Most people on board are already drunk by the time the sun slips behind the mountains. I’m nursing a beer at the stern, mesmerized by the white waves churning in the ship’s wake. I don’t like fireworks, but Fred loves them and I love Fred, so here we are. Not my crowd, either. Red-faced shouters, slapping each other on the back with every syllable. Fred and I are the only ones not wearing red, white, and blue. I didn’t think anyone would appreciate the irony of my London Calling tee shirt, so I settle for a faded Silence = Death muscle shirt in honor of Fred’s ACT-UP days. We get a few sideways glances, but Fred and I are careful not to touch. An old reflex, but best to play it safe.
Searching for the nearest bathroom, Fred disappears below deck. I wait, leaning out over the rail, toasting the purple water and orange sky with my bottle. Tonight the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn are supposed to rise together, forming a triangle. Fred thinks it’s a positive omen, but I’m not so sure.
“God’s miracle,” a voice behind me slurs. I turn and face a burly man in a God Bless America hoodie. His eyes are tiny pinpricks of drunken focus. Great.
I nod, “Yes indeed,” twisting back to the view. My new companion is in a chatty mood and stands next to me, staring up at the sky. “Yep, it’s a sign, isn’t it? Better days ahead,” he muses.
I turn to face him, not sure what to say next.
“What’s your shirt mean?” he pokes the pink triangle above the equation.
I want to tell him about the lies, the funerals, the arrests, but I don’t. I choose my words carefully. “It means if you see something wrong, you speak out, warn people.” I stop. My voice has too much heat.
The man steps back before asking, “Are you gay?”
I knew this was a bad idea. Fred and I could have had a quiet evening at home with friends.
I want to tell him to fuck off, but “None of your business,” is all I get out in a low growl.
“I’ve seen that triangle before. My brother showed it to me, something to do with Nazis.” I smell the beer and brats on his breath.
This guy has at least forty pounds on me. Sure I work out, but even drunk he could do real damage. I look at the dark water below. Dammit, Fred. Where the hell are you?
“He’s gay too, you know,” my new companion crows. “My brother.”
I suck in my breath, not sure if this is good or bad.
He stumbles, reaching out for a bear hug. “I love my brother.” He leans into me. “I’m Joe.”
Pressed against the railing, I spot Fred hurrying through the crowd toward us, gripping the neck of his beer bottle. He slows when he sees me wave.
“Fred,” I call. “Meet Joe.”
Phebe Jewell’s recent flash appears or is forthcoming in Crack the Spine, After the Pause, Sky Island Journal, Literally Stories, and Door=A Jar. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she also volunteers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for women in prison. Read more of her work at https://phebejewellwrites.com