I was walking alone. The moon was hidden
behind a thick mass of gray clouds that looked like
rain – smelled like it, too. The lights of the city
danced on the river. Green and red. Gold and blue.
I checked my wrist watch as I stepped off the dock
and boarded the old steamboat. It was midnight.
A bell chimed. The big paddle began to whine.
The ship lurched forward. I nearly fell over.
“Where’s the booze?” I asked a sharply-dressed steward.
He grinned, knowingly and pointed amidships
at two heavy wooden doors. Inside was a
well-stocked, ornate bar surrounded by people
clad in top hats and tails, red velvet dresses
and jewelry that rattled when the boat rocked.
Most men carried canes that were purely for show
and all the women clutched at tiny purses.
Ashamed of my clothes and the shoes on my feet,
I slunk across the room and sidled over
to the barkeep. “Bourbon,” I said. “Neat.” He gave
me a bottle and walked away. I threw him
a tip and did the same. When I went outside
the clouds had cleared. We’d left the city behind.
I wandered along the railing, looking at
the reflection of the moon in the water
off the port side. I could see the Big Dipper
by looking down and tried to fight a sense
of vertigo. The bourbon helped, a little.
When I reached the bow I saw an empty bench
and sat down. Minutes passed … or maybe hours.
I watched constellations cross the horizon
and a shooting star, or maybe a comet,
soar across the sky from left to right. “Hey kid,”
I heard a weathered voice rasp, from behind me.
I turned and saw an old man – white hair, white beard.
His suit was beige. His shoes were spotless. He asked,
“Mind if I join you for a little while?”
I nodded at the bench; we clinked our bottles.
He took a seat on my left, and then silence.
After taking a swig of Johnny Walker
he exhaled, a person at peace with the world.
“You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?” I said.
He just shrugged his shoulders. The guy smelled like Old
Spice cologne bought at a supermarket, but
name one male senior citizen that doesn’t.
It’s impossible. I think they’re issued it.
Anyway, he leaned back and looked at the sky.
A long moment went by. Finally he said,
“You can choose to be a vagabond artist
and say you’re doing it for posterity,
but Emily Dickinson’s life was lonely.
Vincent Van Gogh went mad from being alone.
Here I am, a damned old man, talking to a
stranger on the deck of some godforsaken
boat in the middle of the night. Live your life.
Forget about dreams. They lead to lunacy.”
He smiled. His teeth were nubs. I shook my head
and stood up. “Thanks for the advice,” I told him.
“But I’d rather live in worlds I create than…”