Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

Tail of a Turtledove
Jenifer DeBellis

The message read: “Your principles mean more to you than money or success.” This once-in-a-lifetime discovery gave her nothing more than that. No note of instruction, no love letter, no recognisable message—just a folded fortune tag and a handful of sand tucked into an otherwise empty Jefferson Vineyards 2008 Viognier bottle.

Last year she found a balloon stuck to a downed tree. It was impossible to know how long it had been since it staked a claim on one of the lower branches of the birch—a birch that once stood strong at the inner curve of the river’s bend. By the time she found the balloon, the top half of the tree had snapped, and without letting go of the base, had toppled into the river. It pressed hard into the shallow water, splitting in half at the base and fanning out like two fully extended wings in flight. The deflated vermilion balloon bobbed in the current, a portion of its tattered pearly ribbon nothing more than the shadow of a trout pulling ahead. Tied to the neck of the balloon was a note in a bag. “Cast your nets to the other side of the boat,” it read, “and be prepared to receive extraordinary things.”

The day after she found this note the worst season of her life began.

“Tail of a turtledove,” were the words carved into the sand. Then the message faded from the shore before anyone else could happen by and see it.

She always noticed him farther down the coast, walking away from her—always walking away, never approaching. Yet, she could picture his knowing smile playing from his eyes as she read his messages.

“Wait!” she shouted, taking care to release the urgency of her request into the breeze being carried his way.

This time he stopped and turned toward her. And although she knew those eyes well, it seemed like he was looking at her for the first time. She began to question whether she was the one looking at him for the very first time. As the early evening sun cast certain shadows upon his features, she recognised him as the one who stood guard while she slept.

They slunk to the sand—legs crossed—and began watching each other. She was sure that as she saw through him, he was also seeing through her. Each time she latched onto one of his thoughts, she held it up to the setting sun and viewed it from every angle. The moment she tried tucking it into the place their memories belonged, the tide would wash up and draw it away from her.

While the last shreds of sunlight bled below the horizon, she sensed she was on the threshold of remembering. He had loved her once, had touched her where nobody else has ever managed. Yet, as she remembered, the distance between them—even now as they remained sitting upon the shoreline—grew.

No longer able to hear his thoughts, she focused on the contours of his silhouette now highlighted by the crescent moon. He swept his arm toward the eastern sky. Following his motion, she noticed a constellation that was reminiscent of a dove’s tail. Tail of a turtledove, she remembered.

When she looked back to where he was sitting, he was gone. At first, she thought her eyes were deceiving her. Yet once her vision readjusted to the darkness, she realised she was once again alone.

She looked for those all-knowing eyes everywhere. Not one passerby on the pier was a match. Nobody riding the bus into the city was an equal. Nobody in any given day was the same. She frequented the beach where she’d last seen him to no avail.

The yearning mounted along with her hopelessness. She began to lose touch with what she was searching for. A year had passed since that night on the beach. On her way to the bus, she noticed in curved, bold letters Tail of a turtledove written across a newspaper that was pressed up against the dispenser glass. Peering through the glass, she made out the headline the message was written over. “Life, in black, white and color.”

She purchased the paper and revisited that sandy spot she’d grown to find even in the dark. Digging her toes into the sand, she focused on his message, committing each curve and loop to memory. Beneath the handwritten words was a thin line. She pulled the paper closer to make out what it was underlining. “When two souls connect, neither life nor death can separate them. He talked about walking the spiritual shores, guarding the gateway . . .”

The wind picked up and she inhaled the healing scent of ocean air. Two turtledoves alighted near her feet. One purred toward the other before they took to flight again. Off in the distance something sparkled and bobbed in the approaching waves. She watched its mysterious dance—dipping and twirling as the water swelled and then fell away—and waited for it to wash ashore.

A surge of restless waves pressed up against the boulder seawall. Streams of water burst into bouquets like drowning arms reaching for something solid to cling on to. The dancing object continued on its course some feet away from the pier, oblivious of the threat of getting sucked into the swell of those volatile waves.

Several feet above the spraying water she noticed a familiar figure perched on the jagged edge of a boulder that was reminiscent of a half opened eye. An apparition or a silhouette? It was becoming difficult for her to tell the difference anymore. She was afraid to look back toward the object that was making its way to the shore, afraid that the moment she looked away he would disappear.


Metro Detroit writer Jenifer DeBellis is passionate about uncovering the heartbeat of humanity. She’s a 2012 Meadow Brook Writing Project Writer in Residence and is beginning Solstice’s MFA in Creative Writing at Pine Manor in January. Her work’s been featured in BAC Street Journal, Pink Panther Magazine, and Oakland Journal.