Hannah O’Malley (Grade 7)
On clear days when we’re done with schoolwork, my mom will order my sister and me to go outside. We’ll tromp out in the afternoon light, unlock the garage door with a struggle, and fetch our orange life jackets and yellow paddles. If, as we click our life jackets on, we can hear and feel an inquisitive wind combing through the trees and brushing our faces with soft hands, we grin and say it will be a good day.
Since our twin kayaks are stored below the house, I always have to a venture there to fetch them. Impassively, they wait like faithful pets in the cold, stale air and the damp, orange sand which seems to be below every house. Ducking my head, I clamber down there, shoving the kayaks to the square of light so that my sister can pull them the rest of the way out, trying not to scrape their sandy undersides on the ground. Then I emerge back into the light, unfolding from the cramped position that the maze of pipes dictated.
Chatting and laughing about things sometimes shallow and sometimes important, we carry the kayaks to the water’s edge by means of a well-trodden path. If the breeze is indeed strong, we can see ripples in the pond lying lazily before us. As my boots sink slightly in the mud, I heave the kayaks to the water’s edge, watching as their movement suddenly shifts from forced scraping to smooth gliding.
Clutching our paddles, we gingerly step into the kayaks, splattering their interiors with dark mud in the process. With effort, we shove away from the shore. As if I’ve never experienced it before, the initial feeling of skimming above the water’s dark surface always catches me by surprise. It inspires an eerie sense of weightlessness and free movement, even if the only thing propelling me forward is the wind. On the water I can see many things mirrored- the sky, deep blue dappled with the orange clouds of coming sunset, and the sun itself, its watchful eye falling near the treetops. Below the surface, which ripples in the kayak’s wake like damaged glass, I can make out green life reaching upward like the arms of a drowning man and other plantlike things that I can’t name, coated with algae.
It was about a year ago now on Christmas Day when my sister and I received our kayaks. Bubbling with ecstasy to finally be able to explore the water we had eyed for so long, we suffered through a lengthy explanation on the life jackets and paddles. Despite the tenuous initial entrance into our kayaks, I was soon confident in my new kayaking abilities. When we grew tired of simply gliding around the pond and together decided to investigate the small island perched like a ship in the center of the water, it took a few tries to cozy up to the island’s edge. As I stood, my kayak wobbled nervously; nevertheless, I doubted that I would actually fall. At the time, I thought of falling at such a moment something that one would worry about but that would never actually happen. It did. My mom later apologized profusely for laughing as she did, almost doubled over on the home shore, but I hadn’t noticed her merriment at all.
When floating in silence on one summer day, I was alone near the far edge. On that side of the pond, the shore is not gradual but rather a steep bank and the massive trees lining the edge stretch out their bony fingers over me. That particular day, I was staring over the side of my kayak in solitary reflection when I saw something I’d never seen before and never had since: fish, about a foot long and dyed an oily black by the shadows, milling around in a huge cluster of at least fifty. Previously, I’d only seen one or two fish at a time, but they were there then. By the time I had dragged my sister over to see, they had vanished.
When the sun dips below the treetops and the evening glow fades into hazy shadow all at once, the lights at our house and our neighbors’ house flick on. As the water fades from bright reflection to murky shadow, my sister and I make for the shore, leaving the mysterious world of a small pond behind in the growing dusk, waiting for our return.