The old boat banging against the dock woke her. A dream, she thought—the old nightmare, somebody at the door or the window, battering it down, Naomi, it’s me. Let me in.
It’s I, she corrected automatically and woke up, smiling to herself. Saved again by grammatical correctness. She made a mental note to tell her students—perhaps another reason for them to think her odd, but remarkably correct. The teacher they’d tell stories about when they were 40. Precise. Careful. Deliberate.
The boat hit the dock again, broadside, more crash than thump, a sound that splintered something and broke. She got up then—not a dream—and pulled her robe closer, cold for May—and stood at the cloudy window at the front of the cabin.
The boat rocked and scraped in the waves. The last crash had wedged it under the dock so with every incoming wave, it rose and fell against the pylons. She could see that the paint was gone, and the dock was eating into the bare wood of the boat. A shame, really, but not her problem. Not her boat. She had refused the boat, wasn’t planning on using it or the lake or even going outside, but the boat came with the weekend rental according to Jill, the rental agent, Jill who gushed, Jill who was a waterfall of superlatives without antecedent or noun—best on the lake, quaintest, coziest, most fabulosis.—fabulosis? Cheapest was the draw and loneliest the consolation.
She got dressed. She ate breakfast: steel-cut oatmeal with toasted almonds, shredded organic apple on top, green tea, two cups, her weekend indulgence. She took the second cup of tea out to the square of deck tacked on to the front of the cabin like an architectural post-it. She smiled at her wit—the word architecture was unknown to the local handyman who had hammered the stumpy, squat building together.
The wind lifted her sweater, went right to her skin. She shivered.
The boat scraped against the dock with a sharpness that forced her to look at it. The boat that wasn’t her boat was tearing itself apart, self-destructing blow by blow. Perhaps she should do something. Free it. Or protect it—which might be the same thing. She put her cup on the floor of the deck and walked through the wet grass to the dock.
The wind blew. She looked back at the bare little cabin, then stepped onto the dock. It shimmied under the regular impact of the boat, and she could see chips of rotten wood—boat wood and dock wood—washing up on shore. Nothing she could do. It didn’t need her.
She stepped down into the grass and headed back to the cabin and to her tea. She needed a third cup today. Her hand trembled as she filled the cup—a teabag of green tea really didn’t stretch to a third cup—and tried to block out the battering that was starting to haunt her as powerfully as a nightmare. Maybe she was dreaming, after all, somebody trying to get in—or to get out. Maybe that was it—something wedged in tightly, held too close, too carefully.
She set her cup down and walked, then ran back to the edge of the lake, slipped out of her shoes, and waded in. The water was colder than she expected, but shallow enough that she could maintain her footing even in the wind and the waves. She sloshed around to the far side of the boat and pulled and pulled and pulled until it gave suddenly and propelled her backwards into the lake. The boat floated over her, free of the dock, and carried by the wind.
Her eyes were open. She watched the long ridge of the rudder pass over her. It took forever, but she had forever. She held her breath, waited as the boat passed over her, then rose just as slowly, rose from the water, wet, cold, trembling, and alive.
© 2012 Kathleen Coskran