Down river the wind blew white tips on top of the waves-the water is bumpy but the boat is calm, big as it is. Side to side green and bright, the trees are playing in the sun as they stand on an island. The water is alive with movement. No life: it is very breezy the wind blows north as we go south, we are not held back. A storm later, at 3 or 4 PM, this is an all day voyage La Crosse to Prairie Du Chien. I am on the Second deck by the bar bullshitting with Ben and the reading after a meal. Chef Charles makes the best crème and rice with chicken, it’s free to workers and I indulge. I read Slapstick and listen to a man (Ed) play banjo. The wind blows the curtains in my face through an open window; the clouds roll in. Rain is next. The rain and darkness come as a marriage. Together. They are slow at first. We lock through a damn not hard but I get wet catching the lines, ominous grey clouds creep up. Who stays with this giant mass of boat in the ghost town tonight? I do, alone, but I don’t find out until we dock. This saves Dave’s ears, until the end of the trip.
* * *
We rise and we fall, in life and on the boat while locking through. We hit down river water level and the paddle wheel slowly begins spinning to its staggering terminal velocity. We hit bottom in life we stay positive and grow, yet as slowly as that happens we still remain with the flow.
* * *
We have locked-through two times today, I only remember locking once. I want to go home. I wash the Galley dishes faster. I am not afraid of the boat, I am afraid of the dark and being alone on a stormy night in a deserted town. Everyone is getting ready to leave and we haven’t even docked yet. I am the odd man out. Chris, Mara, Ben, Anna, they say goodbye. Am I dying, leaving forever? Has it come to this? Is this my funeral? Am I being dramatic? Yes. The sky is dark-grey the rain hits the water with violent, ceaseless force.
Prairie Du Chien, WI 53821, Summer 2007
We dock the guests complain about lack of room and we being short one commuter van. The exchanges end fast as does the rain. Now it is a grey fog. Everything is damp and wet. Dripping. I lock down, load, unload, plug, unplug, hook, unhook, go below deck, and come above deck prepping the boat for the night. Dave comes to me before everyone is off and tells me he is staying the night, he has a cooler of beer and looks like a member of Deadliest Catch crewmembers in his Dayglo orange water proof overalls. I suppose he is sort of one of these guys now as he works on a boat in oceanic waters off of the coast of Alaska. An hour passes and he is still barking orders. Finally he throws me a beer and I pull up a deckchair as the sun is setting. The sun comes out for maybe a half hour before sun down after the rain clouds vanish. The stars came out early and brilliantly: we are far from any populous city so there is no interference with the night sky spectacle. I talk on the phone with a friend. I shut my phone off on all trips and forgot about it. An ex lover and an admirer, two people. We talk for about two hours, the latter, and Dave calls me from above. I say bye and am ordered to hit the generator. Dave is nowhere to be seen. A 20 Minute crawl below deck in the dark and I am up and out. I walk to the deck rail and look over, the water swirls as I gaze at some trees across the moving body of water on a distant deserted island behind the neighboring city, eerily calm. The fog rises. Water is draining south. I decide to go upstairs I almost forgot Dave was there. Dave stares at a computer screen and I say “hey”, he is out of it, tired from lack of sleep working day and night. He is gone, he tells me he is heading to bed but we share another beer and a convo. He truly is not there and I tell him to sleep. He tells me to make sure the generator stays on and not to sleep.
The night was slowly dragging. I decide to leave and explore the town. Flashlight in hand I walk the shadow covered deck, down the main staircase, over the bridge and I am on land for the first time in at least ten hours. You can’t imagine how this feels until you have done it (end second person). The main drag has very few houses, maybe one, four streetlights, many empty broken brick buildings of earlier times, and myself with my Mag-lite. I stalk the town alone, the light I have carries far across the dusty gravel road. I hear laughter and chatting I must be losing it. I come to a park where 3 locals are winging. Surprised to find anyone at all, especially people of my age, I agree to tag along. I am a deckhand show me your town. They take me to the only place of interest: The Ville Louis. As a child we took a field trip here as an adult I want to go to a social gathering. My new friends say there is no such thing in this town. I say I am off to get a closer look and we separate, the guy and two girls, nameless, leave. They warn of guards. I see no such thing. I am not worried. Alone, quaint town, this night is great I sit in the grass out side of this blacken mass of ancient house. I can almost see the daughter who died in the house, as they say, running down the stairs hair still on fire as she collapses, or so that’s how the story goes. Apparently, her curling iron was too hot. (To be remembered for that has to be an honor to the frightened dead child.) I look up at the stars and they burn as well, the white picket fence makes jail-cell-bar shadows around me as I sit in the grass. The yellow street lamp fills the negative space. Distant, alone, far from home, content finally. I smile as I walk back. The boat is buzzing with silence. Now I can hear the river. A light moves just north, shining south. A barge. I cross the bridge, walk the deck, peer up the stairs one at a time. I hear Dave. Asleep. I have a gin and tonic. Walk the stairs and finish it as I sit in a deckchair and watch the water carry a massive barge across its surface. I wonder how much water it displaces. I sip. My night is done. I stumble up the stairs throw a sleeping bag down and its lights out. Not that we had any lights on. I am out. The boat, the shadows, the dark, Dave and myself; he sleeps in the front dining hall I sleep in the front of the bar at the top of the stairs.
* * *
Hazy sun, heating my eyelids, this routine is not typical. Where am I? I can’t open my eyes. The sun is violent to these pacifist eyeballs that are lodged, hiding, in my head. The sleeping bag is on me. I went to bed and was in a completely different spot. Bag on top of me now. When I fell asleep I was in it. I have questions. I need answers.
* * *
My grandma passed away and my ex-girlfriend is back in town, give me a reason why I shouldn’t be down.
* * *
Cold wind for summer, I am not freezing but I am cold. The wind moves south down the river pushing against me. The wind blows cold, I stir to consciousness and then… “Fuck, this is weird.”