Debbie Ann Ice

We had seen the boats tied with frayed twine to a rusted trailer. We already knew they were coming. Mrs. Manley had called everyone the previous week to warn about her retarded boys' birthday present. We were happy the boys had made it to fourteen without any major incidents given their mental capabilities, so we tried to put away our concerns about their new boats.

"Give those boys breathing room," our mamas said. "I don't want to hear anything about you cutting across their wake or any other such nonsense. Them boats is all they got, you give them space."

So on days we went crabbing, we hugged the muddy shores and let the boys by, occasionally cutting off our engine and drifting so we could take in their way of being—their blank faces, lethargic avocado-shaped bodies, left hand on the Evenrude, right on the side of the boat. Big ole faces staring straight ahead. They looked like their little journey went some place important, not just down a lazy, amber river.

It was the same every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Jerome would walk to the dock with Leonard, his mama trailing behind like a lost dog. Jerome—a bit thinner and more active than Leonard but still the same—would get into one boat, grab the cord and yank until the engine started, then he'd do the same in the other boat. Leonard waited like a small child at a candy store while Jerome methodically untied the ropes from the cleats. After helping Leonard into his boat, Jerome would get into his and they puttered down the creek, turned around, and puttered back where they would stop, turn and do it all over again. All day long. They never bothered to gaze out at the marsh grass that bowed to them on windy days, or wave at all of us loitering about on docks, or even turn their heads in the direction of the occasional passersby. They simply drove the two boats side by side down Grimbal River, then back again. We didn't know what they did on Tuesday or the weekend.

The putter of bateaus up and down the creek became a part of our island, no different from the caw of the crow, the trickle of porpoise fin splitting the water, tap of marsh grass on balmy days. We didn't ask any questions, even though our parents asked many. We had lived in the mud, water and trees long enough to understand not to question the sustenance of certain lives.

We were crabbing, a few of us swimming, when one of our daddies, Mr. Hardee, came running out, yelling and cussing, telling us to pull up the crab baskets.

"The Manley boy, Leonard, lost his motor. It popped off the back of the boat and he jumped in after it," Mr. Hardee said. "Frank Henley says he jumped right on top of it while the damn thing was still going strong. You close your eyes if you see something bad, you hear me?"

Once near the motorless boat, Mr. Hardee cut the engine, leaving us with the sound of wind rushing through marsh grass and distant sibilations of the crowd now gathered on the Henley dock. We ignored Mr. Hardee's warnings and jumped into the water as he paddled up alongside the bateau. We looked at the water, hoping we would not see a hand, leg, or even a head. There was nothing but amber water.

"You turn your head if you see anything, you hear me?" Mr. Hardee said, then jumped in with us.

Mr. Hardee dove under leaving bubbles popping up in his place. When he finally came up, gulping air, he yelled for us to get into the boat.

"Goddamnit.   Get your asses in the boat and stop looking.   Why the hell would this boy grab hold of an engine?   Why the hell would a boy do this?"

We knew why Leonard grabbed that engine. But we didn't answer Mr. Hardee; we got into the boat, like he ordered us to. Mr. Hardee could be mean when he got to cussing.

In the distance we heard Jerome's engine as he continued down the river, straight ahead, as if his brother was right there by his side, not at the bottom of the creek, holding onto his motor. The sound faded to a distant buzz. Mr. Hardee came back up, pulling at something with one hand, yelling at the dock for more help.

"Shut your eyes," he said. "I said shut your Goddamn eyes!"

We leaned over the edge of our boat, our eyes squeezed together. We could still make out Jerome's engine, tiny now, like a lone honeybee.

A crow cawed. The marsh grass tapped. Beneath the lids of our still-closed eyes, dark colors mixed and swirled.

Debbie Ann Ice lives in Connecticut. Her work has appeared in several publications, most recently Fence.

To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200905honeybee.htm

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of prefers salt marsh.

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