As the Boat Floats: A Casualty

Characters: Louise, visitor; Simon, manager

A scream, “Help, Help me!” rivets my attention. Lying on a warm beach, absorbing the sun’s revitalizing energy, I scan the ocean’s horizon to locate the person in need. Another shriek jolts me upright. I’m transported onto Prana but the cries continue. I rush out to find early morning dawn waiting for the sun to arise. The lake is calm except for splashing behind my houseboat.

I jump onto the pier, race toward the commotion, and find a young woman, bleeding from a head wound, fighting the water for her life.

The wooden deck is out-of-reach, too high for her to pull herself out. If I dove in, she would pull me under, drowning both of us. “I will get a life jacket and guide you to the closest ladder.”

“Hurry. I’m sinking. I don’t know how much longer I can stay above water.”

I throw her a life jacket. “Pull the jacket against your chest. Kick. There is a ladder just two slips down. I will meet you there.”

“Don’t leave me.”

“I’m not. I will help you out when you reach the ladder.” I run to the ladder and wave for her to kick toward me. Chocking and crying, she almost reaches the ladder, loses her balance and the preserver, and goes underwater. I stand in water on the lowest rung of the ladder, seize the front of her jacket floating on the surface, and pull her toward me. I grip her hand and direct it to the ladder. She grasps the ladder and my ankle and reopens her head wound against the ladder.

“Easy. Hold onto the ladder and breathe. You’ll need stamina to pull yourself up.” She whimpers but stays put until she can talk.

Gasping for breath, she whispers, “Thanks for the help. I thought I was drowning. I could not find my way out of the lake.”

“Slowly grab the side bars of the ladder and pull your body up. No hurry. You have plenty of time.”

She climbs onto the dock and lies flat, crying.

“Let’s go to my boat. I’ll give you a change of clothes while yours dry. How about a cup of coffee? You’re okay. You’re not alone.”

I lead her by the hand. Masked in fear, her face seems to be looking for flesh-eating alligators on either side of the dock while her feet shuffle along.

Dressed in my jogging suit and wrapped in a comforter, she sips coffee sitting on a chair in the bow. I wash the blood from her head and apply Neosporin.

“I’m Marilyn. What happened?” I ask. “If it’s too upsetting, we can talk about it later.”

“I’m Louise. No, I’m trying to figure out what happened. I have a friend on B-dock who invited me to water ski with him today. I came early, just before dawn, to surprise him. Before I knew what happened, I was in the water, surrounded by twisted aluminum pipes. I must have hit my head on one of them when my feet missed the pier. What happened to the pier? It seemed to disappear.”

I described the tornado and the resulting damage. “It struck in the middle of the night. In the dark, you wouldn’t have seen the extent of the destruction.”

Looking over Louise’s shoulder, I saw Simon running toward us, hugging my clothes, purse, and computer football-style.

“I got here as soon as I could. I heard screams while I was parking my truck. What happened?”

Louise looked at her feet, embarrassed. “I fell in the lake and couldn’t get out. Marilyn rescued me.”

“All I did was direct her to one of the ladders. She pulled herself out.”

“I didn’t expect anyone here this early, before sunrise. I plan on putting up plastic fences to warn of gnarled pipes, missing floor tiles, other hazards, and the wooden plank that is the only way to get to A-dock. I’m sorry about your accident. I’m glad that Marilyn was here to help you.”

“I expected my friend Clyde to be here.”

“He called and asked me about the condition of the marina. I told him not to bother to come. There will be an underwater team who will check out the condition of the dock’s anchoring cables, required by the insurance company. The scuba divers’ inspection will supersede boating. All vessels must remain secured in their slips.”

“I guess I left home before Clyde could get in touch with me. As my luck goes today, I left my cell behind.”

“We have a washer and dryer in the back room of the office store if you want to dry your clothes.”

“I didn’t know that. Why was I not informed? That would be very handy,” I challenge.

“Not everyone knows. Only those who need to know,” he smiles mysteriously.

“I need to know!” I demand.

He laughs. Hands me my belongings. “We’re having a meeting of boat owners today at noon. The owner is providing food and drinks at the restaurant. He wants to reassure everyone that the damage to the marina will be repaired as soon as the insurance company provides the funds. Louise, you’d be welcome to stay. Everyone needs to hear your story to understand the severity of the destruction and the need for caution.”

“I feel stupid that I fell off the dock,” Louise confesses.

“That’s the problem. Habits make us less aware. What happened to you could have happened to any of us. You weren’t aware of that the dock was ravaged. This is the first time a tornado has hit this marina. Until everyone sees the extent of the damage, they won’t believe a tornado hit here. That’s human nature. ‘Seeing is believing.’”

Simon leaves to assess the overall destruction reeked by the tornado.

“Can I use your phone to call Clyde?” Louise asks.

“Of course. Get some rest on the futon. You must be exhausted.”

“I am. Thanks. I hope I’m not imposing.”

“Not at all.” The lunch meeting of the boat owners will give me an opportunity to get to know my neighbors. Last night, I would have never guessed that something good would come from the terror of watching Prana float away.

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