Luca blows out a long breath, relaxes his shoulders and leans against the bench's backrest as the ferry pulls away from the Everett City pier. Astrid sits next to him, her curly red hair whipping across a freckled face, her nose buried in a tattered copy of The Peanut Butter Falcon. In front of them, Bobby, his brown hands gripping the side of the boat as the waves rock the deck. He insisted on wearing a life jacket, even after Luca told him that only kids had to put them on. The straps Luca had to loosen to fit over Bobby's belly flap in the wind making a snap, snapping sound.
“Bobby, why don’t you sit?” Luca offers, patting the bench.
“Do you like clouds?” Bobby asks.
“Do you like squirrels?”
Bobby rocks back and forth, heel, toe, heel, toe.
“Okay, yes, I like squirrels,” Luca says.
Bobby stands still. “It rained on this day in 1907. It was a Wednesday.”
“Wednesday is woman climbing a hill with a heavy bucket of water,” Astrid whispers. “Nineteen, oh seven… a rabid dog chasing a chipmunk.”
“What about 1908?” Luca asks.
“A family holding hands as they walk down a long road.”
“Morning. Tickets, please,” a voice beside Luca says. It belongs to a uniformed man holding a rectangular electronic device.
“Uncooked potato face,” Astrid says.
“Ah, pay her no mind, kind sir. She's....practicing spoken-word poetry,” Luca says as he stands up, brushing the creases from his suit. Bowing slightly he reads the ticket takers's name tag, R. Simmons. "Mr. Simmons, just a moment while I unlock my phone and retrieve the information you seek."
Mr. Simmons scans Luca's phone, squinting at the information that flashes up on the screen.
“Mr. Esposito, I see you’ve bought a family ticket,” he says.
“Yes, yes indeed I have.”
Mr. Simmons looks from brown-skinned Bobby, to pale Astrid, to olive-skinned Luca.
“Do you like sugar?” Bobby asks, turning from the railing to face the ticket taker.
“I…yes,” he says.
Bobby nods and twitches his fingers like he’s counting.
Mr. Simmons begins, “Family tickets are reserved for—”
“Do you like magazines?” Bobby asks.
Bobby smiles and says, “You were born on January 9th, 1972.”
The ticket taker stares at Bobby. “How…how could you know that?”
“An old man limping up a spiral staircase, a boy fishing from a pier," Astrid adds.
Mr. Simmons shifts uncomfortably from one foot to another. "Are you some kind of—”
“That’s a Sunday,” Bobby says.
“A mountain climber with two teeth missing,” Astrid continues.
Luca stands up, blocking Mr. Simmon's view of Bobby. “My brother works at a fair ground, guessing people’s ages. Odd choice of career I know, but he's gotten rather good at it," he says, as he straightens his bow tie. "I can discern from your demeanour that you question our origins, and I can assure Mr. Simmons, that these are my siblings and we are related, not by blood, but by merit of cohabitation lo these many years."
Mr. Simmons leans to this right, looking past Luca, trying to catch sight of Bobby, but he’s already turned back to the railing.
“Alright, Mr. Esposito," he sighs, "you’ve got a family day ticket, no return, that’s good until ten this evening.”
“A sleepwalker on a tightrope,” Astrid says, just above the wind.
He glances at her, then back to Luca. “Have a pleasant journey,” he says shaking his head as he walks away.
“Guys, we discussed this, remember?” Luca says. “Bobby?”
Bobby turns from the railing and asks, “Do you like tomato soup?”
Luca looks up at the sky and back to him. “Yes.”
“Do you like clowns?”
“Most definitely not.”
“On February 5th, 1953, a ferry crashed on this river, during a storm. That was a Thursday.”
“An opera singer in the spotlight, a one-eyed owl in the bell tower, strawberry ice cream melting on the pavement,” Astrid says.
“Astrid, Bobby…we agreed that you would not say anything. That I would do all the talking. We don’t want call unnecessary attention to ourselves. Right?”
Astrid shrugs, Bobby nods.
“They will have seen that we’re not in our rooms by now. They’ll be calling the police. Lots of people will be looking for us.”
“Luca,” she asks, “how long do we have. Before they find us?”
“I dunno. Everett City isn’t that big. They’ll probably check the hospitals and then the bus depot. They won’t think to check the ferries right away, because they think I’m hydrophobic,” he laughs, looking at the brown choppy river.
“Classic misdirection,” he says, pulling out a deck of cards and shuffling. “Once we make it to Emerald, we’ll get new IDs.”
He fans out the cards and turns to Astrid, who selects one, looks at it, and returns it the deck. He shuffles for several minutes, staring at the far shore. “Astrid, you can get a job as an astronaut. Bobby, you can work as a zookeeper.” He slips a card from the deck and shows it to Astrid. She smiles.
“And me? I’ll be a famous prestidigitator, pulling elephants out of top hats and making the Eiffel Tower appear in our backyard,” he laughs. “And we’ll all live in one house, together, like a real family. We can go out when we want, and we won’t have to take the pills and go to group sessions and—”
“I like group sessions,” Astrid says. “People talk about dates, past and future. It’s like a mini-series in my head.”
“Okay, well, the three of us can be a group. From Tuesday, June 15th 2021 to Thursday, July 30th 2050.”
“July 30th 2050 is a Saturday,” Bobby says.
“An honest werewolf, a bald TV-presenter, a wingless crow—”
The blast of the ferry horn interrupts Astrid’s imaginings. A voice on the loudspeaker announces that the next stop is Emerald. People disembarking should do so from the back of the boat.
“Alright, here we go,” Luca says as he removes Bobby's life jacket and they make their way to the gangplank.
Luca walks behind Bobby who takes small shuffling steps over the footbridge, sliding his hands along the railing, either side of him. Astrid waits for them on the pier, eavesdropping on a teenage couple.
“Mr. Esposito,” a voice says behind Luca says. He freezes for a moment, then whispers to Bobby, "Can you go faster, please."
“Do you like trees?” Bobby asks.
Luca finally turns towards the voice. It’s Mr. Simmons. “You need to tap your phone against the reader as you leave,” he says, holding the electronic gadget.
"Oh right, this new-fangled technology," Luca smiles, hovering his phone over the reader, waiting for the beeping to confirm his exit. "Good day to you kind sir," he says, tipping his top hat.
“You have a nice trip now, with your family,” Mr. Simmons says.
Luca joins Astrid and Bobby on the pier and they watch the ferry pull away, boiling the water beneath it.
“Do you like trees?” Bobby repeats.
“Yes,” Luca says, "very much."
"On this day 20 years ago, June 14th, 2001, lightening struck the tree in my backyard. A branch cracked off and hit me on the head," Bobby says. "That was a Thursday."
"A bonfire, a tree swing, three people roasting marshmallows," Astrid says.
"That's what I picture too," Luca says as the ferry disappears around a bend in the river, churning its turbulent way to the next town.