The New World
The boat by the dock goes to the moon if you pay the ferryman a golden crown. I have seen what comes back, and I wonder what they pay him on those empty, airless, valleys.
I lead my son through the streets, past the beggars and broken store fronts, past the garbage that litters this place, over to the river. The docks are cleaner because the ship captains hire men to keep it free of debris and encampments: they want to be able to see everything when they land, otherwise there are ambushes. But ships these days are fewer and fewer. A ship requires backing, requires purpose, requires men who can pull together. All are in short supply now.
Instead the world has things that crawl from places we once believed empty of life, and laughter we heeded too late because we only heard it in our dreams. My poor son doesn’t know any better. When he pointed at tall buildings and asked me where they came from, I knew what had to be done.
“Malcolm,” I call out to the ferryman. He turns his head and clutches his pole closely, in his hands it’s a deadly weapon, but his expression softens when he sees me. He remembers me from school, back when that was possible.
“Avery,” he says, looking around to see if there are others. He sees my son, but pays him little mind. He tries to read my expression. “Do you have a ship coming in?” I know, at that moment, that my decision was a good one, because this is the joke of a man who has options.
I take too long to respond, and his smile fades. “You don’t …” he hesitates. “Where I go is not for you.”
“I know.” I push my son forward. “I’ve come to make you an offer.” I hold up a small bag and shake it, so that he hears the coins.
He taps his pole on the dock. “You won’t see him for a long time,” he says.
“It will change him.”
“Good,” I say. “If I pick up a phone I still expect it to connect to something. I still look over my shoulder for the police to come and let me sleep at night. I think I’m passing that on to him.”
He grimaces, and nods. He looks at the coins, and then down at my boy. “I don’t need a pair of hands now, but I probably will down the line, and it would be better if they’re trained.”
I give the boy the coins, and push him forward. He looks back at me, and I scowl. He looks straight ahead.
But Malcolm hesitates.
“How did you do it?” I ask. “We were freshmen together.” That’s probably the first time my boy has heard that word. “But you’ve … figured the new world out. And I wish I knew how.”
He takes a deep breath. “You were always the one girls said yes to, and I never understood how. I tried to figure it out, and it just … what would you have said if I’d asked you?”
I know I’m supposed to say something, but I hold very still.
“We all belong to different worlds,” Malcolm says. “I don’t have a son.” He hesitates, then he holds out his hand. Underneath his sleeve, his arm is covered by a tattoo of something curved and red and hungry. “I’ll take your boy. I’ll do what I can.”
I put my hand on my son’s back, and push him the rest of the way forward. Malcolm nods to me, and I feel tears in my eyes as I slip back into the corrupted streets and hear them step on to his little ship. “We’ll have a customer shortly,” Malcolm tells my son. “When he comes, don’t look for his eyes. It’s worse if you find them. Don’t answer any questions, no matter what they ask. Don’t ask any: that’s even worse.” He sighs. “You have a lot to learn.”
He doesn’t ask his name. I should be angry, but I don’t know if that’s even important anymore. I slip between the rotted husks of automobiles. There is a worn mystery novel, and a fireplace, and garden waiting for me at home. We’ll serve each other out of a chipped ceramic bowl, and make small talk, as though we knew what to say. Tomorrow, the sun will rise in the north. Tonight, my son will walk on the moon.
Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues. He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.
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