I tip-toed across the deck, debating the chances I could disappear before Dad saddled me with some miserable boat chore he thought up while I was sitting in Sister Sheila’s sixth grade English class.
I skirted the cockpit and ducked behind the aft cabin, not daring to shoot a glance through the fore cabin hatch. I didn’t want to clunk eyes with Dad. I surreptitiously slid open the aft hatch and vaulted onto my bunk. Sweat ran down my backbone under my uniform as I listened for movement or voices on the Annie Lee.
Water lapped the hull.
Rigging drummed against the aluminum mast in time to the thump of my heart against my ribs.
I let out a breath, and my fingers flew down the buttons of my dress. I stepped out of the stiff, pale green fabric and laid it carefully across my unmade bed. As I shimmied into my bathing suit, I pictured Kate doing the same on her boat.
Not only did Kate get home from Coconut Grove Elementary earlier than I did, she didn’t get snagged for chores. The Canfields did theirs on Saturday mornings. Not for the first time, I wished I lived on Kate’s boat.
My stomach growled, but I wasn’t even tempted to excavate the one hundred percent whole wheat peanut butter and jelly crusts from the waxed paper in my lunch bag. Every second drew me nearer to Dad’s appearance.
I crept onto the aft deck and slid over the transom, my fingers clinging to the gunwale until the last instant, and I slipped into sun-shot green wetness. I swam beneath the surface as long as I could hold my breath, coming up almost at the Canfield’s boat. Another breath and I surfaced at the tee. I clung to the pier ladder, bracing myself for Dad’s voice yelling my name, but it didn’t come.
Across the channel, Kate, Matt, and Scott dug in the sand in front of the beginnings of a castle.
Something happy zipped around my body, blocking out the picture in my head of Dad’s scowl.
Just like I used to look both ways before crossing Twenty-Seventh Avenue’s four lanes of traffic, I looked both ways and darted into the channel.
I walked out of the water and plopped down beside Kate where she sat on smooth sand where the tide had gone out.
Kate looked up from the moat she was digging and arched thick brown brows.
I shrugged. “You guys seen my Dad or R.J.?”
“Nope. Huh uh,” the boys said.
Kate shook her head.
Matt folded a beer can back and forth until he broke it in half. He straightened it out and started digging the moat on the other side of the castle.
I pressed shells into the smooth wall of the castle for windows.
Scottie flung himself into the water, then onto the beach. He closed his eyes and rolled his entire body and face in the sand until he was coated like a powdered sugar donut.
We laughed even though he’d done the trick a dozen times before.
Matt got busy terrorizing hermit crabs by stealing their shells.
I swatted a sand flea and helped Kate with the draw bridge.
“Annie!” Dad bellowed from Pier 1.
My head jerked up.
Dad motioned for me to return to the dock.
Kate shot me sad eyes.
I dove into the water and blew all the air out of my lungs. I sank till my elbows dug into the grainy sand. I lay motionless on the sloped bottom in the cool, quiet sanctuary—anger, self-pity, and guilt churning in the cavern of my stomach—until I had to shoot to the surface for oxygen.
Dad still stood on the end of the pier, glowering, arms folded across his chest.
I looked both ways and plodded into the channel at half speed, planning my explanation.
When I went to confession, I sat in the dark booth inventing sins. Who could remember two weeks’ worth of sins? Now I had plenty of sins and invented justifications.
I hadn’t been spanked since we moved onto the boat. I glanced up at Dad, trying to gauge how mad he was. I hoped I’d finally gotten too old to spank or that Dad’s paranoia—usually confined to “Big Brother”—would have him envisioning the neighbors calling CPS.
R.J. cannon-balled off the end of the dock. I didn’t begrudge him his freedom. He was stuck with Dad all day. Even under the shadow of my impending doom, I was a little bit proud of R.J. swimming the channel. He’d worn a Styrofoam football belted around his waist for what seemed like forever. Every month, Dad hacked off a slice of the football, until R.J. garnered mad doggy-paddling skills.
I hauled myself up the ladder and faced Dad. Well, I looked at his zori-clad feet.
Dad sighed his I’m-so-disappointed-in-you sigh I’d heard a million times. Today he was disappointed because I made him worry. Because I knew I wasn’t to go anywhere after school until I checked with him.
I gave my speech.
Lucky for me, Dad and R.J. had been waylaid in their fruit pillaging by a cache of sapodillas in somebody’s yard—and not holed up in the fore cabin.
I stood in the porthole-less cabin under a bare bulb and eyed my penance—clearing off the spare bunk, our family’s ginormous junk drawer. It would probably take the rest of my free time during the school week to sort the laundry, tools, paint paraphernalia, newspapers into piles.
If only Dad were Catholic, I could say ten Hail Mary’s and be done with it.
I thought about Kate’s sad eyes—and how they blew away a little of the injustice that intermingled with the smell of Mom’s fish curry. It didn’t matter that Kate was three and a half years younger. Kate cared.
That’s why, after thirty years out-of-touch, I’m not afraid to dish Kate intimate details of my life. I know her heart.