The Nodder

Submitted by Adam B. Widmer

She was sitting just in front and a little to the side of me on the ferry’s outer deck. The roomful of benches is sheltered, but not fully enclosed. She was in the front row, partially isolated by a window and a nearby pillar.


Multi-colored hair swung down from the woman’s head and past her knees as she drooped ever forward in her seat. The vertebrae in her back crumpled together tighter and tighter. Her knuckles beginning to drag on the floor. Her ass would come closer and closer to the brink, teetering on the bench’s edge as if it were to be pulled right off by her formidable girth.

Suddenly she would spring up, like a marionette called to attention. Giving a wobbly half-look around to see that the world still existed. Then continuing to nod. Starting back near the top and slowly drooping back toward the brink. And so the cycle went as I sat there.

Countless times over about 40 minutes.

Not countless because they were impossible to count, but because no one really seemed to care. It was several minutes before anyone but me noticed. A few others saw her, one even looked concerned for a moment; but they all eventually ignored the scene. Knowing it would go away when we disembarked.

Not me.
My eyes were glued to this woman.

She was dressed well. Not expensive looking, but new-ish, sensible clothing for someone working a non-office job. Her rainbow hair hung almost to the floor when she reached her lowest position.

I can’t be sure what was causing this nodding. I’d lean toward heroin if I had to guess, or some other form of opiate. Normal fatigue was ruled out immediately, as nothing about what she was doing would’ve been comfortable and comfort is what the tired body wants.

Could’ve been booze, but a stance like that shouldn’t come around until one has entered the realm of alcohol poisoning. Besides that, it just didn’t feel like drunkenness to me.

I’ve read stories of junkies taking eight hours to finish a newspaper article. They’ll nod out in the middle of a sentence, and start back at the beginning of the paragraph when they snap back to reality. Reading the same snippets over and over again. Re-dosing when things get too clear. Perhaps they won’t finish the article at all.
That’s all I could think about as I watched this woman. That this must be what they were talking about.

Occasionally she would drop something. The first time she came to as a small glass bottle clanged down on the metal floor. She swung an arm toward the thing and picked it up so she could get back to drooping. A short time later the bottle fell again. This time she was alerted to the sound, but could not see where it landed: just behind her.

At some point before I sat down, the woman had managed to plug a charge cord into a socket just the other side of the pillar next to her. She leaned against the pillar and rolled her head around it to see if the cord was still there. Her hand slid along to the cord’s end and plugged in her phone.

Now the drooping had a purpose.

Maybe she was truly attempting to ascertain some kind of information inside of the phone, or otherwise occupy her brain. Maybe she was trying to look just like all the other commuters on the boat. Either way, the effort was short-lived and unsuccessful.

Soon the phone could be seen dangling by its tether. The little pink cord loosely hooked on a limp, pudgy hand. It too would clang to the floor.

She didn’t notice that time.

I didn’t really know what to think. Didn’t really know what she’d taken.
I did know one thing right away though: I wasn’t going to help her.

Sure, it crossed my mind, but never as a serious option. Just as a thing a person might do. Anyway that type of thing is never pleasant or welcome. And frankly, I don’t think it should be the business of a stranger. I would’ve done something if she hurt herself or looked like she might die, but that’s a different kind of help. The kind of help you need when you’re getting that high in a crowded public space on Wednesday afternoon I was never going to give.

I was happy to watch though.
Well, not happy… but at least too intrigued to look away.

The allure of observing a person in that state was irresistible. Knowing it was virtually impossible that she would notice me. Even so, I averted my eyes a bit when she did glance around, hoping I wouldn’t be caught in my pure, shameless voyeurism.

I wasn’t.
Not by her.

The boat pulled closer to shore and benches around us began to clear out. The woman was deep in another nod cycle and I didn’t have time to see her come around and notice we’d arrived.

I decided to retrieve the glass bottle for her, and scooped it up with a gloved hand. This wasn’t really so I could return it, but because I wanted to look at it. In a fantasy world maybe this would help me solve the mystery.

Maybe I would identify some narcotic and confirm my suspicions. Maybe I would take it home, and not take it, but research it and consider taking it; as if I knew anything about hard drugs.

It turned out to be some kind of soap or sanitizer. There was no cap. I walked around the bench and set it on the seat beside her, lingering for a moment and staring right at her. She didn’t notice.

The whole thing made me want to go home and get high.