Floatation Devices
by Janalyn Guo

On her birthday, C. Hoban floats gracefully on the surface of the lake in a one-piece swimsuit, silver wiry hair in a loose bun.  Through her un-waterlogged ear, she can hear the chatter of the party guests underneath the tinkle of their utensils.  C. Hoban opens her eyes and squints at the sun, then closes them again and watches the starbursts in her retina drift upwards away from her.  When she reopens one eye, her left one, she notices a figure standing on the dock. 

A poised little boy in a striped shirt and blue swimming shorts stands squinting on the dock, watching C. Hoban.  J. Hoban, boy ballerina, tries to get her attention by elegantly waving his finger.  In his other hand, he balances a square slice of cake on a round plate.  How funny, C. Hoban thinks after a good glance, that he doesn’t use his whole hand.  The boy should be taught to be assertive, she thinks.  “Grandma, have some cake,” he shouts.  C. Hoban hears his voice and cranes her neck a little to see him better.  She makes minor adjustments to her flotation device, flicking her feet, so she can turn her body around to see him without straining.  “Just float it to me,” she says.         

Once she’s turned around, C. Hoban stops flicking her feet.  “How do I do that?” the boy yells back at her.  “Just put the plate on the water and give it a push,” she says. “It’ll be alright.”  The boy places the plate of cake onto the water and gives it a nudge with his toe.  Thank God for children, she thinks.  They just go and do what you say and don’t give you any trouble.  Children are intelligent, suspicion-free people.  The cake drifts in the water now.  Both C. Hoban and J. Hoban watch as it shakily finds its buoyancy.  C. Hoban is happily surprised to see it float.  She didn’t know if the cake was going to make it.  She thought it might sink, and that would have been it. 

Once the cake stabilizes, J. Hoban kneels down on the dock and starts peddling the water around it with his hands so that the plate moves closer to her without getting the cake wet.  The cake hobbles along until C. Hoban can grab it with the tip of her fingertip.  When she is able to reach it, she snatches it up and rests it on her belly.  “Thank you, Jimmy,” she says.  She lets the cake sit on her belly for some time, looking over her nose.  The cake disappears and reappears to every inhale exhale, like a little magic act.  How delightful, C. Hoban thinks.  Then, she uses her water-pruned fingertip to take a pinch of cake and then drop it into her mouth.  Soon, C. Hoban takes more pinches of cake.  She hadn’t expected it to be this delicious.

G. Hoban looks over at the lake and watches his wife’s body for a moment, which looks incredibly tiny.  As the sun bores down on his back, G. Hoban looks for sun block among the buns and the patties so he can think a little less about his skin boiling and more about grilling and all the mouths to feed.  Had he and his wife really populated the world with this many people?  G. Hoban pats the backs of his twin boys, H. Hoban and P. Hoban, as a signal to get them back to work.  He knows how to run an operation, all these kids of varying youngness being, he thinks with a smirk and a pat at his fly, the fruit of his loins.  He thinks to himself, Babycakes needs some lotion or else she’ll burn.   

M. Hoban, wife of P. Hoban, grabs G. Hoban by the arm and takes him to his own backyard, where four long tables are set up for the feast.  In the center of the second table, a giant seven-tiered cake stands beautifully, one for every decade of C. Hoban’s life.  M. Hoban asks him how he had taken care of the tree all these years, for she’s never tasted oranges so sweet before.  He leans against the bark and gives it a pat of ownership.  “I am very proud of this tree,” he says.  “When we first planted it, it was only this big.”  He stretches his index finger away from his thumb to demonstrate.  “Now, there’s no stopping this thing.”  Pat, pat.           

Out on the lake, a phrase repeats in C. Hoban’s head in a sing-song way.  Well, sir, consider yourself stopped, C. Hoban thinks and chuckles to herself.  It’s from a specific scene in a movie she watched three days ago, with her husband G. Hoban, a musical called Is Doctor Kevorkian Still Alive?  There is this scene at the very beginning of the musical when the judge sentences Kevorkian to prison for his assisted suicides and looks down from his immensely high podium and sings the lines with fierce spit-firing accusatory staccato: well-Sir-consider-yourself-stopped!  The chorus swelled, repeating these five words over and over, breaking the line at a different syllable each time, giving an effect as if the whole sentence itself had been dismantled like car parts. 

A ring of crumbs rises and falls on C. Hoban’s nylon suit.  C. Hoban looks up and finds J. Hoban still standing there on the dock.  He stands there eyeing her.  She thinks to herself, did they make him stand there to make sure I don’t drown?  She hates being the object of concern.  It’s very embarrassing.  To get the boy going, she says, “The cake is a little wet, but it’s delicious.  Tell your mother I say so.”  He disappears with a prance.       

J. Hoban wanders back to the barbeque for his own slice of cake and sees his aunty and grandfather positioned in front of the orange tree.  He stands next to his aunty.  She pats him on the head.  “My methodology is a bit unconventional,” G. Hoban says, looking up into the tree.  “Christine yells at me when I suggest ladders.  She thinks I’ll fall and die picking oranges.”  G. Hoban positions his arms as if he is driving a car with a large steering wheel.  “So, I plant myself right here,” he says to M. Hoban, crouching his knees, “and I take these two long bamboo poles and tie them together on the upper end and pinch the oranges off, like I’m holding chopsticks.”  Both J. Hoban and M. Hoban take up crouching positions next to him.  “Can I try?” says M. Hoban. 

G. Hoban grabs two bamboo poles resting against the fence and hands them to M. Hoban.  For a moment, he watches M. Hoban apologetically pull leaves and branches off of the tree.  He says, “Why don’t you try again later.  It takes getting used to.”  He excuses himself to resume his search for sunblock, which he finally finds on top of the toilet tank.  When he snatches it up, he thinks to himself, Ah, I do remember leaving this here.        

G. Hoban walks down to the lake with sunblock in hand.  He shades his eyes with his horizontal hand and before making a sound or syllable, he wallops the sunblock in an arc towards C. Hoban’s body.  The sunblock drops in the water and floats back up, next to C. Hoban’s right arm.  C. Hoban keeps floating, unperturbed.  She makes a slight barely detectable motion with her arm to snatch up the lotion.  Another woman joins G. Hoban on the dock, K. Hoban, J. Hoban’s mother.  “How’s the cake?” she shouts.  C. Hoban keeps her eyes at the sky.  “You’re a fine baker,” she says.  “Do you want to come out and open some gifts?” K. Hoban asks.  C. Hoban snorts.  “You can open them for me,” she says.  “I don’t mind.”

As the sun bores through the lid of C. Hoban’s closed eyes – more starbursts – she gets a thought.  She thinks, I’m parched.  At the end of my seventieth year, my point of consistency is that I’ve smoked non-stop since I was eighteen and never once tried to quit.  And though my breasts are like dried persimmons and are as empty of life as light switches, a least I have replaced all my teeth for fake prettier ones.  She grins and bares her pearlies at her optimism towards continuation.        

The party crowd gathers around the lake and brings with them their champagne glasses and some gift boxes.  Over fifty Hobans and friends.  Little J. Hoban tells the crowd that they can float their presents to C. Hoban.  Soon, there are items on aluminum trays coming at C. Hoban.  She watches the movement of these things, the ebb and flow, their coming and their rock backwards, the fragile journey of the various doohickeys.  The first gift that reaches her is from her youngest son: yellow Jell-O in a bed pan.  “Ha-Ha, that’s cruel,” she says.  She looks over at the crowd and waves.  She likes this gift.                       

H. Hoban, fingers entwined around W. Hoban’s, his wife’s, looks over at his mother, at her tiny sprawled out figure soaking up the sun, and tells the crowd who is toasting to her health, “Don’t worry about her.  The lake’s shallow.  She’s not going anywhere.”  Everyone clinks glasses, then pours their champagne into the lake.  H. Hoban doesn’t understand.  W. Hoban whispers into H. Hoban’s ear, “The champagne’s not very tasty.”  H. Hoban takes a sip and frowns.  He tells her it’s supposed to be aged champagne, though he has a suspicion that someone must have opened it and took a sip out of it sometime over the years because it’s totally flat and awful now.  M. Hoban says, “I didn’t know you could age cham – ”             

“Oh! My God,” C. Hoban exclaims when a swan settles on her stomach and pecks at the crumbs left on her suit.  She sinks a little into the water.  Ten Hobans immediately jump into the water to rescue her.  She starts flicking away from the crowd in the water, leaving the bed pan floating like a buoy, taking the swan with her. 


Janalyn Guo is an MFA Literary Arts student at Brown University, where she spends her days dabbling in storytelling in various forms from fiction to computer programming.  While residing in Providence, she enjoys the occasional trip outdoors for outdoorsy things.  She is currently working on a novel-length project on the subject of human bat babies, one bat baby in particular.  When she is not writing or outdoors, she is most likely indoors sleeping with a computer in her lap, which is, thus far, an incurable habit.



All Material © 2009 The New Yinzer and its respective authors