"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" (Posted July 16, 2000)

© Copyright 2000 by Anon. (FS)

This story may not be sold and may be archived at public sites only with direct permission from the author. Any archive must carry this entire copyright statement.

I have done what I thought I'd never do .... I've written an Uber piece. Therefore, most of the text is original, with original characters and original backstory. However, a portion of the text (mostly anything that is offset in italics and sounds really really deep and poetic) does not belong to me but to a great American writer by the name of Walt Whitman. (He sounds mildly familiar, yes?) These rather haphazard selections come from Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1891-92 version), especially from the sections Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and Song of Myself. (For those of you who are curious about which selections belong to what parts of Leaves, e-mail me and I'll let you know.) However, this is also what I consider an "Uber" story; therefore, I'm indebted to the wonderful creators of Xena : Warrior Princess for the existence of two characters that are truly inspirational to me, whether in my "normal" fiction or in my "fanfiction."

New York, New York factor : Much to my regret, I have never been to NYC. Therefore, all my information on the Brooklyn Ferry came from my research instead from real experience. I've never ridden the ferry, though I hope to, someday. For all you native New Yorkers, please ignore all the inconsistencies; I am but a poor small town dweller.

Ick factor : While not explicit, this story does contain certain serious themes that may be disturbing to some people. This is not a children's story, nor is it one of my more lighthearted attempts at writing. If you are sensitive to stories that suggest violence or violent acts (and I don't mean just the simple spilling of blood and guts), please skip this story. Although, yes, I agree that this warning is not very enlightening to just what the story contains, any further disclaimer may ruin the story itself. PLEASE TAKE THIS WARNING SERIOUSLY ANYWAY! Thank you.

Yay factor : A third of the credit for this story (including all the best parts) belongs to Rebekah, seeing that she stayed up for more than six hours (!!!) helping me edit and mash out this piece (roughly an hour a page) and for her help with the "naked vs. nude" question. Heh heh heh! Honestly, you would not be seeing this piece if it was not for her help and insistence. Another kudos goes to Imbri, who refuses to tell me to stop sending her stuff through the e-mail, even after *years* of being bombarded constantly with awful stories. Yes, I've put a restraining order on my muse. At least there's one consolation .... I've gotten ONE story posted for public condemnation, and it's not even the end of the year! Who knows ... I might eventually get around to writing the other "I thought I would never write this kind of stuff" piece I've been fending my muse off of .... *BEG* By the way, both Imbri and Rebekah are two excellent bards with somewhat benign muses ... go pester them to write and post!!

Dedication: To Dr. R. F. and Dr. B for trying to drill the basics of American Literature in me, way back when. Too bad it didn't take! To J&J and the rat pack, for being the usual pinheads. And for David and for all of those upon whom the dark patches have fallen ... we'll knit the old knot of contrariety together.

Webmaster Barbara here. I've kept the Cave of Choirs online in tribute to my friend, Rebekah. I would like to ask some help from her fans. I am unemployed and it is difficult to pay the hosting bills. If you can donate, it would be appreciated greatly. Thank you.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

by Anon. (FS)

To her eternal gratification, the deck did not sway much. If she closed her eyes, she could feel a gentle bobbing motion, but for the most part, her position against the deck railing remained steady. She only wished the situation could stay that way. She never liked boats (or ferries, for that matter). The deck bobbed again, and her stomach curled in on itself, causing her to curse softly. Damn! What did she expect from such a trip, besides her stomach rebelling against her body? As it was, all of her being was engaged in a civil war already, each organ pitting itself against the other, hand against heart, heart against mind. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. In her left hand, the pages of Leaves of Grass ruffled slightly.

People eddied around her, creating murmuring swirls and occasional bumps against her sides. With each brush, her muscles twitched, but each stranger soon disappeared down to seats and to situations beyond her view, leaving her alone and unscathed on the deck. She never looked up to see their faces.

The wind increased, and she wrinkled her nose, pulling her arms closer into herself. The scent in the air seemed almost metallic, like an incandescent bulb about to burn out. Below her, the water threw up fragments of light, the scattered remains of the little light that had broken through the clouds. She studied the glittering bits, searching, but she could not find her own reflection in the water. It troubled her, somehow. She bent even further over the rail, wondering how far out she would have to lean before she could see her face, could meet her reflection in the water, and break through.

"Careful there! You don't wanna fall over." A voice spoke out, plain words without a face, but with a grip on her shoulder that was inflexible. "First time on the ferry, huh? It can get quite slippery up here."

Gaze still tracing the water, she nodded, clutching her coat tight against her back. She stepped away from the railing and away from the grip on her shoulder. The wind had gotten colder. She felt bare against its grasp. As her left hand tightened against the book, she noticed, yet again, the white band of skin that decorated the fourth finger, stark against the golden tan of her hand. Naked.

"Why don't you go sit inside the covered deck? The ferry will head off in a minute and it'll only get colder out here. Looks like rain, too."

"No, I'm fine out here."  The bits of sun had disappeared; the water had drowned them all. She swallowed, nearly dropping the book.

"Easy there. Are you all right?" The hand landed on her shoulder again. Covering.

This time, the book really did tumble from her fingers, covers flapping toward freedom, pages rustling in a frenzied flurry to be away. It thudded loudly against the deck, pages crumpling and covers outspread, words exposed to the world. She gave a small yelp at this abandonment. Then ... long, elegant fingers reached out, smoothed the covers gently, and handed the book back to her. She stared at the rumpled pages, then looked up.


Flood-tide below me, I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west - sun there half an hour high - I see you also face to face!
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are
     to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more
     curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more
    in my meditations, than you might suppose.

She ran her fingers along the lines of the text, reading without really seeing the words. Closing the book, she pressed it flat, grateful that the pages had not been damaged too badly by the accident. The voice said something more to her, but she did not mark the individual words. It didn't seem important, anyway. The warm hands and gentle touch spoke louder than any syllable, steering her out of the cold.

She found herself guided to a seat, then the speaker left, disappearing somewhere in a trail of words. She still remembered the feel of those fingers around her wrist, and her other hand rubbed the spot aimlessly. The boat was now in motion, and yet, it barely seemed to move. Her stomach roiled again, as if remembering its previous battle against her. Without hesitation, the rest of her body joined the fray, bringing in past revolts with a sudden slap of recollection. Her ears remembered words that her mouth denied entrance to. Her eyes remembered the craving that her lips denied giving. Her arms remembered deflecting what her soul remembered being forced into. And her entire body remembered the pain that exploded it all.

She licked her lips, tasting the salt there. Was it the aftertaste of tears? Or something else? She didn't know, couldn't guess. The seats beside her were empty; somehow, the stranger had known to choose a place away from prying eyes. Outside, rain sparked against the windows, landing in stars of crystal brilliance before bleeding silver down. She had danced in the rain once, felt drop after drop across her skin, and each touch sung a part of her body alive. Today was chill, though, and the wind unforgiving. Under these conditions, the touch of water was numbing and deadly. She remembered leaning over the rail, watching the waiting waves below. She tried to return her gaze back to book. Flipping it open randomly, she concentrated again.


Depriving me of my best, as for a purpose,
Unbuttoning my clothes, holding me by the bare waist,
Deluding my confusion with the calm of the sun-light and pasture-fields,
Immodestly sliding the fellow-senses away,
They bribed to swap off with touch, and go and graze at the edges of me,
No consideration, no regard for my draining strength or my anger,
Fetching the rest of the herd around to enjoy them awhile,
Then all uniting to stand on a head-land and worry me.
The sentries desert every other part of me,
They have left me helpless to a red marauder,

The words were meant to be taken one way, but out of context, she saw another. Felt another.

Darkness wrapped around her, held barely at bay by the glowing computer screen. She had been working late, trying to sort through an insurmountable pile of things to do, things that had been done, and things that should have been done. Her life, outlined in stacks of sheets and deadlines and etched in the shadow around her eyes from the late nights and early mornings. At times, she wished she could move beyond the words and sheets, to the action and adventure she knew had to lay beyond ... to do something, anything ... to make her own words instead of having the words of others define her ... to be somehow real, instead of having only a reflection in the mirror to prove that she existed.
The office door opened. The sound of footsteps echoed loud against her sudden stillness. She recalled shivering, though it had not been cold.
"I saw how you've been dressing lately. And how you've been looking at me."
She remembered nothing beyond that, except for a distant crashing sound, much like a mirror shattering, and the image of papers being knocked off her desk, sheets fluttering away like doves and landing crumpled and dying on the floor.
Her mouth was dry. The floor shifted, and she was not all together sure if it was due to the waves against the ferry.  Still, the wind had picked up. She felt herself shaking, as if feeling its grip.
You villain touch! what are you doing? My breath is too tight in its throat!
"Hey! Hey ... whoa there," the voice came again. "I didn't know Whitman was such heavy reading."

The fingers took the book from her hands and shifted a warm cup of ... something... in its place. She held it blankly, staring at the rising steam.

"By the way, I think you missed your stop. You came on at the Army Terminal right? We're on our way back there now."

"I did?" She blinked. Destinations did not seem so important. She had not boarded to go somewhere concrete, after all.

"Let me guess ... you took the ride because of a certain poem in this, right?" The hands tapped the still-open book carelessly. "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, if I'm not mistaken. It's one of my favorites as well." The voice chuckled, a sound that pounced in on itself, rolling about joyfully, a sound that danced, ruffling waves and shifting sunlight.

She took a chance. Blue, the color of sun-held water, met and held her gaze. She shyly took in the smiling face, its strong lines edged with elegance. Her eyes skirted over the long black hair, lingering slightly as memory stirred, shaking off droplets from the current of time. She remembered how the wind had held the ebony strands when they both stood against the railing. Remembered the soft touch that drew her away to sit, sheltered, away from the storm. Remembered ...

What is it between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?
Whatever it is, it avails not - distance avails not, and place avails not ....
She blanched, and her hands moved and jostled the cup in them. The liquid nearly splashed over the rim. "I missed my stop?"

"Careful with that cup. Yeah, the last announcement came on five minutes back ...you must not have heard it. Don't worry. You haven't missed anything ...this route goes in a circle. If you have time, you can wait ... we'll make the stop again, and you'll get it right this time."

"But the fare ... the crew ..."

"I work here. It'll be okay," the voice reassured. "By the way, I'm Gabrielle. Gabrielle Polis."

The name tag told the same story, except with an "A" stuck in between and a "Cpt." in the front. Cpt. Gabrielle A. Polis. A captain? Briefly, she wondered what the "A" could stand for.

"So, what do people know you by?" The voice came again, a gentle prodding sound. She heard the rhythm of the tides in that voice, and like the ebbing tide, it pulled her forward, out into the open sea and sky.

"I'm Serene." She did not add anymore to her name, for that one word held enough irony to build a warship.

"Nice to meet you, Serene. So, Whitman's brought you out here, eh?"

She blinked. Whitman? Swallowing, she managed a half shrug. "I ... don't want to take you from your duties ..."

"Nah, my shift is over, and the ship's not too full, anyway. Just call me a fellow Whitman lover who's curious." The woman tilted her head, and her voice deepened. "Tell me, beyond Whitman, what brings you to New York and to my ferry?"

"I..." The liquid leapt over the lip of the cup, and she bit her lip against the pain, burying it deep inside herself.

Immediately, hands enfolded hers with napkins, soaking up the excess, before prying at the cup, which she had not let go of, not even when the hot liquid had hit.

"Ouch. That looks bad. Let me get you some burn cream. We have a first aid kit under the bar ..."

"It's fine."

"It must hurt."

"I'm used to it, by now." The hands sopping up the liquid stopped.

For a time, white noise and conversations held elsewhere filled the space between them.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Fingers enfolded her chin, lifting it up, forcing her to look at the other woman face to face. "Really all right?"

"It doesn't hurt."

"That's not what I meant. What are you doing here, Serene?"

"I came ... to finish up some business." Words came and fell out of her mouth. She blinked, reaching for the book and its bound words. There was safety in firm, unchangeable text. However, her mouth still refused to close. "I just took this ferry to ... Whitman's always been a soothing force, you know?"

Unbuttoning my clothes, holding me by my bare waist ....
Bare skin, white, uncovered. The taste of metallic salt, liquid against her lips. And the touch, the pain ...
She bit her lip hard, and nearly gagged at the salty tang that flooded her mouth. The pages trembled as her hands shook and each tremor threatened to tear the offending lines out. A hand reached out, and the fingers stopped their shaking.

"My husband and I ... we're finalizing our divorce ..."

Blind loving wrestling touch, sheath'd hooded sharp-toothed touch!
Did it make you ache so, leaving me?
"Something happened ...  and he didn't believe ... I had fought back  ...he didn't ... they didn't..."
They all come to the head-land, to witness and assist against me.
I am given up by traitors!
I talk wildly, I have lost my wits, I and nobody else am the greatest traitor,
I went myself first to the headland, my own hands carried me there.
"It's finished now. And I came here, away from ... that. But I was so alone." She clutched the book tighter and was surprised to find that the other woman's fingers were still upon her hands, stroking gently. "I remembered Whitman, his poem on the Brooklyn Ferry. It's almost as if he was with me, in soul, in spirit. I didn't want to be alone when ... but there was no one else. No one real." Disjointed, her words seemed to hit the ground, fluttering, dying. Damn Whitman. "Silly, huh? The kind of stuff he talks about ... connecting beyond time and words ... it doesn't exist. He's not even really helping ... I keep reading his words wrong."

"No, it's not silly at all ... you're not alone, Serene."

The rain bled silver against the panes of glass. She watched the drops, wondering. Water was eternal, cycling from seas to sky to earth again and again. Such a great leap. Such a great fall.

And still, those eyes, the color of sky after rain, waited for her. She could almost see her reflection in those eyes and she felt the tiny, velvet movements of the other woman's fingers on her own.

Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity ...
Such a great leap ... such a great fall. But for a chance at being sky born once again ...
    What is more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or man that looks in
        my face?
    Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you?

In answer, the hands took the book away from her. She heard the rustling of pages, and then Whitman was set back down before her. The fingers traced a passage in the text, guiding her eyes to the words, before touching her lightly on the shoulder.

It is not upon you alone that the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
The best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious,
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be evil,
I am he who knew what it is to be evil,
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meaness, laziness, none of these wanting ...
As she finished reading the words, she realized she wasn't just hearing them in her mind. She looked up, startled, and found that the other woman had spoken the passage aloud from memory, giving each sentence a vibrancy that had been lost from her own, inner voice.

"You're not alone in this, Serene ... you're not alone."

A tinkling chime sounded, and the PA system came on, announcing the terminal. Her eyes widened as the captain of the Brooklyn Ferry stood up, stretching for the ceiling in a luxurious, unfurling motion. So tall! The woman seemed to be without end or beginning, an eternity sculpted into fleeting flesh. For some reason, her memory evoked the scent of honeysuckles, chilled with the morning dew, beautiful only in the brief moments before the rising sun ... but forever linked with the coming of spring, year after year, permanent in its transient existence.

She shook her head slightly. Just where did these strange, quicksilver thoughts come from? It was almost as bad as the moment by the railing, looking down at the water. The breath-stealing feeling of falling engulfed her and she braced herself for the impact, wondering if the water would be sparkling with the brilliance of broken sunlight or whitecapped by wind and ice. However, again came the gentle grip on her shoulder, as firm as it was when she was bent over the railing. It pulled her upwards.

"Come on, my shift is over. You look like you could use something warm in you. If  you're willing to get off where you started, why don't we go to this little place I know. Just to talk. Whitman lover to Whitman lover."

"I..." Total madness, to go off with a person she did not know. But then again, she did not have any other place to go. And insanity knew her name already. Knew it intimately, and called in tones passionate and beckoning. It would not be the first time she did things less than sane.

I consider'd long and seriously of you before you were born ...
"Y-yes, that would be nice."

"Then let's make sure you'll get off at the right stop this time."

With a patient, unrelenting tug, Cpt. Gabrielle A. Polis led her off the Brooklyn Ferry, to the steady ground and to the rain beyond. It wasn't until she had been guided across the street that she remembered. Forgotten on the ferry, pages still open, was the book. A long, fluting whistle drifted in the misty rain, announcing the departure of the Brooklyn Ferry. Too late, too late, the piping notes caroled. She smiled anyway. Time didn't matter; the book didn't matter. She already knew the words.

We use you and do not cast you aside - we plant you permanently within us
We fathom you not - we love you - there is perfection in you also,
You furnish your parts toward eternity,
Great or small, you furnish your parts towards the soul.

Liked it? Hated it? Please send any and all comments to: Anon@cavesofchoirs.org

If you would like to read more of Walt Whitman's work or learn more about him (he's one fascinating guy!) please visit :

The Walt Whitman Project


The Bartleby Website

Thanks for reading!
-Anon. (FS)

Anon.'s Xena Fan Fiction page

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