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The Man in the Boat
The man furiously paddled away from the canal, blinking away hot tears as the rough handle drove into his palm.
He couldn’t take it anymore. It was the city of love and lights, and inside he knew parts of him refused to leave hate and dark. Had he thought of making a better life here? Had he thought it would mend his heart, melt his heart as he ferried young lovers across the infamous Seine? What on EARTH had he thought when he had turned up on the port of Calais?
No. He was wrong, and he cursed the nameless people’s names; he cursed his own name; he cursed the name of flickering Paris. He was going to leave, and that was now.
The sunset was ablaze in flickering pinks and peaches, as if flowers had melted together into one enormous petal, spanning the skies and overwhelmingly sweet. They tipped the gentle waves in a brushy pattern, lapping along the sides of his boat. And beyond the sunset and the pinkish waves was a large crevasse of purple, thoughtful lavender that darkened the otherwise playful collage.
He had to get away. He had to concentrate on the bruise of the rough paddle that he forced into the water, again and again. He had to focus on the glittering white lights of palaces that glimmered with senseless joy and passion. Joy and passion. Since when had light ever held joy and passion, promise? That had failed him as they winked out of her eyes.
His stomach growled, and his eyes were sore from glaring down at translucent waters. He felt the boat wobble as he thrust the paddle in harder – one two, one two. All he needed was the open sea, the open, blue sea full of freedom –
When he opened his eyes, he woke as if in dream, or dreamed as if he woke. There was all too little knowing, as the world was much too bright.
But it was all red, and all too blue, and flecked with white. “Where am I?” he mumbled, although knowing no answer would come. As his eyesight focused, he could see brilliant red cherry blossoms layered in leafy bundles above – they flattened out to a blurred V and the sky swam over his vision. Only this sky was not the hazy Paris sunset he knew. It was a fresh afternoon spray as clean as the dawn, streaked with ribbons of soft cloud.
Just then he realized he had not left his boat. It had to be either a very queer dream, or he was not dreaming at all. He did not want it to be a dream, because he found that he felt very peaceful, looking up into the blazing blossoms and gentle skies, and if it was a dream, then it would end. Peace had seldom visited him until this moment; now, it immersed itself into him and rejuvenated his mind.
He carefully stood in the boat, realizing with slight satisfaction it did not tilt the boat the slightest. And as he stood, he found that it was gliding upon the clear mirror of the skies and trees, sending out silent ripples in shapes of wings.
And as he finally looked up again, he found his boat (what he could only assume was his) seemed to be following another, a grander and much more splendid boat. It was plated in roseate wood, and the brush-like paints on the sides made it look very much like water itself. Standing on it was a man, for he had no other words to describe him with.
Slowly, as if wading through a dream, the figure turned its head to face him and said, “Come. There is something I would like to show you.”
He nodded, for he feared if he did anything else, he would hurt the ethereal presence that emanated from him. The boat he stood on seemed to understand, and sped up.
He could feel the wind in his hair, brushing out every strand with startlingly clean scent. He felt the birds’ song chirp from the bordering trees. But it was golden and perfectly tuned to one another, which started in rounds and rounds until he wondered if it was a song of forever.
There they drifted, slowing into curtains of wisteria, divine and swinging to an unheard melody, a harmony within itself. He feared that he would disturb the long, weeping vines, and tried to duck at first, but he found that the boat eased into places that did not disturb the long tendrils.
And then the world had changed, so quickly he feared that he had blinked and missed too much. For the graceful wisps now were full of open sea, so wide and uncharted the sky was deafened. The water was a grayish white, and he saw that little sea turtles swam in layered strokes atop another, weaving in and out through an elegant routine. The sunlight bathed some dark and others nearly as light as the water, and he wondered at the sight as the boat glided past.
Then the scenery changed once more, again in a flash that he was sure it could not have been a coincidence. The man in his splendid boat seemed unaffected, and his long, yellow fingers held the sides of the boat as if to power it. The boat, just as he thought so, took on a swill of speed, and his followed in pursuit.
They were nearing to the banks, he found, and the soft grass was cut to a gentle fuzz. The wind rustled it, and the blades shivered beautifully, sending pleasant thrums into the air. A canopy of trees did little to thatch out the glorious sunshine, and he could almost smell the forest in the clean air.
But their boats finally stopped, and the tall man’s boat bumped soundlessly against the grassy bank. Where the man looked was a bedazzling rose, one that took his breath away and replaced it with bright awe. Towards the center, the petals were enclosed upon one another, immaculately white. Slowly, they thinned out to wider petals tipped in threads of the sweetest mauve he had ever known, dusting off the curling lip.
But many of these petals were dying, and it wrenched his soul to see it so. He realized that the rose was still growing, but from the inside out. Tears brimmed his eyes, unshed, as he envisioned how grey and crisp the outermost petals would look after a few days.
But the man in the splendid boat leaned out slightly, and he plucked the droopiest petal off. It came easily, as if it had been waiting all along. Without it, it seemed the rose was no longer encumbered with the heavy mauve, and he found it was still ever lovely.
“The elders rest…the younglings learn. It is the cycle of life.”
The words did not seem to come out from his mouth, for they were too heavenly to come from a humans’ at all. The man looked at him with such kindness that he felt it could not be a man at all, for he had never seen such benevolence grafted on one’s face. He could see understanding in the man’s quiet eyes, and he knew that he knew what had happened the one night hope had withered.
But now it was back again.
“Thank you,” he whispered.