Tramp Harbor

Jennifer Geisinger

            Vashon Island was black fog.  The Puget Sound was ink.  Tramp Harbor.  Pearl loved names.  She loved words, and connections.  She loved being home, even if she had no place to go.  It was enough just to be in this place.  The rest would come.

     Tramp Harbor was such a tawdry name for a place where people got high or watched the sunset, or did them both together.  It also sounded like there was a troll under the bridge like in Fremont.  Vagabond Paradise.  That would be a good name for a band. 

     Pearl wasn’t worried about being moved on by the police.  She could stay here a week and have a bonfire, and nothing would happen except people coming out of the woodwork.  The one cop was currently sleeping at Thriftway uptown, or at least he had been when she drove through a few hours ago.  He worked a second job in construction and usually knocked off early, taking the last ferry back to Seattle at two am instead of waiting for the morning boat.  He must have figured the island could fend for herself a few hours.  She probably could.

      Nobody minded. Everybody knew what he was doing, there were no secrets on a small island.  If the ferry workers know, everyone knows.

            Pearl breathed in the damp.   She was going to be on that morning boat.  She was.  Maybe.  Daylight would bring out the smug tai-chi people saluting the sun with earnest eagerness.   Pearl needed to get some coffee and move on before that happened.  She couldn’t stomach hope or hippies right now.

            Pearl walked the crumbling pier, carefully, carefully. Maybe going down wouldn’t be such a bad idea.  It would solve a lot.  It really was falling apart down here.  Someone could just slip right through.

     It was so dark—no stars even.  She always forgot how Vashon felt until she was here.  She hadn’t planned to come at all, but she needed the island.  She knew every inch of it.  

     She headed back to her old beat up Buick.  It had been her Grandad’s a long time ago.  Now it was home.  Temporarily.

     When they were kids their address was always temporary-they lived all over this little place.  Campgrounds, farms, buses.  Rich in love, but low on rent.  Not much has changed, except maybe the love part.  Love was complicated.  Too complex for today.

     Today it was her day to be the tramp in the harbor.  The window was open a little where the glass had slipped down, and the duct tape was peeling off.  Well, no fear of pride going before a fall.  Pearl never had much pride to begin with, so living in her car wasn’t a huge leap.

            The baby was wailing inside, looking for food, and apparently it had wandered away.   Pearl eased Opal’s kicking arms and legs out of the straps, and tried to maneuver her own arms and legs and breasts with panic itself.  The baby’s back arched and the scream stopped.  Eerie.  Opal screamed silently, and then made up for lost time.

“SHHH….Opal…..I’m here.” Pearl pleaded as she aimed for her mouth. 

She was right here, she showed up for her, she had food.  She was  doing what she was supposed to do.  Feeding her baby.  One foot in front of the other. 

     When she was pregnant it was a lot easier.  Self-contained.  She never knew that babies got mad.  It made sense.  She was always mad at her mom, so it must start early.  She had just needed air, that’s all.  She couldn’t breathe.  She had needed to get away for a minute; to think for just a minute.

     Opal finally  latched on, catching her breath, her little arms stopping to stroke her mother’s skin.  Soft, milky, baby sighs as she drifted off. 

“Hey, wake up, and finish what you started,” Pearl said.  Opal had a habit of eating for five minutes, falling asleep, and doing it all over a half hour later.

     She was asleep, but at least she was still eating.  She wanted her to hurry up and finish so she could put her back down.  She just wanted Opal to sleep and sleep and sleep.  She was caring for a little alien.  She hadn’t expected that.  She thought she would at least feel the way she would feel about a puppy. 

     Benign detachment is what she felt.   Maybe deeper, but not by much.  This was a surprise.  Opal was too, but it hadn’t looked so hard when other girls did it.  She had wanted to keep her own baby so badly.  Careful what you wish for.

     What a tricky little baby.  Sleeping she looked so calm and serene, but if Pearl moved her, tried to seek her own space, the baby would know.  She always wanted to sleep on Pearl.  She had sensors when Pearl tried to put her down.  Needy.  She had wanted to be needed, but not like this.

     The boat was coming, and she needed to be on it.  She got back in the Buick, shivering.  Even when she put the heat on it was cold because of the broken window.  She needed more tape.

     She stopped at the fire station, to see if they had any tape there.  She had twenty minutes, plenty of time. 

     She carried the baby into the office.  Empty.  Randy was probably out back shining the truck or something.  He must be.

     She put down the baby carrier, after clearing a space on his disaster of a desk,  and looked around.  Nobody.  Oh well.  She could fix the window on the other side of the water.

     She had to go.  She didn’t have a choice.

     “Bye. Baby,” Pearl whispered, but didn’t look at Opal. 

     She couldn’t.  The baby would be OK, she had left a bottle for her in the diaper bag.  It wasn’t the same, but it would work.

     She ran for the boat.

Jennifer Geisinger is a teacher, student, writer, and mother living in Rochester, Mn. Some of her poetry can be found along the trails as a winner in the 2020 Rails to Trails Contest in Southern Minnesota.


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