FICTION December 16, 2011

Wild Kingdom


Stoned under the sun we make our way to Great Pond through the backyard.  I find myself saying Wow at unlikely moments.  Here on the trail all is beautiful.  A thin canopy of evergreen gives way to rotted stumps, wetland grass, bramble, cattail.  As we quickstep on fallen logs over Alewife Brook toward the shoreline, sky is a chalky blue.  As we sink deeper into the thawing mud, I feel settled.

Rick lets me in on our future plans.

The new tribe is to be self-sufficient, native.  He says it might be difficult at first but this is to be expected.  We’ll adapt.  And soon others will join us: friends and lovers, welcomed guests.  Dinner will be at the end of a fishing line and with trigger clicks.  Only the hunters will survive.  He says when the heavy stuff goes down, be ready.

“Of course we’ll seek the welcoming bosom of friendly shores.”

“Of course,” I say.

Over his shoulder Rick then asks if I will be bringing a girlfriend.

Trying to find my balance, I shrug.

“Don’t worry if you don’t have one in mind,” he says.  “You will.  But this is the point.  We need to adopt our own language.”

“Like Eskimos,” I say.

He nods.  “Indeed.  Like Eskimos.”

He goes on to say how we’ll communicate using only our eyes.  This, along with hand signals, finger whistles, hoots.

“We’ll have a hundred words for kill.”

“Solid,” he says.

For most of the trail Rick is in front me.  He carries our essentials: tackle box, gas torch, beer and cigarettes.  From behind I jump to catch his second hand clove smoke in my mouth in an attempt for higher flight, which, when we come up to a frog hopping over a tree root, is never to be discounted.

“You know there are these frogs in the Amazon that can fly?” Rick says, at eye level with the slick amphibian.  “They have these webbed hands and feet and can turn in midair…like a boomerang.”

“Whoa,” I say.

“That’s right.  Fly.  They are the future, Hippie.”

“What about this one?”

Rick fast-grabs the frog, buries it in my coat pocket.  “He’s flying with us.”

I have my arms out wide and make like a fighter plane.

Now carrying a bit of our new life, I march steady toward the white sun.

We arrive at the water’s edge.  Not far behind us, the old homestead.

Standing before our raft I believe anything is possible.  I can see the smallest detail.  A penny nail is raised on the sloped, tin roof.  The hole we bored in the rough floor to drop our fishing lines is 18” in diameter.  Wooden benches made from granary lumber seat eight comfortably.  But there are some things I refuse to see, or admit.  Like, the oil drums that keep us afloat are rusting along the thin seams.  They are fastened to the hull in frayed square knots.  This hull has rot and it creeps ever so.  And because Rick is a night crawler, the twin floodlights that hang over the bow will drain our used car battery in less than twenty hours time.  All is wonderful, and nothing is scary.

Rick and I jump onboard.

The craft lurches underfoot, the wet boards creak against metal drums.

We are joined by purpose – our first trial run.  He assumes port and I am starboard holding onto a long pole made out of pine and notched in meters to gauge water depth.  The two of us push off and snake out into Great Pond.  My brother is patient, righting us when we are off course.  As the watermark on our poles grows taller, our house recedes in the distance.

“So far, so good,” he says.

I do everything to keep up, grunting as I try to keep us in sync.

“Nice.  Way to work it.  You’re practically seaworthy.”

His words hang on my image of him like his favorite shirt.  I am good-feeling.

Beyond the horseshoe of reeds we drop anchor and settle into our beers.  Three hundred yards from shore everything smells like our basement, but little else matters.  Canadian geese fly low overhead mocking us as Rick blasts them with a steady finger and a determined thumb.  Under the imagined feathery fallout, I skip bottle caps across the brown silt water.  We are as everyday as a Norman Rockwell.

Rick informs me we are floating over a junkyard.

“It’s a parking lot below,” he says.  Although we can’t see any of the cars that have fallen through the winter ice, Rick acts like we can.  “Allan Still’s Camaro went under Christmas Eve last,” he says.  “Dig it, those were tremendous wheels.”

Instead of weeds and muck, I am thinking of the rusted clunkers below.

He then head-motions toward the eddy to point where a hydroplane crashed two summers ago.  And this gets to me.  At the end of the summer when the water table is low the tip of the wing peaks out just enough.  That serial number remains forever burned in my brain.

“No need to let that scare you,” he says.  “That air jockey wasn’t native.”

We change the talk and try to come up with a name for our craft, dickering back and forth.  I suggest the HMS Airship.  Crawdad says that’s a mighty tag but convinces me how Libertas makes you think about mythology and important ancient gods and isn’t that an inspiring thought.

Satisfied, he then has me step up on the tackle box.

Butane torch in hand, I attempt to inscribe Libertas above the cabin door while my brother holds me from behind at the waist.  As he does, he calls out each letter.

“Light it up,” he says.  “Feel it.”

“I am.”

“No, man,” Crawdad says, tapping my chest.  “Close your eyes.  Let it happen.”

To counter the pitch of the raft, I spread my feet wide.

“You need to feel it.  Do you really feel it?”

“I guess,” I say.

“Don’t over think it.  It’s you and the torch.  You’re Hippie, god of fire.”

I do what he says – faithful that anything from here on in is our river to the sea.  Eyes closed, I begin to imagine pirate ships and whalers.  Foreign ports.  I am picturing us done up in war paint when I smell the singed hairs on my arm.

Rick encourages me as I go.

“What’s the next letter?”

He doesn’t say anything.

“Come on.  I’m ready.”

Eventually, he lifts me off the box by my arms.  “Check it out.”

We stand, back to bow, looking at our guaranteed fate charred into the craft.  Libertas calls to us in black, block letters.  Underneath this, my brother has carved our new names.

“Hippie,” he says.  “Our work is done.”