Walking On Water

by Ann C. Averill

My first memory is of a rented cottage on a skinny point jutting into the confluence of the Housatonic River and Long Island Sound. I’m afraid of the snails that pock the beach in front of the gray shingled shack, so when we swim, Daddy carries me into the water. When we sail, we need a dinghy to get to the sailboat moored on the riverside of the point.

One day we’re sailing to a picnic island, but there’s no wind. Our sails luff as we bob over glassy swells. Wearing my red polka dot sunsuit, I’m leashed to the mast, so I can’t fall overboard. I’m hot and starving by the time a fog descends. Then suddenly there it is, a narrow spit of sand rising to a crown of stunted pine.

Daddy lifts me out of the boat, and before my little sneakers hit the ground, I inform him, “This is where the leprechauns live.”

I’ve heard the stories. An emerald isle covered in mist, surely there are men less than half my height just out of sight.

While Mommy unpacks the red metal Coke cooler, Daddy and I comb the sands for teensy footprints. I climb over driftwood hoping to surprise a miniature man in knickers and a waistcoat. We turn towards the tiny forest. I lead. Daddy follows.

“Time to eat.” Mommy’s voice pierces the magic.

But how can I turn back when so close to their secret kingdom?

I admit, potato chips are all it takes to lure me back to our army blanket.

When lunch is over, Daddy folds his tide tables. “Quick, gotta go.”

Mommy packs.

But I dawdle, my ears perked, my eyes wide, for any sign of wee men.

The slight breeze grants me a lingering search of the shoreline before releasing our vessel from the island’s grip.

It’s low tide when Daddy secures the sailboat to the mooring.

The skim of brackish water is too shallow to float the dinghy to shore, so Mommy holds my hand as we slog through stinky black mud up to my thighs. How many sucking steps before we get to solid ground? Daddy tugs the little boat through the muck while Mommy strips off my soiled sunsuit and turns on the outside shower. Staring at my feet, shivering in the frigid water, I realize my sneakers are lost in the mire.

Mommy puts me into pajamas and readies my cot in the living room. Time only for cereal and a bedtime story. Through the window, the sun slips below the horizon. Waves crash on the snail-speckled beach. Windchimes tinkle, and I think, if only.

If only I hadn’t turned back for potato chips, surely, I would’ve found my leprechaun, and if only my parents hadn’t tied me to the boat, I could’ve walked on water all the way home.

In the wake of that long-ago voyage, I see my child’s heart already on the hunt for the divine.

Ann Averill is the author of the e-book, BROKEN, 180 DAYS IN THE WILDERNESS OF AN URBAN MIDDLE SCHOOL, based on a true story. This piece is an excerpt from her upcoming memoir, BREADCRUMBS, A BABY BOOMER’S PATH TO JESUS.

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