Past St. Paul, MN – September 30, 2012
I wanted to be anywhere else, anywhere but in the river at night. I didn’t believe it was happening until the sun disappeared as I slid under the last bridges of downtown St. Paul and I knew I couldn’t stop in the middle of a city.
I slipped toward the banks, picking my way along moored barges that rose like giant shadows. In the glow of electric light, their walls of scarred and battered steel looked like armor after years of battle.
My body lit with nerves wired tight from end to end. Small and frail, a mouse among elephants, a bit of softness the world would smash away without a thought, I couldn’t make a mistake, couldn’t miss the whirl of a tugboat’s motor, couldn’t think a barge was still when it wasn’t. I had to see them, to hear them in the darkness, or they’d devour me whole.
Everything became still and quiet, held frozen in the twilight. I saw every glimmer of light, heard every whisper of motor, smelled every scent, felt each rush of air. Nothing escaped me, not the slightest ripple, nothing.
Around edges, across gaps of open water, behind walls of moored steel, I crept forward piece by piece until the barges thinned and disappeared, until St. Paul faded in the distance, until an island rose across the river.
I slid to the shore, pulling the boat behind me until I knew I was out of the barge’s reach, then collapsed in the sand as all my fear, all my anger at getting caught in the dark, all the thoughts I didn’t dare think, the things I choked down, shook out of me and into the night.