She was trying hard to ignore Tom's bitching and just enjoy the sunny day. It was peaceful on the river, at least for now. She could faintly hear the roar of rapids ahead - the whole point of this outing. Tom just had to prove to his buddies at work he could run the same river they had, and do it even with his useless wife paddling. She'd tried to tell him that she'd paddled a lot at summer camp but he just laughed.
"You probably just tipped the canoe," he said. "That's the kind of pathetic person you are. No good for anything."
She'd actually been quite good at canoeing. She'd used to be good at a lot of things, before she got married and learned how useless she was. Repeatedly. She was useful for him to yell at, though, and sometimes to throw a fist at, when he'd had a few too many. She'd tried talking to her friends about it, but all they saw was Tom, the former high-school quarterback, top salesman at the local car dealership and proud father of a little boy.
Of course he took the stern, being so macho, but he had only a vague idea of how to paddle. Left on his own, powering along on one side, he'd have driven them in circles. She didn't dare suggest a J-stroke, or even switching sides, as she didn't want the other eye blackened too. So, even though she was much slighter than him, she managed to use her skills to quietly keep them on a relatively straight path.
She turned around briefly. "Rapids just ahead."
He scowled at her. "I know, I'm not deaf, bitch. This will be a piece of cake. Quick run then it's an easy two hour drift to the camp site. We'll be at the bridge by noon tomorrow dry and without a scratch, and those ass-holes waiting there can pay off the bet. I'll love rubbing their faces in this." He gave a whoop. "And remember, dummy, once we hit the rapids, try not to be so pathetic and actually put some back into it. The faster we power through the sooner we'll be done."
They'd had this discussion before. She'd tried to explain the idea of back-paddling in rapids, of slowing to read them, then crossing diagonally over to an eddy and pulling in behind a rock or log. She'd tried to explain how you worked with the water, not against it.
"Bullshit," he said. "That's for pussies. I don't give in to anyone or anything."
So here they were, in for what she was sure would be a rough ride. And of course, with any problems being her fault. Again.
"Yes dear," she said, and turned back to the bow. She settled comfortable down on her knees and checked that everything was secure - hat, fanny pack, and life-jacket.
"Scared of a little water?" he jeered.
She knew without looking he would still be sitting arrogantly in his seat, cigar in his mouth, bare-chested and glaring at her back.
The first set of rapids looked to be only Class II so she dutifully followed his method and they managed to make it through unscathed.
"See honey, I told you so," he said. "Next one I'll be even faster."
She paused as the next rough patch came into view. These might even be Class IV. They would definitely be travelling a lot faster, at least until they hit something. She was about to turn again when Tom jabbed her with his paddle, right in the middle of her back.
"Paddle, bitch." he yelled. "Or I'll toss you over and you can swim out. And go ahead and run crying to your mommie - me and my little boy don't need you."
She'd barely had time to process that latest threat when they hit the first chute and the ride started. She could hear Tom yelling behind her, panicked, urging more speed. She was reaching to draw them toward an eddy when once again he jabbed her in the back.
"You useless piece of shit, stop screwing around. What are you trying to do - tip us?"
So she did.
She watched herself continue the draw while keeping her legs locked against the sides, falling toward the water and bringing the canoe over with her. She heard a startled yell behind her, then a splash, then silence. Just the roar of the water.
She'd managed to aim the bow out of the main current, so had a chance to grab it and watch the stern swing around. She caught her breath and found some footing underneath. She was just in time to watch as Tom popped up in a couple of haystacks, shaking his fist and yelling, then slammed head first into a huge black rock.
Darlene used her hat to scoop the few inches of water out of the canoe and unstrapped the spare paddle - a precaution that Tom of course had mocked. Too bad he hadn't let her tie the pack in too. The rest of the run was relatively easy, but it took her a while to find the football star, lying in a few inches of water.
She drew close enough to check that he was in fact face down, then continued down to the camp site. Someone had been kind enough to leave a small pile of wood, so she was soon snug in front of a fire, sheltered by the overturned canoe. She munched a granola bar and looked forward to her first peaceful night in years.
She burned the paddle too. Tomorrow she'd drift down to the bridge, as the tearful widow.