We slipped away from Amsterdam during dinner. Sometimes when I glanced out the large window next to our table I could see a few cows lying along the shore. Some were on grass next to sandy beaches but twice I saw two small huddles of them sleeping on the sand itself.
Like sealions. Seacows. Only in Holland (or is it the Netherlands?) . . .
4 AM. When I crept from under the eiderdown to go to the miniscule bathroom only a faint, occasional tremor and the mere suggestion of the possibility of a throbbing engine betrayed the fact that our ship was moving.
I peered beneath the shade an unseen hand had pulled down over the window while we were lingering at the dinner table. There was just enough light outside to see that we were snugged up against a surface that was rough and pock-marked and that we were ghosting along it, the texture alternately visible and eclipsed by black semi-circles.
For a moment–I was asleep on my feet, so you’ll excuse my momentary idiocy–I thought, That’s the moon. How did we get within two inches of the moon?
Jerry was up now, too, standing beside me. In a quiet voice he said, “We’re in a lock.” As one, we scrambled about, pulling on clothes, yesterday’s, today’s, whatever was at hand, and carefully let ourselves out of our cabin. We ourselves ghosted down silent narrow corridors, up two stairways through the common areas, out on deck, and up another flight of stairs to the sun deck, now the star deck.
The walls to each side of us were higher than our heads and dripping with rivulets which caught the light of lamps–and traffic lights, all green-to-go–on the dock above us. The night was still soundless except for gentle gurgles as of water finishing down a drain and there was still almost no sense of motion.
As the ship carried us forward the walls spread apart and shrank behind us. Now there were low banks to each side, the banks of Holland, with shapes of a boxy building along the shore here, a pale church steeple in the distance there. A fitful breeze, not much, not cold, played with our sleep-rumpled hair and a liquid plop drew our attention to a disruption in the otherwise smooth water which could have been a diving bird or a fish.
In the wheelhouse ahead of us two dark shapes indicated the presence of the captain and someone else steering us around curves in the bank, then under–barely under–a minor bridge. One of the shapes emerged from the wheelhouse and came aft. I moved toward the man in an anxious, conciliatory sort of way, expecting him to advise us we had trespassed into an area where only crew were permitted.
But when I said, “Good morning” to him, he grunted “Gute nacht” without looking up and trudged off watch, disappearing down the companionway.
Street light created gold foil highlights in the windows of a building in the middle distance, dancing across them, now high, now low, the windows themselves only implied. A muffled hoarse croak, oily ripples, a hint of warm air current in the cool one. A strange odor to the air, something like diesel fumes mingled with other smells I couldn’t identify–the smell of Holland. Not the fresh air I would have imagined at “sea.”
We crossed an intersection of channels. Jerry measured our speed past a green light to our port (red was to starboard, backwards perhaps because the lights were indicating stop and go rather than port and starboard) and estimated it at maybe 15 mph.
A 4:30 one of the church bells rang, loud enough to be heard–just–soft enough not to wake anyone, just reassure them in their sleep as it offered a marker to those already awake.
“Ready?” asked Jerry in an undertone.
“After this bridge.”
“Wachtplatte,” a sign had read above the lock. “Watched plattes never boil” was how I remembered it. A sign for traffic across the bridge we were slipping under now looked like it read “Vienna” with some other letter at the end–another “n”?
We crept below, greeting a heavy man with a heavy accent sitting at the reception desk folding newsletters we would all later find slipped under our stateroom doors, announcing the upcoming events of the day. We are supposed to find ourselves docked in a town with windmills when we get out of bed in the morning.