George Goes Along

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A Short Story Finalist in the Texas Writer’s Quarterly

My husband George always loved the idea of trying something new.  When we went to Cayman, he parasailed, went snorkeling, and actually swam with sting rays.  “See? The guide took pictures of me holding a sting ray in my arms!” He crowed.  All I could see were his puny little arms covered in gray hair and a smile on his face that could light up a small city.

I, on the other hand, waited sedately on the shore, watched from afar, and enjoyed the latest romance novel.  I did try a new rum punch they offered and was very proud of that feat.

“Hey Junie, why don’t we go white water rafting?” He asked me one morning over our non-caffeinated coffee and sugar free creamer.

I looked up from my paperback, still dog eared from the night before and said, “George, listen, this bucket list of yours is getting ridiculously long.”

He scratched his scraggly gray beard and smiled at me.  I saw it then, that young man who had worked all of his life in the maintenance department picking up after other people.  He deserved this time.

I patted his hand gently, “Honey, if you really want to go, I’ll go with you.  But you know I’ll wait on the shore at the end of the ride.”

That’s how we ended up on the water.  He had talked me into going.  He had talked me into packing.  He had even made me promise to go with him in the canoe.  I always kept my promises to him including a corny one that went “For better or for worse”.

The young guide, Ben something or another, was surprised to see us there waiting to take the trip down the river.  “Well hi there!” He welcomed us with a lopsided grin.  “Are you ready for a great adventure?”

Before I had a chance to back out we were suited up and in the canoe.  He saw my trembling hands holding on to a velvet pouch with white old lady knuckles.  He said calmly, “Relax, this is going to be fun.”  And I had to believe him after all I was already in the canoe.

Slowly we pushed away from the shore.  The water was cold and frothy and that worried me.  I tightened the strap of my life jacket and hoped it would live up to its given name if the time came.

Ben paddled slowly down the river talking about the mountains that surrounded us and the animals we saw from time to time.

I looked back at him and noticed his longish, brown hair.  ‘This kid must be younger than my grandson!’ I thought.  “How did you learn so much about this river?” I asked and wished I had checked his canoe license.

“I was raised not far from here and went rafting every week with my dad,” Ben answered and tried to smile reassuringly.  It failed.  He still looked like my grandson who could barely drive and was graduating next year.

That’s when the white water slammed into us.  The canoe tipped from side to side and threatened to throw us both out.   We hit a particular rough bit and George flew into the water.

“George!”  I screamed and reached out of the canoe to catch him.

Ben grabbed my arm and held me back.  “No ma’am!  Let me get further down and get the canoe stopped.  Then I can get George, ok?”

He seemed so calm!  I hated him!  And I was so mad at George I could have spit!  But when Ben put George into my hands, the velvet bag that held him was wet and squishy.

I held the bag for a minute and thought, ‘This is what George would have wanted.’  I emptied the bag into the water and watched George swim joyfully away in a bright silver ribbon.

Ben touched my arm and asked, “Are you ok ma’am?”

I nodded and smiled, “My name is June son.  Are we going to see any more white water?”

“Lots,” he answered.

I sighed, “Then let’s get going, I have a good book waiting for me.”

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