Afloat: A Short Short Story

If he leaned over the stern of the boat, climbing upon the second rail rung and stretching out his hand as far as he could, his hands would brush the paddle wheel. Thumping over his longest three fingers, splashing them with brackish water.

He’d been on the paddlewheel boat for three days. This was a ritual, an act he performed every evening at sunset. In this way he treated the boat as a pet. An animal and he its rider. The longboards jumped under his fingers like muscles in a racehorse.

“C’mon, girl. You can do it,” he’d whisper under the roar of water and engine.

At night he slept on the wooden-planked sole of the saloon on the second floor. Positioned above the steam room, saloon patrons could watch their whiskey dance in vibrations around the glass. The floor planks were warmed from the steam below, making for a sweaty night’s sleep. The vibrations and hum had become his lullaby.