The morning mist hung low over the water grazing it like a lazy cat tapping its paw on some unsuspecting mouse. The still, cool air pampered my exposed skin keeping me in that small space between chilly and warm, a delicate balance sure to be broken once the sun rose above the mountains in the east and chased away the pallor of the early dawn to make way for another bright, summer day. I stood facing the calm waters looking out into the sound, the hum of activity slowly building behind me, a slammed door, an errant car horn, and the beep of a forklift. The odor of marine life surrounded me, that fishy taint, a true salt of the earth variety. I wrinkled my nose and squinted into the horizon.
Perched above the mist in the distance stood one of the small islands that dotted the sound like bread crumbs of the ancient gods from eons ago. The island seemed to float above the horizon as if some celestial magician were presenting his penultimate trick, an illusion to end all illusions. I smiled into the face of the creeping mist, breathed in the salty air. An undercurrent of excitement rose from my stomach and infused my mind with a sense of adventure as I examined the ship, solid and ungainly, squatting on the water at the pier. The Pequod it was not.
A stray fellow passenger grazed the edge of my shoulder as I walked to board my ship. I looked at his face, absent-minded and aloof, nothing like Melville’s Elijah. He ignored me as if I were invisible and moved on quickly determined to board the ship first as if the sparse passenger terminal gave the slightest hint of limited space aboard the vessel. I slowly walked the plank to board my ship. The rat-tat-tat of the cheap metal rattled beneath each step I took, and I imagined the wooden steps of Captain Ahab would make quite a racket on this ramp.
Once I boarded the ship, I stood on the aft deck looking back to the pier that would soon disappear into the mist as I floated hastily away toward the barrier island in the distance. The city behind the old pier still bore the remnants of a night that was slowly fading away. Lights winked from office buildings that stood like monolithic Moai guarding the harbor as ancient sentinels. The first wisps of sunlight torched the tallest buildings and gleamed ever so brightly that I almost had to turn away for fear of going blind.
The deep guttural sound of the ship’s horn filled the harbor, an angered sea monster rising from the murky waters to exact revenge on an encroaching population. I could feel the drift of the boat away from the pier, and I steadied myself before I took refuge in the cabin. I slid into one of the long, vinyl bench seats that lined the large windows on either side of the ship. I pushed myself against the window and watched the water slowly glide past. The cabin was mostly empty save for a few stragglers who wandered by anonymously. The faint sound of chatter could be heard on the other side of the cabin, but the perpetrators were not to be seen. A feeling of loneliness overcame me in the vast cabin as the city slowly receded into the horizon engulfed by the mist that thickened the further the ship drifted into the sound.
I sat and listened to the hum of the ship’s engine and inhaled the warmth of the cabin. A lone passenger passed by my window outside leaning into the cold sea breeze that resisted the ship’s forward push toward the island. The engine whined in protest as the gray water slid beneath its massive keel, nature versus machine, a never-ending, relentless battle.
Something hard and sharp struck the tile floor behind me. A baby had thrown his toy from the perch of his stroller in protest of his parents’ inattention. The sound, at first shocking in the mechanical silence of the cabin, roused my sea-faring musings. The rhythmic tap of the object on the tile led me back to Ahab and his wooden leg. I imagined him walking through the cabin grotesque and angry, leering at the few passengers and cursing the ever-elusive whale. Someone opened the door behind me and the surge of salty sea air thrust me from my musings and back to the present.
Time, like the sea beneath me, glided by quickly and before I knew it the ship’s horn sounded again. We had emerged from the fog to nose our way into the island’s pier, which shined brightly in the morning sunlight. The day had arrived while I dreamed in the fog, nothing new by any account. I stood and walked slowly forward. The glaring sun bounced off the huge glass eyes of the ferry terminal and blinded me. I looked aside as I ducked onto the gangplank and descended the steps onto the island. The air seemed warmer, fresher. I looked back over the cloudy water. The mist scurried away in protest of the summer sun, but the city across the sound was all but invisible. Only the tops of the tallest buildings glistened in the morning light, but I knew she was still there waiting for my return like a hopeful lover gazing into the empty space I had left behind. Gone, but not forgotten.