed to get herself calmed down and ready for what was coming tonight. She promised herself that today was the last. She promised herself as if there was going to be some kind of difference between one day and the next.

There was never a problem laying out the strip of cocaine – not in a salon that had hand mirrors on every surface. Even the blade for scraping it into a straight line was easy to find here. She pulled out the short straw and placed one end on the line and the other up her nose.

One deep sniff, one deliciously deep inhale of pure peace of mind.

Flo wiped her nostrils with the thumb and forefinger of her right hand and with the dampness picked up whatever cocaine was left on the mirror. This she rubbed inside her mouth on the lower gum and smiled. Her mind raced again to the simple solution of just getting home tonight before Fred got there, and pack her things. She would be gone and she could start over. She could start over anywhere. She had the money saved and hidden away. She had plenty of reason to go. Sure she would miss her job. Even miss Tony and miss her customers. But it was time. It was past time. She sat down, hard, and closed her eyes.


It was not quite 10:30 when Tony parked and chained his Honda in the alley by the back door.  It was unlocked so Flo was already here. Good. The coffee would be on. He headed into the little alcove kitchen to pour himself a cup before going into the salon.

And that’s where he found her. At first he thought she was taking a quick nap before opening.

“Hi Honey, thanks for getting in early.”


He reached out to touch her, held back a moment and then laid his hand on her cheek.

“Flo, honey. No.”

He took the mirror from her lap and laid it next to her bag. He straightened her skirt and reached for the comb. It will only take a minute, he thought. And found the hair color to touch up her roots before making the call.


the end


The Blue Collector

The Blue Collector


Sara is quite sure it started on her eighth birthday. One of the candles on her cake was blue, bright blue. She made her wish, blew the candles out and quickly pocketed the blue one. Later she would wash off the frosting, trim the burnt wick and place it in the secret drawer of her music box. This was a very good color, this blue. It wasn’t the baby boy blue, all powdery looking, and it was darker than a clear day’s sky blue, but not a blue like the sea. It was somehow brighter. It dazzled. This blue was a blue to watch for.

The next time she had this blue in her hands was holding a book from the school library. The outside cover was faded and scratched, but when she opened the book and saw the inside where the blue was folded over and tucked under the paper lining, well there it was. Sara peeled a bit of the paper away and dug at the blue edge. When enough came up she cut a small strip, put it in her pocket and glued the paper back down. Now there were two blues in her secret drawer.

She gave up asking her mother for blue things like dresses and shoes because her mother just did not understand what blue Sara wanted. Blue was blue to her mother and there was no point trying to make her see that what might well be blue to her mother simply wasn’t the right blue. It was up to Sara and her alone to find the blue she wanted.

She stole a blue barrette from Ida Mae when she left two on the shelf of her open locker in gym class. Ida Mae couldn’t remember where her mother got them so Sara had no choice if she wanted one for her collection. She made a point of helping Ida Mae look all over the floor for the missing barrette that was safely tucked into her training bra. Sara also kept an eye on Ida Mae’s dresses just in case there was a bit of that blue in the fabric that had warranted her mother buying those barrettes.

The collection soon outgrew the hidden drawer and moved into other parts of the jewelry box. Then the whole collection was moved to a shoe box hidden in Sara’s closet. But not really so hidden. If you put a shoe box on the floor of a closet and put a pair of shoes on top, who would think to look inside the box?

By the time Sara turned sixteen the box was three quarters full of blue….the right blue. And sometimes, not often, she would not just lift the lid to stuff another piece of blue inside but actually take the box out of the closet and sit with it, touching all the pieces of blue and remembering where they came from. The piece of blue masking tape from art class picked up its own collection of blues, a rubber band, clothing label, a bit of ribbon and even attached itself to Ida Mae’s barrette. She pulled them all loose and folded the tape in half to stop it from sticking itself to another blue.

Over time Sara became more selective with her collection. If she had a particular item like let’s say a milk carton cap in the perfect blue, she did not need to have another one. This did not mean she was going to throw away duplicates already in the shoe box. It meant that there was enough and she would have to look further for her blues. And the object had to be completely blue, not just part of a pattern with other colors.

And so it went. One piece of blue following another into the shoe box.

A few years later Sara moved her blues to a small suitcase. Not once did she think, ‘I have enough now and will stop.’  Like most obsessed collectors quitting was not an option. There was always going to be another bit of this particular blue out there somewhere and Sara just needed to keep an eye out for it.

If her desire had been, let’s say, aubergine, then the collecting might have ended with the latest color of nail polish and the result would have been a small collection still being housed in the shoe box. But no, it was this dazzling blue that was always showing up and catching her eye.

Sara not only collected her blue, she studied it. She knew the history of blue beginning with human awareness in pigments made from lapis, the semiprecious stone mined in Afghanistan about 6,000 years ago. And how the Catholic Church in 431 AD officially made it the color of saints. Hence blue was the color that conveyed trust.

Not least of which was the use of a blue like those in Sara’s collection by the male Satin Bowerbird of Australia to attract his mate. Once he built an elaborate bower made of sticks and shaped into an arch, he went about collecting the blues from wherever he could find them to adorn the entryway to the bower. Once the female saw this careful arrangement of blue and came in for a closer look the male would further entice her with his agile dance performance and thus begin another generation of those under the spell of blue.



Sara preferred being alone. Her career choice of research in rare diseases kept her even more isolated from people. She did not much like being around other people and privately considered them like red meat and insects, something to avoid when possible. When she met someone along the way on her morning walks, she never said ‘Good Morning” first, but with a quick glance up mumbled something like it in response to their greeting. She kept her eyes focused on the ground ahead sweeping side to side just in case the perfect blue had been discarded or lost along the way.

This was her life with very few exceptions, day after day, year after year.

When Sara was in her sixties she began thinking about retiring from her job and moving to a senior’s home called The Blue Heron. It was located just outside of town and offered the conveniences someone her age required. She made an appointment to look at one of the available apartments the following Saturday.

When she pulled into the parking lot that morning she glanced across the well-maintained lawns stretching out from patios in the complex. And there it was! That blue! In the form of not just the hat a man was wearing but his mittens as well. One of those blues would be a very nice addition but stuffing all three into her suitcase would be so much better. Yes, she could live here for sure.

Sara put in her notice at work and her house on the market. Within a month she was moving into The Blue Heron only two doors down from the man with the blue hat and mittens.

She watched him first from a distance to learn his schedule of coming and going from his apartment. It took several weeks to see that he like her was a person with little variation in his routine. There is a security in keeping to a schedule, knowing what was coming next. She liked that about him…almost as much as she liked his hat and mittens.

Sara arranged her walking schedule to be returning when he was leaving. Then one morning she did something she had never done. She said, “Good Morning”. He smiled and nodded back. This was good. She did not want to have this be a daily and therefore a too repetitive exchange between them so would let a few days lapse before meeting him going out as she was coming in. He seemed in no hurry to stop and chat with Sara so one morning she pretended to be looking for something right in the middle of the sidewalk where he would have to step around her or inquire what she was looking for. It worked. He asked if he could help locate the key to her apartment that she slid into a crack in the sidewalk to get him to stop. Now she could see the mittens up close. Yes, they were the perfect blue. Then he did the unimaginable and removed one for her to hold while he dug out the lost key.

It not only was the perfect blue but felt like something she needed to own, just to slide her hand into on a cold morning and hold tight in a clenched fist. She asked the man where he bought such a lovely hat and mittens set so she could get her own. He replied his sister in Sweden had knitted them for him. Her hopes in owning her own beautiful blue hat and matching mittens were about to be dashed altogether when she remembered Ida Mae’s barrette. She would have to steal them. Reluctantly Sara pulled her hand free of his mitten to trade for the key held in his cold hand.

Whatever Sara was going to do to get the man’s perfect blue would have to be before the winter ended and them being safely tucked into a drawer or on a shelf in his closet. She thought of asking him to come over for afternoon tea or something stronger. Then once he placed them on the table by the door she would drop her scarf over them and gather everything up in a wad to move onto her own shelf. When he would look for them after tea Sara would convince him that he probably left them in his apartment or on the bench by his back door. It seemed such a good plan but Sara’s desire to be left alone won out and the invitation was never extended.

Another month of infrequent but casual greetings passed between them.

And on the morning of March 10th the man was not where she expected to see him. Instead he was sitting on the bench by his back door. He did not wave back. Sara went closer. His eyes were closed and she thought he must be napping. His hat was pushed back and his hands were tucked inside his matching mittens and folded on his lap under the table. He was very still. She cleared her throat to wake him. Nothing. With her left hand she swept the hat from his head and pulled the mittens free of his hands with her right. The fact he didn’t stir Sara took as permission to keep what was now tucked into her pocket. Pulling out her key Sara turned and walked two doors down to her own back door.

Once inside she went straight to her room and pulled the suitcase from under the bed. She unlatched the clasps and threw the lid back, put both her hands deep into the blue and spread her fingers wide. Shaking her hands in quick motions made the blues come alive and push against each other to vie for her attention. She smiled and pulled her hands free to gently lay the hat and mittens on top.

Maybe now she had enough of her blue…..maybe not.


The end.

The Ferryman

The Ferryman


Charlie turned on the coffee and looked out the window. The sun was almost up when he began to stretch into tai chi movements. His bare feet gripped the tiles as he flowed into the first movement with a long inhale if breath, slight pause, then turned into another to exhale just as slowly. Lowering his left arm to go into a third position he paused to stare at the tattoo just below his elbow. It marked him, made him feel branded, and forever connected. He raised his fingers to his lips before gently laying them against his arm.

The image was of a small boat dragging a rock at the end of a frayed rope. Whenever someone asked him what it meant, he would say it had something to do with how we carry our own burdens. But it was more than that. For Charlie the boat used to carry his hopes and aspirations and the rock was the weight of reality that kept the boat from getting very far. But now so many years later, the tattoo was also a reminder that parts of his life had been kept on hold by the weight of memories.

He put an English muffin in the toaster and pulled cream cheese and raspberry jam from the refrigerator. Filled his favorite mug with coffee, creamer and just a dash of bourbon. This was his favorite breakfast. The smells and flavors were direct connections to the two people he had loved the most, his mother and Kevin.

Once he left home his mother’s homemade raspberry jam came twice a year, Christmas and his birthday. And continued until she lost track of who she was and Charlie moved back home to care for her. There was no one else and Charlie knew this day would come when his father died a few years earlier. He decided to stay and start up a real estate business in town as soon as he could sell the one he owned out of state.

The first several years of back living with his mother Charlie cooked all the meals. Toward the end he would fix only a breakfast served later than usual before the caregivers came in to manage the rest of her day. She still knew how to use a spoon, so breakfast was often a bowl of cereal. But her favorite was a toasted English muffin and raspberry jam that she scooped onto the muffin to push around until every large hole was filled. She did this with each half then licked the spoon before handing it off to Charlie. Next holding a half in each hand she bit into first one then the other until there was nothing but fingers to lick. Charlie would gently wipe her face and hands while finishing a story made up to amuse her.

When she passed away Charlie had no desire to move out of the house. It was his now. What he couldn’t remember about the place from childhood would come as little surprises with the same delights of discovery. Other than the necessary repairs there were few changes Charlie would make to the house and property.


The dash of bourbon in his coffee was pure Kevin.

They met as boys more than fifty years ago. Each trying to navigate their way through an adolescence pre-programmed with the expectations of manhood. Both had been enrolled at one of those summer camps designed to familiarize young boys with Nature. And it was here the two found the time and place to discover their own. They paired up for every activity offered from swimming to art classes. Their favorite being together in a small boat with Charlie rowing along the shore so Kevin could record pond life with drawings and notations. The sun, the water, the abundance of wriggly things to study and being in each other’s company was just so exhilarating at that age.

Later when they were both eighteen years old and planning their futures, Kevin designed the tattoo that each would have put on their arms as a symbol of how they navigated their own way into manhood.

Choices of college and career separated the two by great distances. They tried keeping in touch as much as possible. After a few years the calls and correspondence naturally ended when they became more involved with their own lives. Neither one of them married nor had children. Neither one wanted a permanent relationship that took the time and care required.

When Charlie was in his early forties, Kevin surprised him with a sudden visit, bringing his clothes, his dog and his bourbon. Charlie had plenty of closet space, a fenced back yard and a liquor cabinet that rarely had more than wine and an open bottle of scotch. There was as much room in his house as there was in his heart for almost anything Kevin wanted to bring along. He stayed for over six months before leaving, coming back only to go again for one reason or another. And each time he’d promise to stay in touch. He didn’t. Months or years later he would be back on the doorstep needing Charlie’s welcoming embrace and loving companionship. Charlie accepted Kevin’s absences because there was always a return, a joyful return. Kevin would be back.


Not long after moving into his childhood home Charlie found a perfect parcel of land. Fifty plus secluded acres with a stream running into a small pond suitable for fishing. As soon as he closed the deal he had a bare bones cabin put in by the water, added a dock and bought a small rowboat. During warm weather he would go there to row around the cattails and lilies, peering into the water watching darting bluegills and the herons trying to catch one. This was Charlie’s favorite place to be.

The single room cabin was furnished with cupboards and cook stove at one end and twin beds in an “L” shape lining a corner at the opposite end. The fireplace was to the right of the front door with a single overstuffed chair nearby. A window across from the door looked out toward the pond. In front of the window were two chairs tucked under a table.

The only other person to come to the cabin was Kevin. His notebooks and drawings from those visits lined the shelf over the fireplace, right under a wooden board where he had carefully lettered the motto of their boyhood summer camp:

“to improve and elevate the character of manhood.”

Neither one of them could keep from smiling when they read those words.


After breakfast Charlie cleaned up the kitchen, showered, shaved and dressed for work. He was in his seventies now and wasn’t needed in the office to take calls or show property. There was a dependable staff to do that part of the business. He just liked seeing what was new in listings, who was selling and who was interested in buying.

After spending a couple hours at the office Charlie went across the street to the diner. He sat at the counter, ordered a chicken salad sandwich and a second cup of coffee with cream, no bourbon. The last piece of cherry pie looked tempting but he turned it down, paid Rita and left a tip. On his way out the door he ran into the sheriff.

“Hey Charlie. I’ve been looking for you.”

“What’s up, Hank?”

“Sam says he finished the letter and wants you to come by his cell and pick it up.”

“I’ll head there now.”

When he got to the station Charlie nodded to the patrolman at the duty desk and asked if he could go on back.

“Go ahead, Sam’s got about an hour before the state boys come pick him up.”

Sam wasn’t a bad man, just bad at staying out of trouble. And this latest offence was more than the county wanted to handle so they were moving him along to be someone else’s responsibility.

Charlie heard about Sam being picked up a few days earlier and stopped by the jail to see if he wanted Charlie to check on his property while Sam was away. It wasn’t the first time Charlie offered to keep an eye on things and it likely would not be the last.

He found Sam a bit at loose ends, fidgety, angry, maybe a bit regretful, maybe not. The two of them talked. The next day Charlie asked if he could give some paper to Sam and if Hank would let him have a pen if someone watched him until he was through writing and handed it back.

It was one of the many times Charlie left a long rolled up piece of blank paper to be filled in with words by someone with something to say.

It all started with his own letter not long after one of Kevin’s visits. He was sitting at the table in the cabin looking at Kevin’s unfinished bourbon left on the counter and thinking about how messages were left in bottles and sent adrift to float away. No telling where they went or even if they went very far before crashing against a rock and spilling out quickly vanishing words into a tide that only cared about coming in and going out. A tide of waves that rushed back and forth over broken glass shredding personal stories.

But what if the bottles of stories were kept floating safe and bobbing in among the cattails and water lilies of a pond like his? It would be a safer place for them to be. They would fit in more with their surroundings if they were upended so the base of the bottle was kept just above the surface looking like the leaves of a water lily. Brown or green beer bottles would hardly be noticed.

To test his idea Charlie wrote his feelings for Kevin. He poured out as much of his heart as the paper allowed. Then rolled it tight to fit into the neck of a Heineken beer bottle, squeezed in a wine cork and hammered it down with a wooden mallet. It sat on the mantle with Kevin’s journals until he had another bottle ready to join it. No bottle of words should be left all by itself in the water. It should have company.

So he wrote another letter. This one to his deceased mother. He filled the paper with recollections of all the times she comforted him, made him laugh and the sheer dependability of her. This one was put into a brown beer bottle, sealed and stood next to Kevin’s until Charlie could take them out to a perfect place among the cattails.

It was such a good feeling to know that your words were secured in a place where they could forever float about bumping into the written ones of others. Such a good feeling that Charlie thought he would offer the opportunity to others. People needing to express emotions about saying goodbye, or simply remembering and wanting to record that memory. It really didn’t matter what was on the paper. If the writer felt better about something after putting it into words and rolling it up tight for Charlie to set free, that was all that mattered.

At the art supply store he found large thin Japanese printmaking papers that could be cut into long strips to roll up and have on hand. There was plenty of space to write as much or as little as was needed to make the writer feel less forgotten. Feel that they mattered or at least someday what they had to say might matter. There was an intrigue of mystery when, way into the future, these words would be read by someone who was suddenly pulled into a small part of a life already lived. Who could resist this magical way of putting their thoughts down in such a way that resulted in a release for them and offered intrigue to others.

The first person he told about the writing of thoughts or feelings was Rita. He saw her almost daily behind the counter at the diner. She had a daughter away in college and an ex-husband that she never could resist talking about. It was clear that Rita still had more to say. So when Charlie told her about his notes in bottles idea, Rita thought how good it would feel to have someone in a place far away know what a bastard Jack was. She asked for a second sheet of paper two days later when Charlie came back in because one just wasn’t enough.

After Rita it was the Stanleys who lost a son in Afghanistan and wanted their unfinished letter to him sent off in search of a way to connect. And his friend, Gladys, the town librarian who just wanted to recommend the books she liked best to someone in the future. The bakery shop owner thought it a good idea to leave his secret recipe for the best scones around to a possible future baker. And so it went, several years of collecting the words and stories of those who needed to share them.

He let them all think their messages in bottles were going out to sea on Charlie’s next business trip to the coast. Something about them journeying across great expanses of water to land on foreign soils in the future had much more appeal to the writers than bobbing about together among the reeds of Charlie’s pond.

He asked each of the writers to roll their paper up and place it in an envelope, seal it and write their name on the envelope. This small ritual gave them time to change their mind about leaving their story behind or confirm their intention to send it on. Each of these papers were kept rolled up tight in their envelopes until Charlie took them out to his cabin.

On the table in the cabin was a large wooden bowl full of small rocks and corks. Next to the bowl was a coil of baling wire, cutters and pliers. It was here where Charlie carefully unrolled each message to read and then roll up even tighter to fit into the neck of one of the bottles that had been cleaned and dried on the counter. Once a wine cork was stuffed into the mouth of the bottle and hammered in tight, Charlie cut enough of the baling wire to wrap around the bottle below the flange where he twisted it tight so as not to slip off. The two long ends of the wire wrapped around opposing sides of one of the rocks and were twisted tightly together. Neither rock nor bottle could come loose. After they were secured he would take the bottles down to his rowboat and paddle out toward the cattails where he placed them close enough to gently bump into another person’s story.

Sometimes with the breeze rustling through the cattails and the soft clinking of bottles it was almost like the words were being read aloud in lilting whispers. Or maybe more like songs sung quietly all at the same time. Sad as some of the stories might be in print, bobbing about in the company of one another couldn’t help but lift the spirit of their words.


He pulled out Sam’s rolled paper, read the words and sighed. Then placed it in a bottle and set it next to the one he had prepared earlier in the week. Before taking them out to the boat Charlie sat by the fireplace with a small glass of bourbon. Kevin would not be coming back. His last note to Charlie was in the other bottle.

A half hour later Charlie put both bottles in the boat. He picked up the oars and smiled at the thought that, ‘Fuck you, Hank’ and ‘I have always loved you’ would be whispered on the water.