Michael McCord lives with his wife and daughter in a town that you better not blink if you're passing through because you'd miss it. He works...read more at a local scrapyard and writes fiction in his precious little spare time. Though he loves writing, he is a notoriously terrible profile writer.
"Aww, don't give me that horseshit! Come on, tell me."
Jim knew what this was. He had been dreading it for months now. The changes his body was going through were no longer subtle, and some of his other friends had already had "The Talk" with their old man. But how was he supposed to look his daddy in the eye and tell him about the funny and exciting things he had heard about and dared to believe, when called upon by him to repeat now brought unparalleled shame?
Right then Jim wished like the devil he could go back to when girls were soft and pretty, and that was that. If he could go back to then and relive the past year-- the year before this talk with his daddy-- he would cherish every day like it was his last, he swore he would. One thing he knew for sure, if he told Daddy everything he knew, questions as to the sources of information would be asked, and he would crumble under the scrutinizing stony gaze of him. That would lead to trouble-- perhaps serious trouble, and he would probably never see his friends again.
Sam watched his son around the upturned bottle pressed to his lips. He wouldn't have to ask the boy twice, he could read it all over his peach fuzz face. When Jim spoke, he spoke to the tip of his fishing rod, now dipped nearly into the water.
"I know it's how we all get here, with a man and a woman. It's what married folks do," Jim swallowed the rock that had lodged itself in his throat-- he had to to get the next part out, "You and Mama."
Sam chuckled thickly and shook his head, "Hell, boy! That ain't sex. What me and your mama do is cohabitating, snuggling, sleeping, every now and then making love."
He emphasized the word love with air quotations.
"No, what we do ain't sex-- it's the right opposite. What me and Barb do-- now that's sex!"
They had been standing on the bank for an hour now, the late afternoon sun at their backs throwing long shadows out onto the green lake. Daddy had already thrown a party of empty bottles into the reeds. Fishin lures, he called them, on account of how they threw off reflected light like a spinner. He was well on his way to getting soused as a grouse, as he affectionately coined the phrase.
Soused as a frackin grouse.
Jim stood there befuddled. What Daddy was talking about-- that was cheating, right? Did his daddy really cheat on his mama? He dared not ask. Past experience taught him the drunker Daddy got, the harder his hand got. Jim watched as his daddy tossed another drained bottle into the marshy reeds. It chinked against another one and sank into the muck, making a sound like jangling pennies in a pocket. He reached into the cooler and grabbed out two more and handed one to Jim.
Jim looked at the brown glass bottle apprehensively. All his life he had seen his daddy drink, and he had grown used to it as a fact of life, sort of an extension of his hand. But now suddenly it had become a hard reality, not just beer-- but a beer. Beer for him, Jim. It was the middle of July, which made it look even frostier as he watched a chunk of ice slide down the neck of the bottle and hang on the label like a crystal slug. School would be starting back soon, but he wouldn't be returning as the same boy who had left in May.
"Go on, boy! Take it. That's how a man handles what's dealt him. It's certainly helped me today."
Jim took the bottle and cracked the cap. White mist breathed from the top like off dry ice. He took a sip and swallowed it quickly, not liking the bitter taste. Jim set the still full beer bottle down in the grass and turned back to fishing. Across the lake, a dragonfly skittered along the mirrored surface of the water.
"Girlfriends ... you'll be getting some of them soon enough, I reckon. They'll do things for you a wife won't do. Raunchy, nasty, wonderful things.
"You see, women are funny things. Men, we stay the same. We want the same thing out of dating that we do out of marriage. Nothing changes. But women-- women! You know the difference between girlfriends and wives, Jim Boy?"
"Girlfriends-- they like to have fun. Go out, have a time, cut up, show off, and roll around with you where ever they fancy. You'll understand one day.
"But wives ... no sir! A wife gets a sense of entitlement, starts acting proper, and expects the same outta you. No, a wife ... she'll bust your balls and suck the life right out of you, and not the same way a girlfriend will. If you let her ..."
He took a long pull on his bottle, the suds now collecting on the bottom.
Jim's bobber pogoed and then disappeared below the surface. He pulled back hard, setting the hook and his rod bowed under solid dead weight. He got it halfway to the bank when he felt it start fighting. The surface broke, shattering it like glass and a hefty channel cat flopped and slapped its tail against the pull of the line.
"Ooo, big fish! Big fish!" Sam spoke clearly for the first time that afternoon.
The excitement of the fight had sobered him up for a minute, but it had its limits.
Jim reeled the catfish all the way in and hoisted it up by the underside of the gills, mindful of the barbs that always stuck you when you weren't paying attention.
"Put him on the stringer, boy. We'll clean him up for supper!"
Jim worked swiftly and without a wasted motion. He had worked himself up to a professional in the trade through years of experience in his short life. He anchored the stringer deep in the soft mud and fixed his line back.
They sat in silence then for a while, each chewing his own thoughts. Jim kept his eyes on his bobber floating lazily in the water, tiny ripples fanning outward from it. The sun burned hot on Jim's back, sinking lower in the fiery western sky, burning as hot as the awkward tension that flushed his cheeks. He was careful to avoid casting his eyes in the direction of his daddy. He didn't think he could stand looking him directly in the eyes right then, not after the secrets of life that had passed between them. Sam no longer fished, just leaned back in the grass, drinking.
"Nope, nope, nope," he slurred, "women ... wives ... they don't forget what makes a man a man, they just take away a little at a time like a mouse stealing cheese, breaking him down and molding him to her standards.
"Don't you do it, boy.
"Your mama, she used to be a girlfriend. A good one, too. God, the things she used to do to me! Let me do to her! But now she won't even let me grab her titties. That's a wife for you.
"She's done let herself go now.
"Don't you do it, boy. Don't let em get you like that, not after I've warned you."
Jim looked at his daddy out of the corner of his eye and said nothing. What could he possibly say to that? His daddy seemed to be looking up at the clouds, talking not just to him but to anyone within earshot, which happened to be no one.
"Hell, you don't have a clue as to what I'm talking about! But one day you will, and you'll look back on that day and you'll say, Daddy told me so!"
Sam didn't say much the rest of the time except to tell him, "I don't suppose I have to tell you to keep this conversation between us. I don't think I could take hearing your mama bitch half the night."
That evening they went home with three fish that Jim cleaned and his mama fried. When he saw her she wasn't the same anymore, not to Jim. When they had left this afternoon going to the lake, she was simply Mama, but now he saw in her an individual woman who had the same wants and desires as everyone else. Once, before she had become Mama, she had been Daddy's girlfriend, and had done all the things that him and his friends joshed about. It was true, he knew it was-- Daddy had told him so.
Jim did look back on that day often, but only as the last meaningful talk he had with his daddy. A few nights later Sam was late coming home. His mama didn't think anything about it at first, probably stopped off somewhere without letting her know. It wouldn't have been the first time.
When the police showed up at the door with the news that Sam had been fished out from under the Flatbottom Creek Bridge she knew different. Apparently he had been drinking again, and had fallen off and bashed his head in on a rock.
The thing that Jim remembered most about that fateful night they came with the news was the name of the person who they said first reported the accident to the police. The first person on the scene that just so happened to stumble upon the mangled body of his daddy. It was a local realtor named Barb Patterson.