We took the boat to camp every year. Our parents would drop us off and kiss us goodbye and then we cried. We lugged huge rucksacks twice our size onto an ageing ferry. Paint peeling off the white hull. The once-red lifejackets lay in salmon-pink piles on the floor. Stop the boats, we cried, but they never did. I sometimes faked an illness but usually I’d just sulk in the car. Radiate displeasure on every frequency. No FM, no AM, just static. No chance of talkback. But every year it was the same story. Our parents waved from shore as we clutched our sleeping bags. Clutched each other and prayed that we would make it through the week.
It wasn’t the length of camp that concerned us. Just the first day. We lined up on the cracked tennis court and were sorted into cabins. McDermott, Johnson, Fagan – Yellow Cabin. Smith, Williams, Adamson – Red Cabin. Blue Cabin was always last. Like the teachers knew.
The stories came from our older brothers. About the kid who died in Blue Cabin. He had an allergic reaction after eating peanuts. Drowned in the river after capsizing his canoe. He was bitten by a snake and died convulsing on the floor. His name is carved into the top bunk next to the window. Adam Carter Died Here. I can’t tell you how he wrote that. But we all believed he did.
Life was amplified in Blue Cabin. So was death. At night the wind howled a little louder. The cabin creaked and shook and swayed. The bunk beds squeaked like a mouse’s last breath. And the boys in the other cabins would nod and say: good luck. They had either been through it or they knew that their time would come.
The teachers told us that there was nothing to worry about. Said that they were just stories, that there was no truth to them. At night they patrolled the path outside the cabins. We never felt safe but still, nothing ever happened. And every year we went back to our parents. They stood smiling on the shore.
But then the stories changed. We hadn’t been to camp for years. We hadn’t thought about Blue Cabin for years. The stories stopped coming from the older brothers. And the stories came to them instead. Stories about school camps and teachers and nightly patrols. The teachers said that they were just stories, that there was no truth to them. We decided that Adam Carter was lucky. A capsized canoe was preferable to the alternative. But then the stories changed. They became letters. Letters with signatures and explanations and apologies. Memories of paint peeling from the hull of an ageing ferry. And our parents read those letters in their kitchens and their studies. Called us in New York and London and asked their adult sons the unaskable. Clutched each other and prayed that we had made it through the week.
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