The Little White Boat
I could still make out the silhouette of the little white boat, even though the sun had set three hours earlier, and it was really pretty dark. At midnight I slipped out of my bunk and scrambled out my bedroom window. There was no big old tree limb to climb onto outside my window, the way there always seems to be in the movies. I had to drop down to the roof of the front porch and hope my old man couldn't hear. In case he did hear I sat there for a few minutes listening for the screen door to open, for his heavy footsteps on the porch. He didn't show so I climbed down and ran to the boat. I knew there was a good chance that Jimmy wouldn't be waiting for me as planned. I almost didn't mind. It was such a different experience being on the water at night. And I discovered that being alone only added extra adventure. As I made my way around the bend I heard Jimmy whistle for me. I could barely make him out among the bushes and trees. "Here," he called, "over here."
I rowed towards the sound of his squeaky voice, and with the help of the flashlight I'd shoved in the tackle box, finally caught sight of his squinting face in the darkness. I thought he'd tip us over the way he lunged into the boat and set us to rocking.
"Jeez," I said, “Take it easy.”
"Sorry," he replied. "It's hard to see."
We took turns rowing up the lazy summer river. I was three years older, and much stronger. But I didn't mind letting him have a go at the oars. "You know I didn't have any fun until you moved to the valley," he said breathlessly.
When we came to where the river grew wide I took over. The lights of the town of Onyx glittered in the distance. "Are we going there?" Jimmy asked.
"No way you knucklehead."
He sighed heavily before slapping something off his face.
"I dunno. Well where are we goin then?"
"Just wait and see," I kept on rowing.
Here's the thing, I didn't really have a clue about where we might be headed, but didn't tell Jimmy that. I felt like Huckleberry Finn. That was enough for me. I supposed we could go up to Stony Point and dive, but that might be more than a little dangerous in the dark. I decided to take him to the old abandoned cabin. My Uncle Clyde had told me some pretty scary stories about the Old Wiggins place, as he liked to call it. Uncle Clyde was Mama's brother. I got a kick out of him because he wasn't crabby like my old man; maybe he was more relaxed because he was so much younger. The guy really had a wild sense of humor. And boy, could he scare the crap out of a kid. Of course Dad didn't approve of me listening to Clyde's stories, and Mama taking up for him only made matters worse. Dad thought Clyde lazy, and often called him shiftless.
I scared the dickens out of Jimmy that night. I took him to the Wiggins place, told him some of Clyde’s more gruesome stories, and practically scared the shit out of the poor kid. Good thing the ride down river back home didn't take too long. Jimmy couldn't wait to jump out of the boat and make tracks to his safe bed. I chuckled to myself, I can tell you that.
Who knew that by the time October rolled around I wouldn't have time for a squirt like Jimmy anymore. That fall I started high school and then took up with a gang of kids, most notably Maggie Ferguson, and I wouldn’t be caught dead hanging around anyone so immature anymore. Mom gave me a hard time about dumping Jimmy the way I did. But Dad said it wasn't natural for a boy my age to spend time with someone so much younger than myself anyway. I couldn't quite say why, but Dad’s comment really jammed in my craw.
One morning I hurried downstairs, anxious to tear into a big bowl of Cheerios with milk, only to find my parents wearing awful hangdog expressions on their faces. Even I could discern that something had gone horribly wrong, and I'd been accused of being callous by Dad so often that I had come to believe I was callous. "What's the matter," I asked, my thoughts of breakfast vanishing.
Mom spoke first, "It's Jimmy."
"Jimmy?" I took a seat. Now I had a gut ache.
Dad's face twisted up as he struggled to find a way to tell me. After a few awkward moments he just came out with, "Jimmy's dead. I don't know what the hell got into him, but he took your little boat out last night. The weather turned on him, that thunderstorm broke out, and I'm afraid only God was the witness. Jimmy capsized and drowned.
I took to skipping school and spending time in that old abandoned cabin. Since I'd killed Jimmy I just didn't have the heart for life anymore. How could I, when that poor little guy lay in a grave in Thompson's Cemetery, and his death was all my fault? I never confessed. Once I thought I was going to end up like Uncle Clyde, light hearted and carefree, but I had sure thought wrong. I sulk and scowl worse than the old man ever did. I am sour, I can tell you that. Sour, as I sit in the old Wiggins place, listening to the lonely sound of the wind in the pines, alone with my terrible guilt, thinking my terrible thoughts.
All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.