about the girl he only brings home at dark. “Is she a vampire?”
“No,” Grubs laughs. “What are you guys cooking? I’ll bring
over some Hamburger Helper,” he says. It’s what we all eat. One,
because it is cheap. Two, because it can be made in one pan —
saves room on small boat counters in small boat kitchens. Now we
are dinner for seven.
Faith lives on a sailboat and has two boyfriends. She doesn’t
really eat, but she and her bottle of Pinot Grigio sit with us outside.
Sally and Brad bring a blender of drinks for the adults. Dinner for
10. Am I forgetting anyone?
We eat on paper plates — a hodgepodge dinner for a hodgepodge family. We are lazy in our seating, limbs draped across boat
railings and knees swinging off finger docks. There’s an overhang
off the flybridge upstairs where the little kids and I sit and listen
to the adults’ stories without being noticed. Stories about fish and
war and Daytona in the old days. Stories about good women who
got away, about not-so-good ones who wouldn’t leave. We lie on
our bellies and count miniature mullet that gather around the
golden circle that is the dock light’s reflection in the water. The tide
is coming in; the water rocks the boat like a cradle. Gentle. We fall
asleep outside in bathing suits.
“It’s time for their bed,” Dad says.
“They’re good kids,” Peterson says.
“Let them stay up,” Grubs says.
“They’ve got school in the morning,” Momma says. This is
living in a marina.
1999 There’s another hurricane. We evacuated for the last
one, Floyd, and nothing happened. Just a few dropped trees and
a little flooding. The marina was fine. This one is called Irene and
she’s not supposed to be as bad. We’re staying on the boat; Dad
and I are playing Monopoly in the galley. Momma has to go to
work at the hospital. We’re sick of the rain, of the jerky chop. Our
Monopoly houses keep falling. “Be careful,” she says. We will.
“Watch the baby,” she says. We are.
Another hour. Only the purple and light blue properties are
left. Neither one of us likes them and the rest of the board is an
even split. I have Boardwalk; I always have Boardwalk. Money
passes back and forth. The kids play with cars on the parlor floor.
The rain falls faster. The boat jerks harder. My dad and I retie
lines every time the wind shifts, every 15 minutes or so. Soon the
gusts get violent. Ropes split, the rain is like needles against our
faces. My rain jacket slaps loudly over my eyes — I barely see when
Dad points to the dock. At first I think the storm surge is covering
the wooden planks, but then I realize the planks are just gone. I’m
afraid of this water. It’s white and rough and is eating our dock.
He tells me to tie off onto the pilings; curses the other boat owners for not thinking to do the same. Soon our cleats will be gone,
too. I fight with our lines while my dad balances down the remaining pieces of dock like a gymnast on the beam to help secure the
neighboring boats. The baby is crying. The wind is screaming. This
is not the water we’re used to.
Dad comes back, he carries the baby down the splintering
dock to the sea wall, hands her up to where his boss waits with a
big truck. He came to check on us. Trevor and I follow carefully —
the water has climbed up past the pilings, up to our knees. Our
clothes are soaked. I look back to the boat; it’s dancing between
the lines in a way that worries me. Wild, head-banging dancing to
loud drums. We leave the marina, hoping there will be a home to
come back to in the morning.
Dad digs towels from behind the backseat of the truck. “Don’t
worry,” he says. “Everything will be fine,” he says. This is living
on the water.
Amber Fricke, a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, won
First Place from the Atlantic Intracoastal Water way Association with this
essay. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding in Savannah, the
association sponsored an essay and photography contest in cooperation
with the college last November. (To see the First Place winning photo,
turn to page 10. Fricke hopes to graduate in May with a master’s degree
in professional writing.