At the end of Bell Street, McKay Street, Mayo Street, there was the Flood. It was the Wawanash River, which every spring overflowed its banks. Some springs, say one in every five, it covered the roads on that side of town and washed over the fields, creating a shallow choppy take. Light reflected off the water made every- thing bright and cold, as it is in a lakeside town, and woke or revived in people certain vague hopes of disaster. Mostly during the late afternoon and early evening, there were people straggling out to took at it, and discuss whether it was still rising, and whether this time it might invade the town.
In general, those under fifteen and over sixty-five were most certain that it would. Eva and Carol rode out on their bicycles. They left the road-it was the end of Mayo Street, past any houses- and rode right into a field, over a wire fence entirely flattened by the weight of the winter’s snow. They coasted a little way before the long grass stopped them, then left their bicycles lying down and went to the water. ‘We have to find a log and ride on it,” Eva said. ‘Jesus, we’ll freeze our legs off. ‘Jesus, we’ll freeze our legs off’ said one of the boys who were there too at the water’s edge. He spoke in a sour whine, the way boys imitated girls although it was nothing like the way girls talked. These boys-there were three of them- were all in the same class as Eva and Carol at school and were known to them by name (their names being Frank, Bud and Clayton), but Eva and Carol, who had seen and recognized them from the road, had not spoken to them or looked at them or, even yet, given any sign of knowing they were there.
The boys seemed to be trying to make a raft, from lumber they had salvaged from the water. Eva and Carol took off their shoes and socks and waded in. The water was so cold it sent pain up their legs, like blue electric sparks shooting through their veins, but they went on, putting their skirts high, tight behind and bunched so they could hold them in front. ‘Look at the fat-assed ducks in wading. ‘ ‘Fat-assed f****. ” Eva and Carol, of course, gave no sign of hearing this. They laid hold of a log and climbed on, taking a couple of boards floating in the water for addles. There were always things floating around in the Flood-branches, fence-rails, logs, road signs, old lumber; sometimes boilers, washtubs, pots and pans, or even a car seat or stuffed chair, as if somewhere the Flood had got into a dump. They paddled away from shore, heading out into the cold take. The water was perfectly clear, they could see the brown grass swimming along the bottom. Suppose it was the sea, thought Eva. She thought of drowned cities and countries. Atlantis.
Suppose they were riding in a Viking boat-Viking boats on the Atlantic were more frail and narrow than this log on the Flood-and they had miles of clear sea beneath them, then a spired city, intact as a jewel irretrievable on the ocean floor. This is a Viking boat,” she said. ‘I am the carving on the front. ” She stuck her chest out and stretched her neck, trying to make a curve, and she made a face, putting out her tongue. Then she turned and for the first time took notice of the boys. ‘Hey, you sucks! ” she yelled at them. ‘You’d be scared to come out here, this water is ten feet deep! “Liar,’ they answered without interest, and she was. They steered the log around a row of trees, avoiding floating barbed wire, and got into a little bay created by a natural hollow of the land. Where the bay was now, there would be a pond full of frogs later in the spring, and by the middle of summer there would be no water visible at all, just a low tangle of reeds and bushes, green, to show that mud was still wet around their roots. Larger bushes, willows, grew around the steep bank of this pond and were still partly out of the water. Eva and Carol let the log ride in. They saw a place where something was caught.
It was a boat, or part of one. An old rowboat with most of one side ripped out, the board that had been the seat just dangling. It was pushed up among the branches, lying on what would have been its side, if it had a side, the prow caught high. Their idea came to them without consultation, at the same time: ‘You guys! Hey, you guys! ” ‘We found you a boat! ” “Stop building your stupid raft and come and took at the boat! ‘ What surprised them in the first place was that the boys really did come, scrambling overland, half running, half sliding down the bank, wanting to see. ‘Hey, where? ‘ ‘Where is it, I don’t see no boat. “
What surprised them in the second place was that when the boys did actually see what boat was meant, this old flood-smashed wreck held up in the branches, they did not understand that they had been footed, that a joke had been played on them. They did not show a moment’s disappointment, but seemed as pleased at the discovery as if the boat had been whole and new. They were already barefoot, because they had been wading in the water to get lumber, and they waded in here without a stop, surrounding the boat and appraising it and paying no attention even of an insulting kind to Eva and Carol who bobbed up and down on their log.
Eva and Carol had to call to them. ‘How do you think you’re going to get it off.? ‘ “It won’t float anyway. ‘ ‘What makes you think it will float? ‘ ‘It’ll sink. Glub-blub-blub, you’ll all be drownded. ” The boys did not answer, because they were too busy walking around the boat, pulling at it in a testing way to see how it could be got off with the least possible damage. Frank, who was the most literate, talkative and inept of the three, began referring to the boat as she, an affectation which Eva and Carol acknowledged with fish-mouths of contempt. ‘She’s caught two places.
You got to be careful not to tear a hole in her bottom. She’s heavier than you’d think. ‘ It was Clayton who climbed up and freed the boat, and Bud, a tall fat boy, who got the weight of it on his back to turn it into the water so that they could half float, half carry it to shore. All this took some time. Eva and Carol abandoned their log and waded out of the water. They walked overland to get their shoes and socks and bicycles. They did not need to come back this way but they came. They stood at the top of the hill, leaning on their bicycles. They did not go on home, but they did not sit down and frankly watch, either.
They stood more or less facing each other, but glancing down at the water and at the boys struggling with the boat, as if they had just halted for a moment out of curiosity, and staying longer than they intended, to see what came of this unpromising project. About nine o’clock, or when it was nearly dark-dark to people inside the houses, but not quite dark outside-they all returned to town, going along Mayo Street in a sort of procession. Frank and Bud and Clayton came carrying the boat, upside-down, and Eva and Carol walked behind, wheeling their bicycles.
The boys’ heads were almost hidden in the darkness of the overturned boat, with its smell of soaked wood, cold swampy water. The girls could took ahead and see the street lights in their tin reflectors, a necklace of lights climbing Mayo Street, reaching all the way up to the standpipe. They turned onto Burns Street heading for Clayton’s house, the nearest house belonging to any of them. nis was not the way home for Eva or for Carol either, but they followed along. The boys were perhaps too busy carrying the boat to tell them to go away.
Some younger children were still out playing, playing hopscotch on the sidewalk though they could hardly see. At this time of year the bare sidewalk was still such a novelty and delight. These children cleared out of the way and watched the boat 90 by with unwilling respect; they shouted questions after it, wanting to know where it came from and what was going to be done with it. No one answered them. Eva and Carol as well as the boys refused to answer or even took at them. The five of them entered Clayton’s yard. ‘Me boys shifted weight, as if they were going to put the boat down. You better take it round to the back where nobody can see it,’ Carol said. That was the first thing any of them had said since they came into town.
The boys said nothing but went on, following a mud path between Clayton’s house and a leaning board fence. They let the boat down in the back yard. “It’s a stolen boat, you know,” said Eva, mainly for the effect. ‘It must’ve belonged to somebody. You stole it. ” ‘You was the ones who stole it then,” Bud said, short of breath. ‘It was you seen it first. ” -It was you took it. ” ‘It was all of us then. If one of us gets in trouble then all of us does. ‘Are you going to tell anybody on them? ” said Carol as she and Eva rode home, along the streets which were dark between the lights now and potholed from winter. “It’s up to you. I won’t if you won’t. ” “I won’t if you won’t” They rode in silence, relinquishing something, but not discontented. The board fence in Clayton’s back yard had every so often a post which sup, ported it, or tried to, and it was on these posts that Eva and Carol spent several evenings sitting, jauntily but not very comfortably. Or else they just leaned against the fence while the boys worked on the boat.
During the first couple of evenings neighborhood children attracted by the sound of hammering tried to get into the yard to see what was going on, but Eva and Carol blocked their way. “Who said you could come in here? ” ‘Just us can come in this yard. ” These evenings were getting longer, the air milder. Skipping was starting on the sidewalks. Further along the street there was a row of hard maples that had been tapped. Children drank the sap as fast as it could drip into the buckets. The old man and woman who owned the trees, and who hoped to make syrup, came running out of the house making noises as if they were trying to scare away crows.
Finally, every spring, the old man would come out on his porch and fire his shot- gun into the air, and then the thieving would stop. None of those working on the boat bothered about stealing sap, though all had done so last year. The lumber to repair the boat was picked up here and there, along back lanes. At this time of year things were lying around-old boards and branches, sodden mitts, spoons Hung out with the dishwater, lids of pudding pots that had been set in the snow to cool, all the debris that can sift through and survive winter.
The tools came from Clayton’s cellar-left over, presumably, from the time when his father was alive- and though they had nobody to advise them the boys seemed to figure out more or less the manner in which boats are built, or rebuilt. Frank was the one who showed up with diagrams from books and Popular Mechanics magazines. Clayton looked at these diagrams and listened to Frank read the instructions and then went ahead and decided in his own way what was to be done. Bud was best at sawing.
Eva and Carol watched everything from the fence and offered criticism and thought up names. Me names for the boat that they thought of were: Water Lily, Sea Horse, Flood Queen, and Caro-Eve, after them because they had found it. The boys did not say which, if any, of these names they found satisfactory. The boat had to be tarred. Clayton heated up a pot of tar on the kitchen stove and brought it out and painted slowly, his thorough way, sitting astride the overturned boat. The other boys were sawing a board to make a new seat. As Clayton worked, the tar cooled and thickened so that finally he could not move the brush any more.
He turned to Eva and held out the pot and said, ‘You ran go in and heat this on the stove. ‘ Eva took the pot and went up the back steps. The kitchen seemed black after outside, but it must be light enough to see in, because there was Clayton’s mother standing at the ironing board, ironing. She did that for a living, took in wash and ironing. ‘Please may I put the tar pot on the stove? ” said Eva, who had been brought up to talk politely to parents, even wash-and-iron ladies, and who for some reason especially wanted to make a good impression on Clayton’s mother.
You’ll have to poke up the fire then,’ said Clayton’s mother, as if she doubted whether Eva would know how to do that. But Eva could see now, and she picked up the lid with the stove-lifter, and took the poker and poked up a flame. She stirred the tar as it softened. She felt privileged. Then and later. Before she went to sleep a picture of Clayton came to her mind; she saw him sitting astride the boat, tar painting, with such concentration, delicacy, absorption. She thought of him speaking to her, out of his isolation, in such an ordinary peaceful taking-for- granted voice.
On the twenty-fourth of May, a school holiday in the middle of the week, the boat was carried out of town, a long way now, off the road over fields and fences that had been repaired, to where the river flowed between its normal banks. Eva and Carol, as well as the boys, took turns carrying it. It was launched in the water from a cow-trampled spot between willow bushes that were fresh out in leaf. The boys went first. They yelled with triumph when the boat did float, when it rode amazingly down the river current. The boat was painted black, and green inside, with yellow seats, and a strip of yellow all the way around the outside.
There was no name on it, after all. The boys could not imagine that it needed any name to keep it separate from the other boats in the world. Eva and Carol ran along the bank, carrying bags full of peanut butter-and- jam sandwiches, pickles, bananas, chocolate cake, potato chips, graham crackers stuck together with corn syrup and five bottles of pop to be cooled in the river water. The bottles bumped against their legs.
They yelled for a turn. ‘If they don’t let us they’re bastards,” Carol said, and they yelled together, ‘We found it! We found it! The boys did not answer, but after a while they brought the boat in, and Carol and Eva came crashing, panting down the bank. ‘Does it leak? ‘ ‘It don’t leak yet. ” ‘We forgot a bailing can,’ waited Carol, but nevertheless she got in, with Eva, and Frank pushed them off, crying, ‘Here’s to a Watery Grave! ‘ And the thing about being in a boat was that it was not solidly bobbing, like a log, but was cupped in the water, so that riding in it was not like being on some- thing in the water, but like being in the water itself. Soon they were ll going out in the boat in mixed-up turns, two boys and a girt, two girls and a boy, a girl and a boy, until things were so confused it was impossible to tell whose turn came next, and nobody cared anyway. They went down the river-those who weren’t riding, running along the bank to keep up. They passed under two bridges, one iron, one cement. Once they saw a big carp just resting, it seemed to smile at them, in the bridge-shaded water. They did not know how far they had gone on the river, but things had changed- the water had got shallower, and the land flatter.
Across an open field they saw a building that looked like a house, abandoned. They dragged the boat up on the bank and tied it and set out across the field. ‘That’s the old station,’ Frank said. ‘That’s Pedder Station. ‘ The others had heard this name but he was the one who knew, because his father was the station agent in town. He said that this was a station on a branch line that had been tom up, and that there had been a sawmill here, but a long time ago. Inside the station it was dark, cool. All the windows were broken. Glass lay in shards and in fairly big pieces on the door.
They walked around finding the larger pieces of glass and tramping on them, smashing them, it was like cracking ice on puddles. Some partitions were still in place, you could see where the ticket window had been. There was a bench lying on its side. People had been here, it looked as if people came here all the time, though it was so far from anywhere. Beer bottles and pop bottles were lying around, also cigarette packages, gum and candy wrappers, the paper from a loaf of bread. The walls were covered with dim and fresh pencil and chalk writings and carved with knives.