Up early in the morning before the summer sun rises. No lights. Feel my way to my clothes and the bathroom. Make my toilet. Kiss June on her cheek. Check on our two sleeping girls.
Leave a note, "Gone fishing, Road 121. Back before lunch. Love you and the rascals too."
Step out into the warm morning. Stand still. Feel the soft breezes embrace. Soak up the calm before the light of day. Say a silent prayer for this moment of serenity.
An owl hoots, "Amen."
Load my fishing gear in the bed of the truck. I put on Taj, Etta, and Otis. Roll on past our burbs 1950s homes, to fifty-five miles per hour State Highway 1. Pass the warehouse district to Bend Road, to County Road 12 through fields of hops and corn. New vineyards line County Road 121 on my left and asparagus stand at attention on my right.
The lazy red sun peeking over the tree-lined Shotgun Slough.
I hear the fish calling me. "Where you at Mr. Fishermen with your cane pole and backwater ways? You know we slicker, smarter, and hungrier than you. Come on now with our free breakfast in bed. Hurry, hurry, hurry."
Smart ass fish. I holler back at em. "Good morning. Good day. Breakfast is on the way. And you know what? I'm going to invite a mess of you to come home with me for lunch."
I hear the echoes of laughter from my grandmother and sister Sarah as we fished back home in Shreveport twenty-years ago. It makes me smile and laugh.
Park the truck well off the Levee Road. Slip-sliding down the steep, narrow path to my favorite fishing hole hidden in the bowing trees, dense shrubbery, and berry bushes almost invisible from the road.
Ants swarm me. Mosquitoes greet me like I'm the lunch truck. A scrub jay admonishes me. A crow nods good morning and watches me set up my gear. Crow stays to supervise my fishing.
Twenty minutes and four nice-sized perch and one exceptionally fine black bass later, a cloud blanks out the sun, the crow screams in rage, slashes into the sky. Everything goes quiet. A chill runs down my spine. I hold my breath, say a prayer.
"Hey, hey, you, you down there?"
I let out my breath. The voice from the road, white, male, country, older than thirty I think.
"Hey, you, I'm coming down. Ain't polite to not answer, you know?"
I'm sitting on the bank. I turn my head. I see, white male, long, lean, broad shoulders, narrow face, cold as antifreeze blue eyes, thin lips long predator teeth and fingers. Worn jeans and jean jacket with run-over shoes. I turn back to watch my line.
Stands behind me. Silent. Everything silent. Waiting.
Sweat dripping off my face, a salt water shower. I bite my lip. Wait.
Finally, he steps down to my right, squats an arm's length away. "You mute? Deaf and dumb? Huh?"
"Less noise, better fishing." I try to keep my voice steady.
"Oh, yeah, yeah, but you got manners, you know? I mean, you didn't answer, hell, I had to check on you. You could've been hurt or dead or something down here, you know?"
I get a nibble, yank in my line too quick.
"Well, you missed that one. Do you think it was the talking? Am I making you nervous?"
I reel in my line, rebait my hook, cast out again.
"Well, neighbor, I bet that's your truck up there, right? That's a nice little truck. I bet you're heading into town soon, right? I sure could use a lift."
The breeze turns suddenly chilly. A fish flops loudly down-stream. There's a flurry of rustling in the brush on my left. Swarms of gnats descend on me. I try to breathe slowly and evenly as I reply. "I recommend shanks' mare, early in the morning, before it gets too hot to trot."
He sighs in disappointment and turns his ice chip eyes on me. "Neighbor, you lack hospitality. In fact, you're downright rude."
He grunts. He tosses a few twigs into the slough. Grunts again. Now, a wood handled Buck knife, five-inch blade, old and familiar in his left hand. Grins. Starts cleaning his fingernails. Smiles broadly at me.
Keep my eyes on him. Dip my hand into my tackle box, remove my filleting knife, slip it from its sheath, stick it in the ground by my right foot.
He smiles, full of picket fence teeth, chuckles. "Looks like they done quit biting. Dead now. Nothing here to keep you here. Town beckons. Lively fishing in town. If you got the right bait, you know?"
An owl hoots, "Danger!"
Something long, brown, sleek rises in the murky waters reveals a hump, disappears.
My heart is beating out of control. I'm soaking wet in sweat. I feel light headed. I blink. He's leaning toward me knife in hand.
I attack with a revelation. "I know who you are, what you are." I snatch up my knife. "Go back -- "
"You don't know shit, boy! You just think you do." He's about to make his move. I will gut him or die trying.
He leans back away from me, smiles. "You don't know shit!"
I hear my grandmother and Sarah screaming ... last gasping breaths. I grip my knife tighter.
He smiles wider. "Your grandfather, huh? What made him do it? Do it and do it, stab again and again. You want the knife?" He holds it in the palm of his hand, handle toward me. "A family heirloom, little ride, a little talk about old times -- "
"A long walk plenty of time to talk to yourself -- "
A truck on the road. Stops. "Hey, Charlie, how you doing down there, huh? Having any luck?" The farmer, Jose Garcia, a friend in the right place at the right time.
"It could run in the family ... grandson like grandfather maybe?" He stands, offers the knife again.
"Jose, come take a look for yourself amigo." I look up toward the road.
Jose slide steps his way down the bank. "Charlie, was you talking to someone? I thought I heard voices."
Scratch is gone. He left the knife.
I tell the story to Jose sitting in the cab of his truck drinking his whiskey.
I can't stop shaking or shake the fear in my heart.
Jose believes me.
A crow caws, "He will come again."
An owl hoots, "Amen."
Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-10-02
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.