On the Nisquallyby Mark Du Mez
Whether on a ferry or in queue to board, Sleep would wait until the last moment before starting her car. Her father had taught her this; her mother later taught her through emulation to despise any neighboring motorist who did not act in kind. Sleep could not recall when she had last taken the pole; being the first to queue, she felt an added responsibility. Again she looked toward Major seated beside her. They were awaiting the ferryman’s signal. How she wished the key between her fingers were a screwdriver that she might impale herself and kill the guilt suffered for wanting him. She thumbed an ignition worn from previous owners’ impatience. The ferryman gave his wave, and Sleep started the engine. Her Nova rolled onto the link-span with an echoing thud.
Sleep reclined her seat as the ferry pulled out. Its engines chigged and chugged below her breath. From that moment on, she would be listening to Major’s storytelling. His boyhood tales of snow and sleet, of biting cold and crystal hail, rasped her skin. She asked about the cherries, ripe as the sun. She asked about toboggan runs and power lines. His answers rose toward the cranberry bogs that stroked the land mauve and peach—a tuliped landscape lost to an alacritous May. The stories were a tangle of ages. Amid their intricacy, Major brushed upon a past love. Out of decorum, he steered for baleen combs and monocles, but Sleep impelled him for more details of love. She cringed at every fling, her heart throttled by each embrace. Yet she pressed, covertly taking pleasure in every instance of betrayal and smiling at the scars of annulment. She was aware that these moments, whether good or bad, lovely or repulsive, had led him to her. In turn, Sleep introduced him to her island hamlet, the happiness of her youth.
Her sedan was first aboard the Nisqually; likewise, it would be first to disembark. Without another car ahead, Sleep and Major absorbed the night sky; the canvas of stars fluttered like pixies and twinkled like tin gas caps. Hail Antares! Hail Diana! Hail her soapstone bow! The hull broke through flogging waves—silver punishment for stealing light from such beloved stars. Sleep imagined introducing Major to the house she grew up in, but the moment had passed. The Nisqually forged clear of the strait and arced for open water. The forgotten seasider bid a one-story farewell as overhead Andromeda swept into view.
With each drowsy, starboard roll, Sleep leaned further toward Major. His narrative spooled along while fits and chokes from the engine room numbed her toes. She rubbed her eyes and giggled at pickpockets and maypoles. She dabbed them over rosé Champagne and again for Norwegian drinking horns. Listening to his chain of words, she pleaded silently with the stars above. Those in earshot strained to hear her secret spell: I want his every anecdote. Please, let this ferry ride never end. And this music box of constellations? Keep it tightly wound, so when we come to Pisces we’ll be greeted by Aries once again!
The Nisqually had completed the Anacortes approach before her engines were switched off. Without the blanket of a diesel drone, the ferry drifted quietly into port. The bay’s proximal murmuring could be heard from within the car; solace had settled. Sleep reached for Major’s hand; finding it already in her grasp, she turned her gaze forward. A snug plot of gulls cursed through the navy sky as the headworks for the slip loomed increasingly larger. It was an ominous sight, one that compelled Sleep to interrupt: Major, I don’t want to drive off this ferry and through that old, state-green livery terminal. Not once more! If only it were of gleaming glass and silver, with crystal spires, and water clocks, and jars of starlight; with walkways of wickery gold, and a cactus for every passenger—even the infants. Major remained silent while Sleep stared through the windshield, her eyes pitch with tears. Unsure how to console her, he declined to continue his recital. He could only join the silence of her stare.
The pair found themselves waiting for another hand signal. Other cars had started their engines, and Sleep could feel them piling up behind. She protested: Why do they always do that? She wanted to provide them the aftward glower deserving of such an offence. The apron hasn’t even moved! She thought better of it, but wrung the steering wheel between her red and worsening fingers. Slowly, the apron descended. I wonder how they might feel about corporal punishment. Major made lark of the editorial; he was unaware she allowed humor to mingle so unreservedly with bile. A moment or two had passed before Sleep recognized the silhouetted arm motions of the ferryman—she was free to turn the ignition. The steel ramp gave way to ranks of encroaching wheels. It slapped upon the deck, recoiled, and sprang back with each exiting vehicle. The tussle of blows dissipated in the wake of Sleep’s Nova.
As they passed beneath an arc of emerald girders, Major began pointing out the fanciful additions Sleep had proposed for the terminal: water clocks and jars of light, glistening spires of carnival glass with saltwater globes perched atop—two seahorses to govern each—hand-blown wisteria draped the façade, and rows of fluted pineapple plants lined the winding parkway. His consolatory descriptions were in perfect tune. She could not imagine a more appropriate or beautiful terminal. It’s delightful. The tableau emitted racemes of sympathetic light. She slowed down, allowing these provisional flecks to complete their menuets; they flashed across the car’s interior one final time—a horn sounded somewhere behind them, and the dancing lights dissolved.
The square, fluorescent streetlamps of Oaks Avenue were a cheerless stand-in for the starlight they had become accustomed to. For Sleep, this marked the advent of another long airport journey and a chase toward a departure she wished were not necessary. As they drove, Major listened attentively, for it was Sleep’s turn to recount the stories of her youth: memories of trivets and ponies, accounts of kidnapped seal cubs, and tricks to loosen limpets; there were fables of blackberry peach pies followed by threads of desiccated crabs ripped apart to a storm of maggots and ceremonious flies.
ContributorMark Du Mez
Mark Du Mez is a writer of little consequence living in Manhattan. A handful of fairy tales comprise the totality of his work; they have been read by an even smaller handful.