by Kirsten Nash
At the end of every August we have a Tube Race on the River. We’ve got some pretty creative people here…if you can’t use your imagination, you’re never going to survive. Even on the prettiest day boredom can just creep up on your soul and choke you sometimes.
On hot days in the summer everyone gets together by the Deep Hole, about two thirds the way up the mountain. If you went all the way to the top of the River to start, your ass would freeze off because there’s snow up there, sometimes right through summer.
You launch just past the railway trestle, about three quarters up the mountain with a great big inner tube. Don’t blow it up too hard because you want it kind of softly bouncing against the rocks and easier to hold onto when you hit the rapids. It could take an hour or a day to float your way down to the Bridge where the River kind of peters out a bit.
All along the River are weather sanded rock bluffs where the “Nudies” like to suntan and all along the River Ride you can smell pot being smoked like incense in the wind. It’s not smart to bring joints on the inner tubes, for obvious reasons, but usually the Nudies will share for a beer given in passing. Everyone ties their beer cans to their tubes so the beer stays nice and cold in the water and you have to drink it all before you hit the rapids but you don’t want to be too drunk when you hit the rapids. It’s all a matter of balance.
Last August I was home from college and got to partying with some old friends when who should come in but Danny Jarvis! I hadn’t seen him in a few years and there he was, as handsome as I remembered. Still sporting the wavy blond hair, the gorgeous smile…his eyes had a way of owning you.
I was hoping by the way he was looking at me that I was prettier than he remembered.
Then he was sitting beside me. Hey you! He smiled.
We got to talking about the annual River Tube Race and he asked me if I was going for the tube launch the next day. I said I wasn’t planning to this year because I had to get ready to go back to college in a couple of days.
He says Come on! Come with us, we’re gonna win this year for sure, and goes on to tell me about their race entry: a picnic table, umbrella and all, tied onto eight inner tubes lashed together like a giant tube raft. All the time he’s talking, charming, staring right into me, those blue eyes laughing like he already knows where I’ll be waking up in the morning so it’s a no-brainer that I’ll be on that raft for the launch.
We last at the party for about another hour before we decide to go to his place.
He’s working on the tugboats now and as he drives he tells me Nothing ever happened that night with Katie, I was too drunk…
Four days on, three days off I don’t want to think about that night right now…
Good pay, gets to read a lot, always thought he wanted to be an actor Ok…. but he’s not so sure now. He just bought a little house out of town a-ways, which is where we’re going, because even though I’m twenty one now and in my second year of college, my Dad wouldn’t be cool about me bringing Danny home to our place.
We pull up in front of his house, a cute little white rancher with a sweet garden and this is so not the Danny I remember. I’m thinking I could love this man… but I don’t have time to think long because once we get inside we’re tearing at each other like vultures, leaving bits and pieces of ourselves scattered all over every room. We strip away our skins to get closer to each other. We can’t get close enough. We keep trying.
Then it’s morning. I don’t remember sleeping but I’m not tired. It’s a beautiful day, perfect for the Tube Race!
Danny drives us to the Deep Hole. We stop to get muffins and Gummi bears at the Kwiki-Mart on the way. His buddies are bringing the beer in a giant cooler they’re strapping to the raft, which is in the back of John Conlon’s pick up truck. Bart Mackie is bringing the picnic table and his wife, Angie. They’re leaving the kids with their Grandma Mackie, who’s actually Pete Mackie’s third wife, but she likes kids. I guess Pete’s ok with his own grandchildren…wouldn’t trust him with anyone else’s.
No one else shows up for the race this year, we’re the only ones.
We’re all laughing at our ridiculous raft, wondering if it will hold together as we ease it into the water, checking knots, making sure the umbrella is up straight.
Danny’s not shy to wrap his arms around me, claiming his prize.
He whispers Let’s be romantic… as we entwine our fingers and our legs under the picnic table and set off down the River, morning sun glancing through intermittent stands of alder and maple trees framed with towering evergreens to land on us, warming our half-closed eyes and upturned faces.
The first casualty is the umbrella. About ten minutes into the trip we take a hard corner and the umbrella gets itself caught in a gust of wind, flipping into the River upside down and twisted. We watch it get caught in a log snag, but we’re already way too far downstream to grab it…besides the water’s never very warm in the River.
The second casualty is Bart, who’s been doing his best to take care of the beer before we hit the rapids. We try to get him to eat something, but all we’ve got is Gummi bears and one muffin left. He eats some of the muffin but that’s not enough and before we know it Bart is face down in the Gummi Bears and we still have a long way to go.
The raft pitches and threatens to roll.
We’re all leaning one way and then another, hoping to influence the currents to be kind but rivers never listen. A second later we’re in the icy water, scrambling to catch the tube ropes. Bart, awake now, grabbing for the cooler, Gummi Bears gone to a wetter place…
Turns out our ride was not rapids worthy…but how do you know unless you try? Danny laughs as we pull the wreckage to shore.
We warm ourselves, laying on the sun-kissed, water-smoothed stones of the strip of land squeezed down the centre of the river, with the sun blasting us dry. Leaving the picnic table there for next year, we climb back on the raft with the cooler and drift back onto the River,
down, down, down to the Bridge.
Danny and I are both quiet. Someone drives us back to his car…can’t remember who.
Danny’s going out on the tug later that day, with the tides.
Can you call in sick?
He won’t be back until I’ve returned to college.
When he drops me off at my father’s house there is already distance between us.
He kisses me, but it’s not the kiss I desperately want it to be.
Then he’s gone and I’m sixteen years old again; something I promised myself I’d never, ever be.