There was something interesting in The Sea Shack’s front window. Retired Judge Charles Benedict stopped and looked at the object which the afternoon sun had been reflecting off. It was a large mother of pearl shell mobile. Judge Benedict stroked his grey beard and watched the mobile spinning around. It was nicely made, but in a very home-crafty way and looked like the spoils of a beach comber.
The Judge cast eyes pale blue eyes upwards and saw that the mobile’s top was made of a large knobbly piece of driftwood, with stringy twine wrapped around it. A metal ring and blue ribbon had been placed above the wood to make a hanger and below all the shells were linked together by the attached twine.
Maria would like that, Benedict thought before he began to study the other things in the shop window.
There was a large collection of different sea shells, some of which must have come off foreign beaches and two dried out starfish lying across a blue-green piece of silk cloth. Placed purposely amongst them were a number of things of sale, which the shopkeeper had decided would catch people’s eyes. Two books- one on shipwrecks and the other on pirates, a small vase covered in dried seaweed and limpets. A necklace made of painted shells, a sketch titled A Summer’s Day At the Seaside, a framed postcard, a very old brass diving helmet and a ship in a bottle.
Benedict smiled at this odd collection of things and walked into one of his favourite shops. A bell rang over his head and then again as he helped the door close. His eyes roamed around, taking to take in everything at once, but failing to do so because of the amount of items. The Sea Shack didn’t specialise in anything, instead its theme was the beach and sea.
‘Ah, Judge. It’s nice to see you again,’ an old wispy male voice called from somewhere.
‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘That mobile in your window is interesting.’
‘Oh? It’s not for sale, I’m afraid,’ the same voice answered.
‘I’m sorry to hear that. My Maria would have liked it.’
‘Your granddaughter? Hum.’
From the shadows of a bookcase to his far left, Benedict watched the shop’s owner Mr. Tom Cunningham appear. He had in his slightly shaking hands a dust covered box. He hobbled over to a glass counter top and placed it down with a light thump. Tom looked like the very sea had weathered him. Benedict looked at Tom’s brown wrinkled and drooping skin, before making his way over.
‘Betty made it,’ Tom explained and peered at the Judge over the top of the box, ‘I find it difficult to let the things she makes go nowadays.’
Benedict nodded, ‘how is your wife?’
‘Dying, but she’s not in pain. Our daughters will take the shop over,’ Tom added, ‘and you?’
‘Getting by,’ Benedict replied and shrugged.
‘Is there anything else I can do for you today?’ Tom spoke.
‘I’ll just take a quick look around. See if I can find anything else for her. You know, Maria loves this kind of stuff.’
‘Of course. Feel free. Give me a shout if you need me.’
‘Thanks, Tom,’ Benedict said and turned back to the shop.
Slowly, he weaved his way through bookcases and furniture looking at the objects and sometimes pondering where they had come from. He was about to give up and leave, when he saw the glass bottle. Stepping around a ship’s bell, he picked up the dirty white stubby bottle and felt the sand encrusted glass against his skin. Looking inside it, he saw a rolled up yellowed piece of paper, a tiny puddle of water and some sand. He noticed that the top of the bottle had half a cork lodged inside.
Benedict looked for the price tag and found it on the small wooden stand. Picking it up he read the small handwriting declaring that Message In A Bottle, found at Sunny Cove, Cornwall was ten pounds. Letting go of the tag, he rattled the bottle and decided it would do.
Picking up the stand, he walked back to the counter and placed them back together.
He glanced around but couldn’t see Tom or the dusty box. He tapped his fingers on the counter and looked down at the collection of jewellery inside. Nothing caught his attention. Stroking his beard, he looked for the small bell that normally lived on the counter. Finding it next to the till he rung it and watched Tom appear a few moments later from a back door.
‘I’d like to buy this,’ Benedict called.
Tom came over and inspected the bottle as if he had never seen it before.
Benedict pulled at his wallet and began looking through it, ‘Will you take a five pounds for it?’ he asked.
‘Without the stand?’ Tom questioned.
‘Sure. My granddaughter probably won’t need it.’ Benedict put in.
‘Deal, Judge,’ came the reply and Tom went to the till.
‘Thanks. Can you wrap it for me?’
‘No problem. That’s five pounds then, please.’
Benedict handed over the note and watched Tom put it in the till before digging out some newspaper from a half hidden cupboard.
‘You got any idea if there’s anything written on the paper?’ Benedict asked.
Tom shook his head, ‘we couldn’t get the rest of the cork out. It was like that when we found it. There was a lot more water inside it too, if I remember rightly. I cleaned the bottle up a bit, but I didn’t see anything then.’
‘All right. Thanks.’
Benedict took the wrapped bottle from him and they said their goodbyes. With nothing else to do, the retired Judge wondered back to his house and after sorting himself out, sat in the living room with the glass bottle.
He unwrapped it carefully and looked at the broken cork inside. He could see a few attempts had been made to remove it. Placing the bottle down, he went into the kitchen and picked up a small, shape pointed knife and a nail. Going back, he first tried the nail by gently twisting it into the cork and pulling it up again.
After a few attempts the cork gave way and Benedict tipped the bottle upside down over the table. Some sand grains fell out, then a few drops of water. He rattled the bottle, trying to get the paper to come out. However it seemed stuck. He tried to put his fingers inside to help ease the paper out, but his fingers were too thick.
He placed the cork back in and wondered if Maria would be able to get it out.
It’s probably blank, but I want to make sure, he thought.
Placing the bottle down, he stood up and heard the doorbell ring. Smiling broadly, he went to answer the door and found his youngest daughter and granddaughter waiting for him.
‘Grandpa!’ Maria cried and hugged his legs.
He patted her head, ‘Hello Maria. Natalia.’
‘Hi dad,’ Natalia replied, ‘Now, M by good and I’ll see you at five.’
Maria nodded, waved goodbye and stepped inside as the adults briefly spoke before saying their own goodbyes.
‘Did you get me anything today, Grandpa?’ she called as he shut the door.
‘Maybe,’ he answered back.
‘What is it?’ the six year old demanded and stomped into the living room.
Benedict followed her and picked up the bottle before she could, ‘it’s a message in a bottle,’ he explained.
Maria clapped her hands and took it from him, ‘what’s inside?’ she squealed as she heard the rattling.
‘A piece of paper. Maybe with a message on it. Shall we try and get it out?’ he suggested.
‘Yes! Yes!’ the little girl cried.
Benedict eased the cork out again and showed Maria how to try and grasp the edge of the paper to tease it out. It took a few tries, but soon enough the rolled up paper slide out. Leaving Maria hugging the bottle, Benedict smoothed out the paper and looked at both sides. It was blank or if there had ever been any message had long been washed away by the sea.
The Judge sat back, feeling disappointed after all the build-up, ‘it’s blank,’ he told his granddaughter, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘It’s okay, Grandpa. Maybe we could write a message on it?’
‘Yes. Let’s do that. Here’s a pen,’ Benedict responded quickly, pulling out an biro out from a crossword book, ‘what shall we put?’
Maria shrugged her shoulders and looked down the bottle’s neck.
‘How about, have a wonderful life?’ Benedict asked.
Maria hummed and nodded.
Benedict scrawled the words across the paper then re-rolled it tightly. He slotted it back into the bottle and re-corked it. He gave the bottle back to Maria, who stared curiously inside at the paper.
‘Why is it in there?’ she asked.
Benedict pulled her into his lap, ‘You want to hear the story?’
‘Is about pirates?’ Maria pressed.
The Judge laughed, ‘Yes. It can be. Are you ready?’
Maria nodded and hugged the bottle as her grandpa launched into his story.