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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lloyd’s mama went fishing

Lloyd’s mama went fishing
Copyright 2009, Jim Penny
Word count: 1072

Lloyd’s mama wanted to go fishing that warm, foggy morning in the first week of June. The year was 1948. The early birds sung of worms, bugs, and seeds aplenty. The sun was just high enough to lift the fog from the newly yellow-green of the piney grove down the way. The seeding grass by the mailbox dripped the cool dew of the moonless night. Lloyd was not yet the knowing twinkle in his mama’s eye, and his older brother tugged at his fisher-mom’s apron, urging her to find a bonnet and drown a worm, or two, in the creek by the bottom field some mile below the house.

The line, it’s twirl and spiral set by age and sun, would first float on the brown water, draping gently from the tapered end of the old cane pole, and loop downward to rest on the surface of the barely moving water. It would lead to the rocking cork, pierced by line and match stem, holding the baited hook just above the bottom slime that swayed in the ghostly current.

In unrecorded time, too long in the living and too short in the remembering, the line would snap taut in the violent jerk, the fevered snag, of the hungry shad fighting his certain fate, darting deeper, pulled higher, splashing, swinging, suspended, admired, dressed, and fried in the grease of yesterday’s bacon.

Her shadow stretched far across the field, the rows of beans and corn rising from the same earth, the dew-moistened soil clinging to her shoes and tighter to the boy’s toes. The tracks crumbled, softly at the edges, strewn side by side, hers and his, all the way back to the mailbox, the flag still up with yesterday’s light bill payment waiting.

Her right hand held her favored pole, bobbing in step, monofilament line twined along it’s length from top to bottom, the line looped back from the end just far enough for the hook to catch the crumbling cork where a kitchen match held the line in the middle. In her left, a smaller right hand, years younger, swung syncopated with the pole. In his left, a can, dented, made a third beat in time with the pole, the rust staining the little fingers that grasped so tightly the can filled with worms, grey and red and musky, dug from the edge of the garden where the pea hulls lay.

The large dog, her long brown hair beaded with gray sand and dew, walked a respectful distance to the rear, her paws leaving claw-pocked tracks. Panting early, her tongue hung to the right of her whiskered and grinning snout, her tail twitching, flipping sand, side to side, occasionally dropping to brush the ground, and often riding high when the happy memory of running with the boy flooded her synapses, moistening the shining brown eyes of her lop-eared fuzzy head.

She walked behind knowing she was not welcome on the trip, not understanding how a frisky, wading dog scared the fish. She felt her duty, her place, this freshened morning and stepped forward, head down, nearly invisible, but not enough so, and there it was, the snapped command, nearly cursed, to send her to the porch to sleep, to become the pillow of the child in the afternoon. The dog turned. Lloyd’s mother, satisfied if not surprised at the obedient response, turned back to the path, her boy, and her fishing. The dog stepped from the path, dashed silently across the field, through the beans, and disappeared unnoticed into the woods.

The path entered the bramble as it snaked from field to water, and the boy now stepped carefully behind his mother who held the vines and branches to avoid switching the boy in the face, while looking forward and downward to mind her steps through the rocks, sticks, and briars. The bramble soon cleared, giving way to the taller broadleaf trees that leaned out over the creek, their entwined ancient roots forming twisted footholds along the washed out cut that brought the path to its end by a sandy bank swept clean by occasional high water, and framed by elephant ears, muck-loving ferns, and tendrils of poison ivy and honeysuckle. The boy pressed his foot into the cool, coarse, grainy sand. The brown water filled the depression of heel and toes, to drain slowly back to the languid creek long after the fishing was done.

A dragonfly dozed lightly on the end of the cane pole, the countable moments of its brief life flickering on the shadowy ripples in the water below. The boy pressed mud about his feet to build houses for the homeless frogs by the creek. The mother, sitting quietly in the humid shade, eyes resting closed, awareness expanded, attention unfocused, surveyed the colors dancing behind her eyelids. She drank deeply of the primordial strength of summer morning, son in tow, and felt her cares float back up the earthen bank and vanish in the tangled knot of limbs and leaves.

The boar exploded from the brush across the shallow water, stems cracking, fragments screaming on radial paths, froth slinging from curved tusks, eye burning, intent to visit death on these two intruders. Lloyd’s mama leaped between the boar and son, wielding her pole as a samurai meeting the last challenge, knowing she offered no semblance of defense to her son or self, but prepared to meet her maker with cane and son in hand. She did not feel the water seeping into her shoes, she did not smell the slow decay of the wooded creek, she did not see the dragonfly darting down the stream, and she did not taste the lingering sweetness of the honeysuckle above her head. She only faced her fate.

The dog flew from the bank behind and above her head, a spangled shadow, feathered wing of guardian angel passing over, grinning jaws closing tightly about the boar’s throat until the canine fangs had crossed. The pair fell to the water, rolling a step from the mother and son. The dog held, paused, and then stood over the now dead boar as the last thread of gasping breath slipped from the pig’s cold nostrils into the muck and mire of the disturbed creek.

The mother, pulling closer her son, stared intently at the dog, which from that day forward slept in the house by the stove, unless she chose the bed or couch.

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