Stepping back and looking about, he now realized the ship was sinking.
The vessel groaned and listed haplesly amongst the rolling swell. Up, then down, then up a little less, and then down a little more. One inch, one ounce, one breath at a time. Curiously, the man noted, the passengers around him were still taking in spirits with vigor, laughing robustly, and dancing quite gaily. Impassioned men kissed women and taken women blushed shades of deep crimson. Children played games, occasionally rolling over with laughter. Each wore costumes of lace, frill, and flamboyance. All was, mused the young man to himself, as if the ship were not damned, destined for paradise, not the dark ocean floor.
Yet the ship was certainly slipping under, stern first, at a slow and constant rate. Aft of where the young man stood was an older man, sitting complacently, watching night stars emerge from the black, open-ocean sky. A blanket covered his legs and a beard warmed his chin. A cool breeze kissed his cheeks and imbued his nostrils with a sweet chill. He sat away from the oblivious celebration, not with disdain, but with thought.
The young man approached the old man, hesitant to disturb the peace. The old man gestured to the seat next to him and nodded slightly. The young man sat down and remained quiet for some time. In silence, the two stood watch. The boat continued sinking and the party lost no fervor.
Eventually the young man asked softly, what – is this?
How do you mean?, the old man responded cautiously.
Well, the young man nervously replied, hesitant to unsettle his companion, are we not sinking?
Ah, yes… That…, said the old man. Indeed. We are sinking quite surely. The old man might have worn a little smile under his long white beard, or perhaps it was a wince. The young man debated this briefly.
Do the others know?, he asked, again in a whisper.
The old man replied, Some are more aware, and others, less so.
Should – should we bring it to their attention, that we’re steadily going under?
The old man turned, locking eyes with the young man, smiling unquestionably, And what?, ruin the party? The old man enjoyed this for a moment before speaking again.
My son, don’t let this beard fool you – I am no wizened old sage. I have been on this ship for some time, yes, and I have danced and laughed with the rest. I have also watched at a distance and cried by myself. I don’t know why we are only this ship, nor do I know if there’s a why at all. And, I too, have wondered if I should sound the alarm. This fate is frightening, wholly unknown. I’ve concluded, however, that each is free to face the certainty when and how they deem fit. Who am I to rock this sinking ship?
The young man thought for some time, looking into the starry distance, trying to locate what the old man spotted long ago. The young man contemplated rejoining the festival. The boat lurched. A few people stumbled slightly. Some, regaining their balance quickly, resumed the fanatic frolic. Others paused, deciding a seat and rest was due.
The young man resigned, I shall sit here and stand watch.