A message in a can

The body was floating face down, half on and half off a lump of driftwood. Wearing a kilt that rode up, exposing a buttock so pale it was almost translucent. Seagulls’ll be at that soon, I thought. Prometheus, like.

Daft eejit.

It had bobbed a bit further past the end of the jetty. Time to start working out what to do. That was when I saw it. A can, bobbing too. Half in and half out the water. Red T of Mr JVR Tennent emerging and submerging, but remaining upright, on an even keel. Had to be something left in to give it that stability. An idle thought in the circumstances, you’d reckon.

The swell was drawing them closer. Body and can, both tiny in suspense above the black depths. On the other side Fife, a few miles away and god knows how many billion gallons. The black waters full of history, back to the Reformation and beyond. The abbey on Inchcolm where you had to fight your way past the seagulls defending their nests – like Mona last time I’d tried to see the weans.

The fingers moved first. Twitching. I wondered if I’d imagined it, if it was just the waves manipulating them, like tendrils on the sea bottom. By this time can and man were just a metre apart. Collision course. Stable though it was, the can wouldnae survive.

An arm snaked out. Fingers trailing over the surface. Reaching, searching. The head lifted a fraction, just enough to make sure the hand found what it was after. Closed on it. Lifted. Careful to keep it upright, moving back to the owner. Now the head raised itself properly. Past me by this time so I couldnae see the face. Lifted the can to the lips and tilted it back. Cautiously at first, then further. Drank. And drank, until nothing was left.

The fingers tightened. Relaxed. The crushed can dropped into the water.

‘I’m coming to get you,’ I shouted.

No reaction.

‘I’m coming to get you.’ Louder this time.

With a last effort the hand waved me away.

‘Dinnae – worry – boot – me – ah’m – alright.’

And the head nuzzled back down, as if the driftwood was a goose-down pillow, plump and newly washed, perfect for sleeping on for the night.

Aloycious Kirby


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