Without a Paddle

Published in the online Writer’s Club in March 2020

It was a lovely panorama, Dolores thought, her mind turning as peacefully as did her kayak. Here she saw the nearby woods, its autumnal scarlets and ochres mirrored in the millpond, the white birch trunks making wiggly stripes in the dark water. In a moment, a current or breeze caught the bow, pivoting her view to the far meadow and hillside of golden grasses, then the dam. Below, the stream narrowed through a ravine of verdant pines and hemlocks, the bleached birch-stripes now vertical.

The dam was not a danger, Adrian had insisted: After no rain in weeks, the water flowed over the wide concrete barrier in a uniform ribbon only an inch or two deep. “You won’t be washed over it,” he said reassuringly. “But you might get wedged against the dam, so I’d suggest you paddle away from it.”

She might have done exactly that – save that ten minutes ago she’d pushed away from a mudflat on the near shore, and the damned mud captured the stupid paddle. Adrian might have given her a bit more instruction on maneuvering this capricious pseudo-canoe.

So now she was paddling with her hands, which ought to be easy because the kayak sat low in the water, but was proving harder than she’d expected.

She wished Adrian would get back. Although it had been her idea to come here after they and other counselors got the last of the weekend-camp kids on buses, he’d seemed eager enough. He’d barely gotten her into the kayak, though – so tippy that he had to literally lift her into it, an absolute pleasure – when his phone rang.

She couldn’t hear the caller’s words said, but the voice sounded like a woman’s. He mumbled into the phone, then told Dolores he had to take care of something and would be back in a few minutes.

She had prudently left her watch and phone on the shore with her shoes, so couldn’t be sure; still, he must by now have been gone a half-hour. She would really be pissed if he came back with Melissa, that blonde counselor built like Lady Gaga. A threesome had hardly been her plan.

It was getting hot out here on the water. She wished she’d thought to bring some sunscreen.

Although the water appeared pond-placid, there was below the surface a gentle but perceptible wash toward the dam. She had just noticed that she was floating backward when the kayak hit it with a thud that jolted her. “Shit!” she said. Putting both hands overboard, she paddled furiously for a minute, and succeeded in propelling the boat several yards back toward mid-pond. After a bit of experimentation, she even managed to spin so that she could see the dam coming next time.

She hardly wanted to spend the afternoon bump-bumping the dam, and — as further aggravation — developing a sunburn. Perhaps she should paddle back to the dock where Adrian had hoisted her into the kayak. That would be more than fifty yards of hard work, though, and she wasn’t at all sure that once there she could get out without help.

Looking around, she could see the proper paddle still poking up from the mudflat. That was closer. If she got there, she might use that paddle as a kind of lever to careen the kayak onto the flat so that she could crawl out. That would leave her a muddy mess, though, not exactly how she wanted to look when Adrian returned.

Besides, he’d said there might be leeches in the shallows. She’d swum in a pond with those parasites once, and come out with striations of ugly bloodsuckers clinging to her thigh. Peeling them off had left a chevron of welts. The memory made her shudder.

Perhaps it would be best to tip the kayak over right here, using the dam for leverage. She wasn’t a very good swimmer, but thought she could pry herself out without drowning; maybe walk back atop the dam, to greet Adrian like a wet tee-shirt contestant. That was a contest she’d lose, though, if he came back with Lady Gaga.

No, the best option was to get back upstream, to the head of the pond. When Adrian came, she could steer the kayak enough that it would drift down to the dock, where she could entreat him to lift her out. With any luck she could plant a big my-hero kiss on him while Lady Gaga watched enviously.

She made the kayak spin around again and started back upstream, her hands churning as furiously as a paddle-wheel steamer.

It felt good to be decisive.



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