Spring 2009, Volume 6

Fiction by C. H. Allen Clark

Fishers of Men

For Mother,

I have seen rivers

—Langston Hughes

Cassie sits beneath the shade of the tree this Sunday afternoon and feels a strange summer breeze sweeping across the lake. She leans back against the hard oak, holding the pole and watching the little red cork out in the water that reflects yellow and purple from the sun and the trees. Charley Boy comes up behind her and covers her eyes with his hands. "Guess who?" He asks in his little voice.

"George Washington!" Cassie laughs. She grabs the little boy's hands from her face. "Now sit down here and watch me fish. I'm gonna catch Moby Dick! Big Daddy ain't caught him yet. Don't you wanna have fish tonight?"

"Yea, I think so." Charley Boy sits down and leans his head in Cassie's lap. He touches Cassie's stomach because Big Maw has told him he can feel the little thumpity thump of a child growing inside if he listens hard. Charley Boy leans his head against Cassie's stomach.

She laughs. "What are you doing, boy? Has Big Maw been talking to you? There ain't nobody in there!" She looks out into the water and watches the little red cork out in the middle. "Nothin but trouble, I guess." She looks at Charley Boy and puts her face up to his and smells a strange scent. "You got tobacco in your mouth, boy?"

"Big Daddy give it to me!" Charley Boy spits black juice on the ground.

"Big Daddy ain't got no teeth because he puts that nasty stuff in his mouth!"

She turns her eyes back to the lake and watches the ripples that circle around the red cork. For an instant, she feels a tug on the line and she jerks it up. "Oh fiddlesticks! Now look at that." She laughs. "Oh well, maybe that Moby is smarter than we are." She grabs the line and pulls it to her. The worm is gone. "Would you do me a favor, hun, and pass me that cup over there?"

Charley Boy groans. He doesn't like worms. He hands her the plastic cup full of dirt and Cassie digs her fingers deep into the soft soil until she pulls out a fat red worm. She feels the coldness of the worm in her fingers and the wriggling and pulsing of its body as she takes the end of it and pierces it onto the hook. Charley Boy grits his teeth.

Cassie laughs and throws the line far into the middle of the lake. "What's the matter with you?" She looks at him perplexed. Charley Boy settles back and props his head against Cassie's lap again. She looks across the lake at the tracks that follow along the other side. It is almost time for the 7:30 train.

A soft breeze sweeps across the lake and Cassie listens to the rustling of the leaves in the trees. About a century ago, long leaf pines grew in the meadows. The logging crews had come in and cut them all down. Big Daddy had told her once when she was a little girl about how he had come into Perry County with the logging crews as an orphan. To Cassie everything in Perry County seemed to be like the earth that she rested upon—poor and plowed down and mowed under. This innocent child rests her head back against the grass in the shade of the trees and listens...listens hard, knowing the beating rhythm of earth and the sweet smell of the grass.

Ahhhooooow. Ahhhooooow. A low moaning wail comes from the woods across the lake. She watches the black cloud of smoke come up over the trees as the train makes its way slowly out of the woods. The conductor has his head hanging out of the locomotive's window as he watches the tracks. Cassie thinks to herself how good it would be, to be over across the lake watching the train pass.

Her eyes gaze upon the mass of boxcars that slowly pass like a procession beneath the low black smoke. Suddenly, she feels the baby move inside of her. It makes her feel at peace to know that there is life growing inside. The train etches along the tracks slowly until she sees one of the boxcars pass that has its side doors open and she can see a man sitting inside with his legs hanging out. A hobo, she laughs to herself. Some people just want to get up and go. There ain't no need for me to do that now, is there? Charley Boy has fallen asleep now with his head sloped against her stomach. She looks at his little limp body and contentment staining his face. She wonders if Mama had felt the same little sensations of joy growing inside of her when she was carrying Charley Boy. She knows that it was different for Mama because Big Maw was always there to take care of her. Loneliness is something that makes you strong and indifferent to the world, Mama used to always tell her. There was a peace that would follow Cassie through the remaining days to come and the soft breeze that caressed her face and the sunlight that came creeping down through the leaves in the trees made her feel the difference.

Suddenly she hears Big Maw calling to them from the house. "You, Cassie! You, Charley Boy! Supper's ready!" Cassie nudges Charley Boy. "Come on now, Charley Boy. We've got to go eat." She whispers to him and the little boy rises from his sleepy daze. He doesn't speak. Smiling, she dusts his britches off and takes his little hand in hers.

"What you smiling so big far, Cassie?" The little boy looks up at her with amazement in his deep blue eyes.

"Oh, I was just thinking about something." She says. The two make their way up the path that leads to Big Daddy's house; Cassie carrying the pole over her shoulder and tugging at Charley Boy's hand. The woods are growing dark and the house ahead of them shines from the candlelit rooms and Big Daddy is sitting on the porch waiting for them to tell him whether or not they ever caught Moby Dick.

BIO:  Chris Allen Clark lives in Morton, Mississippi.