Sketch of a Conversation on the Ferry

It is Sunday, January the 4th, last day before classes begin. In the cafeteria on the ferry to Swartz Bay, it is very crowded. I join the line anyway. Once I secure a tray of food, I scan the area for likely looking seats. There are none, so I settle for a spot by an angry lookin’ dude and an older lady. I eat burger and fries. As I finish last mouth-watering bite of burger, angry dude leaves without explanation for departure or contortions of his brows. Older lady looks at me from neighboring seat. Not knowing what to say, I look away. Youngish guy – I guess 18 – sits down across from lady. I find out via eavesdropping that he’s her son. He gives her a tea. She murmurs something I can’t hear. Having done justice to my remaining fries, I sip coke as discreetly as I can. Like most everyone in the cafeteria, I avoid eye contact and the effort of making small talk with the people nearby.

After a while, the lady says to no one in particular, “This is a nice tea.” No one in particular pays attention. A little later she says to someone, I don’t see who, “You are a beautiful boy,” or something like that. Her son says, “Mom…” “What?” she says, as if she’s been hoping he would say that, and I glance at her to see if she’s teasing. She is. Her son says, “Mom, just let people go on with their things,” in the tone of one who is half embarassed and half amused at his charge. “Why?” she asks. “Those were nice eyes.” “It’s embarassing,” he says, and out of the corner of my eye I see him glance at me. Then I realize his mom knows I am eavesdropping and I can’t help smiling back when she says, looking directly at me, “Maybe it’s embarassing for you, but not for me! It’s not embarassing for me.” Now I am embarassed. The son gives me a mildy mortified smile and shakes his head.

It is quiet for a while. As I finish the dregs of my coke, the lady looks out the window at the ocean and says, “Son, I have a feeling about this ferry. I have a feeling it is going too slow.” Now I really can’t help smiling. As I get up and go, I hear him say, “Mom… it… the ferry is fine. It’s going fine. It just looks like it’s going slow.”

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