I am floating. Maybe I’m six.
I’m suspended in the crystal green-brown Allegheny River bottled up in Tionesta Reservoir, looking up into a blue dome the color of a child’s crayon, with an undulating emerald border. The sun is oblique, so I don’t need to squint as I contemplate infinity above me and contentment within; I believe I may have discovered heaven.
My parents have trussed Joyce and me into those orange Coast Guard-approved life jackets we will eventually come to hate because they choke us where the strap ties under the chin (but we are not that old or particular yet), and have thrown us (that may be a bit harsh) into the water to swim while they fish. We are tethered to the bow of a 12-foot aluminum boat we have affectionately named, The Pie Plate, by a short length of rope and our mother’s intermittent fear: Joe, Joe! Where are they? Right here, he says, his patience as steady as these mountains, pulling us around on the rope so we are in her radar once again.
Mom always sits in the middle of the boat on one of three wooden benches because, after her two pregnancies, during which she fell once (that was with me, not the last time I’d crack my head or that she’d feel bad about it) she mostly abandoned the braces and crutches she’d used since childhood, and surrendered to the ease and safety of a wheelchair. As a result, no one calls her Skinny Minnie anymore and she is the ballast. She’s got the ice-chest at her feet with our lunch, which we hope will be replaced by the sound of flapping fish. Fishless, by when the mosquitoes start to bite, it might be Spam for dinner instead, and Joyce and I would rather choke on fish bones all day than have to eat that.
I bring my hands up in front of my eyes and marvel at my shriveled fingers. The cool Allegheny has settled pleasantly inside my ears and muffles the happy shouts of boy scouts frolicking at their camp on shore. A shiver rouses me and I pop upright in the water, envying the boys jumping off a log raft nearby. I can see their skinny bodies shining with water sluicing off them as they climb the ladder, and the way they hunch their shoulders and hold their spindly arms tight across their chests while they wait to jump again, and again. I paddle over to my sister: Let’s play.