The rain that morning was cold and nefarious. It seemed intent on hitting me directly in the eyeballs as often as possible as I carefully zig-zagged down to the water’s edge. But the rain was not my problem. And the bailing itself was not my problem. My problem was the water between me and the boat. The water that was the color of charcoal and seemed to be disguising a world of dark magic that I was sure to encounter the moment I stepped in past my knees. The water that had to be deep because my brain had stopped absorbing tide information this morning when my dad was trying to teach me everything he knew in 2 minutes or less. That water.
I was scared.
I stood there for a couple of minutes in the rain, staring at the water, before I convinced myself that the imaginary danger was worse than the reality. I looked down at myself before stepping in, perhaps to take inventory of the strengths I was bringing to this task. What an ugly bathing suit. I hate this bathing suit. If I survive this, they are buying me a new bathing suit. Not a clearance one. Full price. I took one step and I was up to my thigh. This was bad. This meant I was sure to be in water deeper than I was tall before I got to the halfway point. Shoot. Debris from the storm was pelting my legs under the water as I scuffled along. I took four more steps and the wild water was up to my neck. I couldn’t plant my feet on the bottom anymore and I threw my arms into it and swam for my life. It didn’t take me long to reach the bobbing boat, but it was turned with its nose to the shore. There was no way I could get in from the front in water this deep. I swam sidestroke around to the back, determined to keep my face pointed toward the beach. I wondered if Mama was watching from the porch. Of course she was. She’d have called the coast guard already but we didn’t have a phone. If I drown here, it’s going to be awhile before anyone finds out. And this is the bathing suit I’ll be wearing when they locate my body. I grabbed an anchor cleat on the back of the boat and tried to get my leg up over the back. I couldn’t get a grip on anything and only managed to submerge my head completely. Fail. It took 3 attempts, but I managed to hoist myself up using one arm on the top of the motor and the other on the back of the boat. I flopped inside like a snagged fish and waved toward shore so my grandmother could see me, After a few deep breaths, I grabbed the crusty white bait bucket and began to scoop the water that had gathered in the boat since early morning. It’s not that great a boat. I’m not sure why we’re trying to keep it from sinking. But I do like to ski. I kept scooping. I don’t like people. I do like old people and babies. But I hate all other people. My arms worked like a hydraulic machine, getting the water down to less than an inch before I felt like I could call it done for this round. I stood tall to stretch my back and thought about the fastest way to shore. There had to be a quicker way back. I decided to do my best long jump from the front of the boat. I didn’t think through the force of my jump, because along with whatever distance I achieved, I sunk like a concrete block and never hit bottom. I kicked upward and surfaced quickly, thrashing my way back into water that would allow me to stand. I blinked the salt water from my eyes and moved forward.
Soon I was back at chest high water and slowed my pace to rein in my panic. I pulled my arms out of the water and tried to use them for momentum. Mostly I was flailing. At that moment, as I was just beginning to feel the weight of success, a streak of angry lightning started in the west and crackled east across the treetops. One second later, the thunder slammed out of the thick slate sky, chasing the last of the streak. I don’t know what happened in that moment. I can’t explain it. But I jumped out of the water like a cartoon and ran the full distance back to without touching ground again. I didn’t stop at the edge of the beach. I didn’t stop on the stepping stones. I didn’t stop until the screen door slapped behind me and I was safe on the wet porch. I leaned over against my knees to breath.
“Are you okay?” my grandmother asked.
“That was terrible,” I nodded.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a human move that fast,” she commented on my great escape.
“If we had jobs, this wouldn’t be happening,” I replied. “Let’s go to Panacea and see if they’ll put us on as bus boys for the day.”
“I don’t have my car,” she answered, as if that were they only thing wrong with my idea. We spent that day together inside, two unemployable beach bums. Reading. Coloring. Eating Vienna Sausages. I went out 3 more times to the boat, each time dreading it a little more than I had before.
When my parents walked through the back door that afternoon before dinner, my mother shook the rain from her umbrella and stepped inside quickly.
“Phew,” she said smiling. “It’s bad out there.” My dad stepped in behind her and looked toward my grandmother and me.
“How was your day?” he asked.
I squinted at him and weighed my response carefully.
“I want a new bathing suit.”