By Ellen L.
There’s a leak in the boat. It started as a trickle, little beads of water that could’ve been nothing more than morning dew drops. I noticed an hour ago but it hasn’t gotten worse so I keep rowing. The morning fog makes it hard to tell where I am; I only know I’m not at the shore. It’s the kind of lake you can’t see across, the kind you can trick yourself into believing is an ocean. I see your kite before I see you. It’s held close to your boat on a shallow string, barely cutting the fog, not high enough for the wind to pull you along. So cautious, like me. I row faster, but more water pours through the leak. I slow down, though I’m dying to see your face, dying to meet you, and the leak steadies itself. The fog breaks and your boat appears before me. You’re young, nearly 7. You have my eyes and a freckled face. We smile with recognition, but I don’t know your name. I ask, but I can’t hear you over the kite tails, and then I’m too shy to ask again. The current nudges our boats into a circle. I’m following you (or are you following me?). We study one another as we move in wide arcs, our paddles drawing our boats closer together. We’ve only just met but you have so much to say. You proudly tell me about a scout pin on your hat, the hat I can’t believe hasn’t blown off your head and into the water by now. You’re so excited to show me that you forget for a moment that you’re holding the paddle, and it almost slips from your small hands. We laugh as it splashes, and I lean over to straighten it for you. Our boats are as close as they can be now. You ask if you can visit mine. I want to bring you into my boat, take you back home, unfurl your kite on a park bench and show you how high it can go when the wind is right. I stare at the water between us. You don’t have a life jacket and the water is too dark and deep. I don’t know how far we are from the shore, and the water is creeping around my ankles. There is no room in my boat for you. Stay over there for now. We’ll meet again, I say, and I see my own sad smile on your face. We turn our paddles, and the circle breaks as we grow farther apart. By now the water is filling my boat like a clawfoot tub. The boat is sinking, so I lie back and float like a child in the bath after the water has lost all its warmth.
Our short story contest is over for November, but you can check out all the November submissions on our blog!