We went out in a rowboat Uncle Joe had rented for us at Valen’s Conservation Area. The manmade lake was small, but a stiffish breeze raised concern with some of our parents, though not enough to quash the outing. Leading the way, cousin Maria, the oldest, took one of the oars. Lanky Laura Broccoli, her best friend, took the other oar. I sat behind them with my sister Gee and little cousin Vincent. Everyone mocked me for not taking an oar, as I was the biggest, but I complained about my sunburned shoulders. Our parents calmly watched us shove off. We were all good swimmers. And the boat had a lifejacket in case of emergency. This was back in the 1970s when folks still smoked on airplanes and most women wore girdles. Maria and Laura rowed us about halfway across the little lake. That’s when the trouble started. That testy breeze had turned into a gale. Actual waves whitened the water and knocked us around. Usually steady and tough, Maria began to panic. Then Laura freaked out and tossed her oar into the water. What have you done? Cried cousin Maria. What have you done?All eyes and teeth, Laura screeched like a madwoman. Gee and Vincent huddled in fear. I looked ashore to see if our parents were pulling out their hair or wailing with concern for us — but they were oblivious. I admit I was afraid — so afraid I grabbed the only lifejacket on the boat and slipped it on. When my sister told me to remove it, I motioned a slap at her. I wore the lifejacket until the windstorm abated and Maria somehow managed to paddle us back to shore. My sister cold-shouldered me for days, but eventually, let it go. To this day, at family gatherings, she and my cousin Maria still mock me about the incident. When I see Vincent he smiles at me with an edge and I know it’s because of that boat ride. And whenever I bump into Laura Broccoli, she needles me mercilessly about the lifejacket. We were probably never in any real danger, but I’ve always hated myself a little for that day, and all of those good folks will make sure I always do.
Sal Difalco lives in Toronto Canada. Recent work appears in Brilliant Flash Fiction, Right Hand Pointing, and Cafe Irreal.
Photo by Angela Difalco