MicroDry by Katharine Coldiron
Nothin bout this fella to grab on to. Nothin he tole me yet that takes holda my conversation-maker. Half an hour and there’s nothin he says I can ask him bout.
“Awfully pretty out here in the morning,” he says.
“Yassir,” I says. I’d be a halfwit not to agree, but there ain’t nowhere to go with it. It’s a pretty spot, and I know it, or I wouldn’t take tourists like him out here at the asscrack a dawn to get piddly lil trout to take home with em.
“Water’s nice and warm,” he says.
“Yassir.” Nowhere to go, see. Nothin for a while, nothin and nothin, just the lil lap of lakewater against us and the shore.
“I have a daughter,” he says.
“Yeah, you do?” I says. Finally, somethin. “How old is she?”
“She’s twenty.” He spins the reel a few clicks. “She didn’t want to come along with me. She usually comes on road trips with me, but now she’s got this boyfriend.”
The word boyfriend sticks like a bone in his throat. “She live with you in Vegas?”
“No, she’s in California. Goes to UCLA.”
I never been that far south on this side. I don’t know what it’s like down there. Not a lotta fellas from there come all the way out to Lake Mead. Lotsa fellas come out from Vegas but they usually happy to leave the missus and the kids behind.
“I’ve never met him,” he says. “This new guy. She showed me a picture of him once, but it didn’t give me any sort of idea about him. Just some guy, some guy who looks way too old for her. Hands in his pockets. Outside an Arnold’s Meats.”
“It’s a chain store. Not around here.” He takes a long long breath. The air smells like lake, like damp mornin. No fish smell yet. He ain’t caught any. “Worst picture I ever saw. Just this guy in sunglasses. Not flattering at all.”
“Maybe she didn’t have no others,” I says.
“She should’ve taken another. If he matters that much to her.”
I can’t say nothin to that.
“But then she never takes good pictures,” he says. He gets talkin bout the daughter then. It’s like he broke a trap in him and don’t need me to say nothin. Lotsa these fellas, they come here and I play bartender, they pour out all they troubles, whether it’s th’taxman or th’wife or th’other woman. This fella’s so ordinary-lookin I thought id be the other fellas in his company tryin to toss him off the board. I hear that one a lot. But instead it’s the daughter. I bet she bout to get herself in trouble with that Arnold fella. I bet that’s the next trip’s sorrow. You wait and see if it ain’t.
“We went over to Circus Circus on her last birthday,” he’s sayin. “She loves clowns. I’ve never understood that, because no one really loves clowns, I mean they’re frightening, but Julia, she seems to really love them. She said we had to take one of those selfie things outside the casino. We got out of the cab and everything, to take one of those out by the sign. But it turned out awful. Just the clown foot and the specials at the Blue Iguana, neither of us in it at all.”
He been reelin in the whole time he says this. The hook drags up out the water and there ain’t nothin on it.
“Oops,” I says.
“Not your fault, son,” he says. It’s on my tongue to say I ain’t your son but instead I reach to the tackle box, which I always bring in this innertube so I don’t have to go back shore for everythin, and get th’nightcrawlers and thread up the hook.
“That’s a fat one,” he says. He casts again and walks a few steps out in the lake. We nearin hip-deep and I’m thinkin bout Momma’s special towel, the microsomethin one, that stays dry no matter how wet you are. I’m wet every mornin, with these fellas. Momma cusses me out when I use the towel, so I’m savin up for one a my own.
I’m addin up how much I got set aside for it with today’s tip (probly) and he just lets loose bout his daughter’s old boyfriend like a water balloon breakin open. Neither of us mentioned anythin bout him but he just lets loose. He tells bout how this kid loved life and how he loved the kid, how good the kid was for Julia (that’s his daughter, I guess) and the kindsa things they done together. He says he still got a pitcher of the kid at home, in a frame, one a him when they all went climbin in Colorado, reachin out for the camera like he reachin for life. “My wife took that one,” he says, “not Julia.”
“You been lotsa places,” I says.
“Sure,” he says. Me sayin somethin takes the air outta him. “I guess. The wife likes to travel. Used to be her favorite place was New Orleans. You ever been there?”
“I’m from there,” I says. “Learnt how to fish in the bayou.”
“Oh,” he says, and don’t say nothin for a while. I want to tell him it’s fine, that he don’t need to feel scraped up bout Katrina, we all much happier out here, me and Momma and Darly and even my aunt Grace who screamed like a wildcat at the fuzz when they try to get her outta her house when the storm come on us, but he don’t say nothin and I think he anyhow feelin that thing they all feel when they find out that’s why we left. But it’s true, we all happier. Nevada’s so much bettern Louisiana. Better weather, better taxes, better folks.
Still, his talk puts my mind on a pitcher Momma took back then I always liked. It’s me, but I’m facin away, and I’m just goin into a lil flood near home that used to come up in them big storm weeks. I’m steppin in, and I’m bout to dip my hand in the water, like you can almost see the pitcher move, almost see it, my hand’s so near the water. It’s so blue, like it could be clear and pretty down to the bottom, but it wasn’t never like that. Always trash and junk down there underneath, always.
He sets to talkin again while I’m on that pitcher, tellin me bout the time he looked at Julia’s phone while she’s in the bathroom some restaurant and all the pitchers he saw that he didn’t know what they was, a pitcher of her out in the desert wearin nothin but a bikini, a pitcher of someone he didn’t know drinkin from a puddle, a pitcher of a gas station he didn’t know where cept it had a Subway, which didn’t surprise him cuz she always wanted Subway on a long drivin trip, only the trip wasn’t with him, when she took that one. It’s like she has this whole life he don’t know, and it gets under his skin, but he don’t put it that way. I’m only half-listenin cuz I’m worried he’s bored all the fish in this lake to death since he ain’t had a single bite all mornin and the heat’s startin to press on us. Near time to take him back. But he’s gettin all rared up.
“I gave them three hundred dollars to spend,” he’s sayin. “And they lose it all except for a five-dollar bill. Two hundred and ninety-five dollars in the pockets of my enemies.”
“Enemies?” I says.
“They spent the last of it at Bally’s,” he says. “They’re the assholes who pushed me off the board. And she posted a goddamn picture of it on Facebook, right in front of Bally’s, holding up that five dollars.”
“Jeez,” I says.
“Disrespectful, you know? Disrespectful. She’s not a thoughtful girl. She doesn’t process things well. She didn’t cope well when Andrew got killed.” He pulls a long long breath again. It dangles out there like a nightcrawler on a hook, goooooot kiiiiiiiiilled. That musta been the old boyfriend, the Colorado one. Andrew. Reachin out for life.
“I’m never going to catch anything, am I?” he says.
“Nome,” I says, before I can stop my mouth. “Not today.”
He takes another step. Chest-deep now. Can’t even hold the rod up. He gonna chafe all the way home, he so wet.
“I think I’ll drive there,” he says. “Drive into L.A. Give me time to think.” He lets go the rod. It floats. I start to say somethin and then stop. I don’t need to get wetter. “Maybe I can meet this boyfriend of hers.” Shoulder-deep now.
“Mister,” I says.
“Straight across the Mojave.” He’s mumblin. “Straight down the 10. Straight into the city. See what she has to say for herself.”
“Hey, mister,” I says, but he dunks his head in. He can’t hear me no more.
Katharine Coldiron’s work appears or is forthcoming in the Southern California Review, Eckleburg, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. She lives in California and blogs at The Fictator (fictator.blogspot.com).