On either side of the flat-hulled boat, wooden benches hung parallel, leaving the center open so the riders could walk freely. Their grain was old and weathered smooth, large threads of lighter wood curling lushly through the dark like unstirred cream and coffee. As I leaned against the roughly painted blue and crimson hull, waves drummed lazily at my back and in the sunlight made me think of summers spent in swimming pools, the drowsy plash of water when my mother used her hands to paddle toward the hottest cast of sun. It was cold and damp inside the boat, briny from the mist that broke across its simple bulwarks. Funny how the sunlight never changes, how it carries all the years and distance.
I’d been cold all morning, the Netherland spring still clinging stiffly to the winter that it was and blowing brazenly through channels cut by tightly planted blocks of buildings. I boarded the canal boat for respite from the chill above all else. When the door was latched behind me, and the glass enclosure held the wind in check but not the clearing sky—the water rolling loosely underneath us—I closed my eyes and smelled the daylight pouring in. A cloud passed across the sun to make a momentary dusk.
My grandparents’ pool was kidney-shaped and edged with rock-cement that soaked up sunlight so on hotter days it seared beneath my water-wrinkled feet. My mother sat upon its edge to watch me, her fingers making spirals in the water flash like mirrors of the sky. Clouds would drift above us, loitering at times between the sun and I to steal away its warmth. My mother ran her finger through the turquoise water, smiling warmly, and the temperature would change as if her smile made the summer. To be a thousand miles away, but never closer. To be amid the storm and just a glint of sun breaks through—every grain of light a day I’ve lived, and none of them have passed.
The engine wheezed, and with it thickened froth of grey-green water rose behind us, the strongest gusts of wind ablating mist from tiny whitecaps, making ghosts of fog that spun and collapsed. I watched that whitest cloud slip just beyond the sun, waiting for a smile to make it warm.