Shantih Journal 2.1 - Page 9

Life was a lot simpler then. There were no investments to make and no golf to learn. No gym membership fees and no lines to wait in. No buttons to push and a summer’s worth of cigarettes to steal form the old man’s stash. A warm hiss of mem- ory flooded over him in temporarily soothing waves. He might have stayed like that forever but when he couldn’t remember the fourth magic ingredient of the carp bait he and his friends used to make he decided to sail back and find out. “What the hell was it? Peanut butter, beef tallow, granola, hell.” He pulled a little six-inch souvenir model of a lake freighter out of the shopping bag and set it on the parking lot crack. Then he climbed aboard and headed downriver. Those soothing waves of memory were replaced with immediate regret. A lake freighter is much too large for the Pine River and he instantly ran aground near the Vestaburg swamps. Even after he’d rocked free, though, the impossibility of sailing her without a crew punched him square in the chops. He could figure out the helm easy enough but how was he to adjust the speed without two firemen down in the engine room shoveling the coal? How was he to avoid being crushed by the ca- noes from the livery and the paddle boats from the county carnival docks without a radarman or at least a couple of spotters? The dire implications of his rash decision dropped in front of his eyes like a red velour curtain and he collapsed on the floor of the pilothouse. The freighter got hung up on the rocks near the railroad bridge north of Wheeler and after thirty or so minutes of tears followed by heavy breath- ing and eventual composure-collecting he found a grease pencil on the navigation bridge and began penning a goodbye note to his family on one of the red-painted main hatchways of the iron ore cargo hold. Mrs. Larabell was watching the clock on the motel room wall inch toward checkout time and she was getting worried. She knew they were over their vacation budget and didn’t want to get nicked for an extra day. She told their son to put on his flip- flops and they raced down from the second floor and out into the day. The parking lot was deserted save for their modest SUV and some luggage, her luggage, and her son’s special pillow, standing at attention right in the middle with Jerry nowhere in sight. She and her son ran to the lobby to see if he was checking out. The freighter was breaking up on the rocks. Jerry was standing at the bow looking downriver. He’d made peace with his predicament. The craft was just too large for the Pine River and yet too diminutive to see. Jerry couldn’t help that. He was at peace when the stern bulkheads finally caved in and he tumbled among the bends and rapids and straits of that muddy tributary and all the landmarks of his little league summers. 9