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Cracker's Canoe (Fiction)
Jan 11, 2006, 10:18p

(For the past 3 Christmas', I've written Becca a series of short stories. I'm publishing them on my blog over the next 9 days)

Cracker's Canoe

As the waves rose high above, Cracker dug his oar deeper into the black, brackish water, muscles near cramping. This was the worst storm he’d seen yet – and it had only just begun, the memory of sunlight beating his skin cooling into the ice-cold water freezing it. Surge and pull, surge and pull, heave and ho, heave and ho. He was in his zone, though; lift, sink, pull , , , lift, sink pull , , , lift, sink, pull. The waves kept pounding down, and he had to do everything he could to keep his canoe from capsizing. He hadn’t seen land since before he could even remember, and his diet of tuna and salmon, though appetizing at first, now begged for just the slightest splash of soy or wasabi. But he knew he would make it through this storm, even if it turned into the worst hurricane he’d seen yet.

He had built this canoe with his father. A young boy with a dream of freedom and an adventurous spirit, he wasn’t yet old enough to drive – so instead he wanted a boat. It was big enough for 2 grown people to sleep in, side-by-side, and it even had a canopy, sort of like a 2-person tent over water. When other boys had tree-houses, he had his canoe.

And now he was in it, battling the ocean long after his childhood friends had grown out of their tree-houses. And he was alone, long after his childhood friends were married with 2.5 kids and 1.2 dogs. The 2-person canoe was empty with just 1 person in it. Would it feel even emptier with no one in it? He didn’t think so.

He never did like being called Clarence, so when his grandpa started calling him Cracker because of the saltines he ate, he made it his own. His father was a civil engineer and built traffic overpasses for a living. Construction was hard work, but he got by alright, supporting his wife and Cracker. Being an only child was lonely too – he remembered begging his mom for a brother, but his parents didn’t want anymore. So instead of getting him a brother, they built him a boat.

His dreams were locked up in that curved, cold hull. It began just as a few branches fashioned together forming the concave contour of a teaspoon. His father would collect the bits and pieces of left-over aluminum from his job and weld them inch by inch into a solid aluminum hull. He added rivets for structural integrity, wooden beams to support the thick, canvas covering. He even sewed plastic portholes into the canopy, and when Cracker spent the night in his canoe, he could even see the stars. It was a perfect shell for his loneliness.

Of course, the canopy was the first thing thrown off in the storm.

Cracker kept his canoe with him after graduating from high school, from college, and from grad school. He modified it, adding an onboard motor and a diesel-powered kegerator. He would take it out on the Mississippi and float in the night, batting mosquitos and drinking cold beer. He even took a date or 2 out with him, but they usually freaked out and didn’t understand. There’s solace in solitude, to be sure.

He had left 3 months after graduation. He was going to take the Mississippi down to the Gulf and find something in his life. The “real world” had been a bit too real – everyone racing for the buck to buy the walls to be built between ourselves. Conversations were all the same (“How much did that cost?” “What a sale!” “Did you get the promotion?”), people were all the same.

Color was only meaningful if it had a price tag and a discount.

People wanted to control him, and he began to feel the foreign urge to control others. The race of vermin had begun, and he was still standing at the starting line, bewildered. So he decided to turn and walk away.

His first few days were easy – he left at the tail-end of summer, the weather beautiful. All that changed when he poked past New Orleans and was swallowed by the hurricanes. Now he was in his third one, swirling in the water, gripping wood and metal. Help wasn’t even on the way, as his parents thoughts he was holding down a nice job in uptown Tallahassee. The first storm was the easiest, as he didn’t know what to expect and ever wave was a surprise. By this third storm, though, it was the anticipation that tormented him. He knew how cold it would get in the next few hours, he knew how much saltwater would be forced down his throat and ears, but he didn’t know how long it would last. He was wet, cold, and tired.

But like the first 2 storms, this one too was forced to pass. The waters gradually eased, the boat no longer bouncing around like a frenetic jump rope. He slept, curled with his hands between his legs, warming now.

When he woke, the sun too had curled itself around him, spooning.

He got up, cast his net, and sat waiting for the next storm.

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