The oars slapped the calm dark water. The canoe moved slowly towards a tiny island in the middle of a lake. The canoe had four occupants, a small family. The father paddled steadily, quietly. The mother looked back, examining the shoreline they had just left to the south. The sky above the trees glowed red. The two children sat in the middle of the canoe.
"This is too big," said Beth, the five-year-old daughter, wriggling uncomfortably in a life preserver.
"Leave it on," whispered her mother.
"But it hurts!"
"Shush! You have to keep quiet, okay?"
"Why?" said Beth, in a whisper.
"Because bad men are after us," said her father. "You can't let them hear us."
"Oh," whispered Beth. "Why are they after us?"
"They don't like us," said the father.
"Why don't they like us?" asked Beth. The father looked at the mother and rolled his eyes.
"Honey, don't worry about it, okay?" said the mother.
"I just--" The little girl fiddled with a strap on the vest.
"It's okay. Everything will be okay. Why don't you play with your Teddy? Where is Teddy?"
"I left him in the car," said the girl. The mother breathed in deeply, and exhaled quickly, and smiled.
"Why did you leave him in the car honey?"
"He can't swim," said the girl.
"Oh, I guess that was, uh, considerate of you," said the mother.
"You don't think the bad men will get him before we get back?"
"He'll be fine, I'm sure. He is a bear afterall, and bears always scare bad men," said the father.
"Da-ad, he's a stuffed bear, not a real one!"
"It's going to be awhile before we get back though," said the mother.
"Don't tell her now," the father mouthed silently to his wife. The little girl looked at both her parents suspiciously, then turned her attention to the ripples and whorls the paddles made in the water. Her brother, watching his sister, suddenly spit out his pacifier and threw it over the side of the canoe.
"Oh for--" started the father as he reached over and grabbed the pacifier as it floated back towards him.
"No!" whispered the mother firmly to her son. He looked at her blankly, Then slipped down to the floor of the canoe from his seat, and picked up a spool of fishing line. The mother lunged for him, and the canoe rocked, but she was too late. He launched it over the side then stared at her.
"That's our only spool!"
"It hasn't sunk, get it," hissed the mother as she tried to wrangle her squirming son. The father paddled to one side in order to steer towards the floating spool. The boy started to wiggle out of his life vest in order to escape his mother, but she caught him again. He started to scream out.
"Shut him up!" said the father as he scooped up the wayward spool.
"I'm trying!" She clapped a hand across his mouth and the boy began to panic.
"You're going to suffocate him!"
"I don't know what to do!"
"Just calm him down, sing him a song or--"
"Are you kidding me?! Why don't you pass me the pacifier?"
"It's covered in lake water. He might get listeria or something." The mother slowly released her grip. The boy was sobbing mostly silently, shaking. He tried to punch his mother.
"Give him something to eat," said Beth. "He likes food."
"We don't have anything to eat," said the mother. The girl furrowed her brow. The boy stopped crying, tuning into the part of the conversation he understood somewhat. His nose ran profusely, his face deep scarlet.
"When are we going to eat supper?" asked the girl as she started to cry.
"Not her too. Do something!" said the father to his wife.
"Don't cry honey, I bet there's berries on the island. You like berries, don't you?" said the mother. The girl nodded and tried to catch her breath. "That's it sweetie. Everything's going to be fine, and we will have berries for supper, but you have to be as quiet as a mouse, okay?" The girl nodded again.
"But berries are-are for breakfast," said the girl, choking back her tears.
"They can be for supper too," said the mother.
Just then the hull of the boat scraped sand and pebbles. They had reached the island. The father got out and splashed into a few feet of water. He picked up his daughter and placed her on the shore. The mother got out gingerly, carrying the boy. The father unpacked their few bags of supplies from the canoe, and pulled it up fully onto the shore, then dragged it back behind a stand of bushes. Then the family stood together and looked at the red sky.The mother and father put their arms around each other's waists.
"It will never be the same, will it?" asked the mother.
"No. But we're alive. For now," said the father.
"It's a shame there's so much death in this world," said the mother.
"I don't think that's going to change anytime soon," said the father. The mother turned to look at the sunset competing with the raging fires in the south.
"I think we got too comfortable," said the mother.
"Mm-hm," said the father. "Come on. we've got lots of work to do."