The Raft

I jumped from the old tractor tire and caught the faded green bar of what was left of our old swing set with my outstretched hands. I let go with my right hand as my feet finished their arc so that I could turn and face the tractor tire and jump back to it. This was my tenth summer and the southern Kansas sunshine felt warm and good on my face after being inside all morning.??”What are you reading?” I asked Danny, my older brother as I landed on the tire in a cloud of dust. I moved so that he could take his turn. He was twelve and stronger than me. We had spent the morning in our rooms, reading. It was our father’s decree. We had to read in the morning in order to play outside in the afternoon. And it couldn’t be a comic book.??”One of Dad’s science fiction books.” Danny said as he jumped towards the bar. The swings were long gone, and the side that had the slide was missing.”You make that yourself?” I laughed.Our eight-year-old sister beamed. “Yep!” The bread looked mangled and the jelly was dripping onto the dusty ground. “But Mom just said I had to eat it outside.””We need a raft,” Dan said as he jumped towards the swing set bar again, “To float down the river.””You think Mom will let us?” I asked.”I don’t know why not.” Dan shrugged as he tiptoed around the tractor behind Timmy.”There’s those fence posts behind the chicken coop.” I mentioned as I jumped on the tire behind Danny now. Tim jumped towards the bar and managed to swing out and back.”We need planks too.” Danny said. “To make a deck.””A what?” Anna asked as she wiped her hands on her jeans and climbed up on the tire to take her turn.”Deck. That’s what you stand on while the raft floats down the river.” Danny said as he watched Anna. She barely touched the bar, then fell in a heap on the ground. He grimaced. “Maybe we should slide the tire closer.” He said.Timmy and I jumped off the tire and helped him tug our launching pad close enough to the swing set for Anna.”There.” Danny said.”You know those old boards out by the fence would work.” I said. “I think they’re off an old barn or something.””Hey yeah!” Danny exclaimed. “We just need some rope and nails!””I saw some rope in the basement.” Anna volunteered.”I know where Dad has nails and the hammer.” Tim added.An hour later we stood in the driveway, admiring our raft. “I bet we can all float on it.” Timmy bragged.??”Well, I’m the captain!” Danny claimed as he stood on the rough, faded planks. “It was my idea.”??”Well, then I’m the co-captain.” I insisted as I stepped up on our raft opposite of Danny. “It was part my idea.”??”No you’re the first mate.” Danny decreed as he waved his hand over my head.??”What’s that?” Timmy asked.??”Like second in command.” Danny said.??”Then I’m second mate.” Timmy pointed out. “And Anna, you’re third mate.”??We all stood close together on the small pile of planks and fence posts.”It’s not too big to fit in the car is it?” Danny asked all of a sudden.??I looked past his ear at the station wagon. “Should fit. Maybe. I think.”??”Mom?” We hollered, coming into the house. She was standing in the kitchen.??”Slow down! What do you want?”??”We built a raft. Will you take us to the river so we can float it?”Timmy pleaded.??”Yeah Mom. Please.”I added.??”Pretty, please.”Dan added.??She looked at us, while Anna looked between her brothers and her mother.??”Is it dangerous, Paul?” She asked me.??”Naw.” Danny answered. “The river’s only knee-deep.”Mom sighed. “Well, I was going to watch my soap opera. But we could go for an hour or so. Not any longer, though.”After about a half-hour of sweat and lifting and twisting, the collection of fence posts, barn siding, rope and nails sat at the edge of the Arkansas River underneath the Coronado Bridge.Danny twisted and retied the rope while I hammered down a couple of loose nails.”Too bad we don’t have a bottle of champagne.” Danny said as we tugged the raft across the sand towards the slow current of the river.”What for?” I asked as we slowly slid it in the water.Danny held to the rope.  “So we could christen our boat.” He smiled proudly. “I christen thee,” He shouted. “The Stellar Explorer!””How do you know about that?” Mom asked him.Danny shrugged. “Must’ve seen it on the Three Stooges.”??”Hey, yeah!” Timmy exclaimed. “Champaganee!” He laughed and slapped his knee.??”You let me hold the rope and you guys take off your shoes.” Mom instructed. “And if you fall in and don’t try an’ hand me a crab!”??Anna giggled. “A crab!” She giggled again.??I rolled my jeans up and started towards the raft.”Captain’s first!” Danny ordered.??”Then you go down with the ship!” I argued.??He climbed up on the raft while Mom held the rope. Our hearts sunk as Danny’s weight sunk his end, the entire 12 inches, to the bottom. I climbed up on the side still in the water and it sunk too.??”Rats!” Danny said. “We must have too much ballast!”??“Well, I don’t know about that, but I guess we weigh too much!” I said dejectedly.??“Time for the second mate’s turn!” Tim demanded from shore. Trying to pull a knot out of his shoestring.??”I guess I’m not the only one who needs to go on a diet.” Mom laughed as she looked at us.??”That’s not funny!” Danny said. “We spent an hour building this stupid thing, now it won’t even levitate in the water!”??”Let me try. Let me try!” Timmy demanded.??“Let him on by himself.” Mom insisted. “Maybe he’s small enough  yet.”??Reluctantly Danny and I stepped into the water and let the raft float back up.Anna waded out to us. “It’s okay, guys.” She said. “It was fun to build.” She grinned at me with a tooth missing in front. I grinned back.??But it didn’t sink with Timmy on it.In fact when Mom let go of the rope, he was able to paddle it around under the bridge, while he taunted us. “I’m the captain. I’m the captain.”??The wind blowing through the station wagon quickly dried out our feet, if not our jeans, on the way home.??”I guess we should’a had some balsa wood.” I said to Danny. ‘Or real logs.”??”But they would have been too heavy to get in the car.” He argued.??”But you guys did a good job.” Anna said.??”I think in my book they were on a small planet, so they didn’t weigh as much.” Danny sighed. “That’s why they could float on their raft. You know, not much gravitational pull.”??”I guess so.” I said. “Or maybe they landed on the balsa planet.”??”You know if we play the Three Stooges,” Tim added. “Now I get to be Moe!”??”Mom.” Anna said in the front seat. “What’s for supper. I’m hungry.”??”Tim!” I interrupted. “Did you get Dad’s hammer?”

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