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  • Color of the Sea
  • Peter Selgin (bio)

Tell me about loneliness.

At 1:45 in the morning, the sky, the sea and the horizon were all the same greasy black. Andrew Shields lay stretched out on a life preserver casing, smoking a Lucky Strike, the diesel-tossed wind curling his hair, the ferry's engines throbbing below him.

When we have arrived, you will tell me, yes?

Other passengers slept indoors, on stiff chairs, on carpet stained by sea salt and cigarette ashes, in sleeping bags, their clothes rolled up into pillows. Andrew felt separate from them all, as if he belonged to another landscape, a world belonging to the stars and sea.

Promise you will tell me?

The Brazilian woman—Karina was her name—slept below, perched against her backpack. They'd met on the dock. The ferry was late. Like Andrew she traveled alone. She stood out from the ranks of tourists. In place of cutoffs or baggy shorts she wore a flouncing peasant skirt. A gold Star of David hung in the tip of the mild shadow between her breasts. She had an oval face of pale skin with sharp, boyish features, and wore her black hair in a bun. She seemed constantly to lean away from or into things. They'd stood close together scanning the horizon. Andrew lit a cigarette. "Do you mind?" he asked.

"Why? What should I mind?"

"The smoke," he said, waving it away.

"You Americans."

A moment later she said, "Do you get lonely traveling alone?"

Andrew shrugged. "I guess, a little," he said.

"You are lying. I bet you get very lonely."

Andrew was set to reply defensively when suddenly Karina pointed. "Look," she said, clasping her hands together like a child. "The ferry!"

Seconds later the ship filled the harbor with light and noise. Without warning, Karina grasped Andrew's hand. "I have never been to sea. Only once, when I was little, and then I was sure the boat would go in the water. I fell asleep and dreamed that I woke up underwater and could not breathe. I swore I would never go to sea again."

"What made you change your mind?"

"I was a little girl—it is time to grow up."

A crewman tossed a thick hawser that landed with a thump on the dock. [End Page 9]

"Look how big it is! It is not a ferry at all, it is an ocean liner!"

Still holding hands, Andrew and Karina pressed forward at the head of the crowd. When their luggage was stowed, Karina stretched out on a bench with a towel for a pillow and said, "When I wake up we will be in Crete, and you will tell me about loneliness, yes?"

An old woman in a black shawl, with no top teeth and a silver crucifix, tugged at Andrew's sleeve. She wanted his section of floor for one of her dozens of grandchildren. The crone fired words, made faces, gestured, implored. At last Andrew gave up his spot, saying, "Okay, okay."

He shivered, pulled out his blue-and-gray cardigan, which, back in New York, he'd thought would go well with the Aegean. He put it on and, taking his sketchbook, made his way up the brass-railed stairway to the smoking lounge, where he sketched a mother knitting, a crewmember filling his pipe, a fat man asleep in a chair with his mouth wide open. He did a dozen portraits. He titled them, The Dormant Ferry Series.

On deck he sketched a lifeboat silhouetted against the black sky. Not bad, he thought, lighting a cigarette. He noticed a scattering of lights on the horizon, as if a cluster of stars had fallen there. Being the only one outdoors, he felt proprietary toward the night. As he sketched, he reflected on what, if anything, he knew about loneliness. The fact that he had spent most of his own life alone didn't qualify him. Or did it?

Opening her eyes, Karina had a moment's panic; then she identified the ferry engines, smiled, stretched and said, "I am so happy!" Andrew believed her.

It was still dark when the...


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pp. 9-23
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