ROOKIE FISH by D.E. LEE
SNAP, THE RAIN falls on him, quicker than the decision. And that came pretty quick. Tell Charlie. Tell him everything.
He rolls onto his side in the bed of the truck and rubs the stiffness from his neck. Smells like bait just dug up. Rain shimmers in gray sheets, eases then ceases. Sitting up, he wipes eye grit and stares across an open lot until his head clears. Warm air purrs in the dying night.
He climbs out.
Sand pines march toward him. A ground fog creeps about like a stubborn memory. He figures out what to do next, what they said at the meetings. It works if you work it. He rubs his face and cranks the engine.
He rumbles along in a gray, unpainted pickup. Air rushes through holes in the floorboard and cools the humid grime on his skin. He sips coffee from a 20 fl. oz. cup and bites from the honey bun he’d picked up at an All-Niter. Coughing hard, he scrounges for his pack of drops. He’s been eating cherry and lemon flavors for weeks. He travels north on the Chumuckla Highway and turns onto a winding red-dirt road. The sign used to read, “John Rookie Fish Camp.” The first and last words broke off. The truck rumbles over slabs of disjointed asphalt. He searches for the tattered blue-trimmed camper belonging to Charlie and Winnie Spikes. They like the shade of the bent oak and that’s where they are. He halts the truck, the motor rolling a few seconds.
Charlie descends the steps. He’s grizzly. Hair like thin, black spaghetti falls to one side. A gale of whiskey blows from his mouth. Winnie stands at the door with her housecoat open around a plump frame. Both need dental work.
“Want some breakfast?” Winnie holds up a honey bun.
He shakes his head.
“Well, let me throw on a little something.” She twirls back inside.
Charlie chuckles, shakes his head like he’s seen it all, and leans with his arms hanging over the edge of the truck bed. He has a perpetually broad smile, a gray-and-yellow-toothed grin, a gruff voice.
“What bait you bring, J.D.?”
His fingers shake slightly. A burning stub rests between his index and middle joints, right at the loose folds of skin.
“Bunch a night crawlers,” J.D. replies, and lights his own.
He sips coffee while Charlie tells him about the rain last night. He opens the cooler and presses beer deeper into the ice. “I got the same rain as you, Charlie. Only I ain’t got the luxury a no camper. You’re living high. I was soaked.”
Charlie laughs. “Got nothing to complain about, old man. You live under the sky.”
Tree frogs belt along with Charlie’s laughter. The sun’s not yet up, but both men are sweating. Perspiration accentuates the crud clinging to their foreheads. Other campers move about. The heat softens their voices.
Winnie bruises down the steps with a greasy, brown bag. Her breasts flounce beneath a smudged shirt like a couple of sea bass putting a good bend to the rod. She slips a few bucks into J.D.’s pants and says, “Some a what I owe.”
He stares at the giant McNipple nuggets outlined on her shirt. Charlie sure loved that girl, went on about her like she was Jesus showing up at tent revival. Washed his daddy’s truck on prom night and rented a maroon tuxedo. No matter how much he slicked his hair though, he still looked like a side of beef being pushed around on a hook. Winnie was done up in a gunny sack with puffed sleeves and a corsage of white orchids that made her face chirpy with the last bloom of girlhood. Afterwards, they’d gone down to White Point to party. Everyone was there. Pickups grinding through the white sand. The salty air of Pecado Bayou sprinkled the clear humid night. And old Charlie passed out on Jack in the bed of his daddy’s truck. Winnie had a hungry look. He’d have taken her somewhere else but she wanted to pop it right there, right next to Charlie. What the hell. Charlie didn’t take it too good, but he never needed an excuse to fight. It wasn’t their first. But that one was a real introduction to the world.
He admired Charlie and Winnie, how they hung on. They had the right spirit. Durable as a Mason jar. Later they was married, had a son, divorced, married, divorced, stuck together. It went like that.
to read the rest of Rookie Fish, purchase issue 9