The White Parasol
by Mike Oliver
Grandmother said that we would, but that the people onboard must disembark first, so we both would need to be patient. She pulled a handkerchief from her large beach bag and wiped it across Charlie’s smiling face. That calmed him down for a while.
The large boat churned into the dock, sending the seagulls scattering into the gray sky. It was one of the large ferries with two stories for vehicles and two for passengers; Grandmother said it would take at least twenty minutes to clear, so she told Charlie to keep an eye out for sea otters. “They sometimes come around the big boats looking for a handout,” she said, “If you spot one, I’ve got some crackers in my bag you can give them.” Charlie learned out over the rail and squinted hard.
An attendant in a bright orange vest opened the small gate that connected the front of the ferry to the dock and I heard a chorus of engines turn over. Cars poured out in single-file parade. Others who had been waiting at the water’s edge returned to their cars anticipating their opportunity to board, but the three of us remained; Charlie and I would be walk-ons.
Passengers, mostly young men with canvas backpacks, exited down the steep gangway and filed past. There were two sets of queue paths like those of a carnival ride – one for entering and one for exiting – separated by a thin rope.
“I thought I saw an otter,” Charlie said kicking at the pier, “but it was only a rock.”
Grandmother told him to keep trying.
Moving down the gangway, I spotted something white amongst the dark woolen coats and faded flannel shirts like a coin sparkling at the bottom of a dark well: and then it was obscured. I waited for it, whatever it was, to resurface. It would have to pass me, so I knew I would get my look.
An older gentlemen in a pea coat bent to tie his shoe, and I saw her. She was, as far as I could tell, my own age (within a year at least) and in her hands she twirled a white parasol. I smiled. When I remember her, I always remember her smiling back at me, but I can’t be certain that’s how it really happened. But, for a moment, we saw each other. Her eyes were the blue of robins’ eggs.
“The otters are all sleeping,” said Charlie with scholarly confidence, “there aren’t any here today.”
Grandmother told Charlie that he’d make a great lookout someday, and that he needed to keep an eye on me so that one of us didn’t get lost. “Uncle will meet you at your destination,” she said, “but until then, you both have each other.”
“Grandmother?” I asked, “All these people leaving, do they live here?”
She said that some came for visits (like Charlie and me), but most lived here at least part time.
“Can we come back real soon?”
“That’s up to your mother, Max,” she said, “but I’d love to have you both any time.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“I want to see an otter,” Charlie stated in agreement.
Grandmother gave us both a big hug and a sack lunch for the trip.
“Tell your mother to call me when you get home safe,” she said.
The line of passengers lurched into motion, we said our final goodbyes, and boarded for the journey home.
I never saw that white parasol again, but it resurfaces every once in a while in my mind, and every time that it does, I smile.