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The hinge on the cellardoor is starting to bend. She is cleaning specks of eggshell from the countertop. They buy a vacuumsealer and flatten the bags, suck the air from the cellar. Room for more dirt, more bags. The daughtersister and sonbrother are made to scrub the bare foundation until it is pure. Not one crack, observes the husbandfather without joy. The baby has an accident and cries. Why is it called an accident, wonders the coy sonbrother.

It seems very much on purpose. The night before FirstHoliday there is a duststorm. The radio plays old standards over the outside sounds. The wifemother is sanitizing the crownmolding when a heavy glass cane raps on their windowpane. Outside is Greatgrandmothergrandmothermothergreatauntwifeinlaw. The behemoth. The wind follows her in the door. The cellar inflates with pressure. She bestows loud kisses, and grains of dirt spill from her purse like hard candies. She fawns on the new baby.

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The wifemother scurries forward, hissing, Where is the broom. This house is unsafe. Dirty, she says. Where is the dustpan. The husbandfather shrugs. He is tired of laboring. There are dunes visible against the filthy windowfronts. The old woman wields her glass cane with a sardonic venom from the rockingchair. Heaven forbid you have a front yard or a garden, she says. Heaven forbid anything grows. SecondHoliday: the sky is darkening. They task the sonbrother with it.

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He does a bent shuffle, crumpling scraps into uniform balls to go in a trashbag. He takes breaks to steal bitter sips from the scotchbottles in the kitchen. This is a zoo. The husbandfather mostly complains. We need a bigger house. More work, some relation chuckles. The baby is piled in BPA-free plastic presents.

It holds a toy spade once and rejects it. Look at that.


Buried, the daughtersister says. She is speaking to herself. They both breathe in the cellar air. The new largesized bags are swollen, packed hard and sinister. They sit at the base of the stairs like a ballast. She thinks if she touched one they would all burst. What the wifemother would say, inspecting that mess.

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She leans into the concrete stairwell. What are you doing, the sonbrother says from behind her. Eyes wide in the dim. He points and says, Dirty, slurring a little.

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The baby laughs and reaches a hand out to squeeze nothing. The sonbrother takes it. There is a murmur from the rest of the house. He teeters on the top step. What are you doing; what are you doing. A single stern familiar footstep.

He claws at the daughtersister and she leans into his shove. This is his first published piece anywhere. As if your death is not yet the same weight traps count on though you are leaning back putting dirt in your mouth while to the last. A lone whistle cut short and this chair alongside waits till its wheels, half iron, half the way trains are calmed on gravel beds, let you push. Crystalline belly, soured; conduit for their failure. Sun-washed and sweated, cold in the places we left. It looks like a rain squall is coming; where have I put our rain bibs?

Now one boy is biting. The other has spilled his water. Do I smell a dirty diaper? And how can this boat feel so impossibly cramped? Or perhaps it was simply that the physical act of keeping two little boys safe and entertained in a liquid world was by turns exhausting and terrifying. Before we left, I knew only to expect one thing: chaos. The more practical aspects of our lives on the water were harder to envision.

I assumed, foolishly, that five pairs of underwear would be enough for a potty-trained 4-year-old. I packed a dozen novels that sat on the damp bookshelf and collected mildew while I overlooked the ear plugs I needed to temper the volume of small voices amplified in an even smaller space.

I brought favorite recipes that mocked me from their corner of the galley as I struggled to cook the most basic, one-pot meals in a kitchen the size of a coat closet. I failed to consider the problem of toy truck wheels rolling back and forth on the table as we sailed, sending me repeatedly on hands and knees to pick up the pieces.

Ours was a topsy-turvy existence indeed.

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Many days, it was impossible not to question our motivations, and our sanity. Or when first one child, and then the other, vomited all over the inside of our boat, spewing into the cracks and crevices of multiple hatches. Or when I wanted desperately to wake up and stretch and fix myself a cup of coffee, alone. But when I tiptoed the three steps to the stove, the floor creaked and I accidentally banged the teakettle and soon the whole boat was awake. There were no doors, no privacy.

In fact, there was barely enough room to turn around. Each night, peering into the V-berth, the triangular-shaped bed in the bow of the boat, I watched my two sons sleeping, bottoms raised, hands draped across their faces in that deep slumber that comes after a day of playing hard.

In the quiet morning fog, I felt a soft warm body curl itself against mine, burrowing under my sleeping bag. I saw my children discover that sea anemones squirt if you poke them. We sat together in the bowsprit as the waves passed beneath us in a swirl of green and white. I slowed down long enough to realize that our time together was precious, and ever so fleeting.

We dropped anchor one night in a forested cove, where spruce and hemlock branches dangled over the high tide line, ravens watched us from the treetops, and the only sounds were the soft sloshing of water against our hull and the chortles of song sparrows foraging on the beach. All four of us nestled in our sleeping bags, breathing in time with the waves. In those quiet moments there was no place I would rather have been, no adventure better than the one we were experiencing. One afternoon, in the last week of our trip, halfway between Glacier Bay and the northern terminus of the Inside Passage, we loaded into the dinghy for a trip to shore.

Pat rowed, I sat with Dawson in the stern, and Huxley took his usual position in the bow.