The waters heave the boat and my stomach upwards. The railing slips out of my grasp. Arms flailing, I slide along the deck now slick with salt water.
Then we round the spit of the island and the engine cuts out. The boat floats calmly in silk-smooth water.
After the rush of the wind, and the slapping of waves against the hull, the silence is overwhelming. They say silence is golden, but this silence, smothered by dense mist, is not.
No sound from the birds, even though we are now right up close to the island. In clear weather we would be able to see the rocks rising above us, every inch covered by gannets.
We all seem to be waiting, listening. The captain stands with his head slightly cocked like a setter poised for his special signal.
A scream shatters the silence. Everyone on the boat, the young couple unable to tear themselves out of each others arms, the elderly man drowning in his oversize slicker, the couple with a teenage son whose eyes show white whenever they address him, the middle-aged couple with stony parallel gazes, the captain and his sidekick, a young man with a dreamy look and beer cans stashed beneath the life jackets… Everyone stares at me in that misty suffocating silence.
“What was that?” I ask. They are cramming themselves into the captain’s little cabin, trying to get as far away from me as possible. “What was it?”
But I know what it was. It was I who had screamed.
Another scream. This time not mine. Coming from high above us, from atop the rocky cliff.
A gannet swoops low over the boat, and I duck and shield myself against its passing shadow.
A winch rattles. The dreamy young man spits out a mouthful of expletives.
The boat flounders and I stagger. As I right myself, I notice a little girl in a shiny plastic raincoat, sitting on the bench, bare feet swinging.
Where are her parents, and what are they thinking of to let her sit all by herself in the boat? She isn’t even wearing a life-jacket.
“So what shall we do?” the girl asks. She smiles at me expectantly.
“Yes,” she says. “You called, so I came. Now we have to do something. Those are the rules.”
“Yes. Didn’t you hear me answer?” That second scream had been hers? How could such a little girl produce a sound like that? “So what shall we do?”
“Whose child is this?” I demand of my fellow passengers.
In one easy movement, the girl hops up on the edge of the boat. I rush to grab her but she skips nimbly out of reach. “We could do this.” She hops along the edge on one foot.
“You’re going to fall. Get down this minute.”
“Or this.” The girl performs a double pirouette.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I say. “Someone my age doesn’t do that sort of thing.”
“Because it’s not appropriate. What’s more, it’s not appropriate for someone your age either. Get down right now. Where’s your mother?”
“We have to follow the rules,” the girl insists. “I came when you called so now we have to do something. And if you don’t have any suggestions, then you have to do what I say. How about we do this?” She kicks her feet forward and up over her head in a back flip.
The thought of myself dancing up there on the railing is so ludicrous that I laugh out loud. The mist splits open, the sun breaks through, making the plastic raincoat sparkle. I stretch out my arms to lift her down. “Oh my dear, if only I could. What a delightful idea! Now, why don’t you come down and I’ll give you a nice piece of chocolate, there’s a good girl.”
“You don’t understand,” she says. “You called. So now you have to do something.”
The photos are from Gaspé, Québec.