#16 Shoulders


Clouds the size of villages crowded the May sun. Sounds of distant traffic travelled slowly through the air. There were few people about, the marina was beginning to wind down for the day.  The cafe was shut and the boat-hands were waiting for the last of the hired boats to return. They had already upturned most of the two man canoes onto the quayside, the under-powered river cruisers were tethered to the mooring posts.

I have a vantage point on the scene. I am raised high on my father’s broad shoulders and look down on him and my grandmother. My father is talking to my grandmother in his  steady, public voice and she is nodding and looking up at me often. I cannot remember what they speak of. I was too young to comprehend more than a few words, but I am unable to forget the sensation of being elevated, of seeing all of life enacted before me. Warmed by the sun, my stomach leant against the back of my father’s head, I was deeply content.

There was a pair of faded black leather sandals on my feet, they hung loosely onto my father’s chest and bounced on his bosom as he walked. He wore an open cotton shirt, and my grandmother wore a linen blouse and a cardigan. We were under a tree by the side of the canal, a birch, its many leaflets dappling the sun. Voices belonging to others are here:  two women at a nearby table, a family of three on bicycles. Other than my grandmother, no-one sees me.

There was a noise. My father turned, and so I was turned to face the last of the day’s hire-boats returning. A dark green canoe, a man and a woman. I looked up. The sun now had a whole sky of blue to itself. The couple manoeuvered the canoe to the quay-side. My father continued to watch them as the woman stepped out without any sign of imbalance. She arched her feet as she turned back to the man, who lay the paddles in the gravel on the quay and pulled himself out, keeping hold of the rope attached to the prow. He tugged at the rope and the prow lifted from the water. Then, the canoe slipped and span round, its hull scraping the stone wall of the quay. The sound unsettled the air.

My father walked towards the man, his hands closing around my hips and, for a moment, raised me higher. I could see the cars on the bridge above the canal, waiting at a traffic light. I winced at the searing edge of another immense cloud as it spilled into the blue, its edges sharpened cobalt white. My father called out.  A slight breeze lifted, trees seethed, and then everything became diminished as  my father placed me down on the gravel path at my grandmother’s side. I watched him move across the quay, and heard the question in his voice. I watched him as his arms reached over the edge of the quay, then raised the canoe, dripping, from the water. He turned towards me and smiled shyly. I did not smile back. This was the last time I remember being on my father’s shoulders.