Saturday, September 1, 2012

last chance

She was a thin blonde, rather short. The pale skin of her face appeared ravaged in some fashion, more than just from hard years and tobacco smoke.

The writer found himself standing next to her. She appeared to him like a woman whose man had stepped away for a moment. They stood with many others along the dock in a loose group in line for the car ferry. Walk-on passengers had to wait for the vehicles to drive off before they were allowed to board.

It was cool and damp, the rain having tapered to the slightest of drizzles. Behind them a group joked in Italian. The rest of the walk-ons seemed overcome with boredom.

The writer noticed a particular van driving off the ferry. It stopped across from them as the line of vehicles jammed to a halt.

"Look," he said to those around him, and pointed past the thin blonde, "That guy was ready in case anything happened."

She looked at the van, a man in front of them also looked. She looked back at the man next to her who had broken the silence. The van belonged to a company that sold life rafts. The writer looked down at her and read aloud the name of the life raft company off the side of the van. By then she had already looked away as if she were denying having turned to the man who had spoken in the first place. By her physical attitude, she seemed to be forcibly ignoring his words. The man in front of them did not seem to understand anything. He was looking at the cars like a zombie who had not yet learned how to bite into a brain.

The writer resumed waiting in silence and continued to observe his fellow passengers, including the slight woman. She was about 50 years old and appeared to have been wasting away over a long period of time. He would have liked something from her, if not bare recognition for his observation then perhaps a simple acknowledgement of the general irony of the situation. Wasn't it only natural after all?

He did not attempt to follow up. She seemed uncomfortable standing by herself in that line.

As the final cars rolled off the boat a dark figure hurried from the direction of the ferry office and took his place in line on the other side of the thin blonde, making her appear even shorter. The man was about two inches taller than the writer and two decades younger. The couple did not act like mother and son. They stood close and when they spoke, their words were too low to be overheard.

The writer was surprised by the youth and good looks of the woman's traveling companion. Although the writer had not coveted her, he understood now if she was unwilling to risk perhaps the displeasure of the man whose love she seemed to depend on.

She remained a ravaged wisp of a woman and the writer sensed the tenuous nature of her bond with her companion. Certainly no true friend or lover could begrudge her the sharing of a spontaneous moment with a stranger in public. Still, the writer, initially irked by what he perceived as rudeness, now viewed her cold shoulder as simply a necessary part of a desperate calculus, and for what it might be worth, he forgave her.

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