Anna Maxymiw
"The Shipping Platform"

It’s not the female employees who unload the luggage—ever. The lodge shoreline is male domain. There’s an actual line we aren’t allowed to cross, a border where the gravel paths that lead down from the lodge end, and the dock begins. We girls argue that this isn’t fair, that the boys can go everywhere. They like to stand in our way during our breakfast rush and shove bacon into their mouths while we try to serve. We can barely sneak a joke or two to one another without being overheard. But down on the waterfront, the boys shrug off orders without a twitch. They swig cold coffee from the Thermoses we pack for them every morning and swear as loud as they want. They swagger, sway, spit over their shoulders, yell to the weather and the sky and the pike lurking under the interlock dock.

We envy those boys. We are stuck in the kitchen, the dining room, areas where our boss can keep sharp eyes on us. It makes us tighten our jaws and our eyelids, makes us angrier and angrier with them as the weeks pass. We feel like there are marbles of dark thunder rolling around under our breastbones. On our nights off the girls sit at a crooked, rusting picnic table high up on the shore, nowhere near the dock. We have to look down at the laughing male employees. We shift our eyes to the horizon.

During my first week in camp, I make the mistake of crossing the boundary. Nobody has explicitly told me that I’m not allowed down there. I’m just happy to stay out in the rain that can barely be called rain it’s so fine and lacy.

The boys work so differently than us girls. The housekeepers are in charge of the hospital corner, of killing the horseflies that get trappedin guest cabins. We wash the shit-smeared laundry that the guests hand off to us without eye contact. Our work is minutiae, little things that keep the fishing lodge running without ever being perceptible—filling the bottles of maple syrup, vacuuming the crevices of the guest rooms, making sure the toast doesn’t burn. The boys are allowed a little more glory. Their work is big. They hold the freight canoes at the dock while the guests disembark. They pull the boats up onto rails every night for safe storage, working in grunts and whoops. They rev Yamaha motors with wide arcs of their arms and dramatic grimaces, straddling the gunwales of the boats and cracking their shoulders, farting like trumpets. Some of us girls spend our entire afternoons off watching the boys run across the boat rails. Not even the rain puts them off—it seems to only make them stronger, wilder.

On my third night off, I sit on the edge of the shipping platform—a lopsided wooden slab held up by empty jerry cans and old barbecuesauce buckets, wedged at the cusp of land where the dock begins and the shore ends. I watch the boys work. One fishing guide, Stuart, stands between my legs, buttoning me into his rain jacket. The inner cuffs—silk, for warmth—are damp around my wrists. We all smell musty and wet and when the boys rip open a package of stink bait, I jerk back and they laugh. Another guide, Dave, is leaning against the platform beside me, flinging jokes out of the side of his wide mouth. Everyone is at ease, dirty, damp from the mist. Nicknames are being born. The guests don’t even notice me, my breasts and hips hidden inside the loose shell of the coat.

Suddenly, our boss appears on the shoreline. He’s not well pleased. Because there are guests around, he can’t yell, so instead he walks right up to me. He’s smiling.

Stuart, he says. What is the problem that I see here?

I shrug, answering for Stu without opening my mouth. I’m confused. Dave has already fucked right off at the first sign of trouble, and he stands at a distance, wide-legged on the rails, looking out at the lake and the dark clouds, his shirt soaked to his shoulder blades.

It’s this lovely lady sitting right here. Where should she be?

I don’t answer because I don’t know where I’m supposed to be. Aren’t I supposed to be here, leaning back on my hands, feeling the paint peeling beneath my palms so much that I come away with flecks in my love-lines? Watching the physical work of men?

No. I am not.

Stu mumbles. He moves from between my thighs like a flickering smelt.

You don’t have to move right now, our boss finally says directly to me, as if he’s doing me a favour.

When he leaves, I slip out of Stuart’s jacket without making a sound. I’m too humiliated to offer any backchat to the boys who are watching me leave. I walk away from the shoreline, back into the forest, to the girls’ cabin, to my bed, where I at least have a space for myself and a reprieve from the rain.

Move, we housekeepers cry at the boys. Move out of our way! Our words are not bred from malice, more out of self-loathing and utter weariness.

Move, we cry at Stuart, who is trying to cheer us up by dancing a reel in the kitchen. Normally we’d laugh, but he’s standing right in the doorway, and we’ve been working at the lodge for weeks, now, and we’re tired, and any moment another server is going to come in with a tray full of dirty dishes and everything is going to go flying. Move, we scream. Go back to the dock, we say, and poor Stuart sputters, slips out of the doorway, embarrassed. Immediately, we feel shame. And then we can’t spend any more time mulling or worrying because more guests come in off the lake and we pick up our heels, and we work a flurry over and over again within our four walls.

The main building of the lodge has a tin roof. When it rains, it can sound like anything we desire. A tiny snare. A rollicking of heels and fists. A toothy monsoon. We’re getting ready for dinner service when we hear the rain start, and we can tell it’s going to be a thick one. The kind of rain that rails so loudly against the walls and eaves that we won’t be able to hear our guests place their orders even though we’re standing only a foot away from them. But there’s something about a rain like this that makes us all twitchy and thrilled. It’s a vestige of childhood, the idea of a puddle day, a rain check. We ask our guests if they want Russian or Italian salad dressing, if they want their roast rare or medium, but our eyes are cast on the plateau of the lake just beyond the dining-room windows. On the way the water is shifting from bronze to grey, frothing and belching along the sandy shoreline as if violent hands were tatting it. We’re ready. When we finish serving dinner, some of us girls make a dash for the cabins, needing only to step out of trousers and into sweatpants and let the inescapable aggravations of the day dissolve under the rhythms on our windows. But some of us pull on our jackets, our shells, rain pants and bibs and waders borrowed from the main lodge, abandoned gumboots pilfered from the back corners of guest cabins and adopted as our own. We don’t know how long the rain will last. There’s a saying up here: Don’t like the weather? Wait fifteen minutes! We can’t risk a delay. We have to run to the dock.

The boss is never out in weather like this. He prefers his double bed, the radiators of the lodge, the ability to check and re-check weather systems obsessively on his satellite internet. Right now, he’ll be strolling in and out of the rows of tables in the dining room, leaning down to tell people how fierce the current system is, how long it’ll be overhead. These pronouncements are always wrong, but people like being uselessly reassured. And because he’s inside, we are outside. Already two of the dockhands and two of the fishing guides are sitting on the shipping platform, watching the lightning scup in from across the lake, and we girls join them.

No moment of hesitation. No frittering. The line of gravel and concrete that’s supposed to deter us has been muddied by the rain, anyway. The downpour is so strong that it seems to have tibiae, a diamond-ringed gullet, bear claws. It gnaws at us, already dripping down our waistbands and our collars, despite our best efforts to swathe ourselves against it. It slashes sideways, plasters our faces, wets our tongues. Cleans away the hot words we felt the urge to say throughout the day. We wedge in beside the boys, and we laugh because the platform is so high off the ground that our feet dangle like we’re children.

From behind, we all look the same—brightly coloured lumps subtly bobbing up and down on the spot as a result of our legs swinging back and forth. Our hoods are cinched tight around our eyes. There are no big or little motions, no breasts or stubble that would delineate us from one another. We are hideous and bulky, strong, damp, squished shoulder to shoulder, instinctively huddling each time the thunder bays and barks. It’s dangerous, sitting here and tracking the lightning as it vaults across the water. We’re too close to the action. The sky is so rimed with clouds that we swear, later, that we could actually see the thunder. We taste the static on the air, like cling-wrap and lime juice fresh out of the container. We smell the fish scales in the wild wind, all of the things brought up from the bottom of the lake—old bones, old Silver Minnows rusted with lust and patience. We are reduced only to senses— what we see, smell, want. What we feel from one another’s bodies. What we feel in our spines every time the sky rolls.

We’re tiny. We’re at our most febrile, the heat of the summer days folding away into the snap of the storm like egg whites into a batter, the weather perched on the cusp of the sunset that is blithely proceeding somewhere unseen behind the gale. We’re awake, heated. It’s arousal, but not yet for male or female—because in the face of the greatest storm we have ever seen we can’t spare a thought for longing. Instead, we howl up to the sky and grab one another’s shoulders and thighs, soak ourselves to the organs, feel our quiet rage leak out of us like it’s being pulled back to the place where all anger comes from.

That night, the girls’ cabin roofs leak onto our bunk beds, and we mix unused tampons with old jute to try and keep our bunks dry. The couples on staff have sex as loud as they want because the bawling of the storm is so thick that nothing can be heard. The waterfront twists up into a maze of spouts, liquid cyclones across the lake surface. The lightning turns red across the bay, and all around us forest fires start from the top down and for the rest of the summer we remain on smoke watch, wondering if we will ever be engulfed.

That night, we think we’ll never be able to fall asleep, but all of us close our eyes at the same time, folding our damp hands under pillows, and when we wake up the next morning, we’ve dreamt of nothing and slept without rupture. We are tall and green and loose-limbed from the depletion of electricity in the air. We’ve lost our cranky fever. We’re back to being boys and girls. Our rain gear will eventually dry, and the housekeepers will never get to sit on the shipping platform again, but it doesn’t matter. Because we all yipped, swung our legs off the edge, circled our necks with rain. For that reckless moment, we were the same.