Her display of sheer helplessness unnerves me, bringing me back to the incredulous questioning of my friends as I described my plans for this trip: “You’re gonna do what? Drive and camp? Just you and Mason? Alone?”
“Yep!” My responses never revealed my own apprehension. In actuality, I wondered if I could do it without Sonny’s help, especially at this point in my life, when I’m out of shape and full of aches and pains. The truth is, I’ve not been feeling free, fine, or capable for a while, and the life I’m driving away from, at least temporarily, includes a struggling therapy practice and a marriage in distress.
“Do you have a cell phone?” the keyless woman asks me breathlessly.
“Yes, but I don’t get reception here. We’re going up the road to Wild Bill Outfitters to rent some tubes to float the river. Want me to ask them to come down here and give you a hand?”
“Oh, yes please!” the woman says.
Later, we return with large, inflated rafting tubes tied onto the already stuffed car, along with a newly purchased floating key chain for my keys, but the woman and her problems have disappeared, probably with the help of a speedy and resourceful Wild Bill.
It’s a warm, sunny afternoon, and the Buffalo River is crystal clear, rippling over sandstone and limestone gravel. The water is mostly swift flowing, with pockets of placid pool areas abutting sections of the beach. Plopping down my rafting tube on the beach, I settle myself, leaning up against the warm rubber tube to do some recreational reading.
“Looks like we have this place pretty much to ourselves,” I say to Mason. All I plan to do is stretch myself out and sun like a beached whale, but Mason has other ideas.
“Mom, come in!” he calls from the nearby shallow area of the river where he’s wading.
“Not now, Mason. I’m gonna hang out here on the beach. I’ll watch you.” Peeking up every once in a while from my People magazine, I move as little as possible to avoid joint pain. Mason amuses himself by jumping up from the waist-high water into the middle of his floating tube like a shiny seal. He sinks himself down through the tube hole. He swims around like a fish. And then, he’s had enough of playing alone.
“Mom, puh-leeze come in!” he begs.
I am just too old for this, I think, watching as Mason begins to swim toward the swift river water. “No, Mason. Just stay where you are. The water is too fast out there.”
“Please! Please, Mom.” Realizing that there’d be no more relaxing at this point, I give in. Annoyed, I slowly lift my creaky body, walk to the river’s edge, and put one toe in. Shivering, I withdraw, saying, “The water’s cold. I don’t want to get wet.”
Mason gets out of the water and grabs my arm with both hands, pulling me toward the river. “No, Mom, you have to! C’mon, it’ll be fun!”
Finally, I drag my tube into water only up to my calves and sit in the center of it, making sure that nothing other than my feet and rear end get wet. “Okay, let’s go,” I say.
Surprisingly, the ride down the river is smooth and gentle. We float down a lazy stretch of it several times, until Mason becomes restless. “Mom, I want to get out of the tube. This floating is boring.”
“Alright,” I agree sleepily.
Mason slips out of his tube, but the water is deeper and the current stronger than it looks from the surface. As the river yanks his tube away I watch, paralyzed with fear, as my only child is sucked under the water. Suddenly, his head bursts up, water spewing from his nose. He looks at me, terrified, before again being grabbed from beneath by the merciless undercurrent.