As the Boat Floats: Mother Nature Strikes

Characters: Jerry, hippie; Simon, manager

The stormy night dream haunted me again. Bouncing around in an out-of-control cradle, I was rocked back and forth, up and down by Prana’s gyrations. My heart raced when I imagined that I was floating down the middle of the lake. I was jolted awake by banging on the door and an authoritarian voice shouting, “If anyone is in there, wake up now!”

Deja vu all over again, I slid out of bed, wrapped up in my marine raincoat, and opened the front sliding door, only to be drenched by rain, flying horizontally. Beyond the deluge was a man dressed in a blaze orange vest. “You have to get out of here!” he ordered.

“What? What’s going on?”

“A tornado hit the pier. It’s floating downstream toward the water treatment plant. You have to leave now. I have a kayak dockside that you can take to shore. There is no other way out unless you want to swim. Can you kayak?”

“Yes, I can.”

“Put this life jacket on and leave now. We don’t know how long we have before the dock crashes into the plant.”

“I got to get my purse and computer.”

“There’s little time. Hurry.”

Is this really happening? I follow his instructions, sliding into sloshing water in the bottom of the kayak. Shivering in the darkness, I am blind. Ahead are small, moving lights on B-dock that seems to be moving away from me. No, it’s me that’s moving away. A-dock must have moved downstream. B-dock is no longer parallel to A-dock. The craft rides the waves, crashing water over my arms and shoulders. I’m soaked. I double-paddle fast and hard with as much effort as I can muster. Fear and determination guide me to the end of B-dock. I grab the last wooden slip and maneuver the kayak to serve as a foundation to help me crawl onto the platform, my life raft from the raging torrent. Breathless and shaking, I swing my purse and computer onto the dock, terrified they will slip into the lake. With the bowline burning into my wrist, I pull the kayak onto the dock. Embracing a support pole, I watch A-dock floating away with Prana. Crying, I picture her drowning at the bottom of the lake. I mourn the loss of a new friend that had left me prematurely, before I had a chance to know her as well as I wanted.

Shivering, alone, and overwhelmed by my dream houseboat being manhandled by a tornado, I hold onto the dock and sob. I have nowhere to go.

Footsteps approach me. I’m too exhausted to raise my head. “You look like a drowned rat,” Jerry whispers.

“I feel like one,” I admit.

“Let me help you up. How about a cup of coffee with a shot of Buffalo Trace?” he suggests.

“Sounds good to me.” He leads me to his well-worn cabin cruiser. Its slip is overflowing with a table, plastic chairs stacked on top of each other, a grill, and a motorized cooler that doubles as an electric runabout. On the table is a coffee maker, a bottle of bourbon, and several empty beer cans. “How long have you lived here?” I ask, trying to calm my growing hysteria.

He hands me a Styrofoam cup of steaming liquid that spills over by trembling hand. The bourbon aroma subdues my nerves and fills me with warmth.

“Too long. In all these years, I have never seen a tornado hit a marina. I’m glad it missed B-dock or else we would be headed downstream next to A-dock.” He offers me a chair as I try to hide my tears behind hand.

“I’m homeless,” I confess.

“Not for long. I heard the first responders discussing the possibility of the anchoring cables holding A-dock in place before reaching the water treatment plant. They have called a salvage company to tow the dock back in place. With luck, at dawn, a plank will be setup as a walkway to connect A-dock with the rest of the marina. You’ll be able to walk to your houseboat.”

“Wonderful news. Thanks so much. I was thinking the worst.” Jerry watches me quiver. The coffee cup is beyond my control, the precious drink that had given me hope now burbles over the table.

“The wind is cold. You are welcome to bunk on the couch inside to get out of the weather and maybe catch some sleep.”

“I don’t want to intrude,” I hesitate, feeling uncomfortable with the offer of intimacy yet also knowing I have no alternative.

Sensing my reluctance, he states, “Don’t worry about me. I have my own bed in the bow, at the other end of the boat.”

Shuddering pushes aside my modesty. “Thanks. I need to get out of this wind and wet clothes,” I explain, embarrassed.

“I’ll bring out a blanket. Hang your clothes to dry in the head. Get some rest,” he suggests as he disappears into his vessel.

Inside the cruiser, I quickly peel off my dripping life jacket and clothes, hang them on hooks in the bathroom, and snuggle into the blanket. As I close my eyes, Jerry’s snoring reverberates against the windows and walls and pounds into my skull.

I finally find peace again at the outside table. I fill the cup with bourbon, wondering what I should do next.

A hand pushes my shoulder. My head pulsates and my neck won’t turn. My eyes are stuck, closed. The hand puts more pressure on my arm. “Get up. The sun is shining. The wind has gone home. Time to go back to your boat.”

Where am I? My body quivers. I’m waking up feet first. My brain rebels; leave me alone.

“I’ll help you up.” The hand grabs my arm pit and pulls. I resist. The hand is stronger than me. Slowly my eyes squint. Brightness hurts. “I’ll walk you back to your yacht.”

Yacht? I’m not who he thinks I am. Prana is an antique, simple, nothing fancy. My sea legs are bracing for a current that is not there.

“Hold on. You’re not awake yet. One step at a time.”

My feet shuffle. I brace myself against his arm. “Who are you?”

“You and Jerry are the only two on the marina right now. He’s asleep in his boat and I thought you’d like to do the same in yours.”

“Do I know you?”

“I’m Simon. The owner called me to manage the marina in its sorry state. Robert quit. He took the tornado personally, as a sign that he’s not welcome here. Which he isn’t, gossip tells me.”

“Thanks for the help. I need my clothes, purse, and computer.”

“I’ll deliver them to you once you’re inside your houseboat. You’ve been through a lot. Get some rest. Worry later.”

And so I did. Having Prana back without damage was the best gift of all.

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