There was nothing between five and seven o’clock and where the seven should have been was the number 960 with numbers going up counter-clockwise to 1040. Maybe they didn’t even have the same hours of the day here. Did they mark time as a back and forth, instead of around and around? Symbols of storm, rain, clouds and sun were painted along the inside of the numbers. The big black hand was pointing to the rain clouds and the smaller silver hand pointed to the clouds. Both her father and Marcella had said it would rain the following day. Perhaps it wasn’t a clock, but some kind of weather machine. It wasn’t even ticking.
Standing very still, she could sense that the house was not altogether empty. Muffled sounds of movement came from behind the closed doors. There was such an echo in the checkerboard tiled hall that her breath almost sounded magnified. She felt chilled and shut out.
She went back downstairs to the kitchen and knocked shyly on the door frame. “Come in, come in,” said Marcella who was tasting the soup from a wooden ladle.
She told Marcella what had happened. When she got to the part about losing sight of Jason, her voice broke and her eyes spilled over with tears.
“There, there,” said Marcella, handing her a clean tea towel to dry her eyes.
“What if he missed the boat?” she sobbed, “And just kept falling forever?” She pressed the towel to her face to dam the flow of tears.
“Forever?” said Marcella, “I’ve never heard of that before. I don’t mean to sound brutal, but if that is the case, there’s nothing the police can do anyway. Let’s hope for the best—that he did land safely on deck of the ship, all bones intact.” She gave Rosalyn a friendly squeeze on the arm, and said, “You get right in the warm tub and drink a hot cup of tea and you’ll soon be able to dry your eyes.”
There was no response from the rower who kept rhythmically pulling the oars. Rosalyn kept hollering desperately until the person paused and seemed to look in her direction. But the rower resumed: whoosh, creak, whoosh creak.
Soon the boat came into sharper view, a long-armed, muscular woman propelling the dark green craft forward with light-coloured oars.
“Over here! Hello! Help!” called Rosalyn. The woman peered up, head cocked to the side. “Hello?” came her doubtful reply.
“Up here, on this cloud!” yelled Rosalyn with all the voice she had left, waving vigorously.
“I see you,” called the woman, “what on earth are you doing up there?” Then, without waiting for an answer, “Nevermind, we’ve got to get you down. I can’t get up to your height, but once I’m below you, I’ll throw you the rope. Hang on.” She resumed rowing, glancing over her shoulder to make sure she didn’t overshoot her mark. Once she was directly beneath Rosalyn, she grabbed a thick rope. “Catch!” she said, tossing it up with athletic ease.
A good foot of rope caught the edge of the cloud and Rosalyn was able to snatch up the end of it before it slid back down.
“You won’t be able to pull me up,” said the woman, “So you’ll have to swing down here.”
“What?” asked Rosalyn, looking wide-eyed at the boat and rower six or eight feet below.
Rosalyn was paralyzed by surprise. Had he slipped and gone under? No, it wasn’t deep enough. Besides there was not even a ripple on the glass surface of the puddle. The only evidence that he had been there was his backpack humped on the curb. She rushed forward and looked in, seeing to her horror, a ship far below, its masts sticking up like twigs, white sails tiny triangles of white, minute dark figures moving about on the deck. Rosalyn tilted her head up to double-check against reality that there wasn’t someone flying a kite of a schooner. There wasn’t.
Turning back to the puddle, a splash of red and yellow caught her eye, growing smaller as it fell toward the ship.
“Jason,” she shouted, panic rising in her chest. “Jason!” He’ll land on the deck and break his neck she thought, or what if he misses and just keeps falling? Is it water? Will he drown? Irritation was replaced with a sickening fear because at that moment, alone on the deserted street, she knew she would have to go in after him.
“I’m coming! Don’t worry!” she called down into the depths of the puddle. She looped the left strap of her backpack onto her left shoulder, leveling it and then turned to put Jason’s on across her chest. Securing her armour of backpacks, she held on tight to both sets of straps and closed her eyes. “One, two, three,” she counted for courage but she couldn’t get her feet to lift of the curb.
It had finally stopped raining. All day Rosalyn had watched the raindrops streaming down the windows of Room 301 while Mr. Kresnyk explained the order of operations on the board again, had listened to the ebb and flow of the storm as it thundered intensely then petered out to a soft drizzle, had endured staying indoors all day, the smell of Anthony’s egg salad sandwich lingering in the classroom long past lunchtime. And now the final bell had rung and she was standing on the steps looking up at the clouds which were already thinning, exposing the brilliant blue sky.
With a deep inhalation of the humid air she descended the steps and walked around to the other side of the building where her brother would be dismissed in ten minutes. Most days her mother picked up Jason, allowing Rosalyn to leave righta way and walk home with her friends. There was a staggered dismissal time because Grades 7 and 8 didn’t get afternoon recess and got out a quarter of an hour earlier. It had reduced the after-school traffic jam on the one-way streets around the school. But today her mother had clients all afternoon and her father would be at his own school until late for a parent council meeting so it fell to her to wait with the moms, dads and nannies by the rain-beaded fence for the second bell to release the little kids.
Rosalyn hated picking up Jason. He was bad enough with their parents, either trying to be really cute—couldn’t they detect the fakiness?—or insisting on his own way, fussing and whining to drive her crazy. One time she had had to take him home, the ten-minute walk had taken twenty because he had stopped to look for slugs under every hosta plant. No wonder her mother usually drove, even though it was only a few minutes away.