Halfway along the Riverwalk, a mysterious letter marker the “perfect” beginning
By Jillian Weiss
Along the Wilmington Riverwalk, opposite the Battleship U.S.S. North Carolina, the letter “P” is painted in black on the ledge between the walkway and the river. The letter is about the size of an adult footprint and is hardly visible in the evening, light from the nearest lampposts barely reaching it.
I found the letter after watching Magic in the Moonlight at Thalian Hall. During the movie, the handsome graduate student I’d recently begun dating held my hand for the first time. He was nervous, he told me later. He didn’t know how I would react. After the film, we walked down to the river and discovered the “P,” and wondered what it could mean. We sat with the letter between us, holding hands, and dangling our feet over the water, like children.
The handsome student and I met in Wilmington, but we had both lived in many different cities. He had lived in Small Town, Oregon; Small Town, Idaho; and San Sebastian, Spain. I had lived my childhood in Winston-Salem, my adolescence in London, and my college years in Elon. I had spent summers in Prague, Czech Republic; Sherman, Texas; and Memphis, Tennessee. I was better at moving than I was at building a home. By chance, we had come to live in Wilmington at the same time. When we started dating, he had lived there for two years and I had lived there for one. Our houses were at opposite ends of the Riverwalk and the “P” became our meeting point. It was the perfect place to watch the sun set behind the battleship, the sky blushing like a teenager embarrassed by their own beauty. To our left, headlights sailed across the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and the windows of tugboats glowed. Water gently licked the ledge below us.
Sometimes, we’d launch our kayaks near the bridge and glide past our spot with the letter. Then we’d paddle up to the battleship, take our feet from their plastic burrows, place them atop the kayaks, and stare up at the ship’s gray towers and billowing flags. We also crept into the skinny, marshy waterways, the frayed edges of the Cape Fear.
As we kayaked, I knew that beneath us on the river floor slept trunks of longleaf pine. In the 1900s, trunks were bound together in rafts and floated down the Cape Fear to various area sawmills. Some logs, called “sinkers,” fell into the river during transport and have been there since. As we kayaked, I imagined them to be anchors for our boats, but anchors with enormously long chains that allowed us to move freely. Even when we were not near the river, I felt a force pulling me in its direction.
One cold January evening, the handsome student proposed to me as we stood beside the “P.”
He asked, “What does the ‘P’ stand for?”
I made a few guesses.
He said, “It stands for, Please, will you marry me?”
In the next month, we began searching for wood from the sinkers. Eventually, a company that gathered and restored them for furniture and flooring handed my fiancé a free cut of wood, which he then mailed off to a man in Oklahoma to be made into a wedding ring.
It fits him well. The band is half a centimeter thick, and the delicate grain of the pine is visible from beneath a polished layer of gloss. A slim strip of copper runs around the band, slicing the pine into two pieces, and makes the ring shine. He wears it now, though the copper inlay has turned green, as we sit in our apartment on the opposite side of the country, where the sun strangely sets into the ocean instead of rising from it. Though months after our wedding we had to move, once again, I feel the faint tug of the sinkers trying to pull us home.
Award-winning writer, Jillian Weiss earned an MFA from UNCW. This is her first story for Salt. She lives in portland, Oregon.