“Can I tell you a story about boats?”
I glanced at the clock over his shoulder, subtle, so as not to depress him. It was only half
“Sure,” I said. “We have time.”
He leaned closer to me, elbows on the diner table, an unusual seriousness taking him
over. Then again, so much had changed about him, perhaps this new attitude wasn’t that strange
“When I was sixteen, a friend of mine told me about a boat that comes to dock here,
about once a year,” he began.
“Yes, yes,” I said, trying to affect an aura of nonchalance. I’m not sure why, in moments
like this, I’m always so concerned with appearing aloof.
“This ship,” he continued, “takes on many different forms. My friend had taken it the
previous year, this tiny sailboat, a dinky little thing. He said it took him around the world, that he
felt the sun against his face, tasted the seamist in the air. I was told that it was a transformative
experience, that the child who had left the dock was wholly different than the adult who had
returned. But, my friend told me, sailing by this boat comes with a price.”
A waitress came to clear our table, asking if I was done with my long cold plate of fries.
Outside, the wind continued to wail bitterly, pounding against misted windows.
“Who was your friend?” I asked.
“Oh, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he was persuasive. That I took a ship on
my own,” he said.
“And it was beautiful, terrifying, and life affirming. My ship was different. Rather than a
dinghy, it was a massive steam vessel. Think wood panel floors, peeling paint, stern
paddle-wheels and steam stacks. It suited me just fine.”
I took another look at the clock. 8:39. We were running out of time.
“It took me to places I’ve never seen before,” he continued, “places I hope to never visit
again. I was younger then, still wanting to explore, fascinated with the smallest peculiarities. I
came across countries where I was beloved, countries where I was despised. Met people who
smiled when they spoke the truth, people who smiled when they wanted to deceive you. I saw
people dance like their bones were made of water, whose every move felt inevitable, as though
the entire world demanded, in that moment, that the body move in time. The full splendor of
creation was before me, and I spoke in languages which no longer exist, worshipped at temples
which have since turned to dust.”
8:45. In the distance, I heard the station bell ringing. He heard this, and instinctively
reached for my suitcase, as if preventing me from leaving.
“And then what?” I asked. “Where did the boat end up taking you?”
He looked at me, hurt, as though I’d missed the entire point of his story.
“It took me back to you.”