Friday, March 21, 2014

Turn About's Fair Play

"Snapshots from the trip"
Click the first image to see it bigger.
These pictures were borrowed from the internet
from several different sites.  The links to the pages from which
I borrowed the images are at the bottom of the page.

This is a new story which is in the "writing-down-the-Bones" stage--it's a first rough draft. (*I may change the title)  Since this is a first rough draft, I will not apologize for errors and omissions.

Turn About's Fair Play*
                No one has seen Uncle Beast.  Trey and I asked everyone we met, fishermen in their boats, fisherman on the docks, kids swimming, some ladies having a picnic, and no one has seen him since the fisherman this morning, the first ones we asked. 
                "I can’t understand it," I tell Trey.  I am afraid Trey will want to take back his canoe. This must be really boring for him.  But I don't want to jinx myself by saying it out loud.
                "Do you think he'd leave the river?" Trey asks. 
                I say no.  Then I think about it a little more.  Meanwhile, we're drifting downstream.  Downriver, rather, of course.  "Beast might tie up and go for booze," I say, "If he couldn't find any on the river."
                "But then he'd come back?" Trey asks. Of course, Trey doesn't know Uncle Beast, he's never met him; he's barely met me, since he caught me stealing his canoe this morning.
                "I don't think Uncle Beast would leave the river.  He wants to ride the raft all the way down it, like Huckleberry Finn.  It's been a dream of his ever since I can remember."
                "Maybe he's hiding on us.  Or on you.  He probably doesn't know about me."
                "That's just what I was thinking," I said, "Exactly. Unless he saw us going by together."
                "Two can play at that game,"" Trey says, "or three.  Why don't we hide on him?"
                "Well, for one thing, if he did leave the river to get drunk, we won't be able to stop him.   1 want to keep him from drinking.  He's all depressed about stuff that happened when he was in Iraq, and the doctor says that if he drinks again, it could possibly kill him."
                "We didn't see the raft coming down.  We could go look for it, but we might pass him again, and going upriver will be harder.  And, if he's got a mind to drink, I don't see how you're going to stop him."
                "I know.  I've been thinking about that, believe me.  I feel as if this whole scheme of mine is totally harebrained.  I feel like a dunce.  I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I didn't think it would be that hard.  I thought that if I went with him and stayed with him, he wouldn't drink.  My parents forbid me from going.  They said Uncle Beast (only they called him your uncle David(?)) had a dangerous addiction and it wasn't something to trifle with.  I really thought I could help.  Maybe I should just go home."
                "Let's hide on him and see if he comes.  If he does come, we'll see how he is, and then decide.  If he doesn't come, we'll go back to my house and my parents can help you get home."
                We find a super spot to hide.  Two trees lean into the water in graceful arching curves, down nearly to the river's surface, and then up again.  We've backed in between them and the leaves and branches hide us from view, but we can see out.
                Trey goes ashore by climbing onto one of the trees and running up the trunk to shore like a monkey.  He's going to pee and then see if he can find something edible.  I admitted I hadn't eaten and was hungry.  But I hope he hurries.  What if Beast comes by while he's messing around?
                I am getting dozy.  My head keeps dropping.  I can't afford to sleep.  Beast could slip by.
                Ah, here comes a rescue party, a gang of mosquitoes whining in around me in a cloud from inside the branches and leaves.  That will wake me up for sure.  But where is Trey?
                Oh, snap!  There's Beast and Killer.  They are poling along under the trees across the river, which is wider here than it has been.  I look frantically around for Trey, and then here a thump.  The canoe jerks upward on my end as it sinks downward on his, like a teeter-totter.  I almost fall out as a flail to catch my balance, swinging my arms and accidentally dropping the paddle that was resting across my knees.  It slips into the water and shoots away under the trees toward shore.
                I'm thinking, "Oh snap, I've lost one of Trey's paddles and Beast is getting away."
                The trees are too low to paddle under, but Trey is good.  We slide out from our spot, clearing the low trees by about a foot, and slide back in on the other side, close enough to maybe grab the paddle.  I almost fall in headfirst reaching for it, but Trey gives an extra tiny push and I snag it.
                Our attention is focused on the paddle, and when we back out again, Beast, Killer and raft have vanished.  I stare at the spot where I'd last seen them, but nothing moves other than the ripples in the river and the leaves on the trees.  The treetops sway slightly, leaving east in the small breeze. 
                I can't imagine that Beast would go back upstream/upriver, unless he spotted us.  I can see under the trees for quite some distance, probably farther than Beast could have traveled at the rate he was going.
                It occurs to me that there might possibly be an unseen hiding place along there somewhere, like the ones Beast and I tied up in several times before.  We always looked for places to hide so that we wouldn't be troubled by thieves and other scoundrels, as Pa would say. 
                I explain my theory to Trey and he agrees immediately, and we paddle upriver at our edge, where the current is the weakest and we're party sheltered by overhanging trees, in case Beast can see out from where he is.  When we're up high enough to cut across and end up above where we spotted him, we paddle hard for the other shore.  The current takes us down, and paddle as we might, we still end up below where we wanted to be. 
                Now it occurs to me that I should have attempted a disguise, so Beast would not recognize me.  Too bad I didn't think of that sooner. 
                I had marked a tree in my mind as the last spot we saw Beast, and we'd only been looking away a brief time, getting the paddle.  He could not have gotten too far on the raft, which is not a speedy craft to say the least.
                The tree I'd marked in my mind was a box elder with a lot of whitish blue sucker shoots, and tabled in the sucker shoots was a blue plastic bag, probably windborne, and below that, a yellow plastic bag, probably waterborne from the river was high after a rain.
                There are several other box elders with bags in them, and at first, I think I might have misremembered, but finally I spot the right one, and Trey agrees.  We're whispering, in case Beast is nearby.  We can't believe how far we drifted downriver in spite our hard paddling.
                As we're approaching the tree with the blue and yellow bags, Trey points.  I follow his gaze and spot an inlet, screened by low-hanging leaves.  It looks too narrow for the raft, but it is just the kind of spot Beast liked to camp at night. 
                Only it's not night, so if he's in there, he could be armed and dangerous.  When whisper this to Trey, he looks worried.
                "Does he have a gun?" he asks.  Beast is a soldier, back from Iraq.  He knows how to shoot.  But I don't think he has a gun.  What if I'm wrong?
                "I meant, armed with beer or something worse.  That makes him turn into a monster, into a beast.  We have to be careful.  He probably won't hurt us, but if we surprise him, startle him . . ." I trail off, suddenly worried about Trey and his safety.  I may have done a stupid thing, allowing him to come.  This whole venture, right from the beginning, is probably ill-advised, as Pa would say.
                Still, here we are, so we paddle though the narrow opening, ducking under the leaves, and there's the raft, just like that.  No sign of Beast, but know where he is.  He's the tent, with Killer.  And the booze. 
                I make a very tiny whistle, like the sound of a wood thrush deep in the forest, and then a little quiet down-spiraling song of the veery.  The tent bounces, the whole rafts shifts from side to side, and there is the sound of frantic barking followed by high-pitched yelping.  Killer recognizes my secret call.
                "Tiny?" I hear Beast's sleepy voice, and I'm afraid we're too late. 
                I spot a case of Bud, just outside the door.  Beast isn't usually fond of Budweiser.  He calls it “swill” and prefers something darker, like Black and Tan.  He hates wheat beer.  I don't like any kind of beer, but if I had to drink it for some reason, I'd choose wheat beer.  This is one of the areas where Beast and I are different.
                "Yeah, it's me, Beast, me and Trey."
                "Who's Trey?"
                "He's the guy whose canoe I stole after you abandoned me, Beast!  That wasn't nice of you."
                "You were being a pain, Tiny, watching my every move like a hawk."
                "But, Beast, I was trying to take care of you.  The doctor said  . . ."
                "I know what the doctor said, he said I could die.  Fuck the doctor, Fuck Death, Fuck the army.  Why do I want to live, anyway, after what happened to Sadhi and Carl and Fred and Angelina?  And everyone?"
                I've had snippets of the story, but most of those people were in the army with Beast and were blown up and killed by land mines.  Sadhi was a little girl whose parents had been killed and Beast was taking care of her in the parent's hut.  It was near the base, and he slipped food to her and stuff and apparently, someone killed her because she was friends with army guy.  A little girl.  He says they did bad things to her and wouldn't tell me what, so of course, I probably know what and it makes me sick.  I don't like to think about it.  I'd be upset if I were Beast, I am upset, but I don't want him to die, too.
                "If you die, Beast, you're depriving me and Pa and Ma of someone we love, and depriving yourself of your future, and you're letting the 911 terrorists win and the evil people who kill children win.  Is that what you want?"
                "Go away, Tiny.  Leave me alone."
                Trey had been silently paddling the canoe close to the raft.  I stepped out of the canoe onto the raft and was startled to see that the case of Bud had not been opened.  Did he have something else in the tent?
                I pick up the case and stagger to the canoe and hand it to Trey, pointing out toward the river.  He understands, and back-paddles. 
                Meanwhile tent is bouncing around like Crazy.  Killer was trying to get to me. 
                “I'm coming in,” I say, and unzipped the tent.  I am immediately knocked flat on my back by Killer, who is licking my face with gallons of dog slobber.
                I sit up, hugging Killer, and look in at Beast, fearing the worst.  He’s curled up in the fetal position on his sleeping bag, and he’s been crying.  No sign of a bottle.  I crawl in and put my arms around him.  His shoulders are shaking.  I try to surreptitiously sniff his breath, and don’t smell beer or wine or liquor.
                I start crying, too.  I was so frightened that I had failed in my mission, but hadn’t let myself know how scared I was. 
                Trey crawls into the tent and plops down right over the top of both of us with his arms around us and begins singing quietly.  At first, I am too upset to listen.  Then, I realize he is singing in French.  The tune seems vaguely familiar. I can’t catch all the words at first, but finally, I make them out. 
Il √©tait un petit navire, qui n’avait ja-ja-jamais navigu√©.”  Trey sings it through several times, and when I start understanding it, it seems like the worst thing to sing.  It’s about people on a boat who run out of food.  They draw straws to see which one will be sacrificed and it’s the small child who draws the short straw.  I start crying harder when I realize this, because it seems so perfectly wrong for Beast, but Trey only sings louder. 
When “les petits poissons” or the little fish, jump into the boat so they have something to eat, I start laughing and can’t stop.  Trey keeps singing, and I can tell now that Beast is listening too.  Then he surprises me, by sitting up in such a way that I am sitting on one of his legs and Trey on the other, and he begins singing in his surprisingly deep bass voice, harmonizing with Trey.  He knows the song.  From far back in my memory, I see an image of Beast before we called him beast, when he was just David (?), singing the song to me in French when I was tiny.  His voice hadn’t changed then, and was so sweet and high.

                The tune is catchy. I hum along, picking up the words, remembering them, too, from someplace deep inside.  And the three of us sing and sing and sing.

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