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The Negotiation




Sandra Lambert



The park ranger rents canoes, rings up sales, answers phones and people’s questions, and is already eyeing me and my wheelchair as a prospective hassle.  I wait in the canoe rental line and hope, but doubt, that she'll offer to help launch one.  She is a young woman, and my chances are always better with women over fifty and all men.   As I reach the head of the line, another ranger, an older man, lets himself behind the counter and takes the woman's place.  He brushes a crumb off the front of his uniform and looks over my head to smile at the customer behind me. 


"I'd like a four hour rental."  I speak distinctly but refuse to raise my voice.  Embarrassed, the ranger adjusts the direction of his greeting downward.  I have the first advantage.


"Fiberglass or aluminum?"


"Aluminum."  I am decisive despite having no opinion.   He hands me the paperwork, and I pull it to my lap.   The man fidgets with his forms and clears his throat.  I put and keep my head down. 


"How many will be in the canoe?"


"Oh, it's just me."  Head still bent, I see the man's knuckles rub back and forth on the counter. 


"Have you canoed before?" 


I raise one eyebrow, catch his eye, and say nothing. 


He continues with a hint of stammering.  "I mean, here in the Okefenokee Swamp." 


The other ranger pauses in her work.  I feel the crowd behind me, listening.  As usual, I want to ask if he questions the competence of all adult renters, but he has the power to refuse me service.  Sure, I can write letters of complaint, make outraged phone calls, tell the press, but I'll be sitting at home doing it.  I don't want to fight.  I want to go canoeing.  I throw him a bone.


"Oh sure.  I did that Kingfisher-Bluff Lake overnighter.  The pitcher plants were blooming.  Amazing, aren't they?  Especially the trumpets, I'd never seen them that tall."


I'm not lying.  An ex-lover had arranged for the camping trip.  Our relationship didn't get much beyond start, but I still appreciate her enthusiasm for all things outdoors.  She knew the Latin names of everything and was a fanatic for carnivorous plants.  I continue chatting at a snappy pace, throwing out pieces of my ex’s knowledge – Saracenia flava versus purpurea, the under appreciation of sundews, are bladderworts still in flower? – as a barrier between us.  Handing over the required fifteen dollars and completed form, I stop talking.  If they take the money, it means something.   The ranger spends too much time smoothing the bills, but we both sigh as he tucks them into the register.


"If you meet me down there," the man points through the window, "I'll put the canoe in the water.  You want to wear a jacket life preserver, right?"


"No, a cushion will do."   We smile at each other, and I think "nice try, mister."   I'm liking this guy.  He works hard to keep his mouth shut and isn't using the canoe-lifting thing to build a case against me.


We meet at the ramp, and I bark out a laugh as, with a sly grin, he throws both a jacket and cushion life preserver into the canoe.  He holds the side steady, and I slide onto the seat.  We discuss places I can leave my chair, but in the end I fold it, and he lifts it into the well of the boat. He waits for me while I tie it down, and then, when I give him a nod, slides the canoe into the water. 


With a wide front sweep, I turn the bow into the swamp.



aAccording to SANDRA LAMBERT, it took long long enough to become a writer.  There were always clues – as a child, she read through whole libraries, she hand binds journals, and you should see her bookmark collection.  Then there was that decade she spent running a bookstore.  And now,  she tells us that she's in her fifties, and she's written a novel. Excerpts of it have been published in Conte, the podcast WordKnot, and this issue of Shine!.  She writes short stories and essays as well, and they've been accepted in the journals Breath and Shadow and Gertrude.  These days, she's working on the next novel.

 You may reach her at:   

Motivation: "The Negotiation is a reworked excerpt from my, as yet, unpublished novel The Adventures of Ivy.  It tells of a road trip that has no motorcycles, bar fights, long sea voyages, or fiery crashes.  There is just a woman, a lesbian, a disabled person taking her unique route to finding home."