Sorrow Green Upon the Water

The four of us boys sat on the bank of Catfish Creek telling lies, our shirts thrown up in the trees, the sun baking our chests red. I had broken our fraternal pact shamelessly, and taken a Sunday basket lunch with Jenna Robie here three days ago. It was winter, and hot, and Florida had seemed to me the least romantic place in the world, both our armpits wet with December sweat, and a thin viscous layer of green upon the water. She had leaned over and kissed me, and the soft layer of down above her lip grazed my own, and this stirred me so physically I became scared and walked her home and barely slept at all. No chance I'd spill this story. Not this day, not ever.

It was Jim Beauchamp's turn. He sat up on a large white rock and told a tale of Scroggin, the Wild Man of Lake Pierce. Scroggin, scaring the Yankees away with his hide and seek and his night howls. Scroggin, taking the tavern owner's wife as a lover, then watching helplessly as she wasted away of pneumonia in his tent. Scroggin, dying alone in a dugout canoe of his own making, thrashing oars to the middle of the lake so he could die proper, burying himself where he'd lived.

Jim was a bully himself, and so loved Scroggin, the idea of him. His body was solid, good enough for linebacker, good enough for first string in the tenth grade. His canine teeth right for the job, too. He hit people with his fists and smiled. He claimed a thirty-eight-year-old lover, a friend of his mother's. His father was mayor of Waverly and sent sheriff's deputies around to threaten all the black voters at election time. Jim went with his father to the black churches, said Amens and Hallelujahs, hoisted babies, flirted shamelessly with the young girls, and pumped the giant hands of working men; but the old women saw through both of them and kept their distance.

Jeff Wicks and Billy Snopes and I did our lying. Jeff, rail-armed and bird-chested, had dug down to water in the crescent mounds, the ancient Indian burial site, the holy places, and found a skeleton interred straight up, with horizontal bodies all around like sun rays. "It was a royal," he said. "The one they built for in the first place. The dead king, all worm-eaten."

Billy said he blew up the gate the state had erected to keep airboats from running the chain of lakes on to the Kissimmee River and out the canals to the Atlantic Ocean. "Done it with my cousin Claude and his college friends," he said. "Concrete chunks rained down and near brained us." This they did in the dead of night, dodging the wildlife officer, listening to the police bands on a stolen talkie. Some pursuit had taken place, some disturbance of a nesting mother gator, some fancy diagonal zig-zag running just to stay alive.

I told about setting trash can fires in Latt Maxcy's groves, and then me running like hell from two passing migrant pickers yelling the Queen's Spanish and brandishing machetes. I told about M-80 cluster bomb fishing and shooting out the eyes of squirrels with a slingshot and ball bearings. I told of truancy and nudie books and camping in a tropical storm without a tarp. I was warming up to spray can vandalism and air duct burglary when Jim Beauchamp flashed his dog teeth. "I got you all beat," he said. "I had me a young thing."

His saga was lewd and descriptive. Tongues and lips, bellies and titties, legs and himself between them. He boasted loud and engaged in delicate passion scream mimicry. The lake conducted his voice like a bandshell. He reverberated and broadcasted wide. He seemed to grow upon his rock.

"Say her name," Jeff Wicks said.

"Say her name," said Billy Snopes.

"I'll tell you her name," Jim said. "Jenna Robie."

My hands became fists. My feet grew wings. I sprung upon him shoulder-first and knocked him from his rock. I pummeled him with my fists and spit into his eyes. With great vengeance I raised my knee into his solar plexus and kicked his shins with all the force in me. He recoiled, stunned, but my efforts were not enough. Fists call out to fists. Rage begets rage. He struck back and soon was upon me and beat me bloody. Jeff and Billy pulled him off and then they all went away. Jim's rock ran red. They had left their shirts in the trees. I balled them up and threw them into the water and mourned, for the first but not the last time, the sorrow of love.

About the author:

Kyle Minor is editor of Frostproof Review. His fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared (or are forthcoming) in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Antioch Review, The Independent, and UpScene.