Prompt: The Road Less Traveled
Pinpoint a moment in your past where you had to make a big decision. Write about that other alternate life that could have unfolded.
If only they hadn’t gone on that ridiculous houseboat vacation. Colin had been so excited, so enthused, even though he knew nothing about boating or boats or rivers or mechanics or the dynamics of spending days and days and days in the company of one person who may or may not drive you crazy.
The cramped sleeping quarters, alleged plumbing (toilet and shower), and alleged kitchen were below decks, with living space, bridge and lounging deck above. To move between decks you had to use an outside ladder at the bow of the boat It was a squat, dwarfish vessel.
The houseboat was made of wood, because wood was cheaper to rent, and this was before Colin got tenure. He preferred the look of the wooden houseboats anyway. He actually longed for the straight angles, the creaking boards, and yes, the peeling paint of a traditional wooden houseboat. Insurance was more expensive, but Colin ignored that. They were going on a romantic Colin- wish-fulfillment dream, not an actual holiday with two people participating.
Because of staff upheavals at the university, Catherine had barely seen this man for the past year, this awkwardly tall, often tactless, but bright and funny man who was oafishly in love with his wife. So she convinced herself that they needed this time together, wherever it was, even a houseboat in France. Maybe not.
The houseboat might have provided the romantic getaway Colin feverishly imagined, if it hadn’t rained so much. Colin had pictured himself on the outside bridge, feet up, steering intuitively down pristine river banks, perhaps spotting deer or other game. But it had rained, almost without stopping. The interior of the houseboat was not built for someone of Colin’s stature. In the brochure this was even mentioned: “NOT recommended for those of above average height.” So indoors, Colin stooped along, optimistic at first and laughing at the novelty of living in a dollhouse, then a slow furrow developed between his eyebrows as the rain continued. Day after day.
The river rose, flooded banks. A sodden mist shrouded the shoreline. Their hot water inexplicably stopped flowing, so it was difficult to keep themselves and their clothing clean. Impossible really. There was no clothes dryer, and the underwear and t-shirts tossed onto sagging lines strung across the upper deck quarters stayed soggy in the humid air. It was warm, and the houseboat took on the dense, damp smell of mold and rot.
So there was not much fresh air or communing with nature, no healthy glow from the sun. There was the sharing of cramped quarters, with the rain pounding endlessly on the roof of the houseboat, the skies grey, the mist spreading.
They made fewer attempts at baby-making than they had intended. It was sticky and uncomfortable and not conducive to passion, despite their efforts. There was no hot shower before or afterwards, or even a brisk cold one, since the water stayed at a permanent tepid temperature.
Catherine awoke on a drizzly Saturday morning, pretty certain they were lost. There was no concrete evidence, nothing that would hold up in a court of law, but the river banks seemed nearer, the passage narrower, the pace slower. Colin had risen early to get a good start on the day, hoping no doubt to sail out of this dismal rain and into the sun again. They had originally planned on avoiding “civilization” —the picturesque towns that dotted the shoreline of the main cruise routes, but now they would hungrily welcome the diversion of a cool, dry cafe; even a decadent night spent in a cool, dry hotel room.
Perhaps Colin had consulted the map and was now competently directing them to a perfect community in the sunshine. Catherine’s bones told her otherwise.
It was late morning when the Miss Misty ran aground, with a painful roar and the sound of steel bending, although Catherine was sure there was nothing of steel in the craft at all, save the front of the tiny stove. Had that bent?
She was thrown off her feet, and while on all fours shouted, “Colin! Are you there? Are you all right?” She could hear him thumping around on the deck above her. Never graceful at the best of times, there was however an unusual speed to his movements. She got to her feet, climbed up the ladder and flung open the door. “Um, abandon ship,” he said with a shy smile.
To be continued.