Autumn sat alone on her dock. Her back was turned firmly against the drinking going on behind her. She sat statue like without a voice, and she dulled her hearing so that the sounds of them simply rolled toward her but broke against her back like a wave hitting a rock. If she didn’t move nobody would notice her, nobody would yell at her, and nobody would embarrass her.
Despite the heat, cold beads of sweat trickled down her sun-browned skin. She knew her name had entered into the conversation and that it is just a matter of time before the focus landed directly on her. She pushed her eyelids tight over her hazel eyes as if this action would keep her safe. The sun licked her eyelids with a bright kiss as she turned her face upward to focus on the heat waves washing over her. A surprised smile pulled the corners of her mouth up into a U shape and pleasant thoughts rippled through her mind.
With her eyes closed she could still see the sun’s reflection dancing across the top of the water creating an illusion of shimmering diamonds. The warm breeze brushing across the surface only enhancing the effect as it gently pushed the water in ripples toward the far bank of the lake. A silence hung over the water as heavy as the summer’s humidity: thick and suffocating. However, it offered a sharp contrast to the sparkling depths that it rested on.
All of it taken together appeared lonely, as if the water was waiting for something or someone to plunge beneath the crystal like surface. So, when the first canoe pulled away from the shore casting a V shaped wake it didn’t shatter the scene but enriched it. A second canoe pulled out from the shore to the right of the first, and to the left a small tin motorboat kicked into life. All three vessels were destined to carry their passengers to a meeting point in the middle of the quiet waters.
The passengers were an unlikely group of ragtag misfits drawn together by the uncontrollable undercurrents in their lives. Their unlikely friendships provided distraction as they learned to trust through the adventures that only summer can offer. Autumn barely opened her eyes as a canoe pulled close enough to collect her, nor did she respond to the angry flow of words aimed at her as the boat pulled away.
At the center of the lake the group started to call out challenges for gunnel bobbing. Autumn was in the first round. Being the only girl in the group she knew she had to hold her own. The canoe wobbled underneath her feet as she moved across it to the bow. Turning back she found that the motorboat had pulled away from them and the motorboat audience now screamed encouragement. Across the canoe from her an opponent reflected the jests being hurtled at them over the water. His blonde eyebrows pulled the tanned skin of his forehead toward his hairline in a facial expression that challenged her readiness.
The bottom of her bare feet burned under the touch of the gunwale as she balanced as close to the bow as possible. Her knees were slightly bent to afford stability while her adversary mounted the stern. With her arms held out to the side and the slight breeze pushing past her she felt momentarily like she was flying, carefree and radiant. They started to rock, a subtle up and down movement in the water like a liquid anchored teeter-totter.
Autumn was aware that her toes were clinging to the sides of the canoe in an effort to hold her body on the thin edges. Her legs worked fluidly in a rebound motion while she held her back straight, her arms bent with her elbows tucked into her sides moving in a pumping motion with the rise and fall of the canoe. She felt aerodynamic as the canoe pushed higher into the air and then deeper into the water. A wave of giggles bubbled out of her as her rival started to lose the motion and the shift caused him to slip. She barely registered that he had hit the water before the feeling of flying turned into a million tiny ice pricks enveloping her skin.
She kicked out hard propelling her victory toward the surface with hundreds of tiny air pockets racing her. Breaking the surface felt refreshing and she was surprised to find the motorboat close enough to be pulling her opponent in. A quick stroke later she found his hand reaching for her to her haul her out of the water. She didn’t get a chance to catch her breath as she was launched back toward the canoe to battle the winner from the second canoe’s gunnel bob dare.
Her new foe was already at the bow of the canoe waiting for her to board. His wiry limbs gleamed in the sun and she was aware of his taut muscles as he balanced on the gunwale waiting for her. This was going to be a tough test, but as the bow and stern took alternate turns moving quickly away from the water’s surface she became lost in the motion. A passing boat sent a wave toward them and as the curling water broke against the side of the bouncing canoe Autumn and her partner fell simultaneously and rose together in the froth.
The hours under the afternoon sun rolled by and any thoughts of what was left on shore were drowned in lighthearted pleasure, laughter, and the conduct of friends. The decision to pull the water logged canoes to land was secured when a larger passing boat caused the canoe to lurch sideways just as the gunnel bobbers pitched off either end of the canoe. It seemed to happen in slow motion, and the sound carried over the water with a loud thunk.
Watching from the motorboat Autumn felt as if she was inhaling water because no air floated through her lungs. Someone dove out of the motorboat and moved missile-like under the surface of the water. The motorboat sprang into life and when the surface of the water was interrupted by the breaking of three struggling bodies it was in position to pull them into the safety of the boat. It was silent except for the drone of the motor on the way back to shore. The water filled canoes were beached and abandoned as the group moved to a grassy haven to assess.
When the canoe had made its abrupt movement to the side it had looked as if one or both of the falling gunnel bobbers was going to hit full out on the side, and the resultant thud marked the moment. Only one body had hit the side, and it was only a flailing limb at that. Red and swollen, sure to leave a bruise, the offending digit only throbbed now and the owner was eager to move on to an activity that directed the attention away from his mishap.
The sun was sinking to the west of them and the air was causing goose bumps to rise on everyone’s wet bodies, but the day wasn’t over yet and the bulk of the group was loathe to part. Returning home simply invited the occurrence of a slack period before the unwilling participant would be drawn into the ebbing flow and perhaps drown in the increasing velocity. So, with a set mind 4 of the eight propelled their bodies through the evening light to snatch dry clothes and escape back into the growing night.
Autumn approached her cottage from the back, her bare feet crunching on the gravel road. She paused briefly straining her ears for any sound that would indicate the eddie where cold-blooded vertebra were hiding. Satisfied Autumn slipped in through the backdoor and tiptoed unnoticed to her room. Clad in jeans and a sweeter she swept her straight brown hair up into a damp bun and backtracked to the back door grabbing a bottle of water and a bag a chips on the way out.
A sound from the side of the cottage sent her ricocheting quickly over the rough gravel headless of the noise. She dove sideways off the far side of the road into the shrubs and trees seeking the path that wound up the hillside away from the lane. When she broke through the brush at the top of the hill she found the small party waiting for her and they bounced into the safety of the night.
By Shari Marshall – 2017
Bounce Definition (google 2017-09-23): verb: move quickly up, back, or away from a surface after hitting it; rebound (once or repeatedly), or (of a person) jump repeatedly up and down, typically on something springy
noun: an act of jumping or an instance of being moved up and down