Ferry Men

On the Seattle ferry, men with gray hair lock their bicycles and climb stairs by twos to the sun deck. Once on top, they walk with their shoulders first, like superheroes. They wear metallic-green and black outfits. They stretch their arms out and take in oxygen and gazes. When passengers admire seagulls that hang in the boat-breeze, the ferry men grab hold of their wings and yank bread crumbs from their beaks. The men shoot their arms up in the air, holding the crumbs in victory.
 
The ferry men chew gum like prostitutes on corners. They wear their ferry passes on their sleeves in plastic windows because they are completely mobile and free.
 
Five of the men extend one leg each on the laps of old men and middle-aged women who sit on benches. The men place their foreheads to their knees, like stretching ballerinas. Their hamstrings burn. Sweat drips from their temples and spreads in small dots on the strangers’ pants and skirts. You’re welcome, they say.
 
They hear laughter, and they turn their heads. Two teenage boys have yanked open the deck doors, and two teenage girls are at their sides. A hard wind swirls over the boys’ heads and blasts the men who fall on their bottoms, their legs pointing in the air.
 
The boys walk together, and the girls are behind. The boys talk and walk and smile. Passengers sweep their arms wide and low as they pass, making way. The boys have cheeks like slightly toasted cream. Their lashes graze their eyebrows like butterflies kissing babies. The boys love each other and themselves more than they love the girls, more than they love anything. They can’t help it. They are bursting. They love the day and the glow that is everywhere.
 
The five ferry men start to cry. Their behinds are tucked in. They are scared puppies. When the boys have circled round to the other side of the boat, when the ferry men feel safe, they stand. They pout like toddlers, then they pitch each other angry eyes. The five men gather inner strength and huddle like a football team.
 
They think they are all that, one says.
 
As if!
 
Let’s teach them a lesson.
 
Damn skippy.
 
Let’s do this!
 
They put their hands together and grunt.
 
The men watch for the boys’ return. They form a wall, arms crossed.
 
The boys appear around the bend. Their movements are liquid. Two sunbeams lovingly urge them on. The girls walk behind them with slowed steps and lowered heads, holding the boys jackets, like mantles. Women on benches crane their necks. The boys are everything to the women: their first loves, their precious sons, their Rock Hudsons and Johhny Depps.  
 
The boys stop at the man wall. They cock their heads in confusion.
 
Hey, little dick-wads.  Ready to get punked?
 
Yeah, another man says, his nose-hairs flaring, causing him to sneeze in a frenzy, so that he cannot speak.
 
What he means is, you are about to talk to the hand. The man cracks his knuckles up high for all to see.
 
We’ve got a can of whoop-ass that we’re about to open.
 
They high-five each other.
 
The girls move to the boys’ sides. They are prepared to die. From their jeans’ pockets, they pull keys and Mace. They bare their teeth.
 
The boys hold up their tapered fingers to quell the girls. The ferry, too, comes to a halt. The ship is as silent as a byzantine church. The waves, even, do not lap.
 
The boys speak:
 
Great wonder grows
On the deck
At your hue
most strange to see.
For men and gear
and countenance
Are as green
as green
can be.

The passengers eyes are round like barnacles. One of the girls giggles. The ferry men’s faces turn red. Their hair blows back from the laughter of many throats.
 
One of the men grabs his thigh. Another slaps his neck. They feel wetness and look at their hands. It is blood. All of them are wounded.
 
The girls stand like boards. One raises a brow. The boys repeat the verse:
 
Great wonder grows
On the deck
At your hue
most strange to see.
For men and gear
and countenance
Are as green
as green
can be.

A man grabs his heart and drops. Another sprays blood from his nose. A third holds his head and howls.
 
The other girl raises a brow.
 
The beautiful boys repeat the words. The passengers laugh so hard they pee in streams. Shawls fly off shoulders, and babies unbuckle themselves from prams. It is great fun. It is a party.
 
The five men lie still and cold on the deck in the shape of a great star.
 
Unfortunate, the boys say, and they kneel and close the eyes of the men, one by one. The girls step forward and chant an ancient prayer in a language no one understands. The passengers nod and place their hands, one atop the other, over their genitals in reverence.

---

Verses spoken by the boys are adapted from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.


Thea Swanson pic.jpg

Thea's flash-fiction collection, Mars, was just published by Ravenna Press. Thea's stories can be found in many journals including Crab Creek Review, Fiction Southeast and Mid-American Review. Thea holds an MFA in Writing from Pacific University in Oregon. She has taught English from middle-school through college. Read more about her writing at theaswanson.com.