Saturday, 7 September 2013

The River Boat part 3



"Your mothers room, her clothes haven't been disturbed for a
while."
"How do you dare invade our home!” Ray got up and knocked his chair on the floor in anger. “Maybe I should feed you to the fish after all!", he threatened angrily.
"Please I'm not that kind of social worker, I work to keep
mothers and children together, not to separate them. If you would just tell me where your mother is, maybe I can help you."
"Lady you can't help us, Our dad came and took her away four
months ago, we haven't seen her since. I guess she doesn't care about us either!" Ray said vehemently.
"How did he take her away? She didn't go willingly did she?"
Clare asked.
"No she didn't, he was drunk, he came in with a bottle in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other. He was making all kinds of promises to her but she just kept shaking her head and saying 'no.' They had a fight, then he beat her up and carried her over his shoulder towards the highway. That's the last we seen of either of them."
"I don't think your mother left because she didn't love you and I think she didn't come back because she was unable to. Look if you let me go I'll do every thing I can to keep all three of you together. I can get a court order to keep you under my roof until they can find some one that will take all three of you," Clare pleaded.
"Look, lady, maybe you mean what you say but we have no
guarantee that the system will go along with you and we'll do anything to stay together. I'm sorry lady but you are taking a trip to Canada with us."
"What? Did you really mean that about Canada?" Sandy asked.
"Yes I did and we're leaving tonight before we get some more
social workers or worse, cops, come to pay us a visit. We're going to find Uncle Sal in Ontario."
"But you're not even sure where he lives," Sandy pointed
out.
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"We'll find him," he said walking to a trap door at the
center of the kitchen floor. Ray lifted the trap door and
disappeared below deck.

"Were really going to Canada!" Sandy said excitedly to Natty
who was slapping her hands in here plate and letting out little yelps of excitement.
Ray turned on the flashlight and went to the engine compartment. A few years ago, when things had been better, their dad had installed a 440 V8 Ford engine to power the old paddle wheel river boat.
On one of those happier occasions their dad had taken them on trips on the old paddle wheeler. Their Uncle Sal with the rust-colored beard had been with them on one of those trips. Uncle Sal reminded Ray of a pirate. He was a writer and could tell some really good whoppers. He was jolly and enjoyed playing games with them. Before he had left he had told them to come to Canada if they ran into any problems. He said that he would be more then happy to have them come to visit.
All that Ray could recall about where their uncle lived was that it was a place near an Indian Reservation called Cape Croaker. It was on a part of a big lake called the Georgian Bay.
The engine looked rusty and unused. Ray prayed that it would start. He had tried to start it the previous week but the battery was dead. He had the battery on charge for the last couple of days. If the battery was any good it should be fully charged by now he thought. He connected the cables and pushed the starter button. Nothing happened. He pushed the button again and the motor made a moaning sound then died. The cylinders must have went dry of oil from sitting unused, he thought.
Ray took the cover off the motor and poured gasoline on
the top of the engine hoping that it would lubricate it enough it up a bit. He replaced the cover and poured a liberal amount of gas in the carburettor as well. Then he pushed the starter button. The motor turned-over once, then flames shot out of the carburettor three feet long. This was followed by such a roar that the concussion knocked him backwards into the bilge water at the bottom of the hull.
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The motor was revving so high he thought that it would melt down to a blob of molten metal. Suddenly it idled down to a smooth rhythm. Ray got to his feet and jumped up and down yelling “Yes!" At least their old man had left them some thing that worked.
Ray had been squirreling away gas and oil for several months, even before their mom had disappeared, in the event that it would come to something like this. He wished it had been sooner and preferably with their mother. He hoped there
would be enough fuel to get to Canada, or as close as the river boat would allow them to get to this lake called Georgian Bay.
Above deck Ray, with Sandy's help, untied the mooring ropes and pulled in the ramp. In the kitchen Ray lifted a panel that had served as a counter, revealing a control panel and wheel behind it. the control panel consisted of a throttle lever and a big red kill button to shut off the motor. Next to the red button was a smaller blue button for the starter. Ray revved the motor and the ancient river boat creaked and groaned, moving away from the shore grudgingly.
Suddenly there was a jerk and the river boat stopped its forward progress.
"What's wrong?", Sandy asked.
"I don't know, did we get all the mooring ropes?"
"I'm sure we did,” Sandy answered.
"We must be snagged on some thing on the bottom." Ray gave
it full throttle. There was a loud snap and the lights went out. This was followed by a whining, then there was the sound of smashing glass and the whole cabin shuddered. The river boat lurched forward knocking Ray off his feet. Sandy had managed to stay on her feet and reached over and pulled the throttle down, stopping within a few feet of the opposite shore. Ray was red faced, he now knew what the problem had been.
"I think I forgot to cut the power line," he informed Sandy.
The power line had snapped off at the utility pole and had
whiplashed back through a side window leaving a deep gouge in the wall just above Clare's head.
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Clare had fainted dead away when she realized how close she had come to being decapitated.
"Sandy, take 'er straight down the channel half throttle. I'm going to go down to switch the power over to the generator." A few minutes later the power was back on and Ray came up and closed the trap door. Clearing a spot on the table he set down some road maps he had collected from various gas stations in the past months.
"We're lucky that most road maps also show the waterways,"
Ray informed Sandy.
"What are we going to do with her? We can't keep her tied up
all the way to Canada," Sandy indicated to the slumped form of Clare.
"I don't know. Maybe we can leave her tied up some place
where some one will find her after we are long gone." Ray
suggested.
"What if no one finds her?," Sandy asked worriedly.
"Good point, we don't need a murder rap on us. There would
be cops looking for us everywhere then. We'll keep her with us for the time being until we think of some thing," Ray decided.
"How long do you think before they find her missing?." Sandy
asked.
"Probably not for a couple of days. Tomorrow, at her office,
they'll probably just dismiss it as her staying home because she isn't feeling well or some thing," Ray speculated.
"What if they try calling her at home?," Sandy asked.
I think were going to have to make a stop. Ms. Social worker has to make a phone call," Ray announced.
Clare was dreaming that she was again in the home of the drunken father with the Coke bottle. He had raised the Coke bottle to strike her across the face.
She woke up screaming. Some one was shaking her. She tried to fight back but her arms were tied to her side.
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A voice was yelling, "Ms. Social worker please come out of what ever it is you're in. It's just us, me, Sandy, and Natty. Remember?"
Clare had struggled so violently that the ropes worked loose. She settled down but she was far from feeling relieved. She worried that if the kids didn't kill her out- right they would do it indirectly by blowing up the boat with her in it.
Ray spoke to her. "Ms. Social worker this is the deal, you're going to make a phone call to your boss and tell them that you won't be making it into work for a few days, that you don't feel good. Either that or we leave you tied up in the middle of the woods somewhere. Maybe some one will find you and maybe they won't and if you're really lucky, maybe a hungry bear will eat you before you starve to death. Which way do you want it?"
"My name is Clare and you can forget the social worker part,
I've just resigned. What would you say if I told you I'm going to go along with your little scheme and I'll help you find your uncle," Clare offered.
"I'd say your full of it." Ray replied.
"OK then, take me to the phone and I'll prove it to you.
My offer still holds, I will do every thing to keep you under my roof if we can't find your uncle."
The boat made slow headway against the current of the river. It was just a few miles up the river when darkness fell and Ray tied-up for the night to a piling near a public boat launch.
At first light Ray scouted the area and found a telephone booth at the side of the road leading to the boat launch.
Ray blindfolded Clare and and walked her through knee-deep water, up the boar launch ramp, to the roadside phone booth with one hand on her arm and the other pointing the stick at her ribs. When they got to the booth he took the blind fold off and told her to keep looking straight ahead at the phone. Clare dialed the number to her supervisor.
Hello! "Hello this is Clare Lacombe, I'm calling to tell
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you that effective immediately I am resigning my position and you can mail my severance pay, holiday pay and pension plan proceeds too my home address.” There was a pause, then she said, “That's right I won't be back in to work. I'm going away on a long-deserved holiday. Thank you for every thing but I should have done this long ago."
"But Ms. Lacombe, what has brought all this on," the supervisor inquired.
"Let's say I don't care for being part of separating
children from one another and I have no desire for being beat up by drunken husbands any more. I've been offered a position with an adoption agency with far better pay and this organization works at keeping children together."
"If that is your wish you are as of now terminated and we
will forward every thing as you requested to your home address." (click.) Clare stared at the phone thinking, “Just like that.”
"I guess I just discovered that you are just a number," she
informed Ray, then said, “You can put the stick away. You won't need it any more.” She turned to look at Ray's surprised face.
"You would be wise to close your mouth there are a lot of
flies out here. If you were wondering how I knew, I saw the reflection of the stick in the glass sides of the phone booth. If you are ready, I believe we have one hell of an adventure ahead of us. Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of going on an adventure. I guess you are providing me with that opportunity, maybe the last one in my lifetime. You're going to need an adult to pose as a custodian or you'll draw attention at the ports if they see three children traveling alone. I just hope you don't blow up the boat before we get there." Clare concluded.
"Sandy meet our new crew member," Ray pointed to Clare
with his right hand.
"Are you sure? She could turn us in as soon as we have our
backs turned, I don't trust her. A social worker is always a
social worker" Sandy asserted.
"Sandy I vote we give her a chance, she's right you know,
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It would look suspicious just the three of us traveling without adult supervision."
"Sandy, I know you have all the reasons to not trust me.
You're both right, for the last ten years I have seen children separated from each other, which is some thing I've always been at odds about with the system. I have also seen children repeatedly beaten to within an inch of their lives by drunken parents. Even though I don't agree with separation, in those cases I thought it was better than for these children to suffer or die at the hands of irres-ponsible and brutal parents. See this scar just under the hair line above my right ear? That was from a Coke bottle- wielding drunken father of two abused children. The mother had been beaten so severely that it was doubtful she would pull through the night. What would you do in a case like that? Leave the children in his charge? Suppose you three would have stayed where you were and your father would have come back in a raging drunken condition. What would you do? Ray and Sandy remained silent. As of now, to any one that comes snooping, you are in my custody and I am bringing you to your uncle in Alton, Illinois. Don't even mention Canada to any one. That will arouse suspicion."
"Are you on the level, lady? You are going to jeopardize your job to help us get to Canada," Sandy asked incredulously.
"My job is already history. I've had my fill with misery and
abuse to last me a life time. I should have quit long ago. I want to see the brighter side of life. I want to make sure you kids get there safely. At any rate I was telling the truth about having a good shot at working for an adoption agency when I get back. If you can't find your uncle you are welcome to come live with me if you wish to."
"Lady, we are going to find our uncle", Sandy said angrily,
pounding her fist on the helm. Ray was leaning in the door- way, staying out of the conversation. He was looking back down river the way they had come. “So long Morganza, Louisiana and as for you, (their father and mother) the hell with you both!”, he added vehemently and spat out the straw he had been chewing on. Tears began to roll down his cheeks.
He turned his back to the others and wiped at the tears
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then said, "You can take a break, Sandy, once we get into Natchez, Mississippi. We'll take 5-hour alternate shifts until we get a good distance between us and...." Ray left it unsaid but Sandy knew what he meant.
When Sandy came off her shift she went to Clare who was lying on the sofa in the living room. “If you really care about us I'm going to tell you something I've never told any one before. This all started six years ago, at first it was just drunken arguments when my dad was on weekend benders. Then it progressed to breaking furniture. It
just seemed to escalate overnight to beating mom after that.”
“Mother was not a drinker until the beatings started. Her drinking just made matters worse. She tried to fight back but our dad always won out. This kept on until someone had reported what was going on to the police. Our dad had been removed from the river boat forcefully by the police that night. He was issued a warrant not to come within a hundred yards of the river boat. A lot of good that did. It only made him more violent, Claiming that no one was going to keep him from the river boat, that it belonged to him and he could come and go as he pleased. He continued to beat mom until her pregnancy. During those nine months he seemed
to have enough sense to not beat her any more but what he couldn't do physically he made up verbally.”
“Once, when Natty was only six months old, he threw her against the wall because she was crying too much.
From then on we always hid Natty when ever he was around. Once Ray tried to protect mom, he got a broken arm for his effort. He threatened to kill Ray the next time he butted in. From then on we all hid in the woods until he
would tire of beating mom or run out of booze; then he would
leave.”
Sandy continued, “There was a long stretch where he didn't come around. Maybe he's in jail, we thought, and we would pray if that were so that they would keep him there till hell froze over.”
Then a new problem came up: Mom became a recluse, she wouldn't venture outside for fear that he would come out from behind some tree or bushes and kill her. She went into deep depressions and would cower in fear in a dark corner
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in her bed room all day while we were at school. She cried a lot and would rock her self to sleep in the same corner. We knew she needed help but if they took her away they would take us away, too. We did our best to look after her but she was lost in another world. A world that she would not let any one in.”
“Then he showed up drunk four months ago with flowers and promises. Our mother came out of her little world just long enough to tell him to go to hell, In response to this she got beat up till she was unconscious or dead I'm not sure which. He picked her up and slung her over his shoulder and left. That's the last we seen of them." Sandy covered her face with her hands and began to cry.
Clare sat up and held her in her arms. "Go ahead and cry sweetheart, it helps to cleanse the soul."
Natty climbed down from her crib and ventured forth for
another day's adventure. Entering the kitchen Natty stopped. The strange lady was standing behind the funny wheel that made the floor move. Natty sat in the doorway silently studying the lady.
Doc, noticing Natty in the doorway, yapped happily and ran to her. Jumping on her he licked her face vigorously, knocking her on her backside, setting her to giggling.
“I see some one is up on this boat,” Clare said. Natty crawled out of sight as fast as her legs and hands could move. “It's OK honey I won't hurt you,” Clare said sweetly.
Natty poked her little head around the door way. The lady
still stood behind the funny wheel. The lady just stood staring straight ahead. Natty ventured out tentatively a little farther into the kitchen. The lady didn't move.
She made her way warily to the refrigerator. Sitting down she grasped the bottom of the door firmly with both hands and pulled on it. The door swung open and, holding unto the door, she pulled herself up and walked around the door to the front of the fridge and looked inside. She
pulled an apple pie out and placed it on the floor.
After eating her fill she replaced the pie and closed the refrigerator door and toddled off to the living room.
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She climbed on the sofa where Doc joined her for a trampoline act. Throwing the two cushions on the floor she jumped on them and proceeded to wrestle with Doc, giggling loudly.
Tiring of this she toddled over to Ray and Sandy's room. It was occupied, “That's strange,” Natty thought, cocking her head to one side in contemplation. She knew that they
usually weren't home at this time of day but she was glad to see that she would have some one to play with now.She climbed on to Sandy's bed and jumped up and down yelling, “Gatap! Gatap! Gatap!”
Sandy threw a stuffed toy at Natty, and raised her head slightly and mumbled. A little later OK honey, I feel like I just closed my eyes." Her head dropped down to the pillow once more.
Natty picked up the stuffed toy and climbed down from Sandy's bed and made her way to Ray's bed where she beat on Ray's head with the stuffed toy yelling again, “Gatap! Gatap!” Ray groaned and rolled over. This only prompted Natty to beat him harder with the stuffed toy. The stuffed toy ripped open sending stuffing flying every where.
Ray choked and coughed on the stuffing and sat up rubbing his eyes. “OK, Sprite, I'm up now!” Ray got up and looked at
his watch. Hurriedly, still in a sleep induced daze, he got up and made his way toward the washroom which was just off from the kitchen. All that was on his mind was that he was late for school.
"Good morning Ray," Clare said smiling. Ray nearly melted
through the floor boards. He had not ever even let his mother see him in his under wear let alone a stranger and a woman at that.
Ray quickly disappeared through the living room door way, coming back a short time later fully clothed and his face two shades of red.
"I forgot we were, that is I forgot that, well, I, er."
"I know, you thought you were still in Morganza and forgot
about me. That's OK I've seen a few men's underwear in my time, with the men in them.”
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Changing subjects Clare said, “I think you'll be glad to know that we just went past Vicksburg Mississippi." "How old are you Ray?"
"I'm sixteen and Sandy is fifteen. Natty's in her twos. She's very smart for her age." Ray said proudly.
"Did you know she helps herself to the refrigerator and
then she puts stuff back in after," Clare informed him.
"Let's say we've suspected it for a while," Ray answered,
smiling.
“You look good with a smile, Clare informed him."
Ray cleared his throat and busied himself with the maps.
"Turn on the tunes Ray, let's make this a pleasant trip."
Clare suggested. Ray was beginning to like this lady.
Turning the radio on he found a rock station whose music he let blast as loud as the speakers could manage as he began pantomiming a rock star playing the air guitar. Clare behind the wheel swayed to the music while Natty jumped up and down in the middle of the kitchen floor yelling, “Ya! Ya! Ya!”
Sandy went into the washroom and nearly slammed the door off it's hinges.
"Come on Sandy loosen up it's a great day on the Mississippi
and were going home to Uncle Sal. What more could you ask for, no more drunken fights, no more sick mother. We won't have to do all of the grown up stuff any more."
The washroom door banged open and Sandy stamped over to the radio and threw it across the room, crashing into the wall.
"Don't ever say any thing like that about mom. It was that
creep of a father of ours that made her that way." Sandy slumped down to the floor letting her hair cover her face while she cried.
"Ray please take over the wheel," Clare asked. just as Clare
was leaving he turned to her and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't
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mean to hurt her but it was just too much in the end, feed-ing her, bathing her, clothing her, making sure all the bills were paid and intercepting phone calls for her. Just simply covering up every thing so no one would suspect. Some times I'd sit in bed wondering if it was all worth
it, then I'd hate myself for being so selfish."


"It's OK, it's all over now, look for the future," Clare sat beside Sandy and stroked her hair gently and talked softly to her. "It's OK honey, It's all over now. I know that was a rotten deal that you three were given but it's over. You can't dwell on the past, you have to look for the future. I've seen many children go through similar situ- ations as you have and come out winners in the end. You're a beautiful girl, you are just starting your life and you have the whole world at your feet to choose from. Don't throw it away, don't sour up to the world, please don't do that to yourself,” Clare crooned, rocking her in her arms. “You deserve more than that. Don't end up like your mother."
Immediately Clare wished she had bitten her tongue. Natty toddled to Sandy and put her two little arms around her neck saying, “Lav San, lav San.”
"Sandy pushed her hair back and embraced Natty saying, “I
love you, too, Sprite. Thanks Clare, I know what you meant, I don't want to end up like our mother. I just feel deep sorrow for her. Death would have been better than the life she lived for the last six years. I just hope you're right and this is going to be a turn-around for the better for us."
"You can't change the past, you and Ray both did all you
were capable of doing," Clare said, putting her hand on Sandy's shoulder. It was a beautiful morning. The rising sun reflected off the wavelets on the river like glittery diamonds. A few spring birds sang gaily from the budding trees on the shoreline.
Sandy busied herself preparing breakfast while Ray gathered
the pieces of the broken radio off the floor and set them on the table. The radio was an important item, it kept them tuned to the outside world and they needed to know more than ever what was going on out there. If he couldn't put it back together they would have to get another one some place, he thought.
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"What are you so deep in thought about?," Clare asked Ray.
"I was just wondering how long it would be before they
discover us missing, Ray responded. “It will probably be two or three days before the school board starts inquiring, after that it will depend on how long it takes the police to investigate and find the river boat missing, let's say another two days. Add to this another day or two before they issue out a missing persons report on us. We have about a week to get as far north as we can,” Ray informed her.
"You had this scheme down pretty pat, except the part with
me in it," Clare responded.
"And that turned out to be a bonus," Ray answered smiling.
Clare hesitated for a minute then smiled back saying,
“Indeed it is.”