On a Saturday afternoon, the doorbell rang loud and clear in the Stones’ residency.
Suzanne, 18, was the only one at home and she rushed to the entrance.
Her father hadn’t been home in a long time and that had her worried. Since no one visited the house anyways, Suzanne had every reason to believe that her father had returned.
She opened the door with an expectant heart but was let down by the sight of two strangers instead. One tall and one short.
“Hello, are you Miss Suzanne, daughter of John Stones?” Asked the taller, hefty guy. The short, funny-looking guy beside him nodded his head in greeting.
“Yes, I am…” Suzanne replied.
“Um… well, I am Harry and this is my friend Po. We were with your father onboard The St.Cruise… ” The man paused for a moment to gauge Suzanne’s reaction but she didn’t even bat an eye. “Do you mind if we come in?” The guy asked with a polite smile.
“Sure…” Suzanne let the men in unwillingly. “Would you like some tea or coffee?”
The short guy, Po, raised his hand to ask for tea but Harry answered for both of them “No thank you, water will be fine.”
Suzanne went to her kitchen and returned with two full jugs. As the men chugged down the water, she eyed them cautiously. “My father left home about one year ago when mom died and I haven’t heard from him since… so, why did he send you?” She asked. An undertone of hurt and longing was evident in her voice.
“He didn’t send us.” Said Harry and took out an envelope from his breast pocket. “Your father wrote this for you and we are just here to deliver it.”
“Where is he?” Suzanne asked, the pitch of her voice slightly higher than before. The two men exchanged an awkward glance before shaking their heads at her. The room fell completely silent for a moment. The bell-like call of a little black bird perched outside the window was the only sound audible.
“We are terribly sorry for your loss…” Harry kept the envelope on the table, “This might sound insensitive but… would you like to know what happened?” Suzanne nodded slowly “Well, John had joined our ship about six months ago and was a good person. Everything was going fine until the Friday of last week. That day, it suddenly started raining, which is not so uncommon at the sea. Most of us were in the kitchen, except for John. He had been down with fever for the past few days and hadn’t left his room at all. So, there we were minding our own business when we heard loud noises coming from the deck. It was John. He was shouting at someone. That is when Po-”
“I went out to check what the fuss was about and saw John fall off the ship into the water.” Po injected “… he fell into the water.” he sighed, hanging his head low.
Suzanne listened to the entire revelation with a hand on her lips. “I don’t understand… How could something like this happen?”
“That is what we are trying to find out. There are investigations underway at the dock but we thought you might know about any previous- mental issues that John might’ve had…”
“My father was perfectly normal!” Suzanne objected in defence.
“We know how you feel but… please understand… we need to find out what happened…” Harry pressed.
“And we would like to know what is written in the letter.” Po added.
“It’s a private letter by my father to me!”
“And it might’ve clues about John’s death. Maybe there was someone after him or maybe someone forced him to jump off… that letter is the only clue we have left. Now, we can confiscate that letter and inspect it. But, we’d rather do it the civilised way, so please help us.”
Suzanne looked at the men in utter defeat. Nevertheless, she picked up the envelope and took out a piece of paper filled by her father’s handwriting.
“It’s my father’s writing…” Suzanne confirmed for them “Should I read it aloud then?”
“Please do” Harry encouraged.
Suzanne took a deep breath and started reading.
How are you doing? I am fine…
No, I am happy, overjoyed, way better than just ‘fine'. Suzi, I am about to tell you something incredible and it might be a little hard to fathom but, please bear with me. I think if I talk about it now, then one day, you will allow your heart to forgive me.
I know that I haven’t written to you in a long time and I am sorry for that. I was lost at sea and my mind was floating in grief. The main reason why I set out was because it was your mother’s dream. She was such a big fan of that song by Serger, the beautiful loser… her favourite lines were something like “He wants his home and security. He wants to live like a sailor at sea”… she felt like the song had been written especially for her; she was the beautiful loser who wanted a family life mixed with adventure and fun. But she left us before any of that could become a reality.
That is why I brought her ashes to the sea. To make her wish come true at the very end. And though I was planning on returning soon… there is a huge change of plans now.
Suzi, I have decided to never come back. I will try to explain what happened and then you will understand why I am saying all this.
It all started three nights ago when I scattered Clarice’s ashes in the sea. The tranquil blue waves-”
“I- I’m sorry to interrupt you but that is not right.” Harry signalled Po who took out a brass container from a bag that he was carrying. “I believe that this is the container with the ashes… John never got to throw them.”
Suzanne put down the letter and inspected the brass jar. It was the one with her mother’s ashes. She shook the jar a little to confirm if the ashes were still inside; they were. “But in the letter… he says that he did it.” Suzanne wondered softly. “I don’t know what to make of it…” she said.
“Maybe we should read the entire letter first and then raise questions.” Po suggested and Harry nodded in agreement. Suzanne put down the jar and continued reading.
“It all started three nights ago when I scattered Clarice’s ashes in the sea. The tranquil blue waves started churning and before we knew it, we were hit by the southern storm. At first, bolts of lightning lit up the night sky as bright as a midsummer’s day. And every time the light vanished, the sea fell into a haunting moment of mute darkness.”
“Wait a minute! The southern storm?!” Po exclaimed and eyed Harry in confusion.
“What’s wrong?” Asked Suzanne.
“There have been no storms for the past few months. Definitely not this month!” Po insisted.
“I thought you said that the sea’s weather is unpredictable.” Suzanne’s voice was unsure and hoarse.
“It is, but there were no storms!”
“So what is this letter? A joke? A lie?”Suzanne asked, annoyed at the men in front of her.
“I don’t know what to tell you Miss, we are on the same page as you are.” Po huffed.
“I think we should finish the letter anyways…” Harry inserted and Suzanne continued reading.
“The water turned grey, foaming thicker with every slap against the hull. The clouds started bawling their eyes out and surrounded us in an ominous mist. The lot on the ship went crazy; tightening ropes and lifting barrels. I was struggling to cover the fresh fish we had caught that day.”
“But we’ve never done fishing on the ship…” Po whispered to Harry and Suzanne ignored them.
"And darling, that is when I saw her!
After covering the fishes, I started pulling up a few stray nets when I noticed a drab apparition on the raging waves. I leaned over to get a better look but the icy rain stung my eyes and I had to step back. From what I could see at that time, it looked like the shadow of a woman standing on the sea. Now, I am sure that it was Clarice! Her soul came searching for me once I scattered her ashes in the water.”
Suzanne looked up at the men once, worriedly, and kept reading.
“I don’t remember what happened after that. I think I lost consciousness and woke up in my own quarter when Gundol brought me some food. I felt as week as a twig and when I asked him about what had happened, he told me that I had high fever.”
“Well that’s true, Gundol is the name of our chef and he did serve him food.” Said Harry. Suzanne felt better on hearing that at least one detail matches.
“I think I must’ve caught cold in the rain.
Anyways, that night, there was another storm. When I woke up after my nap, I felt so energetic that I went out to help the crew as usual. We tightened the ropes, covered the fishes and locked the basement.
And once again, there she was on the sea, Clarice, you mother! This time I decided to not give up and I called out to her, and you won’t believe it Suzi; she replied to me!
Finally, I am sure that it is Clarice who is calling me, beckoning me to join her on the other side. I know this is too much to ask of you and you will feel betrayed, but please understand my Suzi, I have to be with Clarice.
Being with her is my only salvation.
That is why tonight, I plan to join her in the sea when she materialises. I am not sure how it will happen, but it will.
Goodbye my love and take care of yourself
Always remember, I love you.
Suzanne put down the letter on her lap. Her eyes were moist with disbelief. Po and Harry were just as taken aback.
John Stones had jumped off of the ship on his own; it was a suicide.
Both the men gave Suzanne a minute to compose herself as she sniffed and repeatedly scrubbed her nose red with a tissue paper.
“What does this even mean?!” Suzanne asked finally, sobbing slightly through her tears.
“There is a theory for these kinds of stories but we are not sure how much truth it holds…” Henry said.
“Please just get it over with…” Suzanne said, suppressing a hiccup.
“Sometimes, when men are sick at the sea, their brain starts playing games. It becomes hard to distinguish dreams from reality… I think something similar must’ve happened to John. Since the day he joined the cruise, he was hell bent on finding the right moment to scatter his wife’s ashes. Maybe he started hallucinating when this anxiety mixed with his sickness.”
“I second that. This letter sounds just like a dream…”
“Hmm…” was all Suzanne could say.
As the men prepared to leave, Harry assured her that the company would send John’s things to her home. Suzanne thanked them blandly and closed the door shut. She went to the table where they had been discussing about John and picked up her mother’s ashes; the cause of all the misery.
It felt heavy just like it was supposed to be but something odd struck Suzanne.
In her community, it was considered a bad omen to open an ash jar and not scatter the ashes. But Suzanne was in no mood for rules. She tugged on the top lid of the jar which was stuck like a vacuum. At last, the lid came out and Suzanne peered into the jar, hoping to see her mom.
But her mom wasn’t inside, the only thing inside the jar was sand. Grainy, golden beach sand.
And then an uneasy question struck her… Was her father really dreaming?