Eskimo Roll

kayaking

As the sky grew dark and the water fell we floated down to an eddy beside a gravel beach overhung with cypress and willow trees. A handful of kids had gathered to wade and watch us play the rapid.

“Do any of you guys live here?” I asked, pointing at a small green house set on the creek bank.

“I do,” a boy said. He was about ten, with zig-zag lines razored into the hair above his ears and a pair of high top basketball shoes strung around his neck by the laces.

“Okay if we carry our boats through your yard?”

“Drive your truck through it. I don’t care,” he said. The boy stirred the water with a stick for a minute, then gave me a sideways look. “Do one of them upside-down things you do.”

“An Eskimo roll? We only do that for beer.”

“Wait a minute,” the kid said. Before I could call him back he ran up to the house.

Sarah paddled across the creek to look at the roots of a cypress tree that stuck out of the water like bony knees.

The kid came back with a can of Milwaukee’s Best and tossed it to me. Sarah paddled back over.

“Whose is this?” I asked.

“My brother’s.”

I tossed the can back to the boy. “Put it back. I don’t want you getting in trouble.”

I pushed my kayak into the current, but the boy called out for me to wait.

“We want the lady to do it,” he said.

Sarah looked at me and shrugged her shoulders.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Name’s Antonio.”

“Why me?”

Antonio looked at the guy standing beside him, who looked at the gravel and sand at his feet. Antonio held out the can of beer for Sarah.

“Keep it,” she said. Sarah took a breath and turned her kayak over, then came up a second later with a sweep of her paddle. Water poured out of her helmet. She wiped hair and water out of her eyes and away from her mouth, took off the nose clips and spat.

Antonio poked one of his buddies with the stick. The other kids giggled, pushed each other and laughed. Two boys wrestled to the ground and rolled on top of each other.

Sarah unbuckled her helmet and shook her hair.

“How was that?” she asked.

“Real good,” Antonio said. He pulled the tab on the beer and took a short sip, licked his lips and took a longer one. Then he passed the can to another boy.

The boys carried our boats to the truck. After we loaded, Sarah and I sat on the hood and watched the last of the sun spackle the clouds orange and purple. Antonio brought another can of beer, tucked into the waist of his cut-offs and covered by the tail of his shirt.

“I keep my word, Boatlady,” he said. He handed the can to Sarah and ran off into the dusk.

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