Give me of your bark, O Birch-tree!
Of your yellow bark, O Birch-tree!
Growing by the rushing river,
Tall and stately in the valley!
I, a light canoe will build me,
Build a swift Cheemaun for sailing,
That shall float on the river,
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily.
Margaret finally woke up in the back seat of the SUV and immediately realized that the truck wasn’t moving any longer.
She slowly raised herself up and peered out the Durango’s back window to her left.
She rubbed her weary eyes and eventually spotted her husband standing inside the doorway of a huge wooden building not very far away. He was talking to a blond woman inside the doorway.
Marge glanced up towards the building’s roof and spotted a brightly colored, freshly painted sign swinging in the breeze – ‘Welcome to Voyageur National Park Houseboat Rentals.’
My God, how long have I been asleep? We’re here already.
She then looked around and spotted the rental company’s brochure lying in the SUV’s front passenger seat. She picked it up and absentmindedly began thumbing through its numerous colorful pages.
After several minutes, Margaret finally looked out the vehicle’s back window to her right. She discovered that they were parked next to a rather swift running river.
She glanced out the back window again and couldn’t believe her eyes. There were dozens of houseboats idly sitting there on the water, securely tied to long wooden piers, gently bobbing up and down with the ebb and flow of the river current.
Margaret excitedly got out of the truck, the houseboat brochure still in her hand. The nearest houseboat to her was gigantic. It looked like a luxurious miniature cruise ship.
She put Big Mack’s leash on the little dog and began walking towards the huge boat in front of her.
As she got closer, she noticed several men and women busily loading gear onto the large vessel. She was finally starting to get a little enthused about this wilderness trip.
She was now standing in front of the ‘Deluxe, VIP, 65 Foot Houseboat.’
According to the illustrated brochure, this boat accommodated 12-14 people. She eagerly read its numerous amenities to herself:
It has five, yes five, private staterooms, satellite TV, a wet bar, an upper level penthouse, a huge lavish dining room, a full Jacuzzi hot tub, and three, yes three, full, modern, elegant bathrooms!
This trip might not be so bad after all!
As Margaret happily gazed upward at the huge boat again, she spotted a young couple on the upper deck. They were merrily cavorting in a gigantic hot tub. It appeared they were laughing, talking, sunning themselves, and drinking. They each had some sort of fancy cocktail in their suntan-lotioned hands.
Wow, this is going to be wonderful after all! What was I so worried about?
Then Margaret panicked for a second as she remembered the little Chihuahua patiently sitting at her feet.
My God, what if they don’t allow dogs on this cruise? I wonder if Tom told them we have a damn dog?
She gazed down at Big Mack and immediately noticed the little dog was also happily staring up at the highest deck of the huge boat. Its tiny, funny looking tail was also wagging furiously.
She peered up at the deck again and finally spotted what her little dog was so excited about.
A big beautiful Golden Retriever was also happily lying up there on that spacious upper deck. Like its two happy young owners, it was also pleasantly sunning itself right next to the gigantic hot tub.
This trip is going to be absolutely, totally, fantastic! I think Big Mack and I are both in love now!
When Tom finally walked out of the manager’s office, Margaret rushed up to him, kissed him tenderly on his mouth, hugged him tightly around his waist, and lovingly cooed, “I’ve got to hand it to you, honey! This just might be the best trip we’ve ever taken!”
“Well, I’m glad to see you’re in a much better mood than you were this morning, Margie girl. You were mighty ticked off. Come on then, Sailor! Let’s get back in the truck and get our wilderness adventure started!”
“Huh? Why do you want to get back in the truck, Tom? Aren’t we going to unload all of this stuff?”
“Of course we are, Margie. Why do you think I brought all this gear? But why in the world do you want to unload it way down here? Why should we lug all this heavy equipment when we don’t have to? We can drive right up to our houseboat and unload it. Come on!”
“What do you mean? Isn’t this our boat right here?”
Tom glanced up at the huge houseboat Marge was pointing at and laughed hysterically.
“No, silly! That’s the VIP party boat. That thing costs thousands of dollars to rent. And, for the life of me, I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would want to go cruising around these beautiful waters in that big old barge anyway.
“Get in the truck and I’ll show you our boat, sweetie!”
Marge’s renewed happiness and sudden joyful mood soon began shrinking just a little bit more, each and every time their SUV passed by the next smaller size houseboat along the river’s edge.
And, her husband just kept slowly driving along.
With brochure in hand, Margaret began mentally ticking off the boats as they unbelievably kept passing them by.
There goes the VIP 54 footer, the Royalty 50 footer, the VIP 44 footer, the Regal 44 footer, and the Standard 42 footer.
My God, the only thing left in this damn brochure now is the Honeymoon Special!
When they finally pulled up in front of the small 36-foot craft, Tom stopped the truck, shut off the engine, and beamed at her.
“There’s our little boat, Margie! Isn’t she a beauty?”
Marge quickly scrambled out of the truck to get a better look. And she could not believe her eyes. This measly little thing was their houseboat? This puny, old, yellow speck on the water was their home for the next seven days?
To poor Marge, standing there by that river in complete shock and disappointment, the small yellow 36-foot Honeymoon Special looked like those tiny old birch-bark canoes Tom had shown her in the park brochure.
In fact, it looked exactly like two old yellow birch-bark canoes that someone had quickly strapped together, and haphazardly slapped a tiny roof over.
“You’ve got to be kidding me, Tom! This is a joke, right? We’re really going out on that big boat, right? Come on. Quit teasing me already!”
“Huh? What do you mean? I’m not teasing you, Margie girl. Just what in the world is wrong with this beautiful old houseboat? It looks awfully good to me. Come on! Let’s look her over!”
As her husband and his little dog excitedly raced down the pier and jumped on board the tiny boat, Margaret stood silently by the truck as shock, bitterness, and deep anger quickly overcame her.
Jesus! For a god-damn minute back there, I actually thought I might enjoy this trip. How goofy am I? While that other couple on the VIP boat are drinking, romancing, and happily lounging around in their huge hot tub all week, I’m going to be stuck on this puny old thing?
After several more minutes, she slowly and disgustedly started walking towards her tiny new home for the next seven long, miserable days and nights.
She also impatiently dug around in her purse as she trudged on.
Damn it! Where the hell did I put those aspirins?
©2004, an excerpt from Cemetery Island, by Ed Kostro, now available in the AD Bookstore.