Excerpt: Charles Antin, "Maria and the Ferryman"


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"Maria and the Ferryman," by Charles Antin

On the way across the River Acheron, Maria wants the window seat. Even when we were alive she wanted all the best stuff: the window seat, the burnt part of the macaroni and cheese, the artichoke heart.

“You always took the window seat,” she says, “I think that now that we’re dead I deserve it.”

“You have a sense of arrogant entitlement that is very off-putting,” I say.

“I’m entitled to a lot, for putting up with you,” she says.

“Folks,” interrupts Charon. “Please pay attention up here. A few of you—USAir Flight 149, you know who you are—are here because you did not pay attention to the safety briefing in the first place. Mr. Reading-The-Kite-Runner-for-the-11th-time, I’m looking in your direction.”

The guy reading The Kite Runner is fat and sloth-like and looks very full of himself, like he made it to Hades via a considerable deal of self-aggrandizement. 

“I know the drill,” he mumbles without looking up. “My seat cushion can be used as a life preserver, the nearest exit may be behind me, the lavatories are equipped with a blah blah blah. It’s not like it would have done me any good.”

“That’s why the train is my preferred method of conveyance,” I whisper to Maria.

“So it was my fault?”

“I’m just saying, a train crashes and it just sort of comes to a stop. It’s not really so bad a lot of the time.”

“Shh,” she says. “I want to hear the safety briefing.”

Charon continues, “So, welcome to Hades. I’d like to point out that the emergency exits, as well as lifeboats and personal flotation devices are . . . nonexistent!”

He laughs and slaps his knee like he’s made the greatest joke in the underworld. 

“No, but seriously folks, I don’t care if you’re comfortable and there’s no food.”

My stomach growls. I wonder if perpetual hunger is part of being in Hades or if I just need a bag of peanuts. The seatback in front of me has a little personal TV, like on Jet Blue, so I turn it on. Every channel plays the same thing: scenes from the Elysian Fields in HD. Beautiful people in long white robes frolic willy-nilly on a sunny green field and drink ambrosia when they’re thirsty. In short, the whole nine yards. It looks pretty nice. I turn it off. 

“I hope this isn’t a long trip,” I say. “There’s nothing to do.”

“Why don’t you watch the Elysian Fields some more?”

“Too depressing.”

“Well, what do you want me to do? You didn’t pack any activities because you never plan for anything.”

“I like to be spontaneous,” I say, “I thought you liked that.”

“Spontaneous means a picnic lunch at the park that you plan and shop for and give me a massage after. Spontaneous doesn’t mean showing up to the airport without our tickets so we miss our flight and have to take some other flight to D.C.”

“It wasn’t so bad while it lasted.”

“It wasn’t so bad for you, because you took the window seat then too.”

Read the rest of this story in Unstuck #3.