Nothing good comes out of this river. Heavy steel killed this bend in the Tennessee. My father pours two bags of ice into the fish hold in the middle of the boat. He sinks a case of Coors Light into the ice, two cans at a time. We don’t keep the fish; my father throws his catch back. It’s just time in a boat, floating, pulling fish from the river next to the sagging frames of steel mills where the clouds of metal dust and slag flushed, for years, down worn, red banks and into the water. My father worked these mills, when their furnaces burned strong and bright orange throughout the night, when the glow of man-made lava poured from giant ladles and filled molds for railroad tracks. My father and I brought home fish from the river then. When we fished close to the locks, and my father told me “they pulled the stopper” when the water lowered for barges moving up river. When my father’s arms were rigid with muscle, when he first took me out in the boat and taught me to hook bait and cast close to the shore. I lost five crickets off the curve of my hook in as many minutes. My father tossed me into the current. “If you can’t learn to hook a cricket, this is the closest you’ll come to catching fish.”
My father digs into the ice and pulls two cans out. The cans drip sweat in this heat. The ssshhh-thwack slices the air behind me as he flips both tabs. He presses a cold can against the back of my arm; I jump, sending the boat rocking. “You’re going to scare the goddamn fish,” he says. He takes a drink. I keep my hat pulled low. The bandana filled with ice chips and tied around my neck steadily drips down my back. It will be dry soon. I won’t fill it with ice again. My father will be watching. He is unyielding in this kind of heat. “Must have caught the worst of his mother,” I once heard him say to Roy Hapburn as they drank beers on the back porch and cleaned fish they’d caught in Alabama.
It’s just a game. I watch my bobber. The white top rests on the surface of the water. The bobber dips and jumps to the surface. The tip of my rod bends to the water. I pray that my hook has caught a stopper on the bottom of this rusted river. My bobber is dragged under the surface, and as I fight with the reel my father springs to his feet. The weight of his steps pitches the boat side to side. Water slops against the aluminum hull. I feel his shadow cool the back of my neck. I imagine his arms around me, his hands on mine, his breath heavy with excitement. One strong tug, we could pull the stopper free from this riverbed.
About the Author
Born: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Now Resides: House of the Mouse (Orlando, Florida)
Bio: I teach film production classes. Writing with pencils hurts so good. My 1979 Honda CB750 is one hot lady. So is my wife. I want to be Mad Max. I write in my garage, not all the time, but a lot. I have a twin. Tennessee is beautiful. I live elsewhere, I’ve lived many elsewheres: once in a trailer on a farm in Georgia, once in San Jose, once in Lexington, Ky—we followed a preacher, you get it. I enjoy IPA’s. Chocolate chip cookies rock the Casbah. Ethiopian food is the bomb. My 68 Tele Bass has some songs in it. My P-bass has more. I still shoot film. Come hang out with me. We toss horse shoes in my back yard. This story first appeared on Clapboard House.
image by Daxius.