This is the continuation of a piece of fiction I began about a year ago on this blog. Links to previous installments are at the bottom. Enjoy!
So there the three of us were, in the boat in the middle of the sunny and windy lake, our lines in the water, nothing biting, tired. Half-drunk, hungover, and stoned. Longing, in dutch with the wife, and lonely.
Alan had a private smile on his face, as if content in being proved correct that the one thing that had the power to make it all better would not. James sat hunched in the middle of the boat, silently a little angry at Alan for dragging him along today when James knew he should be home getting ready for the next day’s party. And he was also convinced the lake held nothing but panfish, no walleyes, probably not even northerns.
And I sat elevated in the bow, trying not to blurt out anything stupid, wondering why I was there, why I had come so far and for what, and how I was going to last another three days up here. My mind and body both felt empty already. I realized it hadn’t taken much to bring on that feeling, and that whatever condition I had arrived in Duluth in, I had left home not much better.
All around us there was nothing but water, woods and rock. A pure landscape that usually inspired a meditative state in me, but now I only found it lacking anything to distract me from the doubt and worry racing through my mind.
Sure, I was in rough shape now, and I was in rough shape when I left the Twin Cities, but would I fix things up here or down there, where the problems lived? And was I maybe even making it all worse by running from it for a few days?
The chop on the lake was building as the wind strengthened out of the west. The wind and the midday sun put me on edge. I felt very alone in the world, could think of no one I could confide in, no one who would care if I told them how aimless I felt, how much the distance hurt.
I slumped back in my seat and stared around the windy lake. A thought flashed across my mind: I need a purpose.
The boat with the kids that we had seen unloading at the boat ramp was headed in our direction. My eyes followed its approach, but it barely registered in my mind.
The boat passed in front of us about 50 yards off. It was no bigger than Alan’s boat, but there were five guys in it and a pile of gear in the middle. It was riding low in the water. Dangerously low, I thought. Kids. They looked like high schoolers. Maybe freshmen from UMD. The kid driving waved and I lifted a hand in response. They looked liked they were having a good time, despite their cramped conditions.
“Lot of kids in that boat,” Alan said.
They motored out of the bay we were in and toward the main body of the lake, probably headed toward what looked like a sandy beach on the far shore. The overworked motor was still audible, drifiting back to us on the wind they were forging into.
A couple hundred yards off now, I could still tell when they emerged from behind the last point of land and into the wind that was whipping the lake. Their bow started to rise and fall violently and it looked like they were rolling side-to-side a little too. But they kept plowing into the waves.
I glanced at Alan and James and they were both watching the boat.
“Maybe we should reel in in case they need some help,” I said.
“Yeah, maybe…” James said, and we all started to do so.
Not 30 seconds went by and suddenly it looked like they were going to turn around and retreat into our calmer bay. They got parallel to the waves and one caught them and as if in slow motion the whole boat tipped over toward us, I could see each kid lunge against the fall and then topple into the water.
“Holy shit,” Alan said. He yanked the starter on the motor and James grabbed the anchor rope and started cranking it in.
“Holy shit, holy shit.”
I threw my rod down and stared toward the capsized boat, I could see heads in the water but couldn’t see much else. We were suddenly ripping across the lake toward them and as we got closer I tore off my hat and jacket and then my shirt, thinking I might need to get in the water.
The kids in the water were looking toward us as we approached and they were yelling but I couldn’t hear them. I counted four.