Once, on a layover, the airline forced me to share a hotel room with the prima ballerina from the Kiev Ballet. She spoke no English, and it was awkward when we found ourselves reaching for the same door. She argued with me, but I couldn’t understand a word, and I had no better luck explaining when we went back downstairs and the reception clerk told us — in English — that we had to double up on the room. I stood there hand-gesturing for five minutes before she gave me an unreadable look, then took my arm as though I were escorting her to a ball. We walked back to the elevator.
In the room, which had only one bed, I made a show of taking a pillow out of the closet and putting it on the floor near my bag. She silently watched, sitting on the bed cross-legged and straight-backed, in that sculptural manner that dancers have. It was early, only 9pm, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do than get ready to sleep. I wished she would turn on the TV, or do something other than watch me. Even with my back turned, I could feel her eyes between my shoulder blades.
Finally, she opened her suitcase and pulled out two shot glasses and a bottle of vodka, something with a label I didn’t recognize. The bottle made a “thud” when she put it on the night stand. She held out one of the glasses, and for the first time, she smiled. “Come,” she said. It was the only English word she said all night.
I woke up the next morning, as deep down I knew I would, in the bath tub, covered with ice, a freshly stitched incision over my right kidney. My head was pounding. And of course, I had missed my flight. But the strange thing? Every time the Kiev Ballet performs in the United States, I receive a comped ticket in the mail.
I haven’t missed a single performance.
Yesterday, I kicked an acorn into the middle of the road. Today, I saw a dead squirrel there, tire treads impressed on its ruined back.
Now come the scavengers, the carrion-eaters, the things that thrive on death. They gorge themselves, growing fat and slow on the carnage, until they too fall to the unheeding tires of texting drivers and they themselves are eaten in an ever-spinning Circle of Death.
Causality settles on my shoulders like a slackened noose. The acorn that began it? Smashed on the pavement. All its potential broken and ground, unnourished, into the concrete.
The sins of Monday manifest even through Tuesday, like ripples in a fetid pond throwing up stink long after the stone has sunk to the bottom.
The deck lurched, with the promise of more lurching, and my sailor’s legs told me I was on a sinking ship. Not today, and maybe not even this year, but she felt low in the water, a little lower each month. And by the time the waves began lapping up over the sides, it would be a perilously late escape.
Some might blame the captain, or the crew, or the changeable nature of the sea and sky, and many did exactly that — debating and pontificating by the lantern light below deck. I stayed away from such talk; blame solved nothing. But the problem remained: I was on a sinking ship.
I was a strong swimmer, and there were other ships, surely, nearby. But the ship I was on was comfortable. The captain didn’t work the crew too hard, there was good rum every Friday, and the wage was decent for the effort. I had even earned a measure of respect from the officers during my time in service. To toss those things aside and to plunge head-first into the cold, deep waters, to swim for my life as if I were a young man, and to haul myself up onto a new deck, learning the ropes all over again… It was daunting compared to the thought of biding my time, waiting until the risk of staying got worse than the risk of jumping overboard.
What to do, I wondered, staring into the foam-capped waves.