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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Rowboat

Category: Short Story

The boat was definitely filling with water, and this worried Ken because it meant that he, having neglected to wear a life jacket, was probably going to die. Ken did not like life jackets because they gave him rashes and made his arms look small.

At least I haven’t got a rash, however, was not one of the things Ken was thinking as water gurgled playfully through the small crack in the bottom of the boat. Instead, he was thinking about his arms, which seemed larger than normal today, and about Melissa Compton, who was sitting across from him.

Over the past several months, Ken had become hopelessly infatuated with Melissa, whom he had first met at school as a result of his inability to properly conjugate the past tense of the French word for “swim.” The two had developed a pleasant if tentative friendship over the course of the school year as Ken had mysteriously become worse and worse at French. Finally, Ken had mustered the courage to try to casually invite Melissa to take the boat out with him on nearby Bear Lake, where his parents enjoyed dragging him on weekends while his friends destroyed things with explosives. He had failed entirely to be casual, mostly because people with bright red faces almost never have an easy air about them. Nonetheless, Melissa, who could see pretty well what was going on and found it overwhelmingly funny, had accepted the invitation without laughing at him. They had had a splendid afternoon dancing carefully around trivial conversation topics and eating a picnic lunch (during which Ken had leaned back on one elbow and looked off vaguely into the distance to show that he was eating only because he was hungry, and not because he had any interest whatsoever in sharing a romantic meal with an attractive girl). All had gone exceptionally well, Ken thought, until the boat had drifted so far out that he could no longer see the shore. He had hoped Melissa would not notice this, or that the bubbling puddle in the bottom of the boat was growing steadily larger.

“Ken” asked Melissa quietly, shattering his thoughts, “do you know where we are?”

“Why yes,” replied Ken, trying to feign ease. “We’re on the beautiful Lake Bear Lake on this breathtaking June afternoon.”

The statement hung in the air, giving Ken plenty of time to think about all the reasons it had been a dumb idea. He wondered if she still thought he was charming and funny.

“Well, yes, we are,” she said hesitantly, “but . . .do you know where we . . . you know, where we are—I mean, where the shore is?”

“Ah, well, no, I guess not” he admitted, deciding to spare himself the embarrassment of another wisecrack.

A long, tense silence fell over the boat (except for the puddle, which was still gurgling away).  According to the cloudy, infatuated teenage mind, silence in the presence of a girl is a terrible menace which threatens to expose one’s feelings, give his target ample time to decide that she does not like him very much after all, and allow rational thoughts to occur. Finally, he could no longer bear it.

“But I’m trying to remember where I put it last—the shore. I’m trying to remember where I left the shore,” he said, deciding foolishly to take another stab.

“Ken, please—I’m getting worried, and the boat looks like it’s leaking.”

Water had begun to stream steadily through the hole, and was creeping up around their ankles. Ken glanced up at Melissa, and their eyes met for a moment.

Wow, I really like this girl, thought Ken. I mean, I really, really like her. I can’t believe how much—wow. I like her a whole bunch.

Are you ever going to make a move on me? thought Melissa. It’s not like we have all day.

“I think it might be that way—I’ll start rowing that way. It’ll be our best shot” he announced, resolving to take charge of the situation.

Girls, he thought, love it when a guy takes charge of the situation. Maybe she’ll forget about how stupid my jokes were. Maybe she’ll like me!

“That sounds like a good idea to me. Do you need any help?” Melissa was trying to keep calm, but was making sure to let the worry show on her face.

Boys, she knew, love the opportunity to reassure and rescue a damsel in distress; I hope he doesn’t think I’m too weak, though, like one of those stupid, helpless women in those old movies mom’s always watching. Dad said no boy in his right mind would ever date someone that dumb and helpless.

“No, I think I’ve got it from here,” he answered huskily. His voice was deepening. Only one person in the boat noticed this, and she was amused. Water was now visibly climbing up the sides. Two people in the boat noticed this, and both their minds were racing.

She keeps smiling at me—I know she keeps smiling at me. What does that mean? Does she just like my bravery? Maybe she actually did think my jokes were funny. Now that would be something else! If she thinks my jokes were funny, she probably likes me, right? Girls like funny guys, right? Dad said that one time, I think. But what if she likes Randy Vernon? I hate Randy Vernon. She’s always talking to him at lunch. His jokes are really funny; they might be funnier than my jokes. What if she doesn’t like jokes at all? Do girls really like jokes, or are they all just laughing to make guys feel better? Should I tell her I like her? What if she laughs at me? That would be horrible. And I couldn’t even get away, because we’re in a boat. No, I can’t do it. It’s way too risky. But what if she likes me? This would be the best day of my whole life! I have to tell her. But I can’t. AUGH!

The boat was half-full, and Ken was having a hard time getting it to move.

Ken, this is ridiculous. How many times am I going to have to smile at you before you get it through your adorable thick skull that I have a crush on you? How many more terrible jokes do I have to laugh at? You’re lucky you’re about a million times nicer than Randy Vernon. He’s SO funny—but
you’ve got me in a rowboat, so you win. I mean really, come on—a rowboat. Is there anything more romantic than a rowboat? Is there any purpose for rowboats other than romantic dates? And we had a picnic. Picnics are always dates—you know it, and you know I know you know it, so we both know it, so it’s a date. I wish I could just ask
you out; this whole thing would be over with in two seconds. But you might think I’m weird if I asked you out; boys hate it when girls ask them out. What am I supposed to do, wait on you for the rest of my life just because you’re too busy flexing your muscles to muster your courage? AUGH!

The boat sank more and more rapidly as it filled with more and more water, and before long Ken and Melissa were treading.

Well, now I’ve really got my back against the wall, thought Ken, more than a little disgruntled.

Now are you going to ask me out? thought Melissa, thrilled with the suddenly urgent nature of the situation. Sometimes, she knew, boys just need a gentle push to help them get their feelings out.

What have I got to lose, really? If she doesn’t like me back, I can just swim away, right?

Ken’s heart was racing and his breath was getting heavy. His hands would have been sweating profusely, but they were underwater. The minutes dragged on. Melissa remembered treading water in gym class. How long had she lasted? Had it been five minutes? Fifteen? She couldn’t remember. She was beginning to think this boy was really going to go the whole afternoon without asking her out.

Finally, as he began to struggle to keep himself afloat, Ken gathered his courage and spoke.

“Melissa?”

“Yeah?” She answered as smoothly as she could, hiding her excitement at the thought that this could finally be the moment.

“I was just wondering . . . just thinking . . . I mean, I think I was wondering . . . well . . . ” Ken was having a hard time holding himself together while dying and professing his feelings to the object of his affection.

Melissa giggled a little, and then had a massive coughing fit, from which she took nearly a full minute to recover. She gathered herself and, her patience running out, demanded “Oh, just spit it out, Ken. What’s up?”

This startled Ken, who had a mouthful of water as a result of a brief dip beneath the surface. He coughed and spluttered, spraying water all over Melissa’s face.

“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry! I really didn’t mean to do that! I’m really, really, really”—Melissa interrupted him anxiously—“What is it you wanted to say to me?”

“Right, that. Ah, well, you see, we’ve been friends for a while now, and . . . you know, the more I get to know you . . .” the cat was out of the bag now, and he knew there was no going back, especially since he was too tired to swim away. This realization struck him hard, and he tripped up for a moment.

“Yes?” said Melissa, scarcely able to hide her excitement, but aided in the endeavor by the fact that she had already spent most of her energy treading water.

Ken gathered himself and managed to speak.

“I like you. I mean, I like like you.” He suddenly felt lighter.

A small grin played across Melissa’s face. “I ‘like like’ you too, if that’s how you want to put it,”she finally replied before breaking out into uncontrollable laughter.

“I was waiting all afternoon for you to tell me, silly.” she added after recovering her composure.


Ken laughed too; he felt weightless now. His muscles went numb and he disappeared beneath the surface of the water again.

She likes me! She likes me! He thought giddily as he glided steadily to the bottom of the lake. I don’t know why I was so worried all along. Now that I think about it, she was dropping hints left and right! How stupid of me. Ah, well, never mind now—she likes me! What a perfect day!

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Old Comments

  • This is great! Funny and unsettling at the same time. It comes across as a sort of cautionary tale for lovesick teenagers.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  09:43 AM
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