I row the boat. That’s not all I do. I listen, and sometimes I talk, but that’s not my job. My job is to row the boat. The people sit across from me, and I ask them to tell me stories to pass the time.

Often, the people are nervous. I had an American man who told me once, I didn’t think this was supposed to happen. I was an Atheist.

I asked him: Are you relieved or are you scared?

He told me he was both. He asked me if he was going to hell.

I said I don’t know. I don’t know what’s on the other side except a door.

Just one door?

Yes, there’s just one door, as far as I know, unless there’s more doors behind that door. I don’t know why there would be, though.

You’ve never even gone through the door? No.

Why not?

My job is to row the boat.

No one else can do that?

I don’t think so.

Oh. That’s all he said, just oh.

This isn’t a long journey, but it’s not a short one. Why don’t you tell me a story to pass the time?

He took a minute to think, but then he told me about his daughters. They were twins. One was a dentist and the other, an English teacher.

I’ve learned a lot about people this way. I get most people who ride across with me to tell me a story.

I wasn’t good at comforting people at first. I would ask them why they were scared, and they would all say different things, and I couldn’t answer any of their questions. I learned that they all feared the same thing in one way or another; they were afraid of not knowing. So now, when people sit in my boat, and they’re scared, I say: Don’t be scared. You’re safe here. I’m going to take you across the lake, now. I don’t know the answer to any of your questions, but I would like it if you told me a story to pass the time.

Some of them try to ask me questions anyway. I tell them I don’t know and most of them end up telling me a story in the end. Once in a while they don’t talk, so I tell them a story, instead. I tell them about other people’s’ lives and their families. I tell them things I’ve heard that I think are interesting. Most of the quiet ones like that.

There was a young woman once who asked me if I ever wanted to see what was behind the door.

I said I didn’t.

Why not?

I’m the one who rows the boat.

You could get out and peek inside the door. Even for a minute. No one would blame you. No one would even notice the delay.

I haven’t ever left the boat, I told her. I’ve always been in the boat.

So what’s a few minutes outside of the boat compared to an eternity sitting in it?

Then I said I didn’t want to look behind the door. If it’s good I’ll want to go there, and leave the boat forever. You understand why I can’t do that. It’s my job to row the boat. If it’s bad I won’t be able to row the boat either, because I can’t send people to something bad knowing that I’m doing it. Either way, if I open the door, I won’t be able to row the boat anymore. And you have to understand, I’m the one who rows the boat. Would you tell me a story now? It helps to pass the time.

A story about what?

Anything. People tell me stories about their life.

I don’t want to talk about my life, she said. People were unkind to me in that life.

You don’t have to tell me about your life, then. You can tell me about anything.

She told me then about how she used to think the world was made. She told me old Hindu stories. She laughed and told me she didn’t believe them anymore, now that she was in this boat with me.

Well, you never know, I said. It still could all be true. I don’t know. I just row the boat.

She laughed and said she hoped so. I liked her, as far as people go. Some I like more than others.

There are people who try to give me coins. I tell them, throw it in the water. What would I do with a coin? A kind old woman explained the myth to me once- they think I will not bring them across without payment. I told her I like that they think of me, or a version of me, on earth, but what would I do with a coin? It’s a little silly that they added that part. So there’s coins that line the bottom of this lake.

There was a funny young man who said he died from a bout of rotten luck who asked me: did you know, people throw coins into fountains back on earth and make wishes?

I said some people have mentioned it in passing.

He said he was going to make a wish with his coin, instead of just throwing it in the lake and forgetting about it. First he joked. He said, I’m going to wish my girl hurries up and dies so I can see her again. Oh no, he said right after, no, I would never wish that on her. I want her to have a good long life, no matter how bad I want to see her again. He flipped the coin off his thumb and wished that he’d find his mother behind the door.

Then I asked him, what’s it mean to die of bad luck?

Oh you know, I bet you’ve gotten a lot of us sailing through. Influenza. Glad all the coughing stopped now, at least.

I get people every once in a while who tell me that they’re emperors, or kings, or rulers of something. I tell them it doesn’t mean anything to me when they say that, and I keep rowing.

I had a rich old woman whose son killed her for her money. And I don’t talk a lot, but I told her then that I didn’t understand why people valued their money so much. She took off her rings right then (that she told me were expensive) and she threw them in the lake. So now there’s plenty of coins and three rings at the bottom of the lake.

I didn’t see the rings sink down. The water’s not clear enough for that, but I knew where they were going all the same. I’ve never seen my reflection in that water either, but you know, dear listener, I didn’t mind. It’s not my job to know much about myself except that I am here.

It’s my job to row the boat. Maybe it’s my job to know the people too, but I don’t think it really is. I think that’s a part I added at some point on my own.

Sometimes people ask me if I’m a man or a woman. At first I said I didn’t know. Now I just say no. People ask less often, now, but sometimes they still do. I think people like to apply terms they already know to things they don’t understand. So I tell them, at least when I remember, that I’m a person, just like them. Really, I don’t know if it’s true. People have told me a lot of things, but they haven’t ever told me what a person is.

There was a very old man who came close to telling me once, though. He didn’t tell me exactly, but I’ve thought about it and I do think he came very close.

He had a baby with him. He didn’t know the baby. But sometimes there are babies that turn up on the shore, and I can’t take them in the boat by themselves. I tried, the first time I found a baby, but when I put it on the seat of the boat it started to cry, and I couldn’t stop it, and I realized that the baby couldn’t go through the door alone anyway. So when I see a baby, I wait for someone else to come by so that they can hold the baby in the boat and take it through the door with them. Most people are willing to do it. Sometimes they aren’t, and I say, okay, but I can’t take you across until I find someone else who will take the baby over, and then I can come back and pick you up. Most of them say they’ll take the baby, after that.

I only had to ask the old man once. He was happy to take the baby. He told me, before I asked, that he was one hundred and three years old, and died surrounded by his family.

I never had children, he told me, but I had two brothers and three sisters who had many children. They had nineteen, added together. I’m very proud of my nieces and nephews, he said, I love my nieces and nephews.

Why didn’t you have kids?

We tried, we tried! My wife couldn’t carry children, and I couldn’t bear the thought of having children with another woman. My wife is ninety-seven years old, and she was holding my hand when I passed on. Then he tickled the baby’s chin and he asked me if the baby has a mother or a father.

I told him I didn’t know. I don’t know anything about the people I meet except what they are able to tell me.

Can I find out? How do I find out if this baby has anyone to look after her?

I don’t know. I don’t know anything about what’s behind the door.

I love children, he said, if this baby has no one then this baby will have me. What a lovely little baby. This baby will always have someone.

Then he hugged the baby that looked nothing like him very close to his chest and gave it a kiss.

What a lovely little baby, what a lovely child.

I don’t know if I can tell you exactly what a person is. But I think that old man gave me the closest thing to an answer I’ve gotten so far.

He went right through the door. He had faith, he told me on the way there. A lot of people are scared to go through the door. They tell me that, too. I always turn the boat around before they open it.

Please come back, a woman called after me once. Please, please come back!

I stopped rowing and I told her I just row the boat. I don’t have anything to do with the door.

I’m so scared, she said.

Well I’m sorry you’re scared, but I have people to take across, even though I would sit with you if I could. As far as I know you can stay on the shore as long as you want, or I could take you back the other way and you could sit there a little bit.

She stayed on the side with the door. She’d already gone through by the time I brought the next person across.

People ask me how old I am. I tell them I don’t know. People tell me they made it to all kinds of ages before they died, but it doesn’t mean much to me.

Once, there was a man in my boat who wasn’t old but wasn’t young. He said: I am going to count to sixty. And he did it out loud. That’s how long a minute is, he said.


Then there are sixty of those in an hour. Okay.

There are 24 hours are in a day.


And seven days are in a week.


And 52 weeks are in a year.


And that’s what it means when people tell you how old they are. They say how many years.


I didn’t really understand what he meant after he explained hours. I understood, but I didn’t really, in the way that he wanted me to. I kept saying okay because he was proud of himself for helping me figure out time, and I don’t like to make people feel bad when they’re in the boat with me. It’s scary to be in the boat, so I’ve heard. So I don’t like to make people feel even worse when they’re with me.

So how old are you? How many years, now that you know what a year is?


Wow, he said, 200 years old.

I lie sometimes, if it makes people feel better. People lie a lot, too.

There was a woman who told me fantastic stories during her trip with me. She told me she swam across the Atlantic Ocean and scaled the tallest mountain in the Alps, and she told me she was the queen of her own nation, and had 20 lovers who waited on her hand and foot.

When we could see the coast on the other side she said: Oh, you’ve been so good to me that I just feel dreadful for lying now! I’ve done none of these things!

I know that, I said.

You do?

Of course.

Why didn’t you stop me?

You were telling me stories, just like I asked. Fake stories.



All stories are true.

Even ones that never happened?

Yes. All stories are true. I wish you well, I said. She got out of the boat and I didn’t look back at her.

Maybe I am not 200 years old. But if I am not, at one time, I was. If I haven’t been yet, I will be someday. All stories are true, even lies.

And of all these people that come in so many different shapes, I have never seen any of them twice, except for now. The woman who told me about Hindu stories is standing on the shore when I arrive this time. There is a child sitting in the boat with me. She was scared at first, like a lot of them, but she told me halfway through that she liked being in the boat. She said she liked the lake and the water that doesn’t show you reflections.

There’s no need for mirrors here, she said.

I told her I think so too.

I don’t know how long it’s been since I first saw the woman, but she is standing in front of me, just as she did when she first stepped into the boat.

I say hello.

Do you remember me?

I remember everyone that I take across the lake. I have never seen any of them twice.

I am glad to be the first exception.

Why did you come back?

To tell you what’s behind the door.

I can’t know what’s behind the door.

Then I will only tell you this: It’s more beautiful than you could ever have imagined.

I wish you hadn’t told me that. Now I want to leave the boat. I explained that to you when we crossed the lake together.

She smiles at me. It’s a gentle smile. It’s a sad smile.

Then leave. I have learned how to row a boat. I will make sure the people get across. Return when you wish, or don’t.

Why would you do that for me, if everything behind the door is as beautiful as you say?

You were the first person to ever show me kindness, she says, and now I would like to extend the same kindness to you.

It is because of her kindness that I must leave you now. She gives a hand to the child and helps her out of the boat. I will take the child’s hand now too, and we will go through the door together. Goodbye, dear listener. And if I am not there when your time comes, I wish you a pleasant journey.





Mason McVeigh is a third-year student studying Philosophy and German who enjoys creative writing in his spare time. He also enjoys kettle cooked salt and vinegar potato chips.