Come, sail with me
Copyright 2008 Jim Penny
Word count: 1028
She walked absently across the barely greening university lawn, patches of a late season’s wet snow still clutching to the shadowy edges of roots and walls. Her mind remained in study for the end-of-year and end-of-school exams beginning in a week. Her jeans were damp at the cuffs from the lingering, melting snow, and the chilled breeze discernibly warmer than last week passed unchecked through the open front of her jacket. She walked the brick-lined path in habit, following her custom to check her mailbox before going to supper, entering the ancient dormitory without knowing she was there.
Her feet followed the grey marble steps to the basement, the edges worn and rounded by the countless steps of others on a similar course. The warm air of the mail room drifted up the stairs, lifting a tendril of long brown hair to tickle her ear. She brushed it away as the long fingers of the other hand traced the brass handrail along the wall. The coolness of the metallic touch registered distantly in a mind otherwise occupied with focused analytical study. She nodded to friends passing through the doorway, one holding it open as she passed.
Through four long years she had received her mail in this one place. The combination of the mail slot, she knew in her fingers, the memory having long since migrated from brain to hand, leaving only the vestiges and shadows of letters and numbers too faint for recitation. The small door opened to reveal a single letter sitting corner to corner, top to the right, slightly bowed downward.
She recognized the writer by the shade of the paper, the script and style of the addressing, and the ancient seal of wax only he would use in this age of instant, and more reasonable, communication. She paused holding the letter in her hands, turning it from front to back, as though divining the words and message from the patina of the envelope, the spatter of the wax, the assemblage of ink flowed from gold nib onto cotton paper, and the wrinkles of too many days in transit.
She knew this letter would require solitude; they always did, and she retired to her room, delaying her meal, to open and read in private. She hung his moon, and he expressed that feeling with every breath, syllable, and word, palpable and serene, colored and profane, his life arising, as smoke from flame, in the pages he wrote and she held.
This was not to be a moment she cared to share; she never did. She never would. The envelope cracked and tore as she carefully opened it by the edge, taking care to preserve the stamp, always a stamp from God-knows-where, and a single page spilled to her lap, both page and envelope of an ancient form likely pressed by weathered hand, or so they always seemed.
Come, sail with me. A day, a week, a month, a season, a brief portion of our lives. Taste their food, drink their water, breathe their air, and forever a part of you they will be. Frame my sun and hang my moon. Count the stars, your eyes, reflecting in the sea.
“Why does he ask me such a thing now? He knows what I’m doing. He knows what I have before me. He knows where I’m going in the fall. It was his idea. They were partners. Why does he ask me now? Doesn’t he know? Surely he knows. This all started last winter when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday,” she went on to her mother, the two seated together at the kitchen table. “‘My silhouette in the moonlight,’ he told me, and we spent the winter break on the Gulf Stream. You had to pick me up in Bath because he won’t use the real harbors.”
“Yes, he knows what you’re doing, what you’re facing, and he might even know what he’s doing, but it’ll be a while before we can see it. You know he lives in a different world. Who else on God’s green earth, after funding half that university with grant money won on nothing more substantial than ‘I have a good feeling about this,’ would have recorded every full moon of the last two years? You know he ships those pictures to that lawyer in Raleigh for safe keeping. The storage alone costs a small mint, and what he plans to do with them remains a mystery to everyone with the possible exception of his Maker, but you also know he named that boat after you. The Lillian Rose, he calls it.”
The unopened letter, incongruous with it’s surroundings, sat on the polished wooden desk before the university president. He read the flowing address, examined the weathered envelope, smiled over the indented wax. He didn’t need to read the letter to know the sender. They had studied, then worked, together many years, more than either cared to count, the theories of the one guiding the experiments of the other.
Walking across the creaking floor to the ancient cabinet used and left by the original president of the school, this president retrieved a dusty bottle of aged rum, poured a small glass, and stood before the window, toasting the setting sun he knew they shared. Separated by miles and now years, a convergence was upon them again.
He returned to his desk, retrieved the hand carved letter opener he’d received a year before with a scripted note on brittle paper indicating he’d have need of this one day, and carefully opened the envelope, feeling the captured tropical air waft across his face. Some brief time later, he took his own pen in hand to write.
Many opportunities face both student and university. This school has waited over two hundred years for you to arrive, and if you need, he needs, it can wait a day, a week, a month, a season, a brief portion of your life. We are ready, and we can wait until you are ready, whenever that may be. I, as he, have a good feeling about this.