urban pastoral


The evening promised to be grand. A three hour river cruise beginning and ending on the outskirts of the city that would take them on a tour of some of the most scenic areas nearby. Thirty minutes into the trip, he was on his second complimentary beverage, and the riverboat was making no effort to hasten to its destination. The time was 7:15, and the sun was beginning to appear only furtively over the hills and woods, a shy child in pajamas peeking its face out periodically in the limbo between dinner and bed. Everyone aboard was jovial, at ease; casual late spring dress, feet propped up on empty chairs, sunglasses on faces, conversations paced amblingly to match the careful slow turn of the paddlewheel. Charlie, glass of white in hand, had found a luxurious bit of elbow room on the east side of the deck as the boat churned its way north. Around him the crowd mingled well, laughter jumped out in periodic bursts, some dined, some huddled in tight corners for romance, some reclined leisurely at tables. Charlie himself felt quite bold, lusty; celebratory for no reason he could determine.

A few minutes later, Charlie found himself indeed enraptured by the scenery. He had never known such opulence existed, and so close to his own modest abode. The east bank was lined with enormous houses, monstrous exorbitant mansions the prices of which he could only begin to guess. The first was rather Romanesque, ringed with pearly columns and archways, narrow poplars like centurion spears guarding the grounds; in between them Charlie caught visions of the orange of the sun glistening off windows like flash bulbs in sharp sporadic blinks. The next more reminiscent of Vermont, tall and foreign pines holding secrets from distant lands and times, the house itself apparently the result of stacking neatly together ten or twenty log cabins. The next lot was a landing ground for creatures from space, their massive arcing and waving white craft nestled firmly down on acres of green lush lawn. After that, a minor earldom dominated by a fortress of natural stone and turrets and small round windows, the river a moat navigable only by the personal watercraft moored nearby in a private bay.

Most of the passengers at this point gathered on the other side of the boat to witness the sunset. Someone called out to him to join, but he did not hear. The sun was sinking below the horizon at last, wearied from its play, and was throwing furious temper-tantrums of gold and pink across the sky, lighting the river ablaze with crimson and orange in a last horrific and spectacular display before accepting its fate in melancholy blues and purples. The birds circled overheard in luxurious dances mourning the passing of the day, singing out their last evening dirges. Charlie saw none of this, however, catching only a fleeting glimpse of the day’s repose in the immense floor-to-ceiling windows of an impressive riverside manse.

As the sky blackened with the onset of night and the craft made its way further from the metropolis, many aboard marveled at the expanse of stars which were generally not visible from inside the city limits. Charlie marveled at the lighted pathways of dockside homes, the lingering yellow-gray haze that signified the city in the distance. The river grew then peaceful; the water lapped gently against the sides of the craft as it lumbered along, and the hoots of a few owls were heard in the distance. The din of speedier craft and partiers and jet skis diminuendoed a niente, and Charlie’s fellow travelers fell to pianissimo to match the evening’s dynamic. Charlie merely gazed ashore and wondered at the source of raucous laughter, finding his answer when they passed a home filled with vibrant music and jammed with well-attired celebrants.

An hour or so later, the craft finally came to rest where it had begun. Most aboard were gleeful, new friends and acquaintances having been met, phone numbers exchanged, experiences shared, sights seen, jokes told, stories relayed, drinks imbibed; relaxation was satisfactorily accomplished. Happily they made their way in various states of confidence down the shaky ramp to the dock, and happily they went their separate ways, couples arm in arm, friends still chuckling at anecdotes, confidants conspiring about their next haunt.

Charlie alone was sad upon leaving, for no reason he could determine. Once ashore, he checked his pockets a few times to relieve himself of the nagging feeling that he had left something important on board. He found nothing significant missing, and was convinced after a few patdowns that he was still in possession of everything he had brought with him. So he shrugged his shoulders privately, chalked up the feeling to the booze, and made his way slowly back to the place from which he had come.