Big Fish in a Small Pond

A #SaturdayScenes from near the beginning of my #RiverNovel . If it's too long, what would you cut? It's like a weed; it keeps growing...

"I saw Hal at the bait shop, and I told him I'd stop by some time. Let's swing by now and get it over with."

I thought we were going out for lunch. Maybe the visit will be a short "swing by." My stomach rumbles.

"He didn't know Laurel, so don't worry about that coming up."

Someone doesn't know about him and Laurel? What a surprise. Where does this guy live? On another planet? These two guys obviously don't talk much, so this is sure to be a short visit.

"Who's Hal?"

"A guy who lives on The River. He knows all the River Rats."

I listen for more of a description, but none comes. I turn and look out the window, and catch glimpses of The River behind the houses as we go by. Surely he can tell me something about this Hal guy. Is he young and cool? A grandfather? Does he live on a house boat? Is he a River Guide? Maybe he runs drugs across The River. Maybe he pimps. Maybe he lives in a shack in a marsh.

Just before we reach downtown, we pull into a driveway and park behind the Volvo station wagon there. The house is ordinary, looking like all of the neighboring pastel-painted wood clapboard, 2-story houses, with mowed front yards, and a few shrubs. The similarity ends when we walk around to the back. The porch is strewn with fishing lures, nets, slogan plaques, weathered wood decor, and then I notice a large man sitting among it all.

"Hey Red." He gets up, waddles a few steps, and turns to me. "You know why his name is Red, don't cha?"

An image comes to mind of a little skinny girl with curly red hair and freckles.

"You didn't tell her about when I took you under my wing." He frowns at "Red." "You pansy. Come in and sit down."

He leads us to what must be the dining room. It looks more like an art gallery.

"What can I get cha? Last week when I was out at my nephew's I got a case of Burgundy. I was just about to try a bottle."

While he's gone, I try to settle in to this place. So much to look at. A long table fills the width of the room. I sit at one of the places that's already set. Beyond it, leather chairs scatter beside cluttered end tables. Beyond them is a wall of glass overlooking The River. The rest of the walls are covered with paintings scrunched together. Stormy scenes. Birds flying, swimming, bottoms up, lying in heaps on the shore. Shelves lined with knickknacks, mostly ducks, lined up several rows deep on each shelf. Glass, wood, clay. Realistic, folksy. Ducks standing and sitting on tables, looking real, feathers and all. "Red" is sitting beside one, looking it over.

Hal returns and pops out the cork as swiftly as bartenders in the classiest movies. "Red" asks if this duck is new.

"Nah. Just got it back from Lenny. He had it and a bunch of others on display when his fiance's family visited. Thought it would make him look better." He hands us our glasses. "See how that wets your whistle. It's Wente. Do you know it? I told Eric out there that he has to open a restaurant to bring the people in. Something nice, with live music, you know? You can't just sell wine." He takes a swig, chews it, and gulps it down. I let it wet my lips. Uh. It tastes like vinegar. I smile, to show my good breeding.

So Red, get any fish?" He chuckles and swirls the wine in his glass.

"Yeah. A bunch over by Popple Point, but none worth keeping. Some sunnies, bass, perch." This is news to me.

"Popple Point huh? You won't find anything over there." He turns to me. "You know where I found this small fry? I got my limit of ducks and was heading home --" He walks with his glass over to the window, and points, "-- and I see a few mallard decoys off of a point while all the Redheads on The River are around the other side of the island." "Red" speaks up.

"This asshole pulls his boat right alongside my decoys, right up to the shore and says, "Come here." I tried to ignore him, continuing to watch for ducks, but they sure as hell weren't going to come near when he's sittin' there, so I go over to him to find out how to get rid of him."

"I tell him, I'll be back in a few hours to show him how it's done. When I come back, the damn fool was still sittin' there, nothin' to aim at. I let him in my boat, and taught him how to set out decoys. You can't just dump out a half dozen shiny hew plastic ones from L. L. Bean."

"At least they weren't the rusted tin cans that you brought."

"At least you got some ducks! When we were done, we had a spread of a hundred decoys: a clump of mallards, a clump of redheads, a clump of canvasbacks, some ringnecks. I had him throw in some whistlers for the hell of it."

"Whistlers? Is that what you call them?"

"I call them what they bring in. Then we sat back in his blind and settled in for some real shooting. We filled both of our limits before the sun hit the treetops. We had one flock come in looking just like that one up there."

He points behind me and chuckles. I turn, expecting a window, and then see a dozen or so ducks, wings spread, flying down toward me in suspended animation. He laughs, "They're stuffed."

He sits on his lilypad-like chair at the head of his pond-like table, surrounded by more ducks than I could ever imagine seeing. A china cabinet is full of what must be decoys. A few weeks ago, I would have thought that they were antique child's toys. Some were apparently used generations ago. Their wood grain is conspicuous, and the stripes between the wood rings jut out like knives.


I realize that I am fiddling with the knife at my place setting. It's just a table knife. Even though the blade has ridges, they are only rough, not sharp, even when I press my thumb against the tip and rub along its length. I put the knife down, push it away, and busy my hands with my glass. The fork tines glisten, and I turn my attention to the bottom of my glass. I center it between two of the many ducks swimming around in the tablecloth, so its edges fit against the edges of their outlines.

"You just get in from fishing, right? Catch the bullheads at the Dew Drop Inn. The wife and I were there last night. Crispy and juicy just I told them they should be."

 So this is what his friends are like. Starve me and then ruin my appetite. I hope the restaurant has the fixings for a nice big salad, fresh bread, and a big hunk of brie.
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Photo credits:
Ukraine dnepr at krementchug by Lutz Fischer-Lamprecht. Licensed by Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Modified by Grace Buchanan.
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