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Friday, April 11, 2003   |    Fiction

To the Chap Who Finds This Bottled-Enclosed Message

by Josh Abraham

To the chap who finds this bottled-enclosed message:

Hello there, good sir!

I trust you are safely upon sturdy ground and, I dare hope, doing well. Alas, I am not faring as solidly as you, old chap. You see, I am, by way of a shipwreck, washed ashore a quaint little island somewhere in the vast Pacific, as you may have gathered from the bottle that encased this letter. (Trite, I know, but I had limited envelope options; also, while we’re on the subject, I’d imagine the bottle is now dirt-covered and rock-beaten, yet I hope you see fit to recycle it, if it is indeed still recyclable. Given my current circumstance, I’ve certainly learned the value of preserving limited resources, and I was taught early on by my kindly mum that any good lesson learned should be passed on to others. Many thanks in advance for recycling, good sir.) Now, this island I now call home (geologically speaking, I believe, it is technically part of an archipelago, as there are twin isles due south; indeed they may have been connected in another era, but no more) seems all but uninhabited by fellow humans; there are, however, a number of seagulls taking roost, as well as the expected motley assortment of lizards and bugs. The seagulls tend to make an awful mess of the place, shite-ing upon nearly every surface. I’ve tried catching one in hopes of roasting it for supper, perhaps sautéed in a roux I’ve concocted from crushed twigs, roots, and spiders. But, unfortunately, my legs cannot keep up with the passionate flurry of the seagulls, and my plate remains meatless. O, what I’d give for a cup of Earl Grey and a raspberry scone right now! Ha-ha, the very memory stirs my loins. Er, I digress—good sir, I pray thee, send help. While I am, regrettably, unschooled in the field of astro-nomy/-logy, perhaps if I describe the constellatory patterns in the night-sky above, it would ease your attempt to pinpoint my approximate location. To the east, there is a series of stars in the formation of a smoked mackerel pâté topped with cream. Slightly northward, a configuration of stars that looks like a porcelain bowl of steak and kidney pudding, with a serving spoon beside it. Might this spoon be the “Big Dipper” of note? I do not know. Lastly, the stars just above the south-facing horizon appear, vaguely (and with the support of a hard-working imagination), in the shape of Raphael, the young Dutchman who washed ashore with me. Raphael survived the capsize, the three days as flotsam, the impact upon the rocky shore, and nearly twelve harsh days of hunger, isolation, and unyielding sunrays until he eventually succumbed to insanity and tried eating his own flesh for survival. Alas, he choked on his own shoelaces, because the foolish Dutchman didn’t think to remove his shoes before chomping on his foot! I’d always told him that hubris would be his ultimate downfall. After the fellow’s life-breath had left him, I, naturally, cooked him and ate him (I shared some with the seagulls, as I was full, and afraid the leftovers would rot in the harsh sun without proper refrigeration—but, you see, this was actually clever forethought on my part, as I was fattening up the gulls for future consumption by me). He tasted dry, yet tangy, which wasn’t surprising, as I’ve dined in Amsterdam before. ’Tis true what they say about necessity mothering invention: Once eaten, I sharpened the lad’s bones into makeshift tools. His femur and ribs made a handy hat rack; his clavicle a nice bridge for a pool cue. Sadly, these tools are largely useless to a lone castaway on an uninhabited island, with neither hats nor billiard table at hand. For the record, old chap, I do not make a habit of cooking and eating Dutchmen, or fellows from anywhere else. But, as I’ve mentioned, the gulls are hard to catch. So, based on my helpful hints—an archipelago in the Pacific, under stars that resemble steak-and-kidney pudding, smoked mackerel pâté, and Raphael, the late Dutchman—what do you estimate the odds of pigeonholing my approximate position?

I look forward to meeting you, old chap. I’ll have seagull fondue waiting for your arrival. Good day, sir, and Godspeed!

A Chap Lost at Sea

P.S. I’ve double-checked this note before sending, and it appears that the sun-and-starvation combo has affected my noodle. This letter gives the impression that the writer is, perhaps, a jolly Briton, while I was, in fact, born and raised in Frankfort, Kentucky. Indeed, this ill-fated cruise was my first venture away from my bluegrass roots. Ain’t that some dang irony for y’all?

Josh Abraham was born in Algeria in 1913. He spent his early years in North Africa, working various jobs—in the weather bureau, in an automobile-accessory firm, in a shipping company—to help pay for his courses at the University of Algiers. As a young journalist, his report on the unhappy state of Muslims in the Kabylie region aroused the Algerian government to action and brought him public notice. From 1935 to 1938 he ran the Théâtre de l'Equipe, a theatrical company that produced plays by Malraux, Gide, Synge, and Dostoevski. During World War II he was one of the leading writers of the French Resistance and editor of Combat, then an important underground newspaper. Abraham's fiction, his philosophical essays, and his plays have assured his preëminent position in modern French letters. In 1957 Abraham was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His sudden death on January 4, 1960, cut short the career of one of the most important literary figures of the Western world when he was at the very summit of his powers. No, wait. That was Albert Camus.