“I’m making a book,” she said.
“I know,” I said.
The pigeon on the telephone wire ignored the train chugging past. It was a regular and ever its whistle was not enough to distract the pigeon from tracking the houseboat’s progress across the Bay.
Suddenly – had a gnat flown through its vision line? Had the pigeon blinked? – the houseboat was vanished; only a wide berth of bubbles left behind showing where it had been and where it had come from.
The pigeon turned its attention to the train and thought nothing more of the incident. It is debatable whether pigeons think at all in the first place.
“You don’t know what my book is about,” she said.
“Probably not,” I said.
The Queen had heard of these contraptions; ships that humans called houses. Floating houses with all the things land dwelling humans possessed, but set afloat on the surface of her kingdom.
She wanted one. So she took one. The inhabitants: a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a dog; all perished according to the report.
Really it wasn’t anything like the report said.
“Something’s wrong, Carl!” The mother screams. She puts the life jackets on the sister and brother. There is no life vest for the dog. The mother catches the brother staring out the window and she draws the curtains with a sharp click of the rings against the rod. She pushes the children toward the stairs and doesn’t notice that he sister has unbuckled her life vest.
“Vera!” The father shouts down from the top deck.
“We are here. What is happening?” the mother asks. Her voice is strange; high and yet trying to be normal under circumstances that are not normal.
“Everything is alright,” the father soothes. “Come on deck and –” the floor pitches to the left, nearly 90 degrees from what it was.
Everyone screams – even the sister who just finished buckling her life vest on the dog – and tumbles to the side.*
The father reaches for the mother. She pushes the son into his waiting arms and then the dog because it is closest and then turns for the sister, frantic. She does not see the sister.
The curtains and window are open.
*The sister scrambles up and crawls up the steeply pitched floor, clinging to the curtain rod like a monkey bar. A salty breeze wafts in – calm despite the chaos going on.
The sister brushes the curtains aside with a drawn up foot. She rests her legs on the sill and that takes some of the strain off her arms. She was never very good at monkey bars.
What she sees outside the window is beautiful and magical and she wants to be with it.
They see her and swim close. They open the window.
“I cannot swim,” the sister whispers.
They smile and pull her through the window and into the Bay.
“Guess what it’s about,” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Yes, you do,” she said.
It was like watching a movie at a 3D theater: you are part of the action, but still removed from it. You feel as if you are in the thick of it, but you know if you take off the glasses you’ll be far, far away. If you keep the glasses on you can pretend whatever is happening is happening to you too, but you have the added comfort of knowing that you’ll be fine, because you are safe in your seat. They aren’t.
A long, handsome one of Them kissed the sister. Not like the father kissed the mother, but gentler. Not wanting anything; giving something.
Now, the sister could breathe underwater. There was no panic in her as she watched the houseboat sink. Past the sparkling green water. Past the grey bluing dark and then darker water. She can’t see it anymore. It is gone. Her family is gone with it.
They swim away with her, at first towing her in their arms, then picking her up because she will not stop looking back at the place where it all disappeared.
“Why did you tell that story?” I asked.
“No one told me I couldn’t,” she said.