The fact of the matter was we were floating on a sheet of ice just below the Cass Street Bridge, in the middle of the Mississippi. It was a new year in the 199?s, it was cold. We stood there next to jet skis in dry-suits, which are the cousin of wet-suits, minus the wet part. The machines lay tilted on the white speckled surface. The water was frigid, only our ankles, neck, and heads were exposed to the elements. The daytime wasn’t so bad, though under grey skies one could wish for sunlight. Seagulls flew, diving for fish, here and there; making way at whatever their talons could sink into. They screeched calls and flew.
We stood for a while after we bumped onto the slab, and throttled up to rest easy. The piece was floating relatively slow in a pack of its likeness, adrift, akin in shape to a chip. When we were on top it felt stable, though precarious. That flat sheet, brittle, 50 feet by maybe 40, these are later life guesses on angles which will nevermore be, or matter; anti-matter. As a child you don’t think in numbers, in exacts, rather just in activity; I did this, with this person –it was fun, I remember. This pastime was also dangerous, extremely. My dad and Dave and me, we stood watching the world go by as we floated on this –what I thought was an “iceberg”, down river.
Below the blue bridge, it loomed tall as we moved south with the current. We launched at Wild Cat Landing, we made it north in good time, dodging that which bobbed. Again measurements were flawed… A lot seemed to be coming down that day. Ice had broken off from lock and dam No. 7, on an early season thaw. We went in a line right with them, what remained sedentary came at and past us.
On the river one must contend with many objects. These objects can come in from in front, behind, above, and below. There is no real safe place on the river, river rats know. One thing to look out for while navigating the Mississippi is buoys. Buoys are cylindrical floating metal markers, color coordinated to designate specific throughways along the river; they come in a variety of (shapes and) colors, but most prevalently red and green. Buoys also help to show captains and pilots where not to go, in hopes they don’t run aground on wing-dams, or sandbars.
Now that we know what a buoy is, imagine floating directly at one while standing on a sheet of ice.
It came up fast. It was green, old, dark, and dented, near sections of a docked barge. If a fixed object helps to determine speed, this buoy would suggest we were going fast. We saw it just before hearing a hollow sound, kerplunk. Water, splashing, and then just as fast as it had appeared it was gone, somewhere underneath where we stood. My dad and Dave screamed to get to the machines –quick pointing with gloved finger. I jumped on before the jet skis were even started, when at that very moment the buoy came through the ice. It shot up like a hammer through glass; a champion boxers glove to his adversaries face. The sheet of ice shattered to pieces, shards floating in the freezing brown water. We fell through the air for a moment, and dropping down into the river water sprayed us cold. We rocked back and forth for some time, and he hit the ignition.
My dad was in shock, but mostly laughing –his big toothed smile. I held him tight and we jetted away, in the cold wind, in the mist. I saw down below by my ankles, the duct-tape which held my water-shoes to the dry-suit had come loosed as it was saturated. Those seagulls flew away. You could hear the jet skis whining from far off in early springtime that year. And we were still moving down but faster, the same as the water and ice had been.