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The Last Seat Dan Branch

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n old white guy in a knit cap and Walls insulated overalls slept next to the last open seat on the Alaska State Ferry LeConte. He smelled of fuel oil and hard drinker’s sweat. I still took the seat. Our reflection in one of the lounge windows showed two gray-haired men with laugh lines deepening into wrinkles around the eyes and the corners of our mouths. Over the intercom, the LeConte’s purser announced the ship’s 7:00 a.m. departure for Haines and Skagway. My neighbor slept through the announcement and the ferry’s exit from Juneau’s Auke Bay Terminal. I envied his ability to sleep through the noise and wondered why his face didn’t show more evidence of hard drinking. To help me ignore his smell and the chattering din of the other passengers, I skimmed a Smithsonian Magazine for photographs of the Arctic or other empty spaces. My neighbor woke when I slipped the magazine into the dark space beneath my seat. In the assured voice of a storyteller, but with that near-Minnesotan accent of Bush Alaska, he said, “Must be a good read.” “Yeah.” Reaching under the seat for the magazine, I asked if he wanted it. “No. I’m getting off soon in Haines. Been down in Juneau to stock up on those peaches that Costco sells in glass jars. Filled the car with them.” He explained that he wanted to get back to his place along the Haines Highway before the spring construction season. After partying the previous night he had overslept and almost missed the boat. He shared his opinion of Juneau (too big, unfriendly and crowded) and Haines (too much politics for a little town). I told him that I understood how he found Juneau unfriendly but that most of its people are actually nice. Fear of commitment inhibits them from smiling at anyone but their friends. They worry that one smile given to a stranger would require them to smile at that person every time they met. Rather than show any teeth, they remain strangers because their stressful lives do not have space for even one additional relationship, no matter how shallow. He replied that in Haines everyone had to smile or at least say “hi” when they passed someone on the street. The town was too small to let people think you were better than they were. He smiled at people even if they teased him about his dog. The animal died six years ago and people gave him a hard time because he had built a tiny concrete mausoleum in honor of her. His girlfriend had given him the pooch when they lived together in Anchorage. 100  Dan Branch

Profile for Hofstra University

Windmill - December 2016  

The Hofstra Journal of Literature and Art

Windmill - December 2016  

The Hofstra Journal of Literature and Art

Profile for hofstra