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River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative 5.2 (2004) 63-74
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More Things In Heaven and Earth
I don't believe any of the things I am going to tell you about actually happened—you will shortly understand why—though I witnessed all of them with my own eyes and will tell them as truthfully as I can.
It was a cool morning in early spring. Where we live on the southeastern coast of North Carolina, it is one of the best times of year, between the chilly rains of winter and the shimmering heat of summer. As is my habit, I rose early and piled our three dogs into my truck and drove them the half-mile to the little harbor at the end of our street, which opens onto the Intracoastal Waterway.
From our dock you can see the Masonboro Channel bending out of the waterway toward the ocean past the sandy spoil islands. On a clear morning, you can look left past the gap in the spoil islands and glimpse the low skyline of Wrightsville Beach, a two-mile-long barrier island that parallels the waterway. North to south toward the channel you can make out the square brick blot of the Blockade Runner Hotel, the onion-shaped south water tower, and the shake-shingled roofs of expensive vacation homes. I like to watch the sun rise out of the ocean, over the rooftops, first a loom of indistinct light, then a smear of orange, then a stunning disk of gold. It happens fast, like a magic trick.
But not on this morning. A silvery mist hung across the waterway, backlit by the invisible rising sun, steaming off the water in gossamer filaments. You could see the harbor plainly, and beyond it the salt marsh, flooded at mid-tide, and the waterway itself, here and there threaded with mist. But the hotel, the water tower, the bungalows, all were invisible behind the mist.
The narrow channel to our little harbor cuts in from the waterway at a right angle through the salt marsh, then turns left ninety degrees again, doubling back parallel to the waterway for a hundred yards or so along a [End Page 63] bulkhead that separates deep water from the salt marsh. Along the near side of the channel are private docks. The channel debouches into the main basin, where forty-odd boats are moored at finger slips off three long floating docks forming a giant, somewhat misshapen letter E. Our sailboat, Suspense, is moored in the very first slip at the end of the first dock coming into the basin—at the end of the bottom leg of the E, nearest the channel and farthest from the parking lot where the road ends.
You could easily toss a baseball from the parking lot and land it in the cockpit of our boat. Like I said, it's a very small harbor.
I parked the truck and opened the tailgate and the three dogs burst out like they always do, legs flailing, tails flogging, tongues flopping in glee. I stood and looked out across the harbor toward our boatslip. I noticed an olive-green johnboat—the all-purpose boat used by hunters and commercial fishermen—slowly sliding up the narrow channel towards it, the bow cutting a creamy wave through the glassy water. I could hear the low putter of the outboard motor. A figure in a dark jacket hunched in the stern, steering.
The figure looked like a man, but he was too far away for me to see his face. I did not recognize the boat as one that belonged in our harbor—it is a private marina, limited to homeowners, and strangers rarely enter it. I watched the boat and wondered what it was doing there. From the way he was steering, it looked like he would pass behind our boat into the narrow channel between the dock and the bulkhead and land at the fish dock, with its cleaning table and hose, two slips down.