by Cherri Randall
In 1966, my mother works in a wallet factory and my father and I drive around in his Chevy Apache truck. He always has a plan to make some money for us. We go to
and have bonfires. He will burn motors to extract the copper wires to sell at a salvage yard. He will always have some kind of junk to take there, and I love prowling through the maze of hulls and remnants and castoffs. I am never afraid of being lost, because I can hear my father’s voice carried on the air as he tells stories at the junkyard gate. Lake Murray
I have a Snoopy rod and reel for the lake and we fish from the banks sometimes. Some of his stories are bragging to his friends about how he can’t fish because I’m reeling perch in faster than he can keep my hook baited. I like eating fish with ketchup. He has other stories about me, how once while we were home and the phone rang, I told some woman my daddy couldn’t talk because he was pottying, and once I decided the pot of soup on the stove didn’t look full enough for me and him and Momma, so I added a sliced banana to make it fuller. That night we got to have hamburgers and my favorite food in the world, Dilly Bars.
He has a trotline at the lake, and while it is an ocean to me, it is not so far nor so deep that he cannot walk from one side to the other and check his lines. Because he has had back surgery, he does not like a waistband digging into his scars, so he wears overalls. For checking trotlines, he has an old pair with cut-off legs, and that is how we do it, check the trotlines, him wearing cut-off overalls and me wearing my swimsuit and life vest, clinging to the straps over his shoulders.
We take in the catch going across and bait the lines coming back. A stringer is tied onto his overall’s hammer loop. He gives the carp away to old black people who are around the banks fishing and he does this so often that anytime his Apache is parked at the lake, someone black is fishing close by. I love the way they all fuss over my coppery hair in the sunlight, prettier than the wires in old motors they say.
Daddy has six big carp one day and two people wanting them, so they get three each.
“Mr. Owens,” (nobody said Owen ever) “I am sho glad you don’t like carp,” the man says.
“I never could eat ‘em,” he answers.
“Well you just don’t know how to cook ‘em,” the woman says. “You ever try my carp made in the pressure cooker, you wouldn’t be out here giving none of them away no more.”
The man laughs. He has a gold tooth and the sun hits it and I wish I had one it is so pretty. “Don’t be telling him or he’s liable to start keeping them,” he warns the woman.
“Nah,” my daddy says. “I just like getting them out of the lake. They make the water turbid and uproot the vegetation. Makes it harder on all the fish.”
I am listening to this like I listen to all my daddy’s conversations and stories, but something is pinching me on the back of my neck and I have to start jerking and crying and I am a little embarrassed because I am peeing myself, but it is only in my swimsuit.
I fling my head around and the woman starts screaming too, because what flings off is a little bitty snake and it hits the rocky bank and starts slithering. My father is right there beside it instantly. I have never seen him move so fast in my life, but he is there stomping the head of the snake and part of its body and still it wriggles senselessly in the sun for a few moments.
The man is over there looking at it.
“Mr. Owens, that’s a copperhead. You better check that girl for a bite after it done been tangled up in her hair since you left the water.”
“How would I see a bite on her head?” he asks, and the woman comes over, going the long way around the smashed snake on the ground, maybe nine inches long.
“You okay, little darlin’?” she asks me, and I can’t help it. My stomach lurches and I vomit but she sidesteps and misses it. When I’m done she cradles my head, smoothing out my hair.
“She got two little fang marks on the back of her neck,” the woman says.
“Lord have mercy,” the man says. “You better get her home.”
My dad tells them to take all the fish, and they throw my life vest and the rest of our stuff in the back of the truck and we take off. When we get home, I get to use all the Mr. Bubble I want in my bath and he stays right there with me to make sure I don’t fall asleep and drown in the tub which is kind of funny because it’s the middle of the day but I do feel tired and I love the taste of baby aspirin and he lets me chew up about five of them with a Nehi Strawberry soda and then I have a long nap. He tells me over and over not to tell my mother there was a snake in my hair or she will be mean to us and tell us we can’t go to the lake anymore.
Cherri Randall is currently Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh,
. She has a PhD in English Literature from the Johnstown where she also holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Mid-America Poetry Review, Lake Effect, So to Speak, Paper Street Press, Permafrost Review, Paddlefish, The Potomac Review, storySouth, Blue Earth Review, and Sojourn. An essay will be published in the anthology Impact, (Telling Our Stories Press) and a novel, The Memory of Orchids, (Cyber Wit) in winter 2011. She has green eyes, fiery red hair, and arms spattered with freckles. She lives with two daughters, a University of Arkansas named Zora (for Zora Neale Hurston), and high hopes for the future. Chihuahua