The Tale of the Wet Boat

Deep in the swamps of Louisiana on a forgotten strip of road stood an abandoned bootlegger's house. The back of the house had caved in with the weight of rain and humidity; weeds grew in the kitchen, racoons nested in the dining room and termites gorged themselves on the rest.

The house was built into a low hill, facing the swamp. Past the weeds and the willows, the smell of loamy earth and alligator nest mingling in the air, sat an old pier. Tied to it with a length of moldering rope was a boat.

It was a rowboat, about fifteen feet long, with three planks running across the middle for seats. Thick and sturdily made when it was new, the wood sat in the brackish water so long it had become more like peat. The oars, digested by the swamp to mere stumps, had floated away long ago. Each year the boat sank a little lower. Floods came, rain poured and still it managed just barely to stay afloat, the back end tilting lower into the stagnant brown waters, collecting silt and sand.

Then one afternoon the boat was dragged out of the swamp up the overgrown path towards a pick-up truck waiting on the bank. There it was hosed down, heaved onto the truck bed, secured with much rope and covered by a tarp of thick black plastic. At sunrise, the truck started up, the boat bumping wetly, heavily in the back as it headed for the highway.

That first day of traveling it rained, hard slanting sheets of it turning the pale highway gray. Some of the rain fell against the boat, melting into the brackish water on it's surface, to be sloughed off in the wind. The rest of the days, though, passed bright and clear. Each morning the water sweated from the boat had to be sloughed out of the back of the truck and left a puddle in a motel parking lot.

Five days after it started, the truck turned off the main highway. Everything loomed either very tall or lay very flat; pillars of stone shot straight out of the earth, between valleys of hard, parched ground. The truck wound around the highways for miles, took a turn off onto to a narrower highway, gravel rather than pavement, that took it away from the pillars, further into flatness. The truck pulled off around sunset and stopped for the night but at dawn headed straight into the desert, following no road at all.

About mid-morning, when the truck had gone far enough that the horizon lay flat and undisturbed in all directions, it came to a stop. The tarp was removed, and the boat dragged and pulled off the truck.

Much activity ensued. Metal stakes were drilled into the hard ground. Pulleys were threaded and set in place. New skeins of rope came out of their plastic bags and were laid out in neat circles for use. As the afternoon passed, the boat was slowly hoisted twenty feet above the ground. It was tied to the stakes with a complicated series of knots, the bottom facing up, the seats a hair's breath from peeling out of the boat altogether in their soggy state. The tarp was tied in a rectangle four feet above the boat on its own set of stakes, and being somewhat larger than the boat, served to shade it from the sun.

By the evening the boat and the tarp were completely secured. The wind was blowing softly, steadily, into the sail of the tarp above the boat, and low spirals of dust whirled below its damp solidity. Tools were returned to the toolbox, the leftover rope wound up again and after a little while, the door slammed and the truck drove away into the fading light of the horizon.

The boat dripped, that first day, secreting a small flood onto the parched earth below. The next day it continued more lightly and then on the third day, the water was absorbed so quickly into the arid emptiness around it that it didn't even make it to the ground.

Weeks came and went. The boat stiffened in the cold of the night, relaxed in the heat radiating from all directions in the day. Everyday a little more moisture was leached out, a long, invisible exhalation of molecules, like crowds emerging from a subway station. The thin layer of mold that had accumulated on the bottom of the boat, like the velvet of antlers, was pried off in strips by the wind. The wood began to lighten the merest bit on the outside as it dried, turning a faint ash color, while the surface underneath remained dark: like otter fur, dry at the tips, dark, heavy, wet underneath. An alligator bite on the left side of the boat became visible.

Months passed. Then the rains came. For three solid days it poured. The tarp over the boat got the worst of it, but still the boat's exterior sprang to life, taking in the all the moisture it could hold. In areas where the desert wasn't so alkaline, the cactus bloomed, and the scent of carpets of flowers in far away valleys sweep down over the boat. Where the boat was, however, the rain mixing with the parched earth only produced a mud slick as oil.

After the storm, the desert quickly reasserted itself. The moisture from the rains was extracted back out of the boat's rough sides, although the wood tried to hold fast, parting with the water only reluctantly. Soon enough the ground under the boat grew lines and then it cracked.

More months have passed. The boat has no visitors; not even lizards or beetles, no desert mice or foxes, although it's true every once in a while the shadow of some predatory bird blown off course passes over. Every day is pretty much the same day now. The sun scorches and bakes what it can then disappears into a lagoon of darkness, so deep and enveloping it seems it will never make it back out again.

The tarp is a good one, and holding fast, but still there are signs of wear. It has grown lighter with the bleaching of the sun and the dust that clings to it. The boat has lightened both in color and weight considerably, and if you rapped the side of it with your knuckles it would sound different, no longer so dull and low as it did when it first came out of the swamp.

As it gets drier, the dampness passing from one tiny fiber of wood to the next so it can reach the parched air, is from the center of the wood. The boat will be fully ash-colored someday, but even then it could still be wet. Deep in the core of it, the swamp water will still be there.

But then one day, even that too will be gone. As the boat stands in the dust and air, the only sound the tarp shifting in the currents of the wind, it will be different: no longer home, no longer wet, no longer even a boat at all.

About the author:

Gilmore Tamny's turn-ons include moss, courteous driving, bon-bons and travel. Her turns-offs include people who cannot tolerate weakness, blue cheese and panty hose. She has written a book of poems called The Small Time Smirker(or, In Nevada I Was Rabbity) and FLUFFY CLOUDS.