“Damnit. Wake up. We overslept.” Mike was rummaging around in our luggage, hauling out the mattress and the rope net, obviously looking for the foot pump. The rest of us jumped to our feet. Well, we creakily jumped to our feet. Our night in the lighthouse had been chilly and damp. I wasn’t looking forward to our river crossing.
We’d hoped to be in the water before sunrise, to at least start our journey before the sun was high in the sky. It had to be eight o’clock in the morning, already. Mike found the pump. The pets watched him for a moment, then wandered off looking for a place to pee. So did Sadad. Hell, so did the rest of us. I felt sorry for the next person who sought refuge in the Little Red Lighthouse.
When Mike had the mattress about as inflated as we thought it could be and still fit through the door, I chanced a peek outside. I didn’t see anyone around, but that didn’t mean anything. There could be a marching band on the other side of the lighthouse, and I wouldn’t be able to see them. Of course, I would have been able hear a marching band, so I was fairly sure that we were safe from marching band attack.
We started suiting up in our recycling life preservers. Adults first, then Sadad, then the pets. We were all suddenly fat and noisy. The garbage bags rustled, the plastic bottles crackled against each other. “Guns? Food?,” Moira looked at the supplies we had hauled all over the west side of Manhattan.
I took a deep breath. “Let’s leave them. There will be food in New Jersey, and I don’t know if the guns will even fire, wet.”
“What if I need to shoot someone FROM the raft?,” Mike asked. I could tell he really didn’t want to leave the guns. They were his metal security blankets.
“We won’t need them,” Jill said. Her voice was sure and strong. Mike stopped himself in the act of reaching for one. Withdrew his hand. Decided it was OK to leave the guns.
I took charge of Sadad, Bethel, and Lexington. Mike, Jill, and Moira were in charge of wrestling the raft to the river. We were going to have to run downstream a little bit before we finished pumping it up and arranging the rope net on it. There were too many rocks around the lighthouse for us to launch from there.
Cat and dog in carriers, child by the hand, I slammed open the door of the Little Red Lighthouse and said, “Run.”
Mike, Moira, and Jill looked like participants in one of those annoying, fiendishly awkward races that are declared to be fun by the small festival organizers. They each had one corner of the raft, and they were trying to keep the fourth corner from dragging on the ground. Mike had the pump, and the girls each had a paddle, so they were further encumbered. At one point, Mike’s legs tangled and he went down in a whirlwind of limbs. He was immediately up and hauling again, I had to hand it to him.
Sadad wasn’t having too much trouble keeping up with our frantically slow pace, but she was small. She wasn’t going to last long. I spotted a clear space on the river bank and yelled, “There’s a launch site!”
Mike veered right, jerking the mattress out of Moira and Jill’s hands. They immediately tried to run stooped over, grabbing for the raft, but they kept missing. Mike pulled away from them, high on adrenaline.
I winced. The mattress was taking a beating on the path, but it wasn’t a long beating. In seconds, Mike was at the river bank, on his knees, attaching the pump to the little nozzle on the mattress and foot pumping like he was stomping roaches outside of a Chinatown street market. The girls were instantly with him, arranging the rope net, pausing to look around them for possible enemies. I was the last one there, getting pets out of carriers and trying to see across the river, trying to see what we were in for. Of course, I saw nothing much at all but water.
Mike dropped to his knees and plugged the mattress nozzle with its little plastic plug. We were fully inflated and ready to hit the water. Instead of hitting the water, we all suddenly paused.
“I love you guys,” I said.
“Me, too,” Jill said. “I love you all.”
“I’d love to love you all,” Mike grinned.
“Get on the fucking mattress and let’s go,” Moira growled.