Blazing Houseboat – If Walls Could Talk – Fiction Friday

I was the mobile home of water. I was to water what a trailer is to the park. I was a houseboat. I didn’t start out as a floating trailer or to be nicer about the whole thing, I didn’t start out as a flop house that floats.

I was a nice wooden water craft. I didn’t really have a below decks. I was really just one level.

When folks design boats I have to wonder if they didn’t consult the people who built the mobile homes. Every space seemed to be useful.

I had a galley kitchen. That pretty much means only one person at a time could get any use out of me.

I have cabinets, drawers and nooks for storage all over me. One bin must be awkward to get to because I had some very old books, a pen, some paper and other jibbles that no one opened for years.

I didn’t leave the dock. No motor. There was still something there but no one seemed inclined to fix it. That is how I came to be sold and cheap.

The owner had money and I sat at dock most of the year waiting for him to come freshen me up, maybe look into that hidden bin.

One year the fellow who owned me gave the marina owner permission to loan me to people during the times he was gone. He didn’t expect any money. The boat didn’t do anything but float, the head was disabled, no water on board except through a garden hose.

The marina owner didn’t charge anything for my use. I could kind of tell they were free tenants because they didn’t come on board to change anything.

I was a sleeper. Once or twice I was towed out onto the water because a hurricane was coming through and the tide would have parked me right in the way of everything if they left me there.

I saw some really rip roaring marina parties. They’d put up smokers, old refrigerators of all things and smoke some sting ray, some shark, a lot of the stuff they cooked I thought of as bait.

You’d think the mix of free flowing drink and gulf water might not be the best thing to happen. But I don’t remember anyone falling in and being swept out to sea. That might be normal in a movie but in real life, they get drunk and after a while they just sit down.

Well, now, maybe they just sit down because the marina draws an older crowd whose falls would lead to some rehab and hospital bills.

There was always good music with a marina party. Loud. The more drink consumed, the louder the music and the louder the music the louder the players got. A third phone call inside the store and the owners would come out and dial the music back a bit. Even the guests looked relieved and some used the change in volume to excuse themselves.

The last year I was here the marina keeper let an old man use me. He could hardly make the step over. Boats rock and move and the tide changes from a step down to a step up and a storm makes things really hard to work with.

The fellow managed to get across the gap every evening smelling of some kind of cheap hard liquor. He oozed the stuff he was drinking in days and days of Florida sweat.

He dragged a long extension cord from the dock. A lot of the slip renters used extension cords. Even though electricity and water are a bad combination, no one gave it a second thought and while I was there I don’t know anyone who came to harm or electrocution.

So, this drunken fellow strings the cord onto the boat through one of the cabin windows. He made sure to leave plenty of length on the cord to allow for high and low tide. He may have been into his drink but a sliver of him still knew the basic things.

He wasn’t going to use the cord for cooking. Many of the week-enders would cook up on the dock, using electric appliances and preferred to avoid using the stoves on the boats. Maybe it is just the Florida heat that turns that decision. The heat here is unavoidable. Most of the year.

The old folks take their small boats out on the water and navigate to places like Long Boat Key or Egmont Island. Then they have some sweet tea and head back later in the day.

Across the way, just on the other side of the island, a person can walk there in three minutes is where the young people relax on jet skis, you can’t surf this edge of the gulf. But there is a wicked undertow that has taken a hand full of week-enders and tourists.

Over here on this side of the street, the visitors had nice sensible cars, they wore sensible but bright clothing and while they were by no means rich, they did okay.

There were a couple of dock cats. They mostly ran off these creatures called water turkeys that can be really pesky. One of the cats was a big black tom cat called Captain Green Sleeves. The Captain pretty much ruled. He was the mascot. Captain had free access to all of the people and the boats. He was a big old boy. I think every other week-ender left food for him and I know he got down right personal with several of the guests. I don’t know where Captain came from and I don’t know whatever became of him.

I was telling you about the old man. I think he spent his adult life in a sort of state looking through eyes like milky glass with rain running off. I don’t think he had a clear view of what he was doing or who he was or had become.

The old man would sleep here. He never actually came on and passed out. He just came on board and settled in.

When he got up in the mornings, well after the sun and the heat would start up, he would get up and pee off the private side of the boat. Then he’d prop the mattress up on its end.

He had a electric heater at the end of the cord he had strung out there. It could get a bit cold during the nights at this time of day and for a local with thin blood thinned more by drink, a space heater was a good investment.

It had rained during the night and the mattress was damp. Things don’t dry down here without some intervention or encouragement and even the most pickled fellow isn’t going to want to come home to a soggy bed.

He stood the mattress on end and aimed the space heater at it.

If only one person had known how the man was about to dry his bed, he have told him that this was a bad bad idea. Boats slosh. Anything you prop up can fall over and a mattress and space heater are a really bad mix.

It didn’t happen the first time he did this. He’d come in, switch off the heater, drop the mattress, putter around and go to sleep. He did this for about a week and nothing went wrong.

It was a Friday and some of the week-enders shuffled onto the docks.

One of those water turkeys had came up onto the docks and begged, flapped and generally got in the way.

That was when Captain Green Sleeves began chasing the sea bird.

Around the corner the bird flapped out of the sheltered part of the docks. At the edge the bird took a turn and flapped right into the boat. The cat came directly after. The boat bounced twice, a small bounce. The cat chased the bird further onto me and for some reason the Captain leaped up onto the top edge of the mattress.

As a result of physics, the mattress toppled over onto the space heater.

The bird flapped its way off the private side and the satisfied cat went back to the sheltered area of the dock.

About a half hour later, the marina owner looked up and saw the black tower of smoke arising from my hull.

He knew the fire department would not be able to save the boat. I was doomed. The marina man and two week-enders came and loosened my ties, ropes and pushed me away from the docks. I began to drift rather quickly.

Quite a crowd assembled on the dock to watch me burn to the water line.

Someone probably in one of the real houses must have called in a fire truck.
They arrived with sirens and lights, then shut down. The men on the truck stood with the week-enders until I was a smolder.

A flaming boat only burns to the water line before it starts to put itself out. The thick black smoke settled over the marina that day.

I was eventually quietly taken out to deeper water. The gulf is a huge trash dump.

I don’t know what became of the old man. I hope he dried out one day and got a real house.


All of the previous posts from the SpoonRiver of Houses can be accessed at

By Sally

Sally Franklin Christie Blogger and Author of If I Should Die and Milk Carton People.