Reads: 324

It's different than the last time he crossed the gulf. New ferries now, with glossy floors and wide screen televisions in every seating area. Al walks around for a while, stretching his legs. It's been a long day of sitting around on buses, half-sleeping and waiting. He changes the bandage again in a bathroom stall, but it looks worse now. There are globs of yellow here and there, pus mixed with blood. And the smell. It's not strong, but it's definitely not right. He dabs the wound gingerly but he can't reach the back of his shoulder properly anymore – he's too stiff and doesn't want to risk starting the bleeding again. Instead he jams a handful of paper towels into his shirt and hopes they don't get too messy.

There's fog in the gulf. The air's cool but there's a lingering of warmth around. The steel railing has some residual heat when he grips it. The wind feels nice, though.

He tries Jess's number again but there's still nothing. He starts to worry. Not about her – he knows she's alright. It's a selfish kind of worry. He doesn't feel safe. Exposed. More and more often he finds himself looking over his shoulder. Expecting to see one of the leather jacketed brutes from Halifax coming down on him. Anticipating the sound of shots behind him. But there's nothing yet. Still, he keeps his collar pulled high. Careful not to make eye contact with anyone.

The paper bag is in his small pack along with a change of clothes and some protein bars. His neck is aching from it hanging on his right shoulder but his left side is too sore to wear it normally.  He takes it off and rests it against the railing. Looks over the side. The Atlantic stares back at him, familiar yet indifferent. Black and deep blue penetrated by the white foam wake coming from the hull. There's still a full day's travel until Small's Cove, but somehow it seems as though he's almost there. Seeing the water up so close makes him feel different, somehow.

In the city it was different. Even near the ocean, the water was always so tainted with off-hues. Even the rivers along the highway had the look. Sandy, washed out banks ready to crumble, oozing with sludge and nitrate-rich water. Grey. Brown. Unhealthy, if a river could be that way. The ocean is different. That salt-ridden scent brings comfort. He remembers swimming in coves in the summer, grazing toes on seashells and floating flat-backed on the swell. Even the chemical composition mirrors that of our bodily fluids. It's like being in the womb. He smiles.

Al decides to go find the bar. A whisky might help to dull the tension building in his temple. He picks up the pack and single-shoulders it. Just as he's about to start walking he pauses and turns back to the rail. Taking one last look over the side, he pulls out the other half of his old cell phone and tosses it into the air. It flips slowly as it falls, falls. With a splosh, it hits the water and disappears.

At the bar he pays cash for two straight whiskys and downs them quick. They burn his empty stomach but he squints through it and soon it becomes a warm tingle that puts him at ease. He buys a bag of chips and orders a third, feeling pleasantly numb. The chips are salty, good on the stomach. He stretches in his stool and takes off his jacket. Suddenly, the air in the bar changes. Al can't tell for sure, but things seem to have gotten quieter.

Glancing across the room, his eyes are met by a few of the other patrons. They're staring straight at him. Most of them look confused. A few are making faces of disgust. One, however, is looking at him with contempt. Real, hot anger. Sun burnt cheeks, nose and forehead. A close-cropped dark beard. The mans fist is curled tight around his beer, and quickly, the other reaches inside his pocket and pulls out a cellphone. He starts to dial, still glaring at Al.

Al throws a twenty on the bar and makes a dash for it, grabbing his jacket as he goes. In the hallway he picks up speed, breaking into a light run and trying not to catch everyone's attention. Before pulling on his jacket he feels a wet spot on the inside and finds a patch of wet blood. Fuck! The towels must have slipped. His shirt is wet.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Turns left onto the deck, then right at the next door which leads inside again. Right, through a sitting room. Past the coffee bar. Through a narrow passage. Gift shop. Theatre. Left, right, right, left, left, left, right. Finally he stops to catch his breath and walks into the fullest seating area he can find. He walks into the middle and takes a seat. Pulls his headphones out and plugs them into the armrest. Breathe. Just keeping breathing.

He sits still, pretending to be asleep, keeping his head down. The room is dark – he'll be hard to recognize. He's one of them.

Al starts to feel sick again. His head is pounding now and there are flashes in his eyes under the lids.  At times they look like gunshots, and he swears he can hear them. But no, that's just his pulse. The shivering starts again but he tenses up to not attract to much attention. At one point he hears a couple of people run into the seating area, muttering to one another. He doesn't dare open his eyes to look.

Instead he focuses on the colours flashing under his eyelids and the shapes they are making. It's like some sort of illusion, as though he's lying out there below the waves. Looking up at the moonlight from somewhere dark and deep. Sinking.

Submitted: March 22, 2016

© Copyright 2021 keithdaniels. All rights reserved.


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