Mind the Gap
by Lou Storey
My home is now rearranged into a digital reality: office space, gridded visiting parlor, warehouse, retail outlet, and, with a keystroke, anything else I might need that a screen can provide. I don’t have the virus. I am not sick with its variant offspring. I am vaccinated. The world, so far, holds together. I remind myself, “Mind the gap.”
My uncle had a houseboat. He bought it dirt cheap at auction, a retired flat-bottomed navy storage barge the size of a squat trailer park home. The interior was outfitted with an assortment of scavenged parts; wooden benches, a galley table, shelves, and plywood framed bunk beds. Everything was bolted to the floor to accommodate the unceasing back and forth monotony of life on the water. The boat had no engine, so my uncle named it Flattery because it got him nowhere. Painted odd colors marked down to discount, Flattery was the unloved Beverly Hillbilly of our fancy dock.
I loved Flattery. Summer visits with my cousins were the highlight of my year. Not that interested in parenting, my uncle left us alone, but was never hard to find. Glancing up at the roof of his vessel, you were likely to see the crest of his generous belly rise and fall, rise and fall, “taking in some sun.” His only admonishment to us, and to anyone entering or leaving Flattery, was to exclaim in the authoritative drone of a train conductor, "Mind the gap!" Other boats had extendible ramps or connecting decking for easy access. Boarding or leaving Flattery involved traversing between the rim of her square bow and the weathered edge of the wooden dock. Imagine a boat-sized shoebox floating next to a pier, and you have some idea of the situation. When the tide was just right, the leap from dock to Flattery was a simple, polite step. Low tide turned the effort into a downward plunge, high tide into a high jump. Add to that the left to right, to and fro motions of the boat. Should you not succeed in mastering the gap, the reward was harsh. A quick flailing drop into the bay, depositing you directly between Flattery’s flat bow and the sharp-toothed barnacles blistered across the pilings. A smashing—crushing—chewing fate. I did not want to fall into the gap and expected every leap to be my last.
The danger in this pandemic seems both far away and threateningly close at hand. Germs. Deadly. Hidden in the air, pooled in the sweaty Amazon deliveries. I wear a mask. I show up for vaccinations. I will never feel safe in a crowd again. I mind the gap as best I can, knowing that one day the gap will open wide; as wide as a cat’s yawn, as wide as all my lost yesterdays, as wide as my long-dead grandmother's outstretched arms, swung wide in jubilant welcome, ready to bring me on home.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lou Storey is a visual artist and psychotherapist, in short, a storyteller, living in Savannah, Georgia with his husband of thirty-three years Steve and a happy bounty of dogs, cats, and chickens. Lou’s fiction and creative nonfiction writings have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Tiny Love Stories, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, Beyond Queer Words Anthology, and various academic journals related to creativity and mental health.
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