It is horrendous out here! like God’s troubling the waters. I’m by my lonesome in my eight-foot Jon boat with my ancient, three-horsepower motor. I don’t have time to worry before the storm’s crushing me. I have handled rough water on this lake before with the same setup. At worst I would just pull ashore anywhere I could and seek shelter until the storm passed. But not this time. The storm erupts so suddenly, the clouds overwhelm the sky so quickly and pervasively that my visibility drops from twenty miles to about three hundred feet – like God switched off the lights.
The waves leap from ripples to ocean-worthy, big enough to surf, five-footers. The rain’s torrential. I figure if the waves don’t swamp me the downpour will fill the boat to the rails in minutes.
I barely have time to pull up my anchor, start my motor, turn the boat into the waves. Instantly I’m soaked to the bone and the water’s at my mid-shins. I can barely keep my little tin pram facing the waves. Water’s flowing over the bow like a waterfall.
Shit! There’s no sound from the wind. No whistle, whisper, or raging. There’s no noise. It’s an entirely silent onslaught. Fucking impossible! There’s no sound of the waves lashing the boat. Deaf! I must be stone deaf.
There’s a soundless flash in the sky more intense than lightning. The flash devours all colors and gouges out my sight.
Every ounce of me screams in protest and terror. I am deaf, blind, doomed.
And suddenly I’m not. It is, is like, like just before the storm, calm waters, blue sky, a light breeze from the south. I’m dry. There’s no water in my boat. My motor’s not running. My anchor’s still in the water. I’m still holding my fishing rod.
I slowly take a deep breath, put down my pole, close my eyes, shudder, moan, weep. I let everything out, every frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety of my forty-five years – I cry myself numb, empty, exhausted.
I release my fish back into the lake. I row back to shore. It takes me a few minutes to get the strength to climb out onto the dock. I load my vessel and gear on and in my truck. I sit in the truck cab trying to figure out what happened. I was, am losing my mind. And I have lost something. I feel different – lighter, less stressed, freer – but, but, – I don’t know how to express it… I’m, I am running out of time. Everyone’s almost out of time. Time is running out. I know this. But there’s no hurry, no rush, no panic. I don’t understand why I am so calm.
I call my wife, Rwanda, tell her I’m on my way home. I listen to her familiar voice with the hint of South Carolina, seasoned by thirty years of Southern California life and etched by the stress and rewards of career, marriage, and motherhood. In her tone but not her words, she says she’s glad I’ll be home early.
I speak to our eight-year-old daughter, Ndola. She says, “That was a scary storm, Daddy. I love you.” My family’s one-hundred-twenty miles south of this lake. How does Ndola know about the storm that wasn’t? She’s gone, and her ten-year-old sisters on the line before I can question Ndola. “Kasama, get your sister back on the line, please. It’s important.”
“It’s okay, Daddy. Don’t worry. We’re glad you let the fish go. I hate cleaning fish. I love you, bye Daddy.”
She hangs up. I’m afraid to call back. I fear I have had my one call. I’m scared to try again.
It makes no sense. I must be crazy – out of my mind – drugged or a brain tumor or a psychotic break. But, I don’t feel mental. I feel all right. It’s all good. Rwanda, Ndola, and Kasama are fine. The girls understand. What do they understand? They will comfort their mother. I know that. I realize that I don’t have time to make the two-hour-thirty-minute drive home.
I call my brother and sister. I just get dead air.
I walk back down to the lake, sit along the shore with my bare feet in the icy water, perched on the jagged, rocky bottom. A loon cries, a crow scolds, the breeze freshens. A motor stutters to life far out on the lake. I wait for time to run out.
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